Posts Tagged 'curricula'

The Importance of Public Education

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” So said Aristotle and likewise a number of others such as  St. Francis Xavier to whom the quotation is sometimes attributed. Even Adolf Hitler took credit for this quotation and recently an American billionaire speaking about the importance of early childhood education. Aristotle lives as his thoughts are being cribbed more than 2000 years later. To paraphrase another famous quote – a great phrase has a thousand authors and that’s because Aristotle’s statement rings true to this day, the proof of this pudding is the eagerness to destroy and privatize public education especially as seen in billionaires from Rupert Murdoch to Bill Gates, and right-wing politicians.

  It is inarguable that to be fully functioning responsible members of any society children must be properly educated, a process that is thousands of years old because it is indisputably vital to the community interest. Consequently, in our times, we must beware of the politicization of the public discourse aimed at disparaging public schools and public school educators.  How can authentic education happen when it is reduced to ingestion, regurgitation, and controlled performance not unlike the training of seals? We must ask how can an educative process take place when children’s noses are pressed against computer screens informing only themselves in a controlled, circumscribed, and contrived personal world and not always in a classroom with other children? We must also ask: What is the purpose of this recent interest in public education by people and groups that have no training and no expertise in the field? Can it be simply that Rupert Murdoch sees K through 12 education as a “$500 billion sector in the US alone” that is his for the taking with the help of ambitious politicians? Yes, it could be about money but profit is neither a humane nor a socially constructive motive. I believe childhood education must be more than that; a civil society depends on it.

If you wanted to control any society where would you start? With the health and welfare of the general public perhaps? Or maybe civil courts where well-paid insurance company lawyers beat back attempts to hold culpable parties responsible? How about ubiquitous universal surveillance of your activities, phone calls, and internet browsing? Controlling the public narrative is especially effective and important because so many people don’t look beyond what they see and hear in the media or the circumstances of their own lives; they often don’t look beyond information that confirms their beliefs or feeds their fears.

If you are in it for the long game wouldn’t public education be the best place to start your agenda? And what would the “long game” be about? I believe the long game is about social control.  Historically, while propaganda has been one of the central tactics used to create and maintain social control so too has childhood education. An often used tactic today is funding charter schools and taking money from traditional public schools. Couple this with a continual disparagement of public school educators who work long hours with pay that falls far short of their education and dedication who are replaced in many of the new schools with cheaper to hire staff who in many cases are not trained as teachers. In some states educational management organizations (EMOs) are running 30% of all charter schools and of those 16% are for-profit operations. There are also “virtual” charter schools where instruction is provided at home over the internet further distancing children from the socializing aspects of public schools.

The foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism or socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, and it has never been, before now, about profit. Public education has always been about the development of each child as an individual to the fullest extent of their abilities for the ultimate benefit of society. Public schools are about Community, about Democracy, about civility. The antithesis of self-centeredness is Community and Community means all of us working together, learning and teaching, not grasping whatever can be at whatever cost to others, oblivious to an inclusive  social contract. Public education is where children learn and practice these values.

The proper focus of authentic education is not ingestion and disgorgement of information like trained seals clapping their flippers on command but a process of development that leads to critical thinking and life-long learning skills. Information can readily be absorbed when that information is relevant to human purpose and life as it is lived. I have been writing about this question for a long time, I taught about it for several years at one of the world’s great universities and it worries me to see politicians and non-educators controlling children’s lives as a form of self-promotion, as profit centers. It is well worth repeating now: it is what Aristotle was telling us so many centuries ago.


Teachers and Free Speech

In a recent public announcement the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) is lifting the ban on public school teachers exercising their Constitutional right of free speech to criticize standardized testing. The obvious presumptuousness, this was apparently a momentous recognition on the part of those in charge from the Governor to the PED chief and who knows whom else in between, that Americans have a right of free speech even if the government doesn’t like what is being said. Of course there was prodding from the ACLU. The gag rule was promulgated during the Richardson administration which was not itself exactly a bastion of enlightenment and was hung on to by the Martinez PED. We may now expect to hear from New Mexico’s beleaguered teachers on the current regime of testing that replaces authentic teaching and learning.

Following her election to Governor in 2010, Susana Martinez had some pay-back obligations to her sponsors, such as the Koch boys, from whom she took in at least $10,000.00 directly. Consequently she appointed an individual to head the PED who had been vetted by such right wing luminaries as Jeb Bush. It mattered not that the new PED director had no degree or experience as an educator nor were there any apologies for the appointment of an unqualified individual. In fact, Skandera could not have been hired as a teacher in New Mexico because she could not meet the minimum requirements such as: 30 to 60 semester hours in an Elementary Education program including student teaching, a minimum of 6 semester hours of credit in the teaching of reading if you entered college or university after 8/1/01, and a minimum of 24 semester hours in one teaching field such as mathematics, language arts, reading, history, and so forth. To add insult to injury, Skandera was, at that time paid $125,000.00 a year against the average New Mexico public school teacher’s $39K to $49K (all below the national average by the way).

This is about politics after all and the ultimate outcome desired by the sponsors is the privatization of public education – a holy grail, if you will, being sought in nearly every state in the US with a Republican controlled state house. As one billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, famously put it, education is a 500 billion dollar opportunity for which he an others like him are salivating. It should also be noted that Skandera was a participant in the same venue at the same time as Murdoch made this declaration.

Which takes us to the entire idea of standardized testing in elementary grades. Aside from its use as a diagnostic there is absolutely no justification for standardized testing at that level. If anything such testing is a disincentive to authentic teaching and learning. In fact, there should not be grades between kindergarten and the transition to Junior High school a transition better determined by age and appropriate evaluation. In-grade retention of children at any grade level is antediluvian and antithetical to the purposes of proper schooling. It is also cruel. It is no wonder that across the US fewer and fewer children are completing their full course of public education – mindless endless testing regimes and draconian consequences for not performing well on standardized tests are largely to blame. Have you ever met a standard kid by the way? Neither have I.

Truth is children want to learn and schools are there to help with that natural instinct. Unfortunately schools and schooling have become politicized across the country and mostly in states with right-wing reactionary government. What is being called school reform is championed by non-educators, politicians with campaign debts to entrepreneurs who wish to turn public schools into profit centers. Parents are, in many locations, pushing back against this onslaught against teachers and children in the name of profit. It is going to take a great deal of political action to remove people from office who are so anti-social and anti-child that they are willing to sacrifice one of America’s greatest achievements – universal public education. It has to be done – it must be done. Parent must take interest and be vigilant because the profit motive never sleeps.

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.

A Momentary Lapse …

A Momentary Lapse of Character

In a moment of uncharacteristic candor and persona, Hanna Skandera, the twice passed over candidate for New Mexico Secretary of Education, had this bit of truth to say about her mission: “I came to New Mexico to do a job, and I plan to do that job.” With the tacit approval of legislators on both sides of the aisle, what a job it is she is doing to schools, teachers and students.

By not taking up Skandera’s confirmation and rejecting her Legislators obtained by default their personal “don’t blame me” licenses. Clearly the “job” she refers to is bringing New Mexico into line with the educational policies of ALEC including their spawn of phony “foundations”, “institutes” and her other corporate sponsors. Nearly verbatim copies of ALEC promulgated educational policies, the ABCD-F Act among them, have been presented and passed into law. This is happening without critical analysis, proper public discussion or truthful disclosure of sources nor an understanding of the strategy, purpose and ultimate consequences imbedded in those new laws.

The same underhanded conspiracy is taking place across the United States and besides New Mexico, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida are good examples. State legislators elected by their constituencies in the belief that they would write and pass legislation particular to their constituencies are carrying water for a private organization, ALEC, introducing bills written by ideological trolls in Washington DC. Of course to prepare them for this mission legislators are wined and dined at exclusive resorts sequestered by armed guards to keep out the prying eyes of the public and the press. If a resort isn’t handy ALEC will happily pick up the tab at an expensive local restaurant as it did recently in Santa Fe. Either way ALEC picks up the tab and asks only that you introduce the bills they have written as though they were your own. It sounds a lot like a conspiracy scam doesn’t it? Personally I want my elected representatives to write their own legislation based on what we in New Mexico need and not what some corporate sponsored bill mill in Washington DC is cranking out.

In Wisconsin, Connecticut and Florida state legislatures already have been and are uncritically passing new laws governing schools to enable take-over by private charter schools, the devaluing of teachers, and the mechanized stupidizing of the educative process. What is the motive? Among other things like destroying organized representation for working class people, the end result ALEC and it sponsors want is to take over public education for profit. In some places people are waking up. In Wisconsin for instance they are recalling their recently elected Governor, Scott Walker, who, like Susana Martinez in New Mexico, was sponsored by the Koch boys and the ALEC. This recall business can happen anywhere when people realize they are being sold out by their elected officials. Throw the bums out of office and start over; that’s how it done unless of course you are happy with the idea of uniform laws promulgated across the country written by ALEC and passed by corporate toadies in state legislatures.

What’s at stake here? Well, how about your democratic form of government for starters? How about schools accountable to their communities as opposed to schools accountable to their stockholders and corporate managers. How about honesty and above the board legislative dealings. How about doing your job as a legislator and doing the dirty work that job sometimes requires? If all you think about is being re-elected and not wanting to affront some of your constituency or potential fat cat donors then you are not doing your job and don’t deserve to hold office. In the final analysis it isn’t whether Skandera was approved or not, what matters is that you had the courage to take up the matter and deal with it. We are now into the 2012 legislative election cycle and November will be the reckoning. I’ll bet education is going to be on  the agenda.

It was announced this afternoon, Wednesday February 15th, that New Mexico had been granted exemption from the NCLB business. President Obama’s hoops buddy came through for Skandera on this matter which is by definition, is no more than a straw issue. In fact what has been achieved is exactly no more than this: New Mexico, you no longer have to walk backwards but you will have to walk on your hands and knees. Keep going. Boy whoopee! Such a deal…..

This essay first appeared at:

How Great is Great?

New Mexico Teachers: How Great is Great?

Last week legislators from around the country flocked to an all-expense-paid (including travel) get-together at an exclusive island resort off the coast of Florida—the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. The tab was picked up by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), leaving one to wonder just what the legislators exchanged in return for the pleasure of their company. The party was labeled “ALEC K-12 Education Reform Academy.” Oh, and the party was closed to the public and the press and protected from intruders by private security guards.

New legislation regarding teacher evaluations now being proposed in the New Mexico Legislature to “evaluate” teacher performance has been derived from examples of “model” legislation provided to legislators by ALEC. The ALEC is sponsored by large corporations and billionaires with visions of new sources of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, and the organization provides legislators with what they euphemistically refer to as “model” legislation. The model legislation is provided to legislators on a number of topics and is written to specifications dictated by the corporate sponsors of ALEC to serve their ends. In the case of public schools the ultimate goals are to privatize public education, eliminate teacher unions and make money for the sponsors. Simple enough.

We have had an example in New Mexico of such ALEC-dictated legislation in the form of the ABCD-F Act. A great deal of the language and intent in that travesty flowed from ALEC plumbing where it was called the “Education Accountability Act.” Presently we are seeing two bills, HB 249 and SB 293, wending their way though the Legislature, both having to do with teacher and administrator evaluation. The two bills, sponsored by legislators sympathetic to the governor’s and secretary-designate’s agenda correspond closely to three ALEC-authored models: “Great Teachers and Leaders Act,” “Career Ladder Opportunities Act” and “Teacher Quality and Recognition Demonstration Act.” All you have to do is add local water, shake and bake, and presto, you have made-to-order legislation, compliments of ALEC.

“Great Teachers and Leaders Act”? Just how great can a teacher be when children come to school unmotivated and unprepared to learn? That is not the question being asked, of course, by the sponsors of new legislation being presented at the Roundhouse. When I first read Secretary-designate of Education Hanna Skandera’s public exclamations about how “great” New Mexico’s  teachers are and how she wanted to climb up to the roof-tops to “scream” out how much she loved and respected teachers I knew exactly what was coming. And I was right. This was a perfect example of what I call damning with cynical praise.

So what is this about? Why do teachers, administrators and schools have targets on their backs? It is because public schools can be replaced, so can teachers and so can administrators. What can they be replaced with? Vouchers for private for-profit schools and teachers from private training programs like Teach For America and K-12, that’s what. This monkey business is not unique to New Mexico either; it is going on across the country, where conservative legislators and governors have taken control of state houses. The attacks on public education are accompanied by attacks on many other public services in order to achieve a political goal of reducing government services and privatizing whatever is left.

What is not being said in this proposed legislation was perfectly articulated by a Santa Fe teacher. Laura Carthy had this bit of wisdom to offer, born of experience: “They want to hold us accountable, but how can they hold me accountable for students who aren’t here, who are constantly tardy and miss five to 20 minutes of instruction a day?” Carthy enumerated many of the issues teachers and administrators face on a daily basis and over which they have no control, such as children not eating, not sleeping and not doing their homework. (S.F. New Mexican 12/18/11) The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is also an advocate for these neo-liberal policies, and he wants to tie federal funding to Skinnerian testing performance evaluation regimes. While Ms. Skandera is on the rooftop and Arne is shooting hoops with the president people like Laura Carthy are in the trenches.

In December, 2003 Ms. Skandera appeared at a luncheon as a Hoover Research Fellow with her mentor and distinguished Hoover Institute professor, Richard Sousa. Interestingly, Sousa is best known as an expert on labor economics and, incidentally, K-12 education. Sousa and Skandera reported on their research and offered suggestions for improving education through school choice, testing and accountability. The term accountability in Sousa’s parlance includes evaluating teachers, hence our Secretary-designate’s ABCD-F Act and now proposed legislation in the form of HB 249 and HB 293. As the old saying goes, the apple seldom falls far from the tree. In this case Professor Sousa’s former research assistant is following the script, and what has followed are the three pillars of the New Mexico ABCD-F Act and the new teacher accountability legislation— school choice, testing and accountability.

This essay first appeared at Light of New Mexico



Listen and Show Some Respeto

Listen and Show Some  Respeto

Listen, Listen. Listen. That was the watchword, the first principle I was taught when working for the University of Wisconsin Extension Services which I did throughout my graduate studies. I traveled that state conducting extension service programs all of which were developed by listening to the communities we served. When I was first elected majordomo of my acequia here in the northern mountains I spent most of my time asking questions about what was needed to make the ditch function more fairly and efficiently and listening carefully to the answers. I sat for hours listening to viejos tell me the history of this very old acequia dug by hand from the mountain to the meadows. Respeto. I spent my time getting to know the families served by the ditch and walked the land the acequia passed through from the mountain presa to the last gate at the farthest end of our llano’s irrigated fields. This was my experience in Wisconsin coming into service in New Mexico and tempered by Governor Lew Wallace’s dicho – “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” I had no “calculations” but knew that listening to people tell you about themselves, their needs and their experiences will not fail you and a plan will make itself evident in proper time. Listen.

Our Secretary-designate of Education has not distinguished herself with a willingness to listen and this is not without consequences. New Mexico failed to receive a waiver of the NCLB requirements because the Secretary-designate of Education and her allies were eager to push their imported, ALEC-inspired ABCD-F Act through the legislature. In passing this piece of retrograde legislation the State failed to meet the Federal requirements for exemption from the NCLB. Interviewed on the KOB-TV web site, APS Superintendent of Schools, Winston Brook, voiced his opinion that the ABCD-F grading system didn’t meet federal requirements. Winston went on to say that Skandera was made aware of those concerns before she released the grades. Brooks was also aware that the U.S. Secretary of Education had written a letter to Skandera telling her she needed to address the issues. Obviously the federal concerns were not dealt with in a timely manner hence no exemption.

Carrying water for ALEC has its price and in this case the price will paid by New Mexico’s schools, teachers and children who have been saddled with the ABCD-F Act and will now struggle to be released from the NCLB requirements. There is no denying Ms. Skandera came to New Mexico on a mission and she has been notably single-minded about carrying out her assignment. Her ideological blinders have kept her from grasping the cultural realities of the state including our diverse languages a tradition for which she has demonstrated a profound lack of respete.

Skandera has placed herself within an ideological cocoon comprised of her own imported staff and well paid out-of-state consultants, which has resulted in a tragic lack of critical understanding and ham-handed policy execution. Her reform process has been a self-affirming and thus a self-defeating feed-back loop. She and her advisors have all been on the same page but the book they are using is about somewhere other than New Mexico.

What we have received is a lot of fancy doubletalk such as this recent example from the Secretary-designate: “New Mexico consistently has been ranked 48th, 49th or 50th in most of our achievement rankings, etc.. And for the first time we will be in the top 11 states championing reform, and I believe we are headed in the right direction…”. This statement would be held up for ridicule in any logic class. The speaker equates “achievement rankings” and “championing reform” as though they are equivalents. Reform and achievement are not even remotely the same thing and cannot honestly be used in a comparative sense; they are totally unrelated ideas being force fit into being equivalent to make it sound as though something profound is happening. This is the definition of propaganda –  false ideas spread deliberately to further one’s cause. It’s time for the current Governor and her administration to show some respeto for the people of New Mexico. Escuche, Escuche, Escuche.

This was first published at:

Trojan Horse


Senate Bill 427 a.k.a. “The A-B-C-D-F Schools Rating Act”-talk about a “gotcha.”  This piece of work makes the Trojan Horse look like a party favor.

Double Standards

Not that this is a new fast shuffle; in the Spring of 2011, Secretary-Designate Skandera overruled the Public Education Commission’s 2010 decision to disenfranchise three failing charter schools for falling below acceptable achievement standards. Ms. Skandera “declined” the Commission’s ruling stating she would decline decisions based on failure to meet Standards Based Assessment tests because such tests are an “obsolete metric.” So, what is the Skandera-sponsored A-B-C-D-F Schools Rating Act about if not test-score-based metrics? The Act says specifically that public schools will be rated according to the New Mexico Standards Based Assessments. Yet the PEC  was overruled for basing its decision regarding the charter schools on Standards Based Assessments. Charter schools are defined in law as public schools and as such the same standards must apply. The same people who pronounced the metrics to be obsolete had, just a few months earlier, incorporated them into legislation.

More is More

The questions don’t stop here either. According to the act parents may move their children from a school rated F to “the statewide or a local cyber academy” neither of which are included in the rating system nor are academic standards for these entities referred to or provided for in law. The A-B-C-D-F  Act states that growth “means learning a year’s worth of knowledge in one year’s time.” You will look in vain for a definition of “a year’s worth of knowledge.” What hat did they pull that one out of? Further on in the Act you will find reference to “proven programs” and, once again, without definition. This kind of flim-flam puts public schools on very shaky ground having to meet unspecified and undefined requirements such as “a year’s worth of knowledge” and presenting “proven programs.” What proven programs are they talking about? Where will we find these proven programs? Who has proven the programs and what were their qualifications? Is a “year’s worth of learning” the same for Ms. Skandera as it would be for Governor Martinez? What metrics should we use to determine if either of them has acquired a year’s worth of learning?


This A-B-C-D-F Act business, and it is a business, is an unmitigated disaster and a well thought out strategy in my opinion to set up public schools in New Mexico to fail. The Trojan Horse is here to open the gates for privatized for-profit schooling ultimately taking control away from communities and parents and placing it in the hands of corporations. I suspect what Skandera and company have in mind is quite simple. Just as is the case now with some social services and prisons, the state will contract with private entities such as Teach for America or K12 to run our public schools. The New Mexico Public Education Department this past November issued a purchase order for Teach for America indicating that business is already being done with that entity. Rupert Murdoch, speaking at a recent conference in San Francisco, a gathering at which our Secretary-Designate also appeared, had this to say, “When it comes to K-through-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.” Murdoch’s education business is called Wireless Generation. The vultures are circling!

Once the schools have been contracted out we can say goodbye to parental and community input – say goodbye to public education. The schooling factories of the future, while generating sweet profits for the corporations that run them, will soon be churning out standardized “graduates” ready to be plugged into whatever corporate enterprises need them. It should also be noted that none of these reforms cops to what they will do with slow learners, under-achievers and the kids and parents who simply don’t give a damn about education. The requirement for human teachers/trainers will be minimized, as will be their wages. Cyber machines will handle the kids more efficiently in this scenario and without requiring health insurance, retirement plans, sick leave, wages or respect. Oh, and one more thing – they don’t go out on strike for better working conditions. Gotcha!

This essay first appeared in The Light of New Mexico – print and web editions 2/14/12

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