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Is Diane Ravitch a reliable historian?

November 28, 2011

UPDATE: You should also read this page on jasonpbecker for some very strong and interesting rebuttals to Carey’s article that I commented on below.

Do read this article on Diane Ravitch. I personally have two major criticisms of Ravitch, both of which Carey exposes eloquently.

First, I believe that she leverages her respect and expertise as an historian and professor to present herself as an experts in areas of academic research and policy where she has little expertise. This is very common with public intellectuals, and I think it’s deceiving and deplorable.

Second, I am unsure about whether she is a reliable narrator of history because my impression is that she’s the “best in the game” at least in part because so few are playing. I don’t personally have the skill to judge her histories and given her blatant academic dishonesty in so many other areas where I have some ability to judge quality, I find it hard to view her as an honest operator.

What is somewhat new in Carey’s take on Ravitch, and what I think most here on Plus will find interesting, are two revelations. First, one I was somewhat acquainted with, it seems possible that some of Ravitch’s shift to rhetorical vitriol against someone who seemed a natural ally (Joel Klein) may be partially attributable to a personal dispute involving Ravitch’s “partner” (this and other articles seem to be intentionally ambiguous about the nature of this relationship). Second, and most interesting to me, it appears that Ravitch doesn’t have the typical academic acumen of an acclaimed scholar in her field. In fact, it appears that Ravitch has produced almost exclusively popular history throughout her career. This detail in particular plays into some of my very concerns about the reliability of her historical narratives.

On a side note, I think if I could be one person in education policy today it’d be Kevin Carey. He’s smart as hell and an excellent writer, even if I disagree with him on higher education issues.