Posts Tagged 'Wal-Mart'

The American Taliban – Part 4

Target – Public Education

The old Jesuit motto: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” is a bold statement, a boast in fact. Regardless of other considerations the statement expresses an absolute faith in education. And, is it not true that a child well schooled to the age of seven has probably developed habits of mind that make further education possible? All children with the help of responsible caring adults are capable of reaching or even exceeding their innate capacities. This process is the generally understood function of public education, its raison d’être. A population of capable citizens educated to the maximum of their abilities is the aim public education.

In practice, however, we find another story, one less optimistic, less idealistic, and becoming more Darwinian, venal, and draconian. The reasons for this have much to do with denial of the reality of unequal intellectual endowment and powerful forces seeking to privatize exploiting that inequality. It is very bad form to open a public discussion about unequal learning abilities and intellectual capacity. No parent wants to be or will tolerate being told – “ Your kid isn’t smart.” The reality of this denial results in diminished educational experiences for all students across the spectrum of natural abilities. Universal testing mania, deliberately ignoring this reality, pits all children across the intellectual spectrum against all others without regard for innate ability penalizing teachers and students alike.

Defensive teaching to a standardized test becomes inevitable and becomes teaching to the lowest common denominator. By definition no standardized test recognizes much less respects individual innate ability. It is about politics and money, nothing else. The cruelty of such facile schemes as “No Child Left Behind” leave all children behind because the premise of the program is false and empty of honest pedagogical reasoning. Standardized means just what it says, standard – a predetermined level of attainment across the spectrum of abilities. Just how is such a standard achieved by children who are not equal mentally and/or are from homes and neighborhoods where school learning is not a value? What is being compared to what is the question left unanswered.

None of the foregoing is intended to discredit the value of testing student achievement for pedagogical purposes but rather to point out its inappropriate application when used to assess and compare school populations locally, statewide, and nationally. The use of such testing is unquestionably unfair to the children as much as it is to teachers. In short there are no such creatures as “standard” children, “standard” classrooms, or “standard” teachers. To contend otherwise is an obvious sign of intellectual dishonesty at best or ulterior motives at worst. What if the NCLB, ABCDF and Race To The Top nonsense have strategic non-educational motives? But, let’s leave that question on the table for the moment and tackle a few related questions; we’ll come back to it shortly.

For the moment put yourself in the place of a classroom teacher with 20 perhaps 30 kids; a classroom of children with diverse intellectual capacity, attention spans, diet, and home life to mention only  a few of the variables. By the end of the semester you are expected to lead each child to a “standard” level of achievement regardless of those variables. You will be evaluated on the test scores these kids achieve. Your job and your pay are contingent upon good results. Does this sound like a good deal for you? For the kids? For the school? I don’t think so. In fact it is destructive as it stigmatizes and deprives children of their personal dignity and demonizes and punishes teachers for matters that are entirely out of their control. It puts teachers in the situation of a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest. Education is not a manufacturing production process and children are not products like refrigerators to be popped off the end of an assembly line. No one is standard.

Taking up the question posited earlier, why over the past several years have we witnessed this unrelenting assault on public education and public school teachers?

What’s up? –  Surprise!   –  It’s all about money, folks.

In the words of Rupert Murdoch: “When it comes to K–through–12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting to be transformed.” The American Taliban is on the march to privatize America’s public education (and everything else so far as that goes) by whatever means because they see it as a $500 billion market. It’s about money not children, it’s about profit not learning. It’s about private entities such as Wal-Mart, American Legislative Exchange Council, Laying The Foundation, Americans for Prosperity (read “Profit”). Murdoch, at another gathering of privatization crusaders, said, “ … we must approach education … willing to blow up what doesn’t work or gets in the way.” When the Bush administration foisted NCLB on the country, public schools became equivalent to Sadam Hussein’s WMD – manufactured facts and little if any truth. The assault continues today as children are being used as right-wing chew toys.  It is a war against the most cherished and valuable of public services and dedicated public servants – teachers and teaching the young. It is a clear and present thrteat to the American social contract of which public education is an essential part.

Sowing doubt and mistrust creates a sense that there are possibilities left untried or ignored. As Nicolas Sarkozy put it in another context: “This is how we create a gulf of incomprehension between the expert certain in his knowledge and the citizen whose experience of life is completely out of synch with the story told by the data. This gulf is dangerous because the citizens end up believing that they are being deceived. Nothing is more destructive of democracy.” Distrust and fear are the weapons the American Taliban are using against public education and truth.

Fundamental Disrespect

The latest example of disrespect for the legislative process and public education to drop from the Governor’s office was the announcement that a teacher evaluation process would be implemented in the face of legislative disapproval. Let’s face it, the Secretary-designate and the Governor have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. So what if the legislature fails to take up the unqualified Secretary of Education candidate’s appointment to office? Skandera, nonetheless, remains the Secretary-designate and has the power to pursue her relentless ALEC agenda to destroy public education with the ambitious governor’s full support. The legislature has, it believes, made itself blameless in not taking up the appointment but in reality they have enabled the Governor’s war against the legislators themselves, teachers, students and public education. This is what I call the Pontius Pilate delusion – my hands are clean! Oh yeah….

In a seemingly unrelated but not necessarily so revelation, Independent Source PAC has published news about an application by the so-called Rio Grande Foundation, a far right-wing front organization funded by, among others, Wal-Mart, to establish and run charter schools in New Mexico. The application for the New Mexico Connections Academy lists Paul Gessing as the applicant on behalf of the schools. I have previously exposed Mr. Gessing’s relationship to many far-right organizations including ALEC as well as his so-called foundation’s sources of funding. One of Gessing’s listed “advisors” in this enterprise (and it is an enterprise before it is anything else) is also the vice-president and co-founder of Connections Academy; Mickey Revenaugh was formerly co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force. ALEC is the Washington DC body funded by multi-national corporations that created the education bills submitted, without disclosure of their provenance, to the New Mexico legislature this past January.

It looks like the Secretary-designate’s unremitting agenda to ALECify  New Mexico schools now has it’s follow-on team on tap. Here comes the ALEC cavalry, Connections Academy, ready to fill the breech Ms. Skandera’s public policies are creating. “It’s going to happen,” she told a Santa Fe New Mexican Reporter correspondent, New Mexico will have a new teacher evaluation system in place “by the end of summer.” Bernice Garcia-Baca who is a counselor at the Aspen Community Magnet School and who also serves as the Santa Fe representative to the NEA characterized the teacher evaluation as “pretty ludicrous”. Sorry to say, I think, it far from ludicrous. On the contrary it is well planned, deliberate and will probably succeed in its long-term goals unless the public and teachers combine their efforts to rescue public schools from this unrelenting attack.

 

It isn’t hard to imagine the ambitions of the local political operatives like Skandera and Gessing fantasizing about a Republican sweep in the upcoming November elections and their own all but inevitable apotheosis to national positions appointed by a grateful victorious president. They would thus be rewarded for the privatization of public education in New Mexico. Ambition beyond the dreams of mere mortals – elevation to divine status as actors on the national stage! Privatize – Privatize – let no other ambition evade your eyes! Dream Baby, Dream!


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