2005-04-08 / Community

School Scope

Diane Ravitch and John Dewey Award
By Norman Scott

Let’s call it the Pataki/Silver UFT Political Expediency Award.

With the UFT announcement that NYU professor and renowned education writer Diane Ravitch was going to receive the John Dewey Award we did some investigating because of Ravitch’s reputation as a trasher of the American education system and the education establishment. The UFT is certainly considered part of that scene and has also gone on record of saying the things the Ravitches of this world are saying about American education distort all the good things we do. The irony here is that Ravitch has laid a number of ills assailing the American educational system at the feet of John Dewey’s progressive ideas of education. I sent out a request for information and received some interesting responses. Gerald W. Bracey of the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University and a leader of the fight against high stakes testing stated: “The idea that Diane Ravitch is to get a John Dewey award is appalling and unbelievable. In her various books and other writings, Ravitch has trashed Dewey as the father of failed reforms, the reason that American schools are so awful (she says). This is especially true in the book, Left Back. She hates Dewey.” George Schmidt from Chicago writes, “If Ravitch is an heir to Dewey, the Pope deserves the Margaret Sanger award.” Duane Campbell from California State U says, “Rather than invest money in reform, most states have followed the lead of the Business Roundtable, Ravitch, and conservative foundations and the Clinton and Bush administrations and increased emphasis on testing to improve scores.

This is the heart of school reform advocated by Ravitch, passed by the Bush regime…” Another correspondent writes, “You might wish to point out that it’s clear that the award committee hasn’t read Ravitch...the UFT/AFT have lost their collective minds. It’s like David Duke getting a social justice award, presented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” Dr. Joanne Yatvin from the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University writes, “She is certainly not a friend to teachers and this is not an honor she deserved. Dewey will roll over in his grave. Shame on you. [Ravitch] is a commercial professional who would not know a good classroom if she fell into it. What were you thinking???”

With testing-gone-mad mania being behind the insanity going on in our schools and the resultant pressures (and blame) being put on teachers, giving this award to Ravitch seems to make people scratch their heads. When ICE high school UFT Executive Board rep Jeff Kaufman raised the points above, UFT Elementary school VP Michelle Boden put it all in a neat package: “The John Dewey award has nothing to do with John Dewey. It doesn’t matter if Diane Ravitch disagrees with him. It only matters that she’s the last national education figure out there who supports the UFT.” Randi Weingarten and others said that Ravitch was getting the Award because she showed courage and John Dewey, even though Ravitch may totally disagree with his philosophy, also showed courage to stand up for what he believed. We suggest they just rename the award after two recent winners – the Pataki/Shelly Silver Political Expediency Award.

In the weird UFT world of policy-driven-by-public relations, the fact that Ravitch has become a critic of the BloomKlein reforms becomes the primary motivational factor – the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The UFT, besieged by an all-out assault on the contact, will make alliances with anyone. Who gets the award next – Sol Stern – a major critic of BloomKlein educational policies like the Workshop model – who has made a career of claiming the power of the UFT is the reason for many of the problems in NYC schools?

There’s Hope Yet

I had a recent conversation with a teacher in Region 5. She raved about her principal. After many years of suffering under an oppressive school leader, the staff feels liberated working for a genuine human being. The thing that has impressed my friend the most? The willingness of the principal to pitch in and teach when needed. Principals with no reluctance to teach – even tough. no-nonsense types as opposed to those who just criticize – come in for high praise by teachers.

De-Evolution: The Counterattack

For most of my career I taught next door to a guy, a religious fundamentalist who used to spend his lunch hours reading the bible, who did not believe in evolution (I would bet that most teachers in my particular school agreed with him.) We used to argue about it all the time. At one point we gave each other books to read that would help “convince” the other of their position. I gave him a book by Richard Leakey, which showed the various stages of the evolution of Homo sapiens. This was in the late 70’s and even though there were many gaps in the fossil links (since then a few have been filled in) I felt the book was convincing enough to at least make him think about his position on evolution. But when faith is involved, no amount of what looks like logic can break through because when faith is the driving force, it all seems perfectly logical. We were both 6th grade teachers and teaching evolution was part of the curriculum. I loved presenting the material but I never figured out what he did with that topic, if he even touched on it at all. But if he did, I’m sure he put his spin on it. That is why the debate over evolution, creationism and intelligent design is so fascinating.

I forget which book he gave me but after struggling through three chapters of a scientist “proving” that evolution was a false theory I just couldn’t go on and ended up reneging on my part of the deal. No matter how you cut it, the “proof” against evolution is based on faith. After all, de-evolutionists say, how could such a perfect thing as a cell come into being without a creative force? I don’t consider this argument proof. A perfect cell is the end result of billions of failed imperfect cells. De-evolutionists never seem to give “credit” to any force for these failures.

The newest wrinkle is the “intelligent design” argument, which never uses the terms “creationist” or refers to deities in any way. What exactly are they talking about when they talk about “intelligent design” – little green men from Alpha Centuri? The “life on earth was seeded by intelligent visitors from outer space” argument is taken seriously in some scientific quarters. If the LGMfromAC landed on earth tomorrow, that still wouldn’t convince the intelligent design people who would just say that some intelligent force must have created the little green men. Like I said, it’s all about faith.

What happened to C-30 process at MS 198?

Teachers at MS 198 report that a C-30 was held at the end of March 2004 to choose a permanent principal. One other applicant beside the principal, Angela Logan, showed up to be interviewed. No decision was made at that time, because there was not a minimum amount of candidates to choose from. Eugene Mazzola, the school leadership liaison for Region 5 was questioned about Angela Logan’s very recent appointment to principal of JHS 198. He said the “C-30 was held last year, and that you have to “ask (Michele) Lloyd-Bey about this”. Marilyn Cooper, the District Rep for the UFT was also questioned, and replied that she “will be looking into this situation.” A week has gone by, and no one has heard from her. Not surprising given the long-term “relationship” of the UFT and the old district 25 and the current Region 5. (Sal Cappella, where are you – teachers in District 27 turn their lonely eyes to thee?)

Word from The Rock:

A teacher at Far Rockaway HS wrote on Apr. 4 – “Today our 100 minutes of professional development was interrupted when the staff was gathered in the auditorium for the Region 5 LIS, Phyllis Marino, to tell us the school had officially been put on the reorganization track under a “Fast Track” title – though no one truly knows what this means.

As usual the rhetoric was that the Region and everyone really cares for us at Far Rockaway HS but now it is the “big, bad state” that has come in to ruin and reorganize and mess this whole mess up even worse.

MORE appalling was the union meeting after this brief interruption”…. more next time.

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