David Bernstein recently wrote an article describing how the progressive education movement might consider revamping its approach. I’ve previously advocated that I believe the “anti-reform movement” is not really the progressive education movement, as those in the anti-reform movement appear to simply be advocating for pre-NCLB education, with no acknowledgement of the need for improvement. Below is my specific response to his article, which I included in the comments section of the orignal article.
I have to say that overall I feel bad critiquing some of the folks in the anti-reform movement, such as Diane Ravitch, because I truly believe her heart is in the right place, and that she is right in many of the issues. However, a sensationalized approach (including personalization and propaganda) coupled with a lack of forward-thinking severely limits the efficacy of their approach.
Here’s my reply:
Thanks for this article David. I can’t overstate how much this needs to be heard right now. Like many folks, I side with many ideas presented by Diane Ravitch and some other anti-reform folks, but I strongly disagree with their presentation style:
1) As you mention, they often express what they against, not for.
2) They do not acknowledge that our educational system has a long way to go. In fact, some argue strongly that teacher/school quality is of little concern, that we should only be focused on poverty.
3) They personalize arguments, which is highly unprofessional. They often post unflattering pictures of folks like Rhee and Duncan, call them names, and use highly inflammatory language. The result is that many rational folks don’t see the point of the story because they are turned off by the unprofessionalism of the presentation style.
4) They refuse to acknowledge any grey area in their arguments. To them, charters are completely bad and evil. Curriculum companies such as Pearson are completely bad and should never be used, despite the fact that a vast majority of useful assessments and intervention packages used by support personnel (social workers, psychologists, counselors) come from Pearson. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be firm with their beliefs, but when they fail to acknowledge what truth may actually lie in the other side of the argument, they appear to lack credibility.
5) They have amassed a following similar to Rush Limbaugh or other propaganda-oriented figures, in large part because they rely as much on propaganda as they do on fact. The sad truth is that there IS fact behind many of their arguments, but rather than taking the calm and analytical approach of using that fact, they sensationalize most stories, perhaps because they don’t think their followings will be able to grasp the truth?
Overall, I don’t think you can call folks like Ravitch or the folks behind “Dump Duncan” part of the “progressive education movement” because they aren’t advocating for progress – they are advocating for regression back to pre-NCLB times, completely ignoring that there was, in fact, a problem to begin with. And, while characterizations of the teaching profession as wholly lazy and unskilled are not true, neither are characterizations that they are all completely competent and doing everything they could be doing.
I hope folks reading this, David, and realize that there is a third option – it’s not either corporate reformers (e.g., Gates Foundation) or anti-reformers (e.g., Ravitch), but progressives who believe that we DO need to make changes in our educational system (and, in fact, already are), but not ones based on privatization and competition advocated by corporate reformers and both sides of current political leadership.