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

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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Born into poverty

On November 2, in a comment for one of my Blog posts, Dienne wrote, “You also conflate [meaning ‘confuse’] being ‘poor’ with deep poverty and clearly you have no experience of the latter.” Source: The Ravitch Transformation—an educated awakening

After I read Dienne’s comment, I thought she was right.  It took a few days before the light went on inside my head, and I called my 82-year-old sister, who said we were all born in poverty—I also arrived in poor health with a severe learning disability. I knew about the poor health and the learning disability but I had forgotten about the poverty because it was my life and as a child—and even later—I never thought about being poor or disadvantaged even though we were. I just didn’t think about it.

When my mother met my dad, she was a single parent with two young children—my older brother and sister. She met my dad before World War II, and survived with the help of the federal Food Stamp Program that issued the first food stamp in 1939. Source: Snap to Health.org

My sister was born in 1931; my brother 1935, and me in 1945.

Before the Food Stamp Program, California—always a progressive state—had a welfare system that served single women and children in the 1930s, and my mother took advantage of that lifesaver too.

Due to the Great Depression [late 1929 – early 1940s], my mother and father dropped out of high school at age 14, but they left with a lifesaving skill known as literacy. Both were avid readers. My dad read westerns and mysteries. My mother read romances but without the graphic sex. The romances she read went as far as holding hands and that was about it. During the Great Depression, unemployment reached 25%.

Before World War II, my dad was unemployed most of the time, and he was an alcoholic who often vanished for weeks at a time when on a drinking binge. He worked a number of odd jobs: for instance, at Santa Anita race track mucking out horse stalls; trekking into the local LA mountains to fill huge burlap bags with oak leaves he sold to nurseries, and in an ice cream factory. At one point he was so desperate he was caught breaking and entering and charged with burglary. I found the arrest record among my mother’s papers after her death.

During the war, he worked at the Long Beach Shipyards but that job ended with the war and the curse of unemployment returned leading to more serious drinking and long absences. To survive, my mother earned what she could from housekeeping and doing laundry.

A few years after I was born, a family friend—my Catholic godfather—helped my father get a job in a concrete company where the workers belonged to labor unions. The higher pay allowed my parents to buy their first—unfinished—house.  

That house was in Azusa, California. When we moved in, it had no doors; no windows, and no finished walls. The only room in the house that offered privacy was the one bathroom that had plywood nailed to the open two by four framing. The outside of the house was wrapped in tar paper—so I lived in a tar-paper shack.

Each pay day, my dad drove home in his used, rusty pick-up truck loaded with windows and doors for the house. The furniture came last.

Then—just as it looked like we were joining the blue-collar middle class—there was a strike when the union demanded better pay and benefits followed by unemployment when my dad was fired along with others after the strike ended.

I was born into poverty and my father earned good money in construction when he worked and when he didn’t work—which was often—he collected unemployment and drank. He stopped drinking in his late 50s and died at age 79. My mother died at 89. My brother, who spent 15 years in jail, lived to be 64, was an alcoholic, a smoker and illiterate. My brother and his large family lived in poverty and bought food with the help of food stamps.

But I was the youngest, and my mother made sure I learned to read after the public schools tested me and said I was too retarded to learn to read or write.

At home, using a wire coat hanger as a painful motivator, my mother taught me to read; I graduated from high school; joined the U.S. Marines; fought in Vietnam and went to college on the G.I. Bill breaking the cycle of poverty that I was born into. Because I learned to read—against the odds—I’m hooked on books and have been learning about the world from National Geographic Magazine for as long as I can remember.

Yes, Dienne, I did not grow up in extreme poverty but I tasted the poverty and didn’t notice the so-called bitterness. Maybe that explains why I felt more comfortable teaching children who lived in poverty during the thirty years I taught in the public schools—I wanted to be a catalyst that might help lift some out of poverty by teaching them to read and write like my mother taught me. I just couldn’t use a coat hanger, but I could tap into the tough pit-bull discipline the Marine Corps instilled in me.

I have a problem with Dienne’s comment about me having no experience with “deep poverty”, because I doubt that many Americans have much if any experience with deep/extreme poverty like we find in India or Africa. According to a piece published in the Washington Post, “The number of [U.S.] households in extreme poverty is 613,000, or 1.6 percent of non-elderly households with children.”

But almost 50 million people in the U.S. live in poverty, and 43% of those whose literacy skills are lowest live in poverty.  Source: News With Views.com [Note: You may want to click this link and read the post to discover one of the challenges teachers in America’s public schools face—something they have little or no control over regardless of the unrealistic goals and demands that were set by Presidents Bush; Obama and Congress]

To break the poverty cycle, there must be an early intervention starting the moment a woman living in poverty discovers she is pregnant. The intervention must include proper nutrition [including health care that I would have never received if my dad had not been a member of a labor union] and by age 18 months, the child must be introduced to books, magazines and newspapers with weekly trips to the library where there are active literacy programs that could be adapted to serve these children. The intervention should include mandatory workshops for the parents to teach them how to be better parents. This intervention must include regular supervision that only relaxes its vigilance when the child is reading at or above grade level after sixth grade.

Next Sunday, December 8, 2013, I will post my review on this Blog of Diane Ravitch’sReign of Error” [already posted on Amazon]—a book that I highly recommend every literate American read and every illiterate American listen to. We must declare war on ignorance of public education in the U.S., because there is a deliberate campaign backed by billionaires who inherited their great wealth [the Koch brothers and the Walton family, for instance] or were born into the middle class and then became billionaires [Bloomberg & Bill Gates], who have one goal: destroy and strip the democratic process from public education in the U.S. These individuals have no clue what it’s like to live in poverty and how it impacts a child’s ability to earn an education and escape poverty. I was a horrible student in the public schools, but I was also an avid reader—I just didn’t read what teachers assigned as homework. Ravitch not only exposes the plot to destroy America’s public schools but she also offers a detailed road map to improve the public schools more than they have already improved in the last century.

_______________________

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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The Ravitch Transformation—an educated awakening

Until recently I had no idea who Diane Silvers Ravitch was.  After all, America has the third largest population [316 million] in the world after China and India, and I have trouble just remembering the names of all my neighbors.

But I was about to discover who Ravitch was.  My wife was on the road one morning listening to KQED, and when she got home she told me about this interview on the radio.

I went on-line and found the post and podcast at KQED.org, and read “Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education, spent years advocating for an overhaul of the American education system. She supported the No Child Left Behind Act, the charter school movement and standardized testing.

“But Ravitch recently—and very publicly—changed her mind. She looked at the data and decided that the kinds of changes she’d supported weren’t working. Now she’s a prominent critic of things like charter schools and school choice and she’s particularly opposed to privatizing schools.”

That’s when I discovered Ravitch wrote a book published  in mid-September 2013 by Knopf called “Reign of Error“.  After I read the storm of reviews on Amazon [twenty-two 5-star reviews compared to three 1-star reviews] of her book, I ordered a copy

I also Googled Ravitch to learn more about her because after reading the reviews of her work, I discovered someone who knows what’s going on with America’s public education system—and the truth might set America free so the people will support teachers instead of make them scapegoats for dysfunctional families.

For example, what does a teacher do when he or she assigns a thirty-minute reading assignment as homework and only three students out of thirty-four do it and this is what happens all the time? Where are the parents?

Diane Silvers Ravitch is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.

I was a teacher for thirty years in the public schools [1975-2005]. The schools where I taught were surrounded by a barrio where violent street gangs ruled the streets, but the schools were an oasis for students where dedicated teachers worked long, hard, frustrating hours—often sixty to one-hundred hours a week—to overcome the poverty, ignorance and violence that surrounded those schools. Just getting kids to do the homework, study and read for fun outside of the classroom was a big challenge.

I’ve been researching this same topic for years and writing about it on this Blog.  Are the public schools broken as the critics claim?

The answer is NO!

Today, America’s public schools are better than they have ever been in America’s history, and I have proven it on this Blog. And when I read Ravitch’s book, I’ll probably learn more about the misinformation, deceit and lies that has influenced millions of Americans to blame teachers and the teachers unions for problems they have no control over.

President Abraham Lincoln said it best: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Maybe the time has finally come for all or most of the American people to stop being fooled about the state of public education in the United States and shift the blame to where it belongs—dysfunctional families that do not value the work it takes to earn an education.

Public teachers in the United States should get the same support that Americans give the troops that are fighting this country’s endless wars, because there is a war being waged in America’s classrooms too.

Discover It’s the parents, Stupid

_______________________

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

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Sign me up!”

 

 

 

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