Bracey Does Bracey

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Diane Ravitch Research Professor of Education, New York University; Author, 'Reign of Error'

It has been a cardinal rule with me over many years never to respond to Gerald Bracey's attacks. I know that he will always reply with invective and name-calling, and that is not a mode of argument with which I am comfortable. I usually accept the wisdom of a maxim that I heard long ago: "Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk."

I broke my rule because on Huffington Post, Bracey claimed that I had "suppressed" a report when I was Assistant Secretary of Education in 1991, even though that report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy, not the department where I was an official. That statement was false. He further claimed that David Kearns, who was then Deputy Secretary of Education, had crudely threatened the authors of that report in the presence of half a dozen Senators and their staff. That statement was also false. Since I was at that meeting and Bracey was not, I thought it important to put on the record that such a threat never was uttered.

So, Bracey responded in typical fashion, with name-calling and invective, comparing me to Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk-show figures.

The real issue between us is the condition and progress of American education. I have long argued that we are in need of genuine standards and a solid liberal education for all students. I do not argue that everyone will be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist or a poet, but that all children need and deserve the best education that we know how to provide. At the point when I first became aware of Gerald Bracey, he wrote in an education journal called "Phi Delta Kappan" (October 1991) that as a society "we must continue to produce an uneducated social class" that "will sweep the streets, unclog sewers, scrub toilets, pick up trash, bus tables or mop floors -- no matter what the wages."

I operate under different assumptions about the goals of our education system. As I pointed out in my previous post, I believe we need to improve education for kids who are at the bottom and for kids who are at the top. The latest international assessment (the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA) shows that our students score behind many other developed nations in math, and our top-scoring students are statistically behind their peers in 23 of 30 developed nations in math. I think we must do better for the sake of our people and for the sake of our democracy.