Grant Wiggins and Diane Ravitch

It’s always difficult when you admire two different people and they’re in a bitter dispute with each other. Grant Wiggins and Diane Ravitch both have appropriate, well-thought-out views on education. But they deeply disagree on the role that teachers can and should play in education reform.

Wiggins is understandably troubled when he is “tarred as a Republican-corporatist reformer out to ruin public education.” Those are his words, not Ravitch’s, but he goes on to say that “Diane Ravitch implicitly put me in that camp in her ‘with us or agin us’ tirade in Reign of Error. She runs the risk of becoming like the tea partiers – and, ironically, hurting a cause that she and I both agree on, better public education.”

So what’s going on here? Diane Ravitch, formerly an establishment conservative, has become a liberal/radical on educational issues, especially the Common Core State Standards. She focuses heavily on the very high correlation between socio-economic status and academic success in public schools. Wiggins, though also a liberal, is more of a realist. He agrees that the (or a) major problem is poverty, but he is much more optimistic about the possible role that individual teachers can play than Ravitch is:

Teachers and schools make a difference, a significant one. And we are better off improving teaching, learning, and schooling than anything else as educators because that’s what is in our control. Am I denying or tolerating poverty? Of course not. I decry the increased poverty and wealth inequality in this country.

More to the point of my post, I have lived my whole life on the simple belief that you do what you can and should do to make a difference, in your corner of the world; it is wise to spend little time repeatedly decrying things over which you don’t personally have much control, and thus contributing to the fatalism that afflicts teaching and the country in general. I’m a kid of the 60s: you are either part of the solution or part of the problem.

So who’s right? I don’t know, but I do know that it’s definitely worth reading both sides to this argument. As a child of the ’60s myself, I am deeply sympathetic to Wiggins, especially since I almost always like what he writes. But I also see Ravitch’s point: the main problem is poverty. At this point I have no answer.

Categories: Teaching & Learning