Deconstruct this (Mr. President)

Diane Ravitch, in Education Week:  “Does President Obama Know What Race to the Top Is?”

“Deconstruct this,” she says. Granted, Ravitch is at least more interesting since her about-face. And pointing out the irony/hypocrisy of Presidential rhetoric in the face of policy is perhaps a good start. Likewise her grasp of the territory (and former insider status) situates her well for the roll of unveiler.

But I wonder if this isn’t quite, yet, a “deconstruction.” That might be a bit more uncomfortable.

Alternating between suggesting someone is smart enough to know better, and insinuating that maybe they aren’t and don’t, does not a deconstruction make. Wouldn’t it need to show the odd interdependency of both lines of the irony, the way they feed off of each other? Wouldn’t it require us to examine the secret affinities, or even the status of secrecy itself, both rhetorically and as policy? What, for example, of Obama’s allusion to “surprise” testing? What does surprise look like as it strives to bridge into methodology, repeatability? Take, for example, the attempt in Tom Stoppard’s, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, as they try to sort out which of them is which:

R: Now I’ll try you!
G: Not yet! Catch me unawares!
R: Guilden…
G: Me. Unawares!
R: (Pauses, acting natural.) Ready?
G: Never mind.

We can imagine this scene repeated any number of times in a school day, attempting to hone in on, through testing, an intuitive identity. Oddly it is the “natural” that surprises us.

But more challenging, more unawares, a deconstruction might also disrupt Ravitch’s own unquestionable: good, clean, common-sense teaching. (This is a view we could imagine the POTUS shares, and which Ravitch prefers at least to share with him, even if it means implying he’s unaware of his own policy.) I often get the sense, when my student’s lament that teaching to the test keeps them from delivering the education they very well know how to give, that it is the presence of the test itself which galvanizes this surety. Or perhaps I wish it so. “What, no doubt? No fear?” challenges Guildenstern. What if, in all of this, we were to discover that education itself eludes us, and from all sides? And that we prefer simpler times, or at least to, in some simple way, displace our discomfort onto the figures of others? Indeed, what if schooling has always been, amongst other things, a privileged mechanism for  precisely this?

Read Ravitch’s letter here:
Education Week: “Does President Obama Know What Race to the Top Is?”