Ravitch, Diane 1938-
RAVITCH, Diane 1938-
PERSONAL: Born July 1, 1938, in Houston, TX; daughter of Walter Cracker (a businessperson) and Ann Celia (Katz) Silvers; married Richard Ravitch (a lawyer and businessperson), June 26, 1960 (divorced December, 1986); children: Joseph, Steven (deceased), Michael. Education: Wellesley College, B.A., 1960; Columbia University, Ph.D., 1975.
CAREER: Columbia University Teachers College, New York, NY, assistant professor, 1975–78, adjunct associate professor, 1978–84, adjunct professor of history and education, 1984–91; U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC, assistant secretary of education for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1991–93, and counselor to the Secretary of Education; Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, visiting fellow, 1993–94, Herman and George R. Brown Chair in Education Studies, 1996–2005, visiting senior fellow; New York University, New York, NY, Research Professor of Education, 1994–. Member, National Assessment Governing Board, 1997–; member, Koret Task Force, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; board member, New York State Council for the Humanities, 1999–; director, trustee, New America Foundation, 2000–; director, New York State Council for the Humanities. Lifetime trustee of New York Public Library; former trustee of New York Historical Society; trustee of Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 1988–90. Lecturer on educational issues in the Czech Republic, Romania, the former Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, and the former Yugoslavia. Consultant to several university presses, including Princeton University Press, Harvard University Press, and Johns Hopkins University Press; member of advisory board, U.S. General Accounting Office.
MEMBER: PEN International, Historical Society, American Historical Association, National Academy of Education, Society of American Historians, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
AWARDS, HONORS: Delta Kappa Gamma Educators' Award, 1975, for The Great School Wars, New York City, 1805–1973, and 1984, for The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945–1980; Ambassador of Honor Award, English-speaking Union, 1984, for The Troubled Crusade, and 1985, for The Schools We Deserve: Reflections on the Educational Crises of Our Times; Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar, 1984–85; Henry Allen Moe Prize, American Philosophical Society, 1986; designated honorary citizen, State of California Senate Rules Committee, 1988, for work on state curriculum; Alumnae Achievement Award, Wellesley College, 1989; Medal of Distinction, Polish National Council of Education, 1991; Literary Lion, New York Public Library, 1992; Award for Distinguished Service, New York Academy of Public Education, 1994; Horace Kidger Award, New England History Teachers Association, 1998; Award of Excellence, St. John's University School of Education, 1998; John Dewey Education Award, United Federation of Teachers, 2005; Guggenheim fellowship; Honorary Life Trustee, New York Public Library. Honorary degrees from Williams College, Reed College, Amherst College, the State University of New York, Ramapo College, St. Joseph's College of New York, Middlebury College Language Schools, and Union College.
The Great School Wars, New York City, 1805–1973, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1974.
The Revisionists Revised: A Critique of the Radical Attack on the Schools, Basic Books (Boulder, CO), 1978.
(Editor, with Ronald Goodenow) Educating an Urban People: The New York City Experience, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1981.
The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945–1980, Basic Books (Boulder, CO), 1983.
(Editor, with Ronald Goodenow) Schools in Cities: Community Studies in the History of American Education, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1983.
(Editor, with Chester E. Finn, Jr., and Robert Fancher) Against Mediocrity: The Humanities in America's High Schools, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1984.
The Schools We Deserve: Reflections on the Educational Crises of Our Times (essays), Basic Books (Boulder, CO), 1985.
(Editor, with Chester E. Finn and Holley Roberts) Challenges to the Humanities, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1985.
(With Chester E. Finn) What Do Our Seventeen-Year-Olds Know?: A Report on the First National Assessment of History and Literature, foreword by Lynne V. Cheney, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Charlotte Crabtree) California K-12 History: A Social Science Framework, 1988.
(Editor) The American Reader: Words that Moved a Nation, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor, with Abigail M. Thernstrom) The Democracy Reader: Classic and Modern Speeches, Essays, Poems, Declarations, and Documents on Freedom and Human Rights Worldwide, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor, with Maris Vinovskis) Learning from the Past: What History Teaches Us about School Reform, John Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1995.
National Standards in American Education: A Citizen's Guide, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), 1995.
Debating the Future of American Education, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), 1995.
(Editor, with Joseph P. Viteritti) City Schools: Lessons from New York, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2000.
Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor, with Joseph P. Viteritti) Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2003.
Contributor to books, including Future Trends in Education, edited by Jane Newitt, D.C. Heath, 1979; Shades of Brown: New Perspectives on School Desegregation, edited by Derrick A. Bell, Jr., Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1980; Race and Schooling in the City, edited by Adam Yarmolinsky and Lance Leibman, Harvard University Press, 1981; Challenge to American Schools: The Case for Standards and Values, edited by John H. Bunzel, Oxford University Press, 1985; American Society: Public and Private Responsibility, edited by Winthrop Knowlton and Richard Zeckhauser, Harvard University Press, 1986; and School: The Story of American Public Education, edited by Sarah Mondale, foreword by Meryl Streep, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Magazine, American Scholar, Daedalus, Education Next, and Harvard Educational Review. Editor, Notes on Education, 1974–75, and Brookings Papers on Education Policy, 1996–. Ravitch's works have been translated into several languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Swedish, Spanish, and Japanese.
SIDELIGHTS: An historian of American education, Diane Ravitch has authored a number of studies that explore the successes and failures in the American school system throughout the twentieth century. As an assistant secretary of education during the George Bush, Sr., administration, and subsequently as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Ravitch has advocated higher standards and better education for all. In an era in which blue collar jobs are disappearing, Ravitch envisions a public educational system that will enable all young people to prepare for higher education, a good job, citizenship, and high literacy. This objective will be accomplished, she maintains, by emphasizing traditional academic disciplines such as math, science, the arts, foreign languages, history, and literature.
Ravitch's highly regarded study The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945–1980 is considered by many to be a thought-provoking, lucid examination of American education in the postwar years. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor David Savage, for one, called the work "a fascinating history of 35 years of conflict and turmoil in the nation's schools and universities." According to Savage, the underlying theme of The Troubled Crusade is that "social scientists, political activists and compliant educators have often combined to lead the schools astray." He added, "If educational history does resemble a pendulum swinging, it has swung further right or left … because educators have been too willing to follow any fad, Ravitch says." Ravitch addresses these and other issues in a manner that "makes us reexamine our perception that today's schools are failing," noted a Business Week commentator, who added that, rather than viewing the past as golden, "Ravitch's history forces us to recall … realities of the past while analyzing today's educational problems." Kirk Scharfenberg, writing in the Boston Globe, described The Troubled Crusade as "compelling history" that "serves as a cautionary tale to anyone who believes there is any single answer or even a single complex theory that can serve as a panacea for what ails the public schools."
In The Troubled Crusade Ravitch analyzes the damaging effects of faddish ideas from both the political left and right. Because she has viewed such issues from both political perspectives, the author objects to the neo-conservative label that some critics have given her. She once told CA: "I am conservative in some matters, liberal in some others, and radical in a few more. Therefore it is offensive to me to have one or several people hang a political label on me which does not reflect my own thinking about my views and life."
Two additional works by Ravitch that address American education are The Schools We Deserve: Reflections on the Educational Crises of Our Time and, with Chester E. Finn, Jr., What Do Our Seventeen-Year-Olds Know?: A Report on the First National Assessment of History and Literature. Philip W. Jackson, writing in the New York Times Book Review, explained that whereas The Troubled Crusade "offered a panoramic view of education in the United States," The Schools We Deserve "concentrates with equal skill on more sharply defined issues, ranging from the … debate over tuition tax credits to the place of history in today's elementary schools, from aspects of school desegregation to the uses and misuses of tests." Jackson added, "Even though its central message has been sounded many times before … The Schools We Deserve demands to be read … by every citizen who cares about our schools and would like to see them better than they are." In What Do Our Seventeen-Year-Olds Know? the author comments on how nearly eight thousand high school juniors fared on a multiple choice examination in American history and English literature that was devised and distributed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a major federal testing organization, in 1986. The results were terrible, and Ravitch hoped to bring this fact to the attention of readers so that it might spur people to action.
Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms is Ravitch's comprehensive study of the failures wrought by anti-intellectualism. In the New York Times Book Review Sara Mosle observed that the author's thesis "is that as public school enrollment surged in successive waves after 1900, progressive theorists—like Edward L. Thorndike, William Heard Kilpatrick and James B. Conant—repeatedly sought to water down the curriculum by creating 'undemanding vocational, industrial, or general programs' into which women, blacks and poor immigrants were shunted, all in the name of 'democracy' and 'meeting the needs of the individual child.'" New Yorker contributor Nicholas Lemann asserted, "What gives Left Back its heart is Ravitch's constant, impassioned insistence that schools must make an 'intense moral commitment to the intellectual development of each child,' teaching all pupils an academic curriculum and not putting them on different tracks leading to different destinations in life." Similarly, Peter Schrag, reviewing Left Back for Nation, called Ravitch "a smart and relentless advocate of rigorous academic standards in the traditional disciplines and [of] the belief that every child can learn." Schrag added, "In an age when almost everybody has an opinion about the schools, Ravitch's name must be somewhere near the top of the Rolodex of every serious education journalist in this country." New Republic contributor Alan Wolfe described Left Back as "the most important book written in many decades about America's most important institution."
Education is not the only concern Ravitch has for the future of America's children, however. Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children, edited by Ravitch and Joseph P. Viteritti, is about how children are taken advantage of for the sake of profit. "Interspersing social-scientific studies with graphs and charts amid more literary commentaries, the editors present a range of opinion about the impact of the media on kids, while asking the following question: 'Can our democracy encourage discretion without encouraging censorship?,'" according to Diana West in Public Interest. "By design or not, these essays show that discretion, a fragile virtue at best, is almost impossible to cultivate in a wholly uncensored culture like our own." In the book, "contributors from diverse disciplines make the cumulatively compelling case that the popular media has undercut the moral and social authority of parents, teachers, and childrearing institutions in the civil society, leaving children to fend for themselves in a world governed by consumerist values of instant gratification and individual choice," observed Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in Commonweal. In addition to the direct effects of media violence and sexual content on children, modern television programming presents a more insidious and hard-to-quantify problem. "It also involves indirect effects of an enveloping media environment and the sheer quantity, insipidity, and sensationalism of messages that pander to feeling, elevate the pursuit of pleasure over the mastery of knowledge, and treat people as objects or obstacles to the fulfillment of one's desires," Whitehead noted. When the media becomes a direct conduit to the marketplace, desirous of the millions of dollars of discretionary income possessed by children and teens, then the authority of parents to control their childrens' spending and consumption is circumvented.
In the end, the editors and contributors remain supporters of the First Amendment and against government controls, but suggest that grassroots efforts, boycotts, and educational programs for parents who are afraid to cut off the TV will help the most. However, Carl F. Horowitz, writing in Reason, found difficulties with the conclusions reached by the editors and contributors to Kid Stuff. Youth crime, for example, has dropped markedly since the early 1990s, Horowitz pointed out. "Hollywood may not deserve credit for those trends, but it clearly cannot be blamed for increases in sex and violence that have not occurred," he stated. Furthermore, links between watching television violence and performing violence in real life are tenuous, and there is a shortage of research to support an opposite conclusion. Remarkably, some important testimony, such as that supporting v-chip technology in televisions, was inadequate, yet presented as substantive in the book, noted Horowitz. Scientists who testified in favor of the v-chip argued that research "showed that a preference for violent TV at age eight correlated with the seriousness of criminal convictions by age thirty," Horowitz remarked. "This claim was based on a sample of three cases."
Ravitch explores a genuine source of pernicious, almost invisible censorship in The Language Police; How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn. Modern textbooks, she warns, are being systematically cleansed of any possible controversy, upsetting remark, unusual situation, statement, image, or idea that could be considered offensive, biased, or insensitive. Review panels wield enormous power over what textbook publishers provide for schoolchildren to learn from. Many of their requirements, however, are intellectually chilling. "Their standards are similar across the board. It is their responsibility to achieve three ends: representational fairness, proper language usage, and stereotype prevention. While these three goals seem admirable, the members of these committees have exorcised almost all educational material of substantive content," noted Stephanie Segall in Policy Review. The pronouncements made by these boards defy common sense. For instance, dinosaurs cannot be depicted because that would constitute an endorsement of the theory of evolution; a textbook cannot include the story of a blind man who climbed Mount McKinley because it would suggest that blindness is something more than another personal attribute and because it suggests that blind people have more difficulties than sighted people in interacting with their world. Peanuts cannot be endorsed as a healthy snack because some children are allergic to them; Mount Rushmore cannot be mentioned because Borglum's sculpture in the Dakota Black Hills might offend Lakota Indians. Furthermore, stories involving mountains cannot be included because that imposes a "regional bias" against children who do not live in mountainous terrain. Words and concepts that are forbidden in reading lists include abortion, unemployment, death and disease, disrespectful or criminal behavior, magic and the supernatural, religion, social problems, weapons and violence, and unsafe situations. Ravitch explores in depth the reasons behind these absurdities, how they came about, and how they might be resisted.
"What Ravitch's book shows most clearly are the mild degrees by which stupidity can become a basis for public policy," commented Tracy Lee Simmons in the National Review. "The object of all this ceaseless fidgeting with language is an inevitable softening of reality, which tends to become, in the end, a falsification of reality." Indeed, "the world in which the tests and textbooks are required to take place is not merely fictional," stated David Bromwich in the New Republic. "It is a world that has been methodically purged of reality." For example, history is rewritten, conflict is resolved, social roles are recast, and racial status is equalized, all in direct contradiction to the reality of the situations being discussed. "Instead of teaching children of the trials women faced, they are presented with a diluted, falsified history in which women were always equal participants. Attempts to educate children against racial stereotyping result in texts offering a laundry list of similarities among people of all different heritages as opposed to a celebration and acceptance of difference," reported Segall.
"The obvious question is why publishers allow these groups this much control," stated Segall. "Ravitch does a thorough job of explaining how the censors succeed." Ultimately, the reign of the language police hinges on the pursuit of profits, as textbook companies strive to meet standards that are in place in two of the largest textbook-consuming states: California and Texas. Interest groups pressure governments and school boards and other local and state representatives to push their agendas as hard as possible. When states adopt measures put forth by these interest groups, they also impose them on the textbook publishers, who tailor their offerings to appeal to states that still have in place statewide textbook adoption policies. Larger states lead to larger contracts that lead to larger profits; textbook publishers cannot whisk away the reality of their day-to-day economics with a bias-and-sensitivity review. "Interest groups and textbook editors are indifferent to the problem that the rewriting and condensation of history is more dangerous than the racism and sexism they are trying to avoid," Segall stated. "It would be an instructive exercise for all reading adults to check off the books and stories they fancied as children and adolescents—and perhaps rediscovered later—and determine how many would be left standing after the hypersensitive twits have done their destructive work," Simmons remarked.
"The most compelling aspect of The Language Police is Ravitch's argument that real, effective education involves grappling with the unfamiliar, the difficult, even the offensive," commented Kristen Case in the New Leader. "Ravitch's detailed, concise, impassioned argument raises crucial questions for parents and educators," remarked a Publishers Weekly writer. Library Journal contributor Mark Allan Williams concluded that "parents, educators, students, and the general public will find this detailed and highly readable analysis alarming."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Finn, Chester E., Jr., and Diane Ravitch, What Do Our Seventeen-Year-Olds Know?: A Report on the First National Assessment of History and Literature, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.
Ravitch, Diane, The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945–1980, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1983.
America, December 2, 2000, Charles R. Morris, "What Have We Learned?," review of Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, p. 18.
American Journal of Education, November, 2000, Arthur Zilversmit, review of Left Back, p. 156.
American Prospect, October 23, 2000, David Tyack, review of Left Back, p. 44; March 25, 2002, Richard D. Kahlenberg, review of Making Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society, p. 37.
America's Intelligence Wire, June 5, 2003, Judy Woodruff, "Page Turners: Interview with Diane Ravitch," transcript of CNN interview with Diane Ravitch.
Booklist, July, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of Left Back, p. 1981; April 15, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, p. 1432.
Boston Globe, December 18, 1983, Kirk Scharfenberg, review of The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945–1980.
Business Week, November 28, 1983, review of The Troubled Crusade, p. 23.
Business Wire, May 4, 2005, "Hoover Fellow Diane Ravitch Receives John Dewey Education Award."
Chronicle of Higher Education, September 11, 1991, Jaemin Kim, "As New Head of Education Research, Ravitch Brings Her Advocacy of Tough Standards to Reform Efforts," p. A31.
Commentary, November, 2000, Sol Stern, review of Left Back, p. 53; June, 2003, Dan Seligman, review of The Language Police, p. 64.
Commonweal, February 27, 2004, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "Boob-Tube Babies," review of Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children, p. 25.
Daedalus, summer, 2002, Howard Gardner, "Contemporary Consciousness & the Study of the Humanities," commentary on Diane Ravitch, p. 22; summer, 2002, Theodore R. Sizer, "A Better Way," commentary on Diane Ravitch, p. 26; summer, 2002, Deborah Meier, "A View from the Schoolhouse," commentary on Diane Ravitch, p. 41.
Education Next, fall, 2003, Nathan Glaser, "Sensitivity Training: History and Literature, Heavily Edited," review of The Language Police, p. 84.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, February, 2002, review of Making Good Citizens, p. 74; August-September, 2003, review of The Language Police, p. 58.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 15, 2000, Rebecca Rodriguez, review of Left Back.
Futurist, November-December, 2003, review of The Language Police, p. 59.
Harper's, June, 1985, review of The Troubled Crusade, p. 69.
Horn Book Magazine, July-August, 2003, review of The Language Police, p. 387.
Issues in Science and Technology, winter, 1995, Michael W. Kirst, review of National Standards in American Education: A Citizen's Guide, p. 89.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, October, 2003, review of The Language Police, p. 200.
Journal of American History, December, 1995, Barry M. Franklin, review of Learning from the Past: What History Teaches Us about School Reform, p. 1293.
Journal of Teacher Education, November-December, 2001, Patrick Shannon, review of Left Back, p. 413.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of The Language Police, p. 368.
Kliatt, September, 2004, Janet Julian, review of The Language Police, p. 45.
Library Journal, July, 2000, Leroy Hommerding, review of Left Back, p. 112; September 15, 2001, Terry Christner, review of Making Good Citizens, p. 91; May 15, 2003, Mark Allan Williams, review of The Language Police, p. 100.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 11, 1983, David Savage, review of The Troubled Crusade; November 29, 1987.
M2 Best Books, August 29, 2003, "New Book Exposes Censorship in Children's Textbooks," review of The Language Police.
Nation, January 9, 1988, Deborah Meier and Florence Miller, review of What Do Our Seventeen-Year-Olds Know?, p. 25; January 9, 1988, Etta Mooser, "What Do They Know?," p. 27; October 2, 2000, Peter Schrag, review of Left Back.
National Review, September 11, 2000, Carol Iannone, "They'll Never Learn," review of Left Back, p. 57; July 28, 2003, Tracy Lee Simmons, "Censors Everywhere," review of The Language Police.; September 16, 2003, Kathryn Jean Lopez, "On Patrol," interview with Diane Ravitch.
New Criterion, September, 2003, Mark Bauerlein, "Spreading the Big Lie," review of The Language Police, p. 72.
New Leader, December 12, 1983, Nathan Glazer, review of The Troubled Crusade; September, 2000, Ramon C. Cortines, review of Left Back, p. 45; March-April, 2003, Kristen Case, "Watch Your Words," review of The Language Police, p. 25.
New Republic, October 17, 1983, Fred M. Hechinger, review of The Troubled Crusade, p. 33; December 11, 2000, Alan Wolfe, review of Left Back, p. 38; August 18, 2003, David Bromwich, "Blinding Blandness," review of The Language Police, p. 25.
Newsweek, November 28, 1983, Gene Lyons, review of The Troubled Crusade, p. 106.
New Yorker, September 25, 2000, Nicholas Lemann, review of Left Back.
New York Times, September 7, 1983, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Troubled Crusade; February 20, 1995, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of National Standards in American Education, p. C15.
New York Times Book Review, September 18, 1983, Ronald Berman, review of The Troubled Crusade, p. 3; June 2, 1985, Philip W. Jackson, review of The Schools We Deserve, p. 39; August 27, 2000, Sara Mosle, "The Fourth R."
Policy Review, December, 2003, Stephanie Segall, "Another Way to Burn a Book," review of The Language Police, p. 87.
Public Interest, summer, 2004, Diana West, "All That Trash," review of Kid Stuff, p. 131.
Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1983, review of The Troubled Crusade, p. 45; July 17, 2000, review of Left Back, p. 188; March 31, 2003, review of The Language Police, p. 56.
Radical Teacher, spring, 2004, Alan R. Sadovnik, review of Left Back, p. 36.
Reason, July, 1991, David Brudnoy, review of The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation, p. 56; February, 2004, Carl F. Horowitz, "Teenaged Wasteland: Critics on the Left and Right Falsely Portray Kids as Passive Victims of Mass Media," p. 50.
San Francisco Chronicle-Examiner, September 25, 1983, review of The Troubled Crusade.
School Administrator, February, 2001, Cecelia W. Krill, review of Left Back, p. 78.
Seattle Times, April 25, 2003, Bruce Ramsey, review of The Language Police.
State Legislatures, July-August, 2005, biography of Diane Ravitch, p. 19.
Urban Affairs Review, July, 1998, Kenneth K. Wong, review of New School for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education, p. 856.
U.S. News and World Report, June 30, 2003, John Leo, "Now Cut That Out!," review of The Language Police, p. 8.
Washington Monthly, July, 2000, Thomas Toch, review of Left Back, p. 55.
Wilson Quarterly, winter, 2001, review of Left Back, p. 9.
Diane Ravitch Home Page, http://www.dianeravitch.com (October 14, 2005).
TownHall.com, http://www.townhall.com/ (October 8, 2005), Richard K. Munro, review of The Language Police.