Yesterday, education blogger Alexander Russo posed a question which I too had been curious about:
To summarize: What on earth should we be calling the education reform critics, especially when those they’re critiquing have been referred to de facto as “the reformers”?
Reformers such as Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, and Arnie Duncan have drawn criticism by a group composed of such folks as Diane Ravitch, John Thompson, and Valerie Strauss. [Note: A decent summary of this debate can be found here, for those unfamiliar with what exactly all this rhetoric is about].
As the Ravitch/Thompson/Strauss types have rallied against the specific strategies used by these “reformers”, bloggers such as Russo (and myself) have struggled to collectively refer to this group of those who oppose “the reformers” with a simple, memorable name. Unfortunately, the best that seems to have been done so far in describing the position of these folks is that of “anti-reform”, giving them the dubious status of being “anti-reformers”.
The problem with the term “anti-reformers” is that is implies that these folks are simply for the status quo. This could not be further from the truth. In my reading of their insights, these folks do want education reform, but of a very different type than that espoused by the a priori-named “reformers” such as Rhee/Kopp/Duncan.
So, in response to the lack of a good collective term for the “anti-reformers”, I propose that they start calling themselves the “counter-reformers”.
So why does the name “counter-reformers” work?
First, the term “counter” indicates that these folks are, in fact, generally opposed to the strategies espoused by the reformers. As we saw this fall with the Occupy movement, identifying a common “enemy” can be a galvanizing move. “Counter-reformers” are clearly, by their name, against something.
Second, the inclusion of the word “reform” indicates that, while their movement may have started in opposition to something, these folks are definitely not for merely keeping the status quo. “Counter-reformers” do want education reform, but they want reform on the terms that they believe are best for students, families, and communities (in fairness, the “reformers” would say the same thing).
A final consideration for “counter-reformers” gauging whether to self-adopt this term is the potential for its staying power. Simply put, is the term sticky enough to be repeated in public space to the extent that its mere mention will conjure up the ideals and beliefs of its individuals?
To answer this question, I turn back the clock nearly 500 years, when another institution with hugely problematic and corrupt policies and practices underwent its own insurrection from a group of “reformers”, namely Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli, who broke away from the Catholic Church and formed their own protest movement, the “Protestants”. What’s key here is that, in response, the Catholic Church essentially said, “yes, we’ve got some issues, but the way these protestants are dealing with them is completely wrong”. So in response, the Catholics launched the “Counter-reformation”, which sought (and generally did) reform many of the corrupt practices within the church without the divisive split which the protestants sparked.
While that’s probably as far as we should take the naming analogy, it’s of interest to note that the term “Counter-Reformation” is still taught in modern history books, and thus still is a term which both quickly and easily identifies to its modern hearers the content and owners of the practices and policies it refers to.
I think that the Ravitches, Thompsons, and Strausses of the world would do well to re-appropriate this term for themselves in the ever-growing rhetorical gap among education reform advocates today.