Will someone please tell former D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee that she has already told us, over and over again, how much her two daughters “suck” at soccer and that she can stop disparaging their athletic abilities in public?

Rhee, who quit as D.C. schools boss last October and took to the national stage as a proponent of test-based assessment systems, vouchers and charter schools, just gave yet another speech complaining that America has become one big, soft, anti-competitive marshmallow because parents keep telling their kids they are great when they aren’t.

That, you see, is the trouble with public education, according to Rhee.

She gave this speech about a week ago to the education committee of the Southern Legislative Conference in Tennessee, the state where her ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, is currently the education commissioner. (Rhee has said she now plans to spend half of each year in Memphis, so her children can be with their father, and half the year in Sacramento, where her fiance is the mayor.)

Part of her Memphis speech went like this, according to the Commercial Appeal:

“My two girls play soccer. They suck at soccer,” said Rhee, whose young daughters, the Commercial Appeal reported, sat “cringing” in the crowd.

“But,” she continued, “you would never guess that if you went into their rooms. There are trophies and medals everywhere. We are so concerned with making children feel good about themselves. But we haven’t put in the time to make them good at anything.”

In an earlier rendition of her Memphis speech, Rhee went on to say that as a result of this kind of parenting, “We’ve managed to build a sense of complacency with our children.”

That may well be true of some parents, but I’m willing to bet that that isn’t much of a problem for a lot of poor kids whose parents work a few jobs and don’t have a lot of time to sing their praises, or for kids who move from place to place every week because their family doesn’t have a permanent home, or for kids who barely see their parents. Being made complacent is hardly the reason that a higher percentage of these kids have trouble succeeding in school than kids who don’t face such problems.

It is undeniably true that many children who are bad at soccer have ribbons and trophies. It could be that their teammates are better than they are, helping their team win games, or that they are in a league that rewards kids simply for playing. Whatever the reason, I would venture to say that that is not the reason for America’s competitiveness issues, economically or educationally.

Rhee’s advice on parenting comes after Yale law professor Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” became a national bestseller, with its stories of how Chua used tough Chinese traditions of child rearing. In her push to make her kids excel, Chua, for example, gave back her kids’ homemade birthday cards, saying the quality was unacceptable, and forced one of her daughters to do 2,000 math problems a night after she came in second in a math competition.

In January, when Rhee was lamenting her kids’ lousy soccer skills (after doing the same thing in December), she pointed out that she has told them they must “practice hard,” and, she said, “I also communicate to them that all the practice in the world won’t guarantee that they’ll ever be great at soccer. It’s tough to square this, though, with the trophies."

Funny how Rhee, who is a leading proponent of measuring a public school teacher’s effectiveness based on student standardized test scores, doesn’t blame the soccer coach for how poorly her kids do on the field.

Rhee has turned herself into probably the most prominent national spokesperson for modern school reform, skipping from state to state helping to pass legislation that advances her view of standardized-test-driven accountability. So what she says matters.

I wish she made more sense.


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