Amy Goodman’s weekday 60-minute news broadcast at democracynow.org performs a civic function no other show has filled since the early days of National Public Radio. “Democracy Now” has replaced NPR’s “All Things Considered”–so timid and weak in its present format, domesticated and relentlessly perky–as the place one looks to first now for serious coverage of the stories that have evaded the notice of the media establishment. This includes most of the news of the world.
It is also a program with in-depth interviews: never more than in this two-part conversation between Goodman (with her associate Juan Gonzalez) and the scholar of American public education Diane Ravitch. An “education conservative” of the 1970s, through her advocacy of a strong standard curriculum, Ravitch went on to serve in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She has now emerged as a deeply informed defender of public education and a critic of the debasement of standards into test scores. She speaks at length in the interview of the “institutionalized fraud” which this model has encouraged in both public and charter schools. And she deplores the psychology of the “race to the top,” which adapts for education the competitive model of the capitalist market.
The errors of public policy initiated by George W. Bush’s education secretary, Margaret Spellings, have been ratified and emphatically endorsed by the Obama administration and its education secretary Arne Duncan. The interview speaks with particular force about the ways the Obama education policy follows the path of “No Child Left Behind.” It does so in discrediting teachers, dissolving public schools, depreciating educational professionalism, and “incentivizing” results in the form of test scores. Deeply implicated in the disaster are the technocratic enthusiasm and vast financial resources of the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and other corporate actors. In the second part, Ravitch addresses in detail the actual conditions and performance of the Rhode Island school whose mass firing of teachers President Obama celebrated in a speech on March 1.