Monday, August 29, 2011

More Perils of Group Think

Michael Winerip on Steven Brill's new book Class Warfare writes:

The villains of Mr. Brill’s story are bad teachers coddled by unions.

With his legal training and business background, Mr. Brill is expert at chronicling the union’s failings. He documents the growth of the New York City teachers’ contract from 39 pages in 1962 to 200 today, along with work rules that can be used at every turn to obstruct principals from improving schools. He details the case of a Stuyvesant High School teacher who was so drunk that she passed out at her desk, only to have the union claim on its Web site that she was disciplined as part of a scheme to harm senior teachers.

He goes a lot easier on the reformers who have spent recent years pushing the expansion of charter schools and standardized tests. Mr. Brill identifies the millionaires and billionaires who attack the unions and steered the Democratic Party to their cause. There is Whitney Tilson, who parlayed $1 million of his parents’, relatives’ and own money to build a hedge fund that he told Mr. Brill was worth $50 million; Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, who works for the family’s money fund and has homes in Manhattan, East Hampton and the Dominican Republic; and David Einhorn, who at age 38 “was already one of Wall Street’s successful short sellers.”

The book is called “Class Warfare.” I expected Mr. Brill to explore why these men single out the union for blame when children fail. If a substantial part of the problem was poverty and not bad teachers, the question would be why people like them are allowed to make so much when others have so little. I hear this all the time from teachers, but when I asked Mr. Brill, he said, “I didn’t see it as the rich versus the union guys, although now that you say it, I can see how you could draw that line.”

Brill could see, huh?

While I'm on the topic of Brill's book I think Sara Mosle's review of it in last Sunday's Times Book Review is well worth reading. (If you haven't yet, it took me a long time to work up the nerve to read it.)

A little later: I realize I gave this post a title that made very good sense in my head but not so much outside. In his article, Winerip talks about how people who lead and pay for the school reform movement (like Brill) mostly talk to each other and not "the other side." The entrenched quality of the debate about education reform reflects this. Similarly, in Jeffery Toobin's profile of Clarence Thomas, referenced in my anxious post about Irene, Toobin points out that Thomas and his wife only socialize with people who agree with him. This might be one reason why Virginia Thomas thought it was reasonable to call Anita Hill to ask her to apologize. That is, everyone Ginnie talks to thinks she should. In any case, this is why I called this post More Perils of Group Think; after all, it's not making a huge claim about intellectual honesty that it requires talking to people with whom you disagree.

No comments: