Fear and Loathing and the Sickness We Have Become

September 5, 2009

Fear and Loathing and the Sickness We Have Become

So here we are a couple of days or so before the start of a new school year, an hour when once upon a time dedicated teachers would be filled with trepidation, yes, but also with joy and expectation. Alas, alas, these days under the relentless “ reform”   (read “revolution”) championed when not rammed down the throats of municipalities across the land   by a handful of various billionaires and their stooges in Washington, in the press and in capitals across the nation, every teacher I’ve spoken to is  instead experiencing something very, very different indeed than those sentiments and emotions.

They are experiencing something much closer to depression or demoralization or even dread at what new schemes await them and their charges.

And why is this ?  Many reasons —  but here’s one. Imagine a world in which people who have never done your job, who know nothing of your work, who will never be required to do your work or any thing remotely like your work are somehow allowed to make the rules and requirements for those who do. Better still, these very same people —  almost all of them whose  sole  qualification for remaking the entire education system in their images is that they have made an enormous  amount of  money somehow, somewhere —   are allowed to establish the criteria that measures how well or poorly you do your job.  Even better,   these same people are trying desperately to find ways to strip you of your job if you do not fulfill their absurd, cynical and ignorant demands.   And what are their demands?   That  every child in America learn the same way at the same pace till “proficiency” rules the  land.  And how  will you  know the day of glory has  come ?   You will know by the scores of  endless and endlessly dumbed down standardized tests.

This is  not the Simpsons but it could  pass for the Simpsons.  Except the Simpsons is  funny.

Many in New York, myself included, were hopeful that some measure of sanity — or at the very least some checks and balances — would be brought to bear on what is virtually the Bloomberg/ Klein dictatorship of the past eight years.  Many, including myself were hopeful that  some in the public sphere, some in the New York  State Senate and Assembly would  come to the unremarkable conclusion that it is  not  a  sound idea to  allow the largest public  school system in the  nation to  be run by  two amateurs whose  collective pedagogical  experience amounts to  zero —   that much the more when the duos open contempt for educators across the board is Napoleonic in scope.   Many including myself were hopeful that parents would at last   see through the testing mania that has turned teachers into low level bureaucrats and trainers and their children into human test takers if not lab rats… but no.  Those parents who did rally were simply ignored. Wholesale.  Teachers, as a  matter of course with this  gang,  were not even part of the discussion.  Most of all many were  hopeful that with the election of Barack Obama, he of the hope and change mantras, the moronic policies  of the Bush administration – in this case  the absurd and grossly irresponsible No Child Left Behind act — would be seen for what it is  and be properly gotten rid of or at least dramatically reformed.

Surprise, surprise!  No  less a figure than Diane Ravich has  stated  publicly and  repeatedly that in terms of  education, Obama is nothing  less than Bush’s  third term. I would go much further.  I  would say that  in terms of education Obama is  Bush’s third term on steroids. The  man is  attempting things  that   Ronald Reagan (  Blessed be His  name )  never dreamed of:  systemically undermining the teacher unions the better and the  quicker to privatize (  read “corporatize”) what  we now know as  public education.  And note this well:  Obama has the advantage of having something Bush possessed for a very short period of time: credibility and good will.    People want to believe Obama.  Talk about his education polices   with most people and they stare in disbelief,  change the subject, search for rationalizations or just walk away. They don’t want to know.  They can’t know.  They invested too much in this man for him to be what he is revealing himself to be.    Look at his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, demanding that states surrender all principals and rights to Washington and remake them in Arne and Obama’s  image to even be considered eligible for some of the billions in the economic stimulus money.  “ Just to be eligible, “ states the August 17 New York Times, “ a state must have no   barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth   to teachers   and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation,” the rules say.

Arne’s other condition is there be no limit to charter schools, a Trojan horse for union busting if there ever was one.

What to make of this?   Here we have a nominally Democratic administration openly union busting, openly treating its own constituents, its own people, in the same manner that the World Bank and the IMF treat the third world:  do exactly what we say or we will starve you to death.   Not surprising, states are surrendering all over the nation. What choice do they have?

But that’s really not the question.    The real question is how did we get here why are we accepting this ?  What does this  disgraceful coercion reveal about where we are as a nation ?  What does it say about us that we are allowing a handful of amateurs —  very rich amateurs to be sure but nonetheless amateurs —  to completely  re-write educational policy in this  nation   at the same time they are doing all  they can to privatize it ?  Where are we ?  What happened to us ?  Why do we allow this ?

The greatest argument I will make for profound and true educational reform in this country  is this:   only a nation in extreme intellectual, cultural and spiritual poverty  could have  allowed this handful of  monstrously arrogant jackasses and ignoramuses  to  do what they are doing as we do  nothing, nothing at all to  stop it  or even call  attention to what it is.

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6 Responses to “Fear and Loathing and the Sickness We Have Become”

  1. kjeaston Says:

    I just don”t know how we could have done it? Voter turnout was an issue. MIke Bloomberg reminds me of the late 80’s.
    glaringly obvious but uncontrollable. Quite frightening.

  2. kjksm1 Says:

    “Of the 29 largest universities, the plutocratic class…composed 56 percent of the membership of privately controlled boards, and 68 percent of the publicly controlled boards. In contrast, the board members included 4-6 percent farmers,no representatives of labor, and no inhouse professors to represent the faculty.” Evans Clark research study of American Universities, 1917

  3. kjksm1 Says:

    “our educational system is not a public service,but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist.” Upton Sinclair, “The Goosestep”, 1923

  4. laura Says:

    Patrick,
    So glad you are putting all this out there. Keep writing. Keep speaking out. It is important.

    Thank you!

  5. libertyjam Says:

    If Democrats are taking piles of union money only to undermine union power the obvious tactic is cut them off.
    Incoming AFL-CIO prez Richard Trumka is taking a stand against Democratic Party duplicity on health care “reform”
    It is time teacher union members begin to pressure their leadership to cut off the flow of AFT or NEA largesse from any Democrat who suppports this destructive and most profitable sham. Public unions are the last stronghold of progressive American labor power. Giving these scumbags support is like loading the gun they are pointing at you.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/09/01/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5279879.shtml

  6. Chris Rael Says:

    Leave it to my friend Patrick to inform us of an injustice being perpetrated by someone whose criticism will most likley engender resentment. Recalls a recent Penny Arcade line: “Obama won, now go back to sleep.”

    Sidebar: In Bulgarian, ‘Baraka’ means ‘shed’


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