Archives for category: Personal

I have decided to take a break from blogging during the Christmas holidays. It is the first time I have turned off the blog since it started in April 2012.

Now, after writing 13,500 posts, after reading more than 300,000 comments, I am hitting the pause button for a few days.

If you see anything interesting online or in the local news, send me a link. I will be stockpiling posts for the re-launch.

You should rest, spend time with friends and family, read, travel, relax.

That’s what I plan to do.

I hope you miss the blog. I will be back on Monday, January 4, 2016.

Have a happy, healthy, satisfying Néw Year. Hug those you love.

Diane

This is a repeat of a post I published in 2013. I think it is worth posting again.

As you may know, I was born and raised in Houston, Texas.

I am third of eight children.

My parents were both Jewish, as am I.

Yet every year we celebrated Christmas.

Is this puzzling? It wasn’t at all puzzling to me and my siblings.

Every Christmas, the family bought a Christmas tree, and we all joined in decorating it with lights, ornaments, and tinsel.

Every Christmas morning, we woke up like a noisy tribe about five a.m. and rushed to discover that we all had presents under the tree.

Why did our Jewish family celebrate Christmas?

To begin with, my parents had been born into observant Jewish families. My father was born in Savannah, Georgia, where he was the youngest of nine children and the only boy. He was spoiled rotten, left high school without graduating, and tried (but failed) to make it in vaudeville as a hoofer and comedian. My mother was born in Bessarabia and came to America at the end of World War 1 as a nine-year-old girl with her mother and little sister. They traveled on a ship (the “Savoie”) loaded with returning American soldiers, then made their way to Houston to meet my grandfather, who was a tailor and had come to America before the war broke out.

What my parents wanted most was to be seen as “real Americans.” My mother was especially zealous about wanting to speak perfect English (she arrived speaking only Yiddish). She was very proud that she earned a high school diploma from the Houston public schools. In her eyes, real Americans celebrated Christmas. So, of course, we had a tree, and we believed that Santa Claus brought the presents. There was no religious content to our tree and our gifting.

We went to public school, where we learned all the Christmas songs. We went to assemblies and sang “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and all the other traditional songs. I knew I was Jewish, and I usually hummed certain words instead of saying them, but nonetheless I loved the songs and I love them still. I was never offended by singing Christmas songs at public school. It was what we did.

Of course, my siblings and I went to Sunday School at the synagogue, and my brothers were bar mitzvah. I was “confirmed,” which was a ceremony that occurred at the end of tenth grade, when we read from the prayer book as a group.

I should add that we started every day in public school with a short reading from the Bible, over the loudspeaker, followed by a prayer and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

I was okay with the Bible reading, the prayers, the Christmas songs. I was also okay with our family putting up a Christmas tree while belonging to a synagogue and practicing our Jewish rituals and holy days.

I committed one major faux pas as a result of my upbringing in two religious traditions. On one occasion, when I was about 12, the rabbi at my reform temple invited me to join him on the altar and say a prayer. I said “The Lord’s Prayer,” the one that begins, “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” prayer, and there was some awkwardness afterwards. I had no idea that I was saying a Christian prayer, drawn from the Gospel of Matthew, in the synagogue! I had heard it hundreds of times in school. I think I was forgiven my error. After that, the rabbi was careful to propose a specific prayer from the prayer book for children who were invited to speak from the altar.

Many things have changed, and I understand that. But when I go with my partner to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Oratory of St. Boniface in Brooklyn, I am glad I know the words to the songs. I learned them in public school in Houston. I look around and am not surprised to see a fairly large number of other Jews from the neighborhood, also joining in singing the songs with the choir. It is Christmas. It is a time to celebrate peace and joy and goodwill towards all. We can all share those hopes.

 

Today is a new tradition called “Giving Day.” It is a time to support charities and causes that you care about. Giving to others makes you feel good. Give what you can afford.

 

When Pope Francis arrived in Uganda last week, he said:

 

“The Gospel tells us that from those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded. In that spirit, I encourage you to work with integrity and transparency for the common good.”

 

That should be the spirit of #GivingDay.

 

I would like to share with you the names of the groups that I am supporting. I hope you will consider sending a contribution to one of these groups. All of these organizations support the common good, with integrity and transparency.

 

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The Network for Public Education. NPE is fighting the privatization of public education and high-stakes testing. It advocates for a better education for all children, for the arts and a full curriculum, and for strengthening the education profession. The Network for Public Education Fund is fiscally sponsored by Voices for Education, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The donate button is on this page: http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org

 

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I will contribute to a program I created at Wellesley College to support public education and the common good. The fund, administered by the Education Department, sponsors an annual lecture, student internships in local public schools, research projects, seminars, subsidies for students who can’t afford to pay fees for state certification, and (after my death), an endowed professorship committed to public education and the common good. My hope is that this program will send forth well-educated young women who are prepared to devote their lives to teaching and to the improvement of public education for all, and that in time it will become a center for research to support our precious heritage: free public education. I gave the first lecture in the annual series a month ago; Pasi Sahlberg will be the speaker next year. To donate to this fund, send a check to:

 

 

The Diane Ravitch Fund for Public Education

Wellesley College
Development Operations
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481

 

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Class Size Matters
Director Leonie Haimson has been a national leader as an activist and researcher for class size reduction, parent empowerment, and data privacy.
You can give here http://www.classsizematters.org/

 

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FairTest

 
FairTest has been leading the struggle against the misuse and overuse of standardized testing for decades. It continues to be an invaluable source of information for parents, educators, and policymakers.
https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/fairtest

 

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I would be thrilled if you support any of these tax-deductible projects. Please let the recipient know that you are donating at my request, and I will send you a personal thank you note for any gift of $100 or more.

 

 

 

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!

Diane

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
85733

 

 

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.

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