Sunday, October 10, 2010

Arianna Huffington Sells Out on American Education

Click on Huffington Post these days, and you are immediately inundated by the presence of Arianna Huffington. Watch Arianna on MSNBC's "Hardball" or "Countdown"! See Arianna on "Meet the Press" or CNN! Laugh as Arianna makes a (very teeny) funny on "Real Time with Bill Maher"! Read about Arianna's new book! See how Arianna sums up the previous week's news! Who cares about politics or the news when there's Arianna and her opinions to read or watch? It's wall-to-wall, 24/7, all-Arianna-all-the-time, in a self-promotional onslaught that would make Donald Trump blush.

Never one to let her principles, such as they might be (a former rabid conservative, she was an active supporter of Newt Gingrich and a strident caller for Bill Clinton's impeachment until she noticed the talking heads vacuum on the left), stand in the way of self-promotion and making a buck, Arianna has apparently taken the pulse of the current education debate. Seeing where the money and the publicity are, she has now thrown in with the education deform crowd. Her site is now plastered with "Waiting for Superman" ads (Why not scoop up some of that Gates/hedge funder ad money?), but that's hardly the least of it.

On October 4, Arianna herself (or someone writing under her name) announced the addition to Huffpost of HuffPost Education. Even the title of her announcement post inadvertently reveals her short-attention-span commitment to this issue: "Turning a Spotlight on America's Education Moment." Not to worry. When the "moment" has passed and there's no money, notoriety, or ad revenue from it, we can be sure Arianna will maintain her commitment to the cause of American education.

To continue. Arianna informs us that, while "delving into" education for her latest book, Third World America (PLUG!), her "research" led her to a sneak preview of "Waiting for Superman." She knew, in her heart of hearts, that this movie would get America talking about schools. So now that the movie has been released and she has been able to read the direction the public wind was blowing, she has moved boldly forward to make HuffPost part of the national dialog.

And what a dialog it promises to be! For starters, Arianna proudly announced in her posting that the movie's distributor, Paramount Pictures, will be HuffPost Education's "inaugural sponsor." She tells us her chosen editor is Brian Sirgutz, President of the non-profit Causecast ("With Brian's guidance and vision, Causecast is positioned to become a powerful mechanism for social good."). Brian's education expertise apparently arises from his three-plus years feeding off the estate of deceased singer Aaliyah after three earlier years as president of Elementree Records, the promotional company for the bands Korn and the Firm. Then again, perhaps his relevant background for this nationally important issue area comes from his bachelor's degree from NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, involving a "concentration on the impact of technology on human consciousness in modern western societies."

Regardless, Arianna goes blithely on, apparently without any copy editing, to write:

HuffPost Education is designed to be a hub for education news and trends -- and will be home to a spirited, ongoing conversation about what's gone wrong with America's schools, and what needs to be done to fix them. We'll have topical takes from an eclectic mix of stakeholders in the education debate. Among those already lined up to weigh in: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Davis Guggenheim, Bill and Melinda Gates, John Legend, New York City School [sic] Chancellor Joel Klein, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Geoffrey Canada, whose inspiring work at the Harlem Children Zone [sic] is featured in "Waiting for Superman."

Eclectic indeed! How this "dialog" could possibly be any more one-sided is utterly beyond my imagining. Even if other voices are occasionally permitted a space, the tone and philosophical leanings are nakedly revealed in the line-up HuffPost is promoting, a list that would allow Brian Williams (the diva of NBC's recent "Education Nation") to join "the Donald" in blushing. Still being featured on HuffPost's Front Page, the October 4 posting by John Legend, "Wake Up! We Know How to Fix Our Schools," sets the tone. Mr. Legend establishes his education reform credentials as having written the music for (what else?) "Waiting for Superman" and his connections with Harlem Village Academy (where he has performed as a fund-raiser) and "my friend" Dr. Roland Fryer (he of NYCDOE's experiments on children, "pay for grades" and "give the kids cell phones as academic rewards so they can hear educationally supportive messages from renowned high school graduate LeBron James").

So after -- and despite -- all this, I decided to go ahead and have a look at HuffPost Education. The latest post (as of the morning of 10/10/10) was from NBA basketball players Etan Thomas and Laron Profit. Seems they saw "Waiting for Superman" and got their education about education. Next in line was a social systems scientist named Steven Brant. He also saw "Waiting for Superman" but doesn't think it goes far enough. After him came the celebrated education expert and actor Matthew Bodine. You'll never believe this, but he saw "Waiting for Superman," too! Then there is one Mimi Carter, EVP of SparkLight Communications, who berates education bloggers (Valerie Straus of the Washington Post's "The Answer Sheet," specifically) for spending too much time blaming Obama and not enough time "focusing on real issues."

I scanned down a bit further and saw a posting by another of HuffPost's editors, Jonathan Daniel Harris. He openly states in the first sentence of his article that "I've never been an education activist." That is, of course, until (you'll N-E-V-E-R guess) he saw "Waiting for Superman." He titled his posting, in part, "Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children?"

Insulted, disgusted, and overcome by nausea at this point, I simply couldn't go on any further.


reality-based educator said...

Don't know if you want to include this information about Arianna in your critique, but I think it is relevant to the criticism that she has no core beliefs other than expediency, ego and shameless promotion...

From Wiki:

Huffington was accused of plagiarism for copying material for her book Maria Callas (1981); the claims were settled out of court in 1981, with Callas biographer Gerald Fitzgerald being paid "in the low five figures."[22][23][24]

Lydia Gasman, an art history professor at the University of Virginia, claimed that Huffington’s 1988 biography of Pablo Picasso, Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, included themes similar to those in her unpublished four-volume Ph.D. thesis. "What she did was steal twenty years of my work," Gasman told Maureen Orth in 1994. Gasman did not file suit.[25]

Marueen Orth also reported that Huffington "borrowed heavily for her 1993 book, The Gods of Greece."[26]


Gary Babad said...

Isn't Matthew Bodine related to Jethro Bodine ( of the Beverly Hillbillies?

Pogue said...

Huffington had many photos of current popular people including Michelle Rhee under the title "Game Changers". Since Fenty lost to Vincent Gray in the D.C. mayoral primary, I haven't seen Rhee's photo anymore.

Unless, of course, they have a section titled, "Game Over", that I have missed.

And you're right, Mr. Koss, these ed-reformers and their new cult members have truly been bandwagoning lately.

bill01370 said...

For what it's worth, HuffPost is also including some voices from what I term the "reform that's actually based on research" perspective, people I respect and admire. Look for example for Jose Vilson, Ken Bernstein and Larry Ferlazzo. I just wish she were promoting them as thoroughly as she was the "people who are usually thought of as being reformers even though it ain't necessarily so."

Steve Koss said...

I was indeed aware of the multiple past accusations of plagiarism leveled against Ms. Huffington; I elected to let them go in the interest of managing the length of my blog posting. I also didn't want to distract from the topic with references to biographies of Callas and Picasso, although I could hardly help but notice that diva-like, attention-getting similarities between Arianna and her biographical subjects.

To Bill01370: You are correct, of course, that HuffPost has also included contributors not associated with RTTP, Rhee, Klein, Gates, Broad Foundation, etc., including Joel Shatzky and our very own Leonie Haimson. But, as you suggest, their names, voices, and positions are not the ones being so heavily promoted by HuffPost, whose money-making concerns, and perhaps philosophical leanings, clearly seem to favor the "Waiting for Superman" bandwagon and crowd and her Paramount Pictures sponsors.

teacherken said...

So far I have done one post, which took 3 days for them to take live. I will post another at Huffpost either tonight or tomorrow afternoon.

By having people like me and Jose Vilson and Larry Ferlazzo she can claim a variety of opinions, even though we will probably never be featured the way her faves are - hell, even the late Gerald Bracey didn't get featured.

Jason M. Varner said...

Clearly, someone who watches a movie / "documentary" on education automatically becomes and expert on education with a valuable opinion...

Sarcasm aside, it is telling that all of these arm-chair EdReform 'commentators' are being "informed" by the medium of film, not by actually reading anything (such as the excellent "Death and Life of the Great American School System" by Diane Ravitch). So not only is literacy an issue in America, but so is media literacy, as these folks are uncritically jumping on the "... Superman" bandwagon.

Anonymous said...

They're also jumping on the shameless and unethical measures of self-promotion bandwagon, and that's part of the problem with the deform movement. Twits who want to be important and remembered, yet they have no idea what they're doing. If they act like an inhumanly vicious attack dog or a blind cheerleader at the right moment, they could become famous as one of the pioneers of the great school reform that would finally take hold. Sorry guys, we need actual heroes and true pioneers for that.

Gary said...

Michelle Rhee's photo was on Sunday's LEAD story of the Huffington Post on school reform - page one.

Mar Matthias Darin said...

Its interesting how she preaches the virtues of socialism, yet cashes in ($315 MILLION) like any other capitalist. I guess all those socialist virtues are for the everyone except the elitists like her.