The last couple of decades have been hard for America’s public schools and their teachers. We’ve been castigated for school failure, blamed for the nation’s economic woes, accused of endangering the nation and caught in a tug of war between authentic education and the “reformer’s” plans to privatize America’s schools.
Diane Ravitch’s new book, *Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, pulls away the curtain protecting “reformers.” The vast majority of the nation’s teachers who, despite what others might have us believe, are competent and hard working, will be pleased that someone has provided a well-documented defense against the attacks by “reformers” — most of whom have no idea what it’s like to teach.
Dr. Ravitch takes every misguided idea from the current “reform” movement playbook and provides facts denouncing them one after another…from the abusive misuse of standardized testing…to merit pay…to vouchers. She informs us about the misinformation used to manipulate parents into using parent trigger laws and the fact that charter schools are, on the whole, no better than traditional public schools. She provides a research based response to Michelle Rhee’s anti-teacher/anti-union tedium and she reminds us that Teach for America has become the #1 supplier of cheap, inexperienced temps used to fill the nation’s growing number of charter schools (and she does it without blaming the young people who are enticed into the program by the desire to help students in need).
Most important of all (at least to me), Reign of Error is a balm for battered and beleaguered public school teachers across the country. Schools are not failing. Teachers and schools do a good job in often extremely difficult circumstances. The problems facing America’s public schools include our embarrassingly high child poverty rate, funding for education which is misdirected to standardized tests and test prep materials or lack of adequate funding altogether, interference by billionaire know-nothings who think that money equals expertise in education, and the fairly recent (since No Child Left Behind) overwhelming and inappropriate intrusion by the federal government into public education.
Teachers are not to blame when their students come to school hungry, traumatized or depressed…or don’t come to school at all. Public schools are not to blame when inequity results in a direct correlation between family income and standardized test scores. The public schools aren’t failing. Society has failed its children…
Reign of Error will provide support to teachers
- who are tired of hearing about how horrible America’s professional educators are
- who find themselves frustrated to tears at the end of each school day because they are asked the impossible
- who are belittled by family or neighbors for their selfishness about their high salaries, adequate health care or pensions
- who fight their administrations for resources which will never arrive
- who spend thousands of their own dollars each year for supplies for their classrooms and students
- who are punished for teaching the most difficult to teach students by evaluation plans based on test scores, or
- whose voices are excluded from the corporate board rooms and the statehouses where decisions and laws about education are made
This is a call to every public school educator who reads this blog: Read this book.* Don’t wait till next summer. If you’ve ever felt discouraged by what legislators or tv pundits have had to say about public education this book will help you find the words with which to respond. It’s important for you to know what’s happening to public schools in America, even if you or you’re school isn’t affected yet, because it will affect you…eventually. You owe it to yourself…your family…and your students to be informed.
This is a call to every parent who reads this blog: Read this book.* Our public school system needs your help. It’s important for you to know what’s happening to public schools in America, even if your children are in a school which isn’t affected yet, because it will be affected…eventually. You owe it to your children to become involved.
On October 16th Dr. Ravitch took a break from her book tour to participate in a tele-town hall. (You can click here to listen to the Tele-Town Hall with Diane Ravitch.) At the end a participant asked,
What are some specific examples of ways teachers can reclaim the educational agenda and elevate teaching as a profession?
Dr. Ravitch’s response was encouraging. She responded,
…you have to believe in yourself and you have to maintain your wholeness as a human being and your professionalism. And no matter what they throw at you understand that someday all of these bad things that are going on now will pass…[**Martin Luther King] said the arc of history bends slowly but it bends towards justice. These people will get bored. They will at some point walk away from the mess that they’ve made, and you will all be left to pick up the pieces. It’s very important that you stand strong in your professional beliefs and your understanding of what’s right for children and who you are as a professional because when their efforts collapse you have to be there…
So, believe in yourself, be strong, and work with other people to keep their morale up and believe that the day will come when those values you hold dear will become the values that are recognized as true and real. [emphasis added]
* The link I have provided for this book is to the publisher, Knopf, not, as so often is the case on the internet, Amazon.com. Use the public library instead…or buy the book at a locally owned book store. At the very least, read this about Jeff Bezos, the owner and CEO of Amazon.com before you buy it.
** The quote from Dr. King is, “…the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.