Dear Diane, You ask: why are people so gullible? That includes both the writers and readers of our media. (Or should I say listeners?) Many reasons, no doubt, including a natural inclination to believe there is some way to know what’s happening out there in the big world, and gullibility is perhaps better than instinctively dismissing it all. The kind of healthy skepticism you and I are talking about is not, I’d argue, a natural part of our evolutionary make-up. Probably through most of human history we didn’t depend on any media—but that which our own ...


Dear Deborah, Teacher-bashing has become the motif of the day. It is usually cloaked in some high-minded rhetoric that pretends to praise teachers. Say the bashers: We need great teachers; great teachers can solve all our problems; great teachers can close the achievement gap; if you don't have great teachers, you are doomed; blah, blah, blah. What they really mean—read between the lines—is that they think most of the teachers we now have are no good. We have to start firing the stragglers, the ones whose kids don't get high test scores. The theory is that—emulating...


EDITOR'S NOTE: This entry has been updated since it was first posted. Dear Diane, Yes, our meeting in person is one thing for which I can thank Al Shanker. But some of the current teacher bashing was, alas, initiated by him. It endeared him to many. There was that streak in him that led him to policies we’ve lived to regret. But I miss some of that fierceness in today’s teachers' union leaders. I think the puzzlement you express may be simple: it’s a knee-jerk American (by no means uniquely so) fault to look for scapegoats, not ...


Dear Deborah, I well remember when we first met. As you mentioned, it was Al Shanker who suggested that I call you. This was after you had pretty well lacerated two of my books. Al said, "You should meet Debbie. You'll like her." He was right. I was very impressed with what I saw at Central Park East, and I recall that we talked nonstop for about two hours. Thus begins an interesting friendship! On the subject of the teachers' unions, I must confess that I have always been puzzled by people who insist that the unions are the cause ...


Dear Diane, My head and heart are in a muddle—politically. I enjoyed your letter, Diane, and realized our mutual support for teachers’ unions may have something to do with the degree of our rapprochement. It’s not a coincidence that it was the late AFT leader Al Shanker who suggested you come visit Central Park East Secondary School. I’ve just been rereading our prior exchanges in Dissent magazine. They were tough. Some of those differences still exist, but in a softer form. As I noted in my response to some of our readers, the idea that there would...


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