Undermining Public Education

Skandera takes steps to undermine public education

It’s no surprise that N.M. Education Secretary Designate Hanna Skandera is taking steps to undermine public education. The problem is that the educational model she and her backers pursue isn’t education at all. It’s operant conditioning.

Earlier this year I wrote about the questionable nomination of Hanna Skandera to the post of New Mexico secretary of public education – a job for which she is, on evidence, unqualified. Given her lack of a proper background and experience as an educator I wondered just what she was about.

As it turned out, Skandera failed to be confirmed for the secretary position during the 2011 regular session and so has held her office as “secretary designate.” Since holding this office, and without the mandate accorded by legislative approval, she has taken steps designed to undermine the authority of the Public Education Commission and the future of public education in the state.

Ms. Skandera came to New Mexico with a mission – to undertake the process of privatizing public education. She came here under the auspices and/or recommendations of various right-wing “foundations” and “institutes.” In some of them she had previously served as an officer.

Ms. Skandera and New Mexico are not alone in this scheme, as she has numerous counterparts across the country, all paid for by the same cabal of wealthy and influential individuals who underwrite the so-called “foundations” and “institutes” that finance their industrialized vision of public school reform. Here in New Mexico, Skandera has the backing of one of those so-called “foundations,” that being the Rio Grande Foundation and its chief executive Paul Gessing.

The majority of financial support for this “foundation” comes from out-of-state “foundations” and donors. Gessing’s donors include, among others, Donor’s Capital Fund of Virginia, State Policy Network of Virginia, Roe Foundation of South Carolina, Wal-Mart of Arizona and the Atlas Foundation of Washington DC.

A clear warning of an agenda

The obvious duplicity and fact-torturing employed by these so-called “foundations” and “institutes,” which are underwritten by some of the wealthiest people in the United States, ought to be a clear warning to all that they have an agenda. The shuck and jive surrounding their propaganda is patently transparent. What they are after is to defame, de-unionize, scrap and then privatize public education across the United States.

They are beginning with the founding and underwriting of variations on the charter-school theme. Charter schools, across the board, do not have a better academic record than their public school counterparts. What they do offer is that they are generally free of teachers’ unions, a holy grail for the sponsors on their path to privatization.

The efforts of these groups and their agents are sometimes clumsy and ham-handed but in so being they reveal the true nature of what they are up to. For example, Ms. Skandera just recently overruled the N.M. Public Education Commission’s (PEC) decision to not renew the credentials of three charter schools that utterly failed to meet required academic standards. To ensure she has legal cover for her actions, Skandera’s Public Education Department (PED) has now hired Patricia Matthews, who comes from the staff of a law firm that provides legal services to charter schools. The event was characterized by a member of the PEC as, “…hiring a fox to guard the hen house.”

Skandera also tailored the qualifications for a position within her department so she could hire the wife of the governor’s right-hand man. These antics are, to put it into the campaign rhetoric of our current governor, “Crony” hiring. So much for promised reform on that score.

Foot soldiers for the financially powerful

Why so blatant? Why the arrogance? Perhaps it arises from a sense of hubris gained by knowing you have the backing of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice that wants to become even more wealthy, and you can help.

Being a foot-soldier for the financially powerful has been known to confer delusions of elevated status to certain individuals. To get the picture, one has only to listen to Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is doing his best to cut funding for public education at all levels in his state and disenfranchising teachers’ unions, speaking to someone he thought was one of the Koch brothers in this audio recording.

It is also worth noting that Governor Martinez’s campaign reports show that she took $10,000 directly from Koch Industries and $1.3 million from the Republican Governors’ Association. The RGA, for its part, took in at least $1 million from the Koch brothers and donated more than a million to the Republican Party of New Mexico, which heavily aided Martinez’s campaign.

The Koch brothers are businessmen – they expect a return on their investments, and you can rest assured they’ll have business in the Land of Enchantment.

Here is the agenda

Why do I object so strenuously and so strongly to all of the above? I do so because the industrialized education model being pursued by activists such as Skandera and her backers is an endless cycle of memorizing and regurgitating – no critical thinking, no creativity and, above all, no challenging of conventional wisdom or authority. The kind of training proposed by these people is not education – technically, it is operant conditioning.

Bill Gates, who invests heavily in this kind of educational reform through his own “foundation” once told an interviewer that any form of teaching and learning that could not be measured is useless. When was the last time you measured a beautiful sunset? How would you quantify the beauty of a Mahler symphony? Human beings have hearts and minds, Mr. Gates, not CPUs.

Conditioning of this kind is a dead end from which there is no exit. A better conception of the future will be impossible, because not only would the majority of children be unable to imagine such, they also wouldn’t know how to measure it. Children so conditioned would be left with no sense of authenticity or agency to shape their lives beyond low-paying, low-skill, treadmill jobs. Their lives and imaginations would be impoverished and, consequently, so too would be the world in which they would have to live.

People cannot have a better life or fashion a better world if they cannot imagine it, if they cannot imagine themselves creating it. Destroy imagination and you destroy tomorrow.

If people want more for their own children and if people who have no children want more for themselves, they must come to understand that today’s children will shape everyone’s future. We must all see our investment in public education today as an investment in our own futures, an investment in a civilized social contract, in a creative and thriving society.

Metropolis

scene from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"

The moral of Fritz Lang’s film “Metropolis” is that between head and hands there must be a heart. It is a heartless world imagined by those such as Skandera and her sponsors, those who would privatize and industrialize public education.

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