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Goertz misses the point

Posted By: J. E. Stone on November 13, 2002
When I read William Goertz’s schoolhouse-level recollections of various fads and movements over the last 50 or 60 years, I nodded in agreement. But when I read his interpretation of Diane Ravitch’s Left Back, I scratched my head.

Some of Goertz’s criticisms are not founded on a fair interpretation of her meaning. For example, he has Ravitch dismissing Lawrence Cremin’s assessment of progressive education in The Transformation of the School. I think Goertz completely misses her point. Ravitch is merely saying that conventional histories of progressive education—notably Cremin’s—have it withering away in the fifties. Her point is that it re-ignited in the sixties has dominated since (p. 16).

Goertz also says that Ravitch’s earlier rejection of countercultural attacks on schools as middle class bastions directly contradicts her notion of “anti-democratic” bias in progressivism. Again, he isn’t fairly interpreting her views.

Particulars aside, I think he has simply missed the point of her book.

Left Back is history of failed school reform efforts, not a chronicle of 20th century public schooling. It is about progressive pedagogical ideals and the various efforts to implement them, not about life in typical classrooms.

Ravitch’s point is that the ideals were faulty. They did not perform as advertised and they were particularly detrimental to disadvantaged children. They were resisted by teachers, and thank God that they were. However, just because they did not overwhelm schools everywhere doesn’t mean that they were not and are not pulling public education in the wrong direction.

In my opinion, schools, teachers, and students-—then and now--succeeded despite progressive influences, not because of them. The very school Goertz says makes him tingle with pride because of its success with Latino immigrants is using very un-Progressive, no nonsense methods--probably as an indirect result of Diane Ravitch’s scholarship.

I only hope that everyone who is interested in the success of public schooling will read Left Back and see the problem that Ravitch so well describes.

J. E. Stone
College of Education
East Tennessee State University
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 Goertz misses the point by J. E. Stone on November 13, 2002
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