July 2008 Archives

Editor's note: With this entry, Bridging Differences begins its annual summer hiatus. Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch will return in late August. Dear readers, We’ll be back in late August; I’m not sure exactly what date. We may be playing around with other ways to have our discussion—more and shorter back and forths? We may or may not be able to do it, since we’re both at heart essayists! But maybe short snippets from “the media” which we both take a whack at? Meanwhile, everyone has made some good suggestions for what to read. It ought...


Dear Deborah, Time for our summer break. We'll be back again blogging and thinking out loud when school opens at the end of August. When I was in school, it always started after Labor Day, and I have never understood why schools open in August, especially when so many lack air-conditioning. So, I leave you with absolutely nothing to think about. Rest, relax, read some good books. If you want to read some page-turners, pick up some novels by Harlan Coben. He is a terrific writer who really knows how to hook the reader. But don't start reading them at ...


Dear Diane, A lot of questions. I’d love to know more about your answers, too. But part of the problem is that there are lots of different things called charters—even the charter laws differ dramatically in different states and the schools even more so. Not all are small, and many are no more, and sometimes maybe less, self-governing than the average regular public school. Vouchers are, of course, a straightforward proposal to get out of the public school business—except maybe for the left-overs. The Edison schools (now moving into online learning) have been as large as any public...


Dear Deborah, I am still somewhat unsure about the difference between your small schools and the small schools created by various school districts, or your small schools and the charter schools that are popping up in many districts. I just read in the LA Daily News that Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, has asked voters to approve a new multi-billion-dollar bond issue to support new charter schools and "small learning communities." Not long ago, the Broad Foundation (and Eli Broad himself) committed $23 million to create many new charter schools in Los Angeles. How will these schools differ ...


Dear Diane, Every few days I have a new object for “the worst ever” prize. Our new American-as-apple-pie identification with torture is the one that keeps me up at night. It seems so unbelievable that it has gone on for so long, so publicly, and is so unstoppable. The gulag of our time—here in America. But in answer to your query, the collapse of the Annenberg Challenge in 1995 remains painful for me to remember and too long to tell well. ("In Schools We Trust" has a chapter on it and other similar efforts.) I was just recently going...


Dear Deborah, Sometimes, like you, I start feeling down about the direction of our world today. The soaring price of gasoline is making life harder for everyone; millions of people are finding that it puts an intolerable strain on their budget for food, shelter, and other basic necessities. Meanwhile we are exporting billions of dollars to undemocratic regimes around the world. Add to those real and present economic burdens the ongoing threat of climate changes, and we do confront terrible challenges and crises. I must say, I also worry about the growing tensions in the Middle East. The leader of ...


Dear Diane, We’re agreed about Summerhill, sort of... But I’m also attracted to it, and delighted by those children engrossed in their hammering. Incidentally, the kids turned out well. It appeals to the anarchist/libertarian in me. But then I’m also a democratic socialist, a liberal, a traditionalist and a communitarian! These labels describe people who I hope can all live forever together on the same planet without doing each other too much harm. Somehow they live together in me, so, perhaps. If we start another war in Iran, my hopes may have to be postponed a ...


Dear Deborah, You and I do travel in different circles! I have never been to a Summerhillian conference and don’t expect that I ever will be. Somewhere in the core of my being is a staunch resistance to A.S. Neill’s libertarianism as it relates to children. As a parent and as someone who cares deeply about elevating the state of our civilization, I rebel against the idea of letting children decide whether they feel like learning today or any day. I believe that adults must take responsibility for children’s well-being, for their physical and intellectual growth, ...


Dear Diane, It’s helpful in some way to know that I “have to” write once a week for some audience—including first and foremost you. It makes me set aside snippets here and there to possibly write and think about. I put an old essay that Florence Miller and I wrote together about a book you and Chester Finn wrote 20 years ago onto my Web site. (“What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?”). I posted it in Florence’s memory—since she died a few weeks ago. She had a sharp wit, and I heard it in that piece. I...


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 ...


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