Posts Tagged 'education reform'

Weaponizing Children

 It has been done before – weaponizing children. Of course in the US  we aren’t talking about explosive belts but about the use of children to undermine public education and further political ambition. The term “social conservative” is a case of contradiction – what is being conserved has not to do with society at large. What is being conserved and expanded is wealth for a relative few while the remainder of society is being disenfranchised and impoverished – slowly perhaps but inexorably. And the impoverishment goes beyond money as it destroys dignity and self-respect. Taking over public education is an instrument of impoverishment, a weapon directed against children with a larger and more important strategic goal down the road when they become adults – the social contract. Third grade retention is only one tactic of that strategy.

People don’t often think of the social contract per se even though it influences every aspect of their lives, much less do they link third grade retention to that contract. One can suppose this is similar to fish not being aware of the water they are immersed in. The water is there and taken for granted. We live in society, we interact with others and with social institutions to such an extent that their existence apart from us isn’t any more noticeable than the air we breathe. Who thinks about the double yellow line on the highway? You simply don’t pass cars ahead of you unless … and that “unless” is what we are concerned with here. Personal awareness becomes acute when the contract is violated as when a car passes you in a no-passing zone and is confronted by an oncoming vehicle with no place to retreat save to cut you off. The purpose of double yellow lines is made obvious and the anti-social aspect of the passing driver’s behavior immediate and personal.

A less obvious example is when politicians use pubic education to further anti-social agendas. Third grade retention as punishment for not learning to read at an arbitrary rate is a classic example. In no rational world is it writ that any child must learn to read by the time they are in third grade, by fourth grade, or for that matter, that they should be prohibited from reading in second grade. This “rule” exists for no reason other than as administrative convenience. Human beings exist as individuals  and each individual learns different skills at a rate particular to them. That is a fact and not amenable to politics. This truth may very well be inconvenient but is immutable. Some children warm to arithmetic at an early age but when older cannot learn algebra much less understand differential equations. Are we to consider someone who doesn’t understand differential equations less educated or less intelligent than someone who does? Of course not. After all, you don’t have to know or understand differential equations to be a brain surgeon. It isn’t that differential equations is as fundamental as learning to read but is illustrative of the broad variations in human intellect and understanding.

Having been educated as a mathematician and having known more than a few I do not believe mathematicians are necessarily more basically intelligent than biologists, chemists, philosophers or diesel mechanics. In fact I have known mechanics who were quite a bit more broadly intelligent than some math majors I’ve known. So what is it then with this crusade to punish kids for not being good readers by the end of third grade? In short it is politics and shameful politics at that. It is nothing but pandering and using children as weapons in the war to privatize yet another covenant of the social contract.

Educating children  is a matter of public interest, public concern, and most importantly public responsibility for the simple reason that an educated polity is of vital necessity to the survival of democracy. A society needs citizens who understand their role in governance more than it needs mathematicians. A society needs people who can think critically, ask good questions, and see their way through political rhetoric to a logical conclusion – in short a society depends on people with well developed crap detectors to survive. Corporatized education will produce, in its own best interests, non-thinkers who will also not read well in third grade but they will do what they are told and believe what they are told to believe. They will become de facto soldiers in the relentless war against democracy.

Susana’s Trojan Horse

Here we go again, more of the relentless pursuit of public education, public school teachers, and the future of New Mexico’s children. The Governor’s empty meme about ending social promotion is intended to appeal to an audience that knows nothing about teaching and learning. Holding kids back is not educating them — it is humiliating them and nothing more. Public humiliation of children is not and never was, a proper or true pedagogical method. Although devoid of valid educational content third grade retention is a useful Trojan Horse. And, like that legendary ruse it is hollow and full of danger. Grade retention creates more resentment than any positive educational outcome, it is simply antedeluvian, so why do it? If reading by third grade is some sort of holy grail, and there is no objective proof that it is, then the proper response is to determine why a kid isn’t learning and deal with that. Grade levels are arbitrary, they are merely inventions for administrative convenience. Everyone, including the Governor and her nominee for Secretary of Education, learns at her own rate – obviously a bit slowly in some cases perhaps but with proper pedagogy she can learn.

This war on education that has nothing to do with improving public schools. It has only one objective – privatization. No Child Left Behind, Common Core, charter schools, one Trojan Horse after another. Test this, test that, tests and more tests to no end but to prove public schools are failing. Failing what? Failing to put money in the pockets of the so-called reformers like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch boys. It is nothing less than creating a crisis and offering a solution to it; exactly like starting a fire, pretending to be putting it out, and attracting a lot of public attention. What better way to put wannabe presidential hopefuls into the public eye than to label them education reformers?

While it is true public education could stand thorough and thoughtful discussion, that doesn’t justify the perfidy expressed by today’s self-identifying Republican reformers. The motives, as separate from objectives, are first and foremost profit and secondly – self-promotion. The desired objective – social control by way of dumbing down the public. If you can create a population with few or weak critical thinking skills, they become easy to manipulate. How better to achieve this than by controlling public education and turning it into an assembly line producing the compliant “good” citizens you need. Does this seem totally paranoid to you? Think again. Fox “News” is a good example of this manipulation.

Certainly a well educated thoughtful citizenry would not be willing to go along easily with destroying social security, health care, public safety, safe food, and safe consumer products. A thoughtful activist population is anathema to the relentless quest for profit and accumulated wealth. Consider that the richest of the rich already pay little or no taxes while the middle-class bears the burden. Wealthy individuals and corporations can stash their wealth off-shore because they are “smarter” than the general public and they have the best tax advisors money can buy. In their view, only suckers pay taxes. And, if you can really dumb people down they won’t even notice they are being used as lackeys. Make sure they can buy (on credit) snowmobiles, motor homes, huge screen TVs, one new gadget after another that no one needs – keep them distracted, keep them entertained and they will be willing happy campers. Temporarily lower gasoline prices and people will run out to buy large gas-guzzling pick-up trucks. Stimulus and response. The drones will keep making their installment payments and the cash will flow into offshore accounts. If people can’t make their payments repossess the goodies and sell them to someone else. It’s all good.

Once the “reformers” have their tentacles wrapped firmly around whatever it is they want, the chances of the public regaining it are slim to none. That includes public education because the ultimate objective is privatization and nothing to do with educating children. While billionaires are drooling behind the curtains providing campaign funds, their shameless lackeys are out beating the drums and promoting themselves as educational reformers on the backs of children. It doesn’t take much really, a little vigorish here and there, a thousand here a thousand there, and soon it’s real money – but peanuts actually compared to the possible return-on-investment. Schools, teachers, national education organizations have been forced into a rear guard war against a monster machine that intends to roll over them in the endless quest for profit on the one hand and self-promotion on the other. Never mind the consequences for the American social contract. (Or what’s left of it.)

Public education is vulnerable. Governors and other politicians with presidential ambitions have put schools in a free-fire zone where nothing is logical or sacred. Politicians with no background or experience as educators use issues like third grade retention to draw attention to themselves. The Trojan Horses are being rolled through the gates. Stop them now or lose public education.

The Is and Isn’tness of Public Education

It Isn’t About Children

It’s not about children, people and it’s not about education. It’s about profit. Don’t let anyone, including Arne Duncan, tell you otherwise. The Rupert Murdochs, the Koch boys, the Michael Moes and other billionaires wouldn’t be stuffing vast sums of money into political campaign coffers unless they expected a commensurate ROI. There’s a public money jugular out there and investors are salivating. As Moe himself recently explained, “We see the education industry [my emphasis] today as the healthcare industry of 30 years ago.” He is referring to the American healthcare industry which can’t climb beyond 26th place out of 30 countries, and where the cost of an MRI can range anywhere from $335 to $2844.

The Oxford dictionary definition of industry is “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.” Schools as factories, children as raw materials to be manufactured into goods as a form of economic or commercial activity? Does that fit your definition of education?

In the US, monied interests have always exerted influence on public education, but much more directly now that investors are salivating for access to an “industry” of government-enabled testing and corporatized alternative schools. Billionaires are financing political campaigns and candidates, placing operatives in key administrative positions in state education departments. Listen to Rupert Murdoch: “When it comes to K-through-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Who is desperate?

Education reform is now the big target after healthcare. In both cases, equating education and healthcare with industry, humanity is displaced by venality. Education is being drowned in an alphabet soup of meaningless, cleverly contrived names depicting cleverly contrived meaningless programs. No Child Left Behind and Common Core are about business models, not about children. The case of Washington State recently losing its federal carrot for not conforming to Duncan’s Dictates gives lie to any pretense that this is about children learning. Kids in Washington are learning alright, but without the onerous evaluation regimens and pointless methodologies, such as the “counting up” method of subtraction taught in Common Core schools. To their credit, many more states than Washington are pushing back and putting children first.

This IS About Children

Because there are no easy procedural, political, or curricular solutions, public education has been an easy sell for simplistic solutions since colonial times. There are, however, at least three non-simplistic, fundamental reforms which could be implemented to good effect given the courage and determination to carry them out. The first involves innate learning ability, the matter of recognizing basic intelligence. Politicians won’t talk about differences in innate ability because parents vote, and all their children are wonderful and above average. Also because of social and political taboos, educators will not risk alienating parents.

It is just common sense to acknowledge that some children learn faster than others. Some will learn math, reading, or science faster than their classmates. This is no different from a child being a better first baseman than his or her classmates. Schools do talk candidly about athletic skills and, more importantly, they discriminate on that basis without reprisal. It’s a different story altogether, however, when it comes to intellectual ability. No matter what cleverly marketed standard academic achievement tests are applied to children across the board, holding teachers to the charade is fundamentally dishonest. It is unfair to teachers and, even more so, to students who are thus denied appropriate individualized approaches to learning.

The artifices of grade levels from first to twelfth could be done away with and replaced by individualized growth levels and programs allowing for the cognitive and motivational differences between children. This would be true “no child left behind”- every child could ascend at his or her own rate and motivation – there would be no contrived “behind”. Children should not have to suffer the indignity of being held back simply because the system could not do better at serving them. It’s adults who are failing not children.

Second, we seldom hear discussions about how public schools are organized even though school organization is a key factor in their lack of success. Simply put, the wrong people are running schools, and it’s an inverted hierarchy that has crippled education for years. Schools need to be organized around teachers and students, not overpaid and over-empowered bureaucrats. Teachers should determine, according to set standards, curriculum, the evaluation of learners and faculty, and school policy. Administrators should exist to serve the teaching staff – serve being the operative word.

The third reform involves parents. Parents must be held to account for their children’s interest and motivation in the process of schooling. Teachers with classrooms full of students cannot be held responsible for matters essentially parental. It does indeed take a community to fully and truly educate children, and the process starts at home.

The process of schooling cannot be replaced by testing, nor by demonizing teachers or allowing parents to transfer their responsibilities to schools. Thanks, but no thanks, Arne, you are wrong, tragically wrong about all of this. Kids in too many schools are spending their time learning to take tests with real education taking the hind seat, if any seat at all.  When education is drained of its humanizing values and reduced to meaningless rote Pavlovian response, we are creating a nation of sheep.

No matter how you slice it, this present “reform” movement is not about children. It’s about money and most importantly, that is what has to change.

The Betrayal of New Mexico Public Education

Betrayal is an interesting word with many connotations. Generally the word is taken to mean the violation of some form of contract, trust, or confidence – a breech of faith. In my opinion, the children, parents, and teachers of New Mexico were betrayed by the passing on of Hanna Skandera to continue her odious mission in the office of Secretary of Education.

Skandera is a gift that keeps on giving who came to us courtesy of the current Governor’s billionaire campaign contributors including $10,000.00 directly from the Koch boys and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors Association which was gifted with $1 million also from the Kochs.

Skandera, lacks even the most basic of qualifications for the position she holds, the authority she wields and she is paid $125,000.00 a year – more than any classroom teacher could ever dream of earning. Is it ironic that Skandera could not be hired as a classroom teacher in a New Mexico public school? The New Mexico requirements for a teaching certificate at the elementary level are:

1.  A Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university.

2.  30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching.

3.  6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01.

4.  A minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics,language arts,reading, history and so forth.

A starting teacher, having met the qualifications above makes on average $32,000.00. Skandera has not met these minimum qualifications and yet is paid 4 times what a qualified starting teacher is paid. Consider for a moment the inversion of values expressed in this distortion. Consider also how insulting and demoralizing it is to be evaluated by a political operative who is less qualified and less experienced than you are.

Skandera was a foot-soldier for one of the major proponents of for-profit public education, Jeb Bush and his coterie of “reformers”, coming as she did from Florida where teachers have been harassed and made miserable to the point of resignation. Many well qualified and dedicated Florida public school teachers quit rather than endure the harassment. Of course Bush doesn’t know anything more about education than do his minions – what they do know is that public education is a soft target and there’s lots of money to made privatizing it.

School teachers are not known to be hard line activists and teaching results are not linear with regard to children’s ages and individual abilities across a school population thus making teachers held to so-called “objective standards” vulnerable. There is, of course, no such thing as a “standard” child but standardized tests are rationalized as ammunition to attack teachers. Also, teacher unions are not famous for weeding out their weak and incompetent colleagues. A quick look at New York City’s infamous  “rubber rooms” confirms that, so there is plenty of blame to go around. Teachers unions desperately need, as do unions such as carpenters and plumbers and electricians do,  to weed out incompetence. This would require in-union testing and rating just as journey-men carpenters have to pass their union’s internal testing regimes. The resulting ratings are unassailable.

However, no matter how you calculate the situation, destruction of public education and replacing it with for-profit assembly lines is clearly not the answer to the question of school reform nor are major initiatives with clever propaganda-like, dissembling names such as  “No Child Left Behind” which have been exposed for the scams they are. Our current President and his hoops playing buddy  are just as dangerous and have been as harmful to public education as Republicans. Neoliberals are like Trojan Horses welcomed within the gates of civility but containing barbarians.

While Republican Senator Mark Moores of Albuquerque considers the day a victory for Skandera it is, at the same time, a terrible and tragic loss for the children and their families, our dedicated teachers, and the schools and communities of New Mexico. They have all been betrayed and at great cost to the embattled social contract which requires children to be educated by and for the community — not by corporations. The future of public education in New Mexico has been betrayed as well and the only apparent solution is an unrelenting effort to unseat Martinez and her gang and send the carpet-baggers packing in the next election. It can be done – it must be done.

Enough Already!

In physical science the term “saturated” means a system cannot dissolve more of what is being added the inevitable result being a falling out of or refusal to enter solution. I don’t know about you but I am nearly saturated by the daily tide of one miserable report after another chronicling the unrelenting assault on the American social contract. It has become nearly impossible to keep abreast of and assimilate the outrages. From one end of the country to the other, from border to border, conservative and neo-conservative led legislatures, national, state, county, and municipal, millionaires and billionaires all seem hell bent on turning this country into some sort of religious, socially retarded, antediluvian police state with voting restricted to churchgoing Christian white people who always have enough to eat. It’s a revolution of sorts orchestrated by wealthy sociopaths and their corrupt politician lackeys. How can this not lead to what Barbara Tuchmann called a “dementia of despair”?

It’s as though a plague of locusts has descended on the country and I wonder if perhaps we have somehow brought this on ourselves. Have we have sinned like Sodom and Gomorrah such that we must now pay suffering these sociopaths?   Companies like Monsanto are determined to shove genetically modified foods down everyone’s gullet. As fracking contaminates water tables Nestle is spreading their gospel that no one is entitled to free clean water. And a cast of characters from the Koch boys to Rupert Murdoch are salivating for privatized public education buying governors and, in return, having their operatives placed  in state government education offices.

Orson Welles once said that he had all the “equipment necessary to be a politician. Total shamelessness.” Representative Louie Gohmert a Texas Republican compares the civil rights of minorities to the rights of “ the snail darter, various lizards, the lesser prairie chicken, …. and so many other insects, …”. Darrel Issah declares that President Obama “has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern time.”. And where else but on the Rush Limbaugh show? Mitch McConnell is deliberately, by his own admission, destroying the civil legislative process out of spite. And it isn’t just shameless  politicians stuffing their PACs with corporate money — that sort of dirty business has been going on long before it was institutionalized by Tammany Hall — it’s that it has since become expected, it has become a yawn. Corruption has become the norm — business as usual.

Beyond the corruption of individual politicians the country is now waking up to the reality that everyone is being spied on by our own government. I’m old enough to remember how we demonized the Soviet Union for exactly the same behavior, how their domestic spying was held up to inspire our domestic loyalty. We couldn’t let them to win the Cold War because then we would be living in  a surveillance state, a police state. We have become what we were once told we were defending ourselves against. The NSA is collecting your phone calls, your email, your online searches — your postal mail is photographed by the US Post Office, even your bookstore purchases are collected. And that information will be stored indefinitely. In fact they hold so much information about us that, at our expense, they are building a $1.7 billion facility in Utah to hold it all. Good Morning America. Wake up. You live in a surveillance state.

You are also living in a police state. Secret courts accountable to no one oversee the spying and the subjects, people like you and me, have no recourse. Watch footage of the policing of the Occupy Movement across the country. Helmeted cops wearing body armor in armored vehicles looking like an army of Darth Vader’s storm troopers, tear gas quickly deployed just as in the Vietnam War protests but more efficiently and thoroughly. Of course the protestors are also photographed for later identification. Do you remember Jamie Dimon, the JP Morgan Chase CEO, handing out a $4.6 million “donation” (Was it a bonus  perhaps?) to the New York Police Department during the 2012 Occupy demonstrations? Or how about millionaire John Boehner’s charming and disingenuous assertion that populist movements like Occupy are creating class-warfare in America. There’s some chutzpa for you. Good Morning, America. Are you yawning?

The American belief system and its social contract have been attacked, compromised, and damaged in significant ways and not by external enemies. Enemies are required to provide the glue to hold ideological structures together and in the past the enemies were external. Now we are become the necessary enemy – the necessary glue. We have become the suspects and we are not in charge. Perhaps we never have been in charge, perhaps it has always been a delusion. Who can say? Who can do more than ask the question? As Alasdair McIntyre observed, “our social order is in a very literal  sense out of our, and indeed anyone’s, control. No one is or could be in charge.” I suspect the President isn’t completely in charge nor are the dysfunctional on-the-take politicians in Washington DC and across the United States. You can be sure, however, someone somewhere is pulling the strings.

As enemies provide the glue of ideological structures, belief systems are the glue of social contracts. The problem here is that in thecontradictions lies a mine field of meaninglessness, a slippery slope to pervasive nihilism that overcomes people who have given up trying to make sense of the world around them. In other words, the “dementia of despair”. There becomes less and less to believe in because less and less proves true or is even comprehensible and this leads inevitably to disbelief. With the loss of belief, the social contract built on that foundation becomes fatally undermined and finally abandoned in the final chapter of dystopia.

I close this essay with a 1954 quote from General Dwight Eisenhower, a quote the 44th president ought to meditate on: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman and they are stupid.”Amen, Brother. Enough, Already!

The Continuing Skandera Saga.

The current impasse in the Skandera confirmation hearings takes me back to the very first article I wrote for the now defunct NMPolitics. At that time I noted Skandera’s total lack of background as an educator; she has no background in education, no teaching experience, no track record other than as a professional political operative working for Jeb Bush and his efforts to privatize (read: profitize) public education.

That first article was in March 2011 and here we are in March 2013 with no resolution of this continuing travesty. Skandera’s damage to New Mexico’s public education from Gestapo-like raids on elementary schools to brazenly over-riding the PEC, validating charter schools sponsored by rent-seeking political hacks, and a lot of time on the public stage around the country, indeed even internationally, beating the drums for privatizing public education are all a matter of record. I said then and I’ll say again, “Approving Ms. Skandera’s appointment will be a step backward..” Since then Ms. Skandera and the Governor have been thumbing their noses at the children, the public, educators, and legislators. What’s behind this?

One thing and one thing alone: PROFIT

First of all, Ms. Martinez received a great deal of money from out-of-state donors in her run for governor. The people who “donated” that money were investing not donating; a pay-back is expected. Whenever people like the WalMartians, the Kochs, ALEC, phony “foundations”, and others pursuing their dystopian social agenda for this country invest in you it’s like doing business with the Mafia. You owe. They are in the business of making money. Investments were made in the gubernatorial election and again in the recent mid-term election. In this past round the Governor used her donations in attempts to oust several legislator incumbents but was successful in only a few. No slam dunk there and, so far, no slam dunk in getting Skandera approved.

Ms. Martinez has her sights on national prominence and maybe even a run on the Republican presidential ticket an ego fantasy that beggars the imagination. In this she is much like another deluded wannabe, Marco Rubio except she has to win at least this Secretary of Education post or else she’ll be riding off into the sunset of obscurity – from rising star wannabe to used-to-be. It will be the end of the road for Susana and her Svengalis, Behrens and McCleskey.

That they are being used to create an impression the Republican party is Hispanic friendly would never occur to Rubio or Martinez. Their egos are being pumped up but in the end it will the Bushes, the Romneys, and their ilk representing the GOP in the next national election; it wouldn’t be the Grand Old Party otherwise. Sorry chumps but you are allowing yourselves to be used and the question is not, what will you do but what won’t you do to grasp the proffered golden apple? Obviously public education is right up there on the list of sacrificial lambs.

The NM Senate Rules Committee and the Senate have an obligation to the public, to teachers, and to school children to not punt but to act bravely and with integrity. The New Mexico State Constitution is on your side as it clearly and unequivocally states the Secretary of Education must be a, “qualified, experienced educator.” The nominee is neither – case closed.

Senators Lopez, Ortiz y Pino, and Ivey-Soto have courageously  made the case thus far and deserve the admiration and gratitude of the public. They have mine.

Courage!

 

Read This!

http://truth-out.org/news/item/14930-why-are-walmart-billionaires-bankrolling-phony-school-reform-in-la

They are doing it all over the US. Why? Because uneducated people are more willing to work for WalMart without complaining than well educated.


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