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I used to think that nothing could be worse than the old Board of Education, but I was wrong. After two top-to-bottom reorganizations of the school system in four years, I have come to see that there is a virtue in stability, especially for schools, which are communities.

Furthermore, having seen how volatile and manipulable the state tests are, I have become skeptical of using such poor measures for punishing or rewarding teachers, students or principals.

Those words are from an op ed in The New York Post entitled An Unfair Attack, written by Diane Ravitch in response to an attack by Kathryn Wilde in the same publication on Oct. 30 entitled Hypocritical Critic: Ravitch vs. N.Y. School Reforms  Keep reading to understanding why Ravitch responded so forcefully.

For those who don't know, New York City is typical of a number of big cities where the mayor has seized control of the school system.  Richie Daley has done this (to tragic ends) with a number of appointments in Chicago, more recently Adrian Fenty has followed a similar path bringing in Michelle Rhee o Washington DC.   The motivations may be noble - trying to solve the seemingly intractable problems of struggling inner city schools - but ofthen the methods used are counter-productive.  In New York, Michael Bloomberg brought in Joel Klein, previous, from Bill Clinton's Justice Department among other places (read his bio from Wikipedia to get a sense of the man - the official bio on the NY Schools website has been pulled).  Of course, Klein had no experience with school administration or teaching, nor did his work experience ever include serious management or administrative positions.

Why is this relevant?  Let me quote from Ravitch again:

This attack, I have learned from published accounts, was orchestrated by the New York City Department of Education, which compiled a secret dossier about my views and turned it over to Wylde. I am at the top of the Department's enemies list. This is a frightening way for a public agency to behave.

Diane Ravitch is an historian of education, who is also committed to the idea of public schools.  I have had my disagreements with her, and my direct personal dealings have been limited to one extended phone call.  But I have found her to be a caring human being, one who has an unassailable sense of integrity:  she quit the campaign of the current president.  She has increasingly become a critic of the current administration's approach to education and of NCLB.  I may not agree with her prescriptions to fix our educational problems, but she has a logically consistent position and is willing to attempt to find common ground with people of differing viewpoints.  She now participates in a joint blogging effort at Education Week,with one of my educational heroes, Deborah Meier, with whom she is a colleague at the Steinhardt School of Education at NYU.

One can get a sense of Diane Ravitch's commitment in the following two paragraphs:

Have I abandoned my belief that all children deserve a great education? Absolutely not. Indeed, I am appalled that schooling in this city has degenerated into little more than testing and preparing for more testing. This is decidedly not great education!

A great education is one that includes history, literature, the arts, physical education, science, mathematics and foreign language. The leadership of the Department of Education has no educational vision.

  She criticizes the results of the efforts of the Klein-led school system.     And she notes the following:

More troubling to me than the personal nature of the attack by Wylde is the likelihood that her article is intended to silence not only me but other independent critics. The message seems obvious: If this can be done to me, it can be done to anyone - particularly independent researchers at local universities that are now receiving grants from the city Department of Education.

The 2002 measure that handed control of the schools to the mayor also eliminated the central Board of Education and the local community school boards. At the time, I supported that legislation. Now, with the benefit of experience, I question the wisdom of eliminating all public forums in which school officials must stand up in public and answer questions. The net effect of these changes leaves the public out of public education.

Too many people think their ideas should be implemented without input from stakeholders.  This is not merely the kind of attitude that we have seen displayed in the current national administration with its rejection of any oversight and its attempts to silence critics from Joe Wilson to John Murtha, by anhy means fair or foul.   It is also unfortunately the attitude of many who could fairly be described as neo-liberals, a group of which Klein is clearly an exemplar.   They brook no disagreement or public criticism, and it becomes crucial to silence a voice that might be credibile in opposition, as Joe Wilson was to the Iraq policy and as Diane Ravitch clearly is on educational matters. Fortunately some people do not intimidate easily:

The public schools need involvement by parents and local communities. They need a lively and open public forum in which decisions can be debated before they are finalized. The public should have a voice in what happens to the children of the community.

Diane Ravitch makes clear that she will continue using her expertise and her powers of expression:

This I promise: I will continue to analyze the facts and the evidence to the best of my ability, without fear or favor. I will not be intimidated. I will not be silenced.

And I say, good for her!

There is something seriously wrong with people unwilling to hear criticism.  Actions to suppress criticism imply to me an insecurity or worse a recognition that the positions being criticized cannot truly be defended.

I have said many times that what happens to our public schools should serve as the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine for much of our nation and our society.  And if people like Joel Klein, who really does NOT know what he is doing, can with impunity act through others to attempt to destroy and silence his critics, there is yet another threat to our freedom of expression, which means a real threat to the liberal democracy our Constitution was supposed to ensure us.  We must remember the words of Franklin, that we had a Republic if we could keep it.  We can not afford to look away at any diminution of rights, at any attempt by those holding power to silence voices of opposition.  

There are, as I said, issues on which I have strong disagreement with Diane Ravitch.   But I know she is a woman of integrity, who has dedicated her professional life to trying to improve public schools.  Our vision may be different, but our ultimate goals are similar, and - unlike Joel Klen and people of his ilk - I welcome voice different from mine and look forward to the exploration of where we can find common ground.  

I think we have an obligation to acknowledge and support voices of courage, voices of those who oppose the abuse and misuse of power, even if we may agree on the merits of the argument of the powerful (which I assure you in this case I do not -  I am merely attempting to make my point somewhat more broad).  Sometimes that may put us in an uncomfortable place.  Certainly I am no fan, for example, of Robert Barr but I welcome his principled criticism of the restriction of civil liberties by the Bush administration.  And Bruce Fein used to irritate me, but his has been one of the most powerful criticisms of the constitutional abuses of the Bush administration.

If you care about schools and the future of public education, you might consider dropping a note to the New York Post supporting her on the issues of criticism, objecting to how Joel Klein went after this one critic.  You might even consider sending her a message thanking her for speaking up.

Of greater importance, do not silence your own voice.  When you see things you believe to be wrong or even simply wrong-headed, speak out, write, call.    If nothing else you will ensure that there continue to be multiple voices heard in the dialog over public policy.


Originally posted to teacherken on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 03:14 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  sometimes I just get provoked (24+ / 0-)

    I had no intention of writing a diary this morning, but one of my daily emails pointed me at Diane's piece in the NY Post, and then I knew I had to write something.

    I hope this serves some value to someone.  I have no expectations that it will draw a wide audience, but any audience helps.


    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 03:14:55 AM PDT

  •  now in transit to school (6+ / 0-)

    will catch up with any traffic when I get there.


    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 03:29:59 AM PDT

  •  Balance (6+ / 0-)

    We can always depend on you for balance and clear thinking.  What I admire most is your willingness to accept good ideas and positions no matter the source.  

    I am not that familiar with the New York school system or it's particular problems, though I suspect they are a macro example of what occurs in many smaller districts and schools.  It appears like the hiring of Klein to run things is the logical extension of allowing Congress, which has precious few with experience in education, to set the rules for all schools in the country.  Using a business model to address school problems is like using a hammer to drive a screw.  It's simply the wrong tool.

    I also appreciate your use of Barr and Fein as examples of good ideas that don't happen to be "ours."  It is too easy to ignore or dismiss out of hand things that come from the opposition.  Limiting ourselves in that manner is a poor use of resources and runs counter to the founding principles of our country.  Personally, I'll take a good idea anywhere I can get it.

    I, too, am off to school so this is mercifully short :-)  Am subbing in jr. high science today and need to look things over before the onslaught begins.

    "We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace." - Walter Mondale

    by luckylizard on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 04:02:05 AM PDT

    •  in politics, few permanent allies or enemies (5+ / 0-)

      granted, Rove & company had no trouble demonizing anyone who ever opposed them -  but that is truly the exception

      one reason not to only associate with like-minded people is we may well miss opportunities to find common ground with people with whom we might otherwise not have much common.  And for the common good, I think we have an obligation to try.

      Don't misread - I am still an idealist, who views one part of my role, here and elsewhere, to push the envelope, to challenge to think more broadly of what might be possible.  But I also don't want to demonize a current opponent for the sake of short-term advantage, because I know I also have to think of the long-term good as well.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

      by teacherken on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 04:25:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We are not in a position (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        to be able to ignore any position, whether we agree with it or not.  As you point out, simply going along with those with whom we agree impoverishes us and limits our idea pool.  Ignoring those with whom we disagree has gotten us, in large part, where we are now.

        I was deeply disappointed with the 2000 election.  At the risk of getting a zillion pies in the face, I was not so passionate about Gore, but I really didn't trust Bush.  Under ordinary circumstances, I think he would have been a one-term president with a lackluster record.  I figured it was only four years, the president really didn't have that much power and we could survive it and move on.  What a difference a catastrophe makes!

        By ignoring the lengths to which these folks were willing to go to amass and consolidate power, we have ended up with a slowly creeping Constitutional crisis from which we may never recover.  We just can't afford not to engage and be aware of what these people are doing.  We don't have to agree or capitulate but we do have to know what the heck is going on.  All of this could apply to foreign policy as well.  Ignoring a problem does not make it go away and refusing to have a discussion does not make the other side shut up.

        Sorry this is so late.  It was quite the strange day.  I have let it be known:  I will never sub on a "party" day (Math Madness) again! :-)

        "We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace." - Walter Mondale

        by luckylizard on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 04:00:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  But isn't that what Bush and his people are (8+ / 0-)

    trying to create? These people are trying to infiltrate every aspect of our society. They get in leadership positions and take over changing things to their outlooks. You are speaking about teachers in the school system, but it is a larger plan than schools. I look at what DeVos has done in Michigan with his charter schools and public finance and I see Bush and the Federalists hand in everything.

    "Though the Mills of the Gods grind slowly,Yet they grind exceeding small."

    by Owllwoman on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 04:04:45 AM PDT

    •  inf fairness, Klein not a product of Bush (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sobermom, Owllwoman, bythesea

      and Bloomberg was a Democrat until they refused to clear the primary for him to run for mayor, so he switched to Republican to be able to run.  Had the Dems not had a really nasty primary which they did NOT heal afterwards, Bloomberg might well NOT have been elected

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

      by teacherken on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 04:22:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nothing worries me more than the destruction (7+ / 0-)

    of our educational system.

    A United States Marine, still fighting for our Constitution and our country!

    by DemMarineVet on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 04:10:44 AM PDT

  •  Informative diary but I can't (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, vcmvo2, ER Doc

    help wondering if Ravitch isn't a bit like those Senators who now say, "If I knew then, what I know now, I wouldn't have voted for the IWR."  Indicates some integrity but not much wisdom or clear-sighted abstract thinking when considering inherently bad ideas.  It's also a failure to understand the real agenda of neo-liberals that don't have any interest in improving public schools or bringing democracy to Iraq.  It's about destroying the public sector and replacing it with an imagined, free market nirvana.  

    What FDR giveth; GWB taketh away.

    by Marie on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 05:10:41 AM PDT

    •  while it is a valid question (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      part of Ravitch's support of NCLB's accountability requirements goes to her strong belief about equity, one she derived specifically from Robert Kennedy.  

      As far as I know, she has never been an advocate of privatization.

      And while she has been a persistent critic of progressive education, although I think what she targets has been a distortion of the ideas of Dewey, she has also been a consistent advocate of the position that education has to be more than merely the three R's or its modern equivalent, testing only in reading and math.


      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

      by teacherken on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 05:14:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for the clarification. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I didn't intend to suggest that Ravitch is a neo-liberal, only that she and others who supported NCLB didn't appreciate the real agenda of the neo-liberals who were instrumental in getting it passed.

        What FDR giveth; GWB taketh away.

        by Marie on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 05:47:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  We need to recognize the hole we're in -- (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      before we can get out.  Only in an America deeply ingrained in the belief in ideological tomfoolery can George W. or NCLB even begin to attain credibility.

      "Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon

      by Cassiodorus on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 10:09:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  diary may have reached its limit (0+ / 0-)

    since there has been little activity in past half hour.

    I will perhaps put up a link in an open thread or two if I get the chance.

    In any case, thanks to those who did read, comment, recommend.  Your attention is appreciated.


    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Fri Nov 02, 2007 at 05:11:34 AM PDT

  •  Diane Ravitch shouldn't worry... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ER Doc, Cassiodorus, SteveUFT

    ...thanks to tenure, which her conservative fellow intellectuals (outside of academia) sometimes deride, she's safe from the buffoonish enemies lists of government agencies big and small.  A useful reminder of why tenure is necessary, since we hear a lot of nonsense about how the context of the 1940 AAUP statement on the centrality of tenure is no longer relevant.

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