Amid the wreckage and detritus of the imploding legacy media, a silver lining can be found in the multiplicity of views now available on complicated subjects. The profusion of blogs on topics ranging from food to guns is but one example.
Here in Connecticut, the phenomenon has been most visible lately in the arena of education, where former Democratic state representative Jonathan Pelto inveighs against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and anyone who carries the mantle of “education reform.” Pelto’s blog, “Wait, What?” is a must-read for diehard public education advocates who, for obvious reasons, prefer the system the way it is.
Pelto’s ceaseless attacks have enraged reformers who have complained that his propaganda was going unanswered. Enter PR guru and political analyst Patrick Scully, a former communications director for the state Senate Democrats. In an effort to confront Pelto last year, Scully started writing in response on his Hanging Shad blog, and also wrote for a time for the pro-reformist blog, CTEducation180, which is operated by ConnCAN. Between the two blogs, Scully devoted a great deal of real estate to deconstructing Pelto’s polemics. He stopped writing for CTEducation180 in March.
But Pelto and Scully have been feuding publicly ever since the two men tangled on WNPR’s Where We Live a couple of years ago. Pelto is an unapologetic lefty who staunchly defends public institutions and workers’ rights. And he’ll take on anyone he thinks threatens those rights. Scully is a moderate Democrat, a supporter of Malloy, and a problem solver.
On the one hand, Pelto has done a tremendous service in calling attention to the sources of funding for many pro-education reform groups. After all, there is no better way assess motives than to look at funding sources. In the words of Deep Throat in the movie All The President’s Men, “Follow the money.”
The problem is that Pelto assumes that corporate money is inherently bad and that it’s part of an “on-going attempt to destroy public education in Connecticut” while generating returns for shareholders. Indeed, we should be skeptical of the profit motive wherever it exists. For example, there’s a great deal of money at stake in the collective bargaining process, too. Both corporations and labor unions are major stakeholders, but Pelto never urges his readers to be wary of the motives of the unions. He seems to think labor’s motives are inherently pure.
Sometimes Pelto does a service to his readers in ways he might not have intended. In a recent post on Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas’ lack of proper certification, Pelto listed all 138 public school educational certifications offered by the state of Connecticut. I was shocked at one of the titles. Since 2008, the state Education Department has offered a certificate licensing educators to be marriage and family therapists. I had no idea that either our schools are providing marriage counseling to parents or — more surprisingly — they’re doing the same for students.
As for Vallas not having the proper certification, it does seem out-of-line for the General Assembly to take action that further erodes the certification requirement specifically for people like Vallas. But, on a practical level, why should we care whether a big-city superintendent holds an 093 certification? It’s essentially a political and managerial position anyway. In a district as large as Bridgeport, a guy like Vallas has perhaps a dozen people working under him who are experts on curriculum, instruction, and education law.
Even in the classroom, a license to teach is no guarantee of competence. In my own career in independent education, I saw gifted teachers who never bothered to obtain certification and others who were highly credentialed by the state but couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag. First and foremost, content-area classroom teachers need to have a dynamic personality, be experts in their fields, exhibit passion about their subject, and demonstrate an ability to reach children. Unfortunately, all the methods courses in the world can’t teach those skills. And that’s probably the thinking behind the partial exemption from certification requirements that charter schools enjoy in Connecticut, but which Pelto complains about.
Indeed, as both Pelto and Scully have demonstrated, you don’t need to be a licensed educator to have valid views on education. Nor should we leave public policy strictly to highly trained experts whose judgment can be clouded by self-interest. Heck, look at the experts who led us right into the financial crisis of 2008 and the non-credentialed who predicted it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This op-ed has been corrected to reflect that Patrick Scully no longer writes for the CTEducation180 blog, which is operated by ConnCAN.