Archives for category: Personal

Today is a day to count our blessings and to be grateful for our family, our friends, and our freedoms.

There is so much happening in the world and in our nation that is alarming. There are so many nations and regions where the great majority of people don’t have personal security, where every day is a struggle to survive, where life is cheap, where men with guns threaten everyone daily. We can be grateful to live in a nation where most people most of the time are not in constant danger.

Clearly, we have serious problems to address in our own country, especially the fact that so many live in poverty in a land of abundance. We must commit ourselves to rectifying that terrible wrong so that all can be assured of enough to eat, a good place to live, and appropriate medical care. Or as Franklin D. Roosevelt put it so eloquently in his address to Congress in 1941:

“For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

“Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

“Jobs for those who can work.

“Security for those who need it.

“The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all.

“The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”

This was the speech where he enunciated The Four Freedoms:

“The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

“The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants- everywhere in the world.

“The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

“That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

“To that new order we oppose the greater conception—the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.”

Words spoken 74 years ago, a vision of a world that still eludes us, a vision that we must not abandon.

I am grateful to live in America. I am grateful for my family and friends. I am grateful for life and health.

I am grateful to the educators who dedicate their lives to helping children gain the skills, knowledge, and character to build a better world.

To all of you, parents, teachers, social workers, psychologists, health workers, and political activists who fight for children: Thank you.

I thought I would take a look at the total number of page views before turning in for the night.

Much to my surprise, it registered 22 million plus a few thousand.

I like to thank you when we hit a million mark.

Just to be clear, page views represents the number of times someone has opened the blog. It could be one reader who opened it 22 million times, or one million readers who opened it 22 times (in three years and a few months). Obviously it is something in between (actually, according to WordPress, the host of this site, there have been 8.558 million unique visitors). On any given day, the blog is opened between 20,000, 25,000, or more page views, depending on whether some issue catches your fancy or outrages you. My best day ever was in November 2014, when more than 141,000 people opened up the blog to read something. (Did I mention that I always wanted my own newspaper?)

I even thank our trolls. They come and go, but they provide discussion and stir the pot. So long as they behave, they are welcome to comment.

Someone complained the other night that there is too much “doom and gloom” on the blog, but I regret to say that this is an accurate reflection of the madness now gripping American education. Anyone who thinks about it should know that teaching is a very tough job, that people don’t go into teaching to get rich, and that we owe our teachers our respect and admiration for their heroic work. Instead the nation’s policymakers–national and state–have spent years berating and belittling the teachers who do what the policymakers could never do. As several of you have pointed out, the biggest critics of teachers would not last a day in a typical classroom. The kids would boot them out in short order. It is especially annoying when billionaires, hedge fund managers, Hollywood titans and script-writers find fault with people who teach our kids. None of them could do what 98% of teachers do every day.

All this derision cast on teaching as a profession is having an inevitable result: veteran teachers are leaving, and the number of people entering teaching is shrinking. State after state faces teacher shortages. Heckuva job, reformers!

Yes, there is reason to be sad; there is reason to be angry. There is reason to organize, mobilize, agitate, and educate the public. Don’t abandon the ship or the children. We need you more than we need the fat cats and politicians who are after your pay check, your benefits, and your job.

This blog, I hope, will remain civil, but it is not neutral. I have strong views in support of students, teachers, parents, educators, and everyone who is fighting for our democracy. That will continue to be the case.

Just a reminder: I consider this blog my living room. You are all invited so long as you don’t use certain four-letter words that offend me as public utterance (say whatever you want in private, not in public). Above all, you may not insult your host (me). I would appreciate it if you refrain from insulting other guests. Let’s try to be a model of civil discourse even as we loudly protest the movement to privatize and monetize our public schools.

Oh, yes, I should mention that several people have asked me how I plan to monetize the blog. Answer: I don’t.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. I may decide to cut back the number of posts every day (someone told me he felt like he was drinking from a fire hydrant when he read the blog). I am revising “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” this summer, so I may need to cut back to make more time for writing and editing.

Onward to 23 million!


In the previous post, I recounted the various health issues I dealt with this past year, but I left out one. A few months ago, I learned that I had cataracts in both eyes. I had to have them operated on, one month apart, this summer (as Bette Davis supposedly said, growing old is not for sissies.)

I called around in search of a highly respected eye surgeon. With some trepidation and much hilarity (cue the nervous laughter), I settled on Dr. Michelle Rhee of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She seemed very professional and skilled when I met her.

The first surgery is over. My left eye is healing well. Thank you, Dr. Rhee.

One of life’s little ironies.

Stop here if you are bored with hearing people of a certain age talking about their health. That’s what I’m going to do.

In April 2014, I tripped coming down the steps outside my house and landed on a flagstone on my left knee. I had a ripping sensation and knew it was bad. The surgeon said I had torn my miniscus and ACL and needed a total knee replacement.

Two weeks later, I went to the University of Louisville to receive the Grawemeyer Award. I used a walker but managed to hobble to the podium without it.

On May 9, I had the surgery. Surgery is especially complex for me because I am on blood thinner and always at risk of bleeding too much or (without the blood thinner) clotting. Before the surgery, they took me off the blood thinner and started it as soon as the surgery was over.

The rehabilitation and physical therapy were intense over the summer, but no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t straighten my leg. I switched physical therapists, and the new one–Karen Yanelli of M.Y.P.T.–was spectacular. She told me that my knee was encased in scar tissue. It is a condition called arthrofibrosis. She told me I had to go to Dr. Frank Noyes in Cincinnatti, at Mercy Hospital. He literally wrote the book on this condition.

I was fairly desperate. I was afraid I would be permanently disabled, and I was deeply depressed, feeling hopeless. I was willing to go anywhere, try anything. My neighbor on Long Island, Dr. Roxana Mehran, a reenowned cardiac researcher, spent an hour giving me a pep talk. She was my guardian angel. She persuaded me that I had to take any path that would help. She gave me the strength to persevere.

I flew to Cincinnatti with Mary, my partner, and met Dr. Noyes. He opposed further surgery, as I might get more scar tissue. Instead, his staff forced my leg straight with strong (excruciating) physical pressure and built a fiberglass cast while my leg was forced straight. They cut the cast open, lined it with cotton, and told me to wear it for 12 hours a day, wrapped tight with a giant Ace bandage.

After seven weeks, I did not need the cast anymore. My leg was straight and I could walk! I was so happy!

Just a few limitations. Often, it is difficult to get out of a car or rise from a chair or walk up or down stairs. Not painful, just difficult and uncomfortable. I feel like I am walking on stilts. In other words, I am fragile. I am frightened of stumbling, tripping, or having a little kid on a bike run into me on the sidewalk. I would topple over. I fell once. I was walking Mitzi, our dog, about 10 pm in a small city park, and a rodent ran in front of us. Mitzi took off in hot pursuit, and I was determined not to let go of her (she weighs 70 pounds). I went sprawling on the ground, but it was soft, I didn’t let go of Mitzi. I managed to fall flat without injuring the knee.

I am feeling much, much better. I am not depressed anymore. I know that I have a permanent disability, and I can deal with that. I can’t run, I can’t walk fast, I can’t walk long distances. But I can walk. I have recovered from an ordeal, and I am grateful to all those who helped me along the way.

The lessons I learned: Walk slowly, watch where you are going, always hold the handrail. And be very grateful to your caregivers.

I was born July 1, 1938, at 12:01 am at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. I was my parents’ third child. We lived in a tiny house on Dunlop Street. Five more children followed over the next 10 years. We would eventually be five boys and three girls.


I went to public schools from K-12. Then, encouraged by my rabbi and his wife, I applied to Wellesley and was accepted. Going east to college changed my life.


Birthdays make you think back on your life as you get older. When you are young, birthdays make you either want to party or think about the future.


I’ll save the look back for my memoirs, if I ever find the time.


I’m still looking forward. The struggle to save public education against privatization and to protect kids from test-mania will grow stronger. The opt out movement will spread across the nation. Researchers will continue to demonstrate the failed policies of high-stakes testing and privatization.


You can help. If you want to make a gift for my birthday, join the Network for Public Education. Give as generously as you can. The Network helps grassroots activists across the nation and connects them to allies.


Here is the contact information: The Network for Public Education. Open the link to learn how to contribute online and/or become a member. This organization is fighting for public schools, for students, parents, teachers, and all other citizens who care about the future of our democracy.


If you want to send a check, here is the address:


Network for Public Education
P.O. Box 44200
Tucson, AZ



Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided by 5-4 that the right to marry the person of one’s choice is fundamental and cannot be denied by the states. This was a controversial decision, obviously, but it was very important in removing a barrier to many families who are joined in love and would like to be joined in marriage. I have seen estimates that 50,000 or more children live with gay parents, and Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged that these children should have the security of knowing that their family is legally recognized. Some of my readers may be aware of the story I told last Friday night at New York City’s gay synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), but not the details. Others may be shocked. I pondered whether to share my speech with you. But I decided that, since I am two days short of my 77th birthday, it is too late to hide anything.


Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), June 26, 2015


What a historic day!


I am so honored and privileged to speak here tonight and join you in celebrating.


Over the past few days, I read the history of CBST. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum sent me a book about the founding and development of New York City’s first gay synagogue. It is a story of courage and survival.


Who would have believed, when that first minyan of 10 men met in 1973 that, 42 years later, the US Supreme Court would affirm marriage equality for all?


When I read the history, I discovered that Sharon Kleinbaum is truly “The One.” I read that the CBST search committee conducted a national search; they interviewed many candidates. Rabbi Sharon did not apply, but they heard about her. When they met Rabbi Sharon in 1992, they all agreed: She is The One. Hers was the only name they forwarded to the board.


I knew she was The One when she invited me to speak tonight–somehow she knew, in her great depth of wisdom and foresight, that this would be a great day in gay history. And of course exactly the right time for me to come out in public for the first time.


Some of you may know my writings about education. I was for many years a prominent advocate of testing, choice, and accountability. Five years ago, I renounced my long-held views and declared myself an opponent of high-stakes testing, vouchers, and privately managed charters, in a book called “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” In 2013, I wrote another book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privation Movement and the Danger to America’s Schools. I have written, blogged, and spoken out across the nation about the menace of privatization. The privatization movement is funded by billionaires, hedge fund managers, and rightwing governors (of both parties), and its goal is to destroy public education, to bust teachers unions, and to undermine the teaching profession. They call themselves reformers but they are just trying to confuse the public about their real goals, which the public would reject. This movement is a threat not only to public education but to the future of our democracy.


But my change of mind about education issues was dwarfed by my life change. I was married to a very fine man for 25 years. We had three children, one of whom died of leukemia.


Thirty years ago, at a conference in Minneapolis sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities–the best thing Bill Bennett ever did–I met the love of my life. I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.


Over the past three decades, we have made a wonderful life together. She has taken care of me in sickness and health, through a pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, total knee replacement, and more. In the presence of our immediate family and close friends, we were married by Rabbi Kleinbaum at our home in Brooklyn on December 12, 2012.


My wife, Mary Butz, was born in Brooklyn. She is Roman Catholic and of German descent. She spent 35 years as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and executive director for leadership in the NYC Board of Education. Some people think I learned everything I know about education from her, but I did know a few things before I met her.


She is the funniest, kindest person I know, also the most honest and ethical.


Just two anecdotes.


Soon after we started living together, Mary realized that I became depressed around the time of major Jewish holidays. One Yom Kippur, she insisted that we go to the CBST services at the Javits Center, where thousands of LGBT people gathered. I was happy but nervous, because I was still closeted. Would anyone see me? What would they say?


Well, Mary went to the ladies’ room, and ran into many NYC school teachers. No one expressed surprise that she was a lesbian. Instead, everyone said, “Mary, I didn’t know you were Jewish.”


Then there was the time in 2006 when I was invited to speak at Davos, the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. This was a very big deal. They were paying my way and I asked them to pay the way for my domestic partner. They adamantly refused. I insisted. They still refused. Finally, I realized that we had a language problem, when they explained that no one was allowed to bring their domestics with them. When they finally understood that we were a gay couple, all was well.


So here we are in a new world. We no longer have to find circumlocutions for our husbands and wives. We enjoy the same marriage rights as others.


It has been a long struggle and it will no doubt continue on other fronts to protect the rights of people who are LGBT.


I would be remiss if I did not urge you to engage in social and political activism on a broader front. Our nation is beset by growing income inequality and wealth inequality. The Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court struck a blow against our democracy by allowing the super-rich to spend obscene amounts of money on political campaigns, supporting candidates who will protect the privileges of the rich and powerful.


Our victory in the courts today must summon us to fight for all those who are marginalized and who are deemed losers in our harshly competitive society.


We can’t have a great society unless we have a good society. It can be neither good nor great unless it is good for all Americans.


Thank you.

I consider you my friends, and I would like to share some happy memories.

Last weekend, I drove to Massachusetts, for my 55th college reunion at Wellesley College. I always drive to reunion with three dear friends who were classmates.

We stayed in one of the dorms. I had forgotten how beautiful the campus is. I still remember arriving on campus in the fall of 1956. I was a very bright but entirely unsophisticated, innocent, naive kid from the Houston public schools. I never visited the campus before I attended. I applied because my rabbi’s wife went there, and she encouraged me. I went to a Seven Sisters reception, applied, and was accepted.

I recall my first September, standing in awe as I looked at the trees ablaze in bright hues of vivid yellow, orange, and red. We never saw that in Houston.

I loved Wellesley. I loved that it was a women’s college, and I could speak up without risking being “too smart” for a girl. Boys didn’t like that. There were many classmates smarter than I, so I could enjoy the stimulation of engaging in discussions about the world without having to act like a lady.

The high point of reunion at Wellesley is the alumnae parade. Everyone is lined up with the members of their class. At the very end is the oldest class, which this year was the class of 1940. They graduated 75 years ago! All of them rode in beautiful, open cars from the 1920s and 1930s. They wave, and as they pass, we cheer loudly for them. Then comes the class of 1945; some are walking, some are in the antique convertibles or golf carts. Then the class of 1950, then 1955. More cheering, more applauding (we shout our class cheer).

Then it is our time to fall in behind the class of 1955, and it is our turn to be cheered by the younger classes. We march past 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, and finally 2010. As we advance, the cheering grows louder. And I can’t help but notice that as the classes grow younger, they are more diverse. More women of color. By the time we reach the class of 2010, the cheering and applause are thunderous, amplified by a brass and banjo band playing old-time music.

I love the parade because it is not only fun and colorful, but it reminds you about the cycle of life. You realize that with each reunion, you get closer to the end of the procession. The oldest class surviving is only 20 years older than us!

I did something special this year. I endowed the Education Department with funding for an annual lecture series and for student internships and grants for student research. I also am leaving a bequest to fund a full professorship in the Education Department. No one has ever given them money for internships, research, or an endowed chair. This is my way of thanking Wellesley for changing my life. I will write more about this later.

I will inaugurate the lecture series on October 22, 2015. If you live anywhere in the area, please mark it in your calendar.

I am in Chicago for a family wedding this weekend. Tonight I had dinner with my dear friend Karen Lewis and her husband John. We had a lovely get-together.

When I came home, I discovered that the blog had passed the 21 million number. I am not a data-driven person, but I enjoyed knowing that I was able to share my platform with so many of you. you. Together, I think we are turning the tide against bad ideas. We will not stop until we have ended the menace of privately managed schools and high stakes testing. We want our children to love learning.

FYI, I am on vacation in France. Yesterday we visited the palace at Versailles. The life of the royals was so sumptuous that it was obscene. For the first time, I viscerally understood the French Revolution. Injustice and inequity breed hostility, rage, and eventually it boils over.

I read my emails and will keep posting. I’m off now to see the sights.

Yesterday was the third birthday of this blog. I started the blog on April 26, 2012. Today it reached 20 million page views!

Thank you to every reader who enjoys the content or who reads it as a reality check about the toxic, failed policies called “reform.” (Or both.) The mainstream media are infatuated with the reformers’ bold ideas to disrupt the education of the nation’s children.

But guess what? Their ideas don’t work. Their ideas hurt children. Their ideas close schools and hurt communities. Their ideas demoralize teachers. They focus everyone on test scores. Thry don’t improve education, they cheapen it.

Education has civic and humane purposes that can’t be measured by a standardized test.

Educating children is hard work that requires dedicated service and a commitment to the children, not for a year or two, but as a career.

Thank you for keeping me going with uour suggestions, your links to local events, and your support. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your loyalty.

This current madness will not last. Don’t quit, stand tall and keep teaching, keep fighting for better education.

Please join the Network for Public Education. Come to our next annual conference. Protect your children. Do what you love. Help is on the way. We are many. They are few. We will win.


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