Since its inception, “education reform” has been almost entirely a product, not of public debates, but of public relations and perception management campaigns. Fueled by billionaires and corporations, propagated by a compliant corporate media often owned by the same billionaires, the premises of “education reform” have entered into the skulls of millions of Americans who are barely aware of how they even got there. This, of course, is precisely how such premises are intended to be received. The process is akin to osmosis. Something or someone is targeted. Stories that make the target look bad are planted. Stories that allow the target to look good are wholly ignored. Exceptions are painted as the rule. Lies and exaggerations are repeated in different forms endlessly over. The animation of envy and fear is constantly attempted. In these campaigns, the lines between public relations – a dubious enough field in itself — and perception management, it’s more sinister and militaristic cousin, often gets blurred.
In the area of education, America has been treated to one long, well oiled, professionally enacted, deliberately induced poisoning of the well, along such lines as above. One goal is to deflect the attention of the average citizen away from forces and institutions that are systemically stripping us of our rights and plundering the commonwealth, and — think Wall Street and K Street – blaming the incontrovertible degeneration of the United States into a oligarchic farce on something or someone other than the forces or institutions that are actually causing it.
For the past decade this something has been the public school system, this
someone has been a public school teacher.
America, according to the “education reformers” and their allies or employees in the media and all levels of government, would once again blossom into a Ronald Reaganesque Eden if only we privatized the public school system, rid ourselves of the pestilence of unions and fired hundreds of thousands of teachers, many of them outright incompetents, deviants or unrepentant radicals, as reported in the newspapers and portrayed in major motion pictures.
This, or some version of this, has been poisoning Americans via the airwaves, TV screens, newspapers and movies for years now. In terms of demonizing a profession, the ferocity of the sustained campaign has no precedent in American history.
What’s important in such campaigns, of course, is not whether a story is true or false or even relevant. All that is important is that emotions are stirred and attention is deflected from real issues and focused instead on the targeted enemy. Think for one moment of the horrific fact that some 85% of Americans allowed themselves to be tricked into believing Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 and that the invasion and consequent destruction of Iraq and murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis was necessary for our national security.
Such was a diabolical accomplishment, that much the more in a nation that considers itself a bastion of freedom.
Such is also a triumph of perception management.
In that light, consider today’s New York Post.
Yesterday, despite the unseasonably chilly weather, thousands and thousands of parents, teachers, students, members of the clergy, union leaders, and elected officials from all over New York state, gathered in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 41st St. office to denounce in no uncertain terms the entirety of Cuomo’s reckless assault upon the public school system, public school teachers, and public life itself.
According to the New York Post, these people are not news worthy.
As far as I can see, the New York Post, even as it worshipfully reports on the billionaire based charter campaign, devoted not a single word to this event, this despite the fact that Cuomo’s proposals will, if enacted, adversely affect the lives of millions of New Yorkers.
Neither are these.
Instead, Post readers were treated to a lesson in perception management 101. Under the hysterical and misleading headline, Weather Underground Bomber Unmasked –as City School Teacher, the Post spent over 1700 words on an absurdly irrelevant article about one Ronald Fliegelman, a former member of the idiotic Weather Underground who, following his days as a would be revolutionary decades ago, worked for many years as a New York City schoolteacher before earning his retirement in 2006. At no point in the article was there any indication that Fliegelman was somehow “masked.”
Nor is there any indication whatsoever of Fliegelman’s talent or lack of talent as a teacher. Such discussions would run the risk of distracting the reader from the article’s main ( and only) point: Ronald Fliegelman was a radical who worked as a teacher. What is important in perception management is the planting of particular seeds in a person’s head, the more insidiously the better. The seed here is that New York City teachers, and by extension the New York City Public school system, are not to be trusted.
But somehow this guy is.
Rest assured, if Ronald Fliegelman had gone on to be a dentist or a postman or a plumber, Post readers would not have been treated to this article. To be sure, whatever idiotically violent acts or plans this man was involved in some 40 years ago are completely secondary to the fact that he retired as a schoolteacher, for it is the image of a school teacher, and not a dentist, or a postman, or a plumber that has to be relentlessly tainted if the “education reform” campaign is to succeed.
A massive amount of time and energy and money has been dedicated to such success.
Consider how The Post insinuates that the fact that Fliegelman appears to be enjoying his retirement is somehow shady if not outright criminal.
“His life now appears to have taken on all the trappings of the leisure class. On Thursday, he was seen walking a small white dog in idyllic Park Slope before climbing into a Subaru Forester SUV.”
The “exclusive” was ostensibly based on a finding in a new book entitled Days of Rage. But rest assured that this completely irrelevant non-news has been saved for precisely just this kind of moment.
So, readers of the New York Post would know nothing of the thousands who gathered to denounce the radical right wing agenda of Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday, but would have learned a great deal about the life of a retired teacher whose politics would be anathema to just about every one of them.
This is one of the ways perception management works.
It would be funny if it were not so dangerous and effective, but it is.
Addendum: Doing my bit at the rally.
Patrick Walsh – Teacher http://youtu.be/JwSrN_nT3EA