Lois Weiner did a critique of Diane Ravitch's book at the April 11, 2010 forum at New York University

While the Substance staff finishes reporting on the April 13, 2010, visit by Lois Weiner to Chicago, Susan Ohanian has provided us with a transcript of the remarks made by Lois Weiner at an April 11 forum held at New York University (NYU). Below are Susan's introduction from her Website ( and then the transcript of Lois Weiner's remarks (with a brief beginning by Diane Ravitch, before she left the event).

SUSAN OHANIAN WRITES: Thanks to Borderland for this important transcription of Lois Weiner's remarks at the NYU Radical Film and Lecture Series. Lois Weiner, who has been documenting the global neoliberal assault on teachers, posted a critique of Diane Ravitch's new book on her blog today that is worth every public school teacher’s attention.

LOIS WEINER: The publicity for [Diane] Ravitch's book has certainly put her incisive critique of the reforms (privatizing education; using standardized tests to measure everything; looking to "choice" and charter schools drive improvement) in the news…..

Still, it's important to note what she gets wrong and why. In the book she explains being “caught up” in the widespread “enthusiasm” for market reforms. She will not, however, name this as the neoliberal project. By the political yardstick she uses in the book, the American Enterprise Institute is a "well-respected conservative think tank." Someone whose first job in New York was at the New Leader, where she learned all about left sectarian politics and met Max Shachtman, (as she noted in our exchange before the panel), knows enough to name capitalism's latest iteration.

Ravitch won't name neoliberalism as the problem because it would force her to confront facts she'd rather ignore. Like the fact that 70% of the new jobs being created only require a minimal education. Or the fact that her idea of a great education is the Houston schools of her youth, a school system that was racially segregated.

Ravitch's very unpersuasive agenda to beat back the neoliberal assault is a return to the post World War II welfare state, pre-Brown versus education and those messy social movements that created the culture wars. She wants a kinder, gentler neoconservative restoration, one shorn of neoliberalism's savagery. Her solutions include having parents (meaning minority parents) teach their kids how to behave right and read to them at home.

SUSAN OHANIAN: The transcriber wrote as follows: Weiner refers to a panel discussion at New York University that she and Ravitch spoke at. Ravitch spoke first, and then had to leave because of another commitment. Lois Weiner's response covers approximately 15 minutes of the video, which runs for over an hour total. I've transcribed her remarks, here, because I believe they add significantly to what Ravitch had to say, and the video is long. (Unfortunately, so is this post, but it should nonetheless take less time to read it than to watch the video.) If you're not familiar with what Ravitch has to say about her book, do listen to what she says at the panel discussion. Weiner insists that "to halt this juggernaut, we have to see the international dimension of the project" I've also linked to some of the source material she references.

DIANE RAVITCH: [wrapping up] ... This is my last thought. It's about the Democratic agenda and the Republican agenda. You gotta keep this in mind, and Lois may or may not agree with me about this. Since 1965, the Democratic Party has had an agenda that consisted of two words, equity and professionalism. I don't think they went far enough with the professionalism agenda; I would go even farther. But with the equity agenda, it was very clear that the Democratic Party believed in funding districts that had the greatest needs. Funding districts that had the greatest number of children that were in poverty.

The Republican agenda, because of the Republicans’ closeness to the business community, was accountability and choice. Now we’re in a period where the Democratic agenda, announced by the president, is accountability and choice. And my question is, "Where did the Democratic agenda go?" Where did it get lost? It's not there anymore. They’re kind of trying to say, "Well we still do that, too, but our reform agenda is accountability and choice."

And it sure looks a lot like NCLB to me. Thanks so much. [applause]

LOIS WEINER: I want to first commend Diane for her intellectual integrity and her courage in revisiting her role as an architect of the program she now views, correctly, I think, as destroying public education.

DIANE RAVITCH: I was not an architect of No Child Left Behind.

LOIS WEINER: No, but listen to what I say, Diane. Where we’re going to disagree — and I want to also state what we agree about — I agree with everything that Diane just said. Every single thing. She laid out in such a way that I don't have to repeat it, the effects of this disastrous educational policy for the last 10 years. She laid it out. I'm not going to repeat what she said, and I have no criticism with what she said.

And I want to point out that Diane and I, in her recent book, Diane and I agree with the need to defend democratic civic purposes of education, the need for teacher unions, the need for educational equality, and education’s role in promoting social mobility. Those are things that Diane talks about in her book, and I absolutely agree with her 100%, about those aims. What I'm going to suggest, though, is that Diane's analysis about how we got to this point is flawed. And that if we are going to defend public education, we need to have a very different analysis. And so the analysis that I'm going to offer tonight, I think, takes two sets of blinders off -- that we have to take off.

The first set of blinders separates educational reform from what’s going on in the economy. The other set of blinders says that we can look at education in this country separately from what goes on in the rest of the world. Because what I’m going to lay out tonight for you is a perspective that says NCLB, all these policies that Diane just described, are neoliberalism coming home. They are policies that were imposed for the first time under Pinochet -- under Pinochet. Next in Argentina. Next in Uruguay. Throughout all of Latin America and Central America. And when I spoke about this at a conference in London about a year and a half ago, I said, "Every country in the world has enacted these policies."

Stephen Ball, who wrote a great report on privatization globally [pdf file] for the Education International, corrected me. Very politely in private. And he said, "Lois, it's not every country in the world — It's not Finland or North Korea."

So let us understand that this is a global project that began 40 years ago, was tested, refined — if you want to use that word — imposed on Africa, Asia, and Latin America by the World Bank. Why? Because developing countries wanted aid. If they wanted aid, they had to undergo economic restructuring AND educational reform.

So what were the contours of that — what were the contours — what were the contours of that neoliberal project? And I'm going to talk in a minute about what neoliberalism is. Because I think that in her book, Diane grapples with this concept, but she doesn't face it head on. And I think that we need to understand what the project is and where it comes from.

What's the project? Here are the contours: Privatization, fragmentation of oversight and regulation and creation of individual schools, standardized testing, and assault on teachers’ unions. Those are the 4 pillars of this project.

Privatization: Commodification, marketization of education, Diane describes that.

Fragmentation: Elimination of the regulatory mechanisms. So that now we have fragmentation, regulation devolves to an individual school; that's charter schools. In the UK they're called 'academies.' In Sweden they're called 'charter schools.' All over the world, except for Finland and North Korea --China included -- China has charter schools. China has charter schools.

Standardized testing: You eliminate a regulatory framework, how do you gauge "accountability?" Standardized tests. Standardized tests are, for the most part, created by for-profit companies who market the textbooks and who market professional development. Do you see how it's a web? Everybody see how it's a web? Standardized tests, well if that's the only accountability measure, that means teachers are measured by standardized tests. Merit pay. Well, if you have merit pay, you don’t need to have teachers who have a lot of education or a lot of experience because the only thing that you pay them by is the kids' test scores.

And finally, what is THE greatest barrier? THE greatest barrier. Most potentially, most powerful, an existing barrier to this program? Teachers' unions. And now we have to understand that's the reason, every day in the paper, we read about bad teachers and how the unions defend them. That is the reason. Because teacher unions globally are standing in the way of this project.

And I can only say I have so much to say about this, I edited a book of essays. And I really hope you'll read it. You will read teachers' stories from all over the world describing this project, and the resistance to it.

OK. So let me get back to this issue of the neoliberalism, which Diane doesn't talk about. And I hope that she will. And I hope that she will think about it because in the book, Diane says a couple of really very interesting things. She says she and others were, quote, "caught up in the wave of enthusiasm for market reforms." That's on page 127. And she says that this was a "new thinking" on page 9. But you see, when that occurred it wasn't new. It had already been implemented for 20 years. Already been implemented globally.

And in fact, the Merrill Lynch report — see this was all in the business pages. If you wanted to know what was going on in education you had to read the business pages and prospectus. Because Merrill Lynch report April 9, 1999 ["The Book of Knowledge: Investing in the Growing Education and Training Industry"] said, "A new mindset is necessary, one that views families as customers, schools as, quote, 'retail outlets' where educational services are received, and the school board as a customer service department that hears and addresses parental concerns. As a near monopoly, schools escape the strongest incentives to respond to their customers. And what is the strongest incentive? The discipline of the market." That's 1999. And Diane was in the administration that was caught up in a wave of enthusiasm about the market reforms.

So, now I want to unpack — I want to unpack for you this neoliberal ideology. And if you really want to understand it, you can't listen to what's being said in this country. You have to go to the way that the World Bank talks about it. Because in the World Bank documents, they present it in it's unvarnished form. So I'm gonna quote for you from something called -- I’m gonna explain what’s in this chilling World Bank document, The World Development Report 2002 [pdf]. And, of course they don't use this exact language, but this is the analysis.

The analysis is the following: The market is the best regulator of all services, and the state, the welfare state causes problems by intruding on free choice. Next, the global economy requires that workers from every country compete with others for jobs. And since most people will be competing with workers in other countries for jobs requiring little formal education, money spent on a highly educated workforce is wasted. In other words, most jobs are in Walmarts. You know that. You know that; that's the level of education -- seventh or eighth grade. And the plan is — they say this in this document -- we’re all going to be competing for these jobs that require a seventh or eighth grade education. Not all of us, of course. Some people are not. Therefore, money spent on education is wasted. It should be spent on other things: on dams, on roads, on health care. Of course they don’t spend it on dams, or roads, or health care. But that’s what they say in this report.

And think about this, because we don’t need a highly educated workforce, we don’t need highly educated teachers. Therefore, we can have a teaching force that’s a revolving door. Teachers will use standardized scripts. Kids will be educated to a seventh or an eighth grade level. And that’s OK! That’s OK! In fact, not only is it OK; that’s what we should be doing. And then in this report, it says, What’s the biggest barrier to carrying out this program? Well, with their political power, teachers and doctors capture governments and protect their incomes when there is pressure for budget cuts.

So understand that the de-professionalization of teaching that Diane talks about is NOT an accident. It is planned. It is planned to replace us. It is planned to limit access to higher education. That's what this is all about. And you only have to look at the record in the rest of the world, and you see what is planned for us.

You know these firings in Rhode Island? You know these firings in Rhode Island? That Bush and Obama and Duncan have supported? The World Development Report 2002 applauds the firings in Benin and Senegal of the teachers. They applaud it. And they say that's what’s gonna happen. That's what we want. So, we all really need to understand that the neoliberal agenda has come home to us. It is a project; some people would say that it's a conspiracy. I wouldn't say it's a conspiracy. You know why? Because conspiracies are secret. This isn't secret! This isn't secret. The final thing I want to talk about is Democrats for Education Reform, and I'm sorry Diane isn't here to hear me say this. Democrats for Education Reform now hosts, on tour, Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute. It's now on their website. We all need to understand that Obama's education policy comes from Democrats for Education Reform. There's no difference. That means that the Obama education policy is lifted, from whole cloth, from what used to be called a far-right think tank. I think Diane flatters them, or fools herself by calling them a conservative think tank. You know. But now, they're in the Democratic Party! They're the leadership of the Democratic Party when it comes to education policy. Listen, we are in deep doo doo. We are in real deep doo doo.

And I'm just gonna say that in Diane's book, and I'm really sorry she's not here to hear this. In Diane's book, she has this quote from her book, The Revisionists Revised, and she says she's still right, she argued that, "The public schools had not been devised by scheming capitalists to impose social control on an unwilling proletariat to reproduce social inequality. The schools were never an instrument of cultural repression, as the radical critics maintain." That's what Diane says in The Revisionists Revised.

Well, you know what? Maybe we can argue about 150 years ago when the public schools were created, but there is no argument now; that is the agenda. — Lois Weiner

Borderland transcription of NYU speech



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