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“Reign of Error:" Who Should Read It?

By Nancy Flanagan — September 17, 2013 3 min read
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As facilitator of an online graduate course in teacher leadership, I strongly recommend that participants read lots of education policy blogs, across a range of political convictions. In the course syllabus, there are a dozen suggestions, but students--all practicing K-12 educators--are free to find and share others, posting their thoughts about the discourse they find.

The first discussion board question: Who is this blog for?

One teacher-participant compared a widely read policy blog to the “cool kids’ table” in the school cafeteria: a place where other students are intentionally left behind, where the conversation often centers around a handful of people, clubs and shifting loyalties--who said what and how should we spin it?

Teachers often come away from their tour of Ed Policy World dismayed by the things policy “experts” are saying. Angry, sometimes. Frustrated at being left out of a dialogue where their hard-won practice expertise is undervalued, even scorned.

Good news. Diane Ravitch has written a book for them. While many of the early reviews of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools came from the “cool kids,” the audience that will find Reign of Error indispensible is teachers, school leaders and parents.

For them, it’s a sourcebook of key issues, solid evidence and confirmation that yes, there’s been a media-fed, policy-driven, politically instigated sea change in public perspectives around education. Plus--there’s a template for the kinds of smart investment that could make our public education system sound and vigorous for decades. A rough guide to getting back on track, preserving America’s best idea: a free, high-quality public education for every child, rich or poor.

There are a number of well-written reviews of Reign of Error. Peg Robertson calls it her new activist handbook. Jan Resseger says it helped her connect the dots (and Jan has connected a lot of dots for me, so that’s saying something). Peter DeWitt, David Cohen, Anthony Cody and Ken Bernstein all have fine pieces--Ken’s is especially detailed, should you want a comprehensive overview. No need for me to reiterate or quote.

I will mention my favorite chapter-- “The Language of Corporate Reform"--where Ravitch’s roots as historian emerge through her explanation of how modern media and business interests have reframed the story of the “failing” public education, critical to our national security and global economic dominance.

For every would-be reformer who blanches at assertive terms like “privatization” and “corporate reform,” hoping to make common cause with entrepreneurial go-getters, Ravitch provides a cautionary lesson in the real roots of our traditional system: frequently inequitable, serving a constantly changing student population, and usually the target of disparagement from some quarters. There was no golden age in American education, Ravitch says. We can only look forward. And it would help to have some coherent national education goals, perhaps even this chestnut: democratic citizenship.

In building a textbook-length case for shifting our educational priorities, what Ravitch has done is leave the cool kids to their ongoing game of “my research is better than your research--here, let me buy another study.” The appendix alone is filled with graphs, charts and references that will be invaluable to the nascent movement to reclaim a vibrant, fully public education system.

Leaving the last word to my friend and former colleague Kirk Taylor, 8th grade English teacher in Hartland, Michigan:

As a 35-year public school teacher, I want you to know how grateful I am that smart and heart-full people like Diane Ravitch are out there trying to preserve the American public school system, the backbone of our democracy. I have so much more to say, but I just don’t have time. Tomorrow morning I will be off to try to open doors for my 149 eighth grade English students. They only have one day-eleven as eighth graders and I have to go to bed or I won’t be the teacher they deserve.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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.

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