NEA President Lily Eskelsen García is now on a serial apologizing tour. The latest is this video. That follows a tour of blog comment sections and other outlets. Assuming she’s telling the truth then I wish she’d stop. Because the more she says the less favorable she looks. Misspeaking is not an “epic failure” as she now characterizes it (and where are all these high priced PR firms the NEA keeps around?)
Recall that at a recent awards banquet (that’s an informal DC pay to play kind of deal to begin with so there is a certain amusing irony here) Eskelsen García launched into a riff on all the various things teachers are asked to do. At one point she said they are required to educate the ‘chronically tarded” and “medically annoying.” Disabilities groups were understandably upset because there is a pronounced bias against special education students in many parts of the education world (and society more generally) and people do say things like this more often than you’d think. Except Eskelsen García said afterwards that she misspoke and meant chronically “tardy” and medically as in persistently or chronically, a way it is used in casual conversations. Listening to the video those do sound like reasonable interpretations and as I noted the other day they sounded legit to me.
But the outrage continues, not everyone (including friends and foes of the NEA) buys her apology, and now she’s apologizing more, and more forthrightly, for the entire episode in an effort to tamp this all down. “We should all be more careful when we speak, slow down, make sure our points are well-articulated and fully understood. The bottom line for me is, I screwed up, and I apologize. Please judge me by my heart, and not by my mistakes” she says in the video by way of offering a lesson from this. That, too, seems legitimate (except for the heart part, I tend to think you’re on safer ground judging what people actually say and especially what they do than trying to infer what is in their hearts).
I’ve got my issues with some NEA policy positions and God knows Eskelsen García does seem prone to saying whatever pops into her head (for instance, she supported impeaching President Clinton, her penchant for hyperbole got her thoroughly dismantled by the Ed Trust’s Kati Haycock during a discussion of federal policy earlier this year) but on this one unless she’s being misleading about what she actually meant then it’s hard to argue with this. And in our videoed world if this was a pattern I suspect we’d know about it. If she’s not being truthful then the lesson is a much darker one. Otherwise, isn’t the real lesson here that we should cut people some slack when they misspeak rather than demand ritualistic public cleansing? It’s poisoning our public debate.
Meanwhile, another irony here related to what people do is that as this unfolds the NEA is supporting rollbacks in federal accountability policy that aren’t good news for special needs students. More attention to that and pressure on the NEA about those issues might be helpful? One need not be bigoted toward special needs students to nonetheless support policies that are arguably not in their best interests.
Speaking of accountability, the new ESEA passed the House yesterday. Plenty of news and views for you to read about that. A lot of civil rights groups are issuing measured and mostly lukewarm at best statements of given what a mixed bag the new law is shaping up to be – I think there will be a price to pay for not fighting it more aggressively. Essentially the impetus to get this done is concern that any version under any new administration (D or R) might even be worse which is bound up with pressure on the right to stick it to Arne Duncan and President Obama and a behind the scenes consensus on the left to get this out of the way for Hillary Clinton. Add to that a calculus that the votes are probably there regardless. There is certainly a political logic to all of that, but the lack of fight doesn’t help the civil rights groups have leverage the next time push comes to shove on a crux policy issue affecting minority or low-income youth. If people in the education sector don’t want to be taken for granted and treated as though education is a second tier issue, then don’t get taken for granted and act as though it’s a second tier issue…
A lot of bad reporting on how this Zuckerberg – Chan charitable operation is going to work, how it is structured, what it means for their personal finances and taxes, and so forth. Matt Levine takes a look at that.