On The Idolatry of Hoping for an Easy-Fix With a Hero

An authentic cross-post from Heidi Thompson, the CEO of Religion News Service:

I’m ashamed to admit that I was a fan of Michelle Rhee when she first arrived.

In 2006 when I got to town, DC schools, like so many of our big city public schools, were (and in many cases, still are) horrible warehouses of despair and corruption. Previous school officials had been found guilty of stealing from the kids they were supposed to be helping. The elementary school around the corner from my first DC apartment looked more like a prison than anything else – bars on the windows and a concrete pad overgrown with weeds for a play area. Close to 40 percent of the kids in the city didn’t graduate from high school.

I wanted someone to kick butt and take names. I wanted a hero, someone who could bring powerful change that would help kids. Looking back, I can see now the sin of my thinking. It was idolatry, plain and simple. It was idolatrous to think that one person could turn around that much neglect and dysfunction.

But the sin I and lots of others committed was even worse than the idolatry of hoping for an easy-fix with a hero. What Rhee and her kind of so-called “reformers” have done is distract all of us from dealing with child poverty. In Rhee’s world, we as a nation can tolerate the astronomical rate of child poverty in this country (something like 20% of kids are in families where there is weekly food insecurity) if we just get rid bad teachers and bad schools. Rhee and her corporate donors would much rather have us talk about anything other than the deep re-ordering of our national priorities it would take to make sure every American kid got an excellent education.

This piece lays it all out. And reading it, I knew the shame belongs to me, too.

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