Home > Uncategorized > The Blind Side: Jonathan Alter v. Diane Ravitch

The Blind Side: Jonathan Alter v. Diane Ravitch

I saw on Twitter (but can’t seem to find a link to) that there is going to be a debate between Jonathan Alter and Diane Ravitch.  I generally agree with most of, but not all Ravitch’s stuff that she puts out.  I should care about what Jonathan Alter thinks about education policy, because why?

The problem that I have with this debate is that it gets the fundamental problem wrong how we talk about education in this country.  This is just two privileged, white people talking about how to save education in America, who haven’t taught in a fulltime classroom (one in a long time and the other never). Which is ironic because white people are doing pretty well education-wise in the United States. It reminded me of the movie Blind Side. White family saves the down and out minorities.  There should be more debates about education, but this is the same one we have heard over and over and going to change anything.  Here I am going to focus on Alter.

Jonathan Alter slams Ravitch and teacher unions because they want to uphold the status quo and protect bad teachers.  If we fired the bottom 10 percent of bad teachers in America it wouldn’t have that much impact on education, there are better ways to improve teaching.  Because of the way we are approaching education reform in America, we aren’t going to change anything fast.  We are focusing too much on rote memorization and standardized tests.  Alter wants to challenge the status quo, with what?  Charter schools that emulates private schools?

Alter also asks:

 but what’s wrong with business executives or other interested outsiders devoting time and money to public schools? Would it be better if they ignored them as they did for so long? That went well for this country.

Just like how it’s great that rich business executives control the news. (I can’t wait til Murdoch starts opening up charter schools).  Then they hire journalists to argue their point of view.  Ahem, Mr. Alter. Alter also says that tests aren’t the only way he wants to evaluate teachers, but offers nothing else. He says:

In Colorado, Johnston is working with the unions to develop sophisticated evaluations that will help consolidate the number of tests students are required to take.

Test scores are creeping up to become the number one way that teachers are evaluated and to ignore that fact is to act like Michael Bloomberg is shoving cash in your pockets, oh wait.

I think that it is possible for there to be good charter schools, but I question most because of their intent.  All of these reformers cite test scores.  Well guess what?  I don’t care about those test scores.  I care about the kids thinking for themselves and being empowered by what they have learned.  Those are things you can’t measure on a standardized test.  It seems like a lot of education reformers want to mold students in particular ways, I think that students should figure out the ways to mold themselves. This can be done to be educational and require rigorous work, but doesn’t need to be based on standardized tests or national curriculum.

A real education debate should include real teachers and ones that don’t fit the status quo (hey, I’m available). It should include minorities and parents, especially parents of ELL students and students with special needs.

If they are looking for people to break up the status quo, then trust the good teachers. They are the ones that don’t teach to tests and making learning personal and relevant for students.


E.D. Kain recently stated:

I mean, fundamentally I’m a radical on education and I want to tear down the entire edifice and start all over. If I had my three wishes we’d have a radically different system of education than the one we have today. But of course this will never happen, and politics has a way of twisting good change into bad. So you have to remain cautious, skeptical, and hopeful that the more we experiment the better the outcomes will be for everyone involved.

This is what we should talk about.  To admit that we can’t fundamentally change the way we do education is sad.  I am a radical teacher. This is why I cringe when people call me liberal.  I’m not liberal.  Liberals just want to tweak the situation.  We need to rethink the situation and revolutionize how we approach it.  That is why I am a radical.  I teach to open up the minds of my students and push them to be empowered by their own ability to produce knowledge.  We need to talk about this radical approach to education reform.  Why not set up some charters to do this? Because that costs money and no business or the government is going to want what is going on in my classroom.  They don’t want students to think for themselves.  They want obedient, patriotic consumers who won’t question the world around them. And that’s a huge blind side.


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