Vergara v. California Part One: Thoughts on Hannah Arendt, a New Totalitarianism and Completing The Circle of Domination

April 21, 2014
The Vergara Nine surrounded by handlers.

The Vergara Nine surrounded by handlers.

It is a peculiar, dark and unhinged world in which we dwell and it seems to grow more so all the time. Consider the extraordinary case of Vergara v. California, now winding down and awaiting a judgment. Here we have nine students, bankrolled by Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur David Welch, co-founder of Infinera, and founder of the advocate group StudentsMatter, suing the state of California. The suit claims that teacher tenure laws have denied them their civil rights.

Yes, for those who have not been following the case, you read that correctly.

The claim is that tenure laws — which merely insure that a teacher who has already passed through a probationary period of at least three years has the right to a hearing or due process before he or she is fired — are denying the nine students, a multicultural lot who range from high school seniors to fifth graders, nothing less than their civil rights.

The nine have been represented by the law firm of Dunn, Gibson & Crutcher which includes superstar attorneys Theodore Boutrous and Theodore B. Olson, the latter of whom won the case representing George W. Bush at the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore — not typically the kind of folk you would expect to be interested in civil rights. Given the specious argument of the case and considering who has orchestrated and funded it, teachers naturally believe the real purpose of the suit is to undermine the teachers’ union in California which would surely have a ripple effect across the country. At the start of the trial, Marcellus McCrae, a partner in the firm representing the plaintiffs, denied such a motive and stated that destroying the teachers’ unions is not the suit’s goal.
“Let’s be very clear,” McCrae declared at the beginning of the trial, “ We are not seeking to take away teachers’ rights – only five overly expensive and time-consuming statutes in the education code that prevent the removal of grossly ineffective teachers.”

Somehow the idea of grossly incompetent administrators allowing the continuance of grossly ineffective teachers does not enter into the picture. One of those “five overly expensive and time-consuming statutes” is due process, the removal of which would make the profession of teaching as secure and as dignified as that of a 17-year-old employee of McDonalds.

The students’ suit – if you are hallucinating that students actually initiated this action — demands that the court declare each of these statutory protections unconstitutional. Studentsmatter seems to exist for the sole purpose of something called “impact litigation.” “Impact litigation” seems to mean “union busting.”

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It is a sign of our increasing historical amnesia, outright ignorance or savage disrespect for our language and our history that a figure like David Welch, like so many education privatizers can usurp the language and banner of civil rights and somehow use kids to position himself as an heir to figures like Martin Luther King, and pass off the privatization campaign as a continuation of that heroic and dangerous and spiritually charged battle. That said, Welch and his fellow privatizers are nothing if not media savvy (or can hire people who are ) and know exactly what they are doing and what buttons to push. (The Students Matter website features a Springsteen-esque soundtrack – think “Philadelphia” — to help along that emotional connection with the underdog school kids.)

David Welch He Shall Overcome

David Welch
He Shall Overcome

It is no accident that nine students were selected and coached in this case. The Vergara Nine seems deliberately calculated to echo the trial of the Little Rock Nine, the group of African American students who were denied entry into a racially segregated school by Arkansas governor Orval Faubas which led to the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. The idea of the nine is to create an emotional connection drawn from an historical instance of grotesque institutional racism and somehow transfer it into a rationale to strip teachers of their rights and bust teacher unions without you even being aware of it.

After all, who but a moral monster is against civil rights?

Three of the Little Rock   Nine surrounded by  soldiers.

Three of the Little Rock Nine surrounded by soldiers.

But my understanding of Vergara v. California brings to mind not King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” but rather, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century’s most prescient and intrepid writers. Even if the Nazism and Communism that Arendt analyzed have been replaced by gentler if more insidious and pernicious purveyors of absolute control – namely corporations and plutocrats — The Origins of Totalitarianism remains the prescriptive classic of that dark genre and there is still much to be learned from it today.

“Total domination,” writes Arendt” which strives to organize the infinite plurality and differenenciation of human beings as if all of humanity were just one individual, is possible only if each and every person can be reduced to a never changing identity of reactions, so that each of these bundles of reaction can be exchanged at random for another.”

And: “It is the very nature of totalitarian regimes to demand unlimited power. Such power can only be secured if literally all men, without a single exception are reliably dominated in every aspect of their life.”

Privatizers demand unlimited power. Privatizers speak constantly of choice and freedom while constantly attempting to reduce the freedom of teachers by stripping them of their union won protections and reduce them to at will employees. Privatizers, some of whom like Bill Gates are virtual monopolists, moan of the monopoly of “government schools” while attempting to impose a single all encompassing privately owned monstrosity called the Common Core on every school in America. Privatizers spend millions on propaganda films like Waiting For Superman and The Lottery and hire public relations firms to pass themselves off as legitimate organizations and erect billboards in Times Square filled with lies meant to do nothing less than dominate the minds of all who see them and turn them against all aspects of the school system that has educated the overwhelming percentage of Americans for almost 200 years.

The labor of the completely fraudulent "Center For Union Facts."

The labor of the completely fraudulent “Center For Union Facts.”

Arendt describes how such domination is formed by gaining power over individuals
( and then nations) by systemically undermining their individuality and hence their loyalties by a process of systemically deranging their identities and thus manufacturing an emotional connection to a leader or a cause. Broken down to it’s essentials it works like this: our identities are made up of components. Most of us are members of families, communities, political parties, ethic groups, churches, synagogues, mosques and more. Figure out how to target and undermine these components and you have created a void that is to be filled with what the totalitarian wants to fill it with . An attack on one’s identity is always and ever an attack on one’s sense of reality. One is atomized. All that was familiar is made to seem distant,strange, perhaps even sinister. I.e. That school you entrusted your child to – is it really invested in educating your kid ? Are those teachers really “world class?” Is it really your kid’s fault that he failed that class ? It goes without saying that the less educated, more impoverished and psychologically fragile one is, the more vulnerable one is to such attacks which is precisely why all privatizing fronts target the poor.

The endgame is that the atomized person is left with an emotional connection with “the leader ” or the cause, which in the end is, in fact, interchangeable. If done successfully, the emotional connection can find one blissfully helping in the destruction of a public system where at least one has a modicum of rights and a chain of accountability so as to build a publicly funded private enterprise where one has no more rights than a medieval peasant before a king or queen. I have seen this disturbing dance performed by parents in Harlem before the figure of Ms. Moskowitz.

Cults operate under very similar methods.

That’s how the totalitarian methodology worked with individuals under earlier and cruder systems meant for total domination. Something analogous, if far more subtle and sexy, has been going on for years within the campaign to privatize the US public school system: the creation of an extraordinary, indeed unprecedented number of phony grassroots non-profit fronts aimed at undermining all components of a school community in the same manner you would undermine all components of an individual. Such fronts produce the operatives and foot soldiers of the privatization campaign. How would such a method work in undermining a school system ? What is the “identity” of a school ?

What are the components?
First there is the community at large.
Then there are parents.
Then there are teachers.
Finally there are the students whose participation is such groups, until Students Matter, seemed to be considered outside the pale. No more.

Now consider the targets of just a handful of the tax deductible front groups created by and maintained by billionaires over the past ten years, each one created to undermine traditional beliefs and implode the system at large by dividing and conquering every single one of the above constituencies and turning them against each other – and, if possible, at each others’ throats.

Like so much of the campaign to privatize public education, this is a wholly unprecedented phenomenon in the American experience.
Consider the effect of charter schools and charter fronts on communities across the country. Have not the creation of publicly funded charter schools to some degree or another, rent asunder the communities they ostensibly serve ? Have not billionaire created groups like Families For Excellent Schools help sow discord and enmity between parents living on the same streets in the same neighborhoods who without such slick guidance might well be fighting in a common cause for good schools for all of their children ? Were such groups not designed to do exactly that ? Has not the entire idea of a community as geographically defined been ripped apart by the machinations of the charter lobby and their fronts? Have the creation of charter schools not turned one part of a community against another in an insane war for scarce resources and even scarcer public space? At PS 149 where I work in Harlem (where Harlem Success Academy first “co-located” and with Cuomo’s recent legislation may be “co-locating” that much the more ) I have seen this disturbing aspect realized on a daily basis.

Note: In response to newly elected Mayor Bill De Blasio’s extremely even handed charter school policy which were created to insure that New York’s most vulnerable students were not thrown out of their school to make way for charter empires, Families for Excellent Schools spent more than five million dollars on extremely sophisticated, heart tugging TV ads designed to paint charter school students as victims and Bill de Blasio as a heartless, racist monster. Days after Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State legislature rewarded the charter lobby with laws that essentially stripped fellow Democrat De Blasio of power over part of his own school system and gave charter school operators complete dominion over the New York City public school system, Families for Excellent Schools sent out a slickly produced oversized glossy postcard to millions of New Yorkers urging them to call Cuomo and personally thank him for “championing public education.” This from a group that howled at the notion of paying rent.

For the parental constituency the privatization campaign has produced, among others, the risible front group called Parent Revolution, foot soldiers for the absurd Parent Trigger Law which states that if 51 % of a school’s parent body vote for it, they have the right to fire the staff and reopen the institution as a charter school and only as a charter school which will remain a charter school indefinitely. How this kind of idiocy is possible with people’s professions and public property is beyond my comprehension, but what any student of the privatization campaign learns in short time is that when you are backed by limitless wealth, all things, no matter how unethical or insane are possible.

Parent Revolutionaries and handler.

Parent Revolutionaries and handler.

The Parent Trigger was celebrated in the execrable propaganda film, Don’t Back Down, which despite bombing at the box office was shown at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions and then featured at Chamber of Commerce events across the nation. The idea behind the group, the law and the film is to convince parents that the unionized teachers of the public school system have been failing their kids forever: conversely, that the publicly funded charter school entrepreneurs are their real friends.

The idea is to poison the well of public trust and parent against parent.

For teachers you have Educators 4 Excellence, allegedly formed spontaneously by two teachers in their early twenties under a bare light bulb in the South Bronx (or some such smaltz) who felt that they needed and richly deserved a direct line to power that was not through the teacher’s union and actually competed with it. Due entirely to massive contributions by hedge fund based Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and the ubiquitous Gates Foundation, the two non entities were able to do just that. Almost instantly. And more: E4E were given endless and glowing media coverage in major media by “journalists” who showed no curiosity whatsoever as to how a couple of unremarkable new teachers — whose new ideas aligned perfectly with those of the privatizers — were able to raise hundreds of thousands and then millions of dollars, quit their excellent teaching jobs to devote themselves to educating educators on how to be excellent, and obtain an excellent office on excellent 5th Ave in less than three excellent years.

Their job, of course, is to poison the relationship between teacher and teacher, and teacher and union. To be sure, the Gates Foundation has long ago prepared for an E4E dues check off campaign set to cripple teachers unions and is merely awaiting the most propitious moment in which to launch it.

For the past decade, which is to say the period in which the privatizers’ campaign and their concomitant fronts began in earnest, children were apparently considered off limits. Or, perhaps, the privatizers were merely biding their time — one of the many benefits of being a billionaire or having billionaire backers.
At any rate, with Vergara v. Califorina the privitizers have at long last taken the step of setting students against teachers. And with that the circle of domination is complete. This strikes me as an enormous and egregious step and I suspect it is only the first of many from that direction. Whatever the result of the trial, so ruthless and self righteous are the privatizers, it would not surprise me at all to see the emergence of front groups comprised exclusively of kids like the Vergara Nine who, by nature of being kids, will have no idea of how they are being used and by whom but will be convinced they know better than anyone who disagrees with them.

And why not? As with Eva Moskowitz’s bussing of hundreds of nine and ten and eleven year old students to Albany to “lobby” for her charter school empire, we as a people have degenerated to the place where kids can be transparently used as political pawns and almost no one bats an eye. All that seems to matter in the America of today is that you get your way, as we all and all in our own way race to the top of nowhere.

And don’t think for a moment that our children aren’t absorbing this lesson.

Meet the new face of totalitarianism. They come at you wearing not jackboots and insignias but Nikes and a smile, offering you a frappuccino and maybe a job in their brand new non-profit organization created out of nothing but an undying love of children, your children especially.

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Hundreds Protest Cuomo’s Pro Charter Education Budget

April 10, 2014

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Hundreds gathered on the steps of the 42nd St New York Public Library to protest the crazily lopsided and shockingly unfair education budget recently passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature at the behest of the super rich charter school lobby. Among other egregious demands, the budget states that the charter lobby, not the mayor of New York, has veto power over all space changes to co-located public buildings, and that any new charter school requesting public space must be given it by the Department of Education or the DOE must pay market rent for the charters’ private space.

Noah Gotbaum

Noah Gotbaum

The rally, led by parent activist and Community Education Council member Noah Gotbaum was comprised of parents, educators and students from all over the city who heard speeches from New York City Councilman Danny Drumm, New York State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, and Hazel Dukes of the NAACP, among others.

Hazel Dukes of NAACP

Hazel Dukes of NAACP

Among the groups represented were Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters, NAACP, MORE , ChangetheStakes, Alliance for Quality Education, and New York Coalition for Change.

After the speeches the protest marched to Cuomo’s 3rd Ave office where children presented a member of Cuomo’s staff a bag full of fake money as a symbolic mockery of Cuomo’s acceptance of $ 800, 000 from the billionaire based charter lobby for his re-election campaign.

NY State Senator Liz Krueger

NY State Senator Liz Krueger


A Busy Day for Billionaire Backed Front Groups

April 10, 2014

Yesterday was a busy beaver of a day for billionaire backed front Groups. Someone, somewhere, deep in the bowels of the New York wing of the billionaire based campaign to privatize the public school system, must have recently given the order: Get out the word. Now! Some people are beginning to understand what’s really going on.

How else can one explain not one but two volleys from two billionaire financed front groups ( and one newly minted at that ! ) on a single day ?
Early yesterday afternoon I received word of the advent of Higher Achievement New York, yet another deceitfully created billionaire backed front group passing itself off as “grass roots ” and roping in just enough innocent faces to fool those who don’t know any better.

“Higher Achievement New York described itself as “an organized platform” dedicated to higher standards that will explain what the new standards mean for children, and how they offer better preparation for college and careers, through social media advertising and lobbying.
“Our goal is to foster positive conversation that hasn’t existed around these standards,” said the group’s executive director Frank Thomas, who previously worked in communications for the city’s Department of Education and Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign.”

In plain English, Higher Achievement New York is a public relations project disguised as an education advocacy group.

As the standards belong to the Common Core and the Common Core is an untested experiment in progress, there is no legitimate way to explain how the Common Core can prepare anyone for anything at all. No one has any idea what, if any, effect it will have on students. And explain to whom, by the way ? The parents who have reacted to the experiment on their kids with volcanic rage at what it is doing to their children? To the teachers and administrators who have twisted themselves into pretzels attempting to implement the unholy mess ?

Perhaps they’ll find an audience in the fish and other sea creatures dwelling in New York Harbor. After all, they’re paid and doubtless paid well, to “ foster positive conversation” and they have a better chance these days with sea life than they do with most people not on their pay roll.

As Higher Achievement New York is comprised of more established and experienced fronts such as the Gates Foundation’s Educators4Excellence and Mike Bloomberg’s Students First NY, one should expect an extraordinarily high level of obfuscation, distortion, and shill like behavior.

Many have, in fact, seen a preview of their act. The two aforementioned fronts did their best to dominate the two New York City hearings of Commissioner John King, the first in Brooklyn where Students FirstNew York members were allowed to enter the hall early and hog up no less than 44 of the 45 speaker slots so as to create an impression of wild enthusiasm for the loathed Common Core utterly unrelated to reality outside the world of public relations. At the same time they shamelessly injected the issue of race into the mix, somehow insinuating that the privately owned, secretly created product of the Gates Foundation called Common Core was nothing less than a civil right. The following night when King appeared in lower Manhattan the two fronts showed up in tandem and one heard silly testimonial after silly testimonial from one 24 year old “ex teacher” (currently employed to “raise expectations” by StudentsFirstNY ) after another about how Common Core is the answer to just about every problem in the known universe, bizarre statements by E4E teachers of the almost supernatural power of the Common Core, and, most cynically, insinuations that rejection of the Common Core was merely disguised racism.

Well, with the coming of Higher Achievement New York, you can bet you’ll hear a whole lot more of that kind of stuff.
By the way, does the name Higher Achievement New York portend a Higher Achievement New Jersey? A Higher Achievement Connecticut, and on and on until all fifty states are achieving higher ?

A few hours after reading about Higher Achievement I arrived home to find a foot long glossy post card, not dissimilar in style from the one my then five-year-old daughter received in her name from Success Academy some years back, festooned with smiling and beautiful African American children, so beloved by the titans of Wall Street. Yesterday’s card bore my name and address and a dramatic shot of Andrew Cuomo giving a speech in front of a ChartersWork sign and came from something called Families For Excellent Schools.
The Families kindly sent the card to implore me to call up “education champion” Andrew Cuomo and thank him for the wondrous job he was doing with our schools. Part of Cuomo’s wonderful work was helping to pass laws that gave charter schools rights that public schools don’t have, such as the right for charter school entrepreneurs like Eva Moskowitz not merely not to pay rent, but to dictate the terms of whatever she wants when it comes to expanding her publically funded empire into already existing schools. In essence, what Cuomo did in terms of education was to give Mike Bloomberg a forth term as mayor. And then some.

CARD 1 G

The card made me sick just to look at it. And needless to say, it must have cost a fortune to create and another to do a mass mailing of the thing. This from the folks who can’t afford to pay rent.

CARD 2

As a teacher in PS 149, one of the schools that Cuomo essentially gave to Eva Moskowitz, the homage to the Tough Guy governor’s giveaway goes right to the gut. The giant post card seemed like a sick joke: a sick joke played on the neediest and most disadvantaged school kids in all of New York; a joke played on those who would be jettisoned for the comfort of Ms. Moskowitz’s charter children.

Moreover, how did these creepy people get my name and address ? Who gave it to them ? They got it the same way, I suspect, that other creepy people got my daughter’s name and address a few years back. And that way points to the public trust called the Department of Education and the manipulation thereof.

Disturbing stuff.

I decided to look up Families For Excellent Schools curious, when most families I know are scrapping to get by, as to what manner of families have this kind of money to spend on such gratuitous gestures to such odious figures as Andrew Cuomo. This is how they described themselves on their website: “Founded in 2011 by public school parents, Families for Excellent Schools is a community organization that fights for every child’s
right to an excellent education. Through organizing and political
work, we work to amplify the voices of families over the din of
electioneering and special interest campaigning. Rather than speak on
behalf of public school parents, Families for Excellent Schools
empowers parents to speak for themselves.”

Parents speaking for themselves! How touching!

I looked a little further still and found one of the families for excellent schools was none other than Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, not widely known for being particularly fond of people speaking for themselves.

I looked further and found out that Families for Excellent Schools shares an address with the New York division of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

A question: Weren’t front groups, for excellent reasons, once generally regarded as sleazy, unethical and even sinister enterprises?

What has been left almost entirely unexamined in the privatization campaign is, not only the extreme proliferation of billionaire-backed fronts, but their strange, silent metamorphosis from something to be shunned to something to be accepted and even celebrated.
Is not the purpose of a front to deceive? To trick? To pass yourself off as something you are not so as to scam credulous people of good will ? Are fronts not a con job?

Of course, they are. Fronts are bad faith incorporated.

And yet, multiplying like malignant cells, the massive money behind “education reform” has produced more fronts than one can keep up with. Higher Achievement New York is merely the latest. And none seem to betray their utter amorality.

There will be more, to be sure. We are dealing with souls to whom millions are meaningless and whose ruthlessness, sense of entitlement, and narcissism knows no bounds. The only thing they know how to do is to dominate by any means they can. And they believe it is their right to do so.

They are, after all, unimaginably rich and like the charter schools they hold so dear, they have rights that people like you and I do not.


Rally Against Cuomo and For Public Education Tomorrow at 4:00

April 9, 2014

Rally


Night Thoughts at Noon

April 8, 2014

night t

It is at 12:05 am, my lunch hour. Outside my door I hear the voices of children, laughing and playing, joyful in their innocence of the world that awaits them. Behind other doors, the doors of my colleagues, I know there is silence and the stares of those who worry: Will I have a job next year ? Will this school be closed? Will the charter school take my room ? How will I feed my kids if I’m fired ? Who are the people doing this and what more do they want ?

The sickening feeling, years now in the making, of the ground forever cracking beneath your feet, that whatever you do will not be good enough, that schemes such as Danielson will be used to keep you forever on edge, forever fearful like a cat in a corner sensing the presence of a cruel unseen master, is as pervasive as the voices of children.

Is this the way to run a school system? Of course, not. But it is how to destroy one.


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