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Sam Chaltain Headshot

Calling Bill Maher

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After reading Michelle Rhee's surprisingly casual dismissal of cheating allegations in D.C.'s public school system, I've decided we need to do something drastic if we want to shake ourselves out of this surreal set of conversations about school reform.

We need Bill Maher to make a documentary about education.

Perhaps we can even take a cue from his first film, Religulous, and call this one "Edu-buh-cation." Or "Stoopid." Or "The Bee-Eater."

Oh, wait, that one's taken.

We need Bill because we are living in a country where smart people genuinely believe they're talking about school reform -- when all they're really doing is talking about labor law.

We need Bill because we need to stop pretending that improving test scores is the same thing as proving that all children are learning.

And we need Bill because the problems we face will not be solved by deciding if we're for or against unions, or if we love or hate Michelle Rhee, or if we think charter schools are a great or horrible idea.

Ours is a society in seeming-constant need of some satire. And we need satire because we need some social criticism that can lay bare the idiocy of the moment, and queue up a different set of questions about how to improve public education in America.

Here are a few I could see Bill using in his interviews and profiles of people and communities:

* What do we know about how people learn?
* When and where were you when you learned best?
* What are the core elements of the ideal learning environment -- based on our own memories, and the best learning experiences of our lives?
* What do we know about what motivates people?
* What do parents want their children, when they graduate, to know, be, and be able to do?
* What habits of mind and work will be most valuable to children when they graduate?
* What if we stop assuming that everyone should go to college?

If this were to happen, I can guarantee we'd discover a deeper truth about what transformational learning actually looks like -- and requires. We'd see that there are tons of schools and communities doing great things across the country -- and we'd get the chance to learn about what it is exactly they're doing. And we'd stop allowing the most powerful voices in the field to keep pretending that what we seek is as simple as replacing bad teachers with good ones, seeding more charter schools, and pretending that the solutions we seek can all be attained within the walls of our schools.

We need Bill Maher because he's already doing this -- as he did recently when he mocked the simple narrative that has developed in this country around "fat cat" teachers. We need Bill because this issue is too important to keep being mischaracterized -- as it was in that remarkable graphic in Waiting for Superman, offered uncritically, in which a teacher attempts to pour "knowledge" into the empty heads of her passive, seated students. And we need Bill because the only way we can snap out of this stupor is if someone helps us see the ridiculousness of it all, makes us laugh at our own stupidity -- and shames us into rethinking our approach.

We can do better. And Bill Maher can help us.

Call me.