Today’s Homework: Dr. Diane Ravitch
30 Monday Sep 2013
Do you know the name “Diane Ravitch”? Do you know who she is?
Before becoming involved with education politics some nine months ago, I most certainly did not. Callow ignorance notwithstanding, she is hardly a political lightweight. A PhD from Columbia University, she served as Assistant Secretary of Education between 1991-3 under Lamar Alexander in the Bush I white house, has been appointed to several national educational panels over the years and remains yet a Research Professor of Education at NYU and a historian of education.
If you follow education politics closely you likely know all of this and as well, have your own strong opinion about the iconic Dr. Ravitch: she is a polarizing figure. To some she is something of a guru, to others, a turncoat and a fly in the ointment. She is a strong, partisan voice across the Education Reform Divide.
Didn’t know there was such a schism? Haven’t heard of her? As concerned, taxpaying citizens touched by education politics implicitly, Angelenos have three imminent opportunities to experience the sway of her persuasiveness in contemplating this gulf. In the company of a venerable mass of her supporters she will speak on two successive evenings this week, first at Occidental College this Tuesday and then at Northridge on Wednesday. In attending her lecture, you will surely and efficiently learn much of the tremendous arc of latter day educational history and policy of the last half century culminating in the Education Reform movement so tidily embodied by our own LA district superintendent. As an academic historian, Dr. Ravitch is expert in revealing a long, large context for the daily struggles that plague our local school district. As a politician she is a rarity in that her arguments do come truly and transparently of data and numbers; her opinions are formed and supported rationally. These lectures will provide an invaluable opportunity to survey the history and present practices of Education Reform as a crash “in-person” survey course from the leading theorist in her political field.
There is another, more deliberative means to this end, which might be characterized as bootstrapping awareness of 21st century education politics. Dr. Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, has just reached #10 on the NY Times bestseller list, and is first among amazon’s political or education/reference books. Curling up with a strong cup of coffee and her electric orange book, will permit close, time-absorbing study of her distressing thesis detailing a steady, inexorable attack on our democratic educational system, followed by mitigating prescriptions for opposing the pernicious misnomer of “Reform”.
If her voice is unknown to you, then any of these opportunities will be an important way to jump-start your awareness of this critical component of modern politics. The “education sector” today comprises at least 9% of our entire GDP; education politics is not small-time cupcake-baking PTA scrabbling anymore. With a budget rivaling the Los Angeles City Council’s and the attention of some of the world’s most wealthy entrepreneurs, foundations and individuals, education politics is a sector of civic life none of us can afford to ignore.
If her voice is beyond-known, possibly even abhorrent to you, then any of these opportunities will be an important way to jump-start your scrutiny of why the tightly-argued message of one so well-qualified and highly regarded in some sectors, is so pointedly disregarded by others. For it is the case that legions of big-time neoliberal Education Reformers from President Obama’s Arne Duncan to Rahm Emanuel and Michelle Rhee and numerous other favored elite, consider it beneath them to heed the warnings that Diane Ravitch articulates so clearly for her following of hundreds of thousands. These individuals are no stranger to education politics; they are a vast flock of school teachers, administrators, parents and activists, nationwide.
For Diane Ravitch, my own neophyte awareness notwithstanding, is a movement in herself. She is a superb writer beautifully capable of expressing the populist conviction that our schools are for the people, not private corporations, and good, egalitarian public education is the entitlement of one and all. She names the folly, as only a reformed Reformer can, of erroneous reliance on falsely objective “edu-metrics”. She comprehends the damage at stake for our own unique children. She feels like a clarion voice of sanity to this parent at least, among a bewildering juggernaut of complicated politics governed by appearance and straw men and quid pro quo’s and mystifying indebtedness that results in misguided public policy. She may have a complicated history of shifting allegiance to ideology, but this does her credit as a thinker willing to reconsider fresh evidence from a different perspective.
Known or unknown, reviled or beloved, Diane Ravitch’s work is ignored at your citizenly peril. Catch her in person this week or tuck into her written words in private. You can follow her steady stream of erudition here on her dozen-times daily updated blog. But as a civic-minded individual, you cannot afford to remain ignorant of the perspective she articulates. Too many people in too much intimate awareness of how education plays itself out in the classroom – of education as well as education politics – there are too many people across our vast country in too-much thrall to her thoughts to overlook what she says.
Read her book, attend her lecture, follow her blog, take your pick — but don’t neglect the teachings of Diane Ravitch.