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Epistemic Closure and School Reform

November 28, 2012

The Naked Capitalism blog cross posted “Revenge of the Reality Based Community” an article from The American Conservative written by Bruce Bartlett, a former Republican operative who became frustrated with his party’s refusal to accept facts. Midway through the article, after describing his awakening to the fact that the economics of the Bush II administration were not based on reality, Bartlett shared his views with Ron Suskind who was writing an article for the NYTimes. After the article was published, Bartlett described the fallout:

The day after the article appeared, my boss called to chew me out, saying that Karl Rove had called him personally to complain about it. I promised to be more circumspect in the future.

Interestingly, a couple of days after the Suskind article appeared, I happened to be at a reception for some right-wing organization that many of my think tank friends were also attending. I assumed I would get a lot of grief for my comments in the Suskind article and was surprised when there was none at all.

Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.

I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure” among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.

This sequence of events occurred in 2004, a few weeks before the re-election of George W. Bush and shortly after it was becoming evident to the general public that the whole rationale for our misadventure in Iraq was bogus…. and this “awakening” mirrors the one Diane Ravitch experienced when it dawned on her that the testing associated with NCLB was not reality based…

When objective, rigorous intellectuals who reach conclusions based on objective reality begin applying their thoughts to education the whole reform movement should come tumbling down… unless the education reform establishment suffers from epistemic closure.

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