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I Guess I Must Be Crazy

In his discussion of Diane Ravitch’s new book, Jay Mathews inserts several declarative statements of what he believes to be truth, including the assertion that I must be nuts.

And by his definition, I am.

Many education reforms have gone badly in the last 20 years, but there never has been a golden age of school improvement. No Child Left Behind had many flaws, but it left us better off than than we were before, with more attention to low-income and learning disabled children, and some gains in lower grades, particularly in math. We bumble along, doing our best, hoping that our next idea will produce big gains but knowing that all we can expect is to be a bit better than before.

If the best that billions of dollars and the establishment of a test-score-obsessive, standardized education system can produce is “more attention” and “some gains” (as measured by those same tests, of course), that is not “better off”.

Narrowing the curriculum studied by almost all students in public schools to little more than reading and math drills is more than a “flaw”.

Forcing schools to treat all students exactly the same by expecting them to learn at exactly the same rate is not “doing our best”.

There are some crazies out there who disagree with this and say an education revolution is possible. They know who they are. They don’t include the weary legislators and White House aides who put together No Child Left Behind, making the compromises that are necessary in the democratic society that Ravitch celebrates throughout her book.

I guess I must be one of those crazies, because when I take a good look around it’s not difficult to understand that not only is an education revolution possible, it’s happening.

Just not in schools.

In fact, a revolution in the way people learn and develop and communicate and collaborate and grow is happening almost everywhere else EXCEPT in our schools.

However, the reason that those legislators and aides who put together NCLB didn’t think a revolution was possible is because they didn’t want one in the first place.

NCLB and those other school reform efforts of the last 20 years Mathews declares to have “gone badly” were all designed to craft a better status quo (often in the form of charters and voucher farms) instead of taking an honest look at how and why teaching and learning needed to change and then creating schools that work for the kids, not the adults running them.

So, yes, call me crazy if you like. I do believe there needs to be an education revolution.

And it needs to happen in less than another 20 years of bumbling along.


  1. Karen

    This is one of your best posts ever

  2. Skip Olsen

    I’m crazy too–and proud of it. Perhaps Mr. Mathews should watch the 59 second “Crazy Ones”. We’re in good company. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUfH-BEBMoY&fmt=18

  3. Kate

    Something I learned nearly 30 years ago in an educational philosophy class: The central task of a school system is to maintain a culture’s status quo. As such, teachers are agents of the culture. As such agents, are teachers the last to respond to cultural shifts?

    • Honeysuckle

      Thanks for introducing a little ratioainlty into this debate.

  4. NYC Educator

    Despite what Matthews may think, Diane Ravitch is certainly not suggesting we are a little better off as a result of these reforms. And if you read the book, the changes we’ve been seeing are deliberate, calculated, and certainly not simply a “cultural shift.” In fact, I’d say it behooves us as teachers to keep a close eye on what’s happening to the culture–and doing so would most certainly entail reading Ravitch’s remarkable and revealing new book.

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