A Response to the Authors of “You Can’t Fire the Bad Ones”

The authors of “Bad Ones” and I are in agreement on at least one thing. As they put it, their book is not “debating the facts, we are debating how to frame the debate.” The problem is that their book is one that seeks to debunk 19 myths about education. One debunks myths with facts, not an alternative narrative. A “myth” book is normally structured as myth versus fact, not “their myth” versus “our myth.”

But in the disorienting post-modern world in which William Ayers, Crystal Laura, and Rick Ayers live, there appear to be no facts, only myths. That’s why they feel unashamed to acknowledge that their rebuttal of the claim that teacher unions tend to harm educational outcomes confuses correlation for causation. They defend themselves by suggesting that the other side does that too: “But we were countering the claims by conservatives that the end of teacher unions would improve educational outcomes.” As I pointed out in my review, however, there is at least some research with stronger causal research designs showing that unionization has been harmful. Ayers, Laura, and Ayers would be much more convincing if they rebutted contrary evidence with evidence of their own, rather than with just a counter-narrative.

I also agree with them that “corporate reformers” have made many mistakes, particularly in failing to think more clearly about what the purposes of education really are. A book that made a case for their vision of the purposes of education against those of “corporate reformers” might have been very interesting, but that is not the book they wrote.

Lastly, I find it a bit strange that people who call others names like “corporate reformer” and “neoliberal” would take umbrage at being correctly identified as embracing Marxist theories. And noting that Bill Ayers helped found and lead a domestic terrorist organization, in which as he told the New York Times on September 11, 2001, “I don’t regret setting bombs,” may be ad hominem, but at some point the person is relevant to the message. I make no apology for remembering what he did. Instead, I think the education community that has somehow re-admitted him to polite society needs to account for their amnesia.

— Jay P. Greene.

Jay P. Greene is endowed chair and head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

This post is a response to the Rick Ayer’s rebuttal of Greene’s original review.

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