the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Points of Interest, 2/1

In POI on February 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm

SHOOTING FOR THE STARS

With the release of the Obama Administration’s 2010 Budget Proposal, we get two seemingly divergent narratives. This is the sort of day where the twin teleprompters that accompany President Obama on his many speaking engagements appear the perfect emblems of our president’s deft oratory balancing of opposite forces.

He turns to the right: We’re abandoning the 2020 Moon Mission. He pivots to the left: We’re revamping No Child Left Behind.

But these stories, upon our second glance, reveal a familiar, nuanced theme—our president treating the American public as adults who deserve better than to be sold an ideal when a practical solution will suffice. Obama may have been carried into office on “The Dream” lifestory, but he has governed with (for better or worse) a suspicion of  imposing an artificial narrative arc on the complicated, lived consequences and benefits of his policies.

So we get coolly, technocratic proposals like this:

[Education] Department officials, who love acronyms, have already dubbed the new college- and career-ready goal as “CCR.”

“States would measure school performance and differentiate schools on the basis of progress in getting all subgroups of students on track to CCR, the growth of individual students toward CCR, progress toward closing subgroup achievement gaps, graduation rates (at the high school level) and other measures as appropriate,” the [proposal] summary said.

And we see an abrupt shift away from the 1950s and 60s technologies and missions that, it can be argued, inspired millions of young Americans to pursue a career in science. But the driving force behind the feelings evoked upon seeing the Stars and Stripes wedged into the lunar soil was always the frightening, seductive, and constant pursuit of making the unknown known. After the afterglow of Kennedy-era TVs faded, that’s what pushed a generation into science, and that’s what was forgotten during the Bush years.

Education reform, like healthcare reform, is incurably complicated. But that hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from boldly arguing that we 1) cannot wait for all the unknowns to reveal themselves before we enact reforms, and 2) it is unacceptable that the unknown is accepted as something permanent or permanently out-of-reach.

Bring on the charters, bring on merit pay, bring on vouchers, Obama seems to say—not to put forward a doctrine of “whatever works,” but rather to fend off stasis, a word that has new meaning in the International Space Station age: not “completely immobile,” but “in a fixed orbit.”

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