Posts Tagged 'teacher unions'

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.

Crossroads – Questions Without Answers

Here are some questions that have been plaguing me for months: Why are people like the Koch boys and their wholly owned politicians on such a rampage to destroy the American social contract? What’s in it for them? After all, they and their friends have or control nearly all of the money and resources. And when they have it all then what? What is the point or purpose of such behavior? Does it even have a point or purpose? Is it a sickness? A mental disturbance? Why would anyone want to deprive other people of food and sustenance when they, themselves, have more than they need? What sort of gratification comes from denying health care to those who need it but can’t pay? As we follow this line of questioning we arrive at this:  Do we actually have core “American Values”? Have we ever?

What is even more disturbing is that the majority of those attacking the social contract are self-defined Christians. It is my understanding Christian teachings require compassion and identification with others. This is the so-called “Golden Rule” that one should treat others as one would want others to treat them. This “Rule” exists across history in nearly every religion around the world. So what kind of belief systems allow some people to act with complete disregard for others? Is it depravity? It certainly isn’t civilized. A suit and tie don’t confer civilized status – only behavior does that. The Pope, speaking out against the patent absence of moral standards that has created the current scenario was criticized by a right-wing radio show host who claimed the Pope to be a Communist. When the Pope comments about redistribution of wealth he is speaking as a moral being not as a politician.

If we cannot ask moral equations of ourselves or of our society without being labeled what does that say about us? Moral questions have been replaced by power, profit, and gain. It does’t seem to matter whether or not environmental safety questions are settled before fracking for oil and transporting it across oceans, prairies, or tundra. Safety is only a matter of whether or not litigation can be successfully defended against by your phalanx of lawyers and PR firms. This strategy is deemed cheaper than moral considerations of environmental, social, and human damages.

People lose their savings or lose their homes when the economy and markets tank. The government bails out bankers, “too big to fail”, who gambled away their depositors’ money with taxpayer money to the tune of billions of dollars. This is the taxonomy of greed in a society that once represented a shining shore of exceptionalism. Moral questions will not be asked here. Profit and loss take precedence over morality. This is what we have become.

A recent example of displacement of moral thought by legalism is one Barry Engle, a lawyer involved with off-shore trusts for people stashing their wealth, ill-gotten or otherwise, out of reach of the tax man. Engle made the following statement: “Lawyers can debate the morality of these trusts… My first duty is to my clients and my clients have a need.” Apparently “morality” is not Mr. Engle’s brief. (“Paradise of Untouchable Assets” Leslie Wayne, NYT 12/15/13) So, what is it that lawyers do if their “first duty” is to their clients and not to Justice? As I understand it, Justice serves the whole of society by protecting individuals from injustice. That Truth and Justice are held to be blind to social status is why Lady Justice is depicted as blindfolded and why lawyers supposedly have a sworn responsibility to serve that ideal.

If Justice has been undermined so too has religion been stripped of moral value. Case in point: Paul Ryan, the Republican, Alter Boy, Congressman who is working relentlessly to dismantle social safety nets, is a Catholic. My question is, to what extent has Ryan been informed by his religious beliefs? I don’t see a connection between the teachings of the Catholic prophet and Ryan’s behavior as a member of society. So far as I know, the prophet Jesus is nowhere depicted as a sociopath.

We will never have a just society without a sense of shared community. As Alasdair McIntyre put it: “In a society where there is no longer a shared conception of the community’s good for man, there can no longer be any very substantial concept of what it is to contribute more or less to the achievement of that good.” The United States seems to no longer qualify as having a shared conception of what is good.

Using their offices as instruments in service to the wealthy politicians are creating  a destructive social fractiousness. We have a society of rent-seekers – asking, “what’s in in for me?”.  It’s all about price not value. Using power to selfish ends isn’t confined to politics it operates within religious entities, trade unions, businesses, police departments – organizations led by individuals with insatiable appetites for wealth, fame, and power. Is this our new measure of life?

As the world turns there are so many questions and few and fewer answers. Volver … volver….

A Response to Joe Teacher

Joe Teacher’s editorial in the May 5-15 Santa Fe Reporter, “Evaluating The Evaluating” was a plea for reasonableness on the part of those who will be evaluating teachers in the coming school year. The evaluations will be in accordance with the requirements of Arne Duncan, President Obama’s hoops buddy cum Secretary of Education, and the New Mexico Secretary Designate of Education. Mr. Teacher, a non de plume one must imagine, makes an excellent and logically irrefutable case on behalf of teachers, teaching, and learning. But, sad to say, logic and reasonableness have nothing to do with logical irrefutability and the impending collision of private interests and public education.

In his essay Teacher gamely holds Governor Martinez harmless for the plans now about to unfold for New Mexico’s teachers. This, like much of his essay, is based on a false premise. In the first case this is not at all about Susana Martinez, who knows nothing about the process of teaching and learning and wouldn’t give a fig, except her political future is harnessed to it. What the Governor knows is how to get ahead in today’s Republican political milieu, how to toe the party line, and climb the ladder of success. What Mr. Teacher seems not to understand is that the Secretary Designate of Education is not really subordinate to the Governor but only to those who pushed her into that office by way of significant campaign donations with the ultimate mission of privatizing public education.

What Mr. Teacher seems not to grasp is that his personal experience with and caring about students is not part of the privatization big picture. Eventually, Mr. Teacher, all classroom teachers will be deemed ineffective as they have been and are so deemed in states across the country where Republican governors are paying off their campaign debts by putting working-class labor unions out of business, and putting private school operators like Rupert Murdoch into business. Mr. Teacher is correct, however, in saying “New Mexico teachers are in for some big changes. ” You bet they are, my friend, and so are parents when they discover they have been locked out of the schooling process, and so too are students who will be treated like Skinnerian pigeons and pawns in a game of education Monopoly.

In Wisconsin the proletariat are pushing back against the Koch boys’ puppet, Gov. Scott Walker. A recall election is being held to dump Mr. Walker and a few Republican legislators by gathering several times the required number of signatures needed to call for the new election. Democracy in action, folks! Wisconsin Democrats have just settled, via a primary, on their candidate, and the Koch brothers are sparing nothing to fund their boy Walker. Walker has been on the road for weeks recently, speaking around the country to Republican loyalists about his short career as Wisconsin governor, no doubt pocketing hefty speaking fees to help pay for his re-election efforts. I suppose this could be construed as a contemporary version of American Democracy, the People vs. the Money.

In his essay, Mr. Teacher points out the unreasonableness of the pending teacher evaluations, and all of his points are  well taken. No evaluation will take into account kids from homes with one or no parents, kids from homes where parents don’t give a damn about learning and schooling, except as a place to hold kids for part of the day. No account is taken in the teacher evaluations of kids from homes where three square meals a day are not the norm, where parents have drug habits, and the evaluation approach thus punishes teachers for these realities over which they have no control. As I have pointed out earlier, Mr. Teacher, this is not about you, pal. This is not about kids. This is not about teaching and learning. This is about profit and political ambition on both sides of the political aisle. This is the ALEC assault on public education and what’s left of American democracy.

This post first appeared at: Light of New Mexico

Occupying The Narrative

OK, folks, today’s assignment will be to explore the influence in your home state by an organization called ALEC, or American Legislative Exchange Council, and what to do about it.

Let’s begin with a little quiz:

1. Are you aware of the Washington DC-based organization, ALEC, which is funded by the largest corporations and wealthiest individuals in the U.S.?

2. Are you aware that ALEC exists to write what they euphemistically call “model legislation” to hand to your elected officials for them to introduce to your legislature for the purpose of passing business-friendly laws which will govern your life and the education of your children? No mention will be made that these new laws were created in Washington DC and not by your legislator.

3. Do you know that New Mexico’s ABCD-F Act is based on ALEC model legislation and that every bill having to do with education in the 2012 Legislature was originated by ALEC as “model legislation”?

4. Are you aware that the highly publicized Occupy-crashed banquet in Santa Fe was hosted by ALEC for sympathetic legislators?

5. Do you know about the all-expenses-paid sojourns at exclusive resorts to encourage legislators to introduce and pass ALEC-provided “model legislation”?

Does any of this trouble you? I hope so. It certainly bothers me.

A group of legislators in Wisconsin have now introduced a bill that would require that organizations which introduce legislation through compliant legislators register themselves as lobbyists. I would call it the “Truth in Legislating Act.” The story, reported in the Madison Capital Times on Feb. 17, quoted the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Mark Pocan:  “ALEC is like a speed dating service for lonely legislators and corporate executives. … The corporations write bills and legislators sign their names to the bills. In the end, we’re stuck with bad laws and nobody knows where they came from.” It goes without saying that this form of legislative monkey business is patently dishonest and it seems to be endemic across the U.S. as legislators are wined and dined by ALECian lobbyists, fat-cat donors to their political campaigns who also designate individuals to be appointed to critical positions of authority (e.g. our very own Hanna Skandera) at the state level. This same pattern has been seen in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states, as well as New Mexico.

The authors, of a March 2012 Phi Delta Kappan article, Julie Underwood and Julie Mead, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wondered how such a consistent pattern of legislation could appear across the country. “How could elected officials in multiple states suddenly introduce essentially the same legislation?” they asked. Their conclusion after considerable research shows ALEC to be behind it. The UW-Madison professors, no fans of the organization’s motives, wrote that “ALEC’s positions on various education issues make it clear that the organization seeks to undermine public education by systematically defunding and ultimately destroying public education as we know it.”

For your edification, here is a list of New Mexico legislators with published ALEC ties:

House of Representatives

Senate

And here is a list of New Mexico legislation inspired by ALEC:

HB 386 (introduced 2/7/11) “Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts” is similar to ALEC’s “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act”

HB 318 (introduced 2/2/11) “Crime of Organized Retail Theft Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Organized Retail Theft Act”

HB 45 (introduced 1/10/11) “Eminent Domain Federal Property Condemnation” (Sponsor: Rep. Paul C. Bandy) is based on ALEC’s “Eminent Domain Authority for Federal Lands Act”

SB 324 (introduced 1/31/11) “Licensure of Secondhand Metal Dealers”[8] is similar to ALEC’s “Responsible Scrap Metal Purchasing and Procurement Act”

House Joint Memorial 24 (introduced 1/27/11), “Requesting Governor to Withdraw New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative” is similar to ALEC’s “State Withdrawal from Regional Climate Initiatives”

HB 229 (introduced 1/27/11) “Parental Notice of Abortion Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Parental Consent for Abortion Act”

SB 195 (passed 2/17/10) “Sunshine Portal Transparency Act” is similar to ALEC’s “Transparency and Government Accountability Act”

HJR 5 (introduced 1/20/10) “Resolution to Allow Health Care Decisions” is based on ALEC’s “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act”

HB 105 (introduced 1/19/05) “Income Tax Deduction for Organ Donation” is similar to ALEC’s “Organ Donation Tax Deduction Act”

This is a list of ALEC education “model legislation” which became bills introduced in the New Mexico Legislature.

ABCD-F Act — passed

Education Accountability Act

Having to do with schools, teachers and administrators:

Career Ladder Opportunities Act

Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act

+ Great Teachers and Leaders Act

A further report on legislation introduced by New Mexico legislators on behalf of ALEC can be found at: ALEC inspired bills in the 2011 legislative session.

How we deal with this legislative infusion for the benefit of powerful corporate and financial interests is a question that must be answered before our entire body of law has been replaced by laws written by those interests and for their benefit How do we deal with legislators who are willing to sell out their constituents in return for an expenses-paid trip to an exclusive resort or a fancy meal?

Strategy vs. Tactics

I think attacking ALEC, which has millions of dollars in its war chests donated by the largest corporations in the world, is a futile strategy. Also, attacking the legislators who so willingly surrender their responsibilities for paltry rewards—“atta boys” and banquets from ALEC and its sponsors—will not pay off; what will work is to identify them as such publicly.

Shouting and chanting and storming meetings are tactical; educating is strategic. It is imperative that the narrative high ground be seized, that the narrative be occupied and educative. There is no need to attack ALEC when simply pointing out to the public who they are, what they do, whom they have bought and the effect on people’s lives and well-being would be sufficient. Of course this will take patient, concerted and continuous effort to pull off, but then the 2012 legislative elections aren’t until November. There is hope. There is still time to organize and to keep the narrative going long enough and strong enough to occupy that narrative. And, it is much easier to address these issues from high ground than by slinging mud and thus alienating the public.

It must be realized, I believe, that the general public does not have the interest or faintest clue about the machinations and goals of ALEC. That sort of apathy illustrates the general reality gap between activists and Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public and, if the issues are polarized along political party lines, the gap gets wider. In any event, the ethical and moral issues here have nothing to do with party because there are ALEC toadies with outstretched palms on both sides of the aisle. They are neither Democrats or Republicans but ALECians.

The campaign against ALEC must always, I think, focus on the issues and the impact of those issues on the public For those whose support you seek, the story has to become their personal narrative. If you do this right, ALEC-free candidates will come looking for you. And when they seek your support it wouldn’t hurt to require a solemn pledge to not succumb to ALEC. Think of yourselves as educators, Occupy, and you are on the road to effecting significant social change. The only people you want to alienate are the ones you don’t like, not the ones whose support you need to create change. At all costs avoid becoming the narrative yourselves; remember, it’s not about you, it’s about the truth.

Sources:

ALEC Exposed home page <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC State Chairmen <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_State_Chairmen>

ALEC model legislation <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed>

ALEC model legislation – education <http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Bills_Affecting_Americans%27_Rights_to_a_Public_Education>

list of politicians <http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians>

New Mexico legislators w ALEC ties <http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=ALEC_Politicians#New_Mexico_Legislators_with_ALEC_Ties>

Originally appeared at The Light of New Mexico:http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/

The Tenticles of Profit

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND THE TENTICLES OF PROFIT

A new reality is beginning to unfold. This other-reality is inhabited by fabulously wealthy people who want, indeed are compelled, to become even more wealthy since having all but a tiny percentage of the real world’s income is not quite enough – they apparently want it all. The May 2011 edition of Vanity Fair reports that 1% of the US population takes in 25% of all income and holds 40% of the nation’s wealth. http://www.vanityfair.com/society/features/2011/05/top-one-percent-201105 There is today, it seems, an epidemic of consummate sociopathic greed by people who profit on everyone else’s losses and who buy politicians with the same ease normal people buy groceries. To further their ends the other-reality hosts pool-side gatherings at plush resorts for ambitious and eager other-reality wannabes to discuss how best to go about achieving their agendas. In these settings the wannabes rub shoulders with the other-reality folks and offer their services and willingness to assist the sponsors in their quest for an even greater slice of the National Pie. We can only wonder what the rewards can be for providing such assistance. One example, perhaps, of what possibilities might exist is revealed in how Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, cheerfully responded to a caller he thought was one of the multi-millionaire Koch brothers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBnSv3a6Nh4

Privatizing Public Education is one potential source of new wealth being explored by the other-reality people. Achieving control of the Public Education system which has existed, for better or for worse, in the US for more than a century, requires operatives appointed to governmental offices of education willing to carry out the agenda, New Mexico being one such example. Why not start the take over process with politicians who could use a little financial help with their campaigns provided by “Foundations” dedicated to the preservation of Democracy? A little help here and there results in such appointments to public office as I have described above and pretty soon you are on your way to grading schools and grading teachers and, in the end the inevitable conclusions that students are failing, teachers are failing and, of course, public schools are failing. Our only hope then in this scenario is privatization.

If you think the above is exaggeration please check out the following web sites which were provided by a reader of one of my earlier essays, “Hemingway” and I share his annotations here, with my thanks:

Hemingway

August 2, 2011 • 9:23 am

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sponsored model bills aiming to privatize public education, eliminate teacher’s unions, and make American universities adhere to the right wing and libertarian viewpoint.

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Privatizing_Public_Education,_Higher_Ed_Policy,_and_Teachers

http://www.alec.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&Template=/Templates/TemplateHomepage/ALEC_1502_20070319T102535_LayoutHomePage.cfm

The Kochs have given ALEC contributions exceeding $1 million—not including a half-million loaned to ALEC when the group had financial problems. “The Kochs’ mistrust of public education can be traced to their father, Fred, who ranted and raved that the National Education Association was a communist group and public-school books were filled with “communist propaganda,”

http://www.thenation.com/article/161973/alec-exposed-koch-connection

Interestingly ALEC was behind the scenes in Wisconsin in the education fight. Read this article by Dr. William Cronin.

http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/

This is wrong! “

The Koch Brothers and others of their political persuasion it should be pointed out are not, lest we demonize them, the only example of moneyed people financing a social agenda. Money is power of course and the willingness to use it for social change has always been with us as a society. Recall the Carnegies and Rockefellers and presently Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and so on who are using their fortunes to sponsor scientific exploration and the advancement of technology and knowledge and create a safer disease-and hunger-free world.

WHO IS FAILING WHAT?

Let’s examine the failing schools agenda and how it is being rationalized for public consumption. Are teachers failing? Who says so and what is their agenda? Here is an exchange between the actor Matt Damon (whose mother is a teacher) and a “reporter” from a Libertarian “news” organization: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFHJkvEwyhk&feature=player_embedded

Teachers seem to have become a favorite soft target for the industrial reformers. Teachers are a convenient target for several reasons including their own unions which have failed to seize the moment and take control of the narrative. As an example of the assault on teachers, one of Governor Scott Walker’s first legislative “achievements”, in his opinion at least, was to disenfranchise Wisconsin teachers’ unions. An August 10th, 2011 item on the KOAT-TV web site details the problems teachers in Albuquerque are going to face with a 7% increase in class sizeshttp://www.koat.com/news/28819192/detail.html    And, rest assured these class size increases will result in matching increases in standardized test result failures. This will be one more blow against the autonomy and authority of classroom teachers setting them up as scapegoats for politicians. Teachers will be blamed for the failures and the privatization band will strike up its familiar marching tune – “Privatize, privatize – Oh the results you’ll see. You won’t believe your eyes!

http://www.utahnsforpublicschools.org/policycenter/KeyLessonsClassSizeandStudentAchievement.htm

Tests can also exert a corrupting influence as we recently saw in the exposure of wide-spread cheating of No Child Left Behind test results in Atlanta, Georgia. According to ABC News in reporting the story at the time: “In Georgia, teachers complained to investigators that some students arrived at middle school reading at a first-grade level. But, teachers said, principals insisted those students had to pass their standardized tests. “Teachers were either ordered to cheat or pressured by administrators until they felt they had no choice, authorities said.” In New Mexico 87% of schools fell short in the state-wide evaluations. Are schools failing? The best answer is probably, yes, and for good reasons. Are privatized schools doing better across the board? Not really.

It isn’t that privatized schools, as such, are instruments of some hidden social control agenda, many are not. The KIPP charter schools, for example, are first rate. The administrators, teachers and students are motivated. The educational results gained by these schools are excellent with a high number of graduates going on to college although I am not in favor of using that as an absolute metric for assessing schools and public education. But, more importantly KIPP schools motivate their students to learn. They mentor and develop their teachers in earnest, they engage parents, and they engage children holding their attention for a longer school day and week than public schools do. The “sample daily schedule”, as posted on the KIPP web site, gives teachers two hours of prep time between 8AM and 3PM, during which time they also teach 3 one-hour classes and get a 40-minute lunch break and get an hour for “advisory meetings”.  The hours 3PM to 5PM are a blend  of electives, prep and meetings. These particular charter schools are educating children with great success.

However, in spite of all the good these schools do the question remains – why can’t public schools do the same? Why can’t the existing public schools system be charged with the same responsibility, given the same resources and accomplish the same results?

AUTHENTIC EDUCATION

I have stressed many times in these essays that education is not a manufacturing process and uniformity is not the objective of authentic learning. There is no such thing on Earth as a “Standard Child” and by that reasoning alone standardized testing as the ultimate measure of pedagogical success is false out of the box. To claim otherwise is to trivialize human nature and human experience – it is, in fact, dehumanizing. To contend that standardized testing is a fair and proper method of assessment betrays a diminished view of humanity and ignorance of the educational process. The key to authentic education is interest and when interest is absent so too is authentic learning. Needless to say authentic learning and teaching go hand-in-hand and neither can function when a teacher cannot devote an appropriate amount of time to each learner. So, when a school system increases class sizes and decreases the number of available classroom teachers no claim to authentic teaching and learning can be made. This is a prescription for failure writ large. Class sizes must be adjusted to reasonable levels if effective teaching and learning are to take place. Next parents must be as fully engaged in the process as they are required to be in the charter school schemes.

In a recent news report( http://www.krqe.com/dpp/news/education/social-promotion-could-be-on-agenda) about the push to eliminate, by statute, social promotion in New Mexico, Robin Gibson (A fourth grade teacher at Sandia Base Elementary School) said, ” … it’s unreasonable to think all students learn at the same pace. Kids are all coming from different backgrounds and we need to work with them and not punish them for something they can’t control.”  So, what is the answer to this push, this fixation, to punish kids who don’t learn at the same rate as test writers think they should? How about doing away with grade levels at the elementary level and rather setting performance standards for matriculation? So simple. This is what REAL school reform needs to be about, the simple recognition that children, just like adults, do not all learn at the same rate. Next, in the lower grades do away with the fixation on standardized testing. Tests can certainly be useful as diagnostics (their only real value actually), instruments of policy and policy making or, just as easily, justification for the privatization of public education.

There are people out there waiting to pounce on failed schools and failed school systems. The hucksters will promise greater instructional success with lower costs and greater uniformity of results across the board. This will be brought to you by people who have social control and profit foremost in mind. These entrepreneurs can buy with ease politicians and acolytes; the real victims will be children and the greatest loss will be felt by society itself. Is this the new reality we wish to subscribe to, making rich people richer and, at the same time, impoverishing public education and consequently our children? It will be a hollowing out of the social contract and of our civil society. These possibilities cannot be taken lightly and certainly cannot be dismissed as paranoid rant – it has happened to other countries and societies throughout history and it can happen in the US just as easily. It does us well to consider that those who do not remember history are destined to repeat it.

What must we do to make schools safe from privatization and loss of public control? In my opinion perhaps the most important first step must be to depoliticize public education. This is a matter of grave consequence as partisan politics have no place in the process of schooling. Authentic school reforms must be immunized against politicization, commercialization and interference by people whose only qualification is that they have managed to be elected or appointed to public office. Educators must speak out forcefully, defend their expertise and demand control of the process of schooling. I think class sizes must be held at a level where each child can receive proper attention. How can teachers teach where class sizes clearly exceed any possibility of individualized attention? I cannot emphasize this class size issue too strongly. Each child as a learner is a unique center of experience and each child learns at a rate particular to that child so how then can any normal human teacher accomplish the level of individualized attention required to instruct each child with large class sizes and why aren’t parents up in arms over this breech of trust? Parents must be fully integrated into the educational model as the ultimate source of motivation and discipline. Being educated and being able to test out are two vastly different things. The question is, simply put, what are we after in public education – educated individuals or test-taking automatons?

A New Tower of Babel

THE NEW TOWER OF BABEL

” [H]uman community depends on language” say the authors of the language chapter in the book Deep History (Andrew Shryock and Daniel Lord Smail, Univ. of California Press, 2011). The authors use the lesson of Babel described in the bible as an example of the power of language. According to the Babel story everyone spoke the same language until someone had the bright idea of building a tower so tall they could reach heaven. Their idea didn’t sit well with the proprietor of heaven so he “confounded” their language to prevent the project from proceeding. In short, control language and you control people.

Deliberate inversion of language has always been a favored tool of propagandists and demagogues. Consider just for a moment the current revulsion for and fear of the term “class-warfare” on the part of the 1% class. Another gem is referring to public education as “government education”. “Cowabunga Battyman, th’gummint’s after the kids!” In Orwell’s novel 1984 the users of “Newspeak” employed “doublethink” to manipulate the residents of the country.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.

Newspeak and doublethink are now the “indispensably necessary” staples of the venality and political agendas sweeping across the US in the guise of education reform. By deliberately employing language contradictory to common usage and understanding, these interests are confounding the public narrative. The best example on a national scale is No Child Left Behind, which uses carefully contrived testing to leave not only children behind but teachers as well. In these so-called reform programs teaching becomes testing and failure is all but assured. In New Mexico we have the ABCD-F Schools Rating Act to insure failure, failure as defined by interested parties leading ultimately to privately run schools, online course work and what the Act itself refers to as “cyber academies” which, interestingly enough, are not included in the required ratings under Section 3 of the Act. The objective truth here: testing is not pedagogy, it is not curriculum and instruction, it is a strategy to set up public schools to fail and machine learning to prosper.

If you have any doubts about this strategy read the story in the Washington Post about a fellow who is a school board member, a corporate executive with a BS and two master’s degrees. He took the 10th grade reading and math tests required for students in his school district. He said he managed to “guess” the answers to ten out of sixty math questions and scored a “D” on the reading test. Is it any wonder then that these innocuous sounding rating and testing programs like ABCDF and NCLB are condemning public schools to failure? We must rightly ask, why? What’s in it for the perpetrators? What do they stand to gain?

Minions of wealthy business interests have moved across the country installing themselves into state governments and sundry “foundations”, spreading the idea that public schools are a failure and they have the solution – privatizing public schools, privatizing teacher education and installing high-tech teaching devices. Why? Because people like Rupert Murdoch, the Koch boys, Bill Gates and a host of others, having financed politicians as a down payment, are salivating over their potential profits. Rupert puts that potential at $500 billion.

The Tuesday, December 6, 2011, New York Times had two editorial pieces on education. One piece offered a “how to” as in “How To Rescue Education Reform” that sounded a death knell for teachers, describing “Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education“. In both articles what I found more interesting than the standard hollow circular arguments debasing public education and human teachers was that the three authors are all affiliated with Stanford University, as is the New Mexico Secretary-Designate of Public Education. Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not.

A viable democracy requires educated citizens capable of critical thinking and a strong sense of community. There is no social dimension to cyber or any other form of machine learning. Machines, by their nature, isolate learners from the social context provided by public schools and from the democratizing influences of that community. The 21st century Tower of Babel has been constructed and the intent clearly is to confound the narrative in order to dismantle the finest, most democratic and enabling institution this country has ever had, public education. At what price?

Henry Giroux, in Education And The Crisis Of Public Values, (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012) writing about what he calls the politics of humiliating teachers, public schooling and marginalizing youth put it this way.

Despite these grave circumstances, we seem to lack the critical language, civic courage, and public values to recognize that when a country institutionalizes a culture of cruelty that takes aim at public schools and their hard-working teachers, it is embarking on a form of self-sabotage and collective suicide whose victims will include not only education, but democracy itself.

This essay originally appeared at:http://www.nmpolitics.net/

A LITTLE HISTORY

A LITTLE HISTORY

What bothers me most about the current war against public education is that it is a-historical. It is as if schools suddenly went bad a few months ago or coincidentally with Jeb Bush needing something to keep himself busy when his term of office in Florida expired. Without any education credentials whatsoever Jeb is now on the leading edge of the assault on public education and teachers. Foundations and acolytes scattered across the country are feeding the frenzy along with a little help from friends and buddies such as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, the Koch boys and so forth. Without intending cynicism this to me resembles class warfare more than a little.

As the saying goes, those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it so I thought perhaps a small dose of history would render a bit of perspective to the snake-oil presently being offered by the newly ordained “experts” and their minions. This is also the first time teachers are being cast as villains so I will add here parenthetically, that anyone who thinks teachers control the curriculum in public schools is dangerously misinformed. Control of pubic education is and has long been in the hands of administrators, school boards and state and federal agencies. Teachers hold the lowest spot on the policy totem pole but they carry the greatest liability and the most intimate consequences.

Teachers are the public face of educational policy and so have become targets of opportunity. One television advertising campaign being used to promote mechanized education even goes so far as to demonize teachers as inferred child molesters. This malicious campaign was created by a national consultant who when speaking to wealthy education industry investors advised them that rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level? … Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts… We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.”

Reframing the problem is quite easy so long as no one engages the public narrative from a factual historical perspective. Even a well meaning public or a well intentioned state legislature can be easily manipulated with expertly applied misinformation and distortions doled out by unscrupulous public opinion manipulators and well placed operatives within governmental agencies. Government programs with simplistic innocuous sounding names like No Child Left Behind or ABCD-F – reflect professional advertising and propaganda to reframe the problem. After all, who would openly admit to wanting to leave a child behind. The unscrupulous lust for profit seems to have no moral, social or ethical boundaries. The running narrative placing blame on teachers and public schools has no rational justification. This distortion however is a time-honored technique of despots used throughout history to isolate and demonize minorities. The programs cited above are intended to create failure and thus frame the public dialog. In truth while schools and teachers are certainly not perfect I regard such propaganda campaigns as sociopathic. They are about money, not about children.

The short history of public education from the early 1800s to the present is a record of relentlessly evolving ideas about content and methodology, that is, curriculum and instruction. Generally speaking, public education seems to have absorbed in one way or another all the reforms initiated from the early 1800s to the present. In the 1820s there were Mental Disciplinarians, then Developmentalists and the Social Meliorists who were followed by the Social Efficiency movement of the early 20th century. There were others but these were the most influential and they provided the foundational ideas on which modern American curriculum and instruction were built. Over time the ideas embodied in these movements wove themselves into the fabric of American schooling so completely that they have become indistinguishable. I think it most important to point out here that not one of these influential movements spanning two centuries was ever motivated by profit.

In the early part of the 19th century and into the next the United States was primarily an agrarian society and what public schooling there was reflected that. Starting in the early 20th century the country began its transition to an industrial society. The industrial period ran through two world wars and America became the undisputed industrial giant of the entire planet. Public education was geared to the needs of  an industrial society. Now, in the early 21st century we are becoming a post-industrial society and public education will again evolve to accommodate the needs of the new reality. There have been a multitude of other forces and influences on public education of course but those above are the broad strokes.

It is important also to note that at no time in the span of this history has any one educational movement held complete sway. In fact it seems that as they emerged each went to work with the others. Eventually parts of each became woven into the fabric of the educational experience. Today the US is a diverse society with a large but not dominant agricultural economic sector and, though somewhat diminished, a nevertheless vigorous industrial sector continues as well. Like all of history nothing is all the same everywhere all of the time but the parts and the influences of everything are wherever we look. In the future as in the past public education will reflect the times and the people. America needs people who can think critically, learn readily and reflect the values of the community. Public education’s mission is to encourage learning as a value and as a commitment to the society at large; this requires educating children not training them as if they are destined to become robots.

n.b. An excellent study of the history of American curriculum is:

The Struggle For The American Curriculum 1893-1958, 2nd ed., Herbert M. Kliebard, Routledge,1995

this essay first appeared at: http://nmpolitics.net/index/


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