It’s occurred to me lately that there are certain hot-button topics that are so suffused with emotion there is no place in its discussion for fact or reality. These are surrogate issues, then, place-holders for something else, and what that something is needs to be understood before ever there can be any hope of effectively addressing the issue.

And what issues are these I’m referring to? The paradigm is abortion. No amount of rationality or reason or facts or data or explaining will change whatever it is that abortion-opponents are cluing in on. I don’t know what it is and likely it is a little different for everyone. For example it has been suggested there is a high proportion of the abortion-remorseful among those who would enforce their political ideology with regard to abortion-availability. That is, some disproportionate number of anti-abortionists themselves had an abortion once and regret the decision now. Even men find themselves among this group – perhaps especially.

But my purpose is not to fan flames of disagreement about abortion; it is to note there are other such hot-topics that cannot be addressed with logic (e.g, why care so deeply about the rights of the unborn and then ignore their rights and needs once born? — that sort of logical thinking which is dismissed by the anti-abortion crowd out of hand). Another of these, seemingly, is Charter schools. Gun control as well, but Chartering is my focus these days.

It seems you can haul out all the data you like about how charter schools are actually not clearer better than public school alternatives and likely worse on the whole. You can shudder at and highlight their undemocratic and unfair tactics. You can bemoan the profit motive. You can wonder at the dual standard that requires teacher-accountability in the public system and jettisons it in the Charter’s. You could find a hundred other issues inequitably addressed between systems … but it won’t matter. Not one whit will it matter.

It’s not about objective reality.

So. Then, what is it about? What on earth is all this tsimmes about? It is most certainly a surrogate for something?! Just as in some cases abortion-horror can surely be understood as misdirected personal regret, what is this intensely personal Achilles heel that is being drilled?

There’s a great personal-memoir type piece here on the subject. The author, Dubner, alludes to the Myth of a Magic Education. That there is a utopian classroom to be found. That there is some Truth about education, a Right Answer about how to do it well.

We have only to look into our own educational experience to understand that however fervently we wish for this to be so, it just is not. There were teachers I hated that I was startled to discover were effective and respected by some. People do not learn all the same way. Teachers can not therefore teach for them all equally well. There were charismatic teachers I found insufficiently content-driven in their presentations; and yet for some the stimulation of that presentation was enough to start down a path of life-long learning on their subject. Even a matter seemingly as objective as curriculum is not straight-forward in its contribution to outcome. At the end of the day, no amount of teacher-led explications will ever be able to substitute for the cold, hard fact that education is in the hands of the educatee: learning is hard, individual work that cannot be done for you. You must yourself absorb the knowledge, a job that cannot be outsourced, — facilitated, perhaps. But at the end of the day, the pupil is utterly, entirely on his own about actually absorbing understanding. The job of a student is intensely, existentially alone. All the work of a classroom teacher is in obeisance to this reality. And it is the poison pill of the Myth.

And then there’s the question of outcome: how do we even know what we are looking for, the hallmark of a “well-educated” person, or an under-educated one. Beyond certain baseline metrics, say, fluency — then what?

Education is filled with transcendental, unknowable measures. It aches to realize we don’t know what we are doing and can’t measure it. Still we try because it’s important to always better-characterize what we’re about. But that Myth, the Truth — the holy grail of a magical education — this will always remain elusive; an unknowable unknown. I think it is in the space of dissatisfaction between wanting some objective answer and being unable to have it – I think that is the space inhabited by the irrational Reformers. They demand improvement in an arena that is inherently subjective. The imposition of quantification is simply doomed to fail, both in conversation and in effect, at least on a wholesale level.

So it is essential to understand and speak to that Myth which is held so tightly. Somehow. No peace or progress or negotiated living will be made between camps unless and until this can jitter can be addressed. In engaging our fellow charter-clinging neighbors, we must somehow strive to comprehend the necessity of that Myth and how it affects — ahem — “choice”. Somewhere, common discussion-ground exists in the intersection of believing a problem can be solved by engaging with hard work and believing a problem can be solved by deliverance.

Good luck, all of us caring parents. Somehow, we need to parley.