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Why I No Longer Follow Diane Ravitch’s Blog
When I retired from teaching and began reading blogs, I was excited to find Diane Ravitch’s very active blog. She posted things I had been thinking and saying for years about CCSS, overtesting, and VAM. Diane Ravitch is an education policy analyst, an author, a research professor at NYU and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. I admired that she had originally supported No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but later publicly reversed her position. She was David against Goliath, fighting big business and politicians in their grab for education dollars.
My idol, unfortunately, has clay feet. Too many of her posts are now only about politics. She says that none of the candidates support her position on education, but she has chosen a candidate to support anyway in post after post after post. She supports one candidate with vehement enthusiasm and works against the other with vehement invectives. What happened to education? She says her blog is “A site to discuss better education for all.” What happened to that discussion?
I do not want to invite one-sided trash into my heart and mind. I want to work towards the best educational system possible for our children. I’m leaving Diane Ravitch behind.
I just finished reading Anne of Avonlea in which Anne (of Green Gables fame) becomes a teacher. At the age of 16. Teaching students she went to school with. She has been to school for teacher preparation. Before the year begins, she and two other first year teachers discuss their planned approaches to discipline and disagree on which method will be most effective. Anne’s plan works in general, but she has to deviate for a student who just doesn’t fit the mold.
As her second year of teaching begins, the author, L.M. Montgomery, says “School opened and Anne returned to her work, with fewer theories but considerably more experience.” As soon as I read that line, I knew that L.M. Montgomery must have had teaching experience. She had. Her statement reflects the importance of opportunities to explore and try out new things in the classroom. Certainly for the first year, but also for every year after that. Every class of students is different. Even if you take the same class and loop grade levels with them, there will be differences. And not just because there will be a few students who are new, but because life has happened to these students during the year, they are a year older, and the curriculum and expectations have changed. Every class is different. Every teacher needs the professional and academic freedom to try out new variations every year. Is this experimentation going to happen with CCSS and excessive testing? Is this experimentation going to happen with the evaluation of teachers based on test scores, teachers marching lockstep with their grade level colleagues, or with administrators scripting manically on iPads while missing the important things that are happening in the classroom?
Another issue that arises from “fewer theories but considerably more experience” is that our policy makers have lots of theories but little or no teaching experience. Current teachers should be included in the decision-making process. Instead they are disrespectfully treated as incompetents. Teachers and children are being set up for failure. We must fight back for academic freedom accompanied by a healthy dose of creativity.
Matilda, a book by Roald Dahl, then a movie. Somehow I missed both in my earlier, busy life as a teacher. Now as a retired educator, I can indulge in so many things I missed. By day, when the Mexican light is good, I pursue my pleasant goal of reading all of Agatha Christie’s eighty-eight plus works. By night, I explore Mexican Netflix which is limited compared to availability in the U.S. Last night I watched Matilda, and I was caught up at once in the fictional tale of the precocious preschooler who taught herself to read and then went daily by herself to the public library to devour its contents.
Innocent Matilda has her dream come true as she is finally enrolled in school. The principal is terrifying, but her teacher is the sweetest you can imagine, seeing potential in children and valuing their dreams. At this point the movie becomes a horror story for me. I gasp as I see the motto in large letters at the top of the chalkboard: “If you are having fun, you are not learning.” Then as the principal arrives for a visit, the teacher and children spring into action as a team. Shades are quickly pulled down and charts flipped over to cover the meaningful and colorful projects that are the result of engaged learning. I could feel the stress of my last years as a teacher return. I could hear the sucking sound of laughter being withdrawn from the classroom.
The evening over and the lights out, I lay awake with memories of real charts that had to be in place on the walls in my classroom. Curriculum and Instruction let them drift down at intervals all year from the ivory tower with specifications as to their importance. The principal directed that they needed to be displayed; to do otherwise would mean a label of “ineffective” on the teacher’s evaluation. Every new workshop that administrators attended resulted in new mandates with accompanying visuals. We were to implement post haste this hodgepodge of procedures received third hand from experts who didn’t have a clue who our students were or what they needed.
For me, the nightmare is over, but I can not and will not forget those brave teachers still fighting the good fight and struggling to do what is right and best for their students. As a teacher I took unpopular stances and now I continue the battle against the forces of educational destruction which are directed by politicians, funded by big business, and implemented by misguided administrators.