College for all, part 2: It's not about corporations

One of the noteworthy things about Deborah Meier's post about ?college for all? is that it's titled A Return to the Past?With a Wrinkle and has a few interesting twists that have less to do with college readiness than with Meier's belief system.

And coming on the heels of Dana Goldstein's new profile of Meier's Bridging Differences partner Diane Ravitch, the essay also reveals something about how the differences between the two educators got bridged so quickly. ??In fact, it's welcome news (to me) that Ravitch has roots in the socialist movement (she worked at The New Leader and was part of the ?New York anti-Communist left,? says Goldstein, ?for decades?) because it makes her recent ?apostasy,? as Goldstein calls Ravitch's break with the reform movement, more understandable.

Meier seems to have no apostate leanings and even gently chides Ravitch for her ?overly enthusiastic endorsement of the schools of yesterday? (referring to Ravitch's small manifesto about next month's Save Our Schools march on Washington).? This may speak to Ravitch's current manic (see Goldstein re: ?late-night twittering habits and Liam's "major omission" take) school establishment advocacy, but Meier continues with the surprises, admitting that ?there are times?when it's best to close a school and rebuild.? ?(She wants to take that issue up with Diane ?next year.? I can't wait.)

Though the point of Meier's essay is, as previously noted (see part 1), ostensibly about ?everyone going to college? ?-- in fact, most reformers I know are? more concerned with whether we get kids college-ready -- ?Meier has bigger fish to fry:

The corporations have already launched a new round of attacks on postsecondary education. Hardly their first attempt to muscle in to the money to be made in this field, as well as the opportunity to impose their ideals on the nation. Yes, its not just the dollars they see. I grant the fact that, like me, they have a vision. It's just not mine.

?The corporations??? What do they have to do with this? As with Ravitch's constant plaint of late about ?privatization? of public education, Meier muddles her pedagogy with her politics; she doesn't much like the free market and it would seem to be that distrust that drives both her and Ravitch's current education advocacy efforts. At another point, Meier says,

Once again, by failing to insist on thinking about purposes, we let others use our schools for other purposes than "ours;" or as they would say, relying on "the market" to solve it for us.

Putting aside the odd us and them problems with her statement ? ?we let others use our schools?? -- it is hard to align Meier's fear of ?the market? with her decidedly strong belief in individual autonomy, a free market if you will, within schools. This begins to get to contradiction at the heart of the progressive movement's ?thought world? that E.D. Hirsch has so brilliantly exposed in his many writings, including his recent review of Ravitch's latest book (and was so ably documented by Ravitch herself in her pre-apostate 2000 tome Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms).? That will be the hardest difference to bridge here.

Indeed, what does Meier believe the purpose of an education system to be?? More importantly, how does she propose to know whether the purpose is achieved? ?For Meier, and now Ravitch, there will be no easy answer without coming to terms with the failure of the current system and the successes of the reformers.? It could be a hopeful sign that Meier at least is trying to get in touch with her own reform roots.

As she says, ?I'm a revolutionary in spirit?this cannot continue! But I'm a `reformist' in practice since it is, in fact, the fastest way to get to where I want to go.?? Terrific. But why wait until next year to discuss needed reforms?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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