Posts Tagged ‘Diane Ravich’

John King’s Astounding Statement Should FInd Him Fired

October 13, 2013

John King:  Builder of airplanes in mid air

John King: Builder of airplanes in mid air

John King does not have the character to be a public official, never mind the Commissioner of Education for the state of New York.

If there was any resistance to the notion of King’s unsuitability to his position following his now petulant and now arrogant performance before parents in Poughkeepsie, it was surely eviscerated with his astounding statement announcing the suspension of any such remaining meetings. King cited unnamed “special interests” that have “co-opted” and “manipulated “ the forum and made “dialogue” impossible.
King showed very, very little interest in dialogue in his endless monologue on the wonders of the deceitfully named Common Core.
Behind any interpretation of King’s statement lie inescapable conclusions dripping with condescension and contempt with a little incoherence thrown in to spice things up. King’s statement insinuates that the Poughkeepsie parents are so weak and mindless that the opinions and beliefs they stated with such clarity and passion – much of it aimed at King’s and his fellow reformer’s beloved Common Core — were merely lines fed to them by unnamed “special interests, ” meaning, one assumes following reformer logic, the usual suspects, teacher unions. A problem: as Diane Ravitch has pointed out, much to the bewilderment and increasing rage of their members, both the NEA and the AFT strongly support the Common Core standards. Another way of interpreting King’s words: King perceives parents themselves as a “special interest” group – at least those who do not genuflecting before the Common Core.

King’s statement illuminates with horrifying clarity the mindset of corporate reformers: If someone opposes them and their ideas, they are but stooges manipulated and dominated by evil forces, pushed here and there with no more will than a balloon. Those who oppose them are “haters” protecting “the status quo” protecting the right of adults and betraying the children. They have to be wrong because the reformers are right. Always. Even when they are “building an airplane in mid flight” carrying your child.


King has no problem sharing a stage with insidious billionaire created front groups like Educators 4 Excellence, but has no time for parents driven to the end of their tether by the effects of the very policies King is championing. A public servant who believes it is his job and his right to lecture the public he is well paid to serve is no public servant at all and should not be in public service. King not only does not seem to understand this, he seems to resent it. It is very difficult to believe a man as narcissistic as is King is capable of change. At any rate, it is impossible to believe he will.
King must go. Now. The people who work for us cannot treat us this way.

Read King’s statement below and ask yourself this: have you ever in all your life read a statement from a public official as condescending as this?

Below is the full statement from Commissioner John B. King, Jr.:
“I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state. I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we’re moving ahead with in New York State. Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to “dominate” the questions and manipulate the forum.
“The disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments. Essentially, dialogue has been denied.
“In light of the clear intention of these special interest groups to continue to manipulate the forum, the PTA-sponsored events scheduled have been suspended. My office will continue to work with PTA to find the appropriate opportunities to engage in a real, productive dialogue with parents about our students and their education.
“Parents don’t deserve to be dominated and manipulated.”

Addendum: the Regents who are, in turn, “elected” by the State Assembly appoint King. If you wish to see King replaced by someone more suitable to the position and more respectful of the parents, children and teachers of New York State, Regent Chair Merryl Tisch and Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver are two key people to contact in addition to your own Assembly-person.

Sheldon Siver Contact info
District Office
250 Broadway
Suite 2307
New York, NY 10007
District Office Directions
Albany Office
LOB 932
Albany, NY 12248
Albany Office Directions

Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor
At Large

Regents Office
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, N.Y. 12234 | Phone: (518) 474-5889

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.

An Inkling of the Vastness: Cycling from Baltimore, MD to Doylestown, PA

August 8, 2011

On July 30 I joined a couple of thousand fellow teachers, parents and activists from across the country who traveled to DC to attend the Save Our Schools rally to demand an end to the  use of  children as political pawns, the  demonization of teachers, and the whole  disgusting, cynical and ruthlessly anti democratic corporate takeover of public education that has damaged this  nation for over a decade now.

Despite the almost unbearable heat, it was a good day.  Highlights included passionate, informed speeches by education war horses Jonathan Kozal ( who, recalling marching with MLK in 1968,  did not disguise his  disgust at the corporate reformers hijacking the mantle of civil rights ) a fiery  Deborah Meier  and a defiant Diane Ravich.  Actor Matt Damon also spoke and did so with articulation and intelligence, a welcome surprise.

The next morning I was to set out on my bike for the 300 or so mile ride home.  It wasn’t to work out exactly as I  imagined it to but…it was good.  Over the past few summers I had made a few long distance expeditions  — twice cycling both the Erie Canal and the Great Allegheny Passage – but they were both largely on bike paths which are a different kettle of fish altogether from road cycling.  They tend to be flat, there are no cars or trucks to contend with and the route is  mapped out for you.    This journey was to be the first I undertook that was laid out almost entirely on roads and I will admit to an unfamiliar feeling of  apprehension before setting out.   In retrospect, I would have planned far better and researched the terrain of the roads with scrutiny so as to choose which ones to take more intelligently. But…this is how I learn.   I am grateful to my friend Ben in D.C. who showed me all kinds of things that Google maps could do that are potentially of great value to a cyclist. Next time I will utilize them more intelligently.

I was to set out at dawn the next morning out of Washington but…. alas, due to a series of mishaps, miscalculations, and bad maps, it was not to be. Fortunately, friends were kind enough to transport me and my bike to the outskirts of Baltimore where I began my journey proper.  It was not immediately auspicious.  Within an hour of moseying around the city, I had tire trouble.  Luckily, as I struggled to make things right I was happened upon by a Baltimore firefighter named Keith who, having worked in a  bike shop,  set me  straight in a few minutes.  A good soul and a good  sign. Keith also warned me that Baltimore was an extremely violent city and I would be well advised to avoid certain areas.  I avoided them.   Baltimore has gone to some pains to make itself into a bike friendly metropolis with dedicated bike lanes (and, like apparently every city in the US except NYC, buses with bike racks) so I meandered happily hither and thither. I wound up at the brilliantly constructed Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles and one of the most beautiful ballparks in the US of A. The team was away, so  like many an American boy to whom baseball was once almost a religious experience, I joyfully peered through the bars unto the green grass of the field and took my time taking in the monuments outside the park, reveling in the feeling of being 10 years old that baseball, almost uniquely, seems to induce among many American males who once played the game. As evening set in, I set out to Cockeysville, a town some 15 miles outside of the city where I had booked a reasonably priced room for the night and where there was also a 20 mile rail trail leading in the direction I wanted to go. On the way I spent a good deal of time cursing out the map makers of Rand McNally but, eventually, arrived at my destination which was situated on a strip mall populated by Subway, Dunkin Donut’s, Pizza Hut and the like.   Herein lay one of the many crimes of corporate America: the place was utterly indistinguishable  from  tens  of thousands  of other places, utterly devoid of character, like a airport or a corporate middle manager. Alas! The next morning at dawn I was riding  the very pleasant Northern Central Railroad Trail heading north toward Pennsylvania.   At Monkton I left the trail to check out the still extant station house and there encountered  two volcanically enraged unemployed middle aged white guys;  Tea Party members who had somehow convinced themselves that the absolute destruction of all vestiges of the  social contract was, in fact,  a good thing and would somehow give them back the jobs and the dignity that they were so painfully missing.     I asked them —   very politely – how this war of  all people against all other people was to benefit anyone but those on top and if they were aware that the billionaire  Koch brothers bankrolled their Tea Party.  I asked them – very politely —  why they did not mention the  fact that their country had spent the last decade engaged  in two criminal wars.    They looked at me as if I were mad.  But they listened and the confab ended amiably enough.  They felt betrayed; betrayed by the Democratic Party of which they were formally supporters; betrayed by corporate America; which had exported their jobs to slave wage earners in  Micronesia or where ever; betrayed by a mass media who were nothing more than   entertainers and purveyors of ideology and idiot distraction. And  they had every reason to feel so.  It would not be my last such encounter along this little journey.         That day’s ride would be one of the most physically challenging experiences in recent memory.  Most of this was due to my own foolishness in not discerning the lay of the land.  I.e. hills.  Many, many hills made that much hillier by the scorching temperature. At any rate, I made it up the hills and made the best of it and followed Route 138 through tiny villages called Black Horse, Shawsville, and Drybranch into  Whiteford and Route and the border of PA.  Somewhere in there I crossed the Mason Dixon line. My goal was to cross the Susquehanna River using the Norman Wood Bridge at Holtwood where I would not have to pay someone to carry  my bike and me across the bridge in a van as is the case in most bridges.  Sometime in early afternoon, I turned on a road which bore a sign reading “Norman Wood Bridge / Seven Miles.”    The road went downhill and I before I knew it, I  realized with a  start that I was crossing the Susquehanna and had not pedaled for the entire seven miles.



Dusk found me in the pretty little town of Strasburg in Lancaster County, Amish territory,  where Robert Fulton happened to be born.  At the outskirts of town I asked a women who was standing in her front yard if she knew the location of my motel.  She did.  And she also knew that I needed a big, cold  glass of homemade mint tea and insisted I stay put until she gave me one.  She did that too and it was delicious. A good omen. Strasburg offers you something you rarely see in our increasingly and hideously corporitized nation: a confrontation with another  view of the world, another way of  living.  Strasburg is a town where cars, trucks and Amish horse drawn buggies share  the road harmoniously.  At first it’s unsettling, like watching two different centuries unfold at the same time.   Most of the buggies were carrying straw-hatted or bonneted Amish children who would wave to you when they passed.  Every time I saw one of these children I could not help but remember the murderous rampage that took place in an Amish schoolhouse in 2006,  in which the America that this community had gone to such pains to keep out came blazing in.    When it was over 10 such children were shot and five such children were killed. The killer then turned the gun on himself.  More to the point, I could neither forget nor truly understand the almost divine magnanimity the Amish people as a whole displayed in the wake of the horror:  they not only immediately forgave the murderer of their children but also comforted the murderer’s family. That day as I cycled slowly past Amish farms on silent roads with names like Paradise Lane I would see Amish men (all of whom looked almost ridiculously healthy) working their fields or hear the hooves of their horses approaching behind me, I was filled with the blessed sensation that somehow in the end all would be well.

There seems to be  little if any separation between what the Amish  say they believe and how they live and treat each other.    They breathe what they believe,  and who among us can say the same ? Even as I could never be one, I could not help but admire these people for their faith, their compassion and their tremendous integrity.

By early afternoon I had reached New Holland,  and, munching on fresh blueberries and nectarines I  bought at road side  stands,   rode Route 23 straight on through the villages of Goodville and  Churchtown  and the depressingly touristy St. Peter’s Village on my way to Phoenixville,  some 60 odd miles from Strasburg.

Phoenixville’s claim to  pop culture fame is that part of the goofy 1958 sci-fi horror film The Blob was filmed in the still  functioning Colonial Theater.  Indeed, for the past decade the town has held an annual Blob Fest in which movie viewers flee the Blob infested theater just like Steve McQueen and the teenagers did in the movie. ( Sounds like fun.

It remains  a beautiful theater. Like all  Pennsylvania postindustrial towns, Phoenixville is a town reeling on its heels, filled with interesting and even beautiful architecture but struggling to survive.    Some sections are simply squalid while others, such as Bridge Street where I stayed, are doing their best to breathe new life into the old town with the typical fare of  bars  and restaurants.    I wish them luck. That night as I ate my dinner in one of those restaurants I could not help but over hear from the table next to me two women engaged in an intelligent if angry discussion of Obama and American politics including the debt ceiling farce, the exporting of jobs and the endless wars.  I was heartened enough by their conviction and intelligence that I piped in about the rally I attended in DC some three days before.   I was dismayed to discover that these decent, reasonably informed, intelligent,  Left leaning folks had  no grasp of what what really happening to education in America and had bought into the Time Magazine/ Arne Duncan narrative of failing schools, bad teachers, impossible parasite unions and redeeming charter schools, lock stock and barrel.    They were astonished, however, to find out  that charter schools were publicly funded but privately run, accountable to no one but their board of directors. Like most Americans I’ve spoken to about it, they were equally astonished to hear  of the immense roles of non elected billionaires like Bill Gates, the Walton family and Eli Broad and others in imposing their will on and outright making public policy in the highest offices in the nation. But they listened and they said they would look into it.  And I bet they did.  And I bet they are well pissed.

The last day of my journey began with a spin around Phoenixville before pedaling over to the Schuylkill River Trail, which runs from Valley Forge all the way to Philadelphia. My destination, albeit not to be realized on two wheels,  was Milford, New Jersey by way of Doylestown, New Hope, and Lambertville, N.J. . My first stop on the way was the scene of the Valley Forge Encampment where   General George Washington held together the Continental Army during the long savage winter that the English occupied Philadelphia. It is mostly green space, a 10-mile circumference with a monument here and there.

There is a fine visitor center containing artifacts of the encampment and many illustrations.

Further on down   Schuylkill River Trail there  was a sign for the Betzwood Motion Picture Studio,  a strange thing to encounter in PA.

The next destination was Norristown, a forlorn and seemingly forgotten place that I wanted to get out of as soon as I got into it.   Sadness and defeat hang over the place like a shroud. Here and there one saw the shells of former  mills, factories or  breweries  but most of all one saw fast food joints and boarded up storefronts.  Unable to find a smaller road, I  took Route 202  out of town as fast as I could.

I  stayed on that miserable road far longer than I should have,  passing  massive shopping mall after massive shopping mall with big trucks zooming way too close for comfort. Toward afternoon, I could see rain was coming.  This  was not how I wished to spend my  last day on the road.

Somewhere in a place called Gwyneed, I called a friend who works in Doylestown and asked him if he knew of better routes.  He did. The routes  — Evan’s Road and Upper State Road – were great improvements over 202 and allowed me to enjoy what turned out to be the last couple of hours of my journey.

By afternoon, just as the rain  began falling I rolled into Doylestown, a lovely little city of  winding streets and beautiful architecture that has somehow maintained its heritage without becoming a toy town for the rich and poisonous.

They even had a monument for a public school that had  burned down, an unimaginable tribute in a time such as our where a handful of idiot billionaires seek to end public education altogether.   Margaret Mead and James Michener grew up there and had attended the school.  Fortunately for them ( and us ), their teachers were not forced to contaminate  them with standardized corporate induced idiocy.

As I set out for my  trip from a rally defending public education, I took the monument  to be a good omen.

I stopped into a café in the center of town to have a coffee and watch the rain. The café owner asked me how far I had traveled and when I told him he refused payment.  A sweet gesture.  I  decided that it would be foolish to go on in the rain so I called my friend who worked in town and with whom  I would be staying with that night and asked him to pick me up.  He did so and I spent a pleasant evening with him and his family in Milford, N. J., arriving there on four wheels rather than two but arriving safe and dry.

My litte journey had ended.   I had accomplished most of what I had set out to do and I had learned a bit about doing it better the next time I do something of the sort. I felt grateful I had the opportunity and the wherewithal to undertake the trip and grateful too that I had been provided another  inkling into the vastness of this immense, pained, perhaps yet-to-be-born  even as it  is dying nation.

A great thank you to Setareh and Ben as well as Carl and Betsy  whose kindness allowed  this little journey to take place.

There Can Be No Change Under the Reign Of Bloomberg (Except In Ourselves )

April 15, 2011

In a sense, insofar as she so perfectly embodied the hubris, idiocy and recklessness of so much of the education reform campaign and particularly the educational vision of Mike R. Bloomberg, I, for one, am sorry to see the back of Cathie Black.  Of course, she was appalling and an embarrassment to an entire city.  But that misses the point.

No matter how hard Bloomberg and his trained seals tried, Black, unlike Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein or Arne Duncan or Chris Christie, could not be somehow transformed into an heroic figure fearlessly taking on all powerful teacher’s unions, the status quo, and the selfish teachers; those evil foes who were not only damaging the nation’s children (thus hindering them from “winning the future”),  but bankrupting the American economy to boot.

Even aside from her tasteless public comments there was something in Cathie that people could not stomach.  More to the point, there was something so grotesque and so obscene about Bloomberg naming Black the Chancellor of Education and then doing whatever it is that Bloomberg does to bend people to his will to secure Black a waiver that disgusted those generally indifferent to politics. I heard astounded reactions from people who never gave a thought to education before.   And to some extent it galvanized them.   Black’s mere presence at Bloomberg’s insulting Panel For Educational Policy meetings (in which a panel dominated by Bloomberg zombies would pretend to listen to the heartfelt testimonies of parents, teachers, students and community activists before rubber stamping whatever Bloomberg had ordered) created an instant carnival atmosphere where the hapless Black sat like a mute queen, now haughty, now pouting, in silence, surrounded by her praetorian guard (including Dennis Walcott) absorbing heaps of abuse, wholly incapable of answering even the most basic questions of policy.  Her most memorable moment at such “panels” was mimicking the sound of the crowd who jeered when Black protectors grabbed their mics to answer yet another question asked of Black and Black scolded her questioners.

Such moments were at once surreal, illuminating and emancipating. They exposed, as much or more than the most well crafted argument, the idiot logic guiding not merely Bloomberg but all the well heeled narcissistic imbeciles whose imaginations are so paralyzed and egos so bloated that they believe to the core of their beings that corporate business people (like themselves) have somehow attained the highest form of human intelligence and therefore that all human institutions — libraries, hospitals, governments, schools, whatever  –should be  subordinated to the corporate business model.

Like no one else, on an almost daily basis, Black revealed this thinking to be the insanity that it is.   More, as Mike Bloomberg was surely the only man in the entire world who would even consider a person as stunningly unqualified as Black to be the Chancellor of Education for the City of New York, Black revealed Mike Bloomberg to be an arrogant fool.

This, of course, was her undoing. As Bernie Kerik instantly became to Bloomberg’s predecessor Rudy Giuliani the moment people outside of Giuliani’s orbit looked into him, so Cathie Black was daily becoming to Bloomberg:  an embarrassment that called Bloomberg’s  very  judgment into glaring, garish question.

So in the blink of an eye, dilettante “super star manager” Cathie Black was out and soft spoken Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott in. One might think such a self-created disaster as Black would humble a man, at least for the moment.  But not Bloomberg.  Not even for  a moment. Even as he was stating that he “ accepted full responsibility” for the Black debacle, he  sounded pissed that he actually had to say such stuff.   Lost in the shock of the announcement   was the fact that Bloomberg proved again that he is incapable of learning anything as he pulled the same stunt with Walcott that he pulled with Black.

The first sign that nothing will change under Dennis Walcott was the process of selecting Dennis Walcott. Which is to say, there was no process.    There was no search, no consultation with the United Federation of Teachers, no  reaching out to parents, no discussion whatsoever with anyone anywhere over who should replace the disastrous Black and assume responsibility for the education of over one million children in a school system that, from the inside, feels as if it is being held together with dental floss.

Walcott is the man and that is that.  Such is life under the reign of Bloomberg. As both Diane Ravich and Noah Gotbaum have pointed out Bloomberg treats the public schools as if they are his private property to do with as he will.   Many, including friends, have greeted Walcott’s selection with something approximating approval. At any rate, there has been none of the incredulity that came with the selection of Black and remained with her for every one of her 96 days as chancellor. A great deal is being made of Walcott’s public school education, his two years teaching kindergarten, his grandchildren in the system and the fact that he does not need to be surrounded by four deputy chancellors lest some one ask him a policy question. Such banter reveals far more about how thoroughly Bloomberg has degraded the position of chancellor than it does any thing about the qualifications of Dennis Walcott to bear it. Indeed, just like Bloomberg’s  previous selections for chancellor, Walcott does not have the  qualifications.

If anyone has any doubts about why Wolcott was selected, just look at the reception he has received from those who have spent the last decade trying to destroy the public school system any way they can. Geoffrey Canada,  president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone — he who pays the children in his program do do their homework —   and as such a corporate confidence man extraordinaire, called Walcott a “brilliant choice,” adding, “I feel terrific about it.”  Former Chancellor Joel Klein currently employed as CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s   News Corporation Education Division called Walcott “a superb selection” and “ a fighter for kids.”

I, for one, disagree.  I, for one do not hold Walcott’s selection to be a good thing excepting, perhaps, for Bloomberg whom Walcott will certainly fight for.   While it is true that Dennis Walcott is, by all accounts, an intelligent and amiable fellow and one conversant with the nuts and bolts of the Department of Education, while it is true that long ago and far away he worked in the Urban League, while its true he is now declaring that the school system is “ all about a partnership,”  the greater truth is that Dennis Walcott is  Mike Bloomberg’s  stooge.

After faithfully serving  Bloomberg for nine years no man in New York has more intimate knowledge than Dennis Walcott as to what happens to any Bloomberg appointee who dares to think with his  or her own mind, who dares to speak his or her own opinion: who dares, that is,  to be a free and dignified  human being.

Dennis Walcott is more aware than anyone in New York what he has got himself into.  And Dennis Walcott, for whatever reason, has willingly accepted that role. Anyone who believes the replacement of   Black with Walcott will make an iota of difference that is beneficial to students, teachers and the school system is delusional.

What Bloomberg has been permitted to do is shocking and deeply disturbing.  Or, at any rate, it should be shocking and deeply disturbing.  In nine years Bloomberg has  degraded the political landscape of New York so thoroughly that he has rendered the Chancellorship of Education either irrelevant or a joke. While Bloomberg reigns it does not matter who is chancellor. Klein, Black Walcott, whomever,  they are all there to play dummy to Bloomberg’s ventriloquist and they all know that the minute they speak their own mind is the minute their fates are sealed. What’s worse is millions of New Yorkers know this too and somehow it is accepted. Such is the degraded state of our “democracy.”  Indeed, if Bloomberg had any integrity at all he would simply eliminate the position of Chancellor for the duration of his term (if, indeed, his term ever ends) and save the taxpayers the salary of this now ceremonial position.

How many teachers can be hired on a chancellor’s salary?

There is something diabolical   about Bloomberg.  He specializes in corrupting  people by successful appeals to their basest impulses. Of course, all such  appeals would be unthinkable without his absurd  wealth.  Consider City Counsel speaker Christine Quinn. No matter how long she lives Quinn will have to live with the horrible truth that she helped undermine the political will of millions and millions of New Yorkers when she helped orchestrate Bloomberg’s illegal and legally singular third term. And she should live with it.  And she should be reminded of her treacherous and cowardly act every day.

Consider New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner, the son of the great literary critic George Steiner, who must live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he allowed Mike Bloomberg to somehow persuade him to throw his integrity  to the gutter when he approved non-educator Cathie Black’s waiver to be chancellor with the preposterous stipulation that the job of  “chief academic officer “  — i.e. someone who actually knew something about schools — be created to work beside her.  Steiner had to know that what he was doing was wrong if not out right grotesques.  Nonetheless, like Quinn Steiner  debased himself to do Bloomberg’s bidding.  And by dancing the humiliating dance Bloomberg demanded both did irreparable harm not only to their souls, but also   betrayed the people they swore to serve.

Nothing will change for the better with Walcott. Indeed, Walcott will be far more effective in pushing through Bloomberg’s  agenda of total destruction all the time than Cathie Black could ever dream about. He’s already begun.  Speaking before last Friday’s City Council hearing on the mayor’s preliminary operating budget Walcott made the extremely dubious claim that, “By any measure the gains our students have made in recent years have been extraordinary – far outpacing the rest of the State and cities across the nation.”

As a New York City teacher I have no idea  what Walcott can possibly be referring to here —  but the  language is extremely reminiscent  of   Bloomberg’s  and Klein’s  when they were crowing before Congress about the since-debunked  miraculous gains for  New York students under their  since-debunked miraculous  leadership.

Walcott dutifully went on to channel two other Bloomberg fallacies.  The first was how the city had no choice but to lay off teachers, a claim thrice publicly contradicted by Governor Andrew Cuomo who is no friend of teachers.    The second, offered with no evidence whatsoever from this data loving contingent, was how seniority laws (or LIFO as they are now moronically called) are depriving children of their most “effective”  teachers.

In short, on the part of the DOE nothing has changed, and as long as Bloomberg is mayor nothing will change — least of all Bloomberg. He simply doesn’t  have the moral strength to change or admit he’s  wrong about anything.   Bloomberg  is a free market utopian as impervious to reality as was Milton Friedman if somewhat nastier in his manner.

When he first arrived at City Hall and for some time afterward, Bloomberg repeatedly stated that he wished to be judged on how dealt with education, which was, in fairness to Bloomberg, in many ways, a mess.    For a while, Bloomberg successfully fooled many into thinking that his almost yearly reorganizations, “data based instruction”, high stakes testing, school closings and championing of charter schools were actually making things better rather than just different for New York City students.   This began to change with news of the fraudulent or grossly inflated testing scores and evidence of  doctored graduation rates. Confidence in Bloomberg’s handling of schools went further south with his ridiculous  selection of Black and further still with Black’s darkly comical impersonation of a chancellor of education.

Even as blind  a narcissist as Michael Bloomberg must by this point know that if he is judged by his handling of the schools he would be judged – at the very best — a mediocrity and by many, in fact most, a failure.  (Most NYC teachers, I am convinced, would rank Bloomberg as a catastrophe, a point, I am equally convinced, that would not bother Bloomberg in the least.)

I believe Bloomberg’s  response to his failure  is to spend the remainder of his term accelerating  what he and his fellow “reformers” across the USA have been doing for a decade now:  altering the public school system beyond recognition, setting it up for failure, hastening its demise and setting in motion its rescue by corporate America. This requires the destruction of the UFT, whose power Bloomberg has been undermining since his arrival at City Hall.  All pretense of a working partnership between Bloomberg’s DOE and the UFT is now laughable. Bloomberg would love to leave office as the man who destroyed the teacher’s union.  He’d love that even if that meant, as it would, that teachers could be fired at the whim of any psychotic principal, that the profession would be degraded beyond recognition, that generation of students would be subjected to nothing but test prep.  No matter.  Power has made Bloomberg stranger, crueler, and dumber.   Bloomberg has moved past being reckless and is now so ruthless he is seemingly willing to unnecessarily lay off thousands and thousands of teachers to try and alter public opinion on seniority laws and get his way.

This is sick.

And, if it is not, it should be criminal.

What to do?

Appealing to a figurehead like Dennis Walcott is a waste of time and energy.    The combination of the power of Bloomberg’s obscene wealth   and Bloomberg’s ruthless policies are something not seen for a long, long time if ever before in American politics.   As such they call for a different kind of response, a different method of fighting, some way of not allowing this man to totally degrade our political system and totally destroy our school system before handing it over to his pals in the “free market.”

Bloomberg cannot change.  We must. What we have been doing has not worked.  It may mean massive acts of civil disobedience and massive amounts of consequent arrests.  It may mean sick-outs on a scale unseen in New York history.  It may mean something not yet imagined to match the almost unimaginable reality we are living, in which the richest man in New York is running New York with dictatorial control over almost every aspect of its school system.  This is disgraceful.  This is insane.  We need to figure out how we got here and how we allowed this.   We need to figure out how to get out of here and how to transcend this.  We need to figure out how to keep people as venal and vicious as Michael Bloomberg as far away from political power as legally possible.