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Secretary Rah-Rah

In baring his soul in a recent “open letter to America’s teachers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan displayed transcendent bareness of either integrity or intelligence, depending upon which of these deficits is responsible for the clash between his stated beliefs and his contradictory actions as a policy-setter.

His letter is full of blandishment and flattery, delivered with dulcet tones as natural as aspartame from a tongue so forked that it could impale on it every cliché in educational discourse.

But if you take the words at “face value,” they make you feel for at least a nanosecond that there is legitimate conciliation being offered, or perhaps that any controversies have been nothing more substantial than the fluff of misunderstanding

He says: “I consider teaching an honorable and important profession…It is my goal to see (teachers) treated with the dignity we award to other professions…In too many communities, the profession has been devalued…”

Duncan feigns empathy for teachers who complain about “teaching being reduced to little more than a paint-by numbers exercise.” He claims to support teachers’ quest for “a high degree of autonomy” in the classroom and applauds their “building relationships with students with a diverse array of needs.”

Patronizing with exquisite aplomb, Duncan pats teacher folks on the head (or is it the back? No, the “back” is where he stabs them) for being “willing to be held accountable” and seeking time “to work with colleagues to strengthen your craft.”

With grace in duplicity, he purports to be on the same page with teachers in their criticism of NCLB’s “narrowed curriculum” and test assessments and their expectation that all children, including the disabled, English Language Learners and the economically deprived “learn and succeed.”

Duncan wants to recruit his audience of teachers into working to “improve federal law, to invest in teachers.” He touts “creativity” and “critical thinking” and blares the trumpet of partnership between government and educators as though it were his personal dream legacy.

With poignant oratorical flourish he calls education “a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals.” Sounds more like a Hallmark greeting card than the hallmark of a free-market hostile takeover prospectus.

Duncan’s letter merits a Raspberry Award for Gibberish and Jive. Check it out in its entirety, together with the cutting insights of Aaron Pallas, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Against a backdrop of Duncan’s record, Pallas’s conjectures about what Duncan’s unwritten actual views may be as opposed to those claimed in his missive, possibly ghostwritten by one of the 124 employees listed in the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach.