Educator and writer John Thompson proved to be prophetic in a Huffington Post piece last month when he wrote this:
Education beat writers demonstrate the same excellence as other journalists. The problem is Op Ed columnists and other writers who seem to know no more about schools than what they hear at cocktail parties. Thomas Friedman, Jonathan Alter, and company love to pass on the talking points of “reformers” who share their isolation from urban schools. That is why we need a primer for non-educators who write about education.
Friedman proved Thompson to be a genius just eight days later in his New York Times column where Friedman, a respected foreign policy observer, wrote this of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
President Obama is assembling his new national security team, with Senator John Kerry possibly heading for the Pentagon and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice the perceived front-runner to become secretary of state. Kerry is an excellent choice for defense. I don’t know Rice at all, so I have no opinion on her fitness for the job, but I think the contrived flap over her Libya comments certainly shouldn’t disqualify her. That said, my own nominee for secretary of state would be the current education secretary, Arne Duncan.
Yes, yes, I know. Duncan is not seeking the job and is not the least bit likely to be appointed. But I’m nominating him because I think this is an important time to ask the question of not just who should be secretary of state, but what should the secretary of state be in the 21st century?
Let’s start with the obvious. A big part of the job is negotiating. Well, anyone who has negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union, as Duncan did when he was superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools before going to Washington, would find negotiating with the Russians and Chinese a day at the beach. A big part of being secretary of education (and secretary of state) is getting allies and adversaries to agree on things they normally wouldn’t — and making them think that it was all their idea. Trust me, if you can cut such deals with Randi Weingarten, who is president of the American Federation of Teachers, you can do them with Vladimir Putin and Bibi Netanyahu.
Duncan presided over Chicago schools in a time when high-stakes tests weren’t as high-stakes as they are now. Comparing Weingarten to tough world leaders like Putin and Netanyahu couldn’t be more naive. Besides the fact that Duncan has probably had very little head-to-head meetings with Weingarten, the AFT boss is a member of the Democratic National Committee. Hardly an unfriendly opponent across the table, Weingarten endorsed Duncan’s boss a year earlier than expected.
To his credit, Duncan dismissed Friedman’s suggestion within 24 hours. But what does it say about Friedman who used his space in one of the world’s most widely read daily newspapers to make such a silly suggestion? Aside from confirming Thompson’s assertion, it demonstrates that limousine liberals (take a look at Friedman’s home) spew as much education reform crap as do conservatives. Moreover, Thompson’s observation that ed reform is driven at cocktail parties attended by rich A-listers of both political parties is not only fair, but when coupled with Friedman’s naiveté it’s a snap shot of whats wrong.