There’s No School Like the Old School

An Education Next editor launches column to promote the timelessness of sensible ideas in education

Photo of Rick Hess with text "Old School with Rick Hess"

“There’s no school like the old school.” It’s a wry tribute proffered by the two old guys in 2004’s The Incredibles when our heroes come out of forced retirement to save the day. (A less G-rated version of the sentiment is offered in 2008’s RocknRolla). But it’s the kind of tribute that has, I fear, fallen out of fashion. The disdain for old-school norms is palpable in an “OK, boomer” era of post-liberalism, performative populism, cancel culture, and 14-year-old TikTok millionaires.

I guess you can say this blog is a reaction to all of that. Now, while it may seem a bit odd to launch a blog titled “Old School” at a publication titled Education Next, it really shouldn’t. After all, for a quarter century, my fellow EdNext editors and I have pledged to “steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments.” In 2024, doing that demands nothing so much as a heavy dose of old-school fortitude.

“Old School” is rooted in the conviction that steering a steady course requires reclaiming our commitment to some dusty (but timeless) virtues: perspective, experience, humility, and a willingness to stand athwart the enthusiasms of the moment. In other words, it requires more time-tested wisdom and less technobabble. It’s hard to get more old school than that.

The subject matter will range widely. I’m sure we’ll touch on K–12, pre-K, and college; research results and policy proposals; student loans and SEL; teachers and ed tech; dollars and DEI; wonky improvement strategies and heated culture clashes.

But it’s safe to say the blog will be defined less by any given topic than by its sensibility. Indeed, the ethos will be “old school” in some very straightforward ways.

For starters, I tend to find that most of education’s newest, shiniest reforms aren’t actually all that new. Would-be trailblazers are frequently retracing a well-worn path. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it does mean that there are lessons to be learned; that challenges may be more familiar, and solutions less straightforward, than eager innovators imagine. Readers acquainted with my books like The Same Thing Over and Over or The Great School Rethink know that I think there’s great utility in looking back. Safe to say, that’ll be a recurring theme.

The “old school” sensibility will be unapologetically rooted in values that were widely accepted not that long ago. For instance, I have an abiding fondness for rigor, merit, hard work, knowledge, classroom discipline, personal responsibility, respectful discourse, religious freedom, patriotism, limited government, two-parent households, due process, equal protection, and balanced budgets. While there’s plenty of room for complexity and nuance here, I think these are generally good things. So, that’s where I’m coming from.

At the same time, I want to be equally clear that this blog won’t be a political exercise. Heck, I’m so old school that I won’t even try to keep pace with the frantic, social media-driven news cycle or the latest partisan sniping. There are plenty of other places offering hot takes on the latest clickbait. That’s not my bag. What I’ll aim to provide is some context, perspective, and insight, ideally with a little panache.

You know, when I started blogging, 15 years ago now, the blogosphere felt less self-righteous. There was a lot more room for cheek. As a result, my writing felt freer, fresher, funnier, and more personal than it has of late. Well, it’s time to bring the brio back. That’ll include dusting off some writing devices which got squeezed into a too-early retirement. So longtime readers can once again expect to encounter some old favorites, including my time machine, sagacious Uber driver, purloined FBI intercepts, and all the rest.

Finally, there’s a wealth of great writing on Substack today. Of course, since the best stuff is subscription-based, authors go big to make it worth the coin—yielding a lot of learned, lengthy, link-laden essays. For better or worse, “Old School” will offer something different. Pieces will be shorter, quirkier, and lighter on the links. The model will be less an extended Atlantic rumination and more an ornery metro columnist. (For those who can remember grabbing the morning paper, think Mike Royko, William Raspberry, Jimmy Breslin, or Herb Caen.)

Doesn’t sound like your thing? That’s cool.

But if it does, I think we’re going to have some fun together.

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Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

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