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Birthday Thoughts

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Dear Deborah,

Well, we have been blogging for more than a year now, and there was bound to be a screw-up sooner or later. The only question was: who would be first to do it, you or me? The answer is in (drum roll): It is me. My previous post (“Reports, Reform, and Hype,” June 24) was actually a response to your last post (“Blaming Teachers,” June 30). I think this happened because you were so energetic that you replied to me so fast, at lightning speed, leading me to answer an unpublished post of yours.

So, I can’t reply to your blog of June 30 because I already responded to it on June 24!

Let me take a few moments to reflect and lead us in a different direction, perhaps.

Yesterday (July 1) was a milestone birthday for me (thank you for your birthday greetings, blog partner!). I turned 70. I still don’t believe the number because I feel a lot younger; I know my mother and my grandmother were much less active when they reached that age. I still feel ready to go into the ring and take on all comers for 15 rounds. At least I feel that way in the mornings! I invited my seven siblings for a celebration of the fact that we are all still here, and all but one (who was ill) traveled across the country to join me.

Turning to our present matters, I have been struck by the fact that our blog has created a community of readers. Many of our readers comment on almost every post. They frequently communicate with one another on our site. They take ideas very seriously, as we do.

Why do we keep this conversation going? For me, there is a certain satisfaction in bouncing ideas around; in knowing that there are others out there who want to stop and think, who are willing to think with us and argue with us, who don’t assume that the powers-that-be must know best. I think where you and I often agree is that we assume that the powers-that-be need critics, and we are ready to give them the skeptical commentary that they need.

Sometimes I worry that we are too parochial, as we are both focused on New York City, and everyone knows that NYC is not the world. Yet, I see the developments in NYC replicated in cities around the nation. I see them as a mirror image of No Child Left Behind. I see school districts around the nation embracing privatization, outsourcing of central office responsibility, merit pay, incentivization, and other aspects of “the business model.” I see a steady dismantling of public education, not only in NYC, but in many school districts, especially in urban centers, and I know that the things that worry us are not New York-centric.

American education has always had problems and crises, but I can’t recall a time when some of the wealthiest people in the nation were putting serious money into a campaign to privatize public education.

The raison d’etre of our blog, I believe, is to look more deeply into education issues than others do. Our responsibility is to raise the questions and issues that other commentators have not even considered. Our role is to rip to shreds the phony consensus that encourages so many school districts to accept shallow and harmful “reforms.”

Diane

7 Comments

Just wanted to thank the two of you for always sharing such thoughtful, insightful pieces. I am a former teacher, who now works in education policy, and you have caused me (thankfully) to rethink some of the ideas/"solutions" I have blindly accepted in the past. I miss teaching, and you have rekindled my optimism and helped me to remember the reasons I entered the profession: asking the hard questions, making a difference in the lives of children.

I thought I would echo the comments by the "interested reader". As a teacher who always reads, but rarely comments (afraid I wouldn't sound as articulate as your other readers), I figured this was the right time to let both of you know how much I appreciate your blog. As a KIPP teacher who Deborah once devoted an entry to on her website, I've already had one visitor to my school in DC based solely on the information from this blog. I hope you both appreciate how valuable a tool this is in raising the education debate in this country.

I too, want to say thank you, as a teacher and graduate student who just discovered your blog. I enjoy your commentary and the moments it provides me to reflect on these issues- which can be hard when you're really thinking about the 20 sets of eyes that will be on you in the morning! Regardless of your opinions, I appreciate your belief in the public system and your dismay at some of the reforms that, to me, appear to be band aids to much larger systemic and social issues.

Also, happy birthday and enjoy the holiday weekend.

As another teacher/graduate student, I have also greatly appreciated the dialogue taking place here. This blog has been such a wonderful resource in helping me to enlighten and broaden my critique of and love for public education. Thank You!!!

Diane,

Thank you for bringing such intellectual honesty to our educational discussion.

Happy Birthday.

Erin Johnson

Reading this blog is a treat. We'd be lucky for all our conversations to be so honest, intelligent, and full of goodwill. Thanks to the both of you.

I first came to this blog because I loved the quality of dialogue and the tenor of agreement and disagreement. You show that it is possible to disagree (or, for that matter, agree) passionately and respectfully. The passion does not undermine the respect.

Unfortunately, in too many places (online and offline) a different kind of passion takes over--a passion consisting of the phony consensus that you mentioned, Diane, and of character-bashing. People agree without really thinking through the ideas; and when they disagree, they feel compelled to say something nasty about the other person. I find this distressing and bewildering--but it's all over the place.

I suspect that false consensus and character-bashing go hand in hand, and that our schools do a lot to promote both phenomena. To turn things around, we need to emphasize careful thought and practice it ourselves.

I think of the wonderful lines of Yeats' "The Second Coming": "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." Some take that to mean that "passionate intensity" is a bad thing. But in context the words have a special meaning. Yeats is not talking about all passion, but the kind where "the ceremony of innocence is drowned."

The "passionate intensity" that I admire on this blog is full of thoughtfulness. It can withstand challenge; it thrives on it. The other kind "freaks out" when challenged. It does not take criticism well. It would rather stampede unimpeded.

Now, it takes a lot of vigilance to avoid the second kind of passion. I fall into it; I'm sure many others do. I think it takes a willingness to be questioned and to question, among other things. I learn from the examples that you set.

In other words, thanks to both of you for a great blog.

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