9/29/2005

The Benefits of Ridiculing Education (and Education Journalism)

I am a big fan of those who make fun of super-serious topics like public education, school reform, and education journalism.

That's why I've tried to include as much education- or journalism-related parody as I can, including No Child's Sweet Behind (The Daily Show), NCLB: A Satire (Alternative Reform Network) and TFA Chews Up Another Ethnic-Studies Major (The Onion).

I'm also a big fan of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is trying to get the school board in Kansas to require teaching about the Spaghetti Monster in schools, and a delightful chart I came across recently called Making adequate yearly progress: The game (Research For Action). Hilarious. Scary.

I think we need every little bit of fun we can get, and sometimes a point is best made through humorous exaggeration. There's too little making fun of education (and education journalism). We need more.

No big surprise then that I highly recommend a piece in the November edition of The Atlantic which is about widely-circulated bits of journalism that are floating around out there -- never published, published only after great delay, or never meant to be published: The greatest stories never told

These articles are often insider accounts or sendups of crazy and dumb practices in journalism.

Here, a Boston Globe writer suggests what his editors, apparently known for their crushing comments, might do to the Gettysburg Address:
"Fourscore and seven years ago (can't we just make it 87 years ago?) our fathers (WHO ARE THEY?? Any mothers???) brought forth on this continent (North America?? Northern Hemisphere??) a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men (people, men and women, what???) are created equal. (Why don't we just say they founded the United States and leave it at that? Pacing's better.)"
Here is a NYT parody of what is to my view one of the most loathsome and prevalent practices in journalism-- the human interest or "color" opening (or lead, or lede), which may or may not have much to do with the story itself (and is usually attached at the last minute, like Frankenstein's head), but is still required by most editors:
"DALLAS, Nov. 22—Elvira Brown's aging face seems almost to be a map of the parched, weatherbeaten Texas countryside that has been her home for 83 years... Years ago, she would sit on this porch and watch cattle drives pass.

Today, a procession of quite a different sort passed along the now-paved course. It was a motorcade. It flew by at top speed on its way to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Top speed, because, it seems, the President of the United States was inside. And he was dead."
The problem is that the people most often in a position to make a little bit of fun about something can't afford to do so publicly for fear of offending the bosses. [As a fledgling education researcher right out of grad school, I remember concocting a sendup of the vague and impenetrable language of the federal evaluation reports I was reading -- and writing -- and suggesting that my text could be used as a template for pretty much anything we put out. No suprise I didn't last long there.]

Occasionally in the past, I may have gone too far -- or hit a nerve, I'm not sure which -- as when I linked to an inflammatory post from The Gadfly called Pay no attention to the bias behind the curtain which gave mock-serious instructions on how to write a misleading education story ("start with a tearjerker," etc.). I thought it was funny and sorta right. Not everyone agreed.

Still, this is great stuff. Bracing, if not always "ha-ha" funny. Occasionally the source of that big belly laugh we really needed. Instructive, even if you don't agree.

And I want more.

That's where you come in. There must be other examples lying around in someone's desk drawer or on their hard drive -- of Education Week, or the Times columnist Michael Winerip, or professional development, or annual evaluations. (A much-rumored but never seen mock version of the education magazine Catalyst Chicago is out there, somewhere, I'm told.)
Come on, loyal readers -- the door is open for any and all education- or journalism-related sendups, satires, and parodies.

Don't make me start trying to be funny myself. That could only end badly.

2 Comments:

Blogger EdWonk said...

There is a Flying Spaghetti Monster game that is somewhat addictive. You can play it here. (I learned of the game via Electric Venom.)

2:01 AM  
Anonymous Diane Ravitch said...

Alexander, surely the funniest event every year is the April fool's edition of The Gadfly!

Diane Ravitch

EdNote: Unable to find a live link to the post, which may have been deleted. Too bad. It was brilliant.

6:11 PM  

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