Posts Tagged ‘Arne Duncan’

Michelle Rhee Exploits Sandy Hook Slaughter to Plug Studentsfirst Organization

December 16, 2012

“Following today’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the entire StudentsFirst family is mourning with the victims, their families, and the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut. We have offered our colleagues in the state any assistance they may need.

There are no adequate words to express the horror and senseless nature of violence in our schools. It happens far too often in our country.  As a mother myself, I understand the hesitation every parent will feel in the coming days when they kiss their children and send them off to school — to a place of learning and growth that ought to be a safe haven from violence.

Our children are our most valuable assets, and we lost too many of them today. Today’s event forces us to ask ourselves: how are we expected to foster an environment in which students can learn, grow, thrive, and set off on positive life-paths when we cannot guarantee basic needs such as their safety?

But events like these also strengthen our resolve to do exactly that — improve schools for children and thereby improve entire communities. The entire StudentsFirst organization — including the members of our team in Connecticut — recommit ourselves to that mission today, as we pause to send our thoughts and prayers to those affected in Newtown.”

All Eyes On Chicago

September 16, 2012


In early July of 1892 an event took place in the industrial town of Homestead, Pennsylvania that would define labor and management relations across the United States for decades to come.

A violent and bloody battle between Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead Steel Works and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (an early incarnation of the United Steel Workers),  the Homestead Strike of 1892 was a demarcation, a line in the sand, and a tragedy for the American labor movement.

Orchestrated by Henry Clay Frick, whom a vacationing nominally pro-labor Carnegie placed in charge of operations, Frick was resolved, at any cost, to break the union at Homestead and in doing so, inflict  as much damage to the then burgeoning union movement as possible.   After much violence, four deaths and countless wounded, with the assistance of the infamous Pinkertons and 4000 soldiers of the Pennsylvania state militia, Frick succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The union was smashed, severely damaging all   progressive and humane aspects of the national worker’s campaign and effectively paralyzing the American union movement.  The movement would remain paralyzed until the advent of FDR’s New Deal 44 long years later when in 1936 Roosevelt, in turn, would have the Michigan state militia aim their guns, not at the striking auto workers of the Ford Motor Company in Flint but at the company thugs and Flint police who threatened them. The Flint Sit -Down Strike was ultimately triumphant and  thus began the United Auto Workers (UAW) in earnest and with the UAW  the slow and steady rise of the American middle class. In the next four decades workers, unionized or not, would reap the benefits of and side effects of organized labor.

The Homestead Strike proved a seminal and transformative moment in American history and a tragic one in the legacy of American labor. The Chicago Teachers strike, six days in the making as I write, may very well prove to reverberate as far and as wide in one direction or the other. It too may ultimately determine the fate not merely of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), not merely the future of the American public school system, but, like the Homestead Strike, it may determine the impotence or power of American unionism in the 21st century.   It too could alter the very parameters of worker rights and labor relations for all workers, unionized or not for years to come.

And it’s been a long time coming.

From Ronald Reagan’s mass firing of the air traffic controllers in August of 1981 to Scott Walker’s outlawing of collective bargaining, from the wholesale sacking of the unionized Camden Police Dept to the ceaseless attacks on all public workers in all cities across these United States, we have witnessed and suffered from 30 years of incremental or wholesale union capitulations or outright defeats.  Make no mistake that such capitulations and defeats have brought much joy to  many  of the top 1% of wealthy Americans.  And make no mistake that many of the same are carefully monitoring the goings on in Chicago.  Sadly, even pathetically, it seems to have brought equal joy to many working class members of the Koch brothers funded Tea Party, many of whom enjoyed the benefits, protections and rights wrought by the presence of unions. Not that union bashing is a strictly Republican concern. Not for many a year now.  And one thing the Democratic Party  have learned is that it is politically much safer to undermine a union with policies while celebrating  unionism with words like Cory Booker than it is  to overtly bash them in the manner of, say,  Chris Christie.     With Democrat Bill Clinton’s signing of NAFTA along with his repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act , and a rabidly deregulated Wall Street,  the rise of globalization and the consequent wholesale dismantling and off shoring of the American industrial base was virtually assured, unions and American workers be damned.  ( How Clinton enjoys a reputation as a liberal or even a progressive  and a friend of the working man is evidence  of  a
“crisis in education” of a profoundly different and deeper nature than the “education reformers”  would ever go near or , perhaps, are even conscious of. ) Much to the delight of  conservatives, libertarians and above all corporatists,  unions have largely been wiped out altogether or driven to their knees from sea to shining sea.  This is the slow motion horror movie that has been playing before our largely unseeing eyes fro three decades.  This has led directly to the well-documented decline in American income, the vanishing of the American middle class,  and the most grotesque and dangerous disparity in wealth and poverty in the industrial world.

And this leads us to Chicago.   Rahm Emanuel, like all so called “education reformers, ”– especially the  Education Reformer in Chief in the White House —   desperately wants and needs all Americans to believe that the CTU strike is not only entirely the fault of an out of control and greedy  teacher’s union that doesn’t care about kids: more importantly he wants and needs Americans to believe that it is entirely about education and the reformers’ passionate desire to make the children of Chicago “college and career ready” , to prepare them “to compete for work in  the global market place, “ and above all to  create  quality public education, as this is  the  “civil rights issue of our time.”

Some of this may be partly true. It’s possible, I suppose, that men like Emanuel and Obama and some of the other reformers actually believe in the merit of the garbage, bubble-test-based education they are successfully force feeding other people’s children, even as it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the education they demand for their own children whose schools hold such practices in abject distain.  Believe in it, that is, as long as they don’t think about it for too long or look at what it reduces people to.  ( The children of Emanuel and Obama attend, respectively, the Chicago Lab School and Sidwell Friends receiving the kind of quality education all American children should receive and could receive if the right people  were  making  policy and allocating funds. )   l and That said, long after “education reformers” have achieved enormous success in privately remaking public education in their image and implementing their various notions, schemes and experiments on American children, long after their far greater success in manipulating the American public into believing that teachers and teacher unions are the principle cause of their increasing  immiseration  and a mortal threat to the their children’s future, not a one of their multi million dollar schemes have proven to in any meaningful way improve education. Not one. This, even as schools across the land have been transformed into test taking stress factories, communities have been ripped apart in charter school wars, and many of the “reformers” corporate allies such as Pearson or the “reformers themselves such as Rupert Murdoch ( yes, that Rubert Murdoch ) have   milked the public teat to grow rich or ever richer still than their wildest dreams.

It is therefore exceedingly difficult if not out right impossible for a rational and knowledgeable person to believe that what is really driving most of these “reformers” – many of whom are billionaires or hedge fund managers, almost none of whom are educators unless you count  the three year scandal ridden teaching career of Michelle Rhee – is improvement of education rather than, say, transfer of money from the public sector to the private sector or, in a word, privatization.

If improving education were truly the goal of the “reformers” there would be certain fundamental steps one would expect such high-minded people to take. They might begin by respecting people who actually know what they’re talking about. They might begin by asking the question of what it means to be educated rather than, say, conditioned or trained.   They might begin by engaging and empowering the most knowledgeable professionals in the field and assisting them with the extraordinarily difficult task of educating the most diverse and poverty-ridden population in the Western world.  Such people are rare but they are not difficult to find. Consider Linda Darling Hammond.  Or Jonathan Kozol.  Or Diane Ravitch.   Or, for that matter, CTU president Karen Lewis.   But  nothing like this was done and under the regime of the “reformers” will never be done.   Quite the contrary, as befitting a corporate revolution by stealth, such people have been  utterly purged from the corridors of power and influence as thoroughly, if infinitely more gently than  Pol Pot purged Cambodian intellectuals in Year One of his  new Cambodia.

And, of course, if the improvement of education were, in fact,  your goal there would be things you would not dream of doing.

You would not, for instance, appoint completely unqualified persons such as Arne Duncan to run the federal Department of Education.

You would not allow children to be used as guinea pigs in vast experiments in social alchemy by unelected and utterly unaccountable private citizens like Bill Gates who Diane Ravitch has dubbed, ironically ,  “ the superintendent of American schools. ”

You would not continue to champion mayoral control years after it has proven itself a disaster in city after city, allowing, in effect, people like Mike Bloomberg and Rahm Emmanuel to dictate  education policy in the largest education systems in the USA.

You do shower parents with contempt and shut them out of any meaningful discussion at the same time, in one of many acts of stupendous condescension, you pretend to give parents   voice by acting as their ventriloquists by producing  slick, shamelessly dishonest “reformer” financed propaganda films like “Waiting For Superman” or equally slick, shameless and dishonest melodramas like reformer” financed “Won’t Back Down” , both of which  solve the “crisis in education”  by – you guessed it,  privately run publicly funded non -union charter schools.

You do not impose business plans and call them education plans.

You do not confuse technology with science and reduce human beings and human intelligence to data and then sell such data to your pals like Rupert Murdoch.

You do not make astoundingly self righteous and ignorant statements claiming that poverty does not affect student learning or that class size does not matter and repeat such astoundingly self-righteous statements ad nausea.

You do not disgrace  our alleged democratic  process by allowing  private citizen billionaires like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family ( of Wal-Mart fame  ) and other very, very rich people to make  public policy — every single one of those  policies   that much the more in a field of which they know nothing.

You do not reduce students to bubble test-taking automatons incapable of critical thinking.

You do not hound, harass, demoralize , micro manage and infantilize  teachers. You do not force feed evaluation schemes based on standardized tests at all, never mind  standardized  tests that have margins of errors of upwards of 50% that even their  creators  insist should not be used to evaluate teachers.

You do not casually destroy  the careers of untold numbers of excellent teachers and  shrink  the contours of the minds of millions of children — always other  people’s children — with such hare-brained if immensely profitable schemes.

One can go on and on but you get the point.    You would do none of these things and yet, this and so much more is precisely what Ralm Emanuel has done in Chicago and “reformers” have done across the entire United States and they have done so, to the great shame of teacher unions, with astounding and terrifying success.

Until now.

What Rahm Emmanuel desires in Chicago is what Mike Bloomberg wants in New York and what Barack Obama wants for the whole country, which is the sole point of the unbelievably cynical policies of Race To the Top which may be the most successful union busting policy ever to be embraced by unions.    Whatever they claim to the contrary, what these men want is for teacher unions to enter into a pact to commit slow motion collective suicide; to sign their own death sentences based on preposterously trumped up charges,   to die while giving their destroyers  ( especially  those in the Democratic Party ) as much  political cover as possible.

Lewis and CTU, bless their hearts, have as yet refused. With this refusal they are throwing what amounts to the first real   wrench into the billionaire-backed, union busting privatization machine that has completely infiltrated and now dominates both major political parties and  the entire debased discussion of  what passes for education in America.

The CTU  are speaking truth to the power that has engineered the most sophisticated, insidious and successful propaganda campaign against a profession in American history, the lastest volleys in this campaign CNBC’s “Education Nation” and the new aforementioned anti-union weepie “Won’t Back  Down.”    They have sent a resounding “NO!” to the a campaign consisting of the richest individuals, most powerful corporations and highest offices of the American government who collectively want nothing less than to drive a stake through the heart of unionism in America thoroughly as did Frick and Carnegie more than a century ago. And note well,  if the financial catastrophe of 2008 proved nothing else, it showed the unambiguous recklessness and rank depravity of much of the American ruling class and that it will who will stop at nothing to get its way, innocent children,   teachers,  in fact, the entire global population can go straight to hell for all they care.  There are fortunes to be made in education.  Billions, in fact. And all publicly  funded and thus guaranteed.

In the larger sense, it is essential to understand that this strike is about standing up against issues that go far beyond phony “education reform” campaign, as important as they are.     It is essential that all Americans who are not part of the one percent understand what is at stake here. It is essential that all such Americans understand that the CTU is standing up for them as well as for the children of Chicago and themselves. It is essential that Americans understand that the CTU is standing not merely against the evisceration of unions but standing for the very impulses and principles on which unions are created: economic justice, fair play, compassion, fraternity and solidarity, all of which are in direct opposition to the corporate mindset. The CTU  is  standing up against nothing less than a corporate revolution by stealth. They are standing up against the absolute triumph of the corporate state and the absolute removal of all opposition to the corporate state.

Whatever the outcome, unlike at Homestead there will be no violence or bloodshed in Chicago.    The powers that be have learned far more insidious and subtle ways to try and bring down a people, strip them of their rights, force them to their knees. Consider Obama’s Race To the Top, an absolute masterpiece of coercive politics aimed at making teacher unions little more than due sucking social clubs  —  but that did not stop most of the nation from buying into it .

But what  happens in Chicago in the next few days or the next few hours will indeed reverberate across this land as did Homestead. To be sure, sooner or later  more than teachers will feel its effects. To be sure, sooner or later the outcome will effect every member of the 99 % .

It is conceivable that out of the courage and steadfastness of the CTU will arise, phoenix-like,  a rebirth of American unionism. It is equally conceivable it could signal labor’s death knell. One thing is for certain: every worker in America should be supporting the CTU and making that support as public as possible.

Rest assured the eyes of  every cognizant  teacher in the US are on Chicago and hopefully, too, the eyes of many an American worker. To be sure,  so too are the eyes of the one percent.

Does Steven Brill’s ‘Class Warfare’ Pass Muster? Not if You Care About the Truth

April 24, 2012

In an attempt to discredit public schools and the teachers who teach in them, Brill ends up mostly discrediting himself.

Reflections on and Rebuttals of Class Warfare (Or Steven Brill has a Serious Credibility Problem)

April 15, 2012



Class Warfare:  Inside the fight to Fix America’s Schools, Steven  Brill’s ethically challenged, error ridden, incoherent yet highly illuminating love letter to the corporate education reformers bent on privatizing public education, is an extraordinary and illuminating document and one that, in a sane world, could easily serve as an indictment against the very process and people it was written to lionize. Perhaps, in time, that day will come. Perhaps, indeed, it is closer than we think.

In the main, Class Warfare tells the tragic and true story of how a handful of extraordinarily wealthy and ruthless private citizens in league with their corporate and political allies have been able to undermine the democratic process in order to try to remake the public school system in their image:  that is to say, to remake it as another cog in the wheel of the ever more destructive unregulated free market which has brought the globe to the brink of chaos and profited no one but  themselves.

Class Warfare is a virtual bestiary of corporate reformers and their machinations, none more revealing and repulsive than Brill’s almost joyful accounting of when, just after Obama’s   election, the hedge fund  group Democrats For  Education Reform, ganged  up on  the brilliant Linda Darling Hammond  — she who had been  criss-crossing the country with Obama as his  educational  advisor — to not merely torpedo her  chances of  being selected  Secretary of Education but to  insure  that Arne Duncan or Joel Klein or  Michelle Rhee  would be.   Imagine a school system run by someone with  the integrity and knowledge of a Linda Darling Hammond instead of the increasingly despised Duncan and you will begin to understand just how destructive and vicious the  “ reformers”  truly are.    You can also see that these folks found themselves the perfect scribe in Brill.

In short, Brill reveals how men (and they are almost all men) with no knowledge of education whatsoever,  and no mandate except their own sense of an almost regal entitlement, came  to  impose their myopic and disastrous schemes (charter schools, high stakes testing, value  added metrics and the like) upon a nation before it knew it was happening, who was making it happen and for what reasons they were doing so.   Students across the country, from sea to shining sea, are now suffering the consequences.

An essential part of this process was and is a public relations campaign designed to defame a  profession of a singularity, magnitude and ferocity wholly unprecedented in American history. By ceaseless repetition of expertly produced nonsense —  such as that  poverty, class size, nutrition, and parental care are all  rendered irrelevant by the presence of a  Super Teacher,  who  by definition is a  twenty something Ivy League educated, non-unionized Teach For America educational hobbyist —   a previously honored profession somehow became responsible for the fall of a nation.   Those professionals, of course,  are  teachers —  specifically unionized public  school teachers — who for the past ten years have been demonized and scape goated  by pundits  and politicians who have absolutely no idea  what they are talking about but are too ideologically chained and arrogant to care. Stephen Brill is  more chained, more   arrogant and less knowledgeable than most but this  has not stopped him from   being  catapulted into the status of instant education expert. Indeed, Time Magazine named him one of  the 11 Most Important Education Activists of 2011 , largely on the strength of Class Warfare and two related articles that pretended to be about education but were actually  little more than skillful  union bashing.  Brill, in fact, is a  master of  the arts of insinuation and elision.  And at these oily arts he  is a formidable figure in the repulsive and underhanded campaign against unions and  teachers.

It is that campaign that I write about here for it is my school and to some degree my person who Brill uses to falsely malign an entire system.

Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss and Michael Winerip have all pointed out that Class Warfare is not really about education at all but about power politics and how they have played out in education when a group of  very, very rich people get together and decide they know better than anybody else in the country   how  children should be educated. That at least was the pretense. As times goes on and more is  reported it becomes clearer and clearer that there   are  immense fortunes to be made in privatizing  education and  many, if not all,  of the  corporate reformers are very, very interested in making them. What Ravitch, Strauss and Winerip  did not mention, however, was how remarkably ignorant Brill is of even the most fundamental realities of  how  schools are run and who is responsible for running them.    Class Warfare is chock a block full of scenarios that not merely reveal just how little Brill knows about education but also how little credibility  he has.   At the same time the same scenarios  reveal  how skilled a propaganda artist Brill    is and  in this way, Class Warfare can stand as a model for most corporate reform writing.

For example, in chapter one  the author pulls the first and worst of a number of journalistic stunts that call  his credibility into very serious question.  In fact, it should expose Brill as an outright fraud. On page 17, Brill takes a page out of the Jason Blair/ Stephen Glass School of Fictitious Journalism and describes the horrendous performance  of  a public school teacher who doesn’t exist.

Or, if the ”teacher” does exist, he is completely unknown and unrecognizable to any of the people who ostensibly work with him.  I know.  I am one of those people.  What makes the matter that much  more egregious is the fact that the non existent teacher is   the only description of  a public  school teacher at work in the 400 plus pages of Brill’s  tome.  Such, I believe, is not a  coincidence.

But I am getting ahead of  myself. First, a little background.

Brill begins and ends Class Warfare by contrasting two schools in  Harlem, New York, a locale that outside of New Orleans is ground Zero for the charter school takeover of the public school system. It is that section of  Class Warfare, slim though it is, that I deal with in this writing as I, unlike any other reviewer,  have first hand knowledge.  The two schools, PS 149, a traditional public elementary school, and Harlem Success Academy One, the first in  Eva Moskowitz’s burgeoning   charter school empire, share or, in the parlance of the New York City Department of Education, are  “co- located” in the same building, “separated”, in the words of   Brill, “only by a fire door.”

Actually, they are separated by a gulf that Brill dares not mention or perhaps even   glimpse as to do so would shatter his fiction that the two schools are somehow on equal footing.  Following  are some of the  differences Brill somehow fails to mention.   As Brill well knows or should know, charter schools can make demands on parents – forcing them to sign contracts that they will participate in school programs, check their children’s homework for example — that are unthinkable and wholly illegal in public schools. Charter schools can make demands of students – children must walk with one arm behind their back, for example, that could be considered corporal punishment and might cost public school teachers their careers.   Charter schools can also jettison any child deemed a problem – and this they do, the moment that child threatens their sacred test scores, a luxury not granted to public schools.   What’s more, there are  immense differences in materials, computers, desks, chairs, and even the lighting in the two schools.   If everything in Harlem Success Academy seems newer, brighter, cleaner  and better it is because it is.  The differences are so appalling that after a walk through by leaders of the NAACP last year, the organization wound up filing a law suit against charter co locations not dissimilar to the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education on the basis that the schools were separate and unequal. The lawsuit led to the surreal sight of  hundreds of African American children in HSA orange and blue uniforms standing in front of a  statue of  Adam Clayton Powell protesting the NAACP in support of  Moskowitz.   The protest took place during school hours, a  political act that would have found  a public  school principal in deep trouble had they ever been small enough to use children in such a way.  Brill saw the same schools as the NAACP but apparently was not troubled in the least.

Then there is the political favoritism granted to charters, particularly the charters of Eva Moskowitz that have continued to open  throughout the city in the face of  ever   fiercer community opposition. In February of  2010, Daily News journalist    Juan Gonzales exposed the cozy relationship Moskowitz shared with then Chancellor Joel Klein when he published their emails following a Freedom of Information Law request with an article  titled, “ Eva Moskowitz has special access to Schools Chancellor Klein and support others can only dream of.”  

Then there is the issue of funding.  While my colleagues and I are compelled to buy pencils for our students, HSA has more money than they know what to do with and, apparently, more privileges with which to do what they want with they money they have. Some  weeks ago I returned home and was shocked and disgusted  to find a glossy Harlem Success Academy (HSA) postcard bearing my seven year old daughter’s name and address on it inviting her to “Learn more about Success Academy Charter Schools” and “Attend an Information session in your neighborhood.” Leaving aside the deeply disturbing ethical issue of how the DOE,  a public institution charged with the education of children,   gave my daughter’s personal information to the likes of Eva Moskowitz, the mass mailings highlight  the political pull  figures like Moskowitz hold in the DOE that are  simply unimaginable  in  a public school.   It is estimated that HSA has a budget of over a million and  a  half dollars for public relations. Like everything else that throws  a light on  his narrative, Brill simply ignores the immense funding provided to HSA  by  its  corporate allies.

Herein is another incident that is wholly unimaginable in a traditional pubic school: One afternoon in the midst of the 2008 presidential campaign I exited the tiny teacher’s lounge and literally bumped into presidential candidate Mitt Romney with his security men.  (Mitt started blabbing to me immediately but in person he appeared so disturbingly artificial and strange  I was shocked into momentary silence.)  Romney was leaving the building following a   tour of  Moskowitz’s  then just opened school.  Needless to say smiling Romney’s tour did not include PS149 as Mitt’s concerns lay elsewhere than with our students or teachers or  parents.

Brill finds such things not important enough to merit a single word. This is something worse than simply being disingenuous. Instead, Brill talks about test scores.  Like many people who confuse technology with science and standardized tests scores with academic achievement, Brill is gaga over HSA’s  stupendous test scores and contemptuous  of PS149’s lack thereof.

Therein, for Brill, is the beginning and the end of the story.

It must be comforting to dwell in so simplistic a world that everything can be reduced to data.  Like a good cheerleader for corporate education reform Brill betrays not a hint of doubt concerning the importance of the magic tests, even if like virtually all of the reformers, except  to her credit,  Moskowitz herself, Brill sent his children to private schools that hold such practices in complete disparagement.

Meanwhile, Moskowitz  has  publicly stated  that she  intends to create   40 such schools which would give her essentially her  own private district.  With the help of her well heeled allies, she is  well on her way.

PS/MS 149 on the other hand is a struggling school that has been making incremental improvements for years, even according to the reductive criteria of standardized tests, which since the passing of the  No Child Left Behind  act in 2003 have become the only criteria allowed  in whatever passes for the education debate in America.   It has struggled in other ways as well, ways  that are not measurable by data. In the last five years, for example, PS 149 has suffered the death of no less than six staff members, most of them teachers, as well as the loss of an entire floor of their building and a good part of their schoolyard to Harlem Success Academy.   Somehow, behind the backs of the PS 149 School Leadership Team, PTA  and staff, the school yard in which  children played  softball and kickball in the warm weather, was ripped up because Eva Moskowitz  wanted a mini soccer field built there despite the fact that there was another such field  some fifty feet away.  This too merited an article by Juan Gonzalez.

The loss of physical space is called “sharing the building “and, as in every school in which a charter has  moved in, it  has forced teachers at 149 to share classrooms,  teach and eat in storage closets and hallways and other grossly undignified scenarios that the reformers would never allow their own children or their teachers to suffer for a moment.

I was assigned a “room” that was, in fact, a space designed to store books.    It had no phone, abysmal ventilation, horrific lighting and the feel of a place of abject desolation.   The only way to reach me was on the school PA system.  I would like to see, say, Bill Gates or Mike  Bloomberg or Obama  or  any of these “reformers “ simply be forced to hang out  in such a room, never mind have their  children educated in one..   As a result of HSA  expansion, the teachers lounge, an increasingly vital retreat in a school in which space and quiet  are increasingly rare, was reduced to  a 12 x 15  space  which also contains lockers for the paraprofessionals.  It too was built as  a storage closet,  an  apposite metaphor for  what was happening to the profession in general.

Class Warfare is to journalism what the much ballyhooed Bill Gates funded propaganda   film Waiting For Superman is to documentary film making.  It  operates on the same principles  and makes the same arguments as that shamelessly dishonest film; makes them, that is, until  the fantasies of  a   Peter Pan like teaching corp, like Teach For America,  willing and able to work 80 hour weeks    breaks down under the weight of its own cruel and infantile absurdity.

Both book  and film  begin with a conclusion: because of its unionized workforce the public school  system is an irredeemable  disaster   and must be  immediately  replaced by  a system based  on a  corporate  business model  before the United  States slips  even  further into becoming a  third world country. Next, they both cherry pick “facts” or, better still,  vignettes suggesting that the absolute worst situation or scenario is, in fact,  the every day reality. (Davis Guggenheim’s ‘ Waiting For Superman was so low it included 15-year-old grainy video footage of a  teacher reading a newspaper in his mid western classroom suggesting this was a common occurrence. Brill, however, goes further. Much  further.  Brill apparently conjures a very bad teacher out of thin air.

In a  move to avoid acknowledging the collective responsibilities for what Jonathan Kozol has called the savage inequalities of contemporary American education directly  attributable  to the savage inequalities in American life, Brill parrots one of the more egregious self serving   fantasies of corporate education reform and one absolutely beloved by Hollywood liberals: that of the Super Teacher whose dedication makes the misery, broken homes, abject poverty, homelessness, or absent parents absolutely irrelevant. ( For  dramatizations of this cynical and  infantile  fantasy, see  To Sir With Love, Freedom Writers, Stand  and Deliver, Dangerous Minds or for that matter, Waiting For  Superman )

Accordingly, Brill selects one teacher from Harlem Success Academy for  whom he does nothing to disguise his admiration, who seems to fit the Hollywood   model to a tee.  Conversely, Brill selects a teacher from 149,  a horrifying exemplar of the  “civil service mentality”  that Brill (and  doubtless many the corporate reformer )    discerns in  all public school teachers and for  whom Brill does nothing to disguise his scorn.

For Harlem Success Academy Brill writes almost worshipfully of one Jessica Reid, an admirable, extremely dedicated young woman who Brill describes as teaching her students something called “juicy words “ and also, disturbingly, praising a student for making “total eye contact with the teacher throughout the lesson,”  as if the poor kid was being hypnotized.    As in many instances of pointing out differences between  a public school teacher and a charter school teacher, Brill seems totally unaware that a NYC public school teacher could be reprimanded and even cited for corporal punishment by the Department of  Education for demanding a student    maintain “total eye contact “ with a teacher — as well they might be.  As a parent I’d raise  the roof   if  a teacher  demanded such behavior from my child.

On Reid, Brill spends many, many words – some of them so sexist and absurdly inappropriate to the subject matter as to be beyond parody. Indeed, he writes a kind of People Magazine style mini bio of Reid built largely of stuff like this:  “Standing in front of her new class in black stiletto heels, a black and pink crinoline dress, and a black and gold buttoned jacket not quite covering five different bracelets Reid called on them (students) one by one, to line up at the door.”  As a product of Wendy Kopps’ deeply problematic absurdly praised  Teach For America program, Reid, who “has her mother’s Swedish face, blue eyes and blond hair”, serves as Brill’s script perfect model of corporate reform’s solution to the problem of poor urban schools: the creation of   an ephemeral army of eternally young   Ivy league educated white people blessing  the classrooms of the ghetto, inspiring them by what the  brilliant Linda Darling Hammond sardonically called Teach For  America’s “ innate superiority”.

Reid is told by her teacher mother that teaching is  a profession in which  “you can never sit down, ”  and Reid, bless her heart,  attempts to  live up to this  impossible dictum.  Some of Brill’s other charter school super teachers are said to “teach with their hair on fire, “ yet another example of the reformers confusing the subtle craft of teaching with some kind of physical fitness program or even a state of frenzy.  But, then again,  what can you expect from people who have not spent a  single minute of their lives in front of  a classroom ?

Curiously, Brill seems to live in a narcissistic stupor so profound he seems utterly oblivious as to how his graphic descriptions of Reid’s Nordic beauty might be received in a community whose student body is almost 100 % African American, or how grossly offensive his pathetic worship of all things Ivy League,   or his cringe inducing genuflecting before the obscenely rich   reads in the working class community he is ostensibly not merely writing about but trying to save.  Consider the following passage on Democrats for Education Reform ( DFER)  co-founder and instant education expert  Ravenel Boykin Curry IV: “At first look, Ravenel Boykin Curry IV seems the typical preppy socialite.  He and his wife have homes in Manhattan (Central Park South), East Hampton, and the Dominican Republic.  His father,   Ravenel Curry III, also runs a money fund.  He and his wife frequently appear in society columns , and she’s a well known high- end  interior  decorator.  He went to Yale and Harvard Business School and  is  involved in all the de riguer charities.”

It almost twinkles.

When New York Times reporter Michael Winerip asked Brill a question concerning the grotesque disparity of wealth in America and how it played out in Brill’s narrative, Brill   made this surreal reply:  he did not see the  “class warfare in American education as the rich versus the union guys, although now that you say it, I can see how you can draw that line.”   Here’s Brill cheerleading for the richest individuals and the most powerful political forces in the United States who have joined hands in a ten year struggle and multimillion dollar public relations campaign to demonize teachers, break teacher’s unions and privatize education and Brill needs some one else to point out to him  “ how you can draw that line.”


Unlike the unnamed  “teacher” Brill describes working in 149, Brill’s selection of Reid has  the distinct advantage of Reid being an actual identifiable human being, locatable in time and space,  with a social security number, employed in the capacity  Brill ascribes to her.   Indeed, as her classroom was directly across the hall from the storage closet to which I  was assigned, I saw her buzzing about day after day.

Sadly, Reid, like all of her colleagues at Harlem Success Academy avoided  making eye  contact with teachers from 149   even as they passed us a dozen times a day with their “scholars” ,  the  pretentious, erroneous  moniker  Eva Moskowitz   orders her  teachers to  call  the students of  Harlem Success Academy.  (Apparently Moskowitz  thinks the two related but very different words are synonymous.)

Then, one day, mid year, just like that, Reid was gone.  I learned later that, with her health and marriage collapsing under the strain of the  pressure cooker pace that Brill, like so many reformers,  finds so necessary for all who would teach, she jumped ship mid year and was now working at a traditional public school. I wish her well.

In contrast to the lengthy hagiographic portrayal of the admirable Ms. Reid, Brill sums up the quality of work at PS 149,   and by extension all unionized public school   teachers  across the  nation  with the following brief,  devastating and disturbing description of an unnamed fourth grade   teacher:  “ Across the hall and one floor down from where I watched Reid coach her kids on essays, juicy words, and personal biographies – maybe a fifteen second walk – I looked in on a goateed teacher in jeans and a sweatshirt sitting back in a chair in front of eighteen fourth graders.  His feet parked on the desk, he bellowed:  “How many days in a week?” No answer.  Half the children had their heads down.  Most of the others were chattering away, except for two boys who were wrestling on the floor.  The teacher asked again, louder.  Still no answer.  Then louder still, rocking almost to the point of falling backward in the chair.   Then, “”Okay, let’s  move on to something else.”

Holy Moly!    No wonder the Chinese are kicking our ass !

As a parent  and a teacher I  would be far  more  appalled than Brill to encounter such a sight in any school, that  much the more  the school in which I work and serve. And I  would  do whatever I  could do to see it was  immediately addressed.

But there is a problem  with this  description and it is a problem shared by literally every member of the 149 faculty  who read Brill’s depressing, distressing passage —   read that is,  by the  only people who could  know that it’s a lie.   The unnamed bellowing slob is wholly unrecognizable to every single one of his supposed colleagues.   He doesn’t exist.

The most charitable explanation offered by teachers — and, rest assured, none were feeling very sympathetic toward this apostle of accountability after reading what he wrote about our school   – was that  Brill “looked in” on a substitute teacher and was simply too lazy or arrogant to check the facts: that much the more when such a figure fit so perfectly into Brill’s ceaseless anti union narrative. But not a one had any memory of a substitute fitting Brill’s description nor one so appallingly inept. I, myself, have no idea how Brill came up with his disturbing image.

I am sure of three things, however. First, no faculty member at 149 has any idea of who Brill is talking about, especially the two female fourth grade teachers who most assuredly do not bellow, do not allow students to wrestle on the floor and do not have  goatees.  The second is that this is an excellent example of   journalism of the lowest,  most manipulative and sleaziest order.   The third  is that in a society which is as fragmented, ill educated and encouraged to seek  scapegoats as is America in the age of the Tea Party, Brill’s horrifying description could  go a long, long way toward  turning decent well meaning, ill-informed people into the arms of the corporate education reformers; into the arms, that is,  of those  engaged in a  two pronged billionaire backed propaganda   campaign whose reach and financial backing   is likely without parallel  in American history.  The first prong seeks to place responsibility for a culture in collapse on a single profession:  public school teachers.  The second prong is to convince the people of America  that the evil unionized   teacher is the cause of its deep decay and the only solution is to hand    over the education of its children to the very 1% who have brought the globe to the brink of economic Armageddon and are rapidly making the USA into a Third World nation.

Of course, the idea of any serious journalist  “looking in” on a class room – even the classroom of a teacher who verifiably existed — and then using this anecdote to malign an entire school is, on the face of it, laughable. But what Brill does with his bellowing phantom is far worse: the bellowing slob is the only description of a public school teacher in the entirety of Class Warfare.  And just to make sure it sticks, Brill drudges it up a couple more times to insure its fresh in the  reader’s mind.

Think about that.

Make no mistake about  what Brill is doing with his phantom. Brill is doing what Brill does best:  engaging in the slimy rhetorical trick   found in all of the writing he has done on education but which Brill takes to another level altogether in Class Warfare:  Brill insinuates.   Here, Brill insinuates that this is the quality of our public school teachers.  This is what the teacher’s union guarantees  a “job for life”.  This, and not our grotesque level of poverty, Third World disparity  of wealth and poverty and  insidious corporate culture preying on kids,  is why our children are not learning like the children in Finland and Singapore – or for that matter, Harlem Success Academy and KIPP.    And this, ultimately, is why America is not, in  Barack Obama’s  solipsistic coinage,  “winning the future” and  why we need  to destroy all  teacher’s unions and hand  our school system over to the  likes of Bill Gates and Geoffey   Canada  and  Michelle Rhee and all their millionaire hedge fund  buddies.

Indeed, had Brill done something vaguely approximating an ethical job as a journalist, he could have walked “another fifteen seconds,  “looked in” on say, Mississippi born Rosa Brown, a master teacher who has been nurturing, guiding, comforting and in the deepest sense of the word educating New York’s  urban poor for over 30 years now, albeit not in “black stiletto heels, a black and pink crinoline dress, and a black gold buttoned jacket not quite covering five different bracelets.”  Or he could have walked a little further still and looked in on South Bronx born special educator and musical maestro Kevin Hill who  for the past  28 years has  touched the lives of  hundreds if not thousands of  kids, serving not merely as an excellent teacher  but as a surrogate  brother, wise but stern uncle, and knowing father to  many who return years later to thank him  for the life lessons they did not understand while his  student. And for the music, the music that reached into their souls and told them in no uncertain terms that there was more to this life than we can know from a book.

Or he could have walked just a little more and sat in on Jaffar Smith, a  Georgia born African American and the sole Muslim faculty member in a community where for many, Islam is the center of the world.  Smith, an NYC Teaching Fellow who relocated his family from Egypt to teach in Harlem worked tirelessly both as a teacher and as a kind of ambassador to the Harlem Muslim neighborhood, constantly making home visits and building community in a neighborhood that needed it more than many.

Brill could come back and see Brown and Hill at work anytime he wished, I suppose, but tragically  not Jaffar Smith who, after two years of satisfactory ratings was denied tenure and discontinued.  Months after his dismissal, Smith’s absence is felt throughout the school like the loss of a limb. In the first week of September PS 149 received word of the sudden death of one of our Muslim students.  The school leadership wanted to respond in a way that was sensitive to the family’s Islamic sensibilities and traditions but no one know what to do or  how to do it.  In a meeting where we stumbled and fumbled around searching for an adequate response to the child’s shocking death, one of the AP’s suddenly verbalized what everyone in the building immediately understood:  “We need Jaffar Smith. “   And Jaffar Smith, being who he is, came back to 149 and helped prepare  a dignified and culturally appropriate memorial service for the child and his family at the school.

Even now, months and months later, once or twice  a week one of Smith’ former students approach me and ask me where he is, when he is coming back and if I can  take a message to him.  The message is always the same:  “please come back.” The look in their eyes and the confusion in their voices break the heart, as does the fact that, as yet, they cannot understand that he is not coming back.   What these children  are experiencing, I believe, is something akin to a death and it is   the most striking condemnation of those who will reduce a school to a  collection of dubious data and abstract edu-babble  that I can think of.

In fact, Brill could have gone into any class room at all in 149  and witnessed teachers teaching and students learning albeit, none  with their “ hair on fire”  or engaging  in  semi-cult like practices  such as  demanding total eye contact.   Instead, Brill chose  to not speak to a single teacher at 149.   (By his own admission Brill spoke  to no less than 18 former or present teachers at Harlem Success Academy, every single one of them, , like witnesses against the mafia, requested anonymity. )  Instead Brill  strolls down the stairs to interview Interim Acting principal Karol Burgess-Harper.   On the way Brill observes  the following: “Outside some children wandered the halls, while those moving from class to class did so boisterously, as if in the school yard.  On the first floor, about forty kids were in the auditorium watching what seemed to be an action movie.”

Brill, almost as smitten with Burgess Harper as he is with Reid, is so utterly clueless as to how schools actually run that he seemingly has no idea that the chaos he writes about above is striking evidence of  the total incompetence of Interim Acting Principal Karol Harper,  an administrator with not one, not  two, but three   assistant principals in a school of  some  433  students.  Instead Brill praises Burgess-Harper, a recent product of Joel Klein’s  Leadership Academy  as a “new breed of principal.”

I’ll say.

Brill’s conversation with Burgess –Harper borders on the surreal and again and again reveals how pathetically ignorant both are about what it takes to run a school.   When Burgess –Harper informs Brill that making her school a “model of success is non –negotiable” Brill seems to accept this ridiculous statement – who would or even could negotiate for or against such a position?  – as something other than the pure bullshit that it is.   Brill attempts to give Burgess-Harper bona fides by quoting a series of emails containing such unlovely fluff as,  “ We will continue to do our best until every member of our staff wants his /her son/ daughter, niece, nephew cousin and neighbor to attend our schools,” as if these words were somehow not only meaningful but meaningful actions.  Brill sympathizes with Burgess-Harper when she sides with union hating education entrepreneur and corporate con man extraordinaire Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone interns against her own teaching staff,  who had the audacity to want a quiet and dignified place to eat their lunch and prepare their classes.    Even after a number of teachers had lost their classrooms to the ever expanding Harlem Success Academy, Burgess-Harper,  without even bothering to inform the UFT chapter leader, told the numerous, very young and sometimes-out-of-control HCZ interns that they too could  use the tiny 15 x 12 foot former -storage-closet “teacher’s lounge” to eat and hang out in even as it drove teachers to eat their lunch and seek a  moment’s peace in hallways and stairwells.

Brill is wholly untroubled by the abject level of degradation that an increasing number of NYC teachers and school workers have been forced to live with on a daily basis due to the policies of   the Bloomberg regime. They  appear  to have an unwritten policy that  anything that serves to  undermine the union and that makes the lives of teachers   miserable is considered fair game,  in fact, a good thing.  There is no better example in Class Warfare of Brill’s undisguised contempt  for working people than his ignorant defense of  Burgess-Harper’s cynical and divisive move.

Brimming with arrogance and disdain for all things union and admiration for all things charter school, Brlll and Harper seem like two peas in a pod. “Give me the ability to hire and fire the ones I want, “ says Burgess Harper, “ and give me a school day from eight to five like they have on the other side “   (in other words, give her a charter school)    “and I’ll   have hundreds of Little Einstein’s running around here too” says  Burgess-Harper.

“Hundreds of little Einstein’s?” One wonders if Burgess –Harper ever paused to ponder  how such an  original thinker was famously dulled by instructors who  insisted on a rote  approach to education and were totally blind to his genius,  or considered how such a soul  might be  out right destroyed by the steady diet of  corporate reading programs and  standardized  garbage   students  have been  subjected to in ever increasing amounts since the advent of corporate education reform.

Indeed, Brill and Harper think so much alike they seem to not only echo each other’s contempt for teachers and unions, they even seem to share hallucinations. When Brill tells Burgess-Harper about the unnamed unknown, unrecognizable, wildly unprofessional  “ teacher upstairs from her office I had seen yelling about the days of the week, she

( Burgess-Harper )  seemed to know exactly whom I was referring  to.”

Maybe so.   It would not be the first time that no one in the building had any idea of what Interim Acting Principal Burgess -Harper was talking about.

Burgess Harper seizes the moment to malign no less than a fourth of her teaching staff, predicting, midway into the year, unsatisfactory ratings for “at least” ten teachers. The ten teachers – of which I was one — Burgess –Harper explained, were not merely ” not effective”, they were also mysteriously contagious in that    “their attitude and lack of caring affects many of the others.”    It need be understood that  the overwhelming majority of the ten, myself included, had never received nor even been in danger of  such a   negative rating before in their careers.

Brill continues with the following passage, remarkable not merely for its undisguised malice but for the fact that under the reign of Bloomberg it is now completely acceptable for an interim acting principal to predict giving ten teachers a highly damaging unsatisfactory rating, midway through the  year before they are even properly observed or given an opportunity to correct whatever it was they were said to be not doing correctly to an investigative journalist. The interview took place in January which meant there was ample time for   teachers to redeem themselves providing there was an administrator interested in  providing the support they are mandated to provide them.   In the following passage you can almost feel the delight of Harper’s interlocutor.

“Burgess Harper said that, in fact, at least ten of her forty teachers are not effective and that “ their attitude and lack of caring affects many others.”  She had rated three of them unsatisfactory in the spring of 2010 and said she expected to give the other seven U ratings in 2011.  This means that Burgess Harper has dared to give, or plans to give 25 percent of her teachers a U rating in a system that gave that rating to 1 or 2 percent of all teachers before Klein arrived. “

Like all true believers in the cult of corporate education reform, Brill is apparently a  true believer, not merely  in the  innate superiority  of  very rich people and their right to  dictate  public policy, but also in  the infallibility of principals (whatever they do for  whatever reason  they do it ) and the salubrious effects of firing as many unionized teachers as they feel like, again when  ever they feel like doing it.

Brill apparently neither knows nor cares about the ever more numerous, horrifying, and verifiable reports of principals using unsatisfactory ratings to destroy the careers of teachers they don’t like or to retaliate against union activists, a pattern that has grown exponentially since the DOE has filled as many principal seats as possible with the “new breed” of Leadership Academy graduates and simultaneously corrupted the arbitration process to such a degree that, under Bloomberg, a system ostensibly created to provide due process now results in  decisions affirming the judgment of  principals a preposterous  99. 6 % of the time.     These are figures worthy of Stalin and reek of the same appalling  indifference to anything but the ability and resources to employ the power of the state to crush people at will.  These are statistics, that is, that should terrify and disgust anyone who believes in anything remotely approximating due process  even as they dovetail perfectly  with  the words of Mayor Mike Bloomberg when, with bloodlessly casual corporate depravity,  Bloomberg  declared that  if he had his way he would  thrust  40,000 teachers – half of all NYC teachers — out of work and into  the streets, double the pay of those  remaining and sardine 70 or so odd students into each classroom. Thus it is no  mystery why such corruption is becoming or has  become institutionalized, but merely a profound disgrace in which the lives of innocent and hard working  teachers have been and will be   utterly destroyed until this state savagery  prodded by corporatism   is  exposed for what it is and  reformed.

The system has grown so corrupt that former Bronx High School of Science teacher and UFT Chapter Leader Peter Lamphere twice U rated for defending the contractual rights of his colleagues, had to go to court to have one of his U ratings overturned. The system has grown so corrupt that charges that Principal Iris Bilge ordered her assistant principals to U rate 12 teachers were   substantiated by the Department of  Education’s  own Office of  Special Investigations and Blige, astoundingly,  still retains her job as principal.

Not that anything like that would trouble the mind of a man like Brill,  who seems to take  the  position that what ever any principal  says  about any teacher is not even to be questioned  —  up to and including the remarkable claim that 10 out of 40 teachers are ineffective, whose “  lack of caring” somehow mysteriously affects others.

It is particularly  striking and revealing  that Brill, who spends so many words describing the wardrobe of Jessica Reid or the fabulous apartments and lifestyles of fabulous hedge fund corporate education reformers,  sees no reason, no reason at all to ask Burgess-Harper to provide a single example — just one  — of the ten teachers sudden ineptitude and incompetence; ineptitude and incompetence,  and “lack of caring” mind you, that in most was not even remotely apparent before the ascension of Karol   Burgess-Harper.

If he had   bothered to ask anyone other than Burgess- Harper, he might have learned that several of the teachers so lacking in  caring accompanied students home after tutoring them to assure their  safety, or had made countless house calls to the homes of struggling students, or designed plans to educate  parents and students about the necessity  of good nutrition or, with their own time and their own dime, created a coed intramural softball program that served 60 students. And on and on.

Instead, Brill then gets down to his real passion:  trashing the teacher’s union.     “Burgess- Harper, “ writes Brill, “ explained that as a result of her more aggressive posture, her relationship with the union’s representative at PS 149 is “really tense.’ In what no one around her half of the building thinks is unrelated, she has been the target of anonymous calls to the  city Department of Education  investigators hotline alleging improper behavior.”

From the above passage any reader would be excused if they concluded that not only did the PS 149 union representative stoop to making anonymous calls against Interim Acting Principal Harper, thus spitefully and unfairly thwarting   her appointment as principal proper, but   that the entire school somehow knew about these cowardly acts and told ace investigative reporter Steve Brill.

Just to make sure the reader gets  the point, Brill solicits this remarkably vulgar and slanderous confirmation of union beastliness from none other than then sitting NYC Chancellor Joel Klein.

“ The  union does this  to principals all the time, says Klein.  If you do anything to  piss them off  they  put a hit on you.  They call the hotline or  they get parents  to complain.  It’s like the  mafia.”

Union reps “put a hit on you. “

They “call the hotline.”

They are “like the mafia.”

Mind you these are not the  words of a spiteful 16 year old on his  first drunk.    This man went to Harvard.  And this man ran the largest school system in the United States for  almost a decade.

Just as Brill’s  bellowing slob is meant as an exemplar  of  all unionized public school teachers across the US of A, rest assured, PS 149’s   “union representative ”   — he who, like  a Mafioso will “put a hit out on you”, he who makes the work of the bold heroic Interim Acting Principal Burgess Harper  impossible by constantly making baseless claims of harassment, he who engages in ‘petty rear guard actions” like  refusing to allow Geoffrey Canada’s   “tutor’s commandeer a  tiny  teacher’s  lounge, he who engages in all manner  of “thuggery”  —  is meant as  an exemplar for  all the   boorish and beastly union representatives across the city and the  country who, after a decade of total  domination by corporate reformers, somehow still stand for the  “status quo,”    putting  teachers before  children, and standing in the way of progress.

That person, as it were, is me.

I have neither the time nor the will at this juncture to point out that literally everything Brill says or rather insinuates about my person is either an outright lie – such as his  weasel worded insinuation that I made anonymous calls to the DOE Office of investigators — or a distortion of the truth so grotesque as to render any action I took (or did not take) wholly unrecognizable. Of Brill’s oily implication of  me  making cowardly anonymous calls,  I answer  him  with his  own written acknowledgement that he spoke to but four persons, three of them  administrators,  associated with PS 149.    As   three administrators hardly  equal “no one around Harper ‘s half of the building” ,  Brill’s  writing once  again demonstrates his  complete lack of journalistic credibility and total ruthlessness in furthering his  ideological fantasies at any cost to any one.     Furthermore, I know for a fact that Brill communicated with  but one teacher concerning the non –issue of anonymous phone calls about Harper for that teacher was me. Brill , a lawyer and the kind of lawyer who  gives other  lawyers a very bad name, covers himself  by including  my statement that I had no knowledge  of  anonymous calls against Burgess Harper in a footnote.  He never let  on, of course , that by asking the  question he  was  setting me up for these slimy, preposterous  and indeed, one could say,   Brill-like  acts of  pure weaselry.

Brill leads the reader to believe  that the only issue keeping Burgess-Harper  from being named full time principal was a matter of an anonymous call made concerning  Burgess-Harper’s  acceptance of  the offer   of a teacher friend   to pick up her daughter one day when Burgess- Harper  was staying late in the office. This is truly rich.

The truth is  that, when it came to education,   Burgess-Harper had  an extremely slippery relationship with the codes of the DOE and the laws of city, state and federal government.  Harper had no problem, for example,  allowing  unqualified clerical workers to assume pedagogical positions of the most sensitive possible order without any supervision to speak of, or permitting terrified, totally unqualified student teachers to teach   unaccompanied by a certified professional as required by law  to save money instead of hiring a substitute.

But these things were child’s play compared to what Harper  did a short time before Brill’s  happy little confab.

In December of 2010, one month before Brill interviewed Burgess-Harper, the woman orchestrated the craziest, most reckless and most reprehensible act I’ve ever heard any principal undertake anywhere.   Without any discussion whatsoever with the parties involved, Burgess Harper called the NYPD and swore out three felony arrest warrants for grand larceny against three prominent members of the PS 149 school community.    Arrested were 149 PTA President Sonya Hampton, 149 PTA Treasurer Richard White and a former parent coordinator, all charged with  alleged misuse of PTA funds. In a move that staggers the moral imagination, both Hampton and White, neither of whom had any idea of what was about to befall them, were led into a room packed with cops then   led out of the building in handcuffs while their children were attending school. More horrible than that, the former parent coordinator, pregnant at the time of her arrest at her home, suffered a miscarriage. White, who had served time for a violent crime committed when he was 19 years old, spent nine days and nine nights incarcerated.  As  a result, he  lost his job.  In the end, all were exonerated. Their “crime?”   Hampton and White spent PTA funds on a Thanksgiving meal for the faculty and kids in the lunchroom in which Burgess-Harper herself indulged.

The arrests were shocking as both Hampton and White were not only innocent but were  (and continue to be)  tireless workers and extraordinarily dedicated parent leaders in an environment in great need of   parental involvement. Their real problem was that the PS 149 Parent Teacher Association, legally an organization autonomous from a principal’s authority, somehow had not one but two bank accounts.   Stranger still, both, somehow shared the same tax ID number.  None of this made any sense   or was in any way legal,  nor was the fact that on one of the accounts, under the leadership of Burgess-Harper, two DC 37 clerical workers, a teacher, and Burgess-Harper herself were signatories. All of this was completely illegal. I have no idea how Burgess-Harper herself avoided arrest but  somehow the entire revolting episode was dropped without anyone, save those falsely arrested, suffering  any consequences.

The whole situation beggars sense.  And it cries out for justice.

All this squalid intrigue and so much more was in the air when Brill came to visit   Burgess-Harper and hear her tales of woe about some low-life union rep making anonymous phone calls concerning a teacher innocently picking up Burgess-Harper’s daughter.  As with her “ineffective” teachers and the nightmare with the PTA, things were far darker and more complicated than Burgess-Harper cared to reveal or Brill, an investigative journalist who does not investigate, cared to ask about.  Such facts could serve only to confound and complicate Brill’s pre-determined conclusions and narrative.

The fact is that Brill’s “ cheerful but hard charging” interim acting principal bore little if any resemblance to the Interim Acting principal the PS 149 community had to deal with and was only slightly less fictitious than Brill’s bellowing fourth grade teacher. Indeed, one gets the creepy feeling that none of these figures — Reid, Harper, or myself — are any more real to Brill that the non existent teacher, but rather animated abstractions serving to illustrate the preconceived notions of most corporate education reformers.

Had Brill, an investigative journalist who does not investigate,  actually been doing the work of a journalist instead of a propaganda writer he would have spoken   to more than a handful of administrators.   Had   he done that he would have encountered voices such as that of Richard White,  who wrote of Burgess Harper, “ She has successfully destroyed the lives of parents and teachers.   We need to get people like Karol Burgess Harper out of the school system.  I submit that Karol Harper is a cancer in the lives of our children and in the development of our school system.”    Or he would have run into one of the bright young teachers who was  so disgusted  by Burgess –Harper she left the school but not before she wrote the following words to the district superintendent:

“This year has been the worst year I have experienced thus far at this school. The staff has never been an issue, but we have definitely had to stick together for support this year. With all of the time we have spent together, I know first hand the demoralizing effect certain members of this administration have had on all of us.

Ms. Harper has proven to be unprofessional, untrustworthy and vindictive numerous times. Last Spring, she attempted to threaten my position because I did not go along with something she wanted me to do. This year, I have witnessed her use of observations to threaten teaching careers. She has stated, informally, on many occasions that she is U-rating teachers to “get them out”. She is very aware that I know this because she has stated in a meeting I should not listen to other teachers and their opinions on how she assesses them because they “like to act like they do work, but they really do not.”  She constantly asks me about other staff members and the middle school assistant principal. She instigates situations between members of the school family by telling lies and acting like she is protecting each party.

I am uncomfortable and disheartened by her lack of respect for our school, her untrustworthy behavior, and her lack of care for our students and their families. I do not think she is fit to lead ANY school, she has ruined this one and I hope she is NEVER given the  chance to ruin another teacher’s or child’s  life.”

Of course, none of this was of any interest to Brill even though  all of this had come to pass far before the deadline of Class Warfare.  I know. Brill  contacted me in April and my quote can be found in his book.  Brill came to 149 not to  find truth – this, like any ideologue, he  believes he already possesses — but to find examples to back up his beliefs and to omit all that did not.

In June, just after she was informed of her demotion and much to the disgust of her soon to be former teaching staff, Burgess-Harper   executed her threat and U rated a fourth of the teachers at PS 149 (again I was one of them), effectively ending the careers of the three who were untenured. In the strange world of the DOE, Harper’s demotion had zero effect on the judgments she made on the ten teachers. Apparently, the principal is infallible even when the DOE deems them incompetent.    By the time Burgess Harper was finally removed, she had driven out teacher after teacher, including two young dedicated workhorses a wise principal would have built a school around, one of whom was the author of the letter quoted above. By the time she was asked to leave PS 149, the school was completely demoralized.

There is a story in all that transpired there, a story far more illuminating than the fantasies that Brill and his kind like to sell, but Brill mentions none of it.  Fantasy is easier. It is where we tend to retreat when reality becomes too impossible to bear.

Someday, perhaps sooner than we know, a book like Class Warfare will be looked upon as and studied as a document of a civilization in decay, an artifact of an age so intellectually and spiritually barren as to permit the education of its children to be placed in the hands of clueless hedge fund hustlers and billionaires, a record of a time when America degenerated into nothing less than a decadent, oblivious  fantasy land in which our very children were allowed to be exploited  as nothing more than just another commodity.

( Thanks to Natalie, Marty, the Quiz  and, as ever, Jeanne for their help with this beast. )

Note: See also Gary Rubinstein’s review

In Darkness Visible: The Corporate and Oligarchic War on Public Education and Public Life

September 24, 2011



Given the unprecedented concentration of financial and political power bent on “reforming” the American public school system, it is well within the realm of possibility that within the next few years, the system that has educated the vast majority of Americans for almost two centuries and helped propel this country from an agricultural backwater to, for better or worse, the greatest power in human history,  will cease to exist in any recognizable form if, indeed,  it exists at all.

That same system, according to self declared “reformers,” is now so utterly hopeless it must be completely altered or eradicated altogether. Now.  Before it is too late. There is not a moment to lose.  Not if,  in the bizarre words of   Barack Obama, “we are  to win the future.”   If the “reformers” get their way, the crown jewel of American public life will become merely the latest and the greatest of our public institutions to be devoured by the ever-grasping hands of what is called the free market.  If this comes to pass, the system’s destruction or utter transformation will come, not as the result of an election, an uprising of the people, a revolt of parents (who, like educators have been completely ignored) or anything resembling a democratic process or mandate. It will come, rather, as did the Iraq war: entirely as the result of the machinations of a handful of extraordinarily powerful men who,  aided and abetted by corporations who stand to reap billions in profits, waged a brilliant and relentless public relations campaign based on gross distortions and out -right lies to manufacture a false sense of crisis wholly out of proportion to the reality of the situation.

With the indispensable assistance of a completely subservient  media,  that  false crisis was used to impose their will upon a largely unwitting nation, come what may. Their will, as we now know, was war and profit, resulting in mountains of corpses and rivers of innocent blood.

Like the architects of the Iraq war, the “education reformers” are also waging a war, albeit one without bullets and bombs, and many,  if not all of the “reformers”, are also seeking an empire: publishing tests for an entire nation or charter schools chains or  cyber classrooms or who knows what federally approved and funded education booty.

Highlighting our nation’s rapid descent  into undisguised oligarchy, unlike the architects of the Iraq war, most of whom were at least government officials and theoretically accountable to the American people, the architects of  the education war – and a war it is — are private citizens accountable to no one and possessing no official authority whatsoever.   This fact is that much more incredible when these very figures make “accountability” the touchstone of their relentless hydra -headed multi million dollar campaign. These citizens are led by Microsoft co- founder Bill Gates, real estate and insurance tycoon, Eli Broad, the Walton family, heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune, and the De Vos family, heirs of the Amway fortune, to name just a few.

These folk have been joined in New York by various hedge fund managers led by Whitney Tilson who have formed a powerful political action committee called Democrats For Education Reform  ( DFER ) who are credited with successfully   lobbying President-Elect Obama to name Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education despite Duncan’s  miserable  record as Chicago CEO of schools.

Despite the fact that not one of them has spent even 30 seconds teaching in a classroom or have any educational experience of any kind anywhere, all of the above fancy themselves “education reformers. ”

No matter.

They know better.   And, using their expanding body of foundations, they have spent a good part of the last decade “reforming” education and essentially making public policy.   More,  they know how to get their way and how to do so before  the public  knows what’s happening or, with the exception of Gates, even knows their names.

This has been done largely through non-profit organizations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edyith Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation that have enormous reach and influence in the highest offices in the land. Indeed, the Gates Foundation is credited with literally writing much if not all of  the Obama administrations signature education initiative Race To The Top ( RTTP)  – easily the greatest legislative attack on teachers in US history at the same time its undemocratic agenda undermines the entire purpose of public  education.

Races have winner and losers. Public education should not.

Last year, amidst great fanfare, it was announced on the Oprah Winfry Show that multi-billionaire Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg would be   joining the pool of fabulously rich amateur education reformers. Live on TV Zuckerberg announced that would  donate $100 million to the Newark public schools but failed to add the provision that, he,  Zuckerberg, would play a big role in determining Newark school policy.

Despite their complete ignorance of the field, the self- proclaimed “education reformers” believe that their spectacular wealth gives them the right to dictate to or experiment with public educational policy affecting millions of other people’s children, the livelihoods of millions  of teachers, and the intellectual health of our nation for decades to come.  Such staggering hubris is difficult to comprehend but even more  so is  the fact that these private citizens have, in fact, been given license by our elected officials to   re-make   education in America   in their own image.  No less an authority than former Assistant Secretary of Education author Diane Ravich has called Gates, “  the nation’s superintendent of schools.” Ravich was issuing a warning:  we have drifted neck deep into oligarchy while  few are  even remotely aware of it.

To my knowledge, such a usurpation of public authority by private citizens allowed by our  government is unprecedented. But then again, many of the circumstances surrounding the corporate education “reform” campaign are unprecedented. Never before in American history have there  been hundreds of billionaires.  Never before has there been this level of the disparity between wealth  and poverty. Never before has the media been so concentrated in so few hands, so omnipresent and so nakedly ideological. Never before have the influence and the rights (!)  of  corporations been so great and our elected  officials  so spinelessly beholden to them.

The education  the “reformers” wish to  implement  bear only superficial  resemblance to what most of us have  experienced. In place of the public school system may be a privately managed but publicly funded system administered by non-educators and run along the lines of a corporate business. This is the charter school model, a favorite among hedge fund managers because of their potential  profit  margin, and also of the Obama administration.     Charter chains  are already spreading across the country. On average, most fare no better than traditional public schools and many are abysmal — facts you’d never discern from their corporate cheerleaders.

Or the new system may be one based on “distance learning” in which hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of students will sit in virtual classrooms, (meaning their homes,) receiving instruction from a virtual teacher (or perhaps teacher holograms) on a computer screen only to take an on-line test on the subject to assess their learning.  None other than Rupert Murdoch, yet another towering education figure, is attempting to spearhead this campaign internationally added  and abetted  by none other than former NYC Chancellor  Joel Klein.

This latter example contains two of the more subtle and horrifying  motifs  of the reformer narrative. The first is that technology is  always  superior to humanity and always progressive.  The   second is that the teacher/ student relationship  that  has existed since the time of Socrates is of  little import and can  easily be negated.

The common denominator of both the war in Iraq and the war of education is mountains of money. The federal budget for education is some $360 billion per annum.  Education may well be the last untapped market in America.   Employing the same  strategy  the Bush administration used to terrify Americans into invading Iraq,  the “reformers” and their allies in Washington and state capitals across  the land, have also taken a problem — abysmal student achievement in poor urban areas, or alternatively their fear of America’s future ability to compete with other nations in the increasingly cannibalistic global economy — and out of it also manufactured a sense of crisis wholly out of proportion to reality.

The issues in urban schools are real, depressing and persistent.  As real and depressing and persistent  as homelessness, fractured families, and every kind of poverty imaginable.  No teacher who has ever labored in such schools would ever deny that they are in need of urgent, radical and true reform and more than reform.  They need help.  I am one such teacher. We would begin by emphasize the two factors that study after study has concluded are essential to learning and which are contemptuously ignored by the “reformers”:  smaller class size and proper nutrition and move on from there to a real and rich curriculum.

Although you would never know it from the “reformer’s” relentless smear campaigns  which have cleverly posited the absolute worst public schools in America as the norm, many urban public schools  ones are excellent. I know.  My daughter attends one — the Neighborhood School, on the Lower East Side. Moreover, I, for one, do not need stratospheric test scores to know that the school is excellent or that my daughter is learning.  Indeed, I am deeply insulted by the conceit that my child’s learning or any child’s learning can somehow be judged by a test.

And I am not alone.

I am that much the more insulted by the notion that her performance on that test is somehow an indicator of the quality of her teacher who can lose his or her job because of the result of such a superficial experiment.  And these experiments, mind you,   have no proven educational merit whatsoever, yet form the center of the “reform” campaign from coast to coast.

Wherever you find “reform” you find standardized tests.  More and more and more standardized tests.  Indeed, perhaps the greatest measure of the striking success of the “reformers” to this point is the almost unquestioned centrality of the standardized test as criteria for measuring everything to do with education  and educators in America today.  It appears that the test has been thoroughly institutionalized, an astounding victory for the “reformers” and one on which their entire campaign rests.  That  such tests have no proven validity as   educational assessment tools is perhaps the greatest example of the sheer recklessness, ignorance and hubris of the “reformers ” – but also of their  success.   But  it should be noted that reformers never subject their children to such degrading examinations for they do  not exist in the schools their children attend.

The turning point for the “reform” campaign  as we know it today was the passing of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002, which absurdly mandated that literally every child in America must reach “proficiency” in reading and math by the year 2014.   Schools that failed to reach  such an impossible goal – now estimated at more than 80% of American schools —  would face hard sanctions including the firing of staff, removal  of   administration or closure and replacement by charter schools. The criteria for “proficiency “, of course, is the standardized tests which, with the stroke of a pen, overnight became a billion dollar industry that has been expanding exponentially ever since.

NCLB is easily the most ill conceived education law ever passed by the Federal government or perhaps anyone state agency in the history of the United States. It is  American Exceptionalism applied to the schoolhouse; American  students will do what has never been done in human history because they are American. Period.

It is a testament to the idiocy or mendacity of our political leaders that such a preposterous idea could even be taken seriously never mind encoded in law.    Nearly a decade into being, the goals demanded by NCLB have recently been called “utopian ” even by figures such as Arne Duncan, Obama’s ultra “reformer” Secretary of Education. It is more accurate, I believe, to call them insane.  Nonetheless, after a decade of pointless, destructive upheaval and waste, sullied by cheating scandals in Baltimore, Washington,   Atlanta and elsewhere, the law stands, respected by no one, loathed by educators across the land, slowly but surely undermining parental confidence in the public school system and demoralizing teachers from sea to shining sea.  In the context of all that has gone down in the  “reformer” campaign, that may, indeed, have been the point.

It is difficult to calculate the damage this ridiculous, irresponsible law has done and continues to do to the American school system and hence American children.  NCLB is singularly responsible for the shrinking down of public education to the skill sets needed to pass bubble tests in math and reading.   After nearly ten years of parents and educators lamenting and protesting the pathetic diet that has been foisted on their children and students and children – a diet that would never be found in any of the private schools attended by the children of NCLB’s authors – the Obama administration has answered by offering even more tests in more subject areas.

Somehow, with the passing of NCLB  all prior assessment methods – writing samples, the quality of a students questions, essays, homework, quizzes, book reports and so on — become “subjective”, suspect, and invalid.  There is another tacit message of the law: teachers are not to be trusted.  With little if any discussion or input from educators or parents, at least a century of pedagogical wisdom and practice was simply tossed out the window by a handful of politicians and their billionaire  backers.    Out that same window went teacher  autonomy and with that goes the still born imaginations of millions and millions of  American kids  who are learning that to repeat is to think.

I find such tests infinitely more than a scam. I find them an insult to human dignity.   I do not need an external mass-produced mechanism to know if my daughter is learning or if her teacher is teaching.  Like any thoughtful and observant parent I can walk the halls of her school, looking and listening, and learn more than any bubble test could ever reveal about her   school.  Most importantly, I can talk with my daughter. Or she can read to me.

Knowing nothing about education, “the reformers,” naturally, have an almost pathetic reliance on tests and tests scores, (or “data” as they often call such giving it a pseudo scientific sheen) always proceeding as if such things are actually objective and reliable indicators of anything other than the ability to take a test. Even worse, by their obsession with standardized tests, these bold advocates of the brave new world are aggrandizing rote learning and simple memorization, useless skills made all the more useless by a computerized world in which information of any kind can be called up in seconds.

Meanwhile, mandated by the federal government and pushed further  still by Obama’s RTTT   (“ called NCLB on steroids” ) the testing empire has expanded beyond all reason, much to the delight of the test making corporations which have made billions and look to make billions more every year as tests are written for every school in every town in every nook and cranny in America.

While the motivations and strategies of the various  “reformers” may differ widely, all  share common ground.

Above all all seek the destruction of teacher’s unions, which remain the only obstacle to their complete takeover of public education.  Contrary to all evidence, they blame unions for “failing schools”  and for protecting “bad teachers” with “ jobs for life”, the latter  which is their code for due process.

“  It is very, very important to hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time, “ stated Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter incoherently in Waiting for Superman:  “Teachers are great, a national treasure. Teacher unions, are,  generally speaking,  a menace and an impediment to reform.”

Alter is right about unions being an impediment to free market reform which is why so much time and money is being spent to undermine them. What Alter fails to mentions is that Finland, the highest performing nation in the world in education, as well as the highest performing state in the USA, Massachusetts are both totally unionized whereas  the lowest , Texas and  Mississippi. are “right to work”  states.

All are advocates of the contemptuously superficial method of   standardized testing to measure not only student learning but also “teacher effectiveness,” neither of which  is  backed by research of any kind.

All completely remove responsibility for student achievement from students and place it exclusively on teachers, regardless of student motivation, aptitude or  family support.

All display an astounding arrogance in discounting  factors such as poverty, broken homes and cultural impoverishment on student learning.  These horrific realities are merely  “excuses” that can be overcome by an “effective” teacher.

All are strict practitioners of a little known radical new form of philanthropy called “philanthrocapitalism” or “venture philanthropy” which, differing from traditional philanthropy   is based on the practices  of venture capital finance in which money is given only if the giver can dictate exactly how it is used.

All have given millions in venture philanthropy schemes in which, essentially, they purchase a license to make public policy.

All have backed and financed ideas that have dominated American public education policy for a decade now – merit pay, mayoral control, and charter schools to name a few,  all of which have produced no demonstrable improvements whatsoever in education but have succeeded in turning teachers against teachers and  thus weakening  their unions.

All posit an almost Manichean universe of angelic children with virtually limitless possibilities thwarted by lazy, union protected teachers or, alternatively saved by messianic charter school teachers.

All grossly magnify both the power of the teacher’s unions, all of whom on the defensive, and the failings of public schools (conflating the worst of urban schools with the rest  of America ) while grossly exaggerating the success of charter schools which, on average perform no better than district schools and often much worse.  (For the most skillful rendering of this line, see the shameless Davis Guggenheim weepy propaganda film, Waiting for Superman.

Other full length ‘reformer” films include, The Lottery, and The Cartel.

All are absolutely brilliant at deflecting attention away from the true nature and causes of the decline of America—such as jobs disappearing either  through globalization or technology  or a constant stream of  wealth upwards —     and somehow thrusting   it  on teachers, implying  that all would be  well  with the universe if only we could fire “bad teachers.”

Men like Gates like to point out that American students are falling behind other nations in international test scores, but, again, as Diane Ravich has recently pointed out, this is simply untrue.   When the first international test was given in 1964, the United States scored 12th out of 12 and has actually gotten better since.  But so what?    Anyone who is implying, as Gates and company often seem to be, that America has been outsourcing jobs to third world nations because US citizens have low test scores and not because they can pay people subsistence wages elsewhere is either delusional or a liar.

Indeed, for all their futuristic/technopolist talk, much of the “reformer’s” rationales are strangely reminiscent of   attacks on public schools in the wake of Sputnik.  Then as now critics also delivered apocalyptic warnings of a nation void of competent mathematicians, scientists and engineers as if, presently at least in the case of the latter, our bridges and infrastructure are  crumbling beneath our feet   not because of disastrous public policy but because “bad teachers” failed to produce enough engineers to fix them.

On May 21, 2011, The New York Times revealed another aspect of the reformers, in this case The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation but one shared by many of them,  that was oddly reminiscent of a phenomenon not seen since the Cold War:  the secret massive funding of what were once called “Fifth Columns. ”  Defined by Merriam-Webster as  “a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders, “the Times detailed countless examples of Gates funded reformer versions of the same: secretly funded phony “grass roots” organizations led by teachers or parents ( some unwitting ) created either to undermine already existing authentic organizations or insidiously push the “reformers” agenda through newly formed groups that claimed to have formed spontaneously.  The groups  did all they could to hide any connection with their patron.

According to the Times, the Gates foundation spent $78 million dollars on countless such “grass roots organizations “ from coast to coast in 2009 alone, the last year its tax returns are available. Sometime in the fall of 2010, precisely such a group surfaced in New York and was immediately granted excessive media attention, all of it fawning, all of it preposterously out of proportion to its message and its miniscule membership which amounts to less than 1% of NYC teachers.  Calling themselves Educators 4 Excellence and formed by two 25-year-old untenured teachers, the organization perfectly parrots every demand of Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and company in terms of seniority, teacher evaluations, due process and so on.

Like them, they also claim  to be doing so to” put children first.” The Times reported that the Gates Foundation had given the group $160,000, allowing the two founding members to work one day a week as F status teachers to give them ample time to tell actual teachers how best to do their job, run their lives and, above all,  “put children first. “  More recently, a teacher blogger looked up their tax records to discover that Educators 4 Excellence expect to raise  almost $ 2,000,000 in their first two  years of existence. You can bet that not one penny of that blood money is coming from   teachers.

Like their counterparts in the criminal invasion of  Iraq, the “reformers”   have also enjoyed the benefits of a completely compliant and uncritical corporate media that has proved itself  more than happy to disseminate their lies, half truths and distortions through out the land.   This time around they speak not to a nation fearful of a sudden attack but to an increasingly impoverished, frightened and anxious citizenry eager for something or someone to blame for their slow but palpable descent into a life of ceaseless debt and insecurity.  How did this happen in America?   Someone must be to blame for ruining the country.

The “reformers”  and their allies in the press  — David Brooks, Thomas Freidman, Jonathan Alter, and Steven Brill stand out for any number of imbecilic statements – are only too happy to supply such a scapegoat.

And so they have.

It is not the predatory corporate consumer culture designed to attack our children at the birth of consciousness and wed their still unformed identities with products that is the problem. It is not the ravages of globalization that have  shipped our manufacturing base and industrial jobs to any country with de facto slave labor and no environmental laws. It is not the predatory nature of   deregulated capitalism that has sent rents and housing prices soaring through   insane speculation following  the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.  It is not even the lying  politicians who orchestrated the invasions of two countries at the cost of a trillion dollars  at the same time they gave corporations and the investor class  immense tax cuts, effectively  bankrupting America for  generations laying the groundwork of  a “dept crisis” that would be used to gut every school and public program in the land at the same time it made public life more and more public life dependent of the  whims of  billionaires who would use the moment to impose their will.

None of these are  the problem.  The problem is  teachers.     Not all teachers mind you, but “bad teachers.”  Particularly “bad teachers” protected by the all-powerful teacher’s union.  So goes the narrative. I have observed   its success in many parts of the country.  The appeal, of  course, is  psychological  rather than rational, but it is powerful none the less and it is the logical result of  a ceaseless and highly skilled public relations campaign.

I have witnessed the results of politically motivated public relations campaigns before concerning individuals — most notably the subtle transformation of Ronald Reagan from the dolt who left office with abysmal approval ratings amidst the stink of the Iran-Contra scandal to the all knowing political deity we are now all meant to love.   Still, never in my life have I seen or even read of an attack on a profession –previously honored profession – in anyway resembling the relentless, subtle, and underhanded campaign that has in the past three years been waged against teachers and is meant to transform them in the public mind from noble, hardworking  public servants deserving of more money and more respect to rapacious pigs at the public trough ruining the nation’s youth while bankrupting its coffers to boot.

Who knew ?

The greatest argument for the need for comprehensive education reform  — true, deep, meaningful reform  — allowing this country to produce students capable not merely of finding gainful employment and parroting facts but of critical thinking, of cultural and historical awareness, of making the informed decision without which democracy withers and dies –– is that corporate businessmen have been allowed to not only   dominate the discussion for the last decade, but to ram into existence completely unproven and superficial schema like standardized tests.  Only in a nation so poorly educated as to be   philosophically barren could such a sad and pathetic notion be entertained never mind encoded in law and implemented.

If the   self-proclaimed “reformers” triumph, what they will force into being will be wholly unrecognizable from what any of us experienced as education and it will not be an improvement.  But it will also be much, much more.   It will, in one fell swoop, drastically further the corporatization  of American life at the same time it will deliver a massive blow against remaining public institutions, creating the precedence for vital institutions like  as Social   Security and Medicare to be privatized and hostage to the vagaries of an increasingly insatiable  Wall St.  Moreover, as the teachers unions remain the largest unions standing in America, it will deal a deathblow to unionism not seen since   the Homestead strike of 1890 which rendered unions none  existent for  decades.  The destruction of the teachers unions would be the culmination of the corporate war on labor which  began in earnest with Reagan’s firing of the air traffic  controllers in 1980 and has been accelerating ever since.

In short, it is vital to understand that the “education reform” campaign is not merely or even primarily  about “reforming “ schools but about “reforming” American sensibility itself.  It is about  ridding us of any quaint notions of fraternity, community,  public life, worker rights and everything and anything that may interfere with the ever increasing demands of an increasingly authoritarian globalized  economy especially of any notions that we are, at least nominally, a   democracy.  Ultimately, “education reform” is about a radical rearrangement of American values, a radical re-education – read diminution — of what it means to be a citizen and in the end, a human being. ( Nor is this onslaught limited to these shores.  To get an idea of how deeply interconnected education reform is with the creation of a permanent global underclass read Lois Weiner’s and Mary Compton’s excellent and terrifying collection,  The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers, and their Unions: Stories for Resistance )

The assault is about the same process of shrinking consciousness one encounters in all aspects of the reformers beloved standardized test.  In it, a corporate employee asks a question and provides four answers for a student to pick. A  correct pick signifies intelligence and learning. The incorrect pick  signifies a bad teacher.    Such is education in the corporate universe.

Education reform  is about inculcating  the corporate values of efficiency, consumption and ceaseless competition in each and every one of us;  it is about incubating our young to such a debased creed before they can comprehend what is even happening to them.

It is about the cynical starvation of public life and the asphyxiation of democracy. It is about a massive and insidious assault on human dignity and human decency:  none-things is a universe where everything that is  anything can be quantified and everything that is  quantified  is a commodity —  including our children.

In the beginning of his 17th c. opus Paradise  Lost, the poet John Milton described hell  as a place of

No light; but rather darkness visible.

Such darkness is now all around us and increasingly within us. We see it and are blind to it at the same time. We make ourselves blind to it because it is terrifying.   Giving the current state of America, how could it not be otherwise? Still, Americans must come to understand the centrality  of that darkness in the the war on public education.  More, American must come to understand  that this is  a war on democracy itself waged, in guerilla fashion, by an unprecedented coalition of the richest, most ruthless and most politically powerful people in the country whose rapacity and contempt for the likes of us and law itself are boundless.

It seems to me that our choices are few.  Doing nothing is not an option and waiting for Superman is an infantile fantasy.  We must act with intelligence and courage and build coalitions of the like that have never before been imagined.  We have no choice.    If we fail to act and act now the current day America, where 1% of the people somehow own 40% of the nation’s wealth, where the poverty level is exploding and the middle class going the way of the dinosaur, where more and more people are hanging on by the skin of their teeth,  will someday soon seem like days of wine and roses.


Addendum: an excerpt from this essay will appear in the October – September issue of The Catholic  Worker newspaper.  I will be speaking on another aspect of corporate  education reform on September 30, 2011 as part of the Friday Night Meeting series of  The Catholic Worker.  My talk is titled The Intellectual and Spiritual Price of Corporate Education Reform.

Friday Night Meetings are held at Maryhouse located at 55East Third Street between First and Second Ave very close to the 2nd Ave F subway stop or the Broadway/Lafayette   stop on the  4, 5, or 6  trains.  Their number is  212 777 9617. The talk will begin at 7:45 and will be followed by a question and answer period in which all are encouraged to participate.