In D.C. schools, the ends don’t necessarily justify the means
Richard Whitmire’s Jan. 22 op-ed, “Rhee’s necessary toughness,” purported to respond to criticisms of aggressive tactics used by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee in her efforts to improve the public schools. Mr. Whitmire’s column omitted all discussion of a serious, potentially tragic, flaw in Ms. Rhee’s tactics. She believes that the ends justify the means. One example will suffice to make the point.
In 2009, Ms. Rhee peremptorily discharged 266 schoolteachers whom she deemed to have, in Mr. Whitmire’s words, “ low expectations, minimal skills as educators, or both.” She and the school system steadfastly fought in court to prevent the Washington Teachers’ Union from going to arbitration to show that these discharges violated the contracts of the fired teachers. Those teachers are human beings, too. In addition to losing their livelihood, they have been branded as incompetent, and they have not been given a chance to defend themselves or prove their worth. These are teachers who were hired by the D.C. Public Schools. They were working with children as best they could under difficult circumstances.
Perhaps Ms. Rhee would say that the branding, devaluing and humiliation of 266 human beings was justified by the ends she sought to serve. That is wrong and cannot be justified however noble the ends sought. History is rife with tragic consequences caused by those who think that their ends justify their means.
Darryl J. Anderson, Washington The writer is legal counsel to the Washington Teachers’ Union.