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.