Jon Stewart’s Impact, & John Oliver’s Next Moves

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There are LOTS of people who are going to miss Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, including educators who appreciated his poking fun at school reform efforts and folks like me who appreciated his regular attention to education issues of all kinds. (Some folks took their fandom too far; remember that Illinois teacher who was Suspended For Showing ‘Daily Show’ Clips In Class?)

Ready for some nostalgia? Check out HuffPost’s 2012 mashup of great education-related episodes above.

Or go over to The Answer Sheet, where Valerie Strauss has a new roundup of Five of Jon Stewart’s greatest hits on teachers, school reform and stupidity

Her top picks are the segments in which Stewart noted that teachers were going to jail when Wall Streeters weren’t, declaimed corporal punishment provisions in Kansas,  castigated critics of universal preschool, taking on Michelle Rhee (who?), and trying to interview our robot EdSec, Arne Duncan. 

It’s a strange list. But anyway, the most useful part is her description of Stewart as “never the hard-line critic of corporate school reform that many would have liked him to be.”

It’s a good point. He wasn’t nearly as fiery as some wanted him to be. However, he was a reliably —problematically, according to Slate — liberal voice. Take for example a 2011 segment I described as Lavish Lifestyles Of Wisconsin Teachers.

In fact, Stewart’s biggest impact on education might have come from a series of interviews with Diane Ravitch, which gave a new prominence and currency to her and her allies’ ideas — even though Stewart didn’t always roll over and go along with Ravitch (as you can see from my recaps of the segments):

Ravitch’s Return To “The Daily Show”: Ravitch starts out talking about schools turning into testing factories.  Stewart seems to be of the mind that at least some testing is necessary and reminds Ravitch that NCLB came from somewhere/ was a response to something.  He also gently questions the notion that poverty is the cause or explanation of.  They find common ground on the problem of “blaming the avarice of teachers.”  Says Stewart: “Those people [critics] have no idea.”  Ravitch says that she doesn’t think America is “over-run with bad teachers,” about which Stewart agrees:  “There’s bad everything.” 

Ravitch’s Pre-Halloween “Daily Show” Appearance: She ducks the “what about the unions?” question entirely (not defending them, it’s worth noting) — and Stewart lets her. She posits the notion that charter schools or choice reduce the sense of public obligation but ignores the reality that more affluent parents (including Ravitch herself) have “shopped” for better schools for their children for decades. She was holding the noisy green key-keeper in her hand to keep from blocking her face using that hand, right? 

Here’s a sweet picture of the two of them together:

Still, it’s important to note that Stewart wasn’t just about poking holes in reform efforts, and his education segments go way back. Some notable segments from the vault:

EdSec Spellings On The Daily Show: That face she makes when asked about smiting the teachers unions is good, as is the wink she gives when offering her “I don’t recall” answer. 

Elementary School Kid Refuses To Pledge: Both the Daily Show and the Colbert Report riffed off the news that an elementary school boy was refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance in school.  Just cuz I’m lazy, here’s the Daily Show version (the segment starts about 90 seconds in):

Obama Pushes “Socialist” Ornaments On Kids: The Obama administration has done it again — trying to manipulate vulnerable schoolchildren into forsaking all that is good and right about America.  Last time, it was the Obama “back to school” speech. This time, it’s Christmas ornaments sent from the White House to schoolchildren.  (See also: Daily Show Mocks “School Lunch Rebellion”, and Obama Girls Not Integrating Sidwell)

Stewart Suggests 50-50 Pre-K Split To De Blasio: That was Daily Show host Jon Stewart’s suggestion about how to fund the proposed pre-school expansion. 

Campaign Strategists Ruin 8th Grade Elections: “The Daily Show team decided to make one middle school race a high-stakes game, by bringing in some big-time political consultants.”  via TIME Campaigning, on a Smaller Scale  [Pt 2, Pt 3].

There were also countless segments in which Stewart highlighted good things going on in schools: “Brooklyn Castle” On “The Daily Show”Malala Yousafzai Left Jon Stewart Speechless. Just last month, Stewart interviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates (which I somehow missed). Occasionally he got some things wrong (like spending on Baltimore schools).

Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah, seems unlikely to have much ongoing interest in education beyond the occasional joke. But there’s John Oliver’s HBO show, which already has shown itself to be as fiery or more so than Stewart ever was. ProPublica’s education reporter Marian Wang just announced she’s headed over there, which could mean that Oliver is loading up to do more education-related segments.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.