The following is David Whitman's response to my review of his new book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism.
Thanks for your generally thoughtful book review. I very much appreciate that you took the time to read and grapple with my use of the "new paternalism" label to describe these six extraordinary inner-city schools, rather than giving a knee-jerk dismissal to any depiction of the schools that uses the seemingly verboten "P" word (Paternalism). I'm also grateful that you credited the impressive gap-closing record of these schools and acknowledged that their examples provide important lessons to those seeking to reform inner-city schooling.
Although I disagree with several points you raise, I would note only two specific objections. I don't know of any passage in the book where I make "no attempt to mask" my "loathing of liberals . . . and Richard Rothstein." I concluded that Richard Rothstein had minimized the importance of these gap-closing schools and the role they could one day play in helping to close the achievement gap. But I don't loath liberals or Richard Rothstein, and I don't think I treat Rothstein's arguments or data disrespectfully in any passage of the book, much less with loathing. In fact, I'm a fan of a lot of Richard Rothstein's writing; I just think he got this one wrong. (As for the other two groups that you claim I "loath"--multicultural activitists and unions--I don't loath them either, though I am critical of the impact that they have on inner-city schooling. It's true that I don't "mask" that belief in the book but why should I? If others believe that multicultural activists and teacher unions have made substantial contributions to closing the achievement gap, let them make the case for their conclusion).
Second, your book review leaves the impression that Sweating the Small Stuff turned out as it did because I was an ideological handmaiden of the Fordham Institute, which commissioned and published the study. But I'm not an employee of the Fordham Institute--I'm a freelance journalist with a long record of being able to mix journalistic observation and academic research. During my 17 years as a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report I was often drawn to contrarian stories, too. I think that the Fordham Institute is on target in many K-12 education debates but the conclusions in my book are my own and the Fordham Institute didn't dictate where the book should come out. Over the years, I have written many so-called man-bites-dog stories that debunk some piece of conventional wisdom and have written two books in which I take on both conservative and liberal beliefs on a variety of issues. If you look at my 1998 book, The Optimism Gap, or a 2004 monograph that I wrote for the Fordham Institute, The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption, you will find that I am in fact critical of a number of pet conservative theories. Though my personal political proclivities shouldn't be an issue in a book review, I tend to tilt left of center.