All Ideas Are Welcome

In a quick and funny 15 words, Roland Martin, the host and managing editor of News One Now, both explained and dismissed a long-simmering tension between educators and non-educators. Sitting on a panel at SXSWedu in Austin, Martin was debating the intersection of politics and education through the lens of the 2016 presidential election.

When one of his followers on Twitter sent the newsman a tweet saying that panel-mate journalist Jonathan Alter wasn’t qualified to talk about education because he wasn’t an educator, Martin exploded. “This idea that just because you’re in education, no one else can talk about education” is wrong, he said. As someone who is raising six nieces and constantly hiring people for his various TV and radio shows, Martin said of course he is both interested in education and qualified to comment on it. The same goes for Alter, he added.

In short, that was my experience during my initial visit to SXSWedu last month. There were plenty of people, in and “out” of education, talking about education. I’m fully on Martin’s side on this issue, I think the more discourse the better.

I know why this split in opinions exists though. The idea that business people can drop into an education debate and in five minutes pretend they’ve solved all the problems can be an infuriating experience. But to sit with AltSchool founder and CEO Max Ventilla and discuss his school’s mission for 45 minutes was an education in itself. Think what you want of the new, very expensive, private schools he has created in Silicon Valley and Brooklyn. But to say he doesn’t have a right to experiment with a small school that tries hard to personalize learning for each student because his background is in technology, is to miss the mark by a mile.

In fact, think back more than 100 years ago when John Dewey quit education after two years as a high school teacher. He succeeded in psychology and philosophy, but our public school system is richer because he took the knowledge from those two fields and brought it back to education. Many of his beliefs, including the student as active learner, remain tenets of education today. Chances are that Martin, Ventilla, or one of the hundreds of other speakers at SXSWedu will never attain Dewey’s influence, of course, but why would we want to silence them before we hear their ideas?