While I’m on the Jon Schnur-Obama education wars subject, let me raise a problem that I have when writing about said wars: How should I describe each side?
In an earlier post, I referred to the Schnur/Eduwonk/Joel Klein nexus (axis?) as the “reform-minded” camp. In doing so I used a label the group calls itself, but also violated a principle I was taught at the New York Sun about the importance of precise language. I was rightly chastised by Leonie Haimson, who pointed out in the comments section that almost everyone involved in the education debate would like to see “reform”; the question is what kind.
A similar problem was raised by Richard Whitmire of USA Today in August, who was following up on Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. Their concern was what to call a group of “elite” inner-city schools whose students score better on tests than students nearby neighborhood schools. Ultimately the contest ended unsatisfactorily, and Whitmire posted my e-mail to him explaining why the contest was so hard:
“I think the difficulty of the contest is a symptom of a bigger problem. Aren’t these schools a part of a movement without a name? My editor banned me from ever letting the word “reform” follow the word “education” and I am glad for the lesson in precision, but I have never found a good substitute. The Wendy Kopp movement. The Teach For America alumni club. The people-likely-to-say-”relentless”-twice-in-one-sentence movement. HBS Grads for Change. Education warriors. Joel Klein, Paul Vallas et al.
The best description I’ve read was David Brooks’, “the thoroughly modern do-gooders”.
Anyway, my submission is the cop-out that maybe we first must solve that naming dilemma, and then get to the schools.
So, let’s solve this dilemma! Send ideas to me at email@example.com, and I’ll update on our progress as time goes by.