Do We Need More Heroes?

The words ‘hero’, ‘heroic’ and ‘heroism’ are overused in America. Think, for example, how often those words are tossed around in reports about athletics, as if running with a football and dunking a basketball were acts of heroism.  People talk about ‘everyday heroes,’ as if doing your job every day–even a tough job like teaching in the inner city–was heroic behavior.{{1}}

We need to be more discerning in our use of those words.  We shouldn’t be so quick to crown people as heroes, because doing so dilutes the meaning of heroism.

Deep down, a lot of people realize this.  I say this because nowadays the word ‘genuine’ is often attached to the word, as in “She’s a genuine hero.”

Most of us will never–knock wood–know if we have what it takes to be a hero.  We will never face a raging fire, roaring flood waters, or a crazed gunman and have to make a split-second, life-or-death decision.

The teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary Schools–those who lived and those who lost their lives–are heroes.  They exemplify the best in the education profession, and they remind us of how good and strong people can be.

Those were my words on Saturday night in Washington while presenting an award from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences to the teachers of Newtown. I have no doubt about their heroism. When they were tested, they responded heroically.

But I also have no doubt that we toss around that word, hero, far too easily. For example, Ted Cruz, the US Senator from Texas, is a hero to some on the extreme right because of his strident opposition to Obamacare.  Over on the left, Diane Ravitch is a hero to those who share her views on what is happening in public education.  Since when does taking a strong public stand qualify as an act of heroism?  Call them ‘crusaders’ or ‘principled leaders’ or some other term of approval if you wish, but not heroes.

I believe many people are uncomfortable with the way ‘hero’ is used.  Here’s my reasoning: When a noun needs modifiers, it’s a clear signal that the word has lost its original meaning. Take ‘politician’ as an example.  This word is rarely unadorned these days. Someone is a ‘thoughtful politician,’  ‘unconventional politician’ ‘not your typical politician,’ ‘a well-respected politician,’ or (shudder) ‘an honest politician.’  Enough said.

I think that is what has happened with ‘hero.’  Because of our culture of excess and a glut of ‘heroes,’ the noun is routinely modified.  We have ‘genuine heroes,’ ‘everyday heroes,’ ‘unassuming heroes,’ ‘hero worship’ and–of course–’Super heroes.’

So I am wondering how many of us have (genuine) heroes in our lives.  Do you?  Are there living people you identify as your heroes?  The only person who comes easily to my mind is Nelson Mandela.

An older friend told me that he didn’t have any living heroes, and he doubted whether most people did these days, because of the 24-hour news cycle and the power of the internet to allow everyone to dig up dirt on anyone of prominence.  No one can keep their feet of clay (or their sex tape) hidden for long, he said.

Some say we need more heroes in our lives, but I am more comfortable with “role model” than with ‘hero.’  There’s a long list of role models whose positions, behavior or humanity I wish to emulate.  I respect and admire these men and women, even though I know they are not perfect human beings.

Perhaps I am just getting crotchety as I get older, but I would like to see us tone down our language.  I am pretty certain that the same people who idolize Ted Cruz or Diane Ravitch are equally vehement in their disdain for anyone who dares to disagree with their hero (and them).  These people inhabit a comic book world without ambiguity where heroes require villains.  Our society makes it easy to live in a black-and-white world without nuances–you can watch either Fox or MSNBC, but not both!

Unfortunately, the hero/villain polarization can cause us to lose sight of all the good, decent (and flawed) people who are trying to make the world a better place.  Polarization not only doesn’t move the ball forward; it’s a step backward.

In his speech accepting the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education Tuesday night, Dave Levin of KIPP reminded us that fixing public education was “messy” work.  Extreme positions weren’t effective, he told us.  “Should we use test scores to assess students and teachers?” he asked?  “Yes,” he said, “but we have to have lots of other measures as well.”  He called it “the messy middle” where the work is hard and the job is never done.

I know what Levin is talking about.  My colleagues and I spent 6 ½ long years documenting the struggle to rebuild New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding.  On October 22, “Rebirth,” our 1-hour film will premiere nationwide on Netflix (and will be live-streamed for 24 months in nine languages).  I am sure it will inflame those on the extremes, both left and right, because it fails to either completely endorse what is happening there or to condemn it outright.  It’s that “messy middle” that Dave Levin was talking about.

There are no silver bullets, Levin said, and I agree.  Moreover, searching for them, like hero-worship, is a waste of precious time and energy.


[[1]]1. CNN has an annual competition for the Top 10 unknown everyday heroes of the year.  The winners for 2013 will be revealed on October 10th.[[1]]

160 thoughts on “Do We Need More Heroes?

  1. Ted Cruz also compared his naysayers to Nazi appeasers, positing, “I suspect those same pundits who say it can’t be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them. Then they would have made television. They would have gotten beyond carrier pigeons and beyond letters and they would have been on tv and they would have been saying, ‘You cannot defeat the Germans.’”

    So, John, does Diane engage in the hoary old Nazi comparisons?


  2. I’ll keep my comment short. I am a resident of CT and a school teacher. Using the Newtown teachers as an emotional example to drive your point home was cheap and in poor taste. Disagree with Ravitch’s supporters if you must, but please do not make shallow points on the backs of murdered teachers.

    This blog post was awfully long winded considering you simply disagree about Ravitch’s merit.


  3. Your recognition of the heroes in Sandy Hook is wonderful, but using it to preface a jab at Diane Ravitch and her supporters seriously perverts the overall tone of this piece.

    You speak of the dangers of polarization, but then you go on to claim that Ravitch’s (and Cruz’s, for that matter) supporters show “disdain for anyone who dares to disagree with their hero (and them).” Right–because that’s not a polarizing or inflammatory statement.

    Criticize people who call Miley Cyrus a hero–not those who recognize Diane Ravitch as one for her defense of one of our nation’s most important institutions. Otherwise, your argument seems to be just an opportunistic promotion of a laughable agenda–one that subtly tries to establish Dave Levin as the only voice of reason in a sea of extremists. Come on.


  4. Seriously, John. I think you need to apologize for the Newtown analogy. That is an extremely painful thing for us to think about, and they- and we- deserve better than that.


  5. Diane Ravitch is a noted scholar and educational historian even perhaps as I have called her a “Grand Dame of Education” but she is not a “hero of education.” For most of her career she has been very cautious to maintain her public image; now in the twilight of her career she is very anxious not to follow in the footsteps of other educators and mentors such as her friend E.D. Hirsch, jr to be considered a “maverick” or “a far-right person” or even (as I have heard it said of Dr. Ravitch in the past) and “enemy of education.” She is, I believe, very conscious of her legacy and she does not want to be merely a footnote and another unread and unassigned author like the great Gilbert Highet. It says a lot about the state of American education that one of the greatest teachers and authors of the 20th century is virtually unknown to a younger generation of teachers and professors. Ravitch wants to avoid sudch a fate (In my opinion) . Ravitch is asI said a noted scholar and a gifted writer perhaps even a “shaker and mover” in education reform. But that doesn’t make her a hero. The real heroes are indeed classroom teachers who lay down their lives for their students or who make heroic efforts to teach or help their students after hours and on weekends for no additional financial compensation. The real heroes are the people who go above and beyond the call of duty for the common good and the common defense. My father, a WWII veteran, was a brave and honorable soldier who remained in the Reserves until 1953 (the close of the Korean War). But as he always said, “I didn’t do anything; I just did my job and what was required. “Audie Murphy was a hero of the first order. You are certainly right that people exaggerate when they call everyone a hero. Doing what is expected and what is required is honorable and commendable but that doesn’t make a person a hero.


    • “The real heroes are the people who go above and beyond the call of duty for the common good”

      And that is what Ravitch has done with this book. I am a veteran teacher and do my duty everyday.


  6. John: I thought you had stopped drinking the reform/charter kook-aid, but you are like a chameleon.

    However, I’m excited about the ranking of Diane’s book as number 10 on the NY Times best seller list.

    Haven’t heard much about Rhee’s “radical” book lately. If Rhee crosses the border in my state, I call the state legislators to register concerns with supporting documents.

    On the other side, Diane has millions of parents across America listening because parents are sick and tired of the corporate reform nonsense. Parents want neighborhood schools without high-stakes tests and test prep for homework. Parents want rich curriculum and small class sizes. Parents want their children to be happy in school – have joy in learning.

    Parents are advocating to abolish the current US Department of Corporate Education that pushes the wacky common core WITH matching high-stakes tests and operates under the control of the Gates foundation.


  7. Diane Ravitch is indeed a hero. She is one of the only voices speaking for teachers and not against them, and as a teacher in an urban district who gets blamed for all the ills of those living in poverty, I appreciate and applaud all that she does. She is, in fact, quite heroic since she is speaking out against those with a lot more money and power. It would be great if you took a page from her playbook and continued to speak out against Michelle Rhee, who you helped create, and not back down because your tired of talking about her. You would indeed be heroic if you would continue speaking the truth to all of their lies.


  8. Well John you blew it here! Using Newtown to plug your thoughts on Dr. Ravitch were disgusting. She is my hero and a hero to 28,000 BATs! How sad, we really thought you were on our side in the fight to save public education. This post shows that you want to take a school tragedy and use it for your own gain. Bad decision!


  9. Mary (chemtchr) was so eloquent in her response to your blog post. I can’t top that. Diane is one of the few high profile figures who is not only standing up for teachers and students but is working to the bone on our behalf. Her book tour schedule alone is exhausting, not to mention maintaining her blog and speaking to the press.
    How many people would do all that for public school teachers? Would you? She listens to us and truly understands our struggles. She’s a hero in my book.


  10. Mr. Merrow,

    Well, when a discussion of heroes or role models or simply people with integrity arises, rest assured your name will not surface.

    In the last month, you’ve both stopped your investigation of Michelle Rhee and equated Diane Ravitch with a radical politician. Your age may be leading you to be crotchety and also forgetful of your responsibilities as a journalist. Why exactly did you give upon the Rhee narrative so suddenly? Because people told you that you wouldn’t get anywhere? Not much of an investigative journalist.

    And quoting Dave Levin? His entire model is based on getting good test scores. Quoting him on that topic is like asking Obama about the ACA. I know, I know. Levin said other measures matter too. You know when charter leaders like Levin say they matter? When their test scores aren’t so good.

    Diane Ravitch has done much to draw attention to those who question the validity of these increasingly radical and never-ending reforms that are not based in research. She should be praised, even if you disagree with her opinion, for helping to turn this tidal wave into some sort of a conversation.

    I hesitate to label anyone a hero. But after your recent shenanigans, I doubt any aspiring journalist will see you as any sort of a model. Perhaps you should consider retiring. You don’t seem to possess the energy to withstand criticism from TPTB and prefer the path of least resistance. It says something about the quality of American journalism that you were at some point a decent reporter.


  11. As soon as it was available, I ordered a copy of Diane Ravitch’s book. I will enjoy going to see her speak next week.

    Ted Cruz equated those who think differently than him with Nazis and shuns dialogue with his opponents. Diane Ravitch, on the other hand, invites dialogue and debate with those who disagree with her and has not used anything close to the inflammatory rhetoric attributable to Mr. Cruz.

    Diane Ravitch’s book debuted on the best seller list. It seems that the vast numbers of parents and teachers who have bought Diane Ravitch’s book disagree with your judgement about who is extremist and who is mainstream.


  12. Oh my goodness…as I reflect on my life and think of role models and heroes there is nobody that can compare to Diane Ravitch. Diane Ravitch is my hero…she is on the front lines for the teaching profession and for the children of America. In a respectful, informative, expert way she teaches us in so many ways. Her writing is brilliant. I’m so grateful for everything I have learned from her and it has been life changing. The title, hero isn’t big enough for this woman. Love Diane! …she deserves more respect and you must know that.


  13. As a young girl, I remember learning how to read with the help of my first grade teacher. I can’t remember her name because as a Navy brat, I wound up going to over a dozen schools. What I can remember is that it was the teachers who almost always made this perennial new kid feel welcomed and secure.

    As a parent, I looked to the teachers that each of my three kids had as the experts. They were the ones that helped me help my children if they struggled over a new concept or informed me of when they needed extra help or support. They were the ones that brought learning to life for my three and helped them become the great young people they are today.

    Now as a teacher myself, I look to my own experience as a student and as a parent to help me inform my own practice. I became a teacher later in life in 2001 and in that very short time, I have seen the profession I love and the people that I admire become the targets for every thing that is wrong in education. What the general public seems to not understand is how very little control teachers actually have over their profession. Where once there was respect for our profession as teachers, there is now derision and scorn.

    Those of us who choose to teach in low performing, high poverty schools are labeled as failures when our students don’t perform as well as their peers – peers that often live in environments that are more supportive and less stressful. We are judged based on meaningless data that says nothing about the beautiful souls that so many of us feel so very privileged to teach. Kids that we see daily rising above despite all the challenges that are thrown at them, including attending schools that are labeled as failing again based on arbitrary data points that should never define any child, their school or their teacher.

    All of this is to say, Diane Ravitch gives us hope. None of us who read Ms. Ravitch are gullible, mindless people. I would argue that many of us fall along the political spectrum not often seen in the US today. We are Democrats, Republicans, Independents and DTS. We are liberal and conservative. The one unifying factor is that Ms. Ravitch has been willing to take a look at the programs she once previously supported with a critical eye, examine her own beliefs and support with research why previously held conclusions were erroneous.

    In short, she is a teacher. This is what teachers do.

    That is why she is MY hero.


  14. One of things I’ve noticed lately is that the reformers are bragging about working in the “messy middle.” What’s happened is the reformers have used their great heaps of money to reshape the conversation. Dave Levin, whose organization gets massive amounts of funding from the pro-privatization Walton Foundation gets to play statesman because they have purchased a seat at the table. But Diane Ravitch, like thousands upon thousands of classroom teachers, are now viewed as extremists because only extremists would question the current regime of test-based accountability.


  15. Are you high? Certainly not thinking! Diane Ravitch compared to Ted f#$&ing Cruz! I didn’t know so many people understood what is happening to public ed. until I discovered DR Blog. Her latest book is right on. I am unsubscribing from your blog Mr. Merrow. You, who gave up your pursuit of Rhee because it was too hard and no one would listen. Really! Very bad form and you should be ashamed!


  16. And on cue, a horde of Ravitch sycophants descend on this blog to prove Merrow’s point: that they “inhabit a comic book world without ambiguity” and cannot stand to see a whisper of criticism of Ravitch.


    • How very brave of you to label the teachers and parents who have come to express their opinions “sycophants” under the cloak of anonymity. Many of the bloggers who’ve posted here have openly invited those with opposing viewpoints to post their opinions on their blogs so that a debate on the issues can ensue. From the words you’ve posted here, you seem far less interested in the debate you are claiming that Diane’s supporters welcome and far more interested in trolling/name-calling.


      • Typo. “From the words you’ve posted here, you seem far less interested in the debate you are claiming that Diane’s supporters oppose and far more interested in trolling/name-calling.”


      • Because “they” know they’d lose the debate. Weak propaganda attempt. So lovely to see the critical thinkers who see straight through.


    • Or they could be real people doing real work in public schools and tired of your b#%^~#%t lies about our work, dedication, professionalism, and every other damn thing we are! We are fed up! 26 years doing the hard work! Very little $ reward but that is not why we do it- and don’t say why complain then! We don’t do it for charity but we love what we do. So take your smugness elsewhere.


    • Or they could be real people doing real work in public schools and tired of your b#%^~#%t lies about our work, dedication, professionalism, and every other damn thing we are! We are fed up! 26 years doing the hard work! Very little $ reward but that is not why we do it- and don’t say why complain then! We don’t do it for charity but we love what we do. So take your smugness elsewhere.


  17. Do you know what makes a real hero? Someone who stands up for what is right. That, in my view, represents Diane Ravitch. Her view is neither left nor right. It is based on reason. I would bet you have read not one word of her book. Her conclusions are based on documentation. All her opinions are evidenced based. However, from her opinions doe come an ideology–to preserve a democratic institution that binds together our society to a common culture and heritage. She wants to preserve an institution that will cultivate informed citizens that will make political decisions also based on reason. She does not use platitudes and word games, such as the likes of Ted Cruz and other real ideologues. I respect her greatly. I am just a lowly public school teacher who writes a blog from the heart. However, when I write her with some information or send her a link to my blog, she takes the time to send me a short note with some insight. I will bet you will not respond to what I am writing right here. In addition, if I would write to the likes of Duncan, Gates or Broad, I would expect nothing less than to be ignored. Why don’t you tell us what you really believe in and why you feel Doctor Ravitch is a leftist–whatever that means?


  18. Mr. Merrow,
    I have appreciated your reporting for years and often use your PBS video on grading schools to reframe the conversation about the debilitating role of standardized tests as they now are used. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but linking Diane Ravitch to Ted Cruz to make a point was our of character for you. I am from Texas, but do not know Ted Cruz. I witnessed his unethical campaigns and now and am enduring his embarrassing and self serving actions as our US Senator. We miss his predecessor, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson greatly.
    But I do know Diane Ravitch and have been instrumental in having her on some programs here at meetings of the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Association of School Boards. To call her an extremist is wrong and unfair. While her work is certainly subject to critical analysis, her assessment of the current educational landscape is valid and well documented. Her credentials and record are impeccable and her commitment to saving public education is most admirable. She has some voids in her solutions and I wish she would speak more about the role of systems that govern behavior in organizations as described by Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, and Phillip Schlechty. But for the part she knows best, I think history will be kind to her, and if our public schools survive the onslaught against them she will have been a key player. She is a threat to the privatization movement and their leaders will unleash unwarranted attacks on her. She deserves better from you. —John Horn


  19. John – Although I think some of the comments here are too, “you done Diane wrong,” in that they leave the impression that she is not to be questioned ever … which I doubt anyone really means, but is in reaction to someone they revere in being one of the very few out there supporting teachers (which you think you get, but per this post … sorry, you don’t really) being linked to someone that is so, so far opposite and negative and polarizing, which if Diane is perceived that way by you, its only because the “Ted Cruz’s” and “reformers have had such a free and constant exposure to the media to share “their side” of the story (which you concede repeatedly), when teachers have had very little to no coverage to push back. Then you make them somehow equivalents? That shows how even someone like you that has at least made an attempt to do a fair reporting of the situation in education has been pushed to believing that Diane is FAR left? in her views … as far left as Cruz is far right. John, really? Diane is very in the middle, and you don’t get that, and that frustrates us educators that have been beat up relentlessly by both sides of the political spectrum for years and years. Your reporting recently was seen as a glimmer of hope in an otherwise wasteland of education reporting … so you are now reaping that disappointment. I’ll bet you’re feeling unappreciated and even abused by those you thought you had tried to give some equal time to. John, that is how bad the situation is … that is how sad and humiliated teachers feel right now … yes even worse than you imagined. That is why you got this kind of feedback … in education, in schools … things are not good. Welcome to our world.


  20. John Merrow just wrote THAT? Well that’s disappointing. But we’ve gotten used to being disappointed in this fight. No matter…we will soldier on, and Diane will continue leading. She will lead because she is uniquely qualified and unselfishly willing. Doesn’t really matter if one calls her a hero. What matters is what you see when you take a virtual look around her. Every time I glance her way, I see growing numbers of compatriots marching beside her, and I am awed and inspired by the thousands of others in a steady march behind them. We are parents, teachers, bloggers, administrators, students, grandparents, and other concerned citizens. We are diverse so there is no one way to describe us. But we see the problems. We feel for the kids, and so we push.
    And they don’t like it.


  21. John,

    You miss the entire concept of hero in your piece. Perspective matters. From your secluded journalist perch, you might not perceive Diane Ravitch as a hero. However, for those of us living out the detrimental policies being implemented in our schools–Ravitch is a hero. She gives voice to all of us who believe and support public education but don’t have the time or resources to campaign on the behalf of schools. You are naive and uniformed if you believe she is a polarizing figure. She speaks the truth.

    Just today, I attended the ridiculous rollout of more accountability being heaped on teachers. We have rising student poverty and yet waste our time our ridiculous privatization initiatives. You are out of touch with the doing of public education and should yield to the perspective of educators.


  22. Please reread Brian Crosby’s comment, a few above this, as he can speak for me as well. I was blessed to teach for 31 years in public elementary schools. That blessing is now a robe of shame in the eyes of the public. I believe you can help to change that perception, and I hope you will try.


  23. Heroism is when you take on the monster of public opinion established by corporate media without regard for what your friends or the public think of you… when you think less of your own pocketbook than you do of children and citizen responsibility and critical thinking… when you’d rather whither in poverty than manipulate the public with fear tactics of extremism that serve corporate interests.

    Seriously, John?????


  24. I wonder if you wrote this because you got your feelings hurt when Ravitch provided a link to a New Orleans blogger who disputes the findings in your TV documentary on New Orleans’ schools?


  25. Well, Mr. Merrow, you missed the boat, the mark, and shot yourself in the foot with this one. You appear perplexed about teachers calling Diane Ravitch a hero. Perhaps you should be asking teachers. Why they are feel under assault by many of the Ed Reformers you so often, have let off easy over the years?
    She has stepped up to the plate for millions of teachers who feel our profession, our unions, and our professionalism is under attack. She is doing this during a time you and so many others seem to be playing it safe by staying on the fence of Education Reform. Staying on the fence never makes anyone a hero. I understand you never called yourself a hero. I just want you to know sitting on status quo fences can never be heroes.
    One condition for being a hero is you need to get off the fence, and risk failure, and earned the love of the people by standing up something worth fighting for.
    Dr. Ravitch, unlike most education reform pundits calls it like it is, takes on the Education reform billionaire’s club, and a status quo United States Department of Education that has spent 1.2 trillion dollars over a decade on policies that have failed to demonstrate real effects.
    My five simple rules for being a hero for me are:
    1. You stand for something that goes against the grain,
    2. You fight for a truth that is not popular with the powerful and the mighty,
    3. You give voice to the marginalized, and finally,
    4. You change people minds, including your own, and
    5. Finally you are loved by millions.
    Dr. Diane Ravitch’s last two books, her endless quest to honor teachers and defend our public education system in every speech since 2010 changed my mind on her. You see Mr. Merrow, before 2010she was just another respected education historian who failed to meet that final bar. You know rule number 5, to be loved by millions.
    Counting myself as one of those that love her,
    Jesse The Walking Man Turner


  26. Mr. Merrow,

    You are using a lot of words about heroes and their undue worship by their admirers, just to provide the subliminal stage for your own ‘unsung hero”, or so it seems! What a surprise to read that Dave Levin of KIPP received the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education Tuesday night! The prize named after the same Harold McGraw who, as you will recall, as president of the Business Roundtable in the Bush administration days was the driving force behind No Child Left Behind which led to high stakes standardized testing, and huge profits for his company for testing and teaching materials bought by school districts across the nation, and ultimately too led to school closures that led to an increase in charter schools like KIPP.
    Here a telling excerpt from Angela Engel’s excellent book, “Seeds of Tomorrow”:

    “..the leading driver and key lobbyist behind No Child Left Behind, Sandy Kress, held contracts with McGraw-Hill as he drafted the NCLB bill. Kress was also the architect of the Governor’s Reading Initiative in Texas. Eventually,that same model was adopted at the national level. “Reading First” and NCLB landed McGraw-Hill a large share of the nation’s textbook market along with the lion’s share of the nation’s testing market.

    Corporate leaders, like those associated with the Business Roundtable, continue to bank on public policy. With the passage of NCLB, billions of tax dollars were directed to test publishers
    and data managers, including Harold McGraw III, chair of the Business Roundtable and CEO of McGraw-Hill. In 2000, the year that NCLB was presented to Congress, the Business Roundtable invested $68,104,955 in soft money, political action committees (PACs), and individual campaign contributions.

    The organization then invested in eighty lobbyists in twenty-one lobbying firms, to the tune of $21,480,000. “Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in January 2002. Five months later, Kress registered with the U.S. Secretary of the Senate as a lobbyist for NCS Pearson. Kress specializes in helping his clients tailor themselves to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, something Pearson has done with startling success.

    For the record, Kress’s client list also include Educational Testing Services (ETS), Kaplan, and HOSTS Learning—online testing and educational services. Look to future policies to benefit
    corporate online educational services. Education industry leaders, like Kress and Harold McGraw III, have turned lawmaking into moneymaking.”

    It is precisely this corruption, collusion, and the cooptation of education by special business interests that Diane Ravitch is fighting, and that does make her a hero!

    Also see:


  27. Who could have predicted that John Merrow would be adding a new word to Diane Ravitch’s glossary in The Language Police, hero, because that word is “routinely modified”. Apparently, there is only one kind of hero and that kind needs no explanation. That’s a word which should stand on its own. He prefers that “role model” be used instead, too. I’d suggest not adding adjectives to that for clarification either, because what synonym will we have left if that is banished by the language police, too? Paragon? Rather antiquated. Idol? Too extreme.

    I have not had many people in my life who I’ve unquestionably considered to be role models, except my Mom, a civil rights worker who fought tirelessly throughout her life, in many arenas, to ensure equality for every man, woman and child. This late in my life, I would add Diane Ravitch, for the same reason. But both are also heroes to me, which is self-explanatory. No modifiers necessary, Mr. Language Policeman. I have no qualifiers for them, just a lot of gratitude for their commitment to social justice and for lighting the path.


  28. Mr. Merrow,

    You have proven a disgrace to the issue of education, and quite frankly, its impact on democracy itself…

    I find your lambaste of Diane Ravitch, who has, along with Valerie Strauss, and Linda Darling Hammond, exposed the truth of the corporate right’s charterization efforts, to be merely a corporate backlash against reality and in favor of the dismantling of public education altogether.

    I would suggest this is probably because of your corporate sponsors, which you have catered to for most of your career.

    I find you quite disgraceful indeed. Shame on you…


  29. If Mr. John Merrow wants to be my hero, he has a few more things to accomplish during his impressive career as an education journalist.

    First, get to the bottom of the Michelle Rhee testing scandal in DC, which, if I watched it correctly, is precisely what Mr. Merrow’s recent Frontline episode calls for.

    Second, write a book on the state of American education; what’s working and what’s not. What’s at stake. Who invests; who profits, and who loses.

    A friend of mine, after a storied career as a college basketball coach at an elite liberal arts college, applied for an open position as athletic director. He did not get the job. It was a difficult rejection for him. I challenged him: You have one more thing to accomplish here before you leave, win a national championship. He did. Five years later he did again. If Mr. Merrow puts his impressive weight behind an effort, I bet he’d finishes in three.

    (Yes. yes I read your post about dropping the Michelle Rhee test scandal investigation. You wouldn’t have written that post if you hadn’t raised the expectation that you wanted answers in the first place. That said why should anyone try to hold corporate culture Rhee accountable for results? It’s not like we want her fired,it’s just that we the fraud discredited. That’s something investigative journalists due when they do their job well and encounter fraud. It’s time for you, Mr John Merrow, to win a national championship.)

    Did my friend win a national championship because he was an amazing coach or because he had amazing players that he helped develop into a formidable team? (False choice, the answer is both.) Can we look at teaching and test taking through the same lens?

    What population of students apply to attend charters, one with parental involvement, right? So who’s left in the public school ? …at least until charter expansion forces it to be closed, due to attrition, and because of the budget reasons.


  30. John,

    By now, it should be apparent that you made a huge mistake in your blog. You original point has been lost through a thoughtless and poor analogy which was insulting and unkind on many levels, not illuminating. Take the feedback and don’t double down (again). Apologize.


  31. How much were you paid to write this? We are zealots I guess, those of us who hold Diane up as our hero. We have to be because we love our children with our whole hearts and we know with all our hearts that education reform is wrong for children. So if you want to align us with the Tea Party, if it makes you feel better, go ahead. We are the ones in the trenches being forced to test kindergardeners till they cry. We are the ones who are being forced to teach to the test as if our job depends on it. Diane is a hero for standing up for the children, our kids and our public schools. You on the other hand are a coward.


  32. How odd. I was just listening to Dianne being interviewed on NPR. In answering questions that seem pointed to make her views appear too extreme, her patience and tolerance were amazing. I am afraid I sat in my car livid. Here was this 75 year old woman, taking a beating standing up for the truth I face every day in my fourth grade classroom, I wanted to jump into the radio and help her (although she really didn’t need my help.) Later that day I used exactly those words to my husband, “That woman is my hero. I hope when she dies she goes to the front of St. Peter’s line!”

    Hero yes. At least to those of us in the trenches.


  33. Just one more comment I think and then I’m gone. John, many comments here are from teachers in CT. I’m one of them. We are upset at your use of Newtown. And you haven’t come back in the comments section to address that.

    Cowardly move, Mr. Merrow.


  34. John,

    You write about good, decent people, who are trying to make the world a better place. These are the people who read Diane’s blog. These readers are teachers, working and retired, mother, fathers, and American citizens who care about public education. They are caretakers of relationship, doing the hard work of warming this cold world. They nurture civility and still find humanity and kindness valuable. They don’t read because they “idolize” her or are fixated with “hero worship.” They read her blog, because they see their own thoughts and beliefs in her well articulated words. Working teachers today are tired. They are beaten down by a corporate agenda, who have no understanding of how children learn and grow. They are so losing their strength, in protecting the hearts and souls of children in their care. Like a battered spouse in a damaged marriage, they stay and endure, believing they are stilling doing some good in protecting the children, their family, their school. Diane is the public voice for those getting up each day doing this work. She is their support, their hope . Yes, you are correct, good and decent people are missing in this discussion. And Diane, is my hero for not forgetting them. She is my hero for having the courage to stand up and speak boldly against money and power.

    Moral courage and conviction is the responsibility of us all. Defending good and decent people is worth the courage. I hope you find the strength to stand up for them too.


  35. Mr. Merrow,
    You clearly have no sense of what it is like to have school age children in this age of “disruption,” where alleged business minded folk to unsettle public education and the promise it provides for families, particularly young families who are quite vulnerable. It is, quite simply, a nightmare. Diane Ravitch could be enjoying comfortable professorial retirement. She isn’t. She is heroically fighting for many — and many who don’t even realize institutions they grow to trust have been seized and turned against them. I urge you to reconsider this essay in full.


  36. The irony here is that Levin’s work exemplifies a certain narrative about education in which the “hero” teacher “rescues” the poor children. In this narrative, what is needed are individual rescuers to go into poor communities from outside them, work hard, and believe in children’s potential. There is nothing wrong with working hard and believing in children’s potential (although this all does have a hint of the white savior, doesn’t it?), but Ravitch’s work is the one that steps back from the hero narrative to critique larger social forces that lead to poverty and segregation. Her vision of a good education system is populated by professionals, not heroes; it rests on democratic institutions, not individual charismatic leaders. If you’re wary about investing too much in heroes, it’s not Ravitch you should be worried about.


  37. Let’s extrapolate, “We should support the messy middle over the pure extremes.” Isn’t this the very definition of lazy sloppy thinking, and the type of thing which characterizes the Washington consensus these days, one that is rapidly falling apart as we see how ineffective the middle is against the real crazies, which are on one side, not both.


  38. Neither Diane Ravitch nor Ted Cruz can control how other people regard them; to criticize them based on how they are regarded, rather than on the content of their respective concerns, seems to me beside the point. Ditto for the stereotyping of their respective followers. I am admittedly most appreciative of Diane Ravitch’s depth of research (especially since I am an elementary school teacher dealing with much of the brunt of so-called education reform), and strongly disagree with Senator Ted Cruz. But that being said, I am not “vehement in my disdain” for people who disagree with Ravitch or cheer on Ted Cruz. I want to better understand where people are coming from whose views are so very different from my own, and I doubt I am alone in that regard, whether we are talking about supporters of Ravitch or Cruz. And incidentally, based on much research into valued added measures (VAM) regarding evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores, David Levin’s endorsement of evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores can fairly be judged an extreme position. Reality is what it is, whether someone wishes to set a priori rules about what is extreme or moderate. Global warming, for example, appears from overwhelming scientific evidence to be the reality. The “extreme” label should perhaps be reserved for positions/opinions that blow off the weight of gathered evidence, and also for describing the impact of certain realities, as witness what global warming appears to be doing to the climate.


  39. Whether Dr. Ravitch is a hero or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is Dr Ravitch gives educators and parents a voice in the all out war for control of public education. Most of us are grateful that finally, someone is speaking truth to power.
    As a career educator, who is horrified by the path that public education is taking, I am thrilled that Dr. Ravitch is getting well-deserved attention. Truth be known, taking away music and the arts from school-aged children and substituting mindless bubble tests, is not making our kids any smarter. Dr. Ravitch gets it.


  40. Comparing Diane Ravitch to Ted Cruz is like comparing Ted Cruise to Winston Churchill. Speaking of Mr. Churchill. Here is a great quote from him that is as applicable for education as it is for international politics.

    “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” Winston Churchill

    Here is what Diane fights against:


  41. “Hero” might be a strong word for Diane Ravitch, but I have enormous respect for the way that she changed her position when the facts did not support the policies she formerly advocated. That shows quite a bit of intellectual honesty.

    Presenting a false equivalence between Ravitch, with her ability to face the facts, and Cruz, who insist on ignoring them, on the other hand, shows enormous intellectual dishonesty. I’ve gained respect for Ravitch because she bases her opinions on reality. I’ve lost respect for John Merrow because, in this blog, he does the opposite.


  42. This ill-disguised hatchet job of Diane Ravitch is just wrong.

    Diane is, in every sense of the word, a hero.

    You should be ashamed of yourself. Your false equivalence with Ted Cruz besides being ridiculous is similar to the false equivalence of creationism with evolution and the false equivalence of climate change science deniers with the evidence for global warming.

    Again shame on you!


  43. I am in a state where a number of policy makers and advocacy groups such as Stand for Children seem to be primarily listening to people who tend to simplify educational issues in order to offer up simple solutions (available, by the way, to buy from Vendors). Even though we are a local control state our State Department of Education weighs in heavily and/or controls what districts do (and therefore what children get) and this is having an especially devastating impact on literacy opportunities for young children of poverty. CDE, through it’s interpretation of the new state READ Act, maintained tight control over what tests districts could use to identify children at risk for Reading failure and followed that up with a list of professional development providers and instructional programs that met a set of criteria that THEY wrote. This set of criteria was written to (in my view) exclude programs out of favor with CDE staffers whether or not those programs had strong data to prove their effectiveness. As a result reading Recovery, a very successful program with strong data designed to help the lowest performing children in first grade was DENIED a spot
    on CDE’s list while other programs without proven results were granted a spot. CDE claims the process was “open” – review panels were selected (by them), rubrics were used (but written by them),etc. This is just an example of how some people get to “rig” the game and this “rigging” reminds me of what happened during the national Reading First days when states got money for “approved” tests and programs (there is a DOE Inspector General’s Report that uncovered these dubious dealings). Dr. Ravitch is peeling back the layers of the current reforms and I, for one, welcome anyone with the brains and guts to do that. I wish she lived in Colorado. We could use her sharp eyes on what our taxpayer money is “doing” for the children in our state!


  44. If you were right and Diane Ravitch were wrong there would be unimaginable passion for your book. There is not. The people who know the truth, the classroom teachers, flock to Ravitch because she recognizes and opposes everything the “reformers” and the Billionaire Boys club are doing to public education. You are either complicit or ignorant, which is it? I don’t want to hear that you have another “point of view”. Listen to thousands of veteran teachers who are not steeped in poison brew of Rhee like anti-teacher potions. If you don’t believe us, continue to belittle us and keep trashing Diane Ravitch, your legacy is assured. BTW, I am no leftist. I am a registered Republican who has no time for Barrack Obama, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz. The are all sucking from the same corporate teat.


    • I’m a registered Democrat, and I could not agree with you more. Parents are allies pushing back on the harmful impact of corporate reform on children’s learning.

      There’s good news from Jefferson County Colorado as a result of parents pushing back on inBloom/Murdoch/Gates.

      Parents will not allow their children to be used for corporate licenses and high-stakes testing nonsense. Parents want neighborhood schools staffed by degreed/certified teachers. Parents want small class sizes and rich curriculum. Furthermore, parents will not allow their children’s personal information to be collected by Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates.

      Rhee, Obama, Duncan, Gates, Murdoch, Klein, Jindal, Bennett and Bush are losing battles across the US. Parents don’t like what the reformers are selling.


  45. Merrow’s closing really says it all. He seems to be pre-emptively striking the source of what will surely be an onslaught of criticism coming from Ravitch and her readers against his documentary about the New Orleans “rebirth.” The “…film will premiere nationwide on Netflix and will be live-streamed for 24 months in nine languages).” Oh, my!

    Who needs to toss around words like “hero” when Merrow promises a REBIRTH?!

    Diane Ravitch is an unusual scholar. Not only does she share her research and knowledge with us parents, teachers and others in the trenches, but her blog also serves as a forum for an exchange of stories from small towns to large cities across the country. By connecting the dots between all these places, we readers are able to see the larger agenda to which our schools and our communities are falling victim. As we fight for the very survival of our neighborhood schools–many people’s first foray into our democratic society–someone who provides that service I indeed heroic.


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