Book Review: Diane Ravitch’s Education “Wisdom and Wit” is Critical at this Time


Book Review: Diane Ravitch’s Education “Wisdom and Wit” is Critical at this Time

By Nancy Bailey | Originally published on Nancy Bailey’s Education Website | Twitter: @NancyEBailey1 | The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound.

By Nancy Bailey

We will someday view this era as one in which the nation turned its back on its public schools, its children, and its educators. We will wonder why so many journalists and policymakers rejected the nation’s obligation to support public education as a social responsibility, and accepted the unrealistic, unsustainable promises of entrepreneurs and billionaires. And we will, with sorrow and regret, think of this as an era when an obsession with testing and data obliterated any concept or definition of good education. Some perhaps may recall this as a time when the nation forgot that education has a greater purpose than preparing our children to compete in the global economy. 

- ”Flunking Arne Duncan.” The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch, p.47.

Diane Ravitch’s new book enables us to further understand the lies and deception behind the current push to privatize public education. This is a book that both Republicans and Democrats should find interesting. It would make an interesting and welcome gift for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Diane’s focus is on public schools. It provides a history surrounding the fight for public education since 2010. She does not hold back from telling us about those who have worked to destroy free public education, no matter their political party. Some of those individuals may surprise you.

I only wish a presidential candidate would truly step up to the plate and listen to her.

You may not always agree with Diane Ravitch, but she is at this time in history a formidable force against the destruction of an inclusive public school system that serves all children. Her passion seeps from the pages.

This book gives us hope that the dream of a great American school system is alive and well and will not end no matter how choppy the waters become.

How to Read the Book

Steven Singer is one of several bloggers who have already written great reviews of the book. Steven notes how easy it is to look at different chapters. I agree. There are many topics that will draw you in, and if you only have a short time to read, finding an issue you care about won’t be hard. You can certainly get through the whole book like that.

It’s a good reference book. If you need to find information on a subject, the chapters are easily scanned and you will likely find what you are looking for.

I have chosen to read the book in order from the start. Moving from year-to-year helps me better understand the sequence of historical events surrounding the changes made to public schools and trouble with teaching in the era of school reform. I am only about one fourth of the way through, but I already know that this is a book filled with great information. It is clearly written and difficult issues are made easy for us to understand.

The wit is there. It is welcome relief considering the ugliness of corporate school reform. These changes to public education have been more than unkind to teachers, parents, and especially the students for whom our schools should serve.

Even if you think you understand much about the corporate school reform movement, Diane’s book will introduce you to much more. For me, the book connects individuals with actions and good or bad policies that have affected schools in ways I had not known or thought seriously enough about.

Diane always reflects on the solutions to make our schools better!

Here are several points that especially connected with me so far.

Today’s School Reform and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Diane has a chapter about how those who seek to privatize public schools use Martin Luther King, Jr. to support their school reforms as the “education civil rights issue of our time.”

As President Obama sought to have more charter schools, it should not go unnoticed, that most of these schools (98%) are non-union. Many teachers work longer than usual hours because they have no union representation.

Diane asks, “Was that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream?” (p. 12)

I used to live near Memphis and was privileged to once hear several of the sanitation workers who marched with Dr. King speak about the union fight of that time.

As Diane reminds us, Martin Luther King, Jr. died “defending the rights of workers to join a union.”

Let’s remember this next time we hear corporate school reformers using Martin Luther King Jr’s. name to justify anti-union school privatization.


Many are concerned in 2019 about technology replacing teachers and schools, and there’s worry about the heavy collection of data on children. It’s recognized that standardized testing will likely transition into nonstop testing on the computer with each skill measured as a data point.

Diane speaks about being on a panel, in 2010, with Eva Moskowitz, founder of the controversial Harlem Success Academy. Asked how they envisioned schooling five years from that time. Diane states:

Eva spoke of individualization and personalization. I predicted, based on current policies in the U.S., that kids will be drilled endlessly for the next test, and the machinery will be in place to measure and test, driving out innovation, creativity, and divergent thinking. This is not wise and it is not smart.

It’s a frightening scenario. I hope I am wrong. If there is not a major change in federal education policy, this is the likely outcome of where we are heading. (p. 23)

Federal Government Overreach

While many of us recognize the importance of the role of the U.S. Department of Education, it’s also important to understand that it has its place. This has become a serious issue involving Common Core State Standards. When parents and citizens see the federal government overstepping their reach, they want to abolish it all together.

Diane is quick to criticize Education Secretary Arne Duncan for overreach.

Duncan has expanded the role of the federal government in unprecedented ways. He seems not to know that education is the responsibility of state and local governments, as defined by the Tenth amendment to our Constitution. (p. 42)

President Obama, Arne Duncan, and Betsy DeVos

While a new presidential election looms, it is important to recognize that education again looks be sadly ignored, as in past elections.

Diane has justifiable criticism for President Obama and Arne Duncan, and shows how that presidency’s push for hypocritical and unfair corporate reform led to Betsy DeVos.

Diane’s speaks about the unfair treatment of teachers with evaluations and public shaming.

There is so much more. I will continue reading this book until I finish. As a blogger, it will challenge my thinking and help me clarify topics and ideas. I find it to be a page turner! It’s a book that will clear up many issues that might be confusing, and it will do it with flare and satisfaction.

Garn Press and Diane Ravitch were insightful to collaborate and print a collection of Diane’s past writings. They lead us gently through the education quagmire that is corporate school reform, and help us understand where we are today.

For those of us who experience doubt as to whether public education can be changed in this country, and whether much can be done to change the course of history for this treasured democratic institution, Diane’s book provides hope.

For this we must thank her.

Buy The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch

Book: The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch
Author: Diane Ravitch
Education / Policy & Reform / Standards (Incl. Common Core) / Charter Schools
6 x 9 inches | 466 pages
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Waterstones | Books-A-Million

More Book Reviews

“Diane’s record of scholarship and activism sets a powerful example for us to get involved and stay involved until the fight is won.” – Yohuru R. Williams, Professor of History, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

“This book is a lively look at history as it unfolds, in the voice of the most reliable narrator of our time. Thanks to Diane for writing it.” – Anthony Cody, author of The Educator and the Oligarch

“Wisdom and Wit collects an album of tree images, sharp and clear and close up, with the full forest in the background. It's a great introduction to some of the issues over the last decade for people who have not been paying close attention, and it's a strong, sharp reminder of some of the specific battles even if you have been paying attention.” – Peter Greene, Curmudgucation

“This new book is more personal than anything I’ve seen from Ravitch on the shelves before. These are flashes of inspiration, snippets of thoughts, bursts of criticism and humor. They’re perfect for perusing and really quite addictive.” – Steven Singer, author of Gadfly On the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform

“Ms. Ravitch…writes with enormous authority and common sense.” – New York Times

 “In an age when almost everybody has an opinion about schools, Ravitch’s name must be somewhere near the top of the Rolodex of every serious education journalist in this country.” – The Nation

 “Ms. Ravitch [is] the country’s soberest, most history-minded education expert.” – Wall Street Journal