In 2012, Néw Yorker writer David Denby wrote a profile of me. He traveled to hear me speak about the absurd attacks on public schools and teachers and read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” He joined me in April 2012 when I spoke at Rutgers in Néw Jersey, and we drove back to Néw York City together. He said he had two ideas for me. One, he said, I should start blogging so more people could hear my views. And two, I should write another book, going into detail about solutions. I did both. I started this blog, and I wrote “Reign of Error.”
David, for his part, wrote a wonderful new book based in his experiences sitting in classrooms and listening to high school students discuss literature. It is called “Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty Four Books That Can Change Lives.”
And he wrote this article about the recent and current outrageous attacks on teacher, blaming them for every social ill. It appears in the current issue of The Néw Yorker.
“A necessary commonplace: Almost everyone we know has been turned around, or at least seriously shaken, by a teacher—in college, maybe, but often in high school, often by a man or a woman who drove home a point or two about physics, literature, or ethics, and looked at us sternly and said, in effect, You could be more than what you are. At their best, teachers are everyday gods, standing at the entryway to the world. If they are fair and good, they are possibly the most morally impressive adults that their students will ever know. For a while, they are the law, they are knowledge, they are justice….
“By the time kids from poor families of all races enter kindergarten, they are often significantly behind wealthier children in vocabulary, knowledge, and cognitive skills. Of course, good teachers can help—particularly that single teacher who takes a kid in hand and turns him around. But, in recent years, teachers have been held responsible for things that may often be beyond their powers to change. They are being assaulted because they can be assaulted. The real problem is persistent poverty.
“Our view of American public education in general has been warped by our knowledge of these failing kids in inner-city and rural schools. In particular, the system as a whole has been described by “reformers” as approaching breakdown. But this is nonsense. There are actually many good schools in the United States—in cities, in suburbs, in rural areas. Pathologizing the system as a whole, reformers insist on drastic reorganization, on drastic methods of teacher accountability. In the past dozen or so years, we’ve seen the efforts, often led by billionaires and hedge-fund managers and supported by elected officials, to infuse K-12 education with models and methods derived from the business world—for instance, the drive to privatize education as much as possible with charter schools, which receive public money but are independently run and often financed by entrepreneurs. This drive is accompanied by a stream of venom aimed at unions, as if they were the problem in American education.”
David Denby has joined our movement to restore common sense to education.