Posts Tagged 'New Mexico'

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.

The Continuing Skandera Saga.

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!

 

Creating a Corpse

Graph 2

As every bureaucrat knows, if you want to kill any public process or project the preferred method is to starve it, and starving public education they are. If you want make a corpse of public education simply starve it to death by underfunding it. Doing things this way kills your target softly, which avoids confrontation and rancorous public discussion. The by-word is stealth.

It is no coincidence that the two worst states in the US when it comes to cuts in per student spending are the two states where the most ambitious wanna-be Republican governors have declared war on public education and public school teachers; two governors who have overweaning national political ambitions. They are, of course, Scott Walker and Susana Martinez.

The accompanying chart, created by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, vividly tells the sad tale. Read it and weep, New Mexico – we are leading the country in starving public education out of existence. Wisconsin and New Mexico lead the country, with New Mexico taking first-place honors cutting per student spending by $707.00 from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012. Yes, New Mexico leads the nation in something besides great enchiladas, and by a fair margin. Wisconsin is in the game with minus $625.00. West Virginia, on the other hand, spent $504.00 more per student during the same period. West Virginia!

“Civilization works only if those who enjoy its benefits are prepared to pay their share of the costs.” Thus begins a recent editorial in the Economist, “The Missing 20 trillion,” about the amount of non-taxed money generated by individuals and corporations through one dodge or another that are secured in various countries, off-shore shelters and the like. Essentially it is an article on sociopathy in the form of capitalism. The editors could have beneficially stopped with the above quotation but, ever the defenders of capitalist ways, went on to rationalize the underlying causes and ignore the moral issues.

This is not to say the editors didn’t suggest fair and honest ways to tax the money; what they failed to do was address the core problem. Where they dropped the ball, so to speak, was to not address first principles, their own assumptions about the social contract and the underlying causality. What is missing is a frank discussion of the missing moral commitment to a social contract that includes the rest of us. But this is both typical of these kinds of economic analysis, which ply the reader with platitudes about capitalism while they ignore its fundamental and deadly flaws.

Nowhere do we find a better and more telling example than the ongoing war on public education in the United States by the wealthy and the politicians they have purchased with campaign financing and generous PACs. The selling of America, indeed.

Low-Effort Thinking

A study published in the journal Personality and Social Science Bulletin last year showed that those who score low on intelligence tests eventually gravitate towards “socially conservative political views.” The study concluded that “low-effort thinking” promotes political conservatism and acceptance of hierarchy. Who’da thunk it?

In the military blaming a subordinate for a mistake or failure made on your watch could result, at minimum, in a reprimand, or at worst being brought up on charges of conduct unbecoming of an officer. In New Mexico we are witnessing a scandal brought about by a Republican State Representative, Cathrynn Brown, blaming a bill drafter for making errors in a bill she requested, subsequently reviewed, signed and introduced to the Chamber. I fully understand that charges of “conduct unbecoming a politician” would be a conundrum of challenging proportions, but they should certainly be pursued, if only by the rational voters in her district. The legislation proposed was most certainly antisocial and demonstrated a lack of conscience and empathy. It is / was a piece of sociopathic legislation designed to punish women who have been raped for not carrying the child to term. Denials of responsibility followed public disclosure of the bill.

This was religious zealotry and low-effort thinking attempting to become law plain and simple. What you have here when you shovel your way through the “don’t-blame-me” propaganda is a bill that makes criminals of rape victims who don’t want to carry the rapist’s child. What’s next on this agenda? Perhaps witch burning such as took place in Papua New Guinea this past week. A 20-year-old mother was burned alive there in front of hundreds of witnesses (taking photographs no less), she having been accused of sorcery. It was, along with photographs, front-page news in the biggest newspaper in the country. Irrational, dogmatic religious zealotry takes its toll on a society; it makes mockery of claims of being civilized.

In New Mexico we have Cathrynn Brown, and in Missouri they have Todd Akin, a former US Representative who claims there is “legitimate rape” and that women’s bodies have a built-in mechanism for “shutting down” so pregnancy from rape won’t occur. Next we have Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia, an MD, who claims that evolution, embryology, and the “Big Bang Theory” are “… lies straight from the pit of Hell.” I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Terry England, a Georgia legislator who wanted to pass a bill requiring women to carry still-born fetuses to term. His rationale? Cows and pigs do. I should also include Richard Murdock, the Republican state treasurer of Indiana who opined: “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” There you have it, ladies, Grin and Bear It – God “intended” that you should be raped.

In Mississippi recently a five-year-old child was taken home from kindergarten in a police car “to teach him and his mother a lesson.” What was the crime? The school requires all students to wear black shoes, and this kid’s family was too poor to buy him black shoes. Mom, being resourceful, colored over his red and white sneakers with black marker. Unfortunately she missed a few places and so had to be “taught a lesson” in low-effort thinking by school officials.

Every example of low-effort thinking throughout history that failed to embrace and maintain common compassion, justice, equal economic opportunity, and respect for individuals did so as their social contract ceased to be viable. As in 14th-century Venice, people do not long subscribe to a social contract they perceive as being unfair and delimiting. The United States has the fifth-highest wealth disparity among 150 countries. It has happened before and it could be happening again. Even the Greek-born Roman essayist Plutarch recognized that “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” It is not simply the disparity of wealth that matters, so much as the disparity of opportunity that in itself is the measure of a nation, of a society.

The most serious question certainly is: What does this low-effort thinking in the simultaneous trends of zealotry and material greed portend for the American social contract? The recent election and its aftermath have shown how conservatives such as moderate Republicans and Tea Party activists cannot connect with each other even to win an election. Tea Party zealots have now vowed to run candidates against moderate Republicans in future elections. Like everything else involving people, low-effort thinking is a spectrum across which people and ideas are spread, ranging from virulent to somewhat reasonable. Every form of sociopathy has its destructive consequences.

It isn’t a joking matter that scores of people in states across the South and in the West have signed petitions demanding their state secede from the United States. When thoughtful engagement is required to sustain a society, low-effort thinking is the kiss of death.  The wisdom of Shelley’s Ozymandias rings true to this day:

‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
What better example of low-effort thinking need there be? Perhaps the Texas GOP has the solution: Do not teach “critical thinking” in public schools.

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: http://www.motivationalbooks.com/thelightofnewmexico/


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