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Introducing Diane Ravitch

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Hi, I am Diane Ravitch and I am really excited about the opportunity to blog with Deborah Meier. Deb and I had quite a lot of fun writing an article that was published in Education Week (May 24, 2006) as "Bridging Differences." We started writing the article after we shared a platform at New York University, where we discussed and debated the current era of school reform. We met before the session to hash out what we would say and had the startling discovery that there was a bunch of things that we agreed upon. After the public forum, we continued to email each other, exchanging ideas. Eventually we hit upon the notion that out of this exchange might come an article. For many weeks, we wrote each other, agreeing, disagreeing, arguing, editing each other's words. And the article did appear.

Then a few weeks ago, someone at EdWeek decided that it might be fruitful to continue the discussion, in relation to real-time events of the day. We decided we would give it a go.

So here are the things you should know about me before we start. I was born in Houston, Texas, where I attended public schools from kindergarten through high school, along with my seven brothers and sisters. I then went to Wellesley College, where I graduated in 1960. A few weeks after college graduation, I married. For a time I worked at the New Leader magazine, a wonderful publication where I learned about democratic socialist politics. (At the time and for most of my life, I was a registered Democrat; for the past decade, I have been a registered independent.) Then I started having children. The first, Joseph, was born in 1962. The second, Steven, was born in 1964. Steven died of leukemia in 1966. Needless to say, I was devastated. This was a traumatic event in my life and the life of my family. I had another child as soon as I could, another son, Michael, in 1967.

Soon after Michael's birth, I embarked on writing projects for the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Since I was young and inexperienced, I worked at what is known in New York labor circles as piece-rates, for $5 an hour. One of those projects involved reporting back to Carnegie staff about the Ford Foundation's support for experiments in school decentralization in NYC. From what I learned, I decided I wanted to write a history of the New York City public schools. No master's degree, no doctorate, just a passionate desire to write this book. Through the good offices of the Carnegie Corporation, I met Lawrence Cremin of Teachers College, the most eminent historian of education of that time, who set me on the path to becoming a historian and also to earning a doctorate (bypassing the master's degree) at Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Long story short: I did write that history. It is called "The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805-1973." I joined the faculty of Teachers College as an adjunct, rising from an assistant professor to full professor, while I continued to write books, reviews, articles, essays. One highlight of that period of my life occurred in 1989-1990, when I traveled to Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia at the behest of the American Federation of Teachers, encouraging nascent teachers' unions in countries that were emerging from a long era of totalitarianism.

In 1991, much to my surprise, I received an invitation from Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to join him as Assistant Secretary of Education in charge of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. That was in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. I had a wonderful, exciting experience and learned an incredible amount about federal education policy. While in office, I strongly advocated on behalf of voluntary national content standards in all subjects: English, history, science, mathematics, the arts, geography, civics, economics, even physical education (and signed the contracts to fund many of them).

After I left government in 1993, I went to work at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., an incredibly vibrant think tank, where I wrote a book about national standards in education.

I returned to New York City in mid-1994 and accepted an offer to become a research professor at New York University. Since then, I have written several more books, including "Left Back," "The Language Police," and a recently published anthology "The English Reader," which I edited with my son Michael (a great experience!).

That's a start towards knowing who I am. Oh, one more thing, I live in Brooklyn, New York, which is a great place to live, and I have an abiding interest in the New York City public schools.

10 Comments

There are many scholars and academicians, historians and reseachers with impeccable credentials and unimpeachable integrity whose contributions to the educational literature fill many shelves. They may be brilliant but none are great in the sense of immortal artisitic greatness: except Diane Ravitch. When I was a kid I foolishly thought that Toscanini was the only conductor of sublime rank; of course I grew up to recognize many more. Years ago I discovered Ravitch's contrinutions and viewed her as I had done Toscanini. This time there will be no change. I'm convinced that her name will be the only one remembered when 50-100 years hence people reflect upon the public school systems of America, provided there still are any.

Welcome to blogging!

I can't wait to read your blog. I've been a fan of yours for a long time. Thank you for choosing to be here.

The two of you are a HUGE inspiration to me as I learn everything I am about education policy looking for the one thing I will be able to affect positively...

I echo Sherman Dorn, welcome to blogging. I found details about your life journeys very interesting. We need more reflective discussion about bridging differences in education, and I look forward to reading your thoughts. Onward!

It's interesting and informative to hear your views on the privatization of NYC schools. I share the same alarm about what is unfolding.

If “charter member” means one of an original group, Diane Ravitch is well over a hundred years too late to be a charter member of the “tolerance-for-uncertainty club.” “The Metaphysical Club,” (described by Louis Menand in his book by the same title published in 2001) first began meeting soon after the Civil War. Its members were pragmatists - skeptical of the existence of absolute truths, believers in the value of knowledge contingent on experience. John Dewey, a later proponent of pragmatism, in 1929 wrote “The Quest for Certainty,” in which he criticized traditional philosophy for its profitless search for absolute, ultimate principles. Dewey would never have believed in the existence of “the one best method” for teaching reading or anything else.

How can I contact you? I will like to get your views on the One Laptop per Child initiative.

Thank you,

Yianni Garcia
[email protected]
781-895-7705

What do you think of the daily news article December 13,14 on dumbing down classes so students can be successful?

Inspired by your writing on public education in New York City, I have written two articles (unpublished so far). One of the two is titled 'Readying Children for Learning.'I wonder if I could forward the article to you for your comments.Thank you.

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