Posts Tagged ‘Tea Party’

New York Times Editorials Reveal A Complete Ignorance of Common Core

August 20, 2013

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But two days after a sizable anti-Common Core rally in suburban Port Jefferson, Long Island, the venerable New York Times saw fit to publish not one but two editorials in two days, not merely praising the Common Core State Standards, but attempting to reduce almost all criticism of it to right wing nut jobs like Glenn Beck and the Tea Party. To make matters worse, the editorials were written by Times heavy hitters Bill Keller and, sadly, Paul Krugman. Both articles reveal Keller and Krugman to be completely ignorant of both the Common Core Standards themselves, their genesis, as well as to the ever widening and deepening political opposition to the entire billion-dollar Common Core campaign.
Nonetheless both articles are a massive public relations gift to corporate education reformers nation wide – and you can rest assured they will make use of them. Moreover, by insinuating that most opposition to the CCSS derives from the far right, the articles are simultaneously an insult to the hundreds of thousands of educators from coast to coast who distrust or even loathe the Common Core and all that it stands for — particularly the very real fear that intrinsically related high stakes testing combined with junk science testing will lead to their termination — as well as to leading education scholars and activists such as Diane Ravitch, Lois Wiener, Gary Rubinstein, Leonie Haimson, Arthur Goldstein, Carol Burris, Anthony Cody, and Susan O’Hanian, to name but a few. Both Keller and Krugman seem oblivious to them all.
Neither seems to be aware of the fact that the Common Core has never even been field tested.
Neither writer seems to be aware that states were pressured if not coerced into “adopting” the Common Core because they were bankrupt.
Neither writer seems aware of the fact that, so great are the potential corporate profits, states were pressured into signing on to the Common Core before it was even finished.
Neither writer seems to be aware than prominent educators ( as opposed to politicians and billionaires) and have very serious issues with how developmentally appropriate the Common Core actually is and some are nothing less than appalled.
Neither writer, that is, seems to have a clue.

Whereas Keller’s piece reads as if it were cribbed from Arne Duncan press releases with political slants provided by Thomas Friedman and David Brooks, Krugman’s piece reads like a dashed off afterthought, seemingly composed solely to support Keller’s would-be -arguments, and, highly uncharacteristic of Krugman’s work, contains not a single original thought. For his sake, I hope Krugman, always the most prescient and intrepid of the Times scribes, was drunk when he wrote it so that he might be excused for employing such extravagant or even silly language such as “ entirely praiseworthy” to describe a subject he clearly knows absolutely nothing about.

Note: I have read the Times consistently my entire adult life and I do not recall a single instance in which two writers wrote essentially the same article two days in a row on the same subject.

Given the prestige and national reach of the Times, the tag team approach is an immense gift to corporate reformers and, to that end, the timing of the articles could not have been better. There has been evidence of ever growing parental dissatisfaction over the CCSS since the 30% drop in test scores that were bizarrely celebrated by virtually the entire New York City and New York State education hierarchy. Such dissatisfaction culminated in Saturday’s rally on Long Island.
I lost respect for both Bill Keller in particular and the New York Times in general years ago when they both reduced themselves to mindless cheerleaders for the butchery of Iraq (it was not a war), which has been proven to have been exactly what many of it critics predicted it would be: a pointless, needless and grotesque slaughter based on deliberately falsified evidence, rank ideology and colossal hubris.

Structurally, minis the bloodshed and the bombs, something similar is afoot with the plutocrats and corporate America’s ceaseless and insidious campaign for the Common Core. So here we are a decade later with that debacle having receded from American consciousness altogether, and here is the same Bill Keller pontificating about yet another war ( “The War on the Core” ) based on falsified data, widely exaggerated threats with equal ignorance and hubris.

Oh! And let us not forget Condi Rice and Joel Klein declaring American education to be a threat to national security!

(Note: in the same way public relation firms tricked Americans into referring to McDonald’s as the almost familial “Mickey D’s”, adherents of the Common Core State Standards seem to refer to the thing, as does Keller, as the much cozier “the Core.”)
Whereas in Iraq there was falsified evidence, with the Core there simply is no evidence at all: the Common Core, like much of corporate education reform, is entirely faith based. It troubles Keller not at all that the deceptively named Common Core State Standards are yet another extra-legislative imposition created and engendered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has become the de facto US Department of Education with Bill, in the words of Diane Ravitch, “the nation’s Superintendent of schools. “

Keller essentially repeats a more conversational version of Common Core press releases including the outright lies that “ the Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable.”
Virtually noting of the above sentence is true. If there were any educators present in the creation of “ The Core “ they were tokens, there to give cover for its corporate genesis. Keller seems utterly unaware of the fact that “The Core” is, at best, a vast taxpayer funded experiment on American school children based on nothing but rhetoric. Everything that can be said about it is pure speculation.
To this, Keller and Krugman are oblivious or unconcerned. For Keller and Krugman, to be against “The Core” is to be aligned with right wing nut jobs like Glenn Beck or more sinister and shadowy Tea Party associates.
“But overwhelmingly,” writes Keller, “ the animus against the standards comes from the right.”
Wrong.
Curiously, Keller mocks as fantasy Beck’s fear of “bio wristbands, ” gizmos that sound incredibly similar to Bill Gates fascistic idea of students and teachers wearing “galvanic bracelets “ to somehow measure student engagement. “ Beck,” writes Keller, “ also appears to believe that the plan calls for children to be fitted with bio-wristbands and little cameras so they can be monitored at all times for corporate exploitation.”
That said, I have no illusions as to the continued power of the Times to influence middle class America, to convince them, even with the intellectual shabbiness of these articles, that to be against the sacred Common Core is to be with Glen Beck and his paranoid yokels. This is bad. It is so bad that it behooves every parent and educator in America to write the Times and speak his or her truth to power. Who knows, if enough do and do so with clarity, a man like Krugman could even become a powerful ally.

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George McGovern: “The Most Decent Man in the Unites States Senate.”

October 22, 2012

Of George McGovern Senator Robert Kennedy once said, “ He is the most decent man in the United States Senate.  Perhaps the only decent man in the United States Senate.”   After his disastrous 1972 presidential campaign such decency helped propel McGovern into a political punch line for decades but the joke, ultimately was on us:  instead of a man who would have ended the Vietnam war in a week, we got Nixon who prolonged it for years resulting in the pointless slaughter of thousands  more  American  soldiers and many more thousands of Vietnamese men, women and children.   Instead of intelligent liberalism, we got Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and Bush  father and son culminating in a steady  Right ward  drift so pronounced  that Richard Nixon would be to the Left of   both Obama and Romney on almost all major issues. And Nixon was no liberal.  Indeed, after McGovern’s run we slowly slipped into such a state of  political and intellectual depravity  that the very words  “liberal”  and “liberalism”   — words that describe the very political tradition and foundation on which the nation was formed — became,   in many circles, the worst kind of put down — a political trajectory that has led many a former blue collar liberal down the suicidal yellow brick road of the Tea Party.

But not for George McGovern who knew of what he spoke and cared about what he saw happening to his country and his compatriots.

Until and unless men and women of the integrity and decency of McGovern  can not merely obtain office but hold real sway in the American political landscape – seemingly impossible in an age of oligarchy and corporate domination of everything – we are doomed to shills like Romney and Obama ever deepening oligarchy and corporate domination of everything.  And we doom ourselves.

Rest in peace, Senator McGovern.  You did your bit and you did it nobly and fearlessly.   You kept the flame in a time of ever deepening darkness. You fought the good fight.

Now it is our turn.

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.

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

August 8, 2011

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

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

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

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

Yippie!

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educators 4 Excellence: Brought to You by the Insidious Arm of the Disgustingly Rich

January 29, 2011
Brought to you by Bill Gates and and a whole host of hedge fund managers !

Brought to you by Bill Gates and and a whole host of hedge fund managers !

After a bit of pondering, I’ve concluded that from the list of cynical, disingenuous, insidious and astoundingly arrogant characters that make up the relentless billionaire backed hydra-headed campaign to privatize American public education, few are more cynical, disingenuous, insidious and astoundingly arrogant than Mr. Evan Stone and Ms. Sydney Morris, the two 25 year old teachers who founded and front Educators 4 Excellence (or E4E), a recent recipient of a $160,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and so much more. Gates, as anyone paying attention to the issue can attest, is the self-appointed de facto national education policy maker and as such he would top the list referred to above.

On Wednesday, January 25, 2011 Stone and Morris and their eight month old organization were the subject of not merely a luminous article but also a positively worshipful editorial (“ Teachers For Excellence” ) in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post.

All that was missing was an audio of heavy breathing. But who knows what next week will bring.

The Post was only the latest in a long line of major media attention this bold young lion and lioness have garnered. They’ve been praised in The Wall Street Journal and all but genuflected to on Fox’s Varney and Company. This virtual shill convention must be seen to be believed. On it Stone not only compares himself to the founders of the United Federation of Teachers who risked their jobs and pensions to build the union this man is being paid to discredit but Varney and another talking head go much further: they liken Stone to the founders of American unionism itself, repeatedly referring to him and his front group as “ revolutionary.” The entire preposterous dialogue is entirely scripted and vehemently anti union.

Throughout it all, Stone humbly accepts this absurd comparisons and praise, oblivious to the fact that real fathers of unionism — men such as the Molly Maguires — would have hung the likes of corporate shills like Evan Stone from the nearest and highest tree.

It gets weirder: Despite the fact that he’s been teaching for three years (and has a completely unremarkable record at that) Mr. Stone was invited to sit on an education policy panel featuring the brilliant Diane Ravitch and then-Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky (currently employed as Cathy Black’s brain.) Then there’s the elevated crowd they’re suddenly hob-knobbing with, not to mention and the A List funding their work has inspired.

Helping Gates help E4E is a Who’s Who of the corporate education reform campaign, which, like the Tea Party, is a billionaire backed media effort passing itself off as a “grassroots” “movement. ” Among the prime movers of the E4E arm of the movement are John Sabat of mega hedge fund, SAC Capital, John Petry of Gotham Capital, and Whitney Tilson’s omnipresent front group, Education Reform Now and Democrats For Education Reform

And these are the only one’s I’ve been able to find out about.

And just who are this wunderkind who have created ex nihilo “a powerful group of teachers more concerned with kid’s futures than the fine print of their labor contract? ” Who are these youngsters “ giving parents new hope and making leaders of their union sweat. “? What exactly are they doing that’s causing all this excitement and raising all this money – not mention the sweat?

Fearless Leaders

Fearless Leaders

Have they created some wonderful new pedagogic method that will help our children grasp the fundamentals of math and science?

Are they proposing some revolutionary teaching method that will explain to students why the USA has the greatest disparity of wealth and poverty in the Western World?

Are they teaching their charges how to feed themselves in a world without work?

Are they for standing up to the billion dollar corporate scam that is the standardized test industry?

Are they horrified at an education so impoverished that is renders our children culturally illiterate?

Are they incensed at the state of an education policy that leaves our children virtually defenseless against an increasingly predatory pop culture?

Are they bucking the ever-metastasizing corporate hijacking of every aspect of reality including our schools systems?

No, no, no.

Nothing like that for these mavericks. Like the motto of Bloomberg’s DOE, the concern of E4E is
“ putting children first.”

Oh.

In fact, that collection of words somewhat approximating a thought is all over E4E’s website, a website bearing the greatest collection of platitudes I’ve seen in a long, long time. Check it out for your self ! It’s a scream!

E4E are also deeply concerned about the prestige of the teaching profession and, while they don’t come right out and say it, more than a little embarrassed by some of the union protected scumbags they work with who very clearly do not put children first. Mr. Stone and Ms. Morris want these parasites out and “good teachers” in. And who can blame them? And after teaching for a full three years who can possibly question their judgment? Who dare?

Revealing the same totalitarian impulse shared by some of their backers and many cults, the site also implores you to sign a pledge that you agree to E4E’s “principles. “

The major principle of E4E upon which all other principles rest, of course, is putting the children first. The insinuation, of course, (their only identifiable talent appears to be insinuating) is that that everyone who is not in E4E is putting kids somewhere else. Again, who can question their judgment?

E4E also wants to “ have a voice in the creation of polices that affect their profession and affect their students.”

Well, who doesn’t?

But wouldn’t that mean you actually knew something about the field you wish to affect?
And wouldn’t such knowledge take time and experience to accrue? And don’t you already have a union representing these very things? A union, like all unions in the USA that is being attacked from all side and at times?

I’d like to believe that anyone entering a field as complex, as nuanced, and as unpredictable as education would have at least a little humility – at least until you have some idea of what you’re doing. Humility, after all, is what allows you to learn.

Mr. Stone and Ms. Morris, mind you, have both been unremarkable teachers for three years. This last year they have apparently worked but one day a week.

Yet, somehow they know all the answers. They don’t actually say they have all the answers. As I stated above, like everything else they do, they insinuate that they have all the answers.

Allow me to repeat something: Mr. Stone and Ms. Morris have been full time teachers for three years.

I may be wrong but they seem to be demanding the right to negotiate their contract and to do so not through the UFT but somehow around the UFT — the same UFT that provides them with every protection and benefit they have. They seem to be demanding nothing short of a seat at the table.

The big, big table.

And they seem to be demanding it for no other reason than to surrender everything the good and brave men and women fought for, everything good and brave men and women risked creating a union so that fools such as themselves might be treated as professionals and have some dignity.

Wow.

Even in an age as demented as is ours, does something about these two people and this organization strike you as insane? Does anything about these two mediocrities and their absurd, insidious organization merit the amount of media attention they’ve received? Does anyone doubt that the huge amounts of cash dropped at their feet is in direct proportion to the degree their masters believe they’ll succeed in undermining the UFT?

Allow me to state the obvious: to believe you can speak with authority about teaching, about contracts, about what is means to “put students first ” after three years experience is beyond arrogance.

It is beyond foolishness.

It is hubris.

And the idea that, after three years you should
“ have a voice in the creation of polices that affect their profession and affect their students” is mind-boggling.

Indeed, everything about these two people and E4E is simultaneously ridicules and disturbing. Outside of their preposterous (or super-natural) conceit of knowledge, Stone and Morris make several claims that display a staggering lack of integrity. They claim, for example, that they are not anti union.

This is a lie. A hideous, insidious lie.

Consider E4E positions on everything — particularly tenure and seniority — two subjects they display no understanding of whatsoever. Contrary to Mike Bloomberg and his pals at the New York Post– conscious liars all — tenure does not mean and has never meant ” a job for life,” a phrase they repeat as often as they can for no other reason than to stroke the blind rage of a citizenry increasingly jobless and terrified.

Tenure means due process. Nothing more and nothing less. It means a teacher cannot be fired on the whim of a crazy principal or because he or she has a nephew who needs a job. It is difficult to understand what Stone and Morris are talking about when they talk about tenure. They seem to want tenure to be something that is earned on an annual basis, meaning whatever it is they are asking for, is not tenure in any recognizable sense of the word.

This change, they claim, is necessary to keep teachers from becoming complacent and thus failing to keep the students first. Tenure, according to the Stone, does nothing less than encourage complacency. A complacent teacher, by definition, does not put students first. Stone knows. He’s been a full time teacher for three years.

Hmmm.

Can you imagine any real teacher espousing this condescending, toadying idiocy? Can you imagine any teacher with any understanding of the arbitrary viciousness of the DOE under Bloomberg even considering this lunacy? More to the point, can you imagine any one who is not a paid and protected agent of union busting billionaires even suggesting this stuff with a straight face?

Seniority, on the other hand, E4E wishes to abolish altogether. Again, they wish to do this not for reasons of selfishness, mind you, nor to please their pay masters but for the kids who deserve the best teachers.

And E4E, saintly and wise beyond their years, knows exactly who they are and how to identify them.

As Gates and Broad and Bloomberg know, even if the idiots running E4E do not, the abolition of either of tenure or seniority would spell the death of the union. That same union that, somehow, E4E is not against.

It would also instantly usher in an era in which teachers would be virtually defenseless against a growing army of vindictive and clueless administrators, already growing like a cancer due to absurd institutions such as Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s similar “academy” for instant superintendents. Both, needless to say, have been created exclusively to stock as many schools and school systems as possible with the monstrosities that are the logical result of the insane idea of the principal as a CEO.

Somehow, according to E4E, teachers stripped of rights and due process would create a world that would be better for kids, a world where teachers could be free to put students first. Somehow this world would then attract and retain dedicated professionals such as themselves. Just as importantly, such a world would repulse and reveal all those clock-watching scumbags who seem to surround them and make them so sad.

They know. They have been full time teaching for three years.

Is it merely a coincidence that the policies lusted after by Gates, the Wal-Mart family, Democrats for Education Reform, Eli Broad and Mike Bloomberg’s DOE and every other union busting organization in the nation and the polices sought by E4E are exactly the same?

Not similar, here and there, mind you, but exactly the same?

Consider too E4E’s desire for the scam called “merit pay.” Forget for a moment that ample evidence shows that merit pay makes no difference whatsoever in what is chillingly called “student achievement.”

Consider too that if there is a way to distribute merit pay fairly it has yet to be discovered. Consider then that merit pay gives teachers every incentive to game the system, garner the best students, avoid those most in need, and destroy the collaboration necessary for any decent school environment to function, never mind flourish.

In short, the desires of E4E – which are the desires of every privatizer in the US of A – are fundamentally and profoundly opposed to the ethos of solidarity and fraternity that is at the core of any true union. And anyone who has any knowledge or understanding of what a union is — or for that matter of basic history — would find these positions and these people repulsive.

They would also find the attempt to pass them off as anything but repulsive as contemptuous.

The Post’s love letter to E4E centered on a “conversation” between the followers of E4E and UFT President Michael Mulgrew, whom the paper slanders as often as possible. I must admit that I was mystified why a man of Mulgrew’s statute and intelligence would dignify this ridicules and miniscule group with a meeting. Still, I must assume he had his reasons. From all accounts, the meeting was unremarkable – except for something former Chancellor Joel Klein said to Mulgrew before his the Klein’s departure: “Chancellor Klein told me before he left: ‘I’m going to pit new teachers against older teachers and I’m going to do it by trying to make it look like we’re doing layoffs.’”

Despite the fact that city officials immediately denied that Klein ever said this, the statement rings true to me. Very true.

In fact, after I read it the idea came to me that Klein may well have been referring to Mr. Stone and Ms. Morris. How else to explain the fact that two teachers three years into the job are allowed to work one day a week in a public school system? How is that possible? Who is permitting it? On what grounds? Who is protecting these horrible people?

One hint can be found in a Gotham Schools post of last year, which tells of E4E throwing a party to celebrate the DOE’s announcement that there would be no teacher lay offs. And who was their guest of honor? Why none other than that friend of teachers everywhere — party animal Joel Klein!

Can you imagine any self-respecting teacher in all of NYC inviting this loathsome person to your party? Can you imagine Joel Klein showing up at a party held by any other group of teachers besides these champion ass kissers? Klein, mind you, is the man who needed police protection at PEP hearings.

The more you look at E4E the sleazier it gets. Nothing makes sense with these people or this organization. Nothing, that is, except that in exchange for being shameless shills for their billionaire backers and conscious operatives hired to undermine the UFT as much as possible, they will be given extraordinary privileges, protections and recompense.

Their work situation with the DOE should be investigated forthwith. It stinks to high heaven and points to collusion with the DOE.

Creatures of zero imagination, creativity and integrity, Mr. Stone and Ms Morris are of no importance in themselves for in themselves they are but ciphers and nothings who can only echo the weasel words of their masters and employers. What importance they and E4E does have is in what they reveal. What they reveal is the fragmentation of this nation. What they reveal is the logic of so many dwelling in perpetual survival mode where empathy is not and life is “an endless war of one man against all others.” What they reveal is a moral and spiritual void where only power over others is honored. What they reveal is the alignment of much of the media with the most anti democratic forces and individuals in the nation.

Above all these two fools reveal the ruthlessness of the dangerously rich who believe it is their right to strip us of our rights and to impose their will upon all they can, however they can. Mr. Stone and Ms. Morris are merely two willing and utterly shameless collaborators in that process. And rest assured, neither one of these “revolutionaries” have any intention whatsoever of working under the conditions they are demanding for others. Their job now is to tell others how to do their job — and how to put children first, of course.

They need to be exposed, all of them, as people who loathe democracy and the freedom of anyone other than themselves.