Posts Tagged 'education reform'

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.

Reflections On Disgust and Cynicism

February 24, 2013

Am I the only one to have noticed this recent phenomenon? You know, the ascendency of Republican women in the social vandalism sweepstakes. I’m thinking here of the Bachmanns and Coulters on the national stage and the cadre currently inhabiting the New Mexico Roundhouse and state offices. The Spanky-Mama vandals who are taking over from their men, baring their teeth, and going after civility and comity. Maybe the boys just aren’t up to the task.

Some recent New Mexico examples:
1.    (Monica Youngblood) A New Mexican woman legislator who commented that the minimum wage should not be raised because it apparently leads people to enjoy poverty. Perhaps she should try poverty and see if she’s been missing something.
2.    (Cathrynn Brown) Famous for her stealth attempt to criminalize victims of rape and incest seeking abortions. She also voted against extending the deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
3.    (Diana Duran) Our Secretary of State delayed voter confirmation for a year until the election cycle – “What? – Who? – Me?”
4.    (Nora Espinoza) She proposed a constitutional amendment to “define marriage” as being between a man and a woman. She was also a cosigner to Brown’s rape-and-incest end-run. Not to forget Nora’s attempt to make it a felony to enforce federal firearms laws.
5.    (Hanna Skandera) Author of a long list of destructive strategies and efforts to destroy public education de facto and de jure as the Secretary Designate of Public Education. Her mandate comes from the legislative committee that hasn’t had the courage to vote her up or down, thus giving tacit approval to her work.
6.    (Susana Martinez)  The governor who loves all of them.

Like the historic Vandals who sacked Rome in AD 455, these latter-day vandals are hell-bent on senseless destruction of the social contract out of a general disrespect and disregard for others. It’s a well-fed country-club matron’s mentality that all those of lesser circumstances are there by their own fault, lack of ambition, effort, and intelligence.

Monica Youngblood, a New Mexico Republican legislator who wants to see “people strive”; she wants to see them “aspire to be more than minimum wage.” In the meantime we must assume that by her dictate they and their families must live in poverty. This is as cynical an attitude as I can imagine. It reminds me of Marie Antoinette’s “let-them-eat-cake” remark. Youngblood “wants” to see impoverished people strive and aspire, as if it is imaginable that people aspire to live in poverty.

Cathrynn Brown, the New Mexican Republican legislator who tried to slide her legislation through the system to punish, to criminalize, in fact, women who abort a fetus caused by rape, is a cynic of apparently generous proportions. When called out she laid blame on someone else for not expressing her real intent when drafting her legislation—neglecting to say that she signed the bill after it was drafted and then introduced it with a bevy of other eager Republican women legislators on board. How cynical is that? Are we to believe that Republican women legislators do not read the legislation they sign on to. One has to wonder.

We also have the spectacle of a Republican woman governor and a Republican woman Secretary Designate of Public Education proposing the antediluvian, draconian and discredited educational policy of retention of third-grade students who fail to learn to read on an arbitrary schedule. Both the governor and her secretary designate are cynically engaged in the process of privatizing New Mexico public schools, using a variety of tactics including intimidating teachers with Gestapo-like raids and starving funds to such an extent that New Mexico has earned first place in the US for the largest reduction in public education budgets.

This essay is as much about moral disgust as it is about the specific behaviors of society matrons and matron wannabes with their mink cuffs and collars as they denigrate the society that supports them. Charles Darwin in his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, wrote that disgust refers to a reaction to the quality of something revolting. Disgust is a basic emotion, a response to things that are fundamentally and viscerally offensive. Among the varieties of disgust is moral disgust—a revulsion to certain behaviors, comments and attitudes. Hence disgust expresses my response to the behaviors and comments of Republican women politicians as described above.

What can be said of a society wherein elected officials mistrust the very society they ran for office to represent, or of politicians, national and local, who stuff their PACs with money from generous donors who want favors done? Does one have to be cynical to ascribe cynical motives to that sort of cynical behavior? What kind of society does this lead to but one underlain with cynicism? And, it certainly cannot be a civil society.

Franklin Roosevelt’s agenda, inspired by the “Great Depression,” between 1933 and 1936 was characterized by an intent to alter social conditions. Just as certainly it wasn’t intended to oppress or denigrate the middle or lower classes of society. So much of the good for working people that followed sprang from the many programs Roosevelt’s “New Deal” put into place that were in most considerations successful in lifting people out of the oppressive poverty of the Depression. Which Depression I will point out wasn’t caused by working-class people anymore than the recent stock market and bad mortgage crisis was.

People who earn minimum wage do not cause financial crises; greedy, cynical, wealthy people do that with the help of legislators both national and local, which “help” falls into the category of cynicism by definition. When people run for political office because they have an agenda to somehow alter society in a regressive and oppressive nature we have a serious problem on our hands and a problem which historically has led to serious and widespread social unrest.

The Skandera Scam

Time is of the essence in addressing education and the machinations of the New Mexico Public Education Department and its conservative allies such as the Rio Grande Foundation to undermine and replace public education with privatized for-profit schools. Nowhere is the devolution of the American social contract more evident and more tragic in its consequences than the attack on public education. Public schooling has become a target for every know-nothing politician, up-and-coming right–wing operative and demagogue with an agenda and looking for attention across the country – not to mention campaign contributors from special interest groups. Political campaigns against public education are being fueled and funded by right-wing foundations, alliances, institutions and so forth with one objective – to privatize public education. To turn public schools into profit centers.

New Mexico does not have a legitimate Secretary of Education. We have an “acting” secretary, a secretary designate, and brother, is she ever “acting,” especially on behalf of her out-of-state sponsors and benefactors. She is also “acting” in that she has absolutely no credentials as an educator; she is, in truth, a Trojan horse for the school privatization cartel. Hannah Skandera came to New Mexico with an agenda, and she has pursued it relentlessly, with the help of the Rio Grande Foundation, enabling that organization to front for the online charter schools —New Mexico Connections Academy. In a moment of rare candor she once excused herself by saying that she perhaps needed to have learned more about New Mexico before introducing so many “reforms”. Yeah!  Right!

The governor, for her part, also a non-expert on childhood education, has beat her drums for retention in grade for third-grade students who fail to learn to read on someone else’s schedule. Anyone who drags this tired fossil out of its well-deserved mummification deserves banishment from any position where they might have contact with students and teachers. In Finland, where they boast one of the world’s most successful public education systems, they don’t even have grades between primary and secondary levels. In Union City, New Jersey the school system was in shambles and the state was poised to take over the system. Today, they have a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent, which is 10 percentage points above the national average. How did they do it? With third-grade retention? Absolutely not! No teachers were fired, parents were integrated into the programs; there are neither charter schools nor “Teach for America” operatives in the system either. They start pre-kindergarten with as many 3- and 4-year-olds as possible. What’s their “secret”?  Respecting good teachers, bringing parents into the process, setting high expectations, while at the same time working with children as individuals.

As I wrote some time ago, Skandera was hired as a pay-back to Gov. Martinez’s election contributors. Prior to moving to New Mexico, and after serving on Jeb Bush’s staff, the young lady was given a plum job in Texas running a private training school, Laying the Foundation. The mission of Laying The Foundation is to train individuals to replace real teachers on the cheap. Skandera has no education credentials whatsoever but she does have political credentials in abundance – she was and still is a trusted operative, a foot soldier, in the public school privatization movement led nominally by her former employer, Jeb Bush. Since her appointment here, Skandera has appeared at numerous conventions and conferences across the country organized around the idea of public school privatization, sharing the stage with such notable sharks as Rupert Murdoch, who once exclaimed his enthusiasm for the education business as a multi-million dollar opportunity.

The grade school non-scandal perpetrated by Skandera is a good example of her tactics and how little respect she has for public education and teachers. Officials from Skandera’s office conducted a Gestapo-style “raid” at Albuquerque’s Sierra Vista Elementary school on the pretext that teachers were gaming the testing system. The school’s teaching day was disrupted, substitute teachers had to be brought in, teachers were cross-examined, and in the end the PED issued a letter stating that while no crimes were found the school and teachers had better well be careful – or else. This raid, in the PED’s own words, was based on “circumstantial evidence” and “hearsay.” Brilliant! No! Disrespectful? Yes!

So, the question is: What is this all about?

The answer: Money!

Money for whom? Money for people like Rupert Murdoch and Jeb Bush and, of course, campaign contributions to the governor’s PAC.

There is no need here to enumerate more instances of Skandera’s disrespect for children, teachers, administrators, the New Mexico Public Education Commission and just about anyone else not signed on to her political agenda. Skandera has been engaged in a relentless campaign to privatize public education from her first day in New Mexico, and she is gaining on it every day. For delivering New Mexico into the hands of the privatizers Skandera will no doubt be handsomely rewarded with another public education department assignment in a vulnerable state or a comfortable sinecure at one of their numerous front foundations or propaganda think-tanks.

The matter once again rests in the hands of the New Mexico Senate Rules Committee. Will they punt Skandera’s nomination again or will they man-up and send her packing? The governor, for her part, needs to commission the PEC to conduct a thorough search for candidates with proper academic credentials and experience as opposed to canvasing donors for political hacks.

For the children, teachers, parents, communities, and for the future of New Mexico, the stakes are high.


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