Posts Tagged ‘Rahm Emanuel’

Musings On Corporate Education Reform: In the Absence of Trust Grows Sickness

May 19, 2013

A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
William Blake
The Auguries of Innocence.

blake

Insofar as an absence is as dynamic as a presence, a sane society that wishes to remain more or less healthy need be exceedingly careful of the things we remove, that much the more if those things are vital human needs removed from vital human institutions. The absence of beauty from a building, for example, does not create building minus beauty. It creates something radically different and profoundly diminished. Such changes can be said to be environmental and they are thus as subtle, unpredictable and dangerous as the removal of a species of insect from the rain forest. We now know that such a removal will create chaos even if we do not know when or where as the removal creates a chain of events outside of the logic of cause and effect. Such a removal, that is, may manifest itself in the Tundra ten, twenty, thirty years after the change.
If this is true with the removal of an insect, how much truer must it be with the removal of as primal and vital a human need as trust in an institution of learning ?

The most degrading and increasingly explicit message from the corporate reform campaign to American public school teachers can be boiled down to the following four words: We don’t trust you. We don’t trust you to teach your students. We don’t trust you to test your students. We don’t trust you to mark the standardized tests that we manufacture for your students. We don’t trust you to know your subject. We don’t trust you to have standards so we have provided standards for you that you will be punished for not following.
If fact, we don’t really trust you to do much of anything at all except the things that we tell you to do and even these we don’t trust you to do. And this is why we reserve the right to micro manage every aspect of your professional life

Of course, this is not the language that is employed to get their message through. The corporate reformers speak, incessantly, of accountability and more accountability – all of which is conveniently quantified on standardized tests and reduced to sacred and all revealing data.

Why do you need trust when you have accountability ?

Of course, only a vulgar mind would confuse trust with accountability. Accountability is the thing you need when you have already banished or you are incapable of trust.
And this is to say nothing of Bill Gate’s moronic totalitarian notions concerning students wearing galvanic bracelets to measure involvement in the lesson or placing teachers under video surveillance under the pretense of sharing the practices of master teachers.

In whatever form it takes, the message is the same: You, Mr. or Ms. Teacher are a person wholly unworthy of trust.

And don’t think for a moment that the students don’t also understand this.

For an additional kick in the head, the very same “reformers” who have institutionalized distrust of teachers demand themselves to be trusted unconditionally (or at the very least, unconditionally obeyed) even as they perform untested experiment after untested experiment on America’s unknowing children.

Consider the fact that Bill Gate’s Common Core Standards which are now remaking American public schools from coast to coast have never even been field tested.
Consider the fact that Valve Added Metric (VAM ) evaluation schemes which will determine the livelihoods of millions of teachers are wholly unscientific and akin to a roll of the dice.
Consider the obsession with merit pay despite a century of failed attempts to prove it somehow improves teacher quality.
Consider the fact that there is no evidence that any of the corporate reform schemes improves anything other than the bank accounts of their proponents.
And on it goes.

It is difficult at times, I will admit, in the face of all this not to fall into despair. Battling systemic degradation on a daily basis wears one down. I see it in the faces of my colleagues more and more and I do not know where or how it will end. Individuals so predatory that they have amassed the wealth of entire nations, at the same time that they have essentially harnessed the political machinery of the state, are neither easily defeated nor likely to admit they are wrong. Ever. No matter what. Observer Michael Bloomberg. Or Bill Gates. Or Eli Broad. Or their political operatives, Rahm Emmanuel or Andrew Cuomo or Chris Christie or Cory Booker, or the biggest catch of them all, Barack Obama.
I do not know where this will go. I do know this though, and I know it in the marrow of my bones: any society that systemically institutionalizes distrust of a profession as vital as teachers has entered a state of moral, intellectual and spiritual decay of a terrifying order. It is an order that true visionaries like Blake prophesied and knew would not long survive.
Nor should it.

images-2

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.

The Slower of Two Evils: Why I Cannot Vote For Barack Obama

November 6, 2012

The Slower of Two Evils

I was raised in a large working class family sustained by the wages my father earned as a member of  a union ( and  later as a union leader)  in an industry that  has  all but gone the way of the pterodactyl.  So it goes. But at the time, on his modest salary, he was able to keep eleven of  us  not only clothed and fed, but enrolled in Catholic schools and eventually living in our own house.  All this on a single salary.  All this utterly unthinkable in our day.  Why ?  What happened ?  Ours was a home in which the ghosts of Governor Al Smith, FDR and the Kennedy brothers were almost corporeal beings and the Democratic Party, as imperfect as any human organization, was the unambiguous and proud champion of our class, the working class. In the world in which I grew up, if you were not rich, you would have been thought mentally ill to vote for the Republican Party.

And I do not recall ever hearing talk of “the lesser of two evils” and you can rest assured,  I was listening.

This, of course, was before the advent of the worst aspects of American liberalism, the endless divisiveness  of identity politics, the astounding   and abiding success  of political hucksters like Bill Clinton,  the passing of NAFTA, the off-shoring of the American manufacturing base, the relentless undermining  of unions, the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the advent of financialization: all of these which collectively comprised the wholesale betrayal of the American working class.  All of which were aided and abetted,  when not outright championed,  by the Democratic Party.

I write this not as an exercise in useless nostalgia but as a context for my refusal to insult myself by casting a vote for a party that has  not merely long ago ceased to represent the likes of myself  (in point of fact, outside of corporations I do not know exactly who  the Democratic Party does represent )  but has, in many ways,  degenerated into an active enemy.  This is most true in the Democratic stand on labor.  It has left  millions and millions stranded.  Which  is exactly where they want us to be.  Their tacit question:  Where are you going to go ?  To the Republicans ?  To the Tea Party ? And this pathetic trap   has  been set largely   by the successful exploitation of the  politics of fear and playing the card of the lesser of two evils again and again and again.

So here it is, Election Day and I’m facing the same hand  I’ve been dealt   for virtually my entire adult life.  But today there is a difference, a logical and inevitable difference: as the corporate state has consolidated itself within both parties and, outside of “trigger”  issues such as gay marriage and abortion,  the two parties major political positions have become more and more alike, the lesser of two evils has in many cases become merely the slower of two evils. This is the only way I can view the choice of Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney.

I have not the time to discuss my disgust with President Obama’s policy of murder by drone, his refusal to prosecute either the people who brought the world economy to the brink of disaster or the war criminals of the Bush  administrations, his failure to close Guantanamo or his belief that he has the right to order the assassination  of anyone on earth, among other things.  Nor have I any doubt that Mitt Romney would be as bad or worse on any of the above.  Rather I wish to argue that both men wish to lead the nation to the same end using slightly different means.  And that end is the complete domination of  the corporate state.

Consider  that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney traffic exclusively in platitudes, are complete and committed corporatists and are, as such, owned, lock, stock and barrel.    Which is not to say there are not differences between the two.  Romney is far more obvious and forthright about his allegiance.  When Romney  declared that    “Corporations are people too, my friends”,   he meant it and he doesn’t  seem to care who knows it.

Obama, meanwhile, is infinitely more of a stealth promoter of the corporate state: he wants it in there before you notice and seems very concerned with establishing some similitude of public consent and, short of that, someone else’s fingerprints, preferably yours, on his schemes. Obama wants you to like him as he debases your existence and tries to enlist you in your debasement.  In other words, he wants political cover and some version of plausible deniability — even when he is in complete agreement with what he is ostensibly opposing.

Romney, on the other hand, seems content  just to smile his howdy doody smile and talk about how wonderful Americans are by virtue of their  being American. God, you understand, loves us more than other people.  And who can blame him ?

Howdy Doody

Consider Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s approach to education, the issue that ,as one of 3.2. million public school teachers and a father of a public school student, is nearest and dearest  to my heart.

Both Obama and Romney  are tireless champions  of  what is euphemistically called “education reform”; what is, in fact, a relentless bi-partisan billionaire backed  campaign to privatize the public school system while busting or rendering ornamental the teachers’ union, the last large union standing in our country. And note well that neither candidate would allow their own children anywhere near a school implementing their reforms. And  for excellent reason.

Romney’s plan is as simple and transparent as Romney himself:  eradicate the federal Department of Education and give vouchers to every family in the continental USA.  And smile idiotically while doing so.

Presto!  The hidden hand of the magical free market will be eradicating “the achievement gap ” and  passing out diplomas  before you can say  “Wall Street!”    The same (even more) hidden hand will also  be handing out pink slips to most if not all of the 3.2 million teachers who will in turn implode their union.

Bingo! Two birds with one stone !

Now think about  Obama’s signature educational initiative, Race To the Top.  The name alone billboards Obama’s complete alignment with corporate ideology.  Races, as you know, have winners and losers.  Public institutions should not. That goes double for schools.  In point of fact, despite the incoherent, indefensible claims of both American Federation of Teacher’s president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel that Obama is somehow a pro-public education president, RTTT is designed to simultaneously undermine both the public school system and the teachers unions and usher in the complete privatization of the public school system on a national level. Slowly.  And with political cover.  You see, they will  claim, we tried.  Public schools simply don’t work and so we must let corporations run them. Sorry.

Whereas Romney   wishes to do away with public schools with a couple of  swift death blows, the kinder gentler Obama wishes to asphyxiate  it over time with a number of objectively unfair and unscientific schemes, all having to do with standardized tests, all products of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, those deeply concerned private citizens who make public policy for your child and mine.   Obama  wants teachers and teachers unions to assist him by committing slow collective suicide while perhaps allowing a few here and there to maintain their  jobs.

Fours years into the works RTTT is incrementally succeeding at all of these goals accompanied by the   startling spectacle of union teachers praising the president and rallying for the reelection of the man who is actively and consciously destroying their workplaces,  threatening their livelihoods and force feeding a lousy  paint-by-numbers pseudo education on the nation’s children but not Obama’s and his friends.

Many teachers are doing this because the other guy, Romney, is even worse.   This is undoubtedly true.  Romney  is a nightmare. But so is Obama.   And so is this scenario.  And so is this country.  These are the choices of caged animals, not free human beings.  And this nightmare  will remain and, in fact, grow more so if we do not cease accepting the pathetic and grotesque  choices we are given, do not cease accepting the cynical trap that has been set for us  do not cease accepting that this is just the way it is.

Education  is one issue, to be sure.  But to be just as sure, it is emblematic of how the man and the Democratic party now operate. Look at them.  Andrew Cuomo is  a Democrat.  Rahm Emanuel is a Democrat.  Bill Gates is a Democrat. So is every member of the hedge fund gang who created and bankroll Democrats For  Education Reform. They are also, like our beloved president, insidious union busters.

So welcome to your plutocracy. Welcome to the almost completed corporate state. Welcome to the ever-shrinking farce of political choice. Welcome to the lesser of two evils where inevitably  there is  more and more evil all the time.  How can there not  be ?  What and who is there to stop it ?   You will forgive me or you won’t for my outright refusal to vote for a president who has made no secret of his outright contempt for working people, labor unions, the poor,  due process of the law and habeas corpus because he knows he can get away with it because he know you know his opponent is even a greater a danger than he.

This is not the position of a free people. To accept this   is to abdicate one’s intellectual, spiritual and civic responsibility. It is to surrender one rights.  It is to accept and legitimize powerlessness as  call such powerlessness  freedom.

I am a human being who believes, body and soul,  in participatory  democracy,  attempting to be as free as I can be.   Therefore I am voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party.

Ms. Jill Stein

Austerity and Accountability for Thee But Not for Me

October 15, 2012

One can hardly be within earshot of any babbling politician anywhere in the US these days without hearing about the need for accountability and austerity, austerity and accountability. This goes double  — at least ! — if said babbler is babbling about education  which is likely as the  weeping and gnashing of teeth over the sheer lousiness of public school teachers  has become a  national pastime greater than baseball and is infinitely easier to play.

Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with talking about austerity and accountability if it is implemented in a sane fashion and shared across the board.  But, when it comes to education, at any rate, how exactly is this accountability and austerity stuff played out? Well, for the austerity part you simply slash budgets left and right, regardless if said slashing results in elephantine class sizes, vanishing music, art, and gym   classes, and legions of teachers buying pencils, notebooks and what have you for their students.   Rather more furtively you undermine teacher’s pensions and health care, target   teachers with experience and hence higher salaries and systemically create conditions that are so demoralizing and degrading many people simply quit after a couple of years.   This kind of thing is absolutely guaranteed to keep the ship a bit more austere.

The accountability angle is even simpler.  In fact, one might say it is simple minded.      For about a decade now the idiotic idea of applying the principles of business to the art of teaching has been allowed to run roughshod over just about the entire United States. This has led to the absurd if revealing situation in which the language of education and the language of business are in many cases interchangeable, even if the change only went one way. That is to say while I have yet to hear of any businessman speaking of, say, “disjunctive conjunctions” or “pathos” I have been forced to listen to rivers of crazy and reckless blather (all somehow delivered with a straight face ) concerning a teacher’s  “value -added”  “metrics” and the like all built around the apotheosis of the standardized test. In fact, more standardized tests than have ever been seen before or even imagined on planet earth. And there is more to come.  More  and more and more.     It remains to be seen what, if any,  positive changes will come of the ceaseless testing of our children, at least as opposed to the certainty of the billions that will be made by test makers and text book publishers, all certain to be revised every year or so to insure even more billions and all courtesy of the public dime.

No austerity there, thank you very much.

I, for one, predict that the cultural illiteracy that allowed this testing mania to take hold will merely deepen.  How can it not?    I also believe it will be produce millions of test drunk graduates who will be shocked to discover that the vagaries of life bear zero relationship to a standardized test.  How could they be otherwise ?

For the time being, however, it’s the teacher’s turn to be shocked:  First by the viciousness and relentlessness of their billionaire backed attackers and then by the ease in which a handful of billionaires have pushed around our elected officials  — up to and including the president of the United States — like they were so many balloons, forcing their ignorant will upon an entire nation of children and their teachers, come what may. Let us put aside, for the moment, the outrageous truth about the tests that are increasingly used to evaluate public schools and public school teachers: put aside the fact that they have no scientific merit whatsoever. None. Zero. Zip.   Put aside the fact that the very people who created them have stated explicitly and repeatedly that they were not designed to evaluate teachers and should not be used to evaluate teachers.  Today, in more and more of the country the teachers are judged “effective “ or  “ ineffective”’ largely by the test scores of their students.

Let us consider the consequences of receiving such an  evaluation.

When a public school teacher is judged incompetent and fired, unlike say a bank employee or a Wall  Street  hustler, they cannot simply walk down the street and  apply to the school a few blocks down.    They are stripped of their licenses, and with their license, their livelihood.   This is bad.  Very, very bad. And if you are going to do it, if you are going to strip  a person of their ability to support themselves and their families,  you had better have some damned good reasons to do so and they’d better be more than hopelessly flawed tests scores.    I have seen this horrible and humiliating process play out with three fine teachers whom I had the privilege to work with.   Indeed, two years later it is still playing out as two of them are still searching for work and one recently had to leave the country to land a job.

And with them you have austerity and accountability in one big disgusting bang.

.

Which brings us to the curious case of peripatetic twice failed school chancellor Jean Claude Brizard, late of Rochester and more recently Chicago who seems, like so many people of power and authority, somehow immune to the pitiless eye of both  austerity and accountability that has caused so many so much pain and misery. In fact, Brizard’s situation seems to  mock it.

Consider the following from  chicagotribune.com:

Departing Brizard to get full year’s salary

By John Byrne

Clout Street

12:12 PM CDT, October 12, 2012

Departing Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard will get a full year’s salary as part of his severance package, district officials said today.

The school board gave Brizard a two-year contract at $250,000 a year when it hired him in April 2011. The contract was set to expire next May.

A severance package of a full year’s salary seems peculiar enough in the best of times but in an age of austerity?  And it is that much more peculiar when, as the  paragraph below seems to indicate, Brizard,  in fact, quit.

Brizard approached Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale about stepping down.”

Is it customary to receive severance package when you quit your job ?  Will I get one if I quit mine ?   A full year’s salary?   Or is this extraordinary arrangement reserved only for those who wander from city to city furthering the deliberate destruction of the public  school system, paying fealty to their corporate overlords  while preaching from  their perches of fleeting power the eternal gospel of accountability  and austerity for the little people ?

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.