A Bit More Nuanced Than That

I’ve noticed a trend in those intelligent conversations that happen on front porches in the summer time. After a few hours and a few drinks, and thousands words of cyclical ramble on politics, climate, education, religion, race, or any of those topics that populate bars, barber shops, and most college classes, the ramble inevitably comes away from the extreme ends of the spectrum to something like this.

“It's a little more nuanced than we thought.”

It’s a millennial world, and everything is pretty grey or nuanced. It is not as simple as “good” or “bad,” or “left” or “right.” Instead, it is more often “ok” and “down the middle somewhere.” It seems more true to say that both are correct than to make a divisive either/or claim.

Unless you are writing blogs. Blogs love hyperbole.

“Teachers Hate Data”

“Teachers Love Data”

“Tests are the Devil”

“Thank God For Accountability”

“School Choice is Killing Us”

“We Need School Choice”    

People want to read strong, unequivocal opinions that leave no room for debate. They don’t want to read some directionless meandering through a cloudy philosophical forest of indecision and doubt. The problem for me is that my head is kind of a cloudy philosophical forest of indecision and doubt.

I started thinking this recently when I read a blog by Steven Singer, who is one of the more prolific education bloggers out there. He is the best, and no one has ever heard of us. If you have ever read a blog about how bad standardized testing is, he probably wrote it. He is Drake. We are that awkward, acne-faced teenager in a basement recording youtube rap videos with poor sound quality.

The article I saw recently was titled “Teachers Don’t Want All of this Useless Data.” My first beef was with the title. I’m a teacher, in the same state as Mr. Singer, and I do want all of that “useless data.” In fact, as you know if you have read much of anything on this blog, I don’t think it's useless at all. Singer goes on to talk about how since he teaches every day, he knows whether his students can read and write based on what he has seen in class. He really doesn’t need projections, charts, past performance, and all of the colorful interpretations of student achievement. He goes on to imply that this “paperwork” gets in the way of the real work of teaching. To be fair, he is not the only teacher who feels this way. There are, however, other teachers who use this information regularly and consider it part of their responsibility to use all measures that they have available.

But I kind of think this is a both/and situation. I would never suggest that anybody should ignore students in class to spend time looking at graphs and charts and projection data. But I would suggest that you are a better teacher when you know those things about your students. You hold that knowledge in one hand, when you hold classroom work and relational evidence in the other hand, and then you hold all of kinds of other useful information in another hand. That’s a third hand, for those of you who think teachers have it easy.

I’m not trying to start a rap battle with Steven Singer. I’m just the pimple-faced kid in a basement. I am just saying that he may have realized that the nuanced route doesn’t get shared by the Huffington Post. Nuance doesn’t win elections, as we learned in November, and it probably doesn’t get more attention. In fact, as a whole, we are not usually good with nuance.

That kind of thing is for a beer on the porch, not for the world wide interwebs or politics.

Nuance, however, is more realistic.

I’ve been thinking more about nuance in the school choice debate. On a macro level, I don’t love school choice. It is one of the reasons why Betsy DeVos and I don’t hang out as much as we used to. But people don’t live on the macro level, and I recognize that a middle-class white guy with a masters degree saying that he doesn’t like school choice kind of reeks of the blind spots of privilege. The nuance here is that I actually love school choice for some people in our current system.

School choice is a great option for individuals, but a flawed overall policy. It is clear to anybody who works in education that schools have not been working for people of color in this country for centuries. Therefore, when traditional public schools and local options fail, families should use every choice at their disposal to ensure that their child gets the education they deserve.  

Again, it’s complicated. It’s nuanced. It doesn't make for a good blog or good advocacy, but it paints a much more intricate, and accurate, image of the topic. We don’t have to be pro-data or anti-data, and we don’t  have to be choice advocates or anti-choice.

Instead, we can be professionals who recognize that there are complicated paths to truth and policy gains. I wish reality was more simple. So we could make signs and yell and shout about how right we are and how wrong the people on the other side are. Those kind of arguments are easier, but they might actually take us farther from reality.