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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Is This as Important as It Seems?

Did You Catch the Article About Diane Ravitch?

You may recall her name from the debates about school reform — and perhaps associate her with the testing, charter school wing . Well, she has changed her mind, In particular, she sees the NCLB focus on reading and math as driving — for example — Social Studies out of the classroom. Now of course all of us have noticed exactly that. And I admire her — the role of an intellectual is to question, to challenge, to take positions — but then to examine one’s own stances with the same clarity you apply to the views of others. So the fact that she has changed her mind seems a sign of her intellectual honesty — her willingness to go wherever her insights take her, even if that means reversing course. But from a larger perspective, her shift — like the sentence about reading nonfiction from the suggested government standards — suggest that a new shift is taking place. 
            Once, the great god of testing was associated with rigor, free markets, standards and equity. With these powerful allies, testing drove all before him, and cowed all other interests into silence. Now it seems testing is shaken and other voices are being heard. It is kind of like March here in the northeast: not yet spring, but at least the ground is wet and you can see where new buds and sprouts will grow. Diane Ravitch’s shift suggests that we can once again speak about Social Studies, History, Science — subjects — not just skills.
           I was struck by someone else in the article about Dr. Ravitch: her sense that kids need to learn about subjects because that kind of knowledge is a ladder of social mobility. That is — kids who know, say, what happened in 1492, and 1776, and 1863 can function in a larger world where some shared knowledge is assumed. Cutting back on Social Studies does not hurt kids from wealthier homes that much — their parents (or tutors) can and will supply that necessary information one way or another. But kids from homes where parents do not have the background, time, or skill to share such knowledge depend on school. When we cut necessary knowledge out of schools we cut off that social oxygen, we choke kids. 
        It seems a shift is afoot — do you agree?


  1. Brian Conant says:

    The metaphor you present here is an intersting one Dr. Aronson: if you are in the spring of a new understanding of how schools should operate teach and assess, I wonder if the change will come in like a lion? My guess is that the testing companies, who profit from the perception that these test are the best way to rate teacher effectivness and rank students (and emphasize skills over subject) have not yet even begun to roar.

  2. ever the optimist I assume that test makers can always come up with new measurements — and may even see profit in selling a whole new line which schools have to buy to replace the discarded old one.