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.