Friday, September 12, 2008

"Paternalistic" vs. "No Excuses"

Jay Mathews doesn't much care for the term "paternalistic" when applied to the schools in David Whitman's new book. So he solicited input from his readers in order to come up with a better name for these schools. He announced his winner today: "No Excuses Schools."

I don't like it.

Unlike Mathews, I thought that "paternalistic" was an apt description of the schools in the book. That's not to say that it's the ideal term -- too many people associate too much negativity with the term -- but I thought it was fitting.

To be fair, I really have no better term to offer. None of the terms he presents really strike me as all that great -- they're either too ungainly to say or don't really capture what these schools are about. But I don't like "no excuses" for two main reasons:

1. It doesn't fully capture the difference between these schools and other schools or, for that matter, the defining characteristics of these schools. As Whitman describes them, these schools are not only no-nonsense (which might have been a better term), but also very caring and parental. In other words, they're kind of like the "loving hardasses" that Sherman Dorn wants.

2. It's a slap in the face to other schools. It implies that the reason they're struggling is because they're making excuses, or allowing kids to make excuses. Sure, there are poorly run schools out there. There are poor teachers and incompetent administrators. But most people work hard and have good intentions, and to imply that they could have success if only they would stop making excuses is both incorrect and unnecessarily demeaning.

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