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In the first year of this blog, someone explained the methodology of corporate reformers by referring to the marketing strategy known as FUD. This is an acronym for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. When trying to put a competitor out of business–whether in politics or commerce–spread FUD. That way, the public will distrust their brand or candidate, and be open to your promises for your brand or candidate. According to Wikipedia, the term has been used since the 1920, but more recently was adopted by IBM, then by Microsoft. We have certainly seen FUD employed against public education since 1983, when we heard from the government report “A Nation at Risk” that our very identity as a nation and a people, as well as our economic competitiveness, was undermined by our mediocre public schools. In 2012, Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice released a report on behalf of the Council of Foreign Relations declaring that our terrible public schools were a threat to our national security. What was our salvation: Common Core, charters, and vouchers.
Peter Greene has analyzed the reformer game-plan and boiled it down to a 3-step strategy. Step 1: there is a terrible crisis; Step 2: therefore we must do Step 3) what I prescribe.
Here is one of his examples:
1) SOMETHING AWFUL IS GOING TO HAPPEN OH MY GOOD LORD IN HEAVEN LOOOK I EVEN HAVE CHARTS AND GRAPHS AND IT IS SOOOOOOOOO TERRIBLE THAT IT WILL MAKE AWFUL THINGS HAPPEN, REALLY TERRIBLE AWFUL THINGS LET ME TELL YOU JUST HOW AWFUL OH GOD HEAVENS WE MUST ALL BEWARE— BEEE WAAAARREEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!
2) therefore for some reason
3) You must let me do X to save us!
The trick here is to load up #1 with facts and figures and details and specifics. Make it as facty and credible as you possibly can (even if you need to gin up some fake facts to do it).
#3 is where you load in your PR for whatever initiative you’re pushing.
And #2 you just try to skate past as quickly as possible, because #2 is the part that most needs support and proof and fact-like content, but #2 is also the place where you probably don’t have any.
In a normal, non-baloney argument, #2 is the strongest point, because the rational, supportable connection between the problem and the solution is what matters most. But if you are selling baloney, that connection is precisely what you don’t have. So instead of actual substance in #2, you just do your best to drive up the urgency in #1.
Thus, we have a constant litany of complaints about test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, etc., linked to solutions that have no evidence that they will have any impact whatever on test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, etc. Where is the evidence for vouchers and charters? There is none? Where is the evidence to take away teacher tenure? There is none. Where is the evidence that merit pay improves student performance? There is none. Where is the evidence that evaluating teachers by test scores improves education? There is none.
Evidence doesn’t matter. So long as reformers play on the public’s doubts and fears for their children, they can keep pushing failed policies.