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Ravitch and Reform: Should Left Back be Left Back?


by William W. Goetz — 2002

This is a review essay of Diane Ravitch’s recent work, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (Simon & Schuster, 2000). I note in the introduction the impact that educational historians can have on policy making by establishing the historical context for contemporary debate. Relying on my experience in the schools during the reform eras of the century and accompanying sources, I call attention to the tendentiousness of Left Back, the limitations of its documentation, the neglect of important reform movements, and its troubling accusation that there is an elitist attitude in public education that has historically been detrimental to the underprivileged. I argue that public education, including its reformist and experimental elements have provided unique opportunities for upwardly mobile segments of society without making the humanities the only focus of the school curriculum. I conclude that Left Back is wittingly or unwittingly a part of the contemporary culture wars in which public education is an important battleground. It, therefore, deserves an in-depth analysis and commentary.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 6, 2002, p. 1204-1228
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10991, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 8:13:13 PM

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About the Author
  • William Goetz
    Kean University
    E-mail Author
    WILIAM W. GOETZ is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Kean University.Previously. He served thirty years as a teacher and supervisor of social studies in the schools of New Jersey and ten years as an adjunct professor of history at William Paterson University. His research interests are social studies education, teacher education, and the history of curriculum and American education. Recent publications include “The Common School: Neglected Content in the High School Classroom?, The Social Studies, Vol. 89, Number 1, January/February 1998, and “In Defense of Social Studies: Mishmash and All, School Connections, Vol. 10, Number 2, Fall l998.
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