Experimenting with the truth

It’s an old trick in journalism. I’ve done it. Every reporter I know has done it. You talk to the main players about a complex or controversial topic. You get “both sides of the story.” Then, whether you set out to or not, you subtly frame the story and select quotes and details in a way that suggests truth and justice are on one side.

I kept thinking of this as I watched “The Experiment,” Ben Lemoine’s film about the changes that have taken place New Orleans schools since Hurricane Katrina, at a screening hosted by the IU Education Policy Student Association.

Lemoine is a former TV news reporter, and his film, on the surface, nods to the conventions of balanced journalism. He presents the city’s education changes – the takeover by the state-run Recovery School District, the mass conversion to charter schools, a voucher program for children to transfer from under-performing public schools to private schools – as an “experiment” whose results won’t be immediately obvious. With a broadcast writer’s knack for simplicity, he boils down the complexities of education reform to simple nuggets that anyone can understand.

But Lemoine’s heart is with the reformers. He gives decent air time to reform critics Ken Saltman, author of “Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools,” and Lance Hill, director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research. But the last word typically goes to reformers and cheerleaders: Continue reading