Mail to Michael Goldstein


Sometimes I pass my time reading articles stored on my laptop. The most recent one was: “Where is American Education Going, Report on a Convocation.”  If you skim over it a bit yourself  you will recognize most of the voices and be already quite familiar with most all of what is being said.

Many of the participants are still with us, still saying pretty much the the same things they said at the 1995 Convocation (Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, Merseth, Elmore, Darling-Hammond, Linda Nathan et al. And many others have passed on (Shanker, Sizer, Howe et al.), although perhaps still repeating the same things from up there somewhere.

As I read Holton’s (my Harvard Physics teacher of over 50 years ago!) and Goroff’s admirable summary report of the Convocation I said to myself that nothing has really changed, — plus ça change plus c’est la même chose. Educators today are saying today pretty much what they were saying some 15 years ago, and probably, even, many years before that, going back at least to the time of James Bryant Conant and the comprehensive high school of the 1950s.

I also thought of my writing, and yours. Do you ever get the impression that you’re speaking, writing primarily to and for  yourself? For that’s the impression I have when I write, and also I’m pretty much convinced that what I write has zero influence on anything out there. (That, of course, may not be your impression.)

And even when you are someone with influence, or at least someone who is read, and even more important listened to, someone like the Times’s Paul Krugman or Thomas Friedman, does anything really change, anyone’s thinking, as a result of what these two, or any of the other tens of thousands of Blog and op-ed writers, have said?

Anyway, most of what is summarized in the Holton/Goroff Report could have been said today, with few if any changes.

So what’s going on? Is it that the whole education elephant while out there somewhere, for it has to be, is never seen in its entirety by those looking? Also, perhaps what is being said by the  Convocation participants is so divorced from reality that it has no effect on reality?

Sure, we have to agree with Madeleine Kunin, that “We are dealing with the most important responsibility of any society—of any species for that matter. The primary responsibility is the education and rearing of the young in order to continue the life of the species.”

But this “rearing of the young” is happening in spite of us, going its own way, almost regardless of those of us who think we’re instrumental in shaping it. We’re not. The interesting question is who, what is…


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