Archives for category: History

When you think of the late 1940s, do you think about President Truman?

Here is an educational film from 1947: “Are You Popular?” The lesson: Don’t park in cars with boys.

These short films were called “social guidance” films. They were shown to students in schools.

Three scholars have recently published a very informative book about the history of education in New Orleans. The authors tell this story by scrutinizing one very important elementary school in the city, the one that was first to be desegregated with one black student in 1960. The book is titled William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans (Peter Lang). The authors are Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White, and Martha Graham Viator.

This is the school that enrolled 6-year-old Ruby Bridges in November 1960. Her entry to the school each day, a tiny little girl accompanied by federal agents, was met with howling, angry white parents. Her admission to an all-white school in New Orleans was a landmark in the fight to implement the Brown v. Board decision of 1954. It was immortalized by Norman Rockwell in a famous painting called The Problem We All Live With.

The authors set the stage for their history by pointing out that the Reconstruction-era constitution of Louisiana forbade racially segregated schools. In the early 1870s, about one-third of the public schools in New Orleans were racially integrated. Some schools had racially integrated teaching staffs. School board members were both white and black. When Reconstruction ended, rigid racial segregation and white supremacy were restored.

The William Frantz Public School opened in 1938 as a school for white children. It occupied almost a full city block.It was one of the few schools built during the Depression. It was built to accommodate 570 children. The authors demonstrate the vast inequality between white schools and black schools. Not far away was a school for black children of elementary age. Not only were black schools overcrowded, but black neighborhoods had problems with poorly maintained sewers, streets, sidewalks, gas and water lines, and structurally unsound buildings. Black schools were dilapidated, students shared desks, and class sizes were often in excess of 60 children to one teacher. Black students had fewer instructional hours than white students, due to overcrowding. White teachers were paid more than black teachers.

Black citizens of New Orleans were outraged by these conditions but they were politically powerless. The white power structure did not care about the education of black children.

Then came the Brown decision of 1954, which declared the policy of “separate but equal” to be unjust. The federal courts moved slowly to implement desegregation, but eventually they began to enforce it. The federal district judge who took charge of desegregation in New Orleans was J. Shelley Wright, a graduate of the city’s white schools. He determined to implement the Brown decision, despite the opposition of the Governor, the Legislature, the Mayor, and prominent white citizens of the city, as well as White Citizens Councils.

In 1958, the Louisiana legislature passed several measures to weaken desegregation efforts including laws allowing the governor to close any school that desegregated, providing state funds to any students seeking to leave the traditional public schools, and granting the state sweeping power to control all schools.

Their well-written history brings the reader to the present, to the all-charter model that privatizers hold up as an exemplar for every urban district troubled by low test scores and white flight.

The section of the book that I found most interesting was their detailed account of the white reaction to the prospect of school integration, despite the fact that the black students who applied to attend white schools were carefully screened for their academic potential and their behavior. Ruby Bridges was the one and only student chosen to start desegregation. Crowds gathered every morning to spit and scream. They harassed not only Ruby, with her federal protection, but any white student who dared to enter the school. Their blockade eventually forced whites to abandon the William Franz Public School. A few persisted, but little Ruby never met them. She was assigned to a classroom with no other students and one teacher.

The whites who tried to stay in the school were subject to threats of violence. Some lost their jobs, as did Ruby’s father. They feared for their lives. The hatred for blacks by whites was explosive. The portrayal of malignant racism is searing.

A relatively small number of whites tried to calm the situation. One such group was called Save Our Schools. They reached out to the white parents of the school, trying to bring peace and reconciliation.

In perhaps the most disturbing response to an SOS mailing, a WFPS parent who had received a letter from SOS returned the letter smeared with feces. A handwritten comment on the letter stated the parent would rather have ignorant children then to send them to a “nigger school.”

The mob won. By the middle of the school year, fewer than 10 white students remained in the school, and they too needed protection. By 1993, not one white student attended the school.

As the tumult continued after Ruby’s admission, prominent whites funded private schools so that white students could escape the specter of desegregation. The Legislature passed laws to support the resistance to desegregation and to give vouchers to whites fleeing the public schools and to underwrite the private academies where racist white students enrolled.

When the battle over desegregation began, New Orleans schools enrolled a white majority. Racism led to white flight, and before long the school district was overwhelmingly black, as was the city.

The authors detail the problems of the district. Not only was it segregated and underfunded, but its leadership was unstable. The management was frequently incompetent and corrupt. Its accounting department was a mess. So was Human Resources. Teachers were not paid on time. The management was woeful. The state wanted to take control of the district before Hurricane Katrina. Three months before the disastrous hurricane, the state leaned on the district to hire a corporate restructuring firm at a cost of $16.8 million.

In June, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Orleans Parish School Board signed an agreement relinquishing the management of the district’s multi-million dollar operating budget to the state. As a result, the district entered into negotiations with a New York turnaround management corporation, Alvarez and Marsal, to oversee its finances. In the contract, the board not only surrendered financial control, it also granted the firm authority to hire and fire employees.

Alvarez & Marsal put one of its senior partners, Bill Roberti, in charge of the district. Before joining the management consultants, Roberti had run the clothing store Brooks Brothers. A&M had previously received $5 million for a year of controlling the St. Louis school district, which was not “turned around,” and collected $15 million for reorganizing New York City’s school bus routes, with poor results (some children were stranded for long periods of time, waiting for buses on the coldest day of the year).


Before the hurricane, the state created the Recovery School District (in 2003) to take control of failing schools. In 2004, it passed Act 9, which allowed the state to take over schools with an academic score of 60 or less and hand them over to charter operators. After the hurricane, the Legislature passed Act 35, which changed the criteria for takeover and paved the way for the Recovery School District to take charge of most of the city’s public schools. Parents got “choice,” but the new charter schools created their own admissions policies, and most did the choosing.

Prior to Act 35, schools with School Performance Scores below 60 were considered to be in academic crisis. Act 35 raised the threshold score to 87.5, virtually ensuring every school in Orleans Parish would be deemed in academic crisis, and therefore, eligible for takeover by the Recovery District…Act 35 achieved what Governor Davis, Leander Perez, and segregationists failed to do in 1960. Act 35, for all intents and purposes, allowed the State of Louisiana to seize control of the Orleans Parish school district…The takeover of the failing schools within Orleans Parish made the Recovery District the largest school district in the State of Louisiana. Had the threshold for the School Performance Score not been raised in Act 35, the Recovery District would have taken over only 13 schools and had a much reduced presence and influence in public education in New Orleans.

After the hurricane, district officials and Alvarez & Marsal issued a diktat permanently terminating the jobs and benefits of more than 7,500 teachers and other staff.

Sixteen years since Hurricane Katrina and the privatization of public schools in New Orleans, the debate about the consequences continues, as it surely will for many more years.

For those interested in New Orleans, I recommend this book, along with Raynard Sanders’ The Coup d’Etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System, Kristen Buras’ Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance. For a favorable view of the charter takeover, read Douglas Harris’s Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education.



Tom Ultican explains why he spends so much of his time fighting for public schools.

The original cause for my supporting public education was that my rancher father married a school teacher. Growing up on a southern Idaho ranch, I learned many philosophical and theoretical reasons for supporting the establishment and maintenance of public schools from my mother. However, it was from watching mom and her dedicated colleagues in action that I learned to truly respect and appreciate public school.

I remember stories of my father being warned that he better not treat that women wrong. For several years in a row she won the Elmore County sharp shooting contest. She didn’t like to chop a chicken’s head off so she would pull out her rifle and shoot it off.

Mom had some old school attitudes but maintained a mind of her own. There was a period in which she had to come home at lunch time and milk the cow. One Friday, after having to chase the cow across King Hill creek again, she had had enough; didn’t discuss it just loaded that cow into a trailer and took it to market.

In my home, there was no doubt about the value of education and also an abiding belief that the American public education system was unparalleled. My father was a high school basketball referee and an ardent supporter of music study.

As was common in the community, school events were family events. Helping the local school was one of the main missions of our civic organizations whether it was building viewing stands at the football field or sewing costumes for school plays.

My grandfather was an immigrant from Scotland who came to America on the Lusitania. Three years after his arrival that ship was sunk by a German U-boat killing 1,800 passengers and further pushing America into engaging with World War I.

It was through family in Scotland that my mother became familiar with the British Education system. She learned of its high stakes testing which was deciding a child’s education path; if that education would continue and weather it would be academic or vocational. To her, the great advantage for America’s schools was they did not have these kinds of tests determining a child’s future. American students were not immersed in testing hell.

Instead of being sorted out by testing, American students had multiple opportunities to reenter the education system in whatever capacity they desired. Immature 11-year olds, did not have their futures decided by dubious testing results.

Still today, Idaho has a greater than 90% white population making it one of the whitest places in the world. It used to be even whiter.

I did not meet a Black person until I was a 17 years-old high school student. That year the University of Idaho Vandaleers gave a concert at my high school. A local rancher’s wife threw an after party for the choir and that is where I met Ray McDonald. Not only was he a talented singer, he was also one of the top running backs in America who would soon be drafted in the second round by the Washington DC professional football team. All I really remember is I was star struck and he was a friendly guy who played piano.

Although there was very little racial diversity in the community there was significant religious diversity. We had Mormons, Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Assembly of God and other denominations attending our schools.

In a 2001 interview conducted at the Gathering, Richard DeVos lamented that it was awful that public schools had replaced churches as the center of communities. He did not identify whose church was going to be accepted as the community center.

The unifying factor in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho was the public schools. Children from rich families and poor families grew up together in those schools. At school functions, parents from the disparate religious sects came together and formed common bonds. Political decisions concerning community governance were developed through these school based relationships.

Public schools became the foundation for democratic governance in the region plus it was literally where people voted. To me, it is unfeasible that a healthy American democracy does not include a healthy public school system.

America’s Founding Fathers Believed in Public Education

The second and third presidents of the United States advocated powerfully for public education. Thomas Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing out of common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson contended,

“The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

When Jefferson who was a former ambassador to France was queried about the French Revolution, he responded, “It has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.” He called for the establishment of universal free public education claiming it as a requisite for the survival of a democratic republic.

Jefferson and his peer John Adams were integral to the founding of the United States. Jefferson is credited as the main author of the Declaration of Independence. Our system of government with its bi-cameral legislative branch, judicial branch and executive branch came about in great measure because of John Adams’ advocacy.

Like Jefferson, Adams also saw public education as crucial for the survival of our fledgling democracy. In a 1775 essay, he wrote:

“reformation must begin with the Body of the People which can be done only, to affect, in their Educations. the Whole People must take upon themselvs the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expences of it. there should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expence of the People themselves”

Shortly before the American Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had published the controversial novel Emile, or On Education. He was widely condemned by the ruling elite for the religious views expressed in the book. However, the main portion of the book was about education. Rousseau’s character in the book was a tutor for children of the wealthy. That was the nature of education in the 18thcentury. Only children of the wealthy had the wherewithal to be educated by private tutors or in one of the few private schools.

Jefferson and Adams were calling for egalitarian progress giving common people the tools required to be self-governing. They were calling for a public school system.

It was the Massachusetts education advocate, Horace Mann, who more than any American political leader was responsible for the nationwide spread of public schools. With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being that instrument.

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Integrating the Protestant religious view into the common schools caused a split in communities. The burgeoning Catholic immigrant population did not want their children indoctrinated with an anti-Catholic ideology. Following the civil war, these influences irrupted into the “Bible Wars.” Author Katherine Stewart shared that it was in this atmosphere that “President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.”

Stewart also shared an insightful admonition from Grant:

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Early in the 20th century, public schools had been established serving every community from coast to coast. The results from this vast American public education experiment shine like a lighthouse beacon on the path of Democracy and social happiness. A nation that entered the century as a 2nd rate power ended the century as the undisputed world leader in literacy, economy, military power, industrial might, cultural influence and more.

Today, unbelievably, more and more forces are agitating to undo public education and even American Democracy itself.

As the 21st century dawned, the American public education system was facing a billionaire financed attack. Instead of financially enhancing public schools, libertarians called them “failures” and too expensive. They called public schools “monopolies” shutting out private business that would surely outperform “government schools.” Hopefully the aphorism attributed Lincoln is true: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

When I served in the George H.W. Bush administration, I was Assistant Secretary for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

OERI, as it was then called, had almost no discretionary money. There was very little opportunity for any initiatives, which may have been a good thing at that time. I became very involved in advocacy for national standards, which I now regret. I also spoke up for the national goals (remember them?), most of which were out of reach (like, we will be first in the world in math and science by the year 2000). OERI has since been pretentiously renamed the “Institute for Education Sciences.”

However, there is one thing that I am very proud of. I initiated a statistical review of the history of American education and the best brains in the Office of Research gathered the data to show the progress of education. It was published in 1992.

It is called 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait.

I still refer to it when writing essays that require historical information about education.

It should have been updated by now, but it has not been.

It is a wonderful resource for scholars and others engaged in research about education.

This is the introduction that I wrote in 1992:

Diane Ravitch Assistant Secretary

As an historian of education, I have been a regular consumer of education statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. For many years, I kept the Department’s telephone number in my address book and computer directory. It did not take long to discover there was one person to whom I should address all my queries: Vance Grant. In my many telephone calls for information, I discovered he is the man who knows what data and statistics have been gathered over the years by the Department of Education. No matter how exotic my question, Dr. Grant could always tell me, without delay, whether the information existed; usually, he produced it himself. When I asked a statistical question, I could often hear the whir of an adding machine in the back- ground, even after the advent of the electronic calculator.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to find myself in the position of Assistant Secretary of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), the very home of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The latter agency is headed by Emerson Elliott, the first presidentially appointed Commissioner of Education Statistics. And imagine my delight when I encountered Vance Grant, face to face, for the first time. The voice on the telephone, always cheerful and confident, belonged to a man employed by the Department or Office of Education since 1955.

Vance Grant, a Senior Education Program Specialist, and Tom Snyder, NCES’ Chief of the Compilations and Special Studies Branch in the Data Development Division, prepared 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. They did so enthusiastically, because—like me—they knew it was needed. Historians of education customarily must consult multiple, often disparate, sources to find and collect the information in this one volume. They can never be sure if the data they locate are consistent and reliable. This compilation aggregates all relevant statistics about the history of our educational system in one convenient book. It will, I believe, become a classic, an indispensable volume in every library and on every education scholar’s bookshelf, one that will be periodically updated. Vance Grant’s and Tom Snyder’s careful preparation of this report substantially enriches our knowledge of American education. But collecting these historical data in one volume not only benefits professional historians. As a Nation, we need to develop an historical perspective in analyzing change. Too often, newspapers report important political, economic, or social events without supplying the necessary historical context. We are all now accustomed to reading headlines about the latest test scores. Whether up or down, they invariably overstate the meaning of a single year’s change. And the same short-sightedness often flaws journalistic reports of other major educational trends.

Historical Context

One does not need to be an historian to recognize the tremendous importance of historical context. Each of us should be able to assess events, ideas, and trends with reliable knowledge of what has hap- pened in the past. If we cannot, our ability to understand and make sense of events will be distorted. This volume would become a reference for all who wish to make informed judgments about American education. We must struggle mightily against the contemporary tendency towards presentism, the idea inspired by television journalism that today’s news has no precedent. As we struggle to preserve history, we preserve our human capacity to construct meaning and to reach independent judgment.

In an age when we are awash with information and instantaneous news, it is meaning, understanding, and judgment that are in short supply. This collection of historical statistics about American education provides its readers with the perspective they need to understand how far we have come in our national commitment to education and how far we must still go in pursuit of our ideals.

I especially thank Vance Grant and Tom Snyder for their untiring efforts in assembling this book. Without their dedication, and without Emerson Elliott’s support for the importance of this work, it would never have happened.

Emerson was the career civil servant who directed the National Center for Educational Statistics, which was the heart of the original Department of Education, created in 1867. As I mentioned, in the thirty years since this publication was issued, it has not been updated. What a shame.

Jack Schneider is a historian of education at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. He and Jennifer Berkshire recently published a superb book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, which I recommend to you.

The “Public” in Public Schools

There are two stories that we tell over and over these days about our schools. The first is that schools are a mechanism for getting ahead in our society. In a competition of each against every, schools are the ostensibly meritocratic sorting mechanism that determines who gets what. The second story is that schools are the engine of the economy. Education builds human capital, which in turn promotes economic growth.

These aren’t entirely wrong. Despite the fact that the privileged work feverishly to tilt the playing field for their children, schools can and often do serve a leveling function. And it is impossible to imagine the American economy thriving in the same way without an educated populace. Yet this is a torturously narrow way of understanding the value of public education.

We don’t have public schools in this country so that young people can win advantage in an unequal society (and we especially don’t have public schools so that racially and economically advantaged families can launder their privilege). Nor do we publicly fund education so that the private sector can reduce the costs of training labor. Instead, we tax ourselves to pay for universal K-12 education because public schools are the bulwark of a diverse, democratic society. 

The founders knew this. As early as the 18th century, leaders were making the case that education was too important to be left to the whims of the market. If the young republic was to be governed by the people, those people needed access to schooling. Of course, education wasn’t universal from the outset; racially minoritized students were excluded and segregated, low-income students attended poorly-funded schools, and students with disabilities were refused at the door. But access to public education increased in commensuration with the recognition of other rights. Over time, our notion of “we the people” has expanded most obviously in our schools, and the benefit of this has accrued to all of us. We live in a stronger and healthier society because of our investments in public education.

And public schools weren’t merely seen as purveyors of academic content. As early advocates like Horace Mann understood, an increasingly diverse society needed a mechanism for fostering civic relationships and mutual understanding. Schools could draw young people from various walks of life together under a common roof and teach them to work in common cause. Although this inclusive vision of education has often remained an elusive ideal, integrated schools are also a reality. They have strengthened all of the communities in which they exist, and at a time of increased social fracturing it is perhaps more important than ever to heed the wisdom of Thurgood Marshall—that “unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will learn to live together.”

As Jennifer Berkshire and I document in our new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door (which Diane wrote about in The New Republic), public education in this country is presently facing an extinction threat. Those who wish to privatize it like to make the case that the “public” part of public education isn’t so important; in fact, they argue that it’s a liability. I vehemently disagree. In the nineteenth century, we had a system much like the one envisioned by the radical right. And is essential to remember that public education was developed as a replacement for that largely-private system, which had proven insufficient at advancing the public good. There are things that all young people in this country should learn, and common destinies for which they should be prepared. Moreover, this is work that should be done in equal fashion for all, since we all stand to benefit from the education of our populace.

We’ve been so distracted by the use of schools for social mobility and economic sorting that many of us have forgotten about the essential role education plays in making and sustaining an American public. Yet what other institutions do we have for fostering the kinds of civic virtues that increasingly seem so short in supply? Shall we leave it to private entities to build that public? Do we trust that the profit motive will advance the interests of us all? Whatever the flaws in our existing system, we risk tremendous harm in unmaking it. 

This is not an April Fools Day joke. It is just a great story.

While searching for something on the web, I came across this intriguing story. It’s the story of a remarkable horse named Beautiful Jim Key, raised and trained by a man named Bill Key, who was born into slavery and became a free and very successful man. The story is told by David Hoffman, who bears a slight resemblance to Bernie Sanders.

The story is too complicated to summarize in a few sentences, but suffice it to say that the horse was exhibited many times to audiences of thousands to demonstrate his amazing intelligence and his seeming ability to count and spell.

I went to Wikipedia, where I found this entry:

Beautiful Jim Key was a famous performing horse around the turn of the twentieth century.[1] His promoters claimed that the horse could read and write, make change with money, do arithmetic for “numbers below thirty,”[2] and cite Bible passages “where the horse is mentioned.”[3] His trainer, “Dr.” William Key, was a former slave, a self-trained veterinarian, and a patent medicine salesman.[1] Key emphasized that he used only patience and kindness in teaching the horse, and never a whip.[4]

The horse became a celebrity thanks to the progressive promotion of A. R. Rogers. The horse performed at large venues from Atlantic City to Chicago.[1]

Beautiful Jim Key and his trainer periodically toured the United States in a special railroad car to promote the fledgling cause of the humane treatment of animals. They performed in venues in most of the larger American cities, including New York’s Madison Square Garden. The horse was among the most popular attractions at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Beautiful Jim Key was supposedly intelligent enough that he could calculate mathematical problems, possibly even trigonometry.

President William McKinley saw Beautiful Jim Key perform at an exposition in Tennessee and declared, “This is the most astonishing and entertaining exhibition I have ever witnessed.” The President also commented that it was an example of what “kindness and patience” could accomplish.[5]

The horse was made an honorary member of George Thorndike Angell‘s American Humane Association.[6] He also got 2 million kids to gather to pledge never to be mean to animals.

This is an education blog. The story is about the education of a horse.

My youngest grandson is in second grade. His class was studying Black History, and each student was asked to make a project. He chose to create a poster about civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. I was thrilled to see his finished project, because it was not only well done, but because I knew Bayard Rustin and I started thinking about him. He was a good friend of my then-husband and me.

We got to know him in the mid-1960s. He was the bravest man I ever met. He was arrested many times for his pacifism and his civil rights activities. He was beaten many times by counter-demonstrators. He dedicated his life to standing up for others. He served prison time as a conscientious objector during World War II because he refused to fight. He told us that he realized later that he was wrong because he did not know then what a monster Hitler was.

He was very close to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the chief organizer for the March on Washington in 1963. Bayard was a strategist and a thinker, in addition to being a fearless activist. He was a brilliant speaker and writer.

Soon after we became friendly with him, in the late 1960s, he asked if he could give a concert in our new apartment on Park Avenue and 85th Street in Manhattan as a fundraiser for the Young People Socialists League. We did not yet have any furniture other than beds and a few chairs, so we said of course. Bayard gave an a cappella concert for about 50 members of YPSL. At the time, I thought to myself that the building had never before had so many black people and Socialists at one time in its history (or probably ever). I learned that night that years earlier, Bayard used to sing with Leadbelly.

I recall a speech that Bayard gave about the Kerner Commission report when it came out. He was a great proponent of creating economic opportunity (jobs with good wages) for blacks. He proposed a Marshall Plan for economic development of black Americans so that everyone would have a decent standard of living. He said that we could expend all our energies on things that didn’t make a difference, or actually fund the changes that would make a huge difference. We didn’t.

While the Vietnam War (which he opposed) was still raging, many Vietnamese people fled to Thailand and were living in refugee camps. Bayard organized a planeload of aid, delivered by himself and other civil rights leaders, to fly to the camps. He invited my 15-year-old son to join them. I was a nervous mother and did not want to put his life in danger and I didn’t let him go. I have since regretted that caution, but knowing how fiercely protective I was of my children, I would probably say no again.

Bayard was deeply devoted to the labor movement. He helped to found the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which worked closely with the labor movement to advance civil rights and equal treatment of black and white workers. Bayard knew that the labor movement was vital to the struggle for equality because black workers who unionized were assured good wages, healthcare, and a pension, and had a voice in working conditions. He always referred to his mentor as “Mr. Randolph.”

One of my favorite Bayard stories occurred in Miami (we heard about it later). He was there at a meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council. He went to a nightclub to see Marlene Dietrich perform. He sat at a table in front of the stage. He later described her as “luminous,” wearing a shimmering silver gown. When she finished, he jumped to his feet, and tossed a bouquet of flowers at her feet. He said later, “I love that woman. She told Hitler to go f— himself!”

Bayard was gay and he was not closeted. He dressed elegantly. He wore several exotic rings. We had dinner at his apartment in a union-built cooperative (Penn Station South), and the walls were covered with beautiful pieces of African art that he had collected in his travels. We met his partner, Walter, who adored him.

There is no one quite like Bayard Rustin on the scene today. No one with his courage, his independent intellect and his fierce devotion to equality and principle. I miss him.

During the pandemic, most schools turned to remote learning as a matter of necessity. Some in the education biz think that the pandemic has created a new market for their products. Actually, most parents and students are eager for real schools with real teachers to open again. Contrary to popular myth, teachers too want schools to reopen, as soon as they are safe for staff and students.

Historian Victoria E.M. Cain of Northeastern University has written an engaging account of the hype associated with new technology in the classroom. It is a tool, it should be used appropriately, but it is not a replacement for teachers.

She writes:

The lessons for today’s enthusiasts are clear. It is wise to be humble about the possibilities of classroom technology. No one would deny that technology can provide invaluable tools to improve learning. (What teacher today would not want to have classroom access to the internet?) Too often, though, instead of being seen as a tool to help schools, new technology has been embraced as a silver-bullet solution to daunting educational crises. In desperate times, desperate leaders have clutched at overblown promises, investing in unproven ideas without demanding reasonable evidence of efficacy. 

In the current pandemic, it might be tempting for education leaders to hope that if only we can find the right balance of learning management systems, home Wi-Fi access, and teacher training, we can continue to provide the same education we always have, virus or no virus. But it is not that easy, and it never has been.  

If we have learned anything from the past two centuries, it is this: New technologies provide assistance, not solutions. Whether it was Lancasterian school buildings in the 19th century, television in the 20th, or Zoom classrooms today, new technology will not solve our problems on its own. In the past, overhasty investment has wasted millions of dollars. Perhaps more pernicious, it has given well-meaning reformers false confidence that they have taken care of the issue. It is far better to take an approach that might not be popular or simple, one that acknowledges the scope of the crisis and the variety of solutions we will need to address it. We need to avoid the temptation to grasp too quickly at a single technological response. 

Wise counsel. Hope and hoax are both four-letter words that start with the same two letters. Hype is also a four-letter word.

This is a wonderful and well-deserved tribute to Angela Merkel, who recently stepped down as leader of Germany and (for now) leader of the western world (Trump abdicated that position). Angela Dorothea Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005. She served as Leader of the Opposition from 2002 to 2005 and as Leader of the Christian Democratic Union from 2000 to 2018. A member of the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel is the first female chancellor of Germany. (Not sure why the post says 18 years; she was Chancellor for 16 years.) She was born in Hamburg (in West Germany) but moved as an infant to East Germany when her father, a Lutheran clergyman, had a pastorate there. She earned a Ph.D. in quantum chemistry, then worked in research until the democratic revolution of 1989, when she became involved in political life. The story below about her domestic life reminds me of what Harry S Truman said, when a reporter asked what he would do when he got home to Independence, Missouri. He said he would carry the empty luggage to the attic.

Paul Thomas, an experienced high school teacher who became an experienced college professor at Furman University in South Carolina, writes here about the ongoing controversy surrounding claims for “the science of reading.” As he notes (and as I wrote about in my book Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform), the “crisis” in reading instruction and literacy has recurred with stunning frequency over the course of the past century, plus.

Debates about how to teach reading can be traced back to the early 19th century, when Horace Mann derided the teaching of the alphabet and advocated learning whole words. Warring camps argued over the best way to teach reading. In 1955, Rudolf Flesch published Why Johnny Can’t Read, denouncing whole-word instruction and insisting on a revival of phonics. In 1967, literacy expert Jeanne Chall published what was supposed to be the definitive work on the teaching of reading, called Learning to Read: The Great Debate; she recommended phonics in the early grades and a rapid transition to worthy children’s literature. In the 1980s, the whole-language movement swept through the reading field, deriding phonics as Mann had. In the 1990s, the National Reading Panel emphasized the importance of phonics. No Child Left Behind absorbed the conclusions of the National Reading Panel Report and included a large grant program called Reading First, requiring that schools use “scientific methods” of teaching reading. The program, however, was marred by scandals and self-dealing. Some consultants hired by the U.S. Department of Education recommended programs in which they were coauthors and stood to profit.

Thomas writes:

The SoR [Science of Reading] movement is a bandwagon with its wheels mired in the same muddled arguments that have never been true and silver-bullet solutions that have never worked.

My conclusion: There is no one best way to teach reading. Experienced teachers have a toolkit of methods, and they use whatever method works best for their students. All reading teachers should know how to teach phonics, and all reading teachers should understand when it is appropriate to teach phonics. All reading teachers should prioritize the joy of reading and the love of literature.

In time, almost everyone learns to read, regardless of method. John Dewey, it should be noted, recommended that children begin reading instruction at the age of 8. Currently, many states punish students who have not learned to read fluently by the age of 8.