"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Time for Sanders, or Diane Ravitch, to Pack It In? Part 1

This post is about Diane Ravitch's recent smears against Bernie Sanders, which she posted first at her blog.  I will speak specifically about her remarks in the next part of this piece, but first a few preliminaries.

Many of the posts at Ravitch's blog are packaged for her by Jon Pelto, who spends a good deal of his time, it seems, scouring the blogger network of Ravitch hangers-on for any suitable Ravitch echoes that Diane can then post at her own blog.  This repackaging process gives the attention seekers of Basecamp a chance to bump up the number of visits for their blogs, Facebook pages, etc., and it allows Ravitch a chance to camp out at her computer headquarters like an old self-exiled Tory, now fully in charge of her own band of privileged revolutionaries determined to banish the current group of corporate royals that Ravitch, herself, was once a proud member, and to hand off power to another insider group with the same self-aggrandizing values that Ravitch now promotes. This arrangement also gives Diane a chance to stand behind others and push them forward to say what she will not say in her own voice.  In doing so, she can deny that she is supportive of a post if it ends up not so well received, as in a recent promotion she did for Randi Weingarten (read the comments).

Interestingly, the 2016 version of Diane Ravitch finds her where she was almost 40 years ago, when she first led an effort against the critics of public schools.  Then, however, Ravitch was lambasting the leftist historical revisionists, who dared challenge the myth passed down by the official corporate history of American schooling, the one that painted schools as the great equalizer, and the one that Ravitch happily promoted as a conservative education historian.

The Ravitch of the mid-1970s was at war against anyone who reminded readers of the conscious and unconscious pedagogical practices, organizational patterns, student grouping, curricula, assessment practices, etc. that served to reproduce the gross inequalities within American society, thus leaving the poor and minority students disadvantaged by the poverty and racism that schools ignored.  This kind of critique is now so well established that it seems hard to imagine someone arguing against it, but in 1978 conservative historians carrying on the tradition of Elwood P. Cubberly were waging war to preserve the "patriotic" myth that schools were the effective key to social and cultural mobility for the oppressed, regardless of the sociological realities of urban America.

In The Revisionists Revised..., the 1978 Ravitch work that one reviewer described as a "ham-handed polemic," Ravitch assaults, among others, the work of social scientists, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis.  She claims that
. . . left-leaning authors distorted historical materials to suit their essentially subversive ends. It reaches its low point when Ravitch charges Bowles and Gintis with championing the cause of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong during the Viet Nam war. I've scoured Bowles and Gintis' book Schooing in Capitalist America in search of the seditious references that Ravitch attributes to them, and they are not to be found.

It's also clear that Ravitch lacked the statistical knowledge to properly evaluate quantitative work that she cited in support of her position that American education is an effective agency of upward social mobility. For the most part she took statisticians' dubious assertions as demonstrably true and reported them as such, all part and parcel of her tendentious effort to diminish the credibility of critics from the left.
So don't feel so bad, Bernie supporters, for the art of the smear, you see, is nothing new for Diane Ravitch.

And so Ravitch remained a political conservative and "supporter of public schools," even when it became clear to every thinking person that Ronald Reagan brought to Washington in 1980 an agenda to dismantle public education.  By the time that Poppy Bush took over the reins from Reagan with a boast of ending the "public school monopoly,"  Ravitch had worked her way into the hive, where she was rewarded with an Assistant Secretary's slot at ED under former Tennessee governor, Lamar Alexander.  (This is the same Lamar Alexander, whose office was provided unlimited access at Diane's blog to sell the god-awful ESSA)

By 2001, when the No Child Left Behind train came roaring down the tracks with an army of corporate hacks aboard armed to the teeth to wage war, for real, on public schools, Ravitch remained ensconced back in the club car, strategizing with the likes of Checker Finn, Terry Moe, and John Chubb, on how best to best carry out the mission to privatize schools.

By 2008, Ravitch saw an opportunity to pull herself out of the quicksand of NCLB that she had promoted as a good swimming hole--and to become profitably heroic at the same time.

She would use the same strategy that she had used 30 years year before to vault herself into the limelight as the protector of public education against the "radical" revisionists, except this time around, she would protect the reputation of public schools and millions of book-buying teachers by taking on the corporate education reform empire that she had helped to formulate and spread since 1980. 

With the publication in 2010 of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch borrowed enough from critics of corporate education reform to formulate another leaden polemic, this time against an adversary she knew all too well.  Crafted in a way to protect the middle of the neoliberal road that the teachers' unions occupied, Ravitch become the overnight darling of fence-straddling lawyers and accountants who control the billions in AFT and NEA union dues.

She went on the road selling her book as the antidote to a system she helped create, all the while saying what teachers were desperate to hear.  Finally, someone who said she believed in them.  It was good to hear for those who were able to ignore the swarm of background noise that would, otherwise, make this message unintelligible.

Since 2010, Ravitch has built a network of autograph seekers and blogmates who are sated by her compliments and water-logged rhetoric of wishful thinking, and she has consolidated her position as the voice for the anti-reformy movement.  Most importantly, however, she has earned a position as chief propagandist for corporate unionism, while working both sides of the aisle of the big business political jet.

So at end of the school year in 2016, Diane Ravitch finds herself where she was in 1978, defending a stubbornly-segregated system of public education that is still controlled by rapacious profiteers who remain intent upon escalating the privatization of public spaces.

While she plays footsie with Lamar Alexander and assures her loyal flock that ESSA is "far better than she had hoped or feared," it appears that she has learned nothing over the past forty years, other than the art and craft of knowing when to change colors to better exploit the political environment.

As David Green said at the end of a commentary following the publication of The Death and Life...:
There is no reason to believe that Ravitch’s current state of contrition has caused her to examine her basic assumptions; she is a consummate insider, and has always lacked serious analytical and visionary skills. Meanwhile, schools simply cannot be anything more than trivially democratic in marketized and repressive society as we know it, and as she loves it.
Nonetheless, Ravitch remains a formidable protector of the status quo, even as her predictable promotion of the corporate union agenda and her undisguised Clinton support has cost her backing among those who, in the past, saw her as the Mother Teresa of public education.

Part 2 will take up, specifically, Ravitch's couched smear of Bernie Sanders.


  1. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I read the I will vote for Bernie, or Hillary, but not Donald post as a tacit endorsement of Clinton. I am not voting for her under any circumstances.
    Walmart Board
    Iraq War Vote
    Benghazi Fiasco
    Private Internet Server
    Clinton Foundation Pay to Play
    Wall Street Campaign Funding
    Charter School Promotion
    Need I go on?
    Abigail Shure

    1. Don't forget her connections with Eli Broad: Eli Broad and the Clintons

  2. I probably check in with Ravitch's blog once or twice a week and haven't seen any Sanders smears, and I am a part of the blogger network though I don't post there often too, that being said, above seems like public education supporter on public education supporter violence. We're not going to agree on everything, tactics and policy and who we like best for president included but isn't there enough we have in common that we shouldn't attack each other for our differences? I like Bernie a lot, he by a good margin would be my choice, but I think Clinton would be a good president as well.

    1. If words were actions, I am sure you would have something there about Ravitch being a "public education supporter." Since policy talk remains quite different than policy action, I feel I must remind you that Ravitch's consistent support of the charter stimulus package of ESSA and the continued mandated testing of ESSA and the ESSA incentivizing of the reckless and unhealthy CBE says more than all her blog posts and last two books put together. Tough talk sells books, yes, but it does nothing to stop the corporate education juggernaut that Ravitch supports by her actions.