Friday, July 27, 2012

Albert Shanker; Man Or Myth?

Today I received a comment on my post, Edith Shanker Puts Laura Waters, Chris Cerf, & Joel Klein In Their Place.
Following your suggestion, I've written the following to Newsworks, my local NPR online newspaper:

I'm writing as a great fan of Newsworks to convey my dismay in your support of Laura Waters as a reliable voice in educational matters. 
She severely crossed the line in this piece:

Please read the comment I submitted, as I feel it speaks for itself. I hope you will reconsider supporting her for this type of deceptive and dishonest work. (emphasis mine)

Jennie Shanker

I chose to repost this comment rather than just respond to it because Jennie says something here that many of us in New Jersey have been saying to the powers that be at NJSpotlight, the first online news service to feature Laura Waters, and now NewsWorks (who has a "content partnership" with NJSpotlight and apparently took Ms. Waters as part of the package). 

Why, oh WHY are you giving a platform to someone whose work is quite often significantly off-base, and just plain wrong?
Here's a fact.
If Albert Shanker was alive today he'd still be an education reformer and would support NJ's efforts to expand school choice for poor urban students.
The trouble with many of Ms. Waters's "opinion" pieces, is that she often presents her ill-researched, ill-conceived opinions as "fact."  And, as we have seen time and time again, she does not like to be called out on it.  Especially not by one the nation's leading authorities on education.  
I have read all of Al Shanker’s columns as well as his speeches about charter schools. What I wrote was documented, not based on opinion or hearsay. I knew Al Shanker well. I did not speculate about what Al Shanker might believe today, but what he wrote and said when he was alive.
If Ms. Waters refused to believe Dr. Ravitch, I thought perhaps she would believe Edith Shanker, Albert Shanker's wife.  Who could have guessed that Jennie Shanker, his daughter, would lend her voice to the conversation?  

She confirmed not only that Ms. Waters was dead wrong in her OPINION about what Albert Shanker would support if he were alive today, she made it crystal clear that Diane Ravitch is walking the path her father walked, not the so-called reformers.

As his daughter, I treasure the testimony of individuals who knew my father and his work.  Lately, it has been, frankly, dreadful to find his name associated with school "reform" that undermines public education.  Without exception, these articles offer a few short quotes in evidence, always inappropriately pulled out of the context of his true mission and life's work.
I can tell you, absolutely and unequivocally, if my father was with us today he would be fighting side by side with Diane Ravitch to preserve and improve public education.  The Washington Post re-published an excellent post from Ravitch's blog this week which very clearly articulates the differences between his vision of charter reform and the for-profit version championed by Chris Cerf and others in New Jersey. (emphasis mine)
Calls erupted on Twitter for Ms. Waters to apologize to Dr. Ravitch and the Shanker family.  Did she have the courage of her convictions to do so when she was shown unequivicolly that she was wrong. 


Instead of respond to the criticism, Ms. Waters treated us to a "LOOK OVER THERE!" piece, which completely evaded what the hubbub was really about, and obtusely pondered why there is so much controversy over charters in New Jersey. 

Why didn't Ms. Waters simply apologize?  This may have something to do with it.  Check out the title of one of her blog posts from May 2011:

Albert Shanker Is Always Right  

And in her piece that provoked the controversy to begin with Ms. Waters revealed that in her house growing up, Shanker was like a God.

For teachers in New York City (I had two for parents) Shanker was practically a deity, the educator's saint. Our neighbors lit candles for Mother Mary; we davened to Albert. 
I'm being presumptuous here, but most likely so did Diane Ravitch. And more: she was his colleague

Ah, yes Ms. Waters, that is one thing you are right about!  You were being presumptuous.  

I'm going to bet Diane Ravitch did not worship an idealized version of Shanker.  She was indeed his colleague, and Edith and Jennie Shanker are his family

You however seem to have turned Albert Shanker into an infallible God, and you seem to have remade him in your own image.  

Albert Shanker was a real man, with real ideas, and the women who knew him best made it clear that you are dead wrong about what he would think if he were alive today.  To have them tag team you and show you the error of your ways must have been very difficult to absorb.

I see the double bind you're in.  I really do.  To admit you were wrong about Shanker is tantamount to admitting that it is actually you who are wrong about the "reform" agenda currently sweeping New Jersey.  

And most of all, to admit you were wrong is to admit that Diane Ravitch is right; that the biggest problem with charters is that they are being used to privatize public education.
However, you owe it to Albert Shanker's family, and your readers, to admit that you created your own mythical version of the man, and used that version to justify your misguided opinions, while ignoring the facts.