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A Bloody Rain of Terror on Teachers: a book review of Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error”

08 Dec

After reading “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch with a highlighter and flagging pages with Post-it-Notes, I finished with a question: Why would anyone want to teach in today’s toxic public-school environment? The answer to that question is vital.

If Americans who value our freedoms; the democracy we fought and bled for, as citizens we must have a say in how our public schools operate; teach and treat our children. Every teacher, parent and future parent in America must join forces and fight to keep the public schools from being destroyed by a malignant cancer that President G. W. Bush called “No Child Left Behind” and President Obama calls “Race to the Top”. Both of these Washington D.C. based programs supported by Congress demand that teachers are successful with 100% of the children and nothing else is acceptable.

This means that if a school improves scores—for example—by even 50% from 25 to 75, that school would still be considered a failure and all of its teachers branded as failures. Then those public schools may be closed and turned over to the private-sector where profit driven vampires may be allowed to suck out the profits as if it were the blood of a victim while the law is powerless to do anything.

If you read “Reign of Error”, you will discover this is exactly what happened to public schools in Chicago and New Orleans. In a few of Chicago’s public schools, for instance—that were more successful than the private-sector for profit schools replacing them—even the angry parents of the children who attended those improving public schools couldn’t stop the closures.

You see, “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” only punishes the public schools for not achieving the impossible goals set by the President and Congress but ignores the private sector schools that are replacing them.

The situation between the public schools and the private sector that’s moving in is similar to having Woody Allen age 77 fighting a 20-year old Mike Tyson at the height of his boxing career, but Allen has to wear gloves and can’t hit below the belt while Tyson is bare fisted and can hit anywhere he wants.

Sad to say, an old former friend of mine was seduced to the dark side—he was influenced by more than thirty years of corporate; private-sector propaganda into believing the public schools were broken and now he sides with the test-students-to-death mentality and blame teachers when 100% of the kids don’t show dramatic improvement with those test scores. This former, old friend firmly believes the only way to educate our children is through private sector, assembly-line, CEO mentality, corporate schooling. He thinks this is “school choice” but once the public schools are closed, there will no choice.

Halfway through reading “Reign of Error”, I sent this former friend I have known for almost sixty years an e-mail urging him to read Ravitch’s book. A few days later he wrote that he visited Amazon; read the 1-star reviews from critics of public education [there were eight when I last looked compared to one-hundred-thirteen 5-star reviews] and that was all he needed to make his mind up—he refused to read the book.

If you know anyone with a closed mind like his and a world view that sees everything through a black-and-white filter, don’t waste your time as I did. Individuals like my old, former friend are a lost cause, but we may still have a chance to save America’s public school before it is too late.

It isn’t as if I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the public school. After all, I successfully taught in the public schools for thirty years alongside many other hardworking teachers, and I have stayed in touch with colleagues and friends who are still in the classroom—they say it’s getting worse and not better. When I talk to them, I hear the stress; the pressure; the depression, and the sense of defeat. It doesn’t matter how great or hard working a teacher might be, they are all painted with the critic’s corporate-funded brush that says we must get rid of incompetent teachers [but not one study had indicated how many teachers in America are incompetent], and to do this we must strip all teachers of job protection; we must get rid of the unions who might fight for a [good] teacher’s rights; we must turn the schools over to corporations and non-profit organizations with highly paid CEOs who will make all the decisions and who have the power to fire teachers and administrators for any reason at any time—all without government oversight and supervision.

After reading “Reign of Error” I now have a complete picture of what has been going on for more than thirty years, and I taught in the public schools through most of that era, but I had no idea it was this bad.

We must fight to stop the special interests that are directed by billionaires and religions driven by idealistic beliefs that stem from racism; libertarianism; conservatism; neo-conservatism; progressive agendas, and fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Thirty years ago these wealthy individuals and organizations were critics of the public schools but they were not working together and the voters defeated them at the ballot box repeatedly.

That all changed starting with President G. W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and then even worse, President Obama’s “Race to the Top”. The critics found another way to achieve their goals; bypassed the voters and bought presidents, members of Congress, governors, mayors, and state legislatures, and to win elections outspent the candidates they couldn’t buy.

Today those groups and individuals in the private sector have a common goal and that goal is to strip democracy from the public schools and turn those schools over to “them” so they can teach the kids any way they want without any rules, oversight or restrictions.

The American people must fight and resist—for example: the Koch brothers; the Walton family and the Gates Foundation—to preserve America’s freedoms from a corporate CEO mentality; an autocratic and dictatorial thought process. How would you like Wal-Mart teaching your kids—a corporation that teaches its lowly paid workers how to apply for welfare/food stamps?

To learn more about the Walton family’s campaign against the public school in America, I suggest reading this post about Education that appeared on Walmart1percent.org.

Do you want America’s schools run by someone like the libertarian Koch brothers; the conservative Walton family; the progressive Gates family, or neoconservative Rupert Murdock who owns and controls Media Corp, the second largest media empire in the world?

Or do you want America’s 13,600 public school districts teaching more than 50-million kids to be managed by democratically elected school boards who answer to parents/voters as they have for more than a hundred years?

Ravitch’s book proves beyond a doubt for any open-minded person that our public schools have been slowly and steadily improving and are not failing, but that there’s still room for improvement. In fact, Ravitch closes her book with several chapters with suggestions to improve the public schools more than they have already improved in the last century. I agree with Ravitch’s recommendations.

When we look at more than a century of progress in the country’s public schools starting in 1900, there is nothing but progress as the high school graduation rate climbed from 3% to reach 90% in 2012.

Be aware that the numbers the critics report are the ones they want you to know—like the on-time graduation rates for 17/18 year olds which is also at its highest point in the history of this country, but they won’t tell you that last fact.

The critics don’t bother to mention that 15% of the 25%, who did not graduate on time, went on to graduate by age 24—most of them within a year.

What this proves is that the public schools are not social promotion factories as critics claim. High schools have minimum standards for high school graduation. Students must take and pass a given list of classes; earn enough credits in addition to passing a competency exam to prove they have the right to earn a high school diploma. And many of the students who did not qualify to graduate on time meet those requirements and graduate a year or more later. That additional 15% adds up to 7.65 million more high school graduates, who didn’t graduate on time but did graduate.

But “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” demands that every child finishes first and on time—something that has never happened in the history of any country in the world. These two Washington DC programs supported by the critics of public education are impossible to achieve and are nothing more than a bloody path to guaranteed failure.

As I was reading “Reign of Error”, at first I wanted to go into greater detail sharing what I had learned.  But there is so much information from mostly primary sources supported by charts and a chapter by chapter detailed index, that there was no way I could do the book justice. All I can suggest is that if you love America; if you are a true patriot who supports the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, you must read this book with an open mind. But be warned, the politicians that belong to the private-sector critics; billionaires and corporations calling for school reform, will do all they can to discredit this book to achieve their goals. They already achieved that goal with one former, old friend of mine, and I’m sure there are many more closed-minded fools just like him.

Ravitch is not against charter schools that teach at-risk kids. In fact, in “Reign of Error” Ravitch points out that the concept of charter schools came from Albert Shanker, who was the founding father of the charter-school movement, and the president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997 [AFT is one of America’s two largest teacher unions with about 900-thousand members]. However, once the private -sector reformers and vultures arrived, the charter school concept was hijacked and changed. Now, as Ravitch points out in Chapter 16, [the 5,000] charter school run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average no more innovative or successful than public schools.

Shanker’s basic concept was that the charter schools would have a charter for a set period of time while still being part of a public school district; would work with the students who were at high risk of failure, and at some point its work would be done.

Discover Born into Poverty

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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4 responses to “A Bloody Rain of Terror on Teachers: a book review of Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error”

  1. gemmal

    December 8, 2013 at 21:12

    I’m so embarrassed on how i treated my teachers when I was in school. I was an ass. More people “NEED” to read about how America treats its teachers. If I had worked harder in school as so many of my teachers tried to teach me, I wouldn’t be working for Wall Mart less than thirty hours a week and feeding my family with help from food stamps. Warning, don’t let Wall Mart end up teaching your children. They are the devil.

     
    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      December 9, 2013 at 06:14

      Too bad the kids who do not cooperate in school won’t read this. Too many kids today only read in class and then they hate doing that as they continue to think that school is prison. That type of thinking is why so many who are illiterate or functionally illiterate in America are in a real prison today.

      Maybe if you considered volunteering to work at your local school that might help make a difference. Do you have your own children now?

       
  2. Milton Y. Sullivan

    December 16, 2013 at 20:16

    Learning Standards are the goals by which states and school districts must meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) as mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This description of school governance is simplistic at best, however, and school systems vary widely not only in the way curricular decisions are made but also in how teaching and learning take place. Some states and/or school districts impose more top-down mandates than others. In others, teachers play a significant role in curriculum design and there are few top-down mandates. Curricular decisions within private schools are made differently than they are in public schools, and in most cases without consideration of NCLB.

     
    • Lloyd Lofthouse

      December 17, 2013 at 07:00

      What you say is true. The laws that govern education in the United States are set up as a double standard. Private schools are basically allowed to do whatever they want without any government watchdog seeing if what they do works while the public schools are placed under a harsh microscope that sets impossible goals to achieve.

      And then the government punishes the schools and teachers that do not meet those impossible goals.

      Meanwhile, parents and students are not held accountable for anything. The laws as they are written require teachers to teach and do the learning for the students but the students must then show that they learned what the teachers taught without having to learn it.

      The closest comparison I can think of right now is calling a manufacture a failure when they do not sell every product they make at the full price even if they make a profit on the ones they did sell even at reduced prices. In other words, if a company makes 100,000 gadgets and only sells 99,000 while making a nice profit, it has to go out of business and fire all of its workers because of the 1,000 it didn’t sell.

       

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