A Reading on WBAI About De Vos and Trump

January 18, 2017


This evening I was honored to be broadcast reading my most recent piece on the WBAI Evening News hosted by Linda Perry-Barr. The reading is found in the last seven or so minutes of the show which you can fast forward to but the whole show is well worth listening to.
Hope you enjoy.

It was a big thrill for my daughter.





Thoughts Occasioned By Donald Trump, Betsy De Vos and a Door Knob

December 18, 2016


“Little things are big things, ” said a rhetoric teacher I was fortunate to have studied under at the public university I was fortunate enough to attend before rising tuitions reduced students to indentured servants. My professor was speaking to me of my writing, specifically of both little mistakes I made that lessened the impact of my prose and also of little additions that strengthened it. He was also saying it as a general truth and over the years, at times against my will, I came to understand it as such. At any rate, over the years the words have stayed with me, welling up in my head from time to time, often in unexpected situations, always somehow bearing out the wisdom of the words. One such situation took place Friday when, attending a meeting in a school other than my own, I reached down to open a door and there in my hand was a doorknob bearing the words, “ PUBLIC SCHOOL, CITY OF NEW YORK, surrounded by filigree.

I was, for a moment, taken aback. It seemed so terribly out of place, outside of the psychological climate in which my colleagues and I have labored for years. And this is why: someone, somewhere took time to make this doorknob. And that someone took pride in both the work and the public school system.

I have no idea of the exact provenance of the doorknob but I know it came from a time in which New York City and the rest of America believed in public works, public servants, public institutions and the public good: that is to say, a social contract that was not beholden to “market forces” or the rapacity of morally criminal Wall Street speculators or the whims of billionaires who have been allowed to dictate public policy.

We believed, that is, in the wake of the immense suffering and degradation of war, of the Great Depression, and through the bloody struggle of the union movement, that people had common rights and responsibilities and that it was the duty of the government, as the only institution that could guarantee them, to do so. Such as the right to an education. Believed too, even if it was never explicitly stated, that we had the civic, moral and, yes, spiritual responsibility to look after each other to, at the very least, a small degree; an understanding that we were to help each other through the messy, difficult, sublime thing called life.
Hence the creation of Social Security.
Such public institutions served, however imperfectly, the nation for a period of four decades (from 1945 to 1975) creating the greatest shared prosperity ( though one not shared by all people ) in human history.

A vital component in that unprecedented human as well as economic success, as vital as social security for the elderly, was the American public school system.
After 15 years of ceaseless insidious assault by the richest people in America, greased by bipartisan attacks from statehouses coast to coast, codified by the policies of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and aided by the most well financed and sustained public relations campaign against a legal profession in American history — all bent on privazation as the solution to all human and social problems — it is more and more difficult to remember the vital place of the public school system, never mind believe in it.
Propaganda and perception management, relentlessly and brilliantly implemented, work.
The sight of the old door knob struck me as especially poignant and haunting in light of our own age, not only one of complete corporate hegemony and the concomitant undermining of the social contract at all points, but one suddenly led by a mentally unstable political novice who envisions the presidency as an entry level position and who is attempting to fill his cabinet with persons who seek to
destroy the very institutions they are entrusted with. Public institution, mind you, that will be given over exclusively to private ends. In the process, they seek to finish off, once and for all, the anemic remnants of public life in America, beginning with the public school system.

The destruction of the public school system is unquestionably the mission of Betsy De Vos, Trump’s preposterous selection for Secretary of Education. (Yes, even more preposterous than Arne Duncan. ) It may well happen. If the election of the man-child Trump proves nothing else, it proves that in today’s America, anything, no matter how reckless, insane or suicidal is quite possible. It may well come to pass that in a few years time, that doorknob will be seen as an artifact of an institution gone the way of the tyrannosaurus, replaced by …only God knows what, but you can rest assured that some corporations will be making billions from it and education will be further reduced to some kind of degrading job training.

Little things are big things and we will need both small acts and mass movements to thwart the catastrophe that is surely upon us. Weeks after the election of this disgusting, dangerous and all so divisive figure, he with his teen-age tweets, his obscene “Thank You Tour,” his grotesque cabinet appointees, it grows clearer and clearer that we are, as a nation and as a people, heading into unprecedented darkness, led by an ignorant narcissist who has no idea what he is doing and needs perpetual adoration the way a junkie needs junk.
I am not an historian but I am one who takes history with great seriousness and from what I can see what Trump brings is without precedent. We will either create new forms of resistance and new forms of representation or we will be degraded, soon enough, into silence.

Bill Gates Compares Trump with JFK Revealing to America His Profound Mediocrity

December 13, 2016


Bill Gates’ astoundingly ignorant comparison of the promise of Donald Trump with President John F. Kennedy reveals to America what every conscious educator in the country has learned or unearthed about the man in the past fifteen years or so. To wit, that whatever his talents in building computer operating systems and monopolizing the intellectual property rights of both his predecessors and contemporaries, whatever his cunning in outmaneuvering his business rivals, Bill Gates is an intellectual mediocrity of the most profound order.

That, of course, has not stopped this unelected, unaccountable “philanthropist” from being allowed to impose imbecilic whim upon imbecilic whim on the entire American public school system and to do so in the most insidious ways possible. Galvanic bracelets, Big History (because it is not history) the Common Core, nonsensical teacher evaluation systems and so much more owe their existence to the bottomless billions of the saintly Bill Gates.
Now here’s Bill somehow comparing the promise of the most objectively unprepared, demagogic, clueless, vicious and mentally unstable person ever elevated to the presidency to the deeply flawed but nonetheless enormously inspiring presidency of JFK. It is revealing that Gates, a man who in his own way is as narcissistic as Trump, sees the Kennedy years, not through the sublime struggles of the Civil Rights Movement or the near nuclear apocalypse of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but through Kennedy’s Space Program, which, in the final end bore relatively little fruit, excepting in the world of technology.

At any rate, there is something grotesque about speaking of a vulgar conman like Trump in the same breath as a man like JFK who, despite his failings, had the stuff of grace and greatness. Indeed, Trump is the negation of all JFK stood for. At the same time Gate’s blathering reveals to the rest of America the quality of thought that, thanks to the spinelessness of our political leaders, has degraded American educators and education for years with not only no end in sight but with the utter certainly of greater and greater degradation under the leadership of a person like Trump.

Bill Gates and the Medal of Freedom: Obama Officially Recognizes the Right of the Rich to Impose Public Policy

November 19, 2016


As if to officially acknowledge the insidious and tacit transformation of the remnants of democracy to not so subtle oligarchy, the Obama administration has announced that Bill Gates is to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a sense, as the Obama administration has done more to undermine public education than any in American history, it is right and fitting that Gates, the person who has bankrolled and forged that effort more than any individual in American history, be so duly honored.
For the past 15 years, Gates, a private citizen with zero educational experience and knowledge, has been allowed to use his virtually limitless fortune to impose his will on the public school system as he has pleased, an effort he has pursued with the same ruthlessness that he once used to obtain the intellectual property rights that have led to his immense fortune.

Gates’ efforts have led directly to the expansion of publically funded, privately managed charter schools, the creation and imposition of idiotic and grossly unfair teacher evaluations, mass financing propaganda like Waiting For Superman, and the purchase and acquiescence of long standing education organizations such as the national Parent Teacher Association. In addition, Gates has funded the creation of a seemingly endless amount of freshly minted “grass roots” advocacy organizations (Educators for Excellence, for example) the sole purpose of which is to deceive an unknowing public into believing that a campaign to privatize the school system by the richest people on earth is rising from the streets. (The usurpation of the language and iconography of the Civil Rights Movement has been both beyond shameless and disturbingly successful. ) It has also led to the immiseration of teachers from coast to coast as well as the weakening of the power of teacher unions – who foolishly tried to dance with this monopolist — across the nation. Gates’ crowning achievement thus far is the imposition of the secretly written, deceptively named, disastrously received Common Core State Standards which, as they were written with standardized tests in mind, in turn have led to a reduction of education to test prep.

His success at” reform” has led education historian Diane Ravitch to sardonically dub Gates “ the superintendent of American schools. “
That this unelected, unaccountable and largely hidden figure has been allowed to forge his will on an American institution as vital as the public school system should fill every American who actually believes in participatory democracy with abject horror.
Instead, Gates is being awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor. And so it goes. Allow an individual man to accumulate the wealth of a state and it is only a matter of time before that individual begins to act like the state and a short time after that the state recognizes said individual as proxy for the state.
May the kind of freedom President Obama is awarding here be clearly recognized and seen for what it is. It is the freedom of the private citizen to make public policy for millions providing that private citizen is super rich.
The rest of us be damned.

What a sad, sad time in which we live.

Awakening In Trump Land: A Thought On Resistance

November 13, 2016

As the shock slowly wears off and the grotesque reality of a President Trump slowly sinks in, the moral imperative for political and spiritual resistance on a mass and sustained scale grows stronger and stronger. There is one man whose example I find myself thinking of again and again and again.