Letter to Jerry Bracey
Gerald Bracey may be the best friend that the public schools have ever had. Anyone who would be critical of the schools, and in particular, anyone who would make the schools any less "public," by returning to the people, say, the power to choose their children’s schools, public or private, well this person or group will find itself the object of Jerry’s verbal onslaught. The most recent target of Jerry’s wrath are the recommendations of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce calling for the biggest changes in American public education in a century.
Here is my reply to Bracey:
You know, Jerry, I find that I agree with your put-down of Tough Choices or Tough Times. And in particular your put-down of those who would lay the principal responsibility for the future success of our country on the schools. At the same time I’m sure you would agree with me that neither the schools, nor anyone of us, lives up to being all that we could be. Imperfection is very much with the schools and with us. And therefore, you’re right, not to single out the schools for special blame, the schools being just one of a host of imperfect institutions that make up our country.
Where I think you’re wrong is that you seem to believe in the existence of a conspiracy out there to destroy the public schools, supported in particular by ‘research’ emanating from the bad guys, the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan and Heartland Institutes, the Mackinac Center, the Center for Education Reform, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Paul Peterson group at Harvard, et. al.
I think you give these think tanks and their thinkers too much credit. There is no conspiracy. They’re not hiding anything. I believe that they believe in the rightness of what they are doing. Education in this country has always been saddled by those who would reform it, and reform is what they are all about. Reforms are what drive them. They’re not out to destroy our present system of education, just make it more effective. I’m sure you would admit that the present system could be improved.
I too might criticize the reformists, these and others. They believe a bit too much in the rightness of what they are doing. They are yet one more group of true believers in this world, of which there are already too many. What we really need are a few more skeptics, reformers yes, but reformers who would proceed more cautiously, more humbly, more tolerant of the views of others while going about proposing their reforms. As it is too many people believe in too many different and opposing things, and would impose their partially correct solutions on everyone, with the result that all of us coming together for the common good, in this case for the benefit of kids, seems to happen less and less.
Education is an enormously complicated process to get right, even for just one child, say my grandson, but when it concerns, how many, 50 million kids in our nation’s schools? well then we approach the degree of complexity that places other familiar phenomena, such as the weather and currency evaluations, beyond our ken. Isn’t the nature of the best education for all in important respects also beyond our ken? So far it seems to have eluded all our attempts to put it in a box.
Finally, I agree with you that our country, compared to other countries, is doing quite well in many if not most important respects, and that our present system of education with all its faults compares well with the systems in place in the other developed countries. And I also agree that our country’s failings probably stem more from the failure of our leaders than that of our schools. It’s interesting that our leaders are often the products of our best schools, sometimes even the same one, Yale for example. I haven’t yet heard anyone blaming Yale.
Comments of the Commision Members:
“Anyone who hopes to hold a job in the next several decades should read—if not memorize—this extraordinary report.” —Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corporation
“This penetrating, scary analysis and these astute,
far-reaching recommendations amount to A Nation at Risk for the next
generation.”—Chester E. Finn Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
“Bold, inventive, analytic, and piercing.”—Sharon
Lynn Kagan, Virginia & Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood
and Family Policy, Teachers College, Columbia University
proposal is radical? Yes. Hard to achieve? Of course. Essential?
Absolutely. Our nation’s schools are failing to educate our children,
and that has to stop—else we condemn our own kids to ever lower
incomes. We must act—now!”—William E. Brock, Former Secretary of Labor, Reagan Administration
“Fascinating and thought-provoking read that is sure to get the American educational establishment talking.”—Charles B. Reed, Chancellor, California State University System
report lays out the kind of drastic change to the system that is
crucial if we are to remain a viable economic and political leader in
the world.”—David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education, Massachusetts