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An Indiana Parent Writes to NBC's Education Nation: Why Only Present One Side of a Public Debate?

Several weeks ago I wrote a post asking if NBC News would once again be relying on the Gates Foundation for the "facts" to guide their discussions at this year's Education Nation extravaganza. NBC has released the list of panelists who will be the featured guests at its event, and it appears my concerns were well-founded. The list includes Goldie Hawn, M. Night Shymalan, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and Goldman Sachs president Lloyd Blankfein, but scarcely an actual working teacher to be found.

Particularly notable by her absence is professor Diane Ravitch, whose recent book, Reign of Error, has shot to the top of public policy best sellers in the past week. Dr. Ravitch was invited to sit in the audience, but not actually be a featured panelist, as she explains here. Ravitch posted an email address for someone named Isaac Norbe who is collecting RSVPs for the event. The email address is: [email protected]

A parent in Indiana, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, authored the letter below which she sent to that address. Messages can also be sent via the NBC News contact page here.

Dear Mr. Norbe,
I just read the line-up of participants for your Education Nation with absolute dismay. I am not a teacher defending the status quo. I am not a union person either. I am an at-home mother who has recently become aware of the great problems facing our public schools as a whole all across the country. I have four children in school and I am deeply interested and deeply concerned about the direction of public education.

I would like to know where you got the names or how you went about selecting these particular guests. I notice that almost all of the people are those who agree about corporate "reform" of public schools.

I am particularly dismayed that you have chosen Mitch Daniels to speak. Did you know that he was recently in the news for the emails he sent while governor of Indiana in which he called for a censorship of Howard Zinn's work in our schools, including universities? Howard Zinn was a historian who specialized in trying to bring long-silenced voices and perspectives of women, people of color, workers, and other marginalized groups to our history books. Regardless of whether anyone agrees with Zinn, the idea that Daniels (now the president of Purdue University, for goodness' sake) would encourage arm-twisting (with funds) and other measures to narrow the curriculum is appalling. But that's just the icing on the cake. Having lived in Indiana for the last 11 years, I can tell you that former Governor Daniels is a nightmare for public schooling. His "reforms" have been a barrage of punishment for teachers to schools to the children within. Tying test scores to all kinds of measures like a teacher's job, pay, a narrow letter grade for a school, and the fear of "takeover" if test scores go down, has been a disaster for our schools. He cut $300 million dollars from our budgets; consequently, class sizes grew and in many school districts children don't have art, music or gym, and he had the audacity to brag about a surplus in the budget when he left office.

An excellent person to have on the show would have been Glenda Ritz. Glenda Ritz is Indiana's current superintendent of public instruction. She was outspent 5-1 by Tony Bennett (not the singer, the former superintendent) with donations or connections from MANY of your panelists to his campaign, including David Coleman, Mayor Bloomberg, and others. To have Mitch Daniels as well as our governor Mike Pence (who is more of the same for public education) is appalling. These people are all in bed together with the possible exception of Randi Weingarten and David Kirp. What kind of exchange of ideas are you hoping for?

Where is your journalistic sense of bringing different sides to an issue? I feel so discouraged when I read stuff like this. When people rip on the media, with this line-up of guests you are just validating for everyone that you care only for the corporate viewpoint. I learned of this event from a post on Diane Ravitch's blog in which she said that she had been invited to sit in the audience! What disrespect to a woman who has been working tirelessly to inform the country about public education and the harm that corporate-driven "reform" has done to it. Why would you not include her in the discussion, rather than physically and figuratively marginalizing her instead? Get the people up there who have opposing views to our Sec. of Ed. Duncan. Get the naysayers to Jeb Bush's agenda. Get the teachers from Chicago (maybe Karen Lewis?) and Philadelphia and Detroit who can't even keep schools open because they have been gutted and shut down and have them tell the viewers how the children have been affected! Get some activists from here in Indiana where Glenda Ritz was elected against all odds, odds stacked that way because of the influence of the majority of your participants.

Well, you had a lot of choices, but this corporate decision perpetuates the destruction of public education. This is the cornerstone of democracy that will be in ruins.

We are definitely not an education nation if our media can't facilitate REAL conversation and dialogue.

Sincerely and disheartened,

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer
Bloomington, IN

What do you think? Has NBC News fallen down on its duty to present multiple points of view in its Education Nation program?

Note: If you send NBC a message, please post it below as well so that others can see.

Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, M.A. Social Foundations of Education from Eastern Michigan University, is an at-home mother of four children and chairperson of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and South Central Indiana.

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