Archive for September, 2013

The Lie and Disgrace that is NBC’s Education Nation

September 22, 2013

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The yearly corporate sponsored corporate education reform propaganda extravaganza Education Nation sinks lower and lower and as it does so it showers the American people with greater and greater corporate contempt. Here is an event that is billed as a “summit” of educational leaders that, as far as I can see, includes not a single teacher in a position of prominence or authority. (Sorry Weingarten and Walcott, you don’t count.)
Here is an event beamed out across America that includes not a single dissenting voice from the “reformers “ increasingly reckless experiments on American children such as the deceitfully named Common Core State Standards.
Here is an event in which the promoters are not satisfied with merely elevating non-educator hucksters like Joel Klein, (billed as the CEO of education techno firm Amplify) or David Coleman (no longer known as “the architect “ of the Common Core but rather as President and Chief Educative Officer of the College Board ) to the level of expertise but also adds the educational wisdom of non-educator Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and non-educator politicians like Mike Bloomberg, Jeb Bush, Arne Duncan, and Bobby Jindal.

For a final spit in the face of American parents there is the inexplicable inclusion of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, singer Tony Bennett, and actress/comedienne Goldie Hawn.

Well, why not? If Joel Klein can use the “summit” on education to shill for Rupert Murdoch and Jeb Bush use it as an avenue to the presidency, why shouldn’t poor Goldie Hawn use it to get herself back into the public eye?
In short, here is a lineup for an event that is so ridiculous that it is impossible to parody.
And it would be funny if the stakes were not so high.
But they are.
A “summit” on education that is not merely not based on the experience and knowledge of teachers like Susan Ohanian but actively exclude teachers such as Ohanian is beyond a farce.

A “summit” on education that pretends to discuss “active parenting” and does not include the likes of Leonie Haimson and Class Size Matters is a sin.

A “summit” on education that does not include the political insights of Lois Weiner is a disgrace. A “ summit” on education that does not include the voice and vision of CORE’s Karen Lewis is a sham.

A “summit” on any aspect of education today that systemically excludes the moral and intellectual authority of Diane Ravitch is simply a lie and it should be identified as such.

And this should be done again and again and again and in any way, shape, or form that people who are meant to be brainwashed by this egregious show of money and influence will understand. NBC and the forces that created this thing are counting on our silence. We must not be so.

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Charter Schools: A Blueprint for the Corporate Universe

September 14, 2013
Happiness is a two year teaching "career."

Happiness is a two year teaching “career.”

Motoko Rich of the NY Times may have set out to write a pro-charter school puff piece, but what the Times wound up publishing is actually something far more interesting and, in a disturbing way, far more revealing. Indeed, her article might end up as some kind of classic in pro-corporate education reform propaganda passed off as journalism. I don’t think I’ve ever read an ostensibly serious news article that so perfectly matched the presumptuousness and oceanic arrogance of corporate education reform ideas with the actual breathing human beings possessed by an equal abundance of presumptuousness and arrogance necessary to bring such foolishness to life. And what this marriage of reckless ideas and willing executors are bringing to life is nothing short of the blue print for a corporate work model for the schools of the future.

It goes roughly like this: in that down time between graduating from college ( preferably an Ivy League college ) and beginning your real career (in finance, law or high level management ) you altruistically devote two or three years of your life preaching (and living) the gospel of high expectations and no excuses to young brown and black kids in publicly funded charter schools and then — poof! – you’re off to something “ bigger and better.” Sometimes those bigger and better things are even within education; perhaps you’ll employ the vast knowledge you’ve accumulated in your two years of teaching and become a principal. Better yet, if you wish to have a career making educational policy, you can rest assured TFA is there to help. Indeed, it has established itself as a virtual fast track for pseudo-educator educational strivers. Former TFA teachers are now serving as superintendents and policy makers all over the country. Michelle Rhee, TFA’s most infamous pseudo-educator, has distinguished herself as a failed and fired chancellor of the D.C. school system as well as a highly paid professional corporate reform propaganda artist. At any rate, one thing is for sure: your time in the classroom actually teaching will almost certainly be extremely limited.

This model serves the increasingly corporate society in several crucial ways, particularly in public sector industries, the last strong hold of unionized workers in America. First, it relieves the industry and hence the taxpayers of the burdensome pensions and health care of “lifers,” and diverts their taxes to higher salaries for charter CEO’s, contracts with testing companies and the new exploding field of education technology, the latter designed to decrease the workforce that much the more. More importantly, on a more subconscious level, the model serves the essential role of inculcating American youth the with the corporate business model and its inherent values long before the students can begin to know what is happening to them. Indeed, it teaches them to make sense of the world through a corporate business model. From a purely business perspective and the long term lens of corporate colonization, what, pray tell, could be better?

Of course, the words” corporate” and “business model” never appear in the article. “Stability” and “student” and “community” are each used once.

What Rich describes is the ethos of the increasingly powerful and utterly insidious Teach For America. And all this is rendered between the lines by Rich so casually and with such enthusiasm you might think she was reporting a pep rally or that she picked up a bit of the TFA “can do spirit “ by osmosis!

Consider this sentence: “ As tens of millions of pupils across the country begin their school year, charter networks are developing what amounts to a youth cult in which teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable. “

Forgive my naïve questions, but how is a public institution, particularly a school, mounting a “youth cult” a good thing? Exactly how is it “acceptable and, at times, even desirable? “ Are not cults, by definition prejudicial, based on blind obedience, and not something we would ever desire in a public institution, especially a school? Would Rich feel the same about a fundamentalist Christian cult or a cult of Hari Krishna, or perhaps about a geriatric cult? Would these too be “acceptable, and at times, even desirable?”
I think not.
And what is it that motivates the “youth cult? ” Is it the endlessly repeated mantra of “putting students first” and the like?
Not exactly.
“We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?’ ” said Jennifer Hines, senior vice president of people and programs at YES Prep. “There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.”

Again, from a corporate perspective one can easily understand how such passerby teachers provide great comfort.

But we must also understand what else is being taught here. Tacitly. Implicitly. Very, very subtly and by example. Apart from any academics, every day such schools impart valuable lessons in corporate consciousness to impressionable souls merely by the way they operate and by the very values they extol. Few, if any of these values are traditionally associated with education. None would be found in the private schools attended by the fortunate children of all corporate education reformers. Just as Obama’s Race to the Top is a brilliant if reprehensible method to employ the public education system itself as a tool to institutionalize competition as the highest and noblest human impulse, so too do the Yes Academies and KIPP schools of the world tacitly impart similar corporate values to their students on an hourly basis.
None of them, of course, are spelled out.

In the same manner that my friend and colleague Michael Fiorillo has written that the test is itself the curriculum, without a word being spoken the students learn that since everything is transient, community is meaningless. Indeed, there is no such thing as community. There are only brands like Yes Academy or Success Academy or American Apparel or Coca Cola. There are no lasting relationships.
Students learn that, as opposed to the past where schools were often a bedrock of social cohesion or at the very least a stabilizing institution offering continuity in a world of chaos today’s schools with their ever shifting staff have no more stabilizing importance than say, a 7/ 11 or a Dunkin Donuts.

From those “pushing to redefine the arc of the teaching career “ to a couple of years, the “youth cult “ teaches students that teaching is not really a serious career but something you do until you figure out what you want to do.
Or they may learn that teaching is so easy to master that one can become a principal at age 28.

By the time students graduate from the Yes Academies and Success Academies and KIPP schools of the world, wholly aside from the corporate advertising that was designed to assault them from the moment of consciousness, their psyches are likely to have been completely colonized by Corporate Think.
Mission accomplished.
What is striking about the article is that neither Rich nor her subjects seem even remotely concerned about anything but themselves and the institutions they work for.
Rich appears to be so gaga over the young popinjays that she does not seem the slightest bit interested in musing over what happens to children in communities when schools, perhaps the only force of institutionalized stability in their neighborhoods, become brief stops on the journey of resume builders.
Neither, despite all the rhetoric about putting kids first, does Wendy Kopp.
“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”
Forget for a moment, Kopp’s silly language and preposterous claims of how her somehow “tremendously developed” teachers are “great” almost out of the egg. Put aside for the moment, that Kopp has taken to using language not as something to use to approximate a striving for truth but rather, as in advertising, to manipulate the listener in order to sell a product: herself and TFA.
Where is Kopp’s recognition of school as a social and communal base?? Where is her understanding of school as an intrinsic element of a community in a world that, for numerous reasons, seems more fragmented by the hour?

Tyler Dowdy, one of Kopp’s newly minted “great teachers”, provides the answer to the question Kopp doesn’t ask: “ I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing, “he said, “ and always moving onto something bigger and better.”
Wow!
Such language is not the language of an educator but rather of advertising. I would not want anyone who parrots such nonsense near my child.

 “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”


“The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.”

The more I look at it the more I believe that the corporate education reform campaign (I refuse to see this as a “movement”) is the first wave of an assault to utterly reconfigure, not merely labor relations, but the idea of the social contract itself.
Articles like this in publications as prestigious and influential as the New York Times are shameless but hardly harmless. Wittingly or not, both by tone and omission, they set the parameters as to what is and what is not acceptable. In this way they are essential components in the dark arts of perception management, the only field in which the corporate education reformers have displayed unambiguous brilliance, spending millions in every conceivable form of media to convince exhausted and frightened Americans of the righteousness of their cause. Think “Waiting for Superman.” Think NBC’s “Education Nation.” Think “Won’t Back Down.” Think dozens of billionaire backed front groups such as the repulsive Educators 4 Excellence or Parent Revolution created to to nothing less than deceive the most vulnerable among us.

Think for a moment of our barbaric invasion of Iraq based on nothing but lies and greed. Think for a moment how, in a matter of a few short years, the corporate education reformers have been able to deflect all of the cruel realities of contemporary American life, from the criminals of Wall Street and Washington and their economic policy from hell, away from themselves. Think for a moment how they have been able to convince an increasingly frightened, desperate fragmented and impoverished population of a fantasy
“Education crisis” and one caused solely by bad teachers protected by evil unions.

This should be risible. But many have swallowed it whole.

This is a remarkable if horrific achievement and one that comes with an enormous amount of conscious effort.
Intentionally or not, articles like Rich’s serve as the first volley in such efforts. The idea is to make what is unimaginable one year seem, not merely inevitable, but a vast improvement a few years later. Allow an example: if someone was to tell me ten years ago that standardized tests would become the central nervous system of the entire American public school system and that the fate of all who labor in it would now be dependent upon such a limited and unreliable measure, I’d have dismissed them as mad.
Today, I watch my colleagues and our students being driven mad by this very reckless, imbecilic and once unthinkable policy.
The education reformers are like nothing before in American history and they will stop and nothing to get their way. And they know exactly what they are doing and how to do it.
We must be as vigilant.

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Why I Am and Will Always Be Union

September 2, 2013

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Even though I was not really aware of it for years afterward, I was raised and informed in a union household. My father and my uncle ran a local of the International Longshoreman’s Association, the infamous ILA. I was a boy when my father went from being a union member to running a local. I remember the raucous celebration following his election and also remember having no idea of what exactly it meant. My friends’ fathers all seemed to be cops or firemen. Their jobs were very clearly defined. They wore uniforms. Not so my father, who, suddenly had to wear a suit sometimes. Nor did he explain much. What my brothers and sisters and I picked up about the business of unions, we picked up almost by osmosis. All we knew was that the phone rang at all hours of the day and night. Men were always looking for my father: men with the gruff voices of a long vanished New York, men who pronounced the word “father” as “fadar” as in , “Is your fadar dere?”

The men always seemed to be in trouble. Little by little we learned it was our father’s job as a union guy to help them. I never heard my father say, “ We need to look after each other” or “We need to protect each other.” I never heard my father use words like “empathy” or” brotherhood” or “justice.” And I’m not sure he ever did. I just heard him make those abstractions into realities for men who would have never tasted them, not in a million years, had it not been for the union. And slowly, in time, I learned that that was what unions did. Later, after my father’s death I happened to meet some of the men, here and there. It was as clear to me as it was to them that without the union the quality of their lives would have been grossly diminished. The unions afforded them a living wage and health care and due process and all of these combined afforded them dignity. I shudder to think what would become of them today in a world increasingly without work or unions. I shudder to think of what will become of many of my students when they need to find work in a few years. The union afforded my mother and father the wherewithal to feed, clothe and house no less than eleven children on his single modest salary and even buy us a house. The union, in very real terms, gave me my brothers and sisters. And it gave me something more: it infused in me a belief in the dignity of all labor and the sacrality of all human life. This was an immense gift that came with a sacred obligation.
These beliefs sank deep into my bones and they remain there. I am under no illusion that unions are perfect or ideal organizations any more than I am under the illusion that any human organization is perfect or ideal. I know that they can be as corrupt as any government or Wall Street hedge fund and if so they must be reformed.
But I am sure of this: the world grows crueler, more savage, more ahuman by the hour, in no small part because of the undermining or destruction of unions and all that comes with them. There are those who say that globalization, de-industrialization, technocracy, and ever increasing corporatism have made unions redundant.
They have certainly made them scarce and immensely weakened.
The results are obvious for all to see: a terrified and constantly shrinking middle class, less job security, greater fear and stress. This in turn makes us more and more selfish, less and less trusting, less and less fully human. We are perfecting the nightmarish vision of Thomas Hobbes, “The war of one man against all men.” Unions mediated against this horror show.

I understand that there are people, readers of Ayn Rand, for example, who believe that such a vicious fantasy world is somehow only natural and that such a state of ceaseless competition or outright war produces not merely splendid gadgets and gizmos but also freedom loving and heroic individuals; further that those who cannot compete in such a world should have thought of that before they were born.

I say that such a state mass produces spiritual mutants and monsters not unlike the ones currently running our nation, raping our planet and doing their best to enlist us in remaking it in their addled, diseased image.

I say the greatest display of freedom and heroism is to fully love another human being and that such an act is highly unlikely in a world fueled by insecurity and fear and limitless greed.

I say we have to find some kind of way to spark a rebirth of unionism in this nation or we will almost all soon be living lives that are barely recognizable as human.

I say happy Labor Day!

uuu2mages

Seamus Heaney: Bard. RIP

September 1, 2013

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I cannot help but be saddened to read of the death at age 74 of Seamus Heaney in Dublin.
Somehow, perhaps because he fit the role of the Irish poet so naturally and so completely, it felt like Heaney was around forever. Insofar as Heaney embodied the Irish bard, a figure that has been a part of Irish history and culture for centuries, he was.

Heaney had the good fortune to have been born in a land and culture in which poetry is seen as a manifestation and exaltation of the human spirit; as something to be breathed and recited and lived, not merely dissected in a classroom. And Ireland had the good fortune to have Heaney to carry on that ancient tradition with such simple mastery. Heaney’s verse has the honed down beauty and economy of a master carpenter or sculptor. Not a word or even a syllable is ever wasted. His eye was ever open, fearless and ever searching for that which is vital. He tried to pass that vitality on to us, his readers. It is there, forever waiting to be encountered and felt.

Heaney will be missed. I pray God another will rise to continue his nobel and essential labor.

To hear Heaney read his poem, “Digging,” click here.