It’s not PC or censorship

Common Core State Standards “and standardized testing are trying to make teachers into KAPOs, a Nazi concentration camp prisoner who was given privileges if they would supervise work gangs,” wrote a reader commenting on Diane Ravitch’s blog. She goes on to reference Schindler’s List and her relatives killed in the Holocaust.

When readers objected to the analogy, Ravitch wrote: “I find this argument to be a form of political correctness that is used to censor opinion. If anyone wants to use an analogy to make a point, that is their choice.” She defended the posting on Twitter as a free speech issue.

This isn’t about political correctness or censorship, responds Daniel Willingham.

First, he writes, the analogy trivializes enormous suffering. Test takers are not in any way like Holocaust victims just as students asked to perform public service are not comparable to slaves.

If a reformer said schools are concentration camps where teachers brutalize their students . . . It’s insulting, isn’t it?

Willingham also disagrees that it’s censorship to tell people you think their analogy is “ill-considered and offensive.”

 . . .  if she had asked the author to change the analogy or had refused to post the piece because of the analogy, I would not call that censorship. The author does not have a guaranteed right to post what she likes in Diane’s blog, a right that Diane would have been infringing. Diane was a offering a platform for this author’s voice, and obviously she offers that platform to voices she thinks are worth amplifying.

This situation is not comparable to that documented in The Language Police, in which enormous power was concentrated in the hands of few publishers. If an author wanted to publish a textbook they had to toe the line drawn by the publishers or give up on publishing the book. That power relationship does not exist in this case. This is the internet, for crying out loud.

He asks Ravitch to rethink her position.

I agree with Willingham. I’d add that the analogy is ridiculous and therefore unpersuasive.

About Joanne


  1. I thought the comment was ridiculous and overwrought, as are about 95% of the comments on Ravitch’s site. I think the fuss over it is ludicrous. Given all the legitimate issues that Willingham whiffs on, his post is nothing more than a dig at Ravitch, who everyone respectable loathes.

    • Mike in Texas says:

      Why would anyone loathe her? Because she’s an actual educator? Because she was on the other side, saw through all the BS and now speaks out about it?

      I’d take a 1000 Ravitches over a Rhee any day.

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    She’s taught at the college level.

    • Not very much, if at all. She wasn’t particularly interested in teachers until she changed sides.

      • I’m not sure where all the anti-Ravitch venom comes from. She may not have had a lot of experience teaching, but she has always been interested in education both as a writer and in government service.

        • SC Math Teacher says:

          Changing sides always provokes emotions, especially with someone as passionate as she. I still agree with some of what she says, but some of her blog posts indicate a break with common sense, and, as to be expected, most of her regular commenters are right there with her.

      • I don’t find the commenter’s KAPO analogy appropriate or helpful, nor do I think it merited posting. I see this not as a free speech issue, but as an issue of judgment.

        But it’s unfair and inaccurate to say that Diane “wasn’t particularly interested in teachers until she changed sides.” Her first book, The Great School Wars, pays a great deal of attention to teachers and teaching conditions. So do The Schools We Deserve, The Troubled Crusade, and Left Back.

        • Yeah, the “kapo” analogy (the word shouldn’t be capitalized since it’s not an acronym) is pretty irresponsible treading as it does on “Godwin’s Law” territory. But this is the Internet where irresponsibility rarely has any consequences.

          As for Ravitch’s breathtaking critiques of the public education system, they’re all of the “Nation at Risk” variety, i.e. only solutions within the context of the current system are acceptable. We’ve moved beyond that so her fierce advocacy of one color of lunch room tray over the color favored by the bulk of the public education advocacy community has rendered Ravitch irrelevant.

          Since Ravitch is unwilling to be relegated to irrelevancy but hasn’t the courage, or insight, or both, to understand how the public discussion of public education’s left her behind she’s now thrown in with those she once nominally criticized.

          Those who’d keep the public education system as it once was are feeling the breath of change and a former, nominal, critic is joyously welcomed into the fold, all past transgression properly forgotten.

  3. SC Math Teacher says:

    Check this link for another swing and miss by Dr. Ravitch. Check out the comments, mine included, regarding her tacit support of the utterly ridiculous and evidence-free contention made by another person in the blog post. I think Dr. Ravitch is losing it:

  4. Dee HODSON says:

    What a shame. Diane Ravitch was a thought leader who I learned so much from. From this as well as several other posts/ interviews I think we can say that Diane has jumped the shark.

  5. Linda Seebach says:

    I agree with Willingham that deleting — let alone criticizing! — comments that fall outside the blogger’s boundaries for what is acceptable. It’s Ravitch’s blog.

    But I think he is wrong when he characterizes her decision “Diane was a offering a platform for this author’s voice, and obviously she offers that platform to voices she thinks are worth amplifying.”
    We don’t know that she thinks this voice is “worth amplifying”; only that she thinks it not bad enough to be worth deleting.

    I’m a letters editor for a newspaper group, and Willingham is reinforcing an unfortunate tendency readers have to assume that the newspaper endorses any opinions (letters or opeds) it publishes. I don’t know how anybody could believe that since we publish, by design, conflicting opinions on practically everything. But lots of people do.

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      Ms. Seebach,

      The offensive analogy was reprinted in one of Dr. Ravitch’s blog postings, not merely in a comment that she let stand (the latter being analogous to your newspaper group printing letters from a variety of viewpoints). That Dr. Ravitch chose to highlight the analogy in one of her own blog postings indicates her tacit approval of the subject matter. It would be as if your newspaper group were to publish the contents of a letter to the editor on the front page above the fold. It’s her blog, so Dr. Ravitch is entitled to do as she pleases, but she should be prepared for criticism and defend her position rather than hide behind the “free speech” mantra, and respond with something more than puerile retorts.

      • I pressed Dr. Ravitch to clarify her position on this–whether her elevating a comment into its own stand-alone blog post meant she endorsed its content–in the wake of the Newtown shooting, when she elevated a comment from a user who speculated that teacher bashing on the part of reformers may have somehow inspired or disinhibited the shooter. She punted, saying her blog is meant to be a free exchange of ideas and all points of view are welcomed, blah, blah, blah.

        The upshot is that she and many of her fans truly believe that unionized traditional district school teachers are under an existential threat from reformers, and therefore no counter-attack or defensive maneuver is out-of-bounds.

        • Well, yeah. They are, in fact, under an existential threat. The second part is untrue, obviously, unless you think they would support violence.

          I suspect what you mean is that they have a wider range of acceptable rhetoric to describe that threat than you feel comfortable with.

          • Yes, I am uncomfortable with speculating, without even a tiny morsel of evidence, then or now, that the Newtown shooter was inspired by or disinhibited by education reform. It’s wildly out of bounds and way beyond a “have you no decency” moment.

        • I read Ravitch’s blog precisely because it’s forum for the free exchange of ideas where all points of view are welcomed. If you find this upsetting then you need to stick to more bland sources.

          • I am proud to be made upset by people claiming a guy shot through the locked front door of an elementary school and killing 20 6- and 7-year-olds because he, what . . . heard a soundbite about how we need to improve teacher quality?

  6. So, we can draw no analogies between Nazis and any contemporary developments that do not include genocide?

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      You can do what you want as long as you don’t take umbrage or get self-righteous the second your judgment is questioned.

  7. “Yes, I am uncomfortable with speculating, without even a tiny morsel of evidence, then or now, that the Newtown shooter was inspired by or disinhibited by education reform. It’s wildly out of bounds and way beyond a “have you no decency” moment.”

    A significant problem in the world today are fools who think “I am uncomfortable” is even slightly relevant as a reaction to an idea.

    As if anyone should care in the slightest what people are “made uncomfortable” by.

    An idea is good, bad, right, wrong, overwrought, melodramatic, idiotic, pathetic or offensive in its attempted goal.

    Go ahead and be uncomfortable. Swim in it until you’re pruny. The world would be a much better place, however, if you and the others steeping in the tepid bathwater of “uncomfortable” could learn to quit whining about it.

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      Why is it whining to question the efficacy of an analogy, especially one that attempts to equate children under education reform as akin to Holocaust victims? No one here is attempting to squelch Ravitch’s, or anyone else’s, right to be provocative, but we can certainly call someone out if he or she crosses the bounds of decency. Ravitch has done so on several occasions, and she deserves to be criticized for it. You call it whining…others call it richly deserved criticism.

      • Nothing wrong with questioning the efficacy. That falls under evaluating the idea with an eye to its goal.

        That is not, however, what Tim was saying. Tim is saying that Ravitch is publishing things that are “out of bounds” (which despite your protestations is indeed an attempt to squelch) and they are out of bounds because he is uncomfortable.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          I took Tim’s “I am uncomfortable with” to mean “I think it is not right to.” The way you might say “I am uncomfortable with people around me making racist jokes” or “I am uncomfortable with a politician using a tragedy to push for unwise legislation.” The point of the sentence is not the discomfort of the speaker; it is the wrongness of the people he is reacting to.

          • Right. We’re saying the same thing. Tim’s “uncomfortable” means “stop”. SC was denying that.

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      Cal never whines about anything.

  8. SC Math Teacher says:

    Well, I suppose they are “out of bounds” for someone who wishes to retain a degree of respectability — something Ravitch shed long ago.

    BTW: Is there any line that shouldn’t be crossed in your estimation? Is there nothing that is “out of bounds” for you? Surely there is something that would provoke you in such a way as to vehemently protest it.

    • Har! Yes Cal, do tell us about lines that must be crossed and discomfort that must be borne. In the pursuit of truth.

      I find the irony invigorating.

      • Not sure why. I specifically said to you that there was nothing wrong with insults.

        • No, you’re response was to define me as “rude” so as to avoid the unpleasant realization that you have no substantive response to make to me. The polar opposite of the sort of morally-courageous explorer of truth you fancy yourself to be since my “rudeness” consists of asking questions which you’d prefer not be asked and to which you have no worthwhile retort.

          But that’s an entirely self-centered defense of little interest to anyone but yourself and people who share your precise views of the public education system. Beyond that shrinking circle of true believers you have little to say and less each day as the rationalizations to which cling are more and more being ignored. The parallel to Ravitch ought to be obvious but in the interests of clarity Ravitch is suffering the same fate.

          Her criticisms, once seen as thrillingly iconoclastic are long in her past and pretty tame stuff by current standards. That’s her attraction to such as you. That Ravitch was once an opponent but now, having seen the light, is joyously welcomed into the fold as proof of the barrenness the opposition. The apostate, in coming home to the warm embrace of the ever-faithful, affirms the truth and justice of your cause.

          Sorry, Ravitch never was what she appeared to be and her valuelessness then is showing up in her valuelessness now. That reality clearly chafes so she’s decided to find no fault in transgressions of Godwin’s Law.

        • SC Math Teacher says:

          Is it okay to be upset with Beyoncé for using that NASA clip for her song? Is it okay to be upset when someone compares President Bush to Hitler, even though the latter condemned six million Jews to a horrible death while the former, well, was never a genocidal maniac? Should people always sit idly by in the name of free speech while others do something so distasteful that to let it slide would tacitly validate and encourage the action?

  9. Kirk Parker says:

    I’m not sure where all the anti-Ravitch venom comes from

    So all the folks saying “jumped the shark” don’t count for anything?.

    There’s the post I did 2 years ago after hearing Ravitch speak here in Sacramento. To be charitable I’d say that her views “strain credulity”.

  11. Which reminds me–I saw her back in October, too:

    She’s a terrible speaker, so much so that LDH (Linda Darling-Hammond), who I don’t agree with, comes as a welcome break.