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We Bridged Our Differences

Dear Deborah,

We started this weekly exchange of letters more than five years ago, to what must have been the shock and amusement of those who knew both of us. We were supposed to be at opposite poles of the education debates of the day, so there was a certain logic to the idea that we might engage in "Bridging Differences."

I remember when we first began this journey. In the fall of 2006, we were invited by New York University to discuss the changes in the New York City public schools. We met for lunch to talk about what we would say. We surprised each other as we learned that we were both appalled by the heavy-handed, ham-handed manner in which ill-considered accountability measures were imposed on the schools. We each had our list of grievances, and we resolved to write an article together.

The writing process took some weeks, as drafts went back and forth between us. I had to learn to cope with your unique approach to orthography. When the article was finished, it was published in Education Week. Some enterprising editor proposed that we should turn our collaboration into a blog, and here we are five-plus years later.

I reflect on our beginnings now because I have decided to end my participation in the blog. (See Editor's note below; the Bridging Differences blog will continue.) Several months ago, Jay Mathews of The Washington Post suggested that we needed a new format because we had stopped disagreeing. But that's not my reason for leaving.

I'm leaving because I started my own blog in April, and it is taking up all my blogging energy. I'm now posting anywhere from 10-20 items daily. Whereas I used to devote 1/2 a day each week to writing my letter to you, I now spend two-three hours daily on my blog, seven days a week. And did I mention that I started writing a book in mid-June?

I have found or created a large community of educators from across the nation and around the world. In the months since I launched the blog, it has had close to 1 million page views. Many of the posts I publish are comments by teachers, parents, school board members, and others, reacting to events and issues as they discover they are not alone. I learn from my readers about what is happening in their schools, their communities, and their cities. And I love sharing what I learn.

As I leave Bridging Differences, let me express what it has meant to me.

I have come to have a deep and abiding respect for your wisdom. You manage to bring almost every issue back to the fundamental question of democracy. You constantly remind readers how important is the respect that people express toward each other in their daily practices. Your ideas about habits of mind, trust, inquiry, thinking, and living your beliefs remain fresh and relevant.

Over these past five years, I have developed a keen respect for the practitioners in our nation's schools. The more I understand of the challenges they face every day, the more cognizant I am of their ability to do what I cannot do. Thus, I can never again look at the issues of the classroom from the perspective of 30,000 feet in the air, as I once did and as so many of my former think tank colleagues, academics, and policymakers in government still do.

When we began, I was viewed by many as a representative for conservative ideas about testing, choice, and accountability. As our dialogue continued, my views evolved, right here on this blog, and in 2010 I published a book renouncing those ideas. I have often said, half in jest, that you won me over and that over time you could change almost anyone's mind, if they were willing to listen.

But the blog changed me in other ways. For one, I learned an informal, conversational way of writing. I became comfortable writing in the first person, expressing my thoughts without jargon or footnotes.

And I learned about Internet social behavior. I met many new friends, and I realized there would always be people who use anonymity to write hateful things. I learned to ignore them.

Some time ago, you asked what keeps me going. I responded that I was motivated by the outrageous attacks on teachers and public education. I still am.

I am also energized to speak out against the well-funded effort to spread misinformation about the status, condition, and progress of American public education. The goal of this false narrative is to destroy the public's faith in one of its most essential public institutions. To the extent this narrative succeeds, it makes possible the privatization of a growing segment of education. Privatization advocates call themselves leaders of the civil rights issue of our day, but you know that privatization always produces more inequity, not less.

Here is something to reflect on: the NAEP scores of students who are black, white, Hispanic, or Asian are at their highest point in history. The proportion of young people between 18-24 who have graduated high school is close to 90 percent, another historical high point. Those who rail about the decline and failure of American education are either misinformed or they obfuscate or prevaricate.

There is so much work to be done to stop the destructive attacks on teachers, principals, and public education. There is so much work to be done to change our schools for the better. The media attack machine distracts everyone from the real reforms that are needed.

I will continue in that work, and I know you will too.

In closing, I want to thank Mary-Ellen Deily, who has edited our blog with patience and good humor, and thank Education Week for hosting it.

Diane

Editor's note: Deborah Meier will continue to blog for Bridging Differences, along with a yet-to-be-named blogging partner. Deborah's next post will appear on Thursday, and Education Week will announce her co-blogger shortly. Stay tuned, and thank you to Diane Ravitch for five important and thought-provoking years on Bridging Differences.

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