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ReEducation of Diane Ravitch

Politics is indeed the art of the practical. Witness Diane Ravitch, the New York University professor-cum-education reformer who has come full circle from being a liberal hero to becoming a more conservative one to reclaiming her status as a lady of the Left.

Where once she called for accountability in elementary and secondary education, she now finds it abhorrent. “Ravitch was given rock-star treatment when she received the Friend of Education award at the 2010 NEA convention and was recently described as a ‘liberal icon’ by the Washington City Paper,” William Voegeli [1] writes in the Fall 2011 issue of the Clarement Review of Books.

“We protest the idea that principals and teachers will work harder if they’re offered bonuses and if they live in fear of being fired,” Voegeli claims that Ravitch told the appreciative crowd at a Save Our Schools rally this year. “Carrots and sticks are for donkeys, not professionals.”

As well, Ravitch is writing in outlets that may have been inaccessible to her a decade ago. “The claim that tenure is a guarantee of lifetime employment is a canard,” Ravitch claimed in an article for The Daily Beast.

“Ravitch has retracted what she views as mistakes she made in the past, but takes pride in the flexibility and empirical clarity that allows her, no dogmatist, to discard ideas that fare badly outside the seminar room and op-ed pages,” Voegeli concludes. This would no doubt be the reflection of a learned woman who prides herself on her intellectual honesty.”

Nevertheless, Ravitch’s return to her political roots may have made her day job easier. “There is a price to be paid for being politically independent and being outside the mainstream consensus,” Ravitch stated in an article which appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Academic Questions, a journal published by the National Association of Scholars. “I paid the price 10 years ago after I had served as assistant secretary in the first Bush Administration.”

Ravitch had worked in the U. S. Department of Education. “Although I went into the administration as a Democrat and came out as an independent, I didn’t realize how much I had shocked my colleagues by working in a Republican administration,” Ravitch asserted. “After spending an additional year in Washington as a fellow at the Brookings Institution I decided it was time to return to New York City.”

“When I called the president of Teachers College, with whom I had co-taught a course for several years and where I had been an adjunct faculty member for 20 years, I said that I wanted to return to Teachers College.”

“I said that I wanted to resume my position and he hemmed and hawed, and he finally said, your colleagues do not want you back. They do not like your views.”

Perhaps they find the revised version more palatable.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia [2].

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org [3]