School & District Management Opinion

Questions From the Past

By Diane Ravitch — July 15, 2008 3 min read
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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 Iran has been threatening for a few years to wipe Israel off the map, and last week the Iranians demonstrated that they have the missiles capable of carrying out the next genocide in our world’s sorry history. Like you, I do not want to see the United States embroiled in another war in the Middle East; but I would not be sad at all if the Israelis performed another of their military surgical strikes, identifying and eliminating every single nuclear site in Iran. Not only would I not be sad, I would celebrate. I do not want to see a nuclear strike on Tel Aviv or on any other place in the world.

I have recently been reading the latest novel of Alan Furst. His novels deal with events in Europe in the eerie pre-war period in the 1930s. They are historically accurate, though the characters are his own. I have read all of his novels—he is something of a cult writer and has a devoted following, which includes me—and he makes no political point, just tells a gripping and very informative tale. In the current book, “The Spies of Warsaw,” there is a Nazi who says that one of Hitler’s favorite sayings is, “The world wants to be deceived, and we will deceive them.” If Ahmadinejad says again and again that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, the Israelis would be foolish not to take him at his word. At the very least, this is not a situation in which they should wait to see if he is going to do it, because then it would be too late; millions will die in Israel and millions will die in a counter-strike on Iran.

But, whoa, I am getting way out of my zone of knowledge, just speculating, as is every citizen’s right, as we all do. After all, if only experts were allowed to speak, that would vitiate the very meaning of democracy, in which all of us have the right to express our opinions. That, too, is a problem, as the blogosphere is both democratic and filled with opinions that range from insane conspiracy theories to really smart amateurs to really knowledgeable, well-grounded debates.

But, here and now, I have a question for you about the past. Friends have contacted me and said, “Ask Debbie what happened to the Annenberg Challenge.” What they really want to know is how the small school movement turned into one of the favorite strategies of the corporate elites who are so interested in education. They also want to know how you feel about this idea that “headquarters” can decide to open 10, 20, 50 small schools, recruit principals, and will them into existence.

And while we are at it, were you aware that the New York City Department of Education just awarded a $50 million, $5 million contract to its own Leadership Academy? The Leadership Academy was created by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein. Klein was the chair of its board. He selected the other board members. He and the mayor raised $75 million for its first three years of operation as a quasi-public entity (imagine: $75 million to “train” 160 principals!). They tried to sell the rest of the country on the idea that this Academy was a national model, though no other district could possibly afford to emulate it. Just recently, Klein removed himself from the board of the Academy and awarded this $50 million contract to it. Of course, this means that the same crowd will be in charge of recruiting and training the school system’s new principals long after they have left office. Doesn’t this eviscerate the principle of mayoral control, since the new mayor will find that the old mayor is still in charge of training principals? Funny, with the exception of The New York Sun, not a peep in the media.

What a world.


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