In Defense of Diane Ravitch

Historians in the News

Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.

When reading Kevin Carey’s article on Diane Ravitch in The New Republic (“The Dissenter,” November 23, 2011), two thoughts jostled in my mind: first, that any response would give the piece more credit than it deserved; second, that his misleading summary of her scholarship required a rebuttal. The latter thought ultimately won. Given our reactive political climate, in which cursory statements often pass for truth, someone should point out the errors and distortions in Carey’s statements.

Carey attempts in his piece to discredit Ravitch’s work and credibility—and thereby to undermine her opposition to the reforms that he champions (such as charter schools). He does this with personal attacks, sundry quotations of education professors, and what masquerades as an overview of her life’s work. The references to her personal life do not deserve the dignity of a response. It is Carey’s comments on her scholarship that should be corrected, as they trivialize a powerful and lasting body of work.

I have read all of Ravitch’s books and many of her articles and essays. I helped with the editing and documentation of her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). I do not always agree with her, but I admire her work and have learned much from it. Her books have sent me on many a research foray; their documentation has been invaluable. Sometimes their lessons have surprised me. Her 2000 book Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (in large part a critique of educational progressivism) inspired me to read the work of progressives such as Harold O. Rugg, George S. Counts, and Boyd H. Bode, as well as that of progressivism’s critics. It was The Death and Life of the Great American School System (frequently quoted for its criticism of charter schools) that helped me understand why one might support the idea of charters. A gift for dialectic runs through her work; no matter where she locates herself in an education conflict, she brings opposing viewpoints to life....

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