In D.C. schools, the ends don’t nec­es­sar­ily jus­tify the means

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

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.

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