Wishing Away Goliath
Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America's Public Schools is the latest of the Good Diane’s three books written since the Bad Diane departed the corporate education reform ship around 2009, just as it was running into stiff headwinds from a fierce storm front developing over No Child Left Behind, which at the time was devastating thousands of public schools and threatening tens of thousands of others.
In this third installment of the Good Diane’s recurring mea culpa and political distancing exercise from the Bad Diane’s 30 years of service to the corporate education reform agenda, the Good Diane makes a consistently-shaky case for the imminent victory of the “Resistance” over the “Disruptors,” of good over evil, of educators over the edupreneurs, of the informed over the clueless, of Davids over Goliaths, and, most importantly, of Diane Ravitch over her own past.
The first book, The Death and Life of theGreat American School System, was the Good Diane's first attempt to undo with words what she had spent her adult life doing with policy implementation and carefully crafted “free market” propaganda aimed to increase testing accountability, merit pay, phonics, school vouchers, national standards/curriculum, and corporate steering of public education.
She explains in The Death and Life . . . that the harmful effects of the policies she previously spent so much effort pushing became clearer to her only when she descended from her flyover view as a high-rolling policymaker and edu-elite, where she had used her positions of power “looking at schools and teachers and students from an altitude of 20,000 feet and seeing them as objects to be moved around by big ideas and great plans” (p. 10).
As the emerging Good Diane explained, sort of, in The Death and Life. . . , it was around 2008 when the Bad Diane began to notice a negative aspect to the privatization of the public schools, which she had actively supported since the Reagan Era. Yet even as the Good Diane inside the Bad Diane grew more worried that her privatization agenda might finally be realized, she continued to cycle from one conservative think tank to another, discussing abstractions such as “choice,” “national standards,” and “accountability” with the likes of Paul Peterson,Terry Moe, and Checker Finn.
Finally, when it became clear that her think tank pals planned to do nothing to alter the original timing device on the bunker-busting bomb buried in No Child Left Behind, which, by 2008, had become a toxic mess that was increasingly unpopular, the Bad Diane began to flounder for real. A political esthete with a preference for debate over bomb making, the Good Diane says that, by 2009, her “basic conservatism about values, traditions, communities, and institutions” finally forced her to see the light:
It remains a little unclear as where those “values” had been stored during the Bad Diane’s 30-year membership in the Privatization and Testing Accountability Club. When I now read the excerpt just above from The Death and Life. . ., it seems as likely as it did 10 years ago when I first read it that the Bad Diane knew from the beginning that the NCLB bomb to blow up public schools was armed even in 2002, when the 100 percent proficiency timer started ticking.
Was it her "basic conservatism" that led her finally to salvation, or was it a realization that she had become a callous careerist on the wrong side of history? We'll probably never know, even though Ravitch is still making the distinction between the Bad Diane of her past and the Good Diane of the present. Just last week, for instance, in an , she said, “In the last 10 years, I’ve become an activist on behalf of public schools and the importance of public education in a democracy, and this is a big change in where I was before then.” (By the way, the five minute clip of the interview is worth watching, as it fits the corporate union version of the "Resistance" comfortably within the Clintonian boundaries that Joe Biden's candidacy demands.)
What we do know is that every other insider knew that, from the get-go, NCLB was a device to blow up public schools. That's where Part 2 of this meditation will begin.