Sunday, July 1, 2018

My love letter to Diane Ravitch on her 80th birthday

Today is Diane Ravitch's 80th birthday.  Her sons gave her a small party on Thursday night which I was lucky to attend and which filled me with memories.

I recall how I met her in 2006 or 2007.  I found out from a friend that she had attended a fundraiser in Brooklyn for the United Parents Association, a now vanished organization on whose board I served.  I asked another board member what Diane was like, and she told me she was very nice. 

Up to that point I had admired her from afar, as many did, for her brilliant intellect and her courage in opposing Joel Klein's destructive education policies, but feared she might be scary and aloof.

My husband encouraged me to email her, which I did.  I asked if we could have have lunch at a location of her choosing.  We met in Brooklyn and immediately hit it off.  She was super-smart of course, but also very warm, funny, unpretentious and direct.  The connection was immediate; we had so much to talk about there wasn't a second of silence, and we began a vibrant conversation which has continued to this day.

There was much we agreed upon, but also some things we disagreed about.  She was much more of a supporter of standardized testing than I was in those days, and thought the NAEPs should become a  national exam used for accountability purposes.  I argued that this would make the results far less useful and reliable, as there would be test prep and gaming of the test, a la Campbell's Law.  She replied the NAEPs couldn't be gamed. But she didn't flinch or become defensive when I argued with her.  She was so much fun to talk to that I was eager for the next opportunity.

(Our disagreement in retrospect is ironic, because now she's far more opposed to all standardized testing than I am, as I still believe that well-designed exams with no stakes attached can be useful for research and evaluation purposes.)

Then in 2008, I meekly asked her if she would consider serving on the board of Class Size Matters; and was thrilled when she agreed. This was reciprocated in 2013, when she asked me to serve on the board of the Network for Public Education, the advocacy organization which she had just started and I gladly accepted.

I remember how in 2009, after Michael Bloomberg renewed mayoral control, upended term limits and was re-elected for the third time, I was very depressed.  I told her I didn't know whether I could go on fighting him, Joel Klein and their ruthless privatization policies for another four years.  She told me of course I had to continue, there was no giving up and she would help and support me all she could.  Of course she was right.

There is no one in the world whom I respect more, and I remain in awe of her prolific, prodigious productivity.  She blogs ten times a day, writing about the latest political and educational news quicker than I can read, at the same time as she is working on another book, this one about the grassroots resistance to corporate reform.  I send her bits of news daily that I think she might be interested in, as well as animal videos, as she adores animals as much as she loves public education.

As I grow older, and become apprehensive about the aging process, she provides me with the most inspiring example of someone whom age has not slowed down one whit.  I am so lucky to have her in my life, and I know many others feel the same way.

Happy Birthday, Diane.  You mean so much to so many of us.  Thank you for everything; your mind, your heart and your soul.

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