This was written by education historian Diane Ravitchfor her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.
I am writing from Madison, where I arrived an hour ago. Tonight, I am speaking to the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, a date arranged many months ago, long before anyone imagined that Madison would be the scene of a major political battle.
The stalemate in Wisconsin continues, and polls show that the public supports collective-bargaining rights for public-sector workers. I was worried that there might be a race to the bottom, having read complaints on blogs that begin, “If I don’t have a pension or healthcare, why should they?”
Then I learned, thanks to a correspondent, not to be too upset by blog comments. He said that there are people paid to post negative or positive comments about products, people, and ideas. Apparently such people create hundreds of fake identities to simulate public opinion. Oh, well, just another good reason to inform yourself, reach your own judgment, and not be swayed by the crowd, which might consist of one person pretending to be dozens or hundreds.
Last week, I had the exciting experience of appearing on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Jon has assembled some hilarious satires on the showdown between Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s teachers. The segments are called “Angry Curds,” and I urge you to watch. He contrasts the alleged perks and luxuries of “fat-cat teachers” with the Wall Street bankers who can’t be expected to cut their pay or bonuses. On March 3, when I was there, Stewart said (I paraphrase): “This is a time for ALL of us to sacrifice: Teachers, teachers’ aides, student teachers, retired teachers, school janitors: All of us.” But not the super-rich.
Stewart is truly a hero for our nation’s teachers. His mother was a teacher for many years, and he knows how hard she worked for modest pay. Unlike the pundits now raging on talk shows, Stewart knows that his mother earned her pension and health benefits. I was thrilled to watch his skillful take-down of the corporate reform narrative and to do it with the deadliest of weapons: humor.
I was also delighted to discover that Matt Damon spoke out against high-stakes testing when he was interviewed by Piers Morgan on CNN. Morgan said, You worked very hard to elect Obama, how do you think he’s doing? Damon said Obama had disappointed him on education, and that, with so much testing, students were being trained, not educated.
On the downside, as if to prove Matt Damon’s point, President Obama flew to Miami to join former Gov. Jeb Bush in celebrating rising test scores at Miami Central Senior High School. Many Florida teachers dislike Bush intensely, to put it mildly, for his support of vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing, merit pay, and judging teachers by test scores. Yet there was President Obama, praising Bush as an education reformer.
There really is a bipartisan consensus on education reform. It happens to be the Republican agenda of the past 30 years, minus the Republicans’ traditional contempt for federal control of education policy. Where did the Democratic agenda go?
So, having no political leadership to support public education, collective bargaining, or the dignity of the teaching profession, we must look for leadership wherever it can be found. Right now, it’s among the people who have stood up for the rights of teachers on the cold and windy streets of Madison, Wisconsin, as well as those who have rallied in their own cities and towns. And we must thank Jon Stewart and Matt Damon for challenging the power elites.
We must take hope wherever it can be found, believing that common sense and decency will in time prevail. But we cannot rely on hope alone. The only lasting resolution will depend on the will, the determination, and the concerted actions of the citizens of this democracy.
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