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Grumpy Opinions by Grumpy

Gretchen Logue wrote about the Recent op ed piece by Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio, president and vice president for external affairs respectively of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which appeared in the Post Dispatch about the poor performance of our students on the SBAC test given this past spring. The same piece, with minor changes, appeared simultaneously in Connecticut and West Virginia. Not only did the op ed in Missouri contain easily verified factual errors, it continued to spout the unproven promises of Common Core and the associated standardized test. It sounded very much like the pamphlet sent by snake oil salesmen at the turn of the last century to Missouri’s own Mark Twain who railed against their false promises. Today’s guest post is by Dr. Mary Byrne Ed.D. who compares the work of Petrilli and Pondiscio to the snake oil promises and provides Missouri’s present day response.

Part 1 of 2

Mark Twain John Lewis lifelong friend - image u s embassy dot gov


“Snake Oil Salesman.” The phrase conjures up images of seedy profiteers trying to exploit an unsuspecting public by selling it fake cures. Mark Twain had harsh words for a snake oil peddler when enraged by the peddler’s attempt to sell bogus medicine to Twain by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home. According to the literature, the peddler’s “Elixir of Life” could cure such ailments as meningitis (which had killed Twain’s daughter in 1896) and diphtheria (which killed his 19-month-old son). A furious Twain dictated a letter of response to his secretary, which he then signed. What is a “snake oil salesman”? Why is peddling snake oil such a terrible thing?

A “snake oil salesman” is somebody that sells an item that claims to have some miraculous powers. This product is usually accompanied by a tremendous amount of hype. In an attempt to help push their products, the “snake oil salesman” will usually utilize planted accomplices who will claim that the product actually works. Snake oil salesmen take advantage of struggling people willing to pay whatever they have to find a cure for their chronic problems. The snake oil peddlers know their promises of relief aren’t supported with well-designed research, but, pilot studies and longitudinal research will interfere with the agenda of salesman’s corporate and foundation sponsors. The “suckers” are not only cheated out of their money, but they forgo opportunities for authentic, locally developed solutions to their schools’ specific ailments. In other words, parents and taxpayers pay “opportunity cost” as well as financial costs. Hucksters hock hope. Twain lashed out at the peddler because he was grieved by genuine pain that the snake oil salesman disingenuously promised to relieve.

Mark Twain’s letter of fury unleashed on a snake oil salesman for fraudulent advertising conjures up similar images when thinking about Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio’s “Missouri: Don’t shoot the messenger.” Petrilli and Pondiscio are the president and vice president for external affairs respectively of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a non-governmental organization frequently referred to as a conservative think tank…..


Part 2 to follow.

Image : Samuel Clemens and John T. Lewis (an elderly African American man), both full length, seated on steps of porch. Source, Library of Congress.