Archives for category: Personal

After writing a post last week to tell you about the great progress I have made, about going from walker to cane to walking like a normal person, I suffered a sudden setback. Out of nowhere, I developed a very large hematoma on the back of my operated leg. That’s a humongous bruise that is black-blue and very ugly. Suddenly, I couldn’t walk. The pain was intense. The physical therapist said I probably tore my hamstring. What do I know about these things? Nothing. It has been a few days, and I have graduated back to the cane. The hematoma is turning other colors. I think I’m getting better. I feel that so many of you are good friends that I wanted you to know.

Thanks to all those who have inquired about my health. I was on Long Island in a remote location, no one nearby, when I tripped and landed on my left knee on April 5. I was alone, had no cell phone, and had to drag myself inch by inch into the house to reach a phone. Within minutes, the town’s fire department and police officers arrived to put me in a stretcher and take me to the localhospital. One of my sons took a bus that night so he could drive me to Brooklyn the next morning. On May 9, I had major surgery: a total knee replacement. I spent five days in the Hospital for Special Surgery, then a week in a rehab hospital. Then home on Long Island, where I needed a walker to get around.

I will be candid. I was in terrible pain, couldn’t sleep at night, and suffered deep depression. I continued physical therapy, first at home, then at a clinic about ten minutes from my home. My depression was profound. I felt physically depleted and couldn’t get over how dramatically my life had changed, how my horizons had shrunk. I kept blogging because I needed to keep my mind active. But again, in candor, I had very little energy to get out of bed most days.

About two weeks ago, I started to feel better. I watched movies that made me laugh. I stopped thinking all the time about how miserable I was. I started thinking more about other people. I switched from a walker to a cane. Then one day the physical therapist told me to leave the cane at her door. I walked like Frankenstein. Then, when my scar healed, I started using a pool. Not to swim, but to flex my leg. I still don’t have full range of motion, still can’t straighten or fully flex my leg.

But I’m walking again. I have the urge to write more than blogs, and I have something in mind though not yet on paper. I still have sharp pain in my knee but it is not continuous. I often wake up at 3 am in pain.

Best of all, I am not depressed anymore. I am feeling that I will get better. I have stopped feeling sorry for myself. I am glad I landed on my knee instead of my head as I would have bled to death, due to the fact that I take blood thinners and any major injury can cause me to bleed to death.

I think I will emerge from this ordeal with some changed ideas. I know what it feels like to be disabled, even if only temporarily. I still feel an urgent need to stop the theft of public education, but I intend to write more and travel less. I will save more time to spend with those I love. I can never repay the partner who took such good care of me and put up with my deepest depression and despair. I will walk more slowly and watch where I am going.

I am not completely recovered. I expect it will be September before I feel recovered. At least, I hope so. I hope I have learned to be grateful for life, for friendship, for those who helped me, for those who didn’t let me give up, for those who taught me patience. Now I will try to practice what I have learned.

I earlier posted about an article in the New York Times that expressed concern about the loss of handwriting, as children are taught keyboarding at younger and younger ages. The article said that some researchers believe that a loss of handwriting skills may be associated with a loss of cognitive development.

As I read the comments on this post, I felt inspired to share my own experiences with handwriting and typing.

When I started public school in Houston, we used pencils and quill pens. By quill pens, I mean that the pen was dipped into an inkwell repeatedly to have enough ink to write answers. Because I am left-handed, this was often messy as I ran my hand over the wet ink, which always got smudged. I believe we were taught to write with the Palmer method, which required making round, round circles again and again. It was excruciatingly boring as my circles were never round enough.

About the time I was in third grade, there was a technological breakthrough, and we switched from quill pens to ballpoint pens. I would have said “hallelujah,” but the ballpoint pens were even messier for a lefty than the quill pens. I always dragged my hand across whatever I wrote, and whatever I wrote was smudged and my left hand was always ink-stained. To make matters worse for us lefties, the chairs in the classroom had single arm extensions, almost always designed for righties. So my natural tendency to turn my hand above my writing was accentuated because of the design of the chair. There was a brief period when my teacher tried to force me to write with my right hand, but she gave up when she saw it was hopeless.

Now, despite the Palmer method and despite being graded for penmanship, I have truly terrible handwriting. Sometimes I can’t decipher my own notes.

I was really happy the day I was able to buy a portable typewriter. It was my proudest possession. That was probably about ninth grade. I was finally freed from the bondage of my own awful handwriting.

So, from my personal experience, I am not prepared to say whether my struggles with pen and ink improved my cognitive development. I don’t know. I do think it is a good idea that young children learn to sign their names and to write notes. It is practical. I admire people with beautiful handwriting. But I was never one of them.

For some time, I have wanted to share with you some of the comments in my spam box.


Currently there are more than 150,000 items in my spam box.


Usually I take the time to empty it out, but I haven’t been attentive lately, so it just grows and grows.


Some of the items are hilarious, like this one that arrived today:


Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as
though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos
to your blog when you could be giving us something informative to read?


Now, given the fact that I almost never (maybe never) post videos to my blog and that I typically overwhelm people with more to read than they can handle, this one is priceless.


A lot of my spam is simply advertisements. Advertisements for almost any product or service you can imagine: Rolex watches, roof repairs, hot girls, how-to-do-something, urinalysis, drugs from Canada, and almost everything else you can think of.


Many come from corporations that want to use my site to tout their online schools or products. Some come from authors who claim to be free-lance but ask to write a guest blog about the wonders of online learning sponsored by a particular corporate entity.


Many spam comments begin, “My sister told me to read this site and…” or “My cousin told me to come to this site…”


Others start, “Howdy, dude.” Or, “Howdy, man…” and I stop there.


And another typical opening, “I know that this may be off-topic, but….” and what follows is not only off-topic but not germane to anything on the blog.


Many start by telling me I have an awesome site. They love what I write. They want to read more. They love the graphics (of which there are none). They can’t get enough. They think that if they praise me or the blog, I will post their comment, though it is obvious that they have never read anything I have actually posted.


And periodically, at least a few times a week, someone writes to tell me that my blog looks just like his or her blog and they ask whether I am copying their site.


Oh, and then there are the dozens of requests from people who ask me if I have had problems with hackers (like them?) or if I would tell them what platform I am using (WordPress, which is obvious).


And the spammers who ask me for advice on how to write.


My guess is that there is an army of spammers who would like to find a way to get their comments approved. So far, so good.


So far, my favorite of all is the spam that complains that I need to write more and rely less on videos and graphics.




I am writing this from my hospital bed. I am at a rehab center after getting a total knee replacement. I keep thinking how dumb I was. I didn’t hold the railing as I went downstairs and landed full-force on my knee, tearing out every major ligament. Now there is some titanium thing in there, a long row of metal staples, and standing on that leg is painful, almost as painful as bending it.

All day today, perhaps to distract myself from the pain, I have been thinking about the Brown decision. This hospital makes me think of how much change I have seen in my lifetime. Most of the change is because of the Brown decision. I look around, and both the staff and the patients are a mini-UN. My main physical therapist is a statuesque, beautiful black woman. I endured my training today on the same large mat with a young black man suffering a brain injury. His trainer was a young white woman with infinite patience and humor.

I was born in 1938 in Houston. I was third of eight children. We attended the same public schools, had the same teachers, used the same textbooks. Our school experiences and outcomes were so different that I can’t take seriously those economists who insist that teachers have a dramatic and uniform impact on all children in their classroom.

All of my classmates and teachers were white, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The only black people I knew worked in menial jobs. They were cooks, maids, manual workers. In the supermarket, there were different drinking fountains, one marked “white,” the other “colored.” The public buses were racially divided; a movable metal marker said “colored,” and all black people rode in the rear, behind the marker.

Houston was a very conservative Southern city. The elected school board was often dominated after World War II by the John Birch Society and the Minute Women, who felt sure that the Communists had infiltrated almost every organization, and we had to be prepared for a Soviet invasion. When some teachers innocently suggested an essay contest for students about the new United Nations, the school board felt certain that Reds and pinkoes had infiltrated the school.

Race was a forbidden subject too. When the district was looking for a new superintendent, one of the leading candidates was disqualified when the press revealed that he belonged to the Urban League in his hometown on the west coast! Any organization that advocated racial equality was considered by our officials to be Communist-dominated. Certain Southern racist customs were common in Houston. If a black person entered a white person’s home, it was only through the back door. Deference was required. When I think of how things were, I cringe with embarrassment and shame.

I didn’t have any black friends, so I can’t tell you how they reacted to the pervasive insults based on nothing more than their color. They must have felt humiliated every day.

The Brown decision was released on May 17,1954. The school board responded by saying they would never desegregate. They thought they could defer compliance forever. I was a high school sophomore. I remember I went to see the high school principal to ask him why we were defying the Supreme Court. He patiently tried to explain why it was best to leave matters like this alone. Feelings ran too high. From that time forward, I became intrigued with school politics, especially controversies. My first term paper in college was about the extremists who ran the Houston schools and spied on teachers to see if they were loyal to America. In college, I wrote many papers about the struggle for desegregation. I remember the politicians across the South who loudly declared that they would comply with the Brown decision but only if families had choice. Of course, they expected that white children would still go to white schools, and black children would stay in traditional schools (there was always the fear and coercion factor).

So, from my hospital bed, many years later, I have three observations about the Brown decision. First, our own federal government took the decision very seriously in the mid-1960s and demanded actual integration, not just “free choice,” which they knew would produce no change. As conservative appointees were added to the Supreme Court, the federal courts lost heart. Now, irony of ironies, “choice” is supposed to be a “civil rights issue,” but the reality is that choice promotes separation and segregation. Now, we are supposed to believe that segregated charter schools are a great innovation.

Second, we cannot continue to tolerate the extreme educational and residential segregation that has become commonplace. It bodes ill for the future of our society to permit such extremes of economic and social inequality.

Third, the Brown decision may have been abandoned by the federal courts and the federal government—for now—but it has nonetheless had a profound effect on American society. People of African descent are no longer confined to menial jobs. There is a black President, there are black CEOs. In every walk of life, we expect to see a racially and ethnically integrated workplace.

But that’s not enough. We must persevere until black and white and other children live and learn together. We must persevere until there are no racial ghettoes. The American Dream deserves another chance. Fair housing. Equality of educational opportunity. A fair chance at a good life. It is not out of our reach unless we give up. We must not give up. We must make it work for all.

I haven’t been able to write before now. The pain after surgery was so bad that I was kept on various drugs to keep me sedated. I spent two days in the recovery room, then moved to a regular room. But my health remained fragile, On Sunday, the surgeon sent me for a CT scan, where I learned I had a blood clot in one of my lungs. My greatest fear about surgery was triggering a clot, which could go to my brain or lung or heart . There were many conversations among the various specialists about whether I should get a filter inserted in my blood vessels to prevents clots from traveling. The consensus was no, so didn’t. The consensus was wrong.

Well, I am still here but it is not easy, I can’t get out of bed without help. I can’t walk. The pain in my knee remains intense. The rehab will go slowly because of the pulmonary embolism.

I won’t travel as much as I used to. But I promise to support you in your work and use my voice as best I can. Let’s work hard to support our children and their teachers, to do what is best for them, and to believe in our cause because it is the cause of democracy, justice, and real education.


Today this blog reached the number 12 million page views.

That means that in the past two years of its existence, someone has read articles posted here.

Some were written by readers, some by me.

Together, we have provided support and encouragement to one another, as well as resistance to privatization and attacks on students and educators.p

But the number 12 has another meaning for me personally.
On 12-12-12, I was married to my partner of the past 28 years. Her name is Mary Butz.she is a career educator in public schools.. She went to Catholic schools– elementary, secondary, and college, all in Brooklyn. She taught social studies, served in various administrative roles, and founded her own small public high school in Manhattan, which was associated with Ted Sizer’s and Deborah Meier’s Coalition of Essential Schools.

What I love about her is not her résumé but her kindness, her humor, and her overall goodness and generosity. Life with her is fun.

So, once it became legal for two people of the same gender to marry in New York, we did.

I established a scholarship in her name at her alma mater, St. Joseph College at 245 Clinton -Avenue Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11205. It is earmarked for a student who is first in his/family to to to college. It is a wonderful liberal arts college that has proved well-educated graduates for many fields, especially education.

If you are ever moved to support a cause that I support, please consider a gift to the Mary Butz Scholarship Fund.

I am getting a total knee replacement today.


But don’t think for a minute you won’t hear from me!


I have written several posts in advance to cover for my absence today and tomorrow.


I will have my iPad in the hospital and in the rehab that follows.


Several people asked if they could send flowers.


In a word, no. If you want to make me happy, send a gift to the Network for Public Education or to your local organization of parents and educators working together to save public schools.


Or, perform an unsolicited act of kindness, to a child, to someone in need. And when you do, send me your love and thoughts.


And, if you are so inclined, I am always grateful for prayers.




I was thrilled to learn last winter that I had been chosen to receive the Grawemeyer Award in Education for 2014. To me, the Grawemeyer Award is the most important recognition of work in the five fields it honors: education, music, religion, world order, and psychology.


I was especially honored because the award had previously gone to my friends Linda Darling-Hammond and Pasi Sahlberg for their outstanding books.


The awards ceremonies were the week of April 15-17. As it happened, I fell and badly damaged my knee on April 5, and the earliest date I could see my knee surgeon was April 8. He gave me permission to go to Louisville so long as I agreed to use crutches, a wheelchair, a cane, whatever it took, and to see him as soon as I returned.


So, with the help of my partner, I arrived in Louisville on April 15 and had the help of Professors Diane Kyle and Melissa Evans-Andris, who took care of both of us from start to finish. I brought a walker, and they brought a wheelchair. They were our constant companions, and attended to my every need. They even thought to bring with them to the airport a basket of goodies for the caregiver, who is often neglected.


Impressions: Louisville is a beautiful city. There is public art on almost every downtown block. The hotel we stayed in was the C21 Museum Hotel, where the art is everywhere, changes often, and is hugely engaging.


There was a wonderful grand black-tie event, where all the award winners were introduced in a large ballroom, and each of us spoke for about five minutes. My favorite line came from Antonio Damasio, the wonderful man who won the award for psychology, who said that the great thing about the Grawemeyer award is that it is an award that recognizes the idea of ideas. I loved that.


Each of the award winners had the chance to meet with their colleagues on campus and with students in their discipline, and there was time for me to give a speech to the community. Soon after I spoke, I was interviewed, and asked to summarize the main idea of my book. This was condensed into a video that is about 3 or 4 minutes. Here it is. I should mention that I received the award for The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I treat it as volume 1, followed by volume 2, Reign of Error.


The highlight of our visit to Louisville was getting to see this beautiful community. But there were two other highlights, and I can’t rank them. One was enjoying the companionship of Diane Kyle and Melissa Evans-Andris, who showed us what Kentucky hospitality was at its best. Next was a meeting one morning with civic and community leaders that included the superintendent of schools for Jefferson County and Mayor Greg Fisher. Before I spoke, Mayor Fisher said that his priorities were helping young children get off to a good start, attending to the needs of adolescents, and mental health. I found it refreshing to meet a smart, thoughtful mayor who understands that taking care of the health and well-being of children is the most important job for the community, not importing competition to put pressure on the schools for phony test score gains.


I can’t go on without saying that I had my first mint julep, and that we were in Louisville only two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, so the city had a festive spirit. Our hotel was only a block from the home store of the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat. We passed Churchill Downs, where the Derby will be run. We got a sense of a city where art is treasured, and a university with the idea of honoring ideas. We encountered generous hospitality, a sense of proportion about what matters most, a caring and vibrant community, and a happy absence of that hardbitten sense that children must be tested until they cry.


What a wonderful experience it was!


Oh, and one other thing, not so small. Kentucky is one of the few states that does not permit charter schools. So every community works together to improve its public schools. What a treat to be in a place that dares to think differently, and to be reminded of an America that has not fallen into the clutches of Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and the edu-entrepreneurs.




Several readers asked whether my reply to Alexander Nazaryan of Newsweek would be reposted where more readers might see it.

Nazaryan took Louis C.K. to task for criticizing Common Core. I explained patiently to Alexander why I agreed with Louis.

Happily, Valerie Strauss saw the post (which I spend a few hours writing at a time when I should have been icing my damaged knee), and she reposted in on her Washington Post blog today.

As for the knee, it is not looking so great right now.

I have many complications facing me, in large part because I am on blood thinners and I have to suspend their use for the surgery.

That puts me at grave risk because the most dangerous part of knee surgery is blood clots, which are life-threatening.

It is all too much to deal with, let alone think about, so I was glad to have the diversion of writing a letter to Alexander.

I must say he was extremely generous in his Tweets in response. He said in one of them that his wife agrees with me, and I tweeted back that his wife is brilliant.

Isn’t it a strange new world that we live in, where strangers communicate via Twitter and other social media and have friendly (and sometimes unfriendly) exchanges?

I think Alexander is an intelligent man, and I don’t really believe he wants schools to be joyless.

I believe he will keep thinking about these issues and come to see that learning and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes the problems that are hardest to solve are the sources of the greatest joy.

And sometimes I think I should just go ice my knee.


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