I’ve had little to say about the heartbreaking Sandy Hook Elementary massacre because for the most part I see it as a horrible societal problem that visited a school, not a school problem. Our schools have their challenges but overall they’re safe places for youngsters. I have a column coming in TIME on the gun issue, which is more germane to all of this than education policy.
Not everyone sees it this way. On her blog Diane Ravitch has been waving a bloody shirt from Sandy Hook Elementary to make points about teachers unions, charter schools, teacher evaluations and other issues that have nothing to do with the tragedy at that school or the apparent heroics of its staff. It’s obscene.
You wonder if you should even call attention to such rank behavior and there is something of a “yuck” factor to it, for lack of a better word. But Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, the nation’s third largest teachers union and a force within the national American Federation of Teachers, found a way to make Ravitch look like a statesman while rushing to her defense. Writing of a Teach For America teacher or staff member who criticized Ravitch’s linking of the massacre to education policy, Lewis writes:
There might have been a time where “politicizing” tragic events, especially mass shootings was thought to be in poor taste. That has changed with the 24/7 news cycle that continues to focus far too much time and energy on the perpetrator of the massacre than that of our precious victims. Rosenberg’s “false outrage” needs to be checked. That same false outrage should show itself when policies his [TEACH FOR AMERICA*] colleagues support kill and disenfranchise children from schools across this nation. We in Chicago have been the victims of their experiments on our children since the current secretary of Education “ran” CPS.
There’s more. Ravitch, of course, posted the entire thing at the top of her blog to make sure no one missed it.
Encountering Ravtich’s disrespectful, and in my view revolting, use of this tragedy Lewis, the leader of thousands of educators and a senior leader in the American Federation of Teachers, could have:
Said nothing. These were blog posts on a marginal blog that is mostly an echo-chamber anyway.
Or, seized the opportunity to unite and lead by pointing out that there is a big gun violence problem in our country- especially in Chicago btw – it makes everyone emotional, especially now in the immediate wake of this tragedy, but this is the time to come together to address this issue regardless of where else we might disagree.
Instead she took option C, which is to double-down on using this tragedy to make a point about unrelated education policy issues and make an unbelievable reference to Teach For America – whatever you happen to think of the organization – in the context of this tragedy. Poor taste doesn’t begin to cover it.
There is plenty of disagreement in education, people of good faith can disagree about many of today’s hot issues, and those debates sometimes get heated and political. I don’t know anyone thoughtful who wouldn’t like to have something back or have said something differently at some point. That’s life. There is also some bad behavior, dishonesty, graft, and the rest on all sides of these issues. That, too, is life. But in almost two decades in education I’ve never been so ashamed for this sector as reading these things. You hear this kind of rhetoric and see this sort of zealousness in private a lot, so perhaps it’s illustrative to see it in public. But in the wake of what happened in Sandy Hook, and riding on the emotions of that tragedy, it’s disgusting and shameful. We have reached a very sad place.