Diane Ravitch’s New Book is a Fun and Breezy Romp Through the Maze of School Policy

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Imagine you could talk with Diane Ravitch for 10 to 15 minutes everyday.

 
That’s kind of what reading her new book, “The Wisdom and the Witt of Diane Ravitch”, is like.

 
You’ve probably heard of Ravitch before.

 

She’s the kindly grandmother you see on the news who used to think standardized tests and school privatization were the way to go but actually had the courage to pull an about face.

 

She’s that rare thing in public policy – a person with the honesty to admit when she was wrong — and even lead the resistance to everything she used to believe in!

 

Now she champions teacher autonomy, fair and equitable school funding and authentic public schools with duly-elected school boards.

 

Her new book is full of shorter pieces by the education historian from all over the mass media – The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Huffington Post and even her own blog.

 
You’ll find an article explaining why she changed her mind about school reform nestled next to a reflection on what it’s like to grow up Jewish in Texas. Here’s a succinct take down of President Obama’s Race to the Top next to an article extolling the virtues of student activism in Providence. Ever wonder what Ravitch would say to her mentor Lamar Alexander about our current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos? It’s in there. Ever wonder what books on education she would recommend? It’s in there.

 
This new book from Garn Press is more personal than anything I’ve seen from Ravitch on the shelves before. And that’s because it’s not part of a sustained argument like “The Life and Death of the Great American School System,” or “Reign or Error.” It’s a collection of vignettes taken from the last decade of her writing. These are flashes of inspiration, snippets of thoughts, bursts of criticism and humor.

 
They’re perfect for perusing and really quite addictive.

 
I found myself jumping from an article in the first 20 pages to one at the end to another in the middle. There’s no reason any of it needs to be read chronologically though they are organized in the order of publication.

 
It’s really a lot like talking to Diane, something that I’ve had the privilege to do on a few occasions. Like any conversation, topics come up organically and you go from one to another without rhyme or reason.

 

 

At least that’s how I read the book.

 
It would be perfect in your school’s teachers lounge. Educators could pick it up at lunch or during their planning periods and use it as a springboard to talk about almost any issue that comes up during the day.

 
Well, it would be perfect if we ever actually had that kind of time.

 
I found myself repeatedly interrupted when trying to read it. But that’s actually not a problem. Given the brevity of the articles and their impressive concision, it doesn’t matter if you have to put a bookmark in the middle of a chapter here or there. It’s easy to pick up the thread and continue later.

 
There are so many highlights, but one of my favorites is “Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats” where she writes:

 

 

“I contend that it is immoral, unjust, and inequitable to advocate for policies that hurt 95% of students so that 5% can go to a private school. It is even more unjust to destabilize an entire school district by introducing a welter of confusing choices, including schools that open and close like day lilies. Why don’t the advocates of school choice also advocate for funding to replace the money removed from the public schools?”

 
Or how about “Flunking Arne Duncan”? I must admit, the title alone made my heart give a little cheer. Ravitch gives the former Education Secretary the following report card which deserves to be blown up to poster size and displayed in every classroom in the country:

 

 

“Report Card: Arne Duncan
Fidelity to the Constitution                                       F
Doing what’s right for children                               F
Doing what’s right for public education                F
Respecting the limits of federalism                        F
Doing what’s right for teachers                               F
Doing what’s right for education                            F”

 
As a public school teacher, I must admit getting an inordinate amount of pleasure from Ravitch’s criticism of the fools and frauds writing school policy. But she has a lot to say on so many subjects – standardized testing, Common Core, even the basic greed underlying the whole political mess.

 
Consider this gem from “What Powerful and Greedy Elites are Hiding When They Scapegoat the Schools”:

 

 

“I have nothing against the wealthy. I don’t care that some people have more worldly goods than others. I understand that life’s not fair. I just harbor this feeling that a person ought to be able to get by on $100 million or so and not keep piling up riches while so many others don’t know how they will feed their children tonight.”

 
I could offer a dozen more quotes from the book. My copy looks like a rainbow with all the different colored highlights I’ve made through its 451 pages.

 
So if you want my advice, go out and buy “The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch.” It’s a fun and breezy romp through the maze of school policy.

 
Just keep a good supply of highlighters and bookmarks handy.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Dear Donald Trump, Please Try to Block Publication of My Book, Too

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Dear Donald Trump,

 

May I just say, Wow, Sir? You are really very impressive.

 

I know some people say you’re a stupid overgrown man child, but you really had an amazing comeback when you tweeted you were actually a “very stable genius.”

 

I mean “very stable genius”!

 

Well done, sir.

 

How could anyone ever come back from that devastating response?

 

Oh, and your answer to Michael Wolff was likewise inspiring.

 

He is such an ingrate.

 

You invited this guy, this reporter, into the White House – the Summer Mar-a-Lago – so he could conduct candid interviews and observe you and your staff for the express purpose of writing a book. Now that the book, “Fire and Fury,” is coming out, you see that it paints an unflattering picture of you. So you have your lawyers send Wolff a cease and desist letter attempting to stop its publication.

 

That is ballsy, sir.

 

Obama wouldn’t have done that. Neither would either of the Bushes, or Reagan or even your hero Andrew Jackson. They had too much respect for the First Amendment – whatever that is.

 

I hear it won’t work though. Wolff’s book was released early and it’s already a best seller, but I’ve got to take my hat off to you, sir, for your sheer bigly courage.

 

Wolff’s book’s already sold more than 250,000 copies and the author attributes much of that to your attempts to block publication.

 

But what does he know? He’s not President. You are, sir. And as you once said, “I’m like a smart person.”

 

That you are, sir. Not actually smart, but very much LIKE a smart person.

 

You know you’re so smart that I think you might want to consider blocking the publication of some other books, too.

 

Why should someone as YUGE and important as you focus all your energy on people like Wolff… and Kim Jong-un?

 

You know the other day I was walking by my local book store – yes, they still exist. Believe me! – and I saw another book you should really think about coming down on.

 

It’s called “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

 

It’s by this total nerd Steven Singer. He’s one of those liberal elites, an educator spending his whole day with little children most of whom are poor, black and brown.

 

Disgusting, right?

 

And his book’s all about how racism drives the movement to destroy public education through high stakes standardized testing, charter and voucher schools.

 

Wait. Did I just lose you there? I haven’t mentioned you in a few paragraphs.

 

Hold on.

 

Trump! Trump! TRUMP!

 

Is that better?

 

Good.

 

Anyway, you might not think his book has anything to do with you, sir, but if you take a look inside, you’ll see he slams you and your administration again and again.

 

The introduction, alone, contains these disrespectful zingers:

 

“…behold the glass menagerie of fools Trump has assembled to populate his administration…”

 

“…the tired rhetoric of Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow South coming out of his [Trump’s] mouth…”

 

“…Trump is a monster and he’s assembled a cabinet of monstrosities to back him up. But that doesn’t make him scary. The best way to fight monsters is to turn on the light. And we have the brightest light of all – the light of knowledge, experience and wisdom.”

 

“We can take Tiny Hands, the Bankruptcy King any day! This is a guy who couldn’t make a profit running casinos – you know, a business where the house always wins! You expect us to cower in fear that he’s going to take away our schools. Son, we’ve fought better than you!

 

Trump represents a clear and present danger to our nation, our people and our schools. But we represent a clear and present danger to him. He hasn’t even been sworn in yet and the clock is already ticking. He’ll be lucky to last four years in the ring with us.”

 

Ah! Such a nasty man!

 

It probably makes you want to grab this guy by his pussy!

 

Could you imagine the look on this dude’s face if you were to send him a cease and desist letter? If you offered a criticism of his failing school at a press conference? Even if you just sent out a withering tweet about this sad loser?

 

Can you imagine how something like that might affect the sale of his book?

 

It’s selling pretty well for a book about education, but a comment from you would have a huge effect.

 

It would sell like hotcakes – by which I mean sell badly because who eats hotcakes, anymore, just McDonalds and KFC and well done steak with ketchup, Am-I-Right?

 

When you say something, people listen.

 

When you said, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” you boosted sales of his 1845 “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave” through the roof. It’s almost like people wanted to check to see if you really mentioned someone who died in 1895 like he was a contemporary figure walking around, going on TV and giving interviews.

 

Since you took office, you got the cash registers ringing with increased sales of “1984” by George Orwell, “March: Book One” by John Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis, and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

 

Everything you touch just turns to gold!

 

Or perhaps it already was gold, since you take your morning constitutional on a gold throne.

 

Take out your smart phone, sir, and give this Steven Singer and his book a good spanking.

 

Call your lawyers into the bathroom and have them draft a letter.

 

The book is called “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

 

You want to make sure to include that in the tweet or letter.

 

It’s available at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBoundBooks-A-Million and as an E-book on Amazon.

 

Make sure everyone can see that is the book you’re criticizing.

 

You’ll have an incredible impact on the author.

 

After a smack from you, his life – and pocketbook – will never be the same.

 

So get out your tweeter, sir. And let’s sell some books!

 

I mean teach this guy a lesson. Then enjoy a steaming cup of covfefe.

 

Please.

I Wrote a Book! Yeah. I Can’t Believe It Either.

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How did this happen?

It was only three and a half years ago that I sat down at my computer and decided to write my first blog.

And now I’ve got a book coming out from Garn Press “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

Like the title says, I’m just a public school teacher. I’m not important enough to write a book.

A blog? Sure. That could disappear any day now.

All it would take is WordPress deleting the site or maybe the power goes out and never comes back or a zombie apocalypse or who knows…

But a book. That’s kinda’ permanent.

It has mass and takes up space.

 

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That won’t just poof out of existence if someone unplugs the wrong server.

It would take some sort of conscious effort for a book to go away. People would have to actively work to destroy it. They’d have to pile those rectangular paper bundles in a fire pit, douse them in gasoline and light a match.

Otherwise, they’d just maybe sit in a basement somewhere in boxes, unopened and collecting dust.

Or could it really be that people might actually crack the spine and read the things?

It’s a strange sort of birth this transition from cyberspace to 3-dimensional reality.

And it’s about to transpire with selected bits of my writing.

I am flabbergasted. Shocked. Almost in denial that this is really happening.

 

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Did I mention that I’m a public school teacher? No one is supposed to listen to us.

School policy is made without us. Decisions impacting our kids and our careers are made by people who haven’t seen the classroom in years – if ever. And when we politely raise our hands to let people know that something isn’t working, the best we can hope for is to be ignored; the worst is to be bullied into silence.

Yet my blog has 1,184,000 hits. I’ve got 12,545 followers on Twitter and via email. And now – a book.

So, let me propose a theory: the people at Garn Press are just incredibly nice.

Denny, David and Benjamin Taylor are just fulfilling one of those Make a Wish thingies for a downtrodden soul like me.

Maybe I’ve got some sort of debilitating disease and no one’s told me yet.

 

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The book officially comes out on Nov. 28. So when I’m handed my first actual copy, I’d say it’s even money that the next thing I’ll be handed is some medical document showing I only have moments left to live.

But whatever.

I’ll die with a smile on my face.

It reminds me of a few lines from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

In my 40-some years, I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried to make some lasting mark on the world. Tried to leave it a better place than I found it.

 

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I started as a journalist.

It was great! I could shake up a whole community just by writing something, uncovering some hidden truth, asking a tough question.

But I needed to eat, too, and you can’t do that when you’re on call 24-hours a day for nearly minimum wage under the constant threat of downsizing and meddling by the publisher and advertisers.

So I got my masters degree and became a school teacher.

And it’s been great! I can alter the course of a child’s entire life by helping her learn to read, encouraging her to write and getting her to think and ask questions.

But I’m under constant threat by bureaucrats who know nothing about pedagogy and child psychology trying to force me to do things in ways I know are wrong, detrimental or prejudicial.

So I became an activist, too.

And it’s been great. I joined groups of likeminded individuals and we took to the streets and the legislature and lawmakers offices and parent meetings and teachers conferences and just about anywhere you could stir things up and get people to start asking the right questions.

That led directly to the blog and now the book.

 

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So what’s in it?

In short, it’s my hand-selected favorite articles. These are the ones that either got the most readers or that have a special place in my heart or both.

And this summer I sat at my kitchen table and intensively revised almost all of them. Even if you’ve read them before, these are definitive versions. In some cases, they’re considerably different than the versions you might still find up on-line.

Who did I write it for?

You, I hope.

But, if I’m honest, the people I most had in mind reading it were my daughter and my students.

One day my little girl will grow up and she may wonder what her old man thought about X, Y and Z.

What did Daddy think about racism? What did he think a good teacher did? What were his thoughts about politics, prejudice and reform?

I can see some of my students doing the same.

Perhaps I flatter myself that they may dimly remember me – their crazy 7th or 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I wonder what Mr. Singer would have said about… whatever.

I guess this is my way of telling them.

It’s a time capsule of my present day thoughts. And a guide for how to get to a better future.

You’re cordially invited to read it.

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, let me just say – thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I never would have had the courage to continue without you.

If you’re new to my writing, welcome aboard. I hope I’ve given you reason to keep reading.

And I hope that one or two of you will be inspired to seek out a certain oblong bundle of papers wrapped in a blue and white cover proclaiming my undying, self-chosen, provocative descriptor:

Gadfly on the Wall.

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(Oh! And a special shout out to Denisha Jones and Yohuru Williams for writing incredible introductions to the book! I am beyond honored!)


UPDATE:

The book is now available for purchase at Amazon.com. Just click here!

I am also donating 10% of all proceeds to the Badass Teachers Association.