Archive for May, 2011

Bloomberg’s Choice: This Is Not About Education

May 11, 2011

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is obsessed.   He is obsessed with his legacy. He is obsessed with abolishing the New York State seniority laws.  He is obsessed with the destruction of the United Federation of Teachers.  He is obsessed with the privatization of the New York City Public School system.

Like his fellow education reformers Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, Jeb Bush, and any number of hedge fund millionaires, Bloomberg is obsessed with imposing his will and his values on every square inch of the continental United States.  This is  to be done  via an utter transformation of the American public school system.

Like the rest of these people, Bloomberg is obsessed, not with education — a subject about which he knows nothing and cares even less — but with using education to transform the American ethos into something of a mirror reflection of himself;  obsessed with using education as a means to insure the absolute triumph and domination of the corporate state for decades if not centuries to come.

These obsessions are all intertwined. Recklessly, ruthlessly, dangerously intertwined.

Last Friday, at the conclusion of Teacher Appreciation Week, Mike Bloomberg showed New Yorkers just how recklessly intertwined his obsessions are when he announced that, due to the fiscal crisis, New York would need to lay off some 6000 teachers.  1,500 would go by attrition, 4, 500 by pink slip.  By virtually every estimation excepting that of Bloomberg himself and the Department of Education which he has ruled with an iron hand for almost a decade, a loss of such magnitude would be catastrophic for New York’s students as well as a personal disaster for each and every one of the unemployed former teachers.

Well, hard cheese old chap. Should  have thought of that before you were born.

Also, by virtually every estimation other than Bloomberg’s, the layoffs are simply not necessary.  Alas, says Bloomberg, the city simply does not have the 377 million dollars it needs to keep the 6000 teachers.  And for that, says he,  blame the state and the federal government.

Note:  even as he went to the trouble of secretly finding a stooge to introduce a bill abolishing seniority  — a certain Long Island Assemblyman named Flanagan who, though outside of the Mayor’s city is well within the Mayor’s control – Bloomberg has  steadfastly refused to help in the effort to retain the so called Millionaire’s tax. And  this despite the greatest movement of wealth upwards in American history.

Retaining the tax would have provided  the money needed to solve the problem of potential layoffs.

But Bloomberg does not want to solve the problem of potential layoffs.    He wants to use the problem to destroy the teacher’s union.

The UFT states unequivocally that there is a multi billion dollar surplus in the city’s education coffers.  The DOE’s Dennis Walcott, rather less unequivocally, denies it.   What is beyond dispute, however, is the fact that, in the midst of the greatest job loss since the disastrous teacher layoffs of the 1970’s which damaged the school system for decades, Mike Bloomberg has allocated $550 million for next year alone for technology upgrades and computers.

Such an allocation is, even by Bloomberg’s icy standards, a remarkably callous and insulting choice.  It is akin to his decision to hire Cathy Black and his failure to fire Iris Bilge to name two of a thousand such Bloombergian decisions in his reign as dictator of educational policy.    Such a choice says to teachers: This is what I think of you: a computer is more valuable.

At the same time, of course,  the allocation puts the lie to Bloomberg’s claims of having to lay people off.

No matter how you look at it, it  demonstrates that the layoffs, like the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, are a matter of choice.

It is also, like the decision to invade Iraq, nothing short of an act of war.

The object of the war is the total destruction of the UFT and the consequent privatization of the school system. Bloomberg knows that if New York City schools fall, all other cities will fall afterward.  Bloomberg’s method is circuitous.  The idea is to  abolish state seniority laws and  allow the slow and ugly weakening and unraveling of collective bargaining rights and the union protections that would inevitably come in its wake.

Indeed, even as Bloomberg has worked to weaken and undermine the UFT at every turn since he was granted dictatorial power over the school system almost a decade ago, the removal of seniority laws — under the guise of “putting kids first” by keeping “the best teachers” in the class room,   – would, in short order, plant the seeds and harvest all of the poisonous   fruits of corporate business culture in schools across New York.

As rights and protections became weakened, dwindled or vanished altogether and teachers became “at will” employees, fear would become the normative psychological state  of the school building.   Perpetual and divisive competition between colleagues, informing, and shameless ass kissing would all become commonplace.  Moral autonomy would shrink into nothingness. The strong and original would be fired or driven out or beaten down.  Students would receive an even more anemic and insulting verison of corporate education than they do now,  and that is really saying something.  Bubble tests would proliferate even more mindlessly than they currently do.

In short, the abolition of  seniority  would, in time, produce an education reformer’s  paradise.  Bloomberg knows this – which is why he has been fighting so ruthlessly and insidiously to abolish the seniority law.  It is why he is, in essence, perfectly willing to throw 6000 teachers to the dogs of a brutal economy just to get his way.

As always, the press is only too happy to parrot the Bloomberg/ reformer line, distort the truth and wholly omit why the seniority laws were created to begin with. Seniority laws, imperfect as all man made laws are, were created as a response to   cronyism, racism, sexism, and, until very, very recently — indeed, until the sad advent of education reform — were commonly considered the only way to insure some modicum of fairness and some measure of job security in times of economic crisis and layoffs.

Suddenly, in the words of Fox News, seniority laws are “controversial.”

In the coming weeks Bloomberg and his billionaire friend will do everything they can to persuade legislators in Albany to abolish seniority.  We can expect no end of teary-eyed stories of young dedicated teachers tragically separated from their charges by the savage union thugs and their lackeys in the state.  Indeed, they have already begun.  Observe today’s  front page of the NY Times.

It is essential to understand that none of this, indeed none of education reform is  or has ever been, in any meaningful sense of the words,  about “education” or “reform.”   It is about transformation of values. It is about the final stages of creating a country  in which all public institutions will cease to exist for all will be privatized.    It is about the elimination of not only unions but the  very impulses and principles on which they are created:  the yearning for economic justice, fair play, compassion, fraternity,   and solidarity, all of  which are in direct opposition to the ethos of the increasingly a-human corporate state.

It is about institutionalizing the Hobbesian “war of one man against all men” and positing this bestial nihilistic high tech savagery as virtuous and divinely ordered.   It is about a right-wing revolution by stealth.   It is about the absolute triumph of the corporate state and the absolute removal of all opposition to it.     It is about driving a stake through the heart of unionism in America.

It is about servitude.

You do not appoint  people like Joel Klein or Cathy Black or Dennis Walcott Chancellors of Education of the largest school system in the USA if you have any interest in improving education.  You do not demand dictatorial  control over a system   of which you have no knowledge, no experience, and no interest if  you are interested in education.  You do not shut out parents from  any meaningful discussion of their own children’s education if you have any interest in education.   You do not impose business plans and call them education plans if you are interested in education.  You do not shut out the voices of real educators if you are interested in education.  You do not create Leadership Academies designed  to  spit out instant principals trained to act like CEOS if you are interested in education. You do not give public school buildings to charter schools empires if you are interested in public education. You do not heed the cynical advice of cynical billionaires who believe it their right to make public policy and experiment on other people’s  children if you are interested in education. You do not reduce students to bubble test taking guinea pigs  if you are interested in education.  You do not hound, harass, humiliate  and micro-manage teachers if you are interested in education.  You do not purchase technology at the expense of teachers if you are interested in education.  Above all you do not lay off thousands of teachers if you are interested in education. You do not set new teachers against experienced teachers if you are interested in education.

You do these things if you are obsessed with power over others.  Education is merely the means.

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Words for May Day

May 2, 2011

After attending the underwhelming May Day Rally in Union Square and marching down Broadway to the finale in Foley Square, I wandered over to the Lower East Side, to Grand Street, to the Hillman Houses.  I went there to read Labor Leader Sidney Hillman’s simple and beautiful words on the plaque before the entrance of the cooperative housing complex that bears his name.

Sidney Hillman  (1887 – 1946) became the head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and was a founding member of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

He was also a man  of  vision, the kind of  vision one seldom if ever hears  today.

Hillman’s words tell us how far we, as a nation, have fallen from our humanity; tell us how far we, as a nation, have to rise again to begin to regain our humanity.

They are excellent words to contemplate on any day but they seem especially appropriate in this age on May Day.

Send In the Clown (Don’t Bother, He’s Here.)

May 1, 2011

So, Chris Christie, the grotesques Governor of New Jersey,   visits Harvard Graduate School of Education and is embraced as one their own.

If nothing else, the friendly reception that this vicious vulgar clown received from grad students and staff at this pinnacle of higher education provides yet another clear example of how thoroughly and mindlessly liberal institutions have abandoned and betrayed the working people of this country, and how completely and uncritically they have embraced the suicidal, neo-fascist policies of the corporate state.

Central to those polices is the total destruction of labor unions and with them, worker rights. Central to the total destruction of labor unions is the total destruction of America’s teacher unions.

Christie’s reception by these students  is especially disturbing because of the fact that their Harvard degrees and the built-in old boy and old gal networks that such degrees provide will just about guarantee these very students  will be “fast tracked” into positions of influence and power —   that much faster  if they’re singing corporate hymns.

Christie and the Harvard Graduate School of Education dwell, apparently in an enviously untroubled, strangely one dimensional and curiously microscopic world.   It is a world blissfully unaware of the effects of the greatest disparity in wealth and poverty in the industrialized world – even as they further the disparity.    It is a world blissfully unperturbed by living in a nation with  the highest rate of incarceration on earth.  It is a world in which, as I write, American soldiers are killing and being killed to bring “democracy” to three countries on the other side of the world while in America collective bargaining rights have been outlawed in state after state  while  an entire municipality in Michigan has been stripped of all democratically elected officials and replaced by an overlord called a manager.

It is a happy, well fed, unconscious and most of all secure world  in which the likes of Chris Christie can make the following statement and the graduate students of Harvard School of Education applaud.

Mr. Christie’s first ovation came when he said, “The reason I’m engaging in this battle with the teachers’ union is because it’s the only fight worth having.”

Appropriate for an age in which politics are dominated and wholly perverted by public relations, the sole objection to Christie’s full frontal assault on teachers in a  school system that  until very recently was considered a point of pride for the citizens of New Jersey and, indeed the nation, was a matter, not of Christie’s policies, but his style. 

The closest thing to a hostile question Mr. Christie faced came after he embraced the title bestowed on him recently by The New York Times Magazine: The Disrupter. Jenny Hanson, a graduate student in education, told him that she liked his ideas, but added, “I think using language like ‘disrupter’ and ‘battle’ and ‘fight’ could prevent buy-in.”

Preventing  “buy-in ”, of course,  is the debased language of marketing which  in some sick way  is  appropriate diction for  a Harvard grad student of Education besotted by the profound thoughts of Chris Christie.

But, true to form, the heroic Christie stood his ground.

But he said he would not change his tone until the teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, agreed that schools are in crisis and showed more willingness to make major changes.

“I have to convince the public that the house is on fire,” he said.

Revealingly, not a single graduate student at this elite university thought to ask this man why a people whose house was on fire would have to be convinced of it.

So, therein the ranks of hedge fund monsters, manipulative and ignorant billionaires, former governors, present governors, former presidents, and  a current president,  all battling the demonic teachers who are ruining the country is, it appears, the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Here is where the liberal mandarin class and the Tea Party meet.

Here is where the American elite   congratulates each other on their simplistic, unsustainable, and destructive plans for the lower orders: us.

Here is where we stand on May Day 2011.

We have no allies except ourselves.

We have no one in our corner except each other.

Send in the clowns.

Don’t bother they are everywhere.

Addendum:  For more on Harvard’s relationship to labor read Michael Fiorillo’s excellent piece, Ivy League Union Busting, then and Now at  http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2010/09/michael-fiorillo-at-nyc-educator-blog.html

April 29, 2011

Harvard Gives Christie’s Education Plans a Warm Welcome

By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Conservatives may see Harvard as the heart of liberal darkness, but on Friday it gave a warm, even enthusiastic reception to Gov. Chris Christie and his ideas on education overhaul.

Speaking to almost 200 students and staff members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the New Jersey governor drew rounds of applause with his talk of sharply limiting teacher tenure, rigorously evaluating teachers and administrators, curbing the power of teachers’ unions and pledging to appoint more-conservative justices to the State Supreme Court.

Mr. Christie’s first ovation came when he said, “The reason I’m engaging in this battle with the teachers’ union is because it’s the only fight worth having.”

The ground he covered would be familiar to anyone who has watched the town hall-style forums in New Jersey that have made Mr. Christie a YouTube star. There, at least a few detractors usually show up to question him, and his policies and pugnacious statements can make even some supporters uncomfortable.

But here, during Mr. Christie’s 40-minute opening talk and a question-and-answer session of the same length, the response was less

equivocal.

“I came away very encouraged, and I admire him for saying things that might be unpopular,” said Matt Shiraki, 26, a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government.

The closest thing to a hostile question Mr. Christie faced came after he embraced the title bestowed on him recently by The New York Times Magazine: The Disrupter. Jenny Hanson, a graduate student in education, told him that she liked his ideas, but added, “I think using language like ‘disrupter’ and ‘battle’ and ‘fight’ could prevent buy-in.”

Mr. Christie, uncharacteristically, said he often thought about — and “struggled a lot” with — the notion that he is too combative, his language too harsh.

But he said he would not change his tone until the teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, agreed that schools

are in crisis and showed more willingness to make major changes.

“I have to convince the public that the house is on fire,” he said.

The friendly response here could reflect concerns about the state of American schools among those who study and may someday run them. It parallels opinion poll findings that Mr. Christie is more popular around the country than he is back home. And, of course, the a

udience was a self-selected one, turning out for a visiting Republican governor best known for videos in which he publicly berates people.

Still, many of those applauding him described themselves in interviews afterward as politically liberal. Any objections they raised tended to be technical rather than philosophical — like how, not whether, to evaluate teachers.

The tone of the session was polite and subdued, and the questions alternately supportive and wonkish. More than usual, Mr. Christie stayed away from incendiary language, though toward the end he loosened up and opened fire on the teachers’ union (“a political thuggery operation”).

He broke some new ground in saying that he planned to change New Jersey’s system of elected local school boards, though he did not say how. The teachers’ union is a powerful force in electing board members, and it is those boards that have approved contracts with the benefits and job protections the governor reviles.

“They’ll be the next step,” he said. “Even for me there’s just so much you can swallow at one time.”

Mr. Christie said that when he told his young son, Patrick, that he was traveling to Harvard, the boy replied, “You don’t go there, do you?”

A graduate of the University of Delaware and the Seton Hall University School of Law, the governor quipped that it had taken him 30 years to get here. But he also reflected on the stature of Harvard and the influence the audience would have.

“You are among the leaders of our educational future,” he said, “and if you’re not disrupted yet, I’m going to disrupt you now.”