In 1995, nearly 20 years ago, Arizona State University education professor David Berliner and University of Missouri professor Bruce Biddle published a prophetic book that anticipated the largely trumped up attack on public education that has brought us vouchers and charter schools; No Child Left Behind with its requirement that the school year be filled with test-prep and high stakes pressure on children and teachers alike; and Race to the Top and the other Obama programs that are transforming the Title I Formula—a civil rights program—into a philanthropy-like grant competition aimed at “incentivizing” innovation.
In The Manufactured Crisis, Berliner and Biddle wrote: “The Manufactured Crisis was not an accidental event. Rather, it appeared within a specific historical context and was led by identifiable critics whose political goals could be furthered by scapegoating educators. It was also supported from its inception by an assortment of questionable techniques—including misleading methods for analyzing data, distorting reports of findings, and suppressing contradictory evidence. Moreover, it was tied to misguided schemes for ‘reforming’ education—schemes that would, if adopted, seriously damage American schools.”
Back in 1995, Berliner and Biddle identified serious problems challenging American society and our public schools—income and wealth inequity; stagnation of the economy; racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity; racial discrimination practiced for years against black Americans; segregation in suburbs and ghettos; violence and drugs; the aging of the population; competing demands for funds; and the restructuring of work. They concluded, “Unfortunately, many people who propose reforms for education seem to be unaware of these problems and as a result their proposals are unrealistic. Effective reforms must begin by taking these problems seriously.” Berliner and Biddle also looked at myriad issues within the public schools themselves that need to be addressed.
Hot off the press this month is a brand new book from David Berliner and the National Education Policy Center’s Gene Glass: 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education. I look forward to reading this book for ongoing help with responding to the manufactured crisis Berliner warned us about in 1995.
According to the publisher, Teachers College Press: “Two of the most respected voices in education and a team of young education scholars identify 50 myths and lies that threaten America’s public schools. With hard-hitting information and a touch of comic relief, Berliner, Glass, and their Associates separate fact from fiction in this comprehensive look at modern education reform. They explain how the mythical failure of public education has been created and perpetuated in large part by political and economic interests that stand to gain from its destruction. They also expose a rapidly expanding variety of organizations and media that intentionally misrepresent facts… Where appropriate, the authors name the promoters of these deceptions and point out how they are served by encouraging false beliefs.”
Here is what Jonathan Kozol says about the new book: “50 Myths and Lies is a powerful defense of public education and a discerning refutation of the reckless misimpressions propagated by a juggernaut of private-sector forces and right-wing intellectuals who would gladly rip apart the legacy of democratic schooling in America. It is a timely and hard-hitting book of scholarly but passionate polemic.”
To give you a taste of Berliner’s good sense and willingness to challenge conventional thinking, here is the text of a graduation address, The Teacher as Sisyphus, he delivered last May at Manhattanville College. Berliner moves quickly to his hard-hitting message without mincing words: “Good evening. First I want to assure you all that I will not stand long in the way of your celebration… Second I want to thank the administration of the college…. Third, I want to congratulate you graduates. I also want to tell your parents, relatives, and friends gathered here today to remember something very important, namely, that the future pay of each of the graduates you care about depends on your ability, and your desire to pay your taxes! Many of these graduates are likely to end up as workers for the common good, helping to serve us all. And those who work for the common good—the police, firefighters, librarians, our teachers and other educators—are all paid from monies collected in taxes… I don’t want to be a scold on this wonderful day, but these graduates will need your support for their entire careers.”
Be watching for the new book by David Berliner and Gene Glass, 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education.