The fall conference season is well behind us, but a bad taste in my mouth lingers.
I’m struggling with the seismic shift in tone at these conferences, where education advocates traditionally assembled to give each other pep talks. In a few short years, we’ve gone from thinking we were right about everything—granted, that was kind of obnoxious—to adopting a rather pathetic and unattractive lament, professing just how wrong we’ve been about everything. I guess I prefer smug to self-flagellation.
Many advocates appear to be abandoning our once shared convictions about what it takes to lift children out of poverty, the very wellspring of the movement’s power and mass appeal. For years, we had stuck hard and fast to a sensible, winnable, and research-based strategy: improve student learning. Teach children to read. That is how we tackle society’s inequities.
Now having donned our hair shirts, these conferences have become both our confessional where we plead for forgiveness for our narrow-minded approach and our penance, where we agree to exchange our convictions for anything that will suggest just how broad-minded we now are—as long as we de-emphasize academic goals.
Sitting through the more fiery conference sessions, I could imagine how organizers made...