Posts Tagged ‘Eli Broad’

Reign of Error – Book Review – Truthdig

December 6, 2013

Reign of Error – Book Review – Truthdig.

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

November 26, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

The Common Core: Putting Corporations First. Always

November 17, 2012

 

There is an old saying that’s been running through my mind quite a bit these days:  “What is good for the goose is  good for the gander.”

Alas, alas…some seem to disagree.

For the past decade American teachers have been in the cross hairs of the most well financed, relentless, and hydra-headed public relations campaign against a legal profession in our history.  Nothing else even comes close. Indeed, I can think of no other formally respected   profession ever so targeted.  Anywhere. At  any time.  This campaign, which masquerades as a movement, was created by  and  is bankrolled  by the richest individuals in the nation and backed by  some of the most powerful political figures in the land under the rubric of education reform.  Most prominent in the former category are Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad and any number of hedge fund managers such as instant education expert   Whitney Tilson, founder of the egregious Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  Prominent in the latter category are Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama. Despite such powerful figures,  the campaign likes to present itself not merely as a movement  but as  a grass roots movement, spontaneously erupting like a long simmering volcano, it’s gases escaping from the magma chambers of the American educational earth.

Three Friends

The campaign is masterful at the creation and propagation of demands and the dissemination of lies, deceptions and false accusations.  Central to the campaign is the idea of teacher accountability. Indeed, the campaigners want to hold teachers accountable for their student “a performance”, a performance  measured in large part by highly unreliable high stakes tests.

What follows are a few of their most insidious and blatantly false claims:

Poverty is an excuse and is no obstacle to student achievement.

Tenure guarantees a teacher a job for life.

Standardized tests are true indicators of a quality education and quality teachers.

The real problem with schools is that selfish teachers and their thuggish unions   are forever putting their interests over the children they are charged to serve.

 

Of all the lies hurled at teachers ad infinitum, none is more repugnant and underhanded than the last and none gets more mileage by the messianic corporate reformers. It  carries within it, albeit in embryonic form, the zero sum ideology of   corporate education reform: it is somehow impossible to reach an accord in which    both teacher and student are treated fairly and with dignity.  For these folks, one side must dominate the other. That’s simply how life is, you see.

(The fact that the charge of teacher selfishness emanates from billionaires and hedge-fund managers is completely congruent with the surreal nature of the entire corporate education campaign in which the least knowledgeable and experienced are somehow, mystically, the most qualified, the most insightful as well as the most concerned.  )

This particular lie has been perhaps most effectively (because unconsciously) propagated in the very   names of any number of reform organizations: names that in many ways serve as accusations in and of themselves.  What conclusion can one draw from an organization that calls itself Children First Network ?  Or  Students First. Org ? Or Stand For Children ?   What conclusion other than someone  ( psssssssss… hint: teachers )  or something ( psssssssss…  hint:  teacher’s  unions ) out there is putting these poor kids last ?

Then there is the masterful motto of the New York City Department of   Education:  “ Children First. Always.”

Except, it seems, when tending to the needs of corporations like Pearson and their  (equally misleadingly named ) Common Core State Standards, currently  being presented to the nation as the panacea to all that ails American education.

Not to mention the millions of dollars to be made in the production and sale of Common Core based tests, Common Core Text books, Common Core guides, and Common Core learning aids and accessories of every conceivable (and inconceivable) kind.

But there is a problem in paradise.

Somehow in the frenzied production of all these Common Core based paraphernalia, both city and state failed to insure the production of the element most essential to the possibility of the Common Core having any kind of real educational success.      Somehow both city and state failed to produce a curriculum.  It is difficult to overestimate how grand a failure this is.

Imagine, for example, someone trying to sell you a car with a speedometer but no engine.

In the place of a curriculum, New York City and  New York State   have offered teachers and administrators  the Common Core Standards and sample “bundles”,   implying that said standards,  said “bundles,” and curriculum are more or less the same thing, an error that no one even vaguely knowledgeable in or concerned with education would ever make, not to  mention those determined to “put kids first.”

This is, of course,  one of the many problems with allowing people with little no educational experience  — think Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Dennis Walcott — to completely remake  an education system.

But, in typical fashion,  it has become the problem, not of those who created it but those who must deal with it.  That is to say, teachers.   For New York City and New York State, the solution to their failure to provide curriculum for their teachers is to have teachers write curriculum.   No matter that it is not the responsibility of teachers to write curriculum. (Teachers are meant to write lesson plans from curriculum not lesson plans and curriculum. )  No matter that most teachers most have no idea of how to write curriculum. No matter that teachers are not contractually obliged to write curriculum. (The issue is now in arbitration at the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB.)   No matter that teachers have never even seen the test that they are to somehow, magically, write curriculum to prepare their student for. So what if 17,00 New York City schools produce 17,00 different curricula, hodge-podged together by people who have no business doing anything but teaching.   So what if the third to eighth grade tests administered in March will be up to two grade levels more difficult than anything the students or their teachers have ever seen before.

So what that the New York State Department of Education knowingly decided that millions of  children will be forced to take Common Core based high stakes tests of which many haven’t a prayer of passing. So what if this unconscionable incompetence leads directly to demoralizing millions of kids.  So what if the same test scores are used to evaluate teachers, principals, and schools and may be used to terminate the former and close the latter.

The imperative, it seems clear, is to ram the unproven, untested, unknown entity called   Common Core State Standards into the very center of the educational lives of these   kids and their teachers as fast as possible, ready or not. Now.  Before it’s too late. There’s not a moment to spare.

Let the chips fall where they may.

After all, hasn’t Arne Duncan spent the last four years criss-crossing the country  enlightening all to the notion that  “education is the civil rights issue of our time?” Didn’t Condoleezza Rice declare at the Republican National Convention that education is now a matter of national security?

Seen in those glaring lights,  the absence of a curriculem seems almost petty.

On the other hand, on what planet can this kind of educational malfeasance be considered   “putting children first?” And what about that tricky issue of accountability? Who is responsible for this ?  How is it possible that a screw –up of this magnitude is allowed to go by not merely without heads rolling, but   without barely   a peep in the press?   Where are the hedge funders weeping copious tears for the poor children now?  Where are the apostles of accountability with this travesty?

The larger question, of course, is what is the priority here?  It is kids or corporations?  Is it to help make kids “college or career ready” so as to compete in the ever more savage global economy?  Or is it to shovel millions of taxpayer dollars to Pearson and associates   on Common Core accessories before most people even know what Common Core is?

“ We’ve been working really hard around Common Core, said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whose educational experience consists of one year teaching kindergarten.     “We’ve been really light years ahead of the rest of the state in terms of the implementation of Common Core but at the same time, we’re ready for the new curriculum to be put in place as well.”   Asked when that might be, Walcott replied, “I don’t know.  I’ll let you know.”   That was last month.

He taught kindergarten for a year or so a couple of decades back.

So much for putting children first.  So much for  accountability.

By way of excusing the inevitable results of this  farce, Walcott added:  “We’ve said that we expect scores to go down.  We just don’t know to what level.  I mean, this is going to be a tough, tough test.”

I’ll say. And it’s hard cheese, old chap!

State Education Commissioner John King (whose educational experience consists of teaching for three years) at least provided an answer if a completely unacceptable one.  The curriculum will be ready “by Fall, winter 2013, said King.

John King who taught for three years.

Why is the media not all over this?  Where are all those concerned faces found on Education Nation? Why is this not considered a major scandal by all of those pundits forever gasbagging  about  selfish unions and the holy efficiency  of the business world ?

The absence of criticism is understandable but not excusable.  It is understandable because both the people running the school system and those commenting on those running the school system have no idea   what they are talking about and could easily believe a standard is a curriculum.  Why wouldn’t they?  Many seem to believe that closing down schools and mass firings of teachers are somehow great accomplishments.

My fear, bordering on absolute certainty, is that no matter what the real pedagogical value of the Common Core actually is, it will be declared a success. Indeed, it has already been declared so. Unique among federal impositions, contrary to common sense or common decency,  there has been no attempt to field-test the Common Core.  It is   assumed ready to go on arrival.  Even, apparently,  without a curriculum.

What we are witnessing here is the slow motion creation of a system that is built to be too big to fail.  It is built to be too big to fail because there is simply too much money to be made in its implementation.  Millions and millions on tests alone.  It will generate more tests than have ever been seen before on planet earth.  That is not hyperbole.  Because of Common Core, writes Diane Ravitch, “Our children shall eat, live and breathe tests, from birth to the end of their education.”

If nothing else the Common Core  is a virtual industry on a scale hitherto unknown in American education. We have seen this before, of course in other fields.   We have seen it with Goldman Sachs or Fannie Mae or any number  of colossi, too big to fail operations that failed anyway and almost brought the entire world  down with them.  We have just never seen this kind of thing   in education before.  But then, ours is a time in which there are many, many things we have never seen in education before.

As I write the Common Core is being used to  lead  children to slaughter.  Right behind them are the reputations of teachers and principals and entire schools. If you wish to see the abject contempt in which corporate reformers and their employees in elected office hold our children and our families look no further.   If you wish to see children being put very far behind immense corporate profits, look here.  If you want to see the opposite of accountability, you’ve come to the right place.

It is a place where what is good for the goose is very, very good indeed for this goose is a very, very golden goose.

And never you mind the gander.

Won’t Back Down: the Latest Volley From the Corporate Reform Industrial Complex ( Hollywood Division )

October 4, 2012

 

 

Won’t Back Down   is an extraordinarily manipulative, insidious and consciously misleading film and perhaps the closest thing to naked propaganda made for a general audience since World War II.

Produced by Walden Films, the same people who created the scene -staging anti teacher “documentary”, Waiting for Superman, Won’t Back Down is a   multi-million dollar, star studded commercial for something called the Parent Trigger legislation.  The Parent Trigger is a mechanism created ostensibly   to empower parents by making it preposterously easy for them to turn a public school into a charter school.  (Once a charter school, it is currently impossible to revert back to a public school regardless of how poorly the school performs.)

But,  as one of the major obstacles to parents actually pulling the Parent Trigger are teacher unions, Won’t Back Down is a full-length attack on teacher unions that is nothing less than mendacious and slanderous.  In point of fact, Won’t Back Down is nothing less than a public relations equivalent of a bullet to the union’s brain.

Despite the presence of first-rate actors, the movie as movie is insulting and offensive on every conceivable level.  But that does not mean it will not be effective.  Won’t Back Down is a tearjerker in which the jerked tears are meant not to allow the audience to get in touch with their inner Oprah but to inform political opinions and inspire political actions of a decidedly undemocratic strain.  It is designed to turn parents against teachers by tricking them into believing that the sole reason their child is struggling is because he or she   has   a “bad teacher “;  deceive them into thinking that their  only hope for their children’s future is aligning themselves with union busting privatizing billionaires. Won’t Back Down is also meant to turn teachers against themselves.

Won’t Back Down  is a morality play pitting a fiery but  good working class parent against her daughter’s lousy  or even  evil teachers and their  oppressive   union  which seems somehow to dictate a deadening curriculum, cast  a melancholy cloud over everything  and, most egregiously,  forbids teachers from working with their students after school.  The plot runs as follows: Jamie Fitzgerald (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a feisty Pittsburg single mom with two jobs, rightfully disgusted by the horrific education her dyslectic daughter is receiving in the nightmarish Adams Elementary School, stumbles upon a little used and littler known parent empowerment law strikingly similar to the Parent Trigger.  Desperate to get her daughter the education she deserves, Jamie attempts to enlist both parents and teachers in signing the petition to create a new if utterly undefined school where parents “get a say in what gets taught and how.”   The only certainty is that the school  would be non-union.  At first, scornfully rebuked by both parties, especially the self absorbed and frightfully unlikable  teachers ( save one ),  she is also contemptuously dismissed  by the honchos of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Jamie won’t back down.  She gains a confederate among the teaching staff in Nona Alberts ( Viola Davis)  and soldiers on.    In time – very little time, actually – she  somehow convinces not only the previously reluctant parent body, but, after a night of drinking and Texas Two Stepping, the previously hostile teachers who are magically  transformed and   as happy as dolphins to surrender all   rights and benefits for a school “for teachers who want to teach” and “is about the kids.”  Who could argue with that ?   In a final absurdity, after the Pennsylvania school board, because of a single faulty mathematical equation, turns down Jamie’s petition, Jamie convinces the board to reconsider by revealing that the equation was wrong because, she, like her daughter, is also dyslexic. Somehow this disclosure moves the board to hold a second and public vote.     (Don’t ask.)  In the end ‘because something must be done” the board approves Jamie’s ‘ new school, and there is much rock and roll and weeping for joy in Pittsburgh.  The final scene shows Jamie’s dyslexic daughter Mylia  who  was struggling to read in the film’s grim opening scene, miraculously  reading fluently in a bright beautiful class room filed with happy  and well mannered children.

Roll credits.

All this is absurd, of course, but we would do well to acknowledge that in a nation where the government and the media,  serving a steady diet of insinuations, distortions  and outright lies, were able to convince 70 % of the U.S. population that Saddam Hussein  was personally responsible for the attacks of 9/11, absurdity is  hardly a liability.

Propaganda, effectively produced and disseminated —  and Won’t Back Down is nothing is if not skillful propaganda — is a formidable weapon against any population and that much the more against a frightened, confused and ill served people, which would pretty much sum up most of America at this point.   And it is important to realize that Won’t Back Down is simply the latest volley, an expensive drop in a poisonous sea, in what has to be the most sustained, relentless and well financed public relations campaign against a once honorable profession –  teaching    – in the history of this nation. This campaign — let’s call it the Corporate Reform Industrial Complex —  has been led and bankrolled by the richest and most reactionary forces and individuals in the country – Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, the Koch brothers and others — in league with the leaders of both political parties up to and including Barack Obama. The Complex has been broadcasting its agenda and bulldozing its pernicious whims and notions (standardized tests, value added teacher evaluations and the like) into policy for years now, resulting in no discernable improvement in student achievement even as they have achieved phenomenal success in dumbing down students,  demoralizing teachers, destabilizing communities and helping to line the pockets of   corporate test making companies from coast to coast.  Naturally, the Complex  has received enormous and wholly uncritical assistance  from Time Magazine, Fox News, CNBC, PBS and virtually every other corporate media outfit. Indeed, as  Won’t Back Down, is its  second full-length anti teacher production,   Walden Films can rightfully be called the motion picture division of the Corporate Reform Industrial Complex.

Like all effective propaganda Won’t back Down deals in broad strokes, traffics in heros and villains and aims to bypass rational argument, truth, and nuance, and appeals straight to the emotions. Writer Brian Hill and director Daniel Barnz know how to do this kind of thing, are good at it and leave nothing to chance.  At no point in Won’t Back Down does one hear the words  “charter school” or “privatization” or “billionaire” or “ALEC”   or “union busting.”  There is not hint  of the effects of Obama’s insidious and deliberately destabilizing and astoundingly undemocratic Race to the Top, no mention of ballooning class sizes or idiotic, degrading effects on education systems based increasingly on standardized tests.  You will listen in vain for any  reference to the various Captain Ahab’s – Gates, Broad, DFER  and Co, — who have been allowed to hijack the public school Pequot and sail it in almost any damn direction  they please for  years now, unbeknownst  to the public at large, unaccountable to any one.

What one does hear, again and again are recitations from the catechism of the corporate reformers.  For a special kick in the pants, they often come from the mouths of teachers.

Hence, as if channeling Mike Bloomberg, one hears teacher Breena Harper (Rosie Perez) plaintively inquire, “ What other profession guarantees a job for life after two years? “   (Answer: none, including the teaching profession.)   Echoing one of the holy writs of Teach For America, Jamie dismisses the horrific and myriad realties of poverty with a single pithy and solipsistic declaration: “ I don’t need 10,000 studies about poverty.  I know poverty sucks and my kid can’t read. “  At another moment Jamie dismisses any option other than the trigger by declaring, “The whole system is broken.  It’s dead!”  Even child actors  are  enlisted in the game:  “Hurry, ” says Jamie to her daughter as they rush through the morning streets of Pittsburgh,    ” we’ll be late for school.”  “The school doesn’t  care,” replies the little girl in a line that is meant to enrage every working mother in the audience.

Character after character speak as if they are but ventriloquists for the hidden masters behind the curtain.

 

All one needs to know about what is wrong with the American public school system and unionized teachers can be easily discerned from the opening scene in which Malia, Jamie’s pretty dyslexic  daughter, stands in the center of a bleak , depressing classroom (all classrooms are bleak  and depressing ) trying and failing to sound out a word on a  filthy blackboard (all blackboards are filthy.) While her classmates openly ridicule the child,  her overweight, miserable excuse for a teacher plays with her cell phone, too lazy and indifferent to even raise her eyes and look at the poor girl.

And it gets worse.  Much worse.   In short order we learn from a fellow teacher (Perez again ) that despite having the lowest test scores in Adam’s Elementary, the union contract demands that  Ms. Cellphone is the school’s highest paid teacher. Hill and Barnz are not finished with Ms. Cellphone, however.  Before the film is over this monster will lock little Malia  in a disgusting broom closet  —  a vicious,  cruel  and  criminal act  for which any teacher in this country would and should lose their  job – for needing to use the bathroom.  Malia is  only freed from her captivity by the unexpected arrival of Jamie.   Does this act lead to Ms. Cellphone  being arrested, led out of   school in handcuffs and pictured on the 6:00 news ?  Hardly. No one other than Jamie even seems to notice. There are no consequences.  Such is life in Hollywood’s version of our public school system. By the films end, long after her colleagues have incomprehensively jettisoned their union in favor of a building a new school that favors  the radical ideas of reading Shakespeare and having field trips

( what on earth were they doing in that school  before hand ? ) , the cruel, criminal Ms. Cellphone remains gainfully employed if the  only teacher from Adams Elementary to stick with the union.  Get the connection? If not, you   are not paying attention.

As the slanderous treatment of teacher unions is not merely central to the political agenda of this preposterous film but to the success of the corporate campaign to hijack and privatize public education, it is impossible to believe that they are the results of lazy research or poor writing or poetic license.   Won’t Back Down is a work that is consciously dishonest, never more so than in its depiction of teacher unions.  Consider the fact that character after character, teachers included, bemoan the ridicules  contractual agreement cited again and again in the film that forbids teachers to stay after school and work with kids.  Consider the fact the union’s reaction to Jamie’s increasingly successful campaign to remake the school is to try and bribe her by paying her child’s tuition to a spectacularly beautiful private school.   Consider how the whole defeated, miserable filthy atmosphere of Adam’s Elementary is somehow the result of the union and its “600 page contract,  ”: a contract that   which puts the interests of teachers ahead of the interests of students, refusing in the sloganeering drone   of Mike Bloomberg and Michelle Rhee and so many other corporate reformers, to “put kids first.  Always.”

In works of fiction, such conceits fall under the rubric of poetic license.  In politics they are called plausible deniability. Won’t Back Down is politics masquerading as poetry.

For a movie ostensibly about education and teachers, other than the grotesque behavior of Ms. Cell Phone, there is precious little teaching depicted.  This is because, like all corporate reformer shills and the corporate reformers themselves, neither Hill nor Barnz has any idea of what they are talking about, any idea of what makes schools function, or any idea of what teaching is.  Thus you get this kind of stuff: A re-energized Ms. Alberts (Viola Davis ) uses the time honored Socratic method to have her students examine a quote from John Adams, after whom the school is named.  The kids respond enthusiastically. For some reason this routine exercise   so impresses the   formally cynical school board official that the official is moved to change her mind about the parent takeover project and then and there decides to back it.  In another scene Jamie (who seems to wander the school as if she is already running it)

comes across a ukulele strumming  younger male teacher who thinks it’s a good idea to have his students, perhaps third graders, two step across the room while reciting snippets from JFK’s bellicose inaugural address.  Jamie agrees with this style of teaching  and responds  to this idiocy  — a stunt that would land a New York City teacher in the Rubber Room  —   by declaring Mr. Ukulele “a good teacher.”

So much for pedagogy.

The Parent Trigger legislature as depicted in the film bears as close a relationship to truth as does Won’t Back Downs treatment of unions:  That is to say, none. Like all of the corporate reform mechanisms, the Parent Trigger is the brainchild of a third party with vested interests in privatizing schools and plugged by a phony grassroots organization funded by billionaires. Unlike the mythology its cynical creators have manufactured,    the Trigger is the labor, not of a handful of grassroots parents rising up to demand better schools for their kids but rather the brainchild of one Ben Austin, a policy consultant for a charter school organization in Los Angeles.

The Trigger mandates that a school be closed, its staff fired and the building   turned over to a charter school corporation if 51% of parents can be persuaded to sign a petition.  It is a reckless, wildly undemocratic and foolish idea and one that would have died on the vine if it were truly the fruit of the grass roots movement its adherents claim it to be. It is right wing fomented mob rule posturing as the essence of  direct democracy. The trigger   would have been strangled to death if it actually led to anything vaguely approximating parental empowerment in schools which is among the last things Corporate Education Industrial Complex wants or would ever allow.

Austin went on to form the organization Parent Revolution whose sole reason for existence is to promote the Parent Trigger,  across the USA of A.

Parent Revolution, ostensibly   an organization built to empower parents, is   another in a seemingly endless line of billionaire backed phony grass roots front groups that help do the dirty work — especially the dividing and conquering — necessary for the absolute triumph of the Corporate Reform Industrial Complex.  The parent revolutionaries of Parent Revolution are bankrolled by  some of the most reactionary entities in America, including the Walton Family Foundation, the Heartland Institute and the extremely secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that is always busy helping corporate America propose and   draft legislation for states across the country, all of them salivating over the privatization of the public school  system.

As yet the Trigger has only been implemented twice, both times in California, both times leading to very negative results: bad schools, divided communities, nothing delivered.  But no matter. Such realities are meaningless in the rarified world of the Corporate Reform Industrial Complex where, after   almost a decade of complete dominance over schools from coast to coast, they are still whining about the “ status quo ” as if it were someone other than themselves.

Won’t Back Down may well be a seminal product in American history as it is a popular film that exists solely as a vehicle for a political agenda.  Its purpose is to put a union busting privatizing law on the map, make inroads into the American psyche, further undermine confidence in our school system, and further demonize unions and teachers.    And this explains the almost presidential style public relations campaign the film ‘s promoters have led for the past month or so from coast to coast including events at both the Democratic and Republican conventions.  There may be others, but I, for one, know of no other film that so   nakedly and shamelessly served a political agenda.  That the film is a commercial for the Trigger is not even disguised.  Consider the following from Michelle Rhee’s StudentfirstNewyork.org, she   who publicly vowed to raise a billion dollars to destroy teacher unions.

“For too long, parents of students in failing schools have been stuck without options. Not any more. 

A new reform called “parent trigger” is giving parents a tool to take charge of persistently failing schools and turn them around. Under parent trigger, a majority of parents can petition for real, transformative changes for their school. Seven states already have some form of parent trigger laws on the books, and more than 70% voters say they support them.

 These reforms haven’t come to New York – yet – but they have made it to the big screen. A new film, Won’t Back Down, opening Friday highlights a parent and a teacher – played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis – who team up to turn around their failing school.

Won’t Back Down tells an invigorating story of parents, teachers and concerned citizens working together for the good of the students. We’re trying to make that happen in New York – we need your help, and we need you to see this movie to see the possibilities.”

Or this:

Last week, StudentsFirstNY hosted a screening of the new film Won’t Back Down.

There was a lot of clapping, cheering and crying. But mostly, there was a lot of energy in the theater. Parents from across New York were inspired and motivated, ready to demand transformative education reforms for their children.

After the movie, I met a single mother from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She was so excited that there was finally a neighborhood organizing effort that gave her a voice.

This was a mother who was engaged – a mother who works late nights and who wants a better education for her son than the one she received. She wants choice. She wants a good school with great teachers. She wants what I want for my own daughter – what we all want as parents.

We’re working for that mom, and for the moms and dads across New York who want a great education for their children

———————-

The real purpose of Won’t Back Down  is to utterly malign if not destroy the reputation of the single institution standing in the way of a complete corporate takeover of public education: teacher unions.  Just as the Philip Morris Company once admitted in a confidential memo that cigarettes were nothing more than “ nicotine delivery systems, “even as the head of the company swore under oath that nicotine contributes to the pleasure of smoking, Won’t Back Down was created as a kind of “corporate education delivery system “, even as its publicists babble on about empowering parents, freedom parents and school choice.

Its toxins, lies, distortions, and simplistic solutions to the complex and deeply human problems of educating our nation’s children depicted in Won’t Back Down are meant to enter into the blood stream of every American who sees it without them even knowing it.  Images are powerful weapons, that much the more in an increasingly a-literate, image- based society.  It is not unreasonable to assume that for millions of Americans the perception of schools, teachers and unions will be to some degree formed by this film.  That, in any case, is the purpose of the work.

The fusion of corporate culture and corporate agendas that Won’t Back Down epitomizes is deeply disturbing.

I fear that at the level it is practiced in this film   it is something new in the American experience.

Let us hope that many see it for what it is.    Let us work to make sure they do.

Addendum:  Happily, as yet,  this vile piece of  junk has failed to catch on with the American public.  This is cause for a bit of hope.  Nonetheless, one of the advantages of have virtually limitless wealth combined a limitless desire to impose your will upon a nation is that such failures hardly need  even slow you up.  Consider the failures of standardized tests,  charter schools, VAM and other corporate reform schemes to in any meaningful way improve anything concerning American education.  This has hardly slowed the process of their metastasizing.  Quite the contrary. With the tests,  the implementation of the Common Core assures more students tests than  ever before seen on the planet.  Rest assured, these people will be back and that there is already another Won’t Back Down in the works.

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.