While it is definitely not the most significant incident of the week Rhode Island, Education Commissioner Ken Wagner made a hugely symbolic gesture on Dan Yorke’s State of Mind show:
“There are coaches that believe you go into the locker room and you hold carrots until you get performance,” Yorke said to Wagner. “Then you have Bobby Knight who comes in and throws chairs and tells them the truth.
“I just want you to throw a chair once. I want people to understand that this isn’t funny, this isn’t acceptable and this isn’t true that our students don’t perform…” Yorke was then interrupted by Wagner responding to his statement.
Wagner then followed Yorke’s lead, stood up and threw his chair to the side.
“This isn’t funny, this isn’t acceptable, and it’s not true that our kids can’t do it, they can do it!” Wagner said.
The symbolism isn’t that Wagner’s going to shake things up, but that he does, in fact, think it’s funny. Imagine, for comparison, that Rhode Island’s murder rate were among the worst in the country and Yorke offered a similar statement to the attorney general. How would we react if he took the Wagner make-a-joke-out-of-it approach?
Along the same vein, the Rhode Island Foundation has made news this week by announcing its new initiative to bring together another discussion about education, so that unelected insiders have another forum through which to tell Rhode Islanders how a long-term plan could maybe improve results for students a generation from now:
Aside from [RI Foundation President Neil] Steinberg, other members of the committee include: Kathy Bendheim (Impact for Education); Elizabeth Burke Bryant (Rhode Island Kids Count); Victor Capellan (superintendent of Central Falls schools); Jeremy Chiappetta (Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy); Barbara Cottam (R.I. Board of Education); Tom DiPaolo (Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association); David Driscoll (former Massachusetts commissioner of education); Tim Duffy (Rhode Island Association of School Committees); Frank Flynn (Rhode Island Federation of Teacher and Healthcare Professionals); Tom Giordano (Partnership for Rhode Island); Christopher Graham (Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce); Julie Horowitz (Feinstein School of Education and Human Development); Dolph Johnson (Hasbro); Susanna Loeb (Annenberg Institute for School Reform); Elizabeth Lynn (van Beuren Charitable Foundation); Keith Oliveira (R.I. League of Charter Schools); Pegah Rahmanian (Youth in Action); Don Rebello (Rhode Island Association of School Principals); Anthony Rolle (URI); Ken Wagner (R.I. education commissioner); and Robert Walsh (National Education Association Rhode Island).
Honestly, is there anybody on that list that doesn’t already have a seat at the table — whose views are not already represented in public debate about public policy in education? No. In typical Rhode Island fashion, this is a group of the same old special-interest representatives who (we should assume) are coming together to ensure that whatever reforms the state may try will not disrupt their sinecures too harshly.
In other words, it’s more wasted time and money. Rhode Islanders should brush this off as a distraction and mimic Wagner’s joke in all seriousness. Aren’t we tired of accepting failure, deceit, and mockery?
Featured image: Screen grab from Ken Wagner’s appearance on Dan Yorke, just after he threw a chair.