Archive for November, 2013

Blues on Black Friday

November 29, 2013

Because it is the holiday that more than any other transcends race, religion and class,
because it unites all Americans (save Native Americans) in their shared immigrant heritage, and because it calls us to be humble, reflective and grateful for what we have, Thanksgiving is the day in which I feel most happy and most comfortable in my American skin.
The ritual of sharing a meal is one of the oldest, most universal and most sacred rites of human civilization and one highly charged with spirituality not necessarily connected to any form of religion. In short, it is a beautiful celebration.

Alas, these days, one must tune out much of the world and virtually all of the media to authentically sustain such feelings and such a spirit for if you do not, you will likely besieged by a spirit that utterly negates all that Thanksgiving is meant to celebrate. And it is designed to do exactly that.

I’m speaking, of course, of the frenzied, violent consumer rampage known as Black Friday, a spectacle that in the past few years has ballooned so rapidly and widely it is now almost impossible to be unaware of it. In some places it has even devoured Thanksgiving Day itself. I caught about two minutes worth of a super slick TV ad for the thing yesterday while watching about ten minutes of some football game. Appropriately, the ad took place in a setting where frenzied middle class people were also watching some football game only to be reminded that Black Friday sales were starting early and…

The ad was designed to transform the orgy of greed into something more than normative. It was designed to make such behavior seem zany and funny and ironic all at the same time. America has become extraordinarily skilled at making virtues of even the basest human impulses with the advertising industry often leading the way. And it’s working. According to CNN, 97 million Americans went shopping on Black Friday. And they have ample footage of ecstatic crowds charging through doors of Wal-Mart as well as ample footage of crazed consumers pummeling other crazed consumers to get their hands on some thing or other — and doing so as if their very identities depended on owning something. And can a people be more vacuous than that ?

To me the most revealing and terrifying aspect of the Black Friday spectacle is that an extraordinary percentage of such violent, almost junkie like behavior, is motivated by a desire (or need) to get their hands on gadgetry, and gadgetry that pretty much guarantees passivity and isolation in the life of its possessors.Or gadgetry that will keep them perpetually entertained and distracted from both the weight and glory of life. After all, these people are not stepping on each other’s backs to obtain microscopes or cellos or guitars or even books and CDS but rather gigantic “plasma” TVs, and computers, sound systems and the like. I‘m aware that we dwell in an age so degraded that the sole criteria for all things is how it affects the economy, but I must say this: Culturally, spiritually and intellectually, I cannot see how any good, any good at all can come of these riots. Nor can I see, in the long run, how the beauty and spirit of Thanksgiving can withstand such defilement or how what is good in the soul of America can survive at all.
And I am fearful for my daughter and all the children of this lost nation.

Saturday addendum: Fights, knifings, evacuations, and more. What kind of people have we degenerated into ? How quickly this becomes the norm. How soon before some weasel makes this disgrace into a “reality” show and the same people are stepping on each other to get on it ?

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On “Left Wing Paranoia” and the Conspiracy to Privatize Public Education

November 26, 2013

On the very same day the New York Times saw fit to publish an opinion piece in which Frank Bruni snidely and condescendingly dismissed the factually based claims of those who are paying close attention to who and what is fueling education reform as the “welling hysteria” of “left wing paranoiacs,” the Times Union published an article confirming the worst fears of those who have been monitoring the stealth campaign – or, if you will, conspiracy — to privatize the American public school system as rapidly, surreptitiously and insidiously as possible. The process is well under way and proceeds, as often as not, extra legislatively, undermining the remnant of our enfeebled democracy at every turn.

The Times Union article, titled “Wealth Backs Reform,” describes nothing less than a privately paid shadow agency of “advisors” to the New York State Regents. The backers of the group are virtually the same mega rich individuals and the same mega rich foundations that bankroll virtually every angle of “education reform” from massive semi-secret projects like the Common Core to phony teacher groups like Educators4Excellence, phony parent groups like Parent Revolution or public relations events like Education Nation. Again and again and again you find Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton’s of Wal-Mart infamy, and an array of neo-liberal foundations. These are not, as Bruni would have it, the hallucinations of “left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats.”
They really are money-mad plutocrats and the campaign or conspiracy to privatize our education system is as real as the eyes in our heads for those who choose not to be blind.

The revelation of the shadow regents, like all the information surrounding “education reform” should shock and disgust all who believe in accountable, representative government. It should also sober up those who, like Bruni, seem to be drunk to the point of madness on the elixir of neo liberalism and plutocracy even as neo liberalism and plutocracy degrade and debase everything and everyone they touch.

Addendum: I learned only after I had written this piece that Bruni is a food critic, a fact that partially explains his complete ignorance of the subject on which he pontificated but does not excuse his arrogance. The fact that the New York Times allowed a food critic ample space in which to babble on about education is merely a continuation of their unstated but apparent belief that just about everyone is an expert on education excepting the people actually engaged in it on a daily basis, which is to say, teachers or, through their children, parents.

Post script: Herein is a link to an article in a mainstream news outlet reporting a secret meeting of millionaires and billionaires, among them Gates, Bloomberg and Jeb Bush, all whom are deeply involved and invested in “education reform. Mr. Gates claimed the meeting concerned the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which it may well have done. But anyone who has been in anyway following anything that has been done in education for the past decade knows the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation has bankrolled and largely dictated just about every aspect of it. They also know that Arne Duncan takes his marching orders from Gates and that the Common Core is largely the product of Gates and his Foundation. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of “education reform” without the Foundation. This, despite the fact that Gates is a private citizen and the DOE is a vital public trust.
Given this, I would love to hear Mr. Bruni and anyone else who speaks so contemptuously of “left wing paranoia” explain this little gathering of concerned citizens.

Are New York Times Opinion Writers Too Coddled?

November 25, 2013

DownloadedFile

For the fourth time in as many months the stately New York Times, “the paper of record “ and all that, has published yet another remarkably uninformed opinion piece attempting to defend the deceptively named Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by discrediting those who refuse to genuflect before them.

A vast and unprecedented national experiment on American’s children, paved by sound bites and steamrolled into reality by billionaires and testing companies, the recently implemented CCSS has been furiously rejected by an ever-increasing army of parents, disgusted and dismayed at what it is doing to their children. The standards, you could say, are going over like a lead zeppelin. Except that is, at institutions like the New York Times whose writers see light where parents see darkness and crazed Tea Partiers where others see concerned parents.

And once again the New York Times, here in the person of Frank Bruni, comes to the rescue with an article titled, “Are Kids Too Coddled? ” Like every one who attempts to defend an untested experiment, Bruni, like NYT’s writers Bill Keller, Paul Krugman and Charles Blow before him, has very few hands to play. One is to repeat ad nauseum the standards creators’ stated goals of inducing critical thinking skills, making students college and career ready (as if they are the same thing) and preparing them to compete for jobs in the super savage new global economy. One must repeat these aspirations as if they are hard proven facts. Indeed, as if constant repetition makes them into hard proven facts. As of now, defenders have nothing to offer but hope, a quality that has lost a lot of its market value following the election of Barack Obama. A second strategy, and one favored by the Times and Arne Duncan, is to attack the credibility of all those who dare question the Most Holy and Sacred Core.

Bruni was inspired to action by parental reaction against Arne Duncan’s latest insult. You know, the one about the “white suburban moms” whose kids the Common Core is exposing as “not as brilliant as they thought they were.”
Bruni looks not at the CCSS itself, of which he apparently knows only what is claimed for it in press releases, but instead follows “the fevered lamentations over the Common Core” to “ look hard at some of the complaints from the parents and teachers and factor in the modern cult of self-esteem.”

In short order, Bruin determines that the problem with the CCSS is not with the CCSS itself – a self evident impossibility for New York Times opinion writers — but that parents are surrendering to the impulse to coddle their kids.

Lord!

Even as I share Mr. Bruni’s disdain for the once faddish “cult of self esteem, “ I can honestly say that I have seen very, very, little evidence of such a cult in all my years teaching. What I see daily, however, is lots, and lots and lots of evidence of the cult of the Common Core. That which one shall not question. That which thou shall obey. That which knoweth all. And as for coddling, musing over their anemic arguments, I could not help but wonder if the editors of the Times are coddling their opinion writers — at least when they are writing about the Common Core.

I’m not joking. Consider Bruni’s article. Bruni begins with an anecdotal story about a silly decision made by administrators at a school near Boston, fattens it up with more meaningless anecdotes about sports leagues where no one loses and high schools with 30 valedictorians that have no conceivable connection with the rage and disgust parents feel about the effects of the CCSS on their kids. Or the intrinsic data mining. Or the high stakes testing that are part and parcel with the scheme and of which Bruni says nada. Zilch. Nothing.
As a non-coddling editor (or even a high school English teacher) I would never accept Bruni’s specious attempt to wed the wholly unconnected scenarios. I’d send him back to work. Not, it seems, the Times.

Consider that the Times were apparently fine with the fact that the only two people Bruni actually bothered to speak to — education entrepreneur and “architect of the Common Core” David Coleman and Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy — could not have been more predicable or less challenging interviewees. Or had greater stakes in seeing criticisms of the CCSS dismissed as political lunacy or psychological weakness.

Were the editors of the Times worried that talking to real parents who have concluded that the CC is damaging to their children might be damaging to Bruni’s self esteem?
Consider Bruni’s s bi-partisan expansion of nut-job opponents of the CCSS complementing fellow Times writer Bill Keller’s earlier depictions of CCSS opponents,as Tea Partiers. Were the editors concerned that indisputable facts from some of the “ left-wing paranoiacs” ( Diane Ravitch, for example, along with millions of American parents) who Bruni sees “imagining some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats, — (many of whom who are named as benefactors of Tucker’s NCEE and every other “reformer” front group) “might shatter Bruni’s fragile sense of reality ?
Note to Bruni: Former Assistant Secretary of Education and Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, is subtitled, The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.)

Are the editors of the Times so concerned with sheltering the psyches of their opinion writers that they allow them to publish on vast, far reaching and shadowy issues like the CCSS while not requiring them to do the slightest bit of research into who funded such programs and why? And how they dare impose such a thing on an entire nation without as much as a field test ?

Will America be allowing pharmaceutical companies to do the same if desired by Bill Gates and the Business Round Table ?

I don’t know about you but such lousy writing and thinking sure smells like coddling to me.

Addendum: I learned only after I had written this piece that Bruni is a food critic, a fact that partially explains his complete ignorance of the subject on which he pontificated but does not excuse his arrogance. The fact that the New York Times allowed a food critic ample space in which to babble on about education is merely a continuation of their unstated but apparent belief that just about everyone is an expert on education excepting the people actually engaged in it on a daily basis, which is to say, teachers or, through their children, parents.

Post script: Herein is a link to an article in a mainstream news outlet reporting a secret meeting of millionaires and billionaires, among them Gates, Bloomberg and Jeb Bush, all whom are deeply involved and invested in “education reform. Mr. Gates claimed the meeting concerned the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which it may well have done. But anyone who has been in anyway following anything that has been done in education for the past decade knows the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation has bankrolled and largely dictated just about every aspect of it. They also know that Arne Duncan takes his marching orders from Gates and that the Common Core is largely the product of Gates and his Foundation. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive of “education reform” without the Foundation. This, despite the fact that Gates is a private citizen and the DOE is a vital public trust.
Given this, I would love to hear Mr. Bruni and anyone else who speaks so contemptuously of “left wing paranoia” explain this little gathering of concerned citizens.

Fifty Years Later, the Ghost of JFK Still Haunts America

November 22, 2013

JFK nnnn

Fifty Novembers after that gruesome event in Dallas, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy continues to maintain an extraordinary hold on the American imagination and an extraordinary place in the American heart. This continues despite endless revelations of his serial womanizing, cover-ups of his physical problems, and dependence on pharmaceuticals, among other very human vices. This continues to be true despite his early Cold War bombast, his ordering of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and early tardiness, if not near hostility, toward the Civil Rights Movement and more. This hold continues, largely, because in his all too brief if tumultuous presidency, this same man, in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis where in the words of Jim Douglass JFK risked “committing the greatest crime in history,starting a nuclear war, ” to call for a banishment of nuclear weapons.
And this at the height of the Cold War.
In short order Kennedy then went on national television to declare to the American people that civil rights were a “a moral issue, as old as the scriptures and as clear as the American constitution,” and to put forth, at the risk of his re-election, the blue print for the Civil Right’s bill that LBJ would push through by congress in the wake of Kennedy’s death.

He was, that is, a soul who, like the best of us — or us at our best – was a work in progress. The late, great Phil Berrigan once said to me, “What made the Kennedy’s different than most politicians was that they could learn.”

And learn they did.

It is nothing short of remarkable to think that the same man who bombastically declared in his inaugural speech that America “shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty, “ would deliver the following words at American University just three years later.

“I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived – and that is the most important topic on earth: peace.

What kind of a peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living – the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

We can deduce and infer and divine what JFK would have accomplished had he lived and served as our president for another five years but it is impossible to know.

What I do know is this: as with his brother Robert and as with Martin Luther King, I cannot hear an audio, see a film clip or even a glimpse a photo of this man and not feel in the deepest part of my being an enormous sense of sadness and of loss, of stolen potential, shattered possibilities
that never seem to diminish with time. And that is impossible to ignore. Like longing, like love, like life itself, such feelings are not rational but they are very, very real. And I know,too,I am not the only one who feels this. Such feelings are partly formed by Kennedy’s repeated call for Americans to move beyond mere self interest ( “Selfhood,” wrote William Blake, “is Satan.” ) and strive for the public good, his lived ethic that public service was, in itself, a noble and necessary pursuit.

Gone.

And it makes me wonder what else we buried in that still unquiet grave in Arlington Cemetery that chilly day in November of 1963 and, more vitally, how do we resurrect it ?

grave

On Arne Duncan (and Co.) and the Inerrancy of the Common Core

November 19, 2013

The public parental eruption against the deceitfully named Common Core State Standards taking place across New York State and elsewhere has generated not only plenty of press but, in the past few days alone, a couple of incredible statements from suddenly on-the-ropes defenders of the standards. These statements, grotesques and weasel worded as can be, have led to “he- said- what!”- like moments from sea to shining sea.
The first is the instantly infamous statement by a “fascinated” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who said the following: “It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”

A punch in the gut, indeed.

Mr. Duncan

Mr. Duncan

Of much lesser note but of similar train of thought were the following words from Timothy Daly, the president of the New Teacher Project, a group, according to the New York Times, “focused on teacher effectiveness and aligned with the reform movement.” Daly is commenting on the ceaseless display of parental outrage directed at New York State Commissioner John King, a ceaseless proponent of the Common Core who happens to be an African American. For Daly, the last fact seems to be the major factor if not the only factor in the parental rage and disgust.

“This is the first African-American leader of the State Education Department,” Daly said. “And to watch him be shouted at and insulted by largely white audiences in the suburbs is discomforting and it is jarring that, not only has it happened, but it has happened repeatedly.”

King himself sees no such causation and was good enough to say so publicly.

Mr. Daly

Mr. Daly

Both Duncan and Daly begin and end from the standpoint held by (or pretended to be held by) all reformers: that is of the absolute inerrancy of the CCSS. To them, the CCSS is a document created by souls so divinely inspired and all knowing that they had no problem whatsoever requiring state commissioners to sign on to their standards before they were even written; to them this is a document so perfectly executed that not a single article within it, not as much as a comma, can be altered once “adopted” by a state; to them this is a document so wise and prescient, so supernaturally imbued, it required no field testing of any kind before being imposed on the children of an entire nation. To them, that is, though they would never use such language, the Common Core State Standards, like the Bible or the Koran in the eyes of certain religious fundamentalists, are infallible.
To even question the sacred standards, then, is to blaspheme.
This, at least, is the manner in which the CCSS have been presented to the public, and this the manner with which they have been rammed down the throats of American teachers who are obliged to ram them down the throats of American children. The CCSS are to be understood as perfect unto themselves Accordingly, any and all problems with them merely expose secret fears (like Duncan’s white mom discovering her child’s hidden mediocrity) and spiritual failings (like Daly’s charges of suburban racism against Commissioner John King rather than rage over what King’s policies were doing to their children) that are to be overcome with love and kindness and perhaps some Professional Development.
And herein lies the problem with presenting your product as perfect from the womb and imposing it on the children of a nation when the parents of those children begin to take notice. You cannot possibly defend it. You have nothing to fall back on. No research. No evidence. No data. ( Second in sacrality only to the Common Core itself in education reform land ) No nothing.
There is only
rhetoric and public relations campaigns and full-page ads by the Business Round Table and the Chamber of Commerce and the like.
And only time before parents begin to understand the CCSS as a vast billion-dollar experiment with their children –in short, a shyster’s gamble with their children.
And that time, it seems, has come.

From this standpoint both the statements of Duncan and Daly are absolutely appalling and completely apposite. They have no other card to play. They cannot defend their beloved CCSS with anything of substance because they have nothing of substance on which to defend it. Theirs is a faith based education policy that dare not let that be known. Their only hope is to attack and attempt to de-legitimize the concerns and character of all in their path. We should expect more such obscene statements. And we should welcome them for they expose the vast con being played on American families and their children — not to mention the taxpayers.

The reformers have no where else to go. Falsehoods can only beget more falsehoods.
And with every such statement more and more people will begin to glimpse the truth about how education reformers really see America’s children. And therein lies our hope.