Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I don't get mad, I get odd.

This started as a comment in someone else's FB post, and then I decided that it was enough of its own thing that I should put it here.  It was a post on the subject of gun violence and gun control.  The quote that inspired my reaction was, "It's time to get mad.  We do no have to be nice to these people."

I'm going to disagree with half of that.  True, being nice in this debate is not necessary.  But I think it is not time to get mad.  It's time to get compassionate.  In all of our emotionally-charged, highly-polarized debates, we have no lack of angry participants.  Let me ask you: how far has that gotten us?  Yeah, I thought so.

We need compassion.  We need understanding.  And if you think that taking the time to understand the opposing viewpoint is "losing the battle" then you have already lost.

Let's say you advocate for gun control, because you believe that reducing the availability of guns will reduce gun violence and the associated death, injury, fear, and other badness.  If you fail to recognize the fact that we do, in fact, have a constitutional amendment that guarantees a right to bear arms, you will fail.  My understanding of case law is that the current interpretation does in fact hold up the right of individuals to bear arms.  Which means that those who see gun control laws as an attempt to infringe on their constitutionally-protected rights have a valid point. Yes.  You need to acknowledge their stance as valid, even if you disagree with it.

You need to do that because it is both the right thing to do and the most effective way to get what you want.


Follow along with me for a moment, folks.  When you dismiss as invalid (or unimportant) the gun rights advocate's concerns of the government infringing on constitutionally-protected rights, you will fail.  You will fail because you are ignoring an important and valid part of the debate, because it's inconvenient to have to accommodate it.  That's like saying I want to drive to London from New York and ignoring the fact that my car is not a boat, because it's inconvenient to admit I can't sail my car to the UK.  If I actually want to get to London, it is vastly more effective for me to admit that my car is not a boat, and either buy a ticket to fly in an airplane, or look for an actual boat.  If I lose sight of the end-goal because I find the current state of affairs distasteful, I'm going to fail to achieve my end goal.

Now, just as I can choose various options like a boat or a plane to get to London, we can have a debate about how the second amendment should be interpreted.  But that's a different debate. You can try to get it re-interpreted or you can attempt to change it, and there are legal processes for both of those things.  But any attempt to change laws and behaviors needs to accept the current legal state as it is and go from there.  Otherwise you'll end up parked at the bottom of the Long Island Sound.

This cuts both ways.  Are you a gun rights advocate?  Do you believe in the individual mandate interpretation of the 2nd amendment?  Do you not trust the government with a registry of who has what firearms?  Fine.

Understand that all over our country people are being shot and killed every day, and that people are really sick and tired of their friends and family getting killed, and they want solutions that will curb the violence quickly.  If you want to keep your guns, then you need to accept the need to find ways to reduce gun violence and be able to propose effective, politically acceptable solutions to the gun violence problem.  You might even need to be willing to bend a bit on what sorts of restrictions you could find acceptable.  Whatever approach you take, you have to accept people's concerns as valid, and be willing to offer solutions and compromises that address those concerns.

Again, you need to do this both because it is the right thing to do and because it is the most effective way to get what you want long term.

If you entrench too hard, you may find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly overrun when the tide of public opinion shifts.  Each time another mass shooting occurs, there's the chance that it is the spark that will light the blaze of righteous fury that overturns the second amendment completely.  Look at how quickly the Arab Spring overturned several governments.  And then look at what the excruciatingly oppressive government in Myanmar did in response.  Now, look at who's still in power there.  Yeah.

So, no, don't get mad.  Get compassionate.  Understand that we really all do want to make this country a better place.  We may disagree on how to get there, we may disagree on the priorities.  But we all want to live well, in liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Legitimizing Education Reform

I've been thinking a lot about education reform and the Common Core lately.  I had a very interesting and enlightening conversation recently with someone who has some perspective from inside the system, and it's got me thinking.

So much of the debate about education reform is entirely unproductive.  Everyone has already decided what's right (themselves) and what's wrong (the other guy) and is simply shouting pre-canned arguments at the other side.  Okay, that state of affairs is not unique to education, but education is what I've been thinking about lately.

Maybe it's because I've got one kid who's out of public school and off at college, experiencing that very, very different environment.  Maybe it's because I've still got another kid in middle school who's dealing with common core math.  Since we need to help him with that math, I'm learning Common Core math, too.  And it seems strange to me.  Precise terminology.  Oddly specific phrasing.  But I'm starting to learn.

Anyway, I've been looking (as I'm prone to do) for the structural elements of the debate that, if repaired, could change the conversation for the productive.  I came across a discussion of the legitimacy (and effectiveness) of authority in Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath, and found that it clicked for me.  Specifically, it gave me some insight on why the rollout of the common core in NY has been so rough (at least in part):
This is called the "principle of legitimacy," and legitimacy is based on three things.  First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice -- that if they speak up, they will be heard.  Second, the law has to be predictable.  There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today.  And third, the authority has to be fair.  It can't treat one group differently from another. (ch 7 pp 207-208)
 What the state has done with respect to education reform in the past few years has violated all three of these things.

  1. When criticisms of reform, testing regimes, and new standards have voiced their objections, they have frequently been blown off.  They've been told that they're being obstructionist, that they don't want accountability, or whatever, rather than acknowledging the valid portions of their concerns and engaged to discuss.  The teachers, the parents, even the administrators feel like they don't have a voice.
  2. The rules are far from predictable.  The most egregious example of this is Cuomo's recent proposal to change the basis of teacher ratings based purely on the fact that the old system failed to flunk enough teachers.
  3. The lack of fairness is a bit more subtle.  If all teachers are subjected to the same APPR, then it's fair, right?  Unless in fact the assessment ratings are dependent on a lot of factors that very widely between schools and school districts.  If the results of the assessments were in fact dependent solely on a teachers ability and performance as a teacher, then they would be fair.  However, there are so many external factors (income/poverty being the big one, but far from the only one) that drive the results just as much that there is no way it can be fair unless you have formulae that are so complex and convoluted that nobody could understand them.
As a result of this, Cuomo's legitimacy is compromised.  And as Gladwell points out, "when the law is applied in the absence of legitimacy, it does not produce obedience.  It produces the opposite.  It leads to backlash" (p. 222) Unfortunately, Cuomo's reaction to having his authority challenged seems to be to double down and declare war on the teacher's union.  If he was handling things properly, the teachers could be his ally in this effort, rather than an enemy. To get there, he'd need to swallow some of his ego and make some concessions.  He'd need to actually listen to people's concern.  He'd need to stop changing the rules of engagement capriciously.  And he'd need to open up discussion of the deeply flawed funding model that plagues public education in this state.

With that, and with a corresponding willingness on the part of teachers, parents, and districts to accept standards and accountability, we might start having a productive (if still difficult) conversation.