Are We Listening?

Were any of you surprised by the election results? Were any of you disappointed?
I ask only because I’ve come to one conclusion: Maybe we weren’t listening.
To me, it’s clear that America is caught in a gigantic echo chamber.

An Election Day Clue
At 4:30 on the afternoon of Election Day, I was driving home from the airport. I was listening to the news, and all reports were predicting a Hillary Clinton landslide. At the end of one segment, the broadcaster mentioned, almost casually, that 45 percent of those asked refused to participate in exit polling.

I arrived home, walked into the house, and told my wife, Bonnie that Donald Trump would win.

A New ‘Silent Majority’
Here’s my sense of what happened: I think Trump supporters, or voters just leaning towards Trump, were afraid to say who they supported. Why? Because Hillary’s supporters would rip them apart! They were afraid to say anything – especially to the exit pollsters.

A Big Problem for Education
I think we have a similar problem in American public education.

For 33 years, since “A Nation at Risk” was released in 1983, we’ve been talking about school reform. Politicians talk about it. We all talk about it. Yet nothing gets done. (For those of you who may have forgotten, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” was considered a landmark report which concluded that American schools were falling behind other countries. It touched off a wave of local, state and federal discussions about reform efforts.

We talk about reform, but when it comes time to do anything, resistance from the educational establishment stops it from happening. Vouchers, opt-out, charters – you can go down the list. The establishment has thwarted almost every attempt.

Why? Because educators live in our own echo chamber. We know each other, we talk with each other. We mostly think the same way.
Start Listening
The educational establishment is right where the leadership of both political parties were before the country voted. No one was listening. Is there a lesson here? Sure. Start listening. Really listening.

Some of you know this story, but it’s illuminating: I like to jog – it helps keep me centered – so I start almost every day running on a treadmill for about 40 minutes. For the first 20 minutes, I watch MSNBC. For the last 20 minutes, I watch Fox News. It’s amazing how each channel so differently reports the same news event! They clearly don’t talk with each other!

So here’s my advice: Start talking to people who are not like you. Start talking to the other side. Listen—really listen—to the other side. Don’t instantly write them off.
Finally, a word of warning. Most people don’t want to get out of their echo chambers. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. It makes you wince sometimes.

But if we as educators can’t – or won’t – find a way out, we are in danger of losing public education for good.

Just ask Hillary Clinton supporters.


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