Saturday, September 23, 2023

Spoof of a spoof misses the mark


Matt Barnum, on the purposely biased education reform website The 74, wrote a cute little spoof on Comedy Central’s TeachingCenter from Key and Peele, itself a spoof on ESPN’s SportsCenter, with its rapid-fire dialog, ticker of test scores, and instant replays, with call-out graphics, of classroom discussions.

If I were The 74 Million, I would have let this one stand. It’s one of the funniest bits I’ve ever seen, which is why I linked to it here. Whatever anybody else can do isn’t likely to top the high-quality spoof work of Boyd Maxwell and Perry Schmidt, especially without the production facilities of the Comedy Central network available.

Unfortunately, The 74 Million just couldn’t let this one go, and their response, though full of one-line zingers that would make education privateers proud, shows that the website has no sense of humor and, worse, no understanding of how public schools set their mission. Mr Barnum writes:

When you don’t count our poor kids, we have one of the best education systems in the world. Why shouldn’t our mediocre professional sports teams—after all, the average team wins no more than it loses—take a cue from our thriving public education sector? …

Stop merit pay schemes.

In professional sports, athletes are paid based on performance—that’s why basketball star Lebron James can earn more than $20 million in a single season, while a teammate earns less than $1 million for doing the same job. It is well known that merit pay is an idea that “never works and never dies” according to education historian Diane Ravitch. After all, it assumes that athletes only play for financial incentives rather than the love of the game. It is frankly insulting to athletes as professionals to think that they would be motivated by money.

The problem here is that, while Key & Peele understand how comedy works, Mr Barnum does not. If he intends this to be sarcastic (and therefore funny), the train has already pulled out of the station by the time he gets to the platform.

The title of the article is “Actually, Key and Peele, We Need to Treat Pro Athletes More Like Teachers.” Let’s assume that premise. Then, to set up a joke with the premise that pro football players play professional football for a reason other than money is completely ridiculous. Is he suggesting they play the game for their health? Or for what reason do pro football players play this dangerous game and subject themselves to traumatic brain injuries that turn them into walking zombies by age 40?

In other words, the piece in The 74 is worse than unfunny; it’s laughable. The fact that teachers don’t make millions of dollars every year is the whole point of what Key & Peele did, and Mr Barnum seems completely unaware of the humor, oblivious and disconnected from reality himself. He could have written a perfectly good opinion piece and done well for the new website, but instead, he runs over the edge of the cliff by trying to turn table on the famous comedy duo. If you’re going to turn table, first make sure you’re sitting at it.

By completely messing up the premise and using a false idea to set up a joke, the effect of the joke is to make exactly the opposite point: that merit pay is, in fact, a complete waste of time with teachers. I don’t think that’s what The 74 Million wanted to say. Anyway, it gave me the opportunity to bring this wonderful skit to your attention. I hope you enjoy it.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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