Monthly Archives: August 2010

Reviewing Ravitch

Diane Ravitch has written a new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, in which she condemns testing and choice as ineffective tools of education reform. Having served in both the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidential administrations, Ravitch has shown some centrist and even reformer tendencies over the years, and this certainly makes her book and its message noteworthy. The NEA has even awarded Ravitch its “Friend of Education” prize this year .

Peter Cohee, who teaches at the storied Boston Latin School, has reviewed the book for the National Association of Scholars. It got me thinking on the subject, so here are a few of those thoughts:

No Child Left Behind has been problematic from the start. That should have been obvious at the time of its crafting and passage, and was to some. In many education circles, it has become a four letter word as profane as any other. Its strictures that educators so decry, however, are merely the inevitable associated costs of greater central government involvement in what has long been a local or state issue, or even a family or church issue. Odd, that educators would be so slow to learn the old lesson that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

Testing, in and of itself, does not lead to that sort of narrow, static-style learning conjured and forewarned against by phrases like “teaching to the test.”  The manner in which testing is conceived and conducted matters. National testing standards for elementary schools, for example, may stifle as they stipulate. However, classroom teachers, school personnel, district boards and even states could all be involved in sensible, productive testing programs to objectively promote, monitor and assess student achievement.  The limitations and complications of national testing should not cause us to discard testing, but rather question the federal-level involvement.

Choice was not as much advanced by NCLB as was testing, but made some token gains through the law and of course has otherwise been the topic of great discussion. It’s true that choice can complicate things – that’s usually the way freedom works – but that’s no argument against choice. As Cohee notes, large bureaucracies “require and always tend toward” “centralization control and standardization,” an operating mode that does not well accommodate the freedom and flexibility of choice.  Again, this is not an argument against choice, but rather against a system so centralized and bureaucratic that it cannot provide or will not permit choice for the sake of its own expediency.

Cohee offers some good insight, so if you’ve participated or listened to the discussion surrounding the release of Ravitch’s book, you will enjoy the article.


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The Elements of Journalism

Yesterday, I posted the Journalist’s Creed, a timeless definition and enduring commitment to the practice of true journalism. Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, wrote his creed more than one century ago and in my view it still serves as an insightful, illuminating statement on media ethics.

Today, I post the Elements of Journalism, a set of principles and practices that shape the purpose, production and place of journalism in today’s modern society. The elements represent the distilled work of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, who convened more than a decade ago to define the most important features of journalism in a rapidly changing world.

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel published the elements, and added a final one, in their book, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.They are as follows:

  1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and in proportion.
  9. Its practitioners have an obligation to exercise their personal conscience.
  10. Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

The mainstream media is flawed, and the larger media environment limited, when it comes to getting a full and fair account of of the news. That we know. But I’d say if more journalists practiced these elements, the press would improve its usefulness in society, and its trustworthiness to the public.

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The Journalist’s Creed

Walter Williams, founder of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, penned this creed more than one century ago. When I first read this in full, only several months ago, I was soundly struck by the clarity and nobility of this statement. Its assertions are as important now as ever before, and make a useful guide to all who practice the trade of journalism, from the amateur to the professional.

Among his declarations, Williams says that a fear of God, along with national patriotism, mark the best kind of journalism. I was surprised to see this, given that I have never heard anything like this at the University of Missouri! However, the school does still see fit to present the creed in its entirety not only on its website but on a plaque in Neff Hall. The Missouri Press Association also boasts a large plaque bearing the creed on the outside of its building in The District (that’s downtown Columbia, Missouri to non-locals).

Verbatim memorization isn’t in vogue as a learning tool in most places these days, but most any media professional or social critic would benefit from knowing the following “principles, values and standards” by heart:

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

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Greetings from Florida

Just wanted to post a note to everybody to say hello from the Sunshine State. I’m visiting family on the state’s east coast, and having a great time. As part of my visit, I’m teaching several classes at a local non-profit organization on the topics of American history, government and citizenship. I may post more on that later, but suffice it to say that it’s been a good experience and a lot of fun. Probably won’t be on the blog much until a week from tomorrow.

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