Monday, January 26, 2015

Is there an optimal squeakiness?

One thing I’ve enjoyed about the book critic James Wood is the way he sometimes soft-pedals his own criticism and lets the book he’s reviewing indict itself. He’ll write a careful, restrained, and reasonable-sounding critique of a book, but then quote passages that reveal the book to be egregiously awful. You walk away from his review thinking not only that the book is terrible but that it’s very decent of Wood not to criticize it more harshly.

Something similar happens, I think, over at Karen W.’s blog. Karen does the unglamorous work of actually reading the education proposals that come out of the legislature and the state Department of Education (so we don’t have to). She comments in a matter-of-fact way and raises a few good questions, but she mostly lets that parade of horribles speak for itself.

For example, you can read her recent posts on the anti-bullying bill that would authorize schools to monitor kids’ social media accounts (and maybe even demand their passwords?), about the state’s plan to rank Iowa’s schools against one another, and about the state’s rules about what counts as “evidence” against its tourism-driven plan to require later school start dates. Even her more extended critiques are written in the calm voice of reason.

Not all bloggers (ahem) can muster that kind of restraint. Maybe that explains how she got invited to be on the state assessment task force, despite her previously skeptical stance toward the Smarter Balanced Assessments. (Or maybe our twenty-first century education officials didn’t realize she had a blog.) She ended up in a minority of one, but her dissent may find an audience with the legislature—certainly more of an audience than a simple blog post would have found.

Meanwhile, over at Parenting is Political, NorthTOmom describes a meeting she and her husband had with the vice principal of their daughters’ school about the amount of homework that the teachers were assigning. NorthTOmom methodically explained to the vice principal how the school was violating the district’s homework policy. When the vice principal refused to acknowledge the problem, NorthTOmom’s husband snapped, “There’s too much fucking homework!” Whether either approach will get results remains to be seen.

Michael Tilley, another local school blogger, recently wondered aloud what it takes to be effective at “squeaky wheel politics.” Seems like no one has solved that puzzle yet.


Unknown said...

Chris, you are too kind. I am eagerly awaiting a follow up post or posts from NorthTOmom to see what sort of results they get with their approach. (Part 1 signals more to come, right?)

I will say that even if whatever we are doing ultimately is ineffective, there is some satisfaction to be had in having spoken up for our kids, our values, and ourselves.

That being said, if any of your readers have this figured out, the rest of us would love hear about it!

StepfordTO said...

I'm laughing up here in TO! We definitely are not of the "calm voice of reason" persuasion. I do admire Karen's approach (and yours, which is not as different from hers as you make out), and I'm sure it gets more results than swearing at VPs. :) (At least he wasn't "lewd.") But I agree that the optimal degree of squeakiness in such matters remains a puzzle.

And, yes, a second installment of the TMFH saga is coming. It's kind of depressing, which probably proves that swearing is not as effective as it is (sometimes) satisfying.