每隔几年，公共政策领域的新问题就会引起作家们的关注。当宗教因素渗入政治辩论时，我们就开始探讨宗教问题；当众多研究将饮食和总体健康状况联系起来时，我们就专注于营养问题；当股市红火时，我们又跟着转向了技术问题。现在，最新的话题是教育改革。众多书籍（以及杂志、电影和博客）已纷纷就特许学校运动，标准化考试，技术创新，盈利性学校，甚至教育关乎国家安全这类问题发表高见。现在，媒体明星和创业家斯蒂夫•布里尔这样的重量级人物也已登场加入讨论了。本周，他广受期待的大作《课堂战争：美国校园改良战内幕》（Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools）正式出版了。该书旨在对教育建言献策，一如大卫•哈尔伯斯塔姆（普利策奖得主，早年以报道越战闻名——译注）曾对越战深入报道，以及鲍勃•伍德沃德（《华盛顿邮报》的著名调查记者，水门事件的报道主力——译注）对白宫所做的系列报道那样。
这本以新闻报道风格写就的书卓尔不凡。这种风格符合大家对年届60的布里尔的期待。正是布里尔一手创建了“法庭电视台”（CourtTV），以及《美国律师》（American Lawyer）和《布里尔内容月刊》（Brill's Content）这两大期刊。与对教育改革更为学究气的探讨——如斯坦福大学政治科学教授特里•莫尔一板一眼的大作“特殊利益”——不同，布里尔深谙名流、情节和小道消息的价值。《课堂战争》一书充满了这些内容。
布里尔以敏锐的新闻记者身份起家，但他作为实干家同样留下了辉煌业绩。除了期刊和有线电视，他还创立了“新闻在线”（Journalism Online LLC）——这在逻辑上帮助众多出版商实施网络收费——以及现已宣告失败的旅游网站Clear——它让旅行达人能更快速地通过机场安检。在《课堂战争》一书中，他提出了完善教育体系的一系列方法。他希望解除他所说的教师工会在政治问题的枷锁，因为后者反过来压制了教师责任感。他说，这样一来，全美范围内的教师就能获得更高的收入——从年薪65,000美元直到165,000美元。
但是，与其他改革者不同，他并不想削弱工会领导人的力量，而是为我所用——“延揽”他们投身“战斗”。他为纽约市提出的“尼克松访华”式（意为具有历史突破意义的举措——译注）的建议是——雇佣美国教师联盟（American Federation of Teachers）的强力领导人兰迪•温加滕来管理教育。布里尔说，温加滕确实告诉过他，她愿意担任教育局长一职。她甚至宣称，几年前，彭博曾邀请她出任这一职位，对此，彭博对布里尔表示否认，并补充说：“这个想法愚不可及。一百万年也不可能实现。”布里尔的愿景虽好，但看来劳资合作仍有很长的路要走。
Every few years a new public policy issue becomes au courant for authors. We got religion on religion when it infiltrated political debate; we focused on nutrition when so many studies seemed to connect diet to overall health; we serially turn to tech when the stock market heats up. The latest subject is education reform. Books (as well as magazines and movies and blogs) have come out on the charter-school movement, standardized testing, technology innovations, for-profit schools, and even education-as-national-security problem. Now, no less a media star and entrepreneur than Steve Brill has weighed in. His widely anticipated Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools, published this week, aims to do for education what David Halberstam once upon a time did for Vietnam or Bob Woodward these days does seriatim about the White House.
It's a superb book, written in a journalistic style that one would expect from the 60-year-old Brill, who founded CourtTV, and the American Lawyer and Brill's Content magazines. In contrast to more scholarly examinations of education reform -- like Stanford political science professor Terry Moe's earnest "Special Interest" -- Brill understands the value of character, scene and gossip. Class Warfare brims with them.
For example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg comes across not only as a courageous change-agent in New York City, but a hypocritical pol. Once Bloomberg decided in 2007 to run for a third term, according to Brill, he gave up trying to get major concessions from the teachers union in contract negotiations on matters like tenure. That meant undermining the schools chancellor, Joel Klein. "For the rest of his tenure," Brill writes, "Klein would be the rabid school reformer whose most eloquent arguments would be about union protections that remained embedded in the contract he had just signed." (Klein is now a top lieutenant to Rupert Murdoch and is running News Corp.'s (NWSA) internal probe of the phone-hacking scandal.)
There's also a wonderful bit about Klein's final day in office, last December. He inquired about his benefits package, which provided that if he chose to leave his 401(k) contributions in the education department's retirement fund, he'd get a guaranteed return of 8.25%. "How can you guarantee 8.25%?" asked an incredulous Klein. A human-resources clerk explained to him that he was entitled to what the union contract gave teachers: If any investments fell short of 8.25%, the city had to make the difference up. "Who else but Bernie Madoff guarantees 8.25% a year permanently?" Klein asked Brill. There's another rich scene in which a bunch of billionaires secretly meeting in Manhattan to discuss funding school reform all get stuck in the elevator at the apartment of Kenneth Langone, the Home Depot (HD) co-founder. It's this kind of inside reporting that make "Class Warfare" fun to read, even with its occasional tics. There are just too many characters, and the narrative jumps from Washington to Manhattan to Denver to Texas to L.A. to New Jersey to Brooklyn, from the 1980s to the present -- and not always in that order.
Brill's pedigree is as observant journalist, but he's made a mark as a doer as well. Beside the magazines and cable channel, he founded Journalism Online LLC -- which logistically helps publications charge Web fees -- and the now-failed Clear -- which enabled travelers to move faster through airport security. In "Class Warfare," he proposes a range of ways to fix the education system. He wants to undo the stranglehold he says the teachers unions have on politics, which in turn prevent teachers from becoming more accountable. That, he says, will permit teachers to be paid far more nationally -- from $65,000 to $165,000.
But unlike other reformers he wants not to co-opt labor's leaders rather than emasculate them -- to "enlist" them in the "fight." His "Nixon-to-China" suggestion for New York City: Hire Randi Weingarten, the powerful leader of the American Federation of Teachers, to run the schools. Brill says Weingarten actually told him she'd take the chancellor job. She even said Bloomberg offered her the post some years ago, Bloomberg denied this to Brill, adding, "It's a really stupid idea. Never in a million years." Brill's fantasies notwithstanding, it sounds like management-labor collaboration still has a long way to go.