Gerald Bracey Attacks Ravitch on Dewey Award

Diane Ravitch spent the 555 pages of Left Back blaming John Dewey and those he influenced for the terrible state of Americas schools. An example of the quality of the books scholarship: The Eight-Year Study receives less than a page of exposition and of it Ravitch says, The study was supposed to show that students would do just as well in college without the straitjacket of entrance requirements(p. 281).

Not quite. The Eight-Year Study grew out of the 1930 meeting of the Progressive Education Association. The PEA attendees proposed many high school reforms. About these Wilfrid Aiken wrote in the course of the two-day discussion many proposals for the improvement of the work of our secondary schools were made and generally approved. But almost every suggestion was met with the question Yes, that should be done in our high schools, but it cant be done without risking studentschances of being admitted to college.

So the PEA persuaded colleges, starting in 1932, to drop the usual admissions criteria for graduates of 30 schools that Lamar Alexander would later have called break-the-moldschools. The study was to determine if the sample of 1,475 students educated in these schools could cope with college as well as a matched sample of students admitted using traditional criteria. A rather different purpose than challenging the straitjacket of entrance requirements.

They did better in both academic and nonacademic outcomes. The guinea pigs wrote more, talked more, took a livelier interest in politics and social problems, went to more dances, had more dates. There were more dynamos than grinds.

In addition, in Ralph Tylers eyes, the study legitimized educational evaluation procedures as tools to examine the attainment or not of the main objectives of an educational program. Tyler lamented that the outbreak of World War II muted the studys impact.

Given Ravitchs wretched book dissing Dewey, it came as quite a shock to learn that the United Federation of Teachers bestowed upon her its John Dewey Award. I said at the time it was like the Southern Poverty Law Center bequeathing a social justice award to David Duke (a number of people, including Checker Finn and Rick Hess, apparently not understanding the concept of an analogy, accused me of comparing Ravitch to Duke).

Former public school teacher and publisher, George Schmidt, said if Ravitch received the John Dewey award, the Pope should get the Margaret Sanger Prize. Joanne Yatvin of Portland State and a former public school teacher, chastised the UFT, Ravitch would not know a good classroom if she fell into it. What were you thinking?

The UFT was thinking politics and allies. Michelle Boden, a UFT VP, gave the game away: The John Dewey Award has nothing to do with John Dewey. It doesnt matter if Diane Ravitch disagrees with him. It only matters that shes the last national education figure out there who supports the UFT.Of that, Norman Scott wrote In the weird UFT world of policy-driven-by-public-relations, the fact that Ravitch has become a critic of the BloomKlein reforms becomes the primary motivational factorthe enemy of my enemy is my friend.(BloomKlein = fusion of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYC schools Chancellor Joel Klein).

Scott suggested the prize be renamed as the Pataki/Shelly Silver Political Expediency Awardafter New York Governor George Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, two other recent Dewey recipients.

Norman Scott. 2005. Diane Ravitch and John Dewey Award: Not a Match.The Wave (Rockaway, NY), April 8.

Wilfrid Aiken. 1942. The Story of the Eight-Year Study. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Ralph Tyler. 1976. Perspectives on American Education: Reflections on the Past, Challenges for the Future. Chicago: Science Research Associates, p. 40-41.

Edward Knight. 1952. Fifty Years of American Education, 1900-1950. New York: Ronald Press, p. 114-115.