THE BLOG
05/05/2008 03:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Cry Babies

Out of the Mouths of Cry Babies

There was, as you would expect, a lot of "oh woe is us" in the last week of April as the 25th anniversary of "A Nation at Risk" (ANAR) passed. Interestingly, George F. Will in the Washington Post closed by saying No Child Left Behind is not working and that leaves us more at risk now than 25 years ago. Will's position on NCLB is not new and he's taken a lot of heat from fellow conservatives even though he's right and they're not.

Clearly, though, the most colorful, hyperbolic, creative--but foolish--lament came from Chester E. (Checker) Finn. Some of the stories about the death of Albert Hoffman noted that Steven Jobs thinks his creativity was enhanced by Dr. Hoffman's invention, LSD. I wonder what Checker was on when he wrote:

"Denial of hard facts and unwelcome implications runs the gamut. At its outer edge, we find a few sorely misguided folks denying that the Holocaust occurred, doubting the wickedness of Stalin, contesting the greatness of Lincoln. Once upon a time, the Catholic Church denied Galileo's discovery that the planets revolve around the sun (hey, isn't this the way you start a fairy tale?) On a modern denial cloud of their own are those who dispute evolution or the transmission of aids."

...But then there were [in 1983]--and, amazingly, still are--the deniers, those who declared that ANAR was overwrought, ill-informed, or just plain wrong...Several of the best known deniers were dubbed the 'three B's' because their names were Berliner, Biddle and Bracey."

It's not everyday that my name gets associated with a Pope's or linked in some incongruous way to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. I haven't sought comment from David or Bruce on this but I plead guilty as charged. Overwrought, ill-informed, and just plain wrong. Yes, indeedy, that pretty well covers it. I usually refer to it as the golden treasury of selected, spun and distorted statistics. It figures large in my book Reading Education Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered.

What we are accused of is "reassuring educators that all was well..." How Jonathan Kozol could be placed alongside us does suggest some powerful psychotropic drug in Checkers head causing his synapses to snap, crackle, and pop. Lawrence Mishel, President of the Economic Policy Institute and Richard Rothstein, a fellow there, are added later.

Were we in fact assuring educators that all was well? Here's a brief excerpt from my Second Report on the Condition of Public Education, 1992: "There are, as I said a year ago, plenty of problems to work on in most schools. Schools truly in crisis, such as those described by Jonathan Kozol in Savage Inequalities and those serving the rural underclass, need immediate, intensive, and extensive help."

Repeat: immediate, intensive and extensive help. These are the words of a denier?

From David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, The Manufactured Crisis, 1995: "Above all, income maldistribution creates problems because it is VERY difficult to provide good schooling for impoverished students who may come to school hungry or in cast-off or torn clothing, who suffer from untreated medical problems, who live in neighborhoods that are rife with crime and violence or who come from homes that lack even basic amenities--let alone books or other supports for education" (p. 219).

That looks like recognition, not denial to me. The quote comes from a chapter, "Real Problems in American Education." It's 64 pages long. Some denial.

While it is easy to laugh at Checker's rant as the tantrum of a child, it is important to call it for what it is: a lie.

The lie can be read at

www.fordhaminstitute.org/institute/gadfly/issue.cfm?id=337&edition=#397.