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.
The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.