Common Goals and Other People’s Intentions

By , May 3, 2011

Sometimes when we criticize others, we find a mirror.  Here’s my story, and my plea that we stop talking past each other, and instead focus on our common goals for our children’s education.

In the past two days, several folks have replied rudely to some of my Facebook posts about school reform, apparently assuming that anyone who criticizes any school reform or school funding proposal is only interested in protecting teachers’ financial interests and isn’t considering students’ needs.

But as I sulked about this unfair assumption, I realized that over the past few weeks, I’ve also adopted a mantra of many opponents of certain school reforms: that the goal of many (or most) “school reformers” is to privatize education, by first branding all public schools as “failing.” I soon recognized some other assumptions I’ve made about other people’s intentions.

Our assumptions about each others’ intent are both wrong and unhelpful.

We all want the same thing: for all students to learn, thrive, and excel in their efforts in school and beyond.  We simply disagree about the best strategies to optimize achievement.

But so long as we assume that our “opponents” have an evil or selfish intent, we can’t communicate effectively, and we’re not likely to achieve our common goals.

I’m going to try to change the way I consider and write about our disagreements on school reform.  For example, I’ve just considered how my use of the term “perverse incentives,” to describe the effects of certain school reforms, might be perceived as a personal attack by some supporters of those reforms — and perhaps I did take glee in using that term (which is accurate but probably not helpful).

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