Archives for category: Personal

In the midst of this awful time of isolation, our friend Audrey Watters lost her son Isaac. Audrey is a brilliant critic of the misuse of technology in our lives. Our hearts go out to her now, acknowledging her terrible loss.

In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Cuba with my partner and two friends. The Obama administration had relaxed restrictions on travel, and we visited as part of a people-to-people program. Our group flew to Miami, then boarded an American Airlines charter jet that brought us in less than an hour to Jose Marti airport in Havana. Many of our fellow passengers were a Cubans carrying large packages of appliances and other hard-to-get goods to their relatives in Cuba.

We traveled with our travel agent, a native Cuban who had fled the island as a child in 1960 (part of the so-called ”Peter Pan” exodus of Cuban children) and was now an American citizen living in New York City. We stayed in a lovely hotel in the center of Havana, where there were few Americans but many European and South American tourists. We visited museums, the homes of artists, and wonderful small restaurants. The Cuban people we met were friendly, welcoming and looking forward to better times, when the decades-long embargo would finally end. My overall impression was that the embargo had impoverished Cuba and cemented the Castro regime, and that the end of the embargo would stimulate small businesses and breathe life into a stagnant economy. In other words, our policy goals for Cuba—to end the dictatorship and revive a market economy—had utterly failed, but would be advanced by ending the embargo.

Cuba is a beautiful and very poor nation. We were lucky to have gone when we did, because Trump has reversed the limited lifting of the embargo by the Obama administration and made the embargo as punitive as possible.

Commonweal published an article By a Cuban scholar describing the effects of the renewed sanctions. Its main effect seems to be further impoverishing the Cuban people. Trump was pandering to Republican Cuban voters in Florida.

After 60 years of embargo and sanctions, don’t you think that it would be clear by now that the punishment has failed to achieve its aim of regime change and serves only to hurt the Cuban people? If we really wanted to free Cuba, we would open relations and encourage commerce and tourism, as we did with Vietnam and Cambodia, which now have booming economies, or did have before the pandemic.

Carl Cohn is a veteran educator who served as superintendent in Long Beach and in San Diego. He has received many awards for his service.

The selection of a new superintendent in Long Beach prompted him to write his thoughts about previous crises faced by the district and about the importance of teachers today. No superintendent can succeed without building relationships of mutual respect and collaboration with trusted teachers.

I first met Carl Cohn when he was selected to clean up the damage done by the first effort to disrupt a school district. That was San Diego. At the turn of the century, San Diego was one of the most successful urban districts in the nation—perhaps the most successful—but the school board decided it needed a massive overhaul. They hired lawyer Alan Bersin to disrupt the district. I described what happened there—including demoralization of teachers, and a philosophy of changing everything all at once because (as the saying then went) “you can’t jump over a canyon in two leaps.” The philosophy of the leadership was that change had to be abrupt, immediate, and “pedal to the metal.” Billionaires sent money. Books were written about the “bold” reforms. The infighting and controversy became so inflamed that the public eventually threw out the “reform” school board. San Diego, however, was the model for Joel Klein’s disruptions in New York City, which were the model for the same in D.C., and on and on.

I spent a week in the district interviewing teachers and principals and school board members. My last interview was with Carl Cohn. I saw him as a calming figure whose job was to restore morale, order, and professionalism. He succeeded.

After the collapse of the disruption era, the San Diego school board hired an experienced educator, Cindy Marten, who had been a teacher and principal in the district. Although she has had to impose devastating budget cuts, she has been a steady hand at the tiller. I met her in 2006, when she was a principal, running a progressive child-centered school. When I visited San Diego a few years ago, she took me for a drive, and I surprised myself for taking a paragliding ride at Torrey Pines. Needless to say, I am delighted that San Diego has such trustworthy, experienced leadership again.

I began my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education with the San Diego story. It is a cautionary tale. If you read one chapter in that book, read that one. It ends with my interview of Carl Cohn.

San Francisco is having a glorious streak of beautiful weather, which was especially delightful after the rainy cold days in Seattle.

with a few spare hours, we took the boat trip to Alcatraz, which is a huge tourist attraction. Due to the time of year, tickets were easily available. The boat trip was beautiful. When we arrived, we rode the tram to the top of the Rock, a boon for bad knees. I must say I found the Prison very depressing. The cells are tiny and spartan. The men there were worthy of a high-Security prison but they lived in cages fit for animals. I wanted to leave as soon as we could.

At night, there was a wonderful event at Kepler’s Bookstore, which is deservedly an institution. The a Grateful Dead and Joan Baez sang there, and many distinguished authors spoke. Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, only a few miles from Hoover, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was delightfully surprised to find a great independent bookstore, which regularly invites authors who dissent from the conventional wisdom. The interviewer was Angie Coiro, an extraordinarily well-informed questioner whose book was filled with post-its. The audience contained many teachers, who asked good questions.

A great event.

i still have  remnants of the flu from last weekend, which gets subdued only with a ready supply of Ricola.

I’m having fun!

Tomorrow Balboa High School in San Francisco!


Today I did something I had never done before.

I went to Coney Island, the fabled beach on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn, to watch the Polar Bears Club take their annual New Year’s Day plunge. The Polar Bears have been doing this since 1903.

The weather was pretty good. About 40 degrees, but a strong wind was occasionally gusting, making it seem colder. Thousands of people were there like me as spectators. At least a thousand people were there in bathing suits and zany costumes to take the plunge. There were Vikings, old and young women in bikinis, a group of four people dressed in French costumes like a Marcel Marceau troupe of mimes with painted faces.

I managed to get to the front of the line, so I could get a good view and take pictures. I posted many on Twitter.

It was a riotous, hilarious, joyous experience. People of every race, religion, ethnicity, dressed in funny costumes, having the time of their lives as they prepared to take a plunge into frigid waters. They were accompanied by cheering crowds, smiles, laughter, and a dozen or so drummers beaming out a thump, thump, thump on big steel drums, as waves of scantily clad bathers headed for the Atlantic.

It’s moments like this when I love America, love living in New York City, and feel that all of us are truly brothers and sisters.

I seldom write New Year’s Resolutions because they tend to state all the things I haven’t been doing and want to do differently but probably won’t.

So here is what I would like to do.

Take better care of my health.

Ride my indoor bike 20 minutes every day. Every day.

Walk outdoors at least a mile a day (which I do by walking my 100-pound dog Mitzi).

Read fiction.

Spend less time blogging.

Lose weight.

Eat healthy food.

Eat less chocolate.

Those are my hopes and resolutions.

Here is what I am certain I will do.

Be fearless on behalf of others who are afraid to speak up.

I have nothing to lose. I’m in the closing years of my life. I don’t want anything. I don’t want an appointment. I don’t want a political plum. I have enough money to live comfortably. I can’t be bought. I want to use my freedom from want to help others. That’s my wish and my resolution.

I probably won’t lose weight. I probably won’t exercise as much as I should. I feel my age overtaking me. My hair is gray, my gait is not what it used to be. Breaking my left knee in 2014 definitely impaired my mobility. Tearing the miniscus in my right knee doubled the trouble.

But I’m not retiring. No way. I’ll support parents and teachers as they fight for their kids, their public schools, and better education. I will use my pen and my computer to fight against competition for resources and hunger games. I will give my last full measure of strength to doing what’s right. Not for a few. But for all.



I never thought about sitting down and writing out my “rules for life,” but Peter Greene did.

They are good as anything I could write, actually better, so I share them here with you.


When I was in the early grades in the Houston public schools, we learned penmanship. At the time, we dipped our quill pens into an inkwell. It was messy, at least for me. At some point we switched to pens that had ink reserves, and you filled them up and wrote with ink. That was better than dipping the quill.

Then a new writing technology came along, called the “ballpoint pen.” No messy inkwells or ink bottles. You just wrote until they were dry, and then you threw them out. The ballpoint pen was a nightmare for me because I am left-handed and all the desks in my classrooms were meant for people who wrote with their right hand. That meant that as I wrote, I smudged my hand across what I had just written. Not only was the writing smudged, but the fingers on my left hand were always ink-stained.

We were taught the Palmer Method of writing. We made big circles, again and again. We were supposed to make round, beautiful letters.

That never worked for me. My handwriting was atrocious. As I have gotten older, it has gotten worse.

Be all that as it may, it turns out that writing by hand is good for you!

It is supposedly good for your brain and your emotions.

I suppose that may be true for many people but not for me.

My handwriting is close to illegible.

I bless the day in 1983 or 1984 that I started using a computer, a TRS-80 (Trash-80) that was prone to frequent breakdowns and crashes.

The computer broke down so frequently that I bought a second one so that one would be available when the other was in the repair shop.

At last, I could write almost as fast as I could think.

I had many misadventures with my TRS-80, but no one had to puzzle over what I was trying to say.

So, yes, do revive handwriting. Everyone should have a signature. Everyone should know how to read and write script.

But I will stick with my computer for the sake of legibility.

This is a lovely way to usher in the New Year 5780!

Thanks to my dear friend David Berliner for sharing!

And a happy New Year, L’Shana Tova, to all!



Last May 10, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform sent a tweet my way. Allen is a big advocate for every kind of school choice, except for public schools. Before she started her current gig, she worked for the far-right Heritage Foundation. For years, her organization has been a big cheerleader for charters and has opposed any effort by states to regulate them or hold them accountable.

This was the tweet.

In case you are not on Twitter, she wrote:

And she never mentions the millions in her bank account that pay for her Brooklyn brownstone. Didn’t come from writing books or academia. Perhaps the union?

I responded that I paid for my home myself.

But there is more to the story. I bought the Brooklyn brownstone in 1988, at a time when I was allied with conservative groups. In other words, I was on Jeanne Allen’s side. Checker Finn and I had formed the Educational Excellence Network, to advocate for standards, testing, accountability, and a liberal arts-focused curriculum. Charters did not exist. In 1991, I went to work for the George H.W. Bush Administration.

Jeanne, why would “the union” have purchased a home for me in 1988, given the fact that I was widely seen as a conservative and was on your side?

In another tweet, Jeanne asserted that she visited my home, but I couldn’t remember that she did. I hosted a few gatherings for conservatives, so it is possible she was there. It was thirty-one years ago, so I hope she will forgive me for not remembering her being there.

It was indeed a beautiful home. I sold it six years ago and now live in a beautiful apartment. I paid for that too.

Behind her insinuation that the union paid for my home is the assumption that everyone is motivated solely by money. Everyone is for sale. She projects her own views. The opposition to charters and vouchers is not motivated by money but by a commitment to the common good. Jeanne sees only self-interest and personal pursuit of gain. She has no idea what the common good is. Like her idol, Betsy DeVos, she scoffs at the very idea of society and commitment to ideals larger than self-interest and pecuniary gain.

This is what the Corporate Disrupters can’t understand. Dedication motivates people more surely than money. There are rewards in this life that are greater than money. Neither she nor DeVos nor the Waltons understand that.