Ravitch and reform: Should Left Back be Left Back?

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This is a review essay of Diane Ravitch's recent work, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (Simon & Schuster, 2000). I note in the introduction the impact that educational historians can have on policy making by establishing the historical context for contemporary debate. Relying on my experience in the schools during the reform eras of the century and accompanying sources, I call attention to the tendentiousness of Left Back, the limitations of its documentation, the neglect of important reform movements, and its troubling accusation that there is an elitist attitude in public education that has historically been detrimental to the underprivileged. I argue that public education, including its reformist and experimental elements, have provided unique opportunities for upwardly mobile segments of society without making the humanities the only focus of the school curriculum. I conclude that Left Back is wittingly or unwittingly a part of the contemporary culture wars in which public education is an important battleground. It, therefore, deserves an in-depth analysis and commentary.

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Teachers College Record

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