Today I received an e-mail from my mentor, retired Indiana University – Purdue University (IUPUI) Professor of Science Education, Michael Cohen, about his long time nemesis, Tony Bennett, former Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Today Bennett resigned his position as Florida’s education commissioner amid scandal. He is accused of falsifying data to enhance the performance of his favored charter school. Still, professor Cohen is trying to have a sense of humor about it, but it’s tough. He writes:
We now have a new word in the English language.
To Bennett: (usually a verb). Named after Tony Bennett former Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana and Florida and also William Bennett (no relation to Tony) who was President Reagan’s Secretary of Education.
Definition: A verb meaning to manipulate data to prove your conclusion regardless of the evidence. Always done with a serious expression, a forceful position, and stated in terms of an emergency of impending catastrophe. Also used as bennetting to describe the process used to fabricate evidence to prove any point you want.
A bennetter is one who bennetts by only selecting data to prove their point and leaves out other critical factors that would contradict their position. Never provides the total picture.
There are many related words such as bennettazation, creating a system that fixes the results to provide only answers you agree with. See also bennettary, bennettology, and many, many more.
He adds with anger and angst that we all share:
But in reality it is a tragedy. Look at all the time wasted, kids and teachers hurt, parents being pushed into worrying they would make the wrong decision, time not spent on real development (rather than reform), schools stigmatized, money wasted, major changes created that cannot be undone, and probably lots of other things I can’t think of right now.
It’s a great example of the old saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Bennett used a little knowledge and lots of people followed him – from the State Board of Education and the Educational Roundtable, to school districts, individual schools, and individual teachers, students, and parents. And those who questioned the process (questioned Bennett or any reformers) were discounted as wanting to keep the “Status Quo.” It was a take no prisoners response to any suggestion that Bennett and his ilk might not be exactly correct.
Personally, I am mourning the loss of the Key Learning Community which had so many interesting and unique ways to look at schooling, not the least of which was that a school is a research institution and is always looking at ways to improve the learning and growing environment for students, teachers, and parents.
So we have to learn from this experience and figure how to go forward with real innovations.
Key Learning Community, where I once taught, is (was) quite possibly the most wonderful public school ever visualized and realized by a small group of innovative teachers. The “reformers” killed it.
(Michael’s comments published with permission.)