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[Susan notes: Joanne makes a crucial point: If we want to improve high schools, we need to make them more like good elementary schools.]

Submitted to New York Times but not published

To the editor

Whenever there is a problem in education, Diane Ravitch finds some aspect of progressivism to blame. This time the bogeyman under the bed is Whole Language, which she says not only keeps students from reading well enough to do high school work but also damages their spelling and grammar skills.

Progressivism, the educational philosophy associated with John Dewey, claims that students need to see meaning and utility in a subject in order to learn it well and use it in their professional, personal, and civic lives.

Ravitch rejects progressivism in favor of the "Ali Baba" theory of education: open students' heads and pour in all the facts and skills they will hold. In the wake of NCLB, that's just what our high schools are now doing. That philosophy, not progressivism, is the central cause of student apathy, failure, and dropping out.

If we want better high school performance, we need to go in the opposite direction from what Ravitch suggests. Make our high schools more like good elementary and middle schools, living centers of critical thinking, exploration of ideas, community service and real problem solving.

Joanne Yatvin

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