THE BLOG
10/15/2013 12:39 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2013

Dear Reformers: I Didn't Mean to Hurt Your Feelings

In his review of my book Reign of Error in Schools Matter, historian and teacher John Thompson contemplates the urgent issue of whether I hurt reformers' feelings.

To be precise, the question posed by his review is, "Should Diane Ravitch Be More Careful to Not Hurt Reformers' Feelings?"

This is an interesting question that I have pondered these past few weeks, indeed, for the past few years.

It is true. I heard from a mutual friend (well, not so much a friend anymore) that Bill Gates was very hurt by my comments about his effort to remake American education.

He frankly could not understand how anyone could question his good intentions.

Actually I have never questioned his intentions, but I certainly question his judgment and his certainty that he can "fix" education by creating metrics to judge teachers.

He recently said that it would take a decade to find out whether "this stuff" works; in the meanwhile, teachers and principals are losing their jobs, schools are being closed, communities are being shattered -- because Bill Gates got a new idea that he wanted to try out using human subjects.

I have also heard from other sources that reformers say I am "mean" or "harsh" when I say that some "reformers" have a profit motive or that their grand plans actually hurt poor minority children instead of helping them.

They are baffled that I do not admire their efforts to create charters and vouchers to allow poor kids to "escape" public schools.

I confess that I was not thinking about their feelings.

I was thinking about the consequences of their actions.

I was thinking about purposeful efforts to dismantle public education.

I was thinking about the constant repetition of the blatant lie that American public education is a failure.

One of the things that a historian tries to do is to correct the record. When people say things again and again, even though these things are not true, it is the job of the historian to tell the truth. If others disagree, they should put their facts on the table too.

Historians understand that debate and dissent are part of the work of understanding history.

There is not one truth, but on the other hand, you can't just make up facts and narratives, hire a fancy PR firm, and rewrite history to suit yourself.

Are there profiteers in the business of school reform? Yes, indeed, and I document their profitable activities amply in the book.

Meanwhile, dear reformers, please know that I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.

I just wanted to let you know that your efforts to create a dual system of publicly funded schools turns back the clock to the shameful era before the Brown decision.

And I wanted you to know that your reliance on standardized testing is a grand mistake.

I urge everyone of you to take the tests that you think are the measure of all students and publish your scores.

If you won't take the test, if you fear the results, don't be so vigorous in using them to label children and evaluate teachers.

And please know that your speculative plans are not "hurting the feelings" of teachers and principals, they are ruining their careers, ruining their reputations, doing real and tangible damage to the lives of real people.

Their feelings are not hurt by your theoretical reforms. Their lives are.

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