The mind tends towards division and opposition: heads v. tails, black v. white, defense v. offense, progressive v. conservative, Capulet v. Montague. This simplicity has its advantages, but considered and thoughtful debate is not one of them.
In education generally — and on this blog — this dualism is found in various forms: charter schools v. district schools; pro-union v. anti-union; teachers v. nonteachers. Nationally, the debate has also been shaped by defining opposing factors: reformers v. establishment, disrupters v. incrementalists, Broader, Bolder v. the Education Equality Project. My own writing has been subjected to this constricting binary paradigm, as an Op-Ed that I submitted under the title of Schools, Competition and Choice (“and” because the latter two are differences of degree, not of kind) was instead published with the oppositional titleCompetition vs. Choice.
The implication in all of this is clear: pick sides.
To choose opposing sides is to agree to a zero-sum game with a winner and loser — where the advancement of any one group means the diminishment of another. Turning the discussion about how to improve education into a polar debate with forced encampments fighting not to lose is a recipe for stasis. There should be healthy debate among the groups on their respective merits, there will (and should) be vibrant disagreements, there will be ways and times in which one group may claim “victory” over another. But hopefully the discussion is not about these differing groups, but the specific ideas and practices which each contributes.
Good ideas can come from anywhere (and some of the most revolutionary often come from those people or parties furthest outside the existing system); and operational practice makes tremendous difference, as even the best idea implemented badly produces little benefit. There is no group listed above who does not have something to contribute, and there is no single party that will not be better off if its evil twin improves as well. Moreover, we can pursue many of the strategies essential to these groups in parallel with others: to improve district schools does not require that charter schools fail (and vice-versa).
The tendency to polarize reminds me of Lord Palmerton’s famous remark: Nation’s have no permanent allies, only permanent interests. There is no permanent ally for education reform, no single silver bullet, no one group that has an overriding claim on what is right. However there are permanent interests: quality, learning, achievement — the ability for all children to have educational opportunities, regardless of who they are and where they live. Let’s diminish the dualism and focus on these permanent interests.