Jon Stewart and Lewis Black blew it on schools
Lewis Black’s piece on “the public school crisis” that aired on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” the other night left me wondering why education reform hasn’t been more of a high value target for Stewart or, for that matter, Stephen Colbert.
The reform world is dripping with hilarious promise.
There are characters to lampoon: School superintendents who are education’s fundamentalists, believing only they know the way to reform heaven.
There are issues to rip open: The standardized testing obsession, the charter school obsession, the insistence on first the Bush administration and now the Obama administration to turn the nation’s leading civic institution, the public school system, into a market-driven industry.
Black’s piece (not his finest work) seemed to be inspired by the new education movie “Waiting for Superman,” which paints a false picture of
the education reform scene, and by NBC's recent Education Nation summit, which, in a different way, did the same thing.
He spoke about public charter schools, and said “Charter schools are better,” and then, after showing a clip of kids, said, “But those kids are in public schools. What ideas do we have for fixing them?”
Charter schools, as Black apparently doesn’t know, ARE public schools, and, incidentally, educate less than 5 percent of the country’s kids.
As for being “better,” the biggest research study on them, conducted by Stanford University researchers, showed that only 17 percent of them produce better test scores than their local traditional public schools and the rest were either worse or the same.
Stewart and Colbert both had the perfect chance to wade into this wacky world earlier this year when Diane Ravitch’s book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” was published and became a bestseller on the New York Times list.
Ravitch, the country’s leading education historian, tells of how she once supported No Child Left Behind but looked at the evidence of its effects on schools and came to realize it was terrible policy. Now the Obama administration is taking some of the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind to new levels of awfulness.
I asked Comedy Central why Stewart hasn’t invited Ravitch, or, for that matter, someone else who could talk about the education reform madness, but a vice president there said they don’t talk about the guest selection process. I heard elsewhere that the show wants “edgy” guests; Ravitch is actually edgier than virtually all of the guests both men have on their shows. (I know because I watch them.)
Colbert, on his Colbert Report, invited Education Secretary Arne Duncan on for an interview last year, but, frankly Colbert let Duncan off the hook.
Stewart has become more than just a funny guy on television. He has become a cultural force who routinely attacks hypocrisy and stupidity in all kinds of arenas. Colbert is too.
If Stewart and Black and Colbert can’t find fun in the hypocrisy of public school reform, they are losing their touch.
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| October 7, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories: School turnarounds/reform | Tags: charter schools, colbert report, jon stewart, lewis black, school reform, steven colbert, the colbert report, the daily show, waiting for superman
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