Dear Dr. Ravitch:
First, I want to thank you for coming to speak in Rhode Island on May 3rd. I was in attendance at your speech at Rhode Island College, and I can say on behalf of the numerous teachers and parents in attendance there, that it was the most uplifting, inspiring thing we’ve heard in a long time.
Second, I want to apologize to you for the actions of our Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gist. I figure, if I don’t send an apology now, you’re never going to get one. That’s not how Commissioner Cruella…er, I mean, Gist, operates.
It may be objected that a teacher has no business apologizing for the actions of the Commissioner of Education. After all, we’ve been living under her reign of terror for almost two years now. What do we have to apologize for? If anything, Rhode Island has made headlines twice in the last year for the mass firing of teachers—and Gist herself became one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most notable people of the year last year because of her role in the firing of the Central Falls teachers. (She has also publicly stated that she sees no problem with Providence firing its teachers and claiming “financial hardship”.)
Yet apparently, both she and Governor Chafee denied that the assault on public education had anything to do with Rhode Island. I thought it was quite funny how you prefaced your talk by mentioning this denial of reality. You then opened your talk, saying: “What started here in Rhode Island has exploded into a full-scale national assault on teachers.” Absolutely right on—and only a dogmatic apparatchik or a dim-witted, feel-good politician could miss that.
The most enlightening part of your visit—and your work, especially the aspect of your book that describes the corporate takeover of public education governance—is the light it sheds on the way things have operated here in Rhode Island. The section of your book on the Broad Foundation was so valuable. It turns out that Rhode Island is full of Broad Academy graduates—among them Gist herself, as well as Providence Superintendent Tom Brady. Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo first set foot on the stage as a “transition” superintendent in Providence, under a plan laid out by the Broad Foundation. We are Broad-infested.
Of course, Commissioner Gist herself sees no reason for an apology. In the Providence Journal article reporting your reaction to her, she responded by saying, “I hope she’s open to understanding what we are actually doing in Rhode Island… There is nothing in our plan that blames or demonizes teachers.” So there you have it. Not only is she dogmatic and unapologetic; she is actually blind to the reality that she herself has been so instrumental in creating.
This is actually a pattern with her: deny that there is any contradiction in her policy, deny that her policies are hurting teachers and students, push forward with the “reform” du jour, shut down any opposition as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. And believe it or not, I think she comes by it honestly. She seemed quite surprised last spring, after the firing of the teachers at Central Falls HS, that Rhode Island’s Race to the Top Application had been rejected on the grounds that the unions had not adequately bought in to the process. She clearly could not understand why teachers would be upset with her—and even after a fabulous two-hour meeting in which one teacher after another expressed their anger and frustration with her policies, she still seemed befuddled.
So please don’t be surprised if that letter of apology doesn’t arrive soon. In the meantime, I know dozens of people here in Rhode Island who would love to hear you speak again—and I work in a building with about 100 other people who should come to hear you speak when you have a chance to get back to our fair state.
World Languages Dept.
Mt. Hope HS
P.S. There was one small part of your response to Gist that I disagreed with. You talked about the demoralizing situation teachers here face, and said, “But no one other than teachers seems to know or care.” In fact, I’ve been working with a fabulous community group—including many teachers, but also a solid group of parents and community members—who know very well what’s up, and are working together to defend the common interests of teachers, parents, and students against the firings, the school closings, and the cuts generally. When you get back to Rhode Island, you are enthusiastically invited to our next meeting.