Diane Ravitch at Stanford
I had the pleasure of introducing Diane Ravitch at her Stanford University event on Monday night. Below, you can find the text of my introduction, and a few pictures from the event. But first, I love this picture (right), taken backstage just before the event, and I want to write a comment rather than a caption about it. Diane Ravitch (in red) is conducting a mini-seminar in Twitter-usage for Stanford professors Linda Darling-Hammond, Eric Hanushek, and Claude Steele (clockwise from Diane’s right). Diane could keep up with more than a few “digital natives” online.
Overall, the Graduate School of Education put on a successful event that I think brought out some interesting information and a variety of opinions – mostly, but not all familiar. I look forward to writing more about it, sharing more pictures and a couple of video clips, and encourage those who were there to chime in as well. (I believe there will be video on YouTube, but I don’t know when)
Thank you, Dean Steele. Good evening, everyone. First off, just to clear up any confusion: I am not movie star Matt Damon. If you read or heard that Mr. Damon would be introducing Diane Ravitch, that’s true – but in Los Angeles, on Wednesday. And if you heard my name but still weren’t expecting me, I’m sorry I’m not the David Cohen you were thinking of, as I share this name with the distinguished education professor and researcher at the University of Michigan. I’m just a teacher.
If we might consider for a moment why we’re here, why Diane Ravitch’s work is so important to American education policy discussions, I think a significant part of it is tucked into the declaration, “I’m just a teacher.” Teaching has never been a high-status profession, and it’s a particularly difficult time to be a public school teacher in the U.S., for reasons that I expect are well-known to most of you. It’s difficult for our students, families, administrators and communities, too. For teachers, our work is all-consuming, and our individual power and energy limited – and yet, it has never been more important for us to speak out, even fight back. Few teachers have the time, let alone the means, to respond independently and effectively to the onslaught of negative stories and harmful policies. And when we use our collective voice to defend our students’ rights and our profession, we’re castigated for acting out of self-interest.
Diane Ravitch has answered the call to defend public education, and teachers around the country are cheering her on. I don’t mean to suggest that we’ve been passively waiting for our Superman, or Superwoman – but we are encouraged to have an ally coming to aid the besieged. Her work is resonating widely, and the reason is that millions of teachers, and parents, and students, have been living through the hoaxes described in her new book, Reign of Error – and we share her sense of urgency about defending and improving all public schools.
In the book, and in her public appearances, Diane Ravitch brings a comprehensive body of knowledge, and offers incisive analysis of how the pieces fit together in the contemporary politics of American education. I hope you’ll agree with much of what she says, but if you disagree, I hope at least that you’re taking notes. You will be tested on this material, and the test will come when you need to engage with educators, to understand why so many are thoroughly fatigued and frustrated after years of blame, distrust, and disempowerment. This engagement is required work, by the way – not extra credit. I may be just a teacher, but I see the tide turning. Teachers are claiming greater roles and responsibilities in education leadership, and there will be no successful education reform without teacher leadership at every phase.
If tonight’s event is anything like this book, I think even those who disagree with Diane will need to face some significant and undeniable facts, some inconvenient truths – and consequences. In one possible sign that Diane’s work is making people uncomfortable, her critics seem interested diverting policy debate into commentary on Diane’s style, her motives, or even her character. Case in point: Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado, who recently called Diane an evil woman, and tried labeling her positions as anti-public school.
Such remarks hardly warrant a response, so please take these final comments simply as a tribute. At a time in life when she could easily and justifiably retire, withdraw from the fray, Diane is going strong, writing books, thousands of blog posts, talking to the media, traveling widely, and supporting the Network for Public Education, which she co-founded. This week, Diane has five events in six nights, in three separate regions of the state. Only 90 minutes ago, Diane was at Palo Alto High School, talking with teachers, administrators, and students. Now it is our turn, to have the privilege of hearing from a scholar and author of great renown, to welcome to Stanford a generous and tireless advocate for students, parents, teachers, public schools, and our very democracy, Dr. Diane Ravitch.