Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Education of Michelle Rhee – A PBS Frontline Documentary

How Mass Media News Shapes Our Thinking Mass media news casting has quietly shaped the American culture since its inception. Once assumed to be non-biased reporting of events that effected every American, incidents such as the Watergate scandal and the war in Vietnam taught citizens and their future generations to first ask: Who benefits from the news being reported? The Education of Michelle Rhee, presented by PBS Frontline is one such piece of documentary news that forces us to ask ourselves this very question. The lack of student ability to thrive in a technological age. The failure of the system to encourage graduation, which contributes to the individual’s lack of employability and increased crime rate throughout the Nation concerns every parent in every working class. There seems to be no better place to exemplify this problem than within our Nation’s capital. Hearing the public’s outcry, one man vies to be Mayor on the campaign promise that he will shake the very foundation of the educational system in his city if he is elected. Upon his inauguration, he hires “change agent”, Michelle Rhee as the new Chancellor for the D.C. public schools. Ms. Rhee is given ultimate power to fire any individual in the administration that is not working in tandem with her to make these changes happen. At first, she appears to have the complete backing of every parent in the city – storming into dysfunctional schools and issuing pink slips to any staff member that isn’t performing up to standard. But later, as her ideology for change focuses on local school closings, her support system falters. “It’s fine”, she professes, because she didn’t accept the job to win any popularity races. Had this been the truth, we would have never been introduced to the propaganda that portrays this individual as a “martyr”, and her fifteen minutes of fame would have been long utilized and forgotten. Working with children takes a special caliber of individuals. Those who have patience and understand the development of children as well as have an understanding of the family dynamic and how it effects a child’s ability to excel are essential to every functional school system. Teachers and support staff must endure continual education and remain flexible to meet the changing needs of the students they serve. Although, Ms. Rhee professes that she views these individuals as “human capital”, she does little to reinforce these ideas when she allows news media crews to film her terminating school principals in an effort to, “weed out” individuals who are not performing to her standards – despite their years of service or their tenure. These are long standing assets that should be retrained and redirected with the ideology that their experience and dedication matter to the entire educational structure. Rather than working with her human capital, Ms. Rhee instead chose to freely execute her absolute power. Those who remained were forced to live up to her unrealistic statistical goals. Schools that performed up to these standards were generously rewarded. Those who did not live up to expectations were swiftly relieved of duty, forcing individuals in fear of their job security to allegedly alter test scores in an effort to show improvement. The Chancellor failed in her abilities to be a great leader, choosing instead, to manage her responsibility to change through coercion and terrorism. When allegations of cheating were brought to surface as a means of meeting her demands, Ms. Rhee admitted to the “possibility”, but stood firm on the idea that overall, the test scores were confirming her success in accomplishing her goals. Once her reign as Chancellor ended with the election of a new mayor, despite the fact that test scores plummeted to more realistic figures after her departure, and any of her supporters met their untimely political demise, her shortcomings were excused and deemed acceptable because: 1. She is a minority. (“Yes, I am Korean”). 2. She is a woman. 3. She had never been in politics. 4. She’d never done the job she’d been hired to perform. 5. She had the full support of the city’s mayor who is willing to risk “everything” in order to keep his campaign promises – and he was “running at 100%”. PBS Frontline tries to appear unbiased with the interview of a “whistleblower” as well as several officials assigned to the investigation of alleged cheating. Even the union executive responsible for protecting the rights and interests of the faculty was interviewed in an attempt to appear neutral, but the fact remains that the only person who came out of this event in history “smelling like a rose”, was Michelle Rhee. The question American citizens have to ask themselves when they view a piece like this is: “Who benefits from the media coverage?” Supporters of Ms. Rhee either lost their political footing or eventually discovered that giving the Chancellor absolute power over the entire school district meant surrendering their voice of reason in the political realm where all the vital decisions regarding education were made. To this day, Ms. Rhee continues on her pilgrimage of fixing the educational system working as an Educational Activist and vying for the position of Education Secretary in the Trump Administration . Although there may have once been a moment in time when the news being reported was absolutely factual, the truth of the matter is that those who report that news can easily season these events according to their own tastes by the way they report the event, their mannerisms or even the inflection in their voice. Historically, reporters were asked to highlight and/or omit facts and events because reporting them would not be in our country’s best interest. It is easy enough to suggest that a privately funded station such as PBS would be eager to place any financial contributing individual or organization into a brighter light as means of maintaining the ability to reach a greater audience. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the viewer to utilize their own logic and experience in order to determine what is substantial in the material they are presented.