Anyone who has grown overtired of dead-end education debates needs to read Dan Willingham’s latest blog post, which points out that when debate devolves into mere taunting and questioning the motives of your intellectual opponents, the audience you’re most trying to reach–the unpersuaded and undecided–tune out. “In education policy, some of us have gone too far,” Dan writes. “People who disagree with us are depicted as not merely wrong, but evil.”
“People who advocate reforms such as merit pay, the use of value added models of teacher evaluation, charter schools, and vouchers are not merely labeled misguided because these reforms won’t work. They are depicted as bad people who are unsympathetic to the difficulty of teaching and who are in the pockets of the rich.
“Likewise, those who see value in teacher’s unions, who are leery of current methods of teacher evaluation, who think that vouchers threaten the neighborhood character of schools are not merely wrong: they are accused of looking out for the welfare of lousy teachers.
“And of course both sides are accused of ‘not caring about kids.’”
Willingham, as is his wont, cites studies bolstering what you might intuit by watching—or heavens forfend, participating in–these dispiriting wars of words: partisans tend to believe they know what people in the other side of an issue are thinking and how they would behave. The bottom line: “We think that people who agree with us are moral, and people who disagree with us, less so. Further, we think that we know how other people will interpret complicated situations–they will driven more by ideology than by facts,” Dan writes.
He concludes with a call for “fewer blog postings that, implicitly or explicitly, denigrate the other person’s motives, or that offer a knowing nod with the claim ‘we all know what those people think.’” That call is all but certain to be more honored in the breach than the observance.
We can’t help ourselves. And besides the other guys really ARE evil. Me? I just want what’s best for kids.