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Define “insulting”

June 7, 2011

Was this an excerpt from The Onion or did Arne Duncan really say

“Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day.”?

It sure sounds as if he did if you can read the entirety of the woefully misinformed June 3rd Bloomberg piece by Jonathan Alter without getting sick to your stomach.  In reference to Ravitch’s questions regarding reports of “miracle” results at schools such as Denver’s Bruce Randolph School, Colorado Senator Mike Johnston is quoted by Alter as follows:

“This was a very cynical statement that she doesn’t believe teachers and schools can make a difference in high-poverty areas…”

Alter has not done his homework when he calls Ravitch and people who share her concerns about the sudden prevalence of these so-called miracles, as defenders of the status quo.  This is a strategy many tedious self-proclaimed school “reform” advocates use to avoid engaging in critically examining and/or thoroughly discussing honest questions to very real problems.

In fact, Ravitch has said that the achievement results at schools  in impoverished neighborhoods are not acceptable but she also says that we need to re-examine our approach and aim for long-term solutions to address inequities of opportunity between students who live in poverty and those who don’t. The resources we have dedicated to high-stakes testing over the past decade are not cost-effective and have not achieved the stated purpose of improving education for children in the United States.  That was, in a nutshell, my understanding of the ideas presented in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I can’t help but wonder if Jonathan Alter read that book.

I have spent my entire career working in schools with high numbers of students eligible for free and reduced lunches, our working definition of poverty in the public schools, and therefore can legitimately claim extensive expertise on the topic of schools in high-poverty areas.  What Diane Ravitch has to say does not insult me.  It does not upset me when she suggests that educators should be decision-makers in the policies that affect our profession.  It does not ruffle my feathers when she advocates for “controversial” measures such as universal preschool, prenatal care and parental education.

There are things that do bother me, however.  I’ve talked about many of them here.  I don’t like “grassroots” movements that pretend to care about the community’s interests but which actually have predetermined agendas.  It especially irks me when these groups are funded by big money interests. I dislike Senator Michael Johnston’s use of the word “cynical”  to describe Ravitch’s questions about  Bruce Randolph data, and roll my eyes at his preposterous above-quoted conclusion about her beliefs; I don’t like it when any teacher (as Johnston himself claims to be) discourages reasonable questioning and dialogue. It annoys me that there are so many people jumping on the fantasy bandwagon suggesting that there is some magic formula to teaching that supersedes all other challenging factors;  I am bothered by the related presumption that any warm body with the right indoctrination training can apply said magic formula and bypass the need for us to collectively and seriously address our nation’s very real inequities and how they affect children living in poverty. Further, it is not okay that Arne Duncan presumes to speak for me as if he truly understood the nature of the hard work that I, my colleagues, and other teachers across the country engage in.  That is insulting.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2011 12:04 pm

    Alter has not done his homework when he calls Ravitch and people who share her concerns about the sudden prevalence of these so-called miracles, as defenders of the status quo. This is a strategy many tedious self-proclaimed school “reform” advocates use to avoid engaging in critically examining and/or thoroughly discussing honest questions to very real problems.

    Thank you! I cannot stand how this issue has been going on for the last 120 years, and always with the same Orwellian language twists of “reforming” schools…

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