Ravitch: School Ills Traced to Progressive Movement

September 13, 2000

For more than two decades, the prominent education
historian Diane Ravitch has championed the “intellectual
purposes” of schooling. Her new book, Left Back: A Century
of Failed School Reforms
, is both a history of American
education and an impassioned, 466-page argument against
those she believes steered the public schools away from
their core, academic mission.

The scholar reserves some of her harshest critiques for progressive educators:
a diverse group of theorists and practitioners with numerous, sometimes
incompatible aims, who tried to remake the schools to better reflect the needs
of society, on the one hand, and the innate nature of children, on the other. She
charges that, in their many varieties and phases-from child-centered education
to social reconstructionism-the progressives have fostered hostility toward the
academic curriculum. The students most harmed by their efforts, she argues,
have been poor and minority youngsters, who often have been shunted into a
differentiated, lesser course of study that more affluent Americans would find

Senior Editor Lynn Olson recently spoke with Ms. Ravitch about her new book
and her perspective on American education. complete interview.