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I May be Wrong ... But I Doubt It*

Dear Diane,

I do believe we are in that portion of the Roman Empire in which horses were considered "persons." Or was that just a mad movie I once saw about the fall of the Roman Empire?

Some of the madness is being conducted by very sane people with a very bad agenda. Yes, I do believe that, especially after reading your account about Cleveland, Diane.

Some are under a belief, genuinely held, that only when everything is private will human beings live as they should—in a libertarian dream world. They are risking our collective futures on their idealistic theory, much as radical leftists once did on a totalitarian dream that they hoped would lead to human liberation. We can't afford to let America try it out.

I just read a letter from a colleague whose "messy clutter" corner library center with comfy chairs and many readable books was literally removed over the weekend based on the recommendation of a "walk-through" team of so-called experts. Another colleague tells me that the classrooms he visits no longer even dream of having time for "read-alouds." And I long ago discovered that "telling stories"—made-up or otherwise (without a book)—has gone the way of ... see-saws.

In this climate the kind of common-sense wisdom that Vito Perrone, Ted Sizer, and Lillian Weber represented seems quaint. Only rigor, which now lives up to its true meaning—harsh and rigid—satisfies our leaders. "They" didn't select that word ignorantly, as I had assumed.

Who are "they?" Probably they include the folks who met on Amelia Island to develop their education agenda recently. Were we really unable to sneak a spy into that gathering?

So "we" need to meet, too. Across the many organizations out there who share a common agenda about the priorities of a school system that can support and nourish a troubled nation. When will we stop worrying about our own organizational fiscal et al condition for a few days and call for united action? I'm a member (but a poor one since collective call-in systems defy me) of the executive committee of Save Our Schools. They are planning a "convention" preceding the Democratic and Republican conventions to try to put together a shared education platform. We need to set aside time for talking about how we can operate better individually if we join together under a loose and larger umbrella. Even if only all the organizations I'm a member of met, it would make a good start!

As I said last week, we cannot afford to fall back on "the feeble strength of one." Maybe someone can suggest a song that embodies our shared task? I make this suggestion based on the euphoria I felt as I drove home last Saturday night from a sing-along of old Central Park East colleagues at our "old" music teacher's apartment. We sang the songs he taught our students and ourselves over the 35 years he was at CPE I. (We sang "All things shall perish from under the sky, music alone shall live, music alone shall live, never to die." But as we sang it I thought, "it might die, if the Arne Duncans of the world hold all the strings.")

Schools still largely rest—overwhelmingly—on tax dollars. Foundations and the federal government are actually a drop in the bucket. How have we let them run the show?

You can see that I'm floundering around for a cure. There is none, however, except if we work this out together.

"Step by step ... " (Heidi Lyne, Ayla Gavins, Mission Hillers, one and all, if you are reading this: Isn't that the beginning of a song we sang at our weekly gatherings?)

Diane, when you read this, I'll be in Chicago seeing old friends and heading off to the North Dakota Study Group's annual weekend. Last weekend I was in Boston at a memorial Harvard sponsored for Vito Perrone who "created" the NDSG 40 or so years ago. As I spoke, I looked out at the audience, I saw my past before my eyes. But there were enough young people to assure me that we have a future, too.

Deborah

P.S. Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine have written a book that just came out. Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education: What's at Stake. Order it, and read it! Teachers College Press.

* The title of this column is taken from Don Rose's latest piece in the Chicago Daily Observer. But, says Rose, actually "the title is Mike Royko's." Regardless, it seemed a fit headline for this week's rant. (Almost everything Don writes I want to pass on.)

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