"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Why The United States Is Destroying Its Education System

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Oldspeak: ” Imagine, going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job…The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.” –Unnamed New York City School Teacher

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers–those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential–and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts–those who march to the beat of their own drum–are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work–and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system–whose primary concern is certainly not with education–are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain–not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing–but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class–an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors–poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition–are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals–themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love–love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you–but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside–including religious laws–are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur–the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

© 2011 Truthdig All rights reserved.

How Our Culture Makes Girls Think They Have To Be “Gorgeous” To Be Loved

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

Oldspeak:”The insidious messages are sent via the multi-billion dollar, fashion, cosmetics, entertainment and media industries. Don’t worry about being intelligent or concerning yourself with the problems of world around you. You “must have” the “right’ bag, the “right” dress, the “right” shoes, the “right” hair, the “right” make up, the “perfect” weight, to be considered normal and acceptable in this hyper-competitive, obsessively superficial and pathologically narcissitic culture. Countless studies and polls highlighting the social, psychological and economic advantages afforded ‘beautiful people’ in life. “Smart and amazing young women have somehow gotten the idea that in order to be treated with respect and love, they have to be damn near perfect.”-Hugh Schwyzer

Related Story: Nothing Tastes As Good As Skinny Feels’ Now Available On A Onesie

By Hugh Schwyzer @ Alter Net:

It’s not news that girls are feeling more pressure than ever to be perfect. As I’ve written before in my posts on the Martha Complex, this generation of teen girls is more stressed about, well, everything, than any generation of women before them.* The pressure to do well in school, the pressure to please parents and peers, and the pressure to live up to an impossible ideal of physical perfection is crushing.

Tweens and teens grow up comparing themselves to models and tv stars. Few girls feel as pretty, as sexy, as skinny as the women they see in the media. As a result, many young women conclude that happiness is something that you only get when you get to your goal weight. And even more troublingly, when it comes to relationships, lots of straight girls think that if their own bodies aren’t perfect, they have no right to expect too much from guys.

Working with high school and college-aged young women, I’ve heard the same thing more and more often in recent years. These smart and amazing young women have somehow gotten the idea that in order to be treated with respect and love, they have to be damn near perfect. One student said to me last year, “If I were fifteen pounds thinner, I think my boyfriend would stop looking at other girls.” She didn’t feel like she had the right to ask her guy to stop checking out other women in public. “You have to be gorgeous for a man to want to be with you and only you. I’m not, so I can’t expect that.”

A mentee of mine has a boyfriend who uses porn regularly and plays video games for hours. “Sometimes he’ll just forget to call or text because he’s gaming”, she says. “I’m lucky to get a few minutes alone with him a week when we’re not doing something sexual. But this is the way boys are – unless you’re like freakin’ Megan Fox, you can’t expect a guy’s complete attention.”

Another girl told me that she doesn’t feel like she can have a boyfriend – because she’s not pretty enough. She has a lot of hook-ups instead. “I’m the girl you get with for a blowjob”, she said; “I’m not the hot girl you hold hands with in public.” (For more on the connection between perfectionism and promiscuity, see Kerry Cohen’s forthcoming Dirty Little Secrets, to be published later this year.)

Words like these break my heart, because these bright and beautiful girls are blinded to their own worth. They don’t see that they have the right to demand respect; that they have the right to set good boundaries; that they have the right to pursue a real relationship (if they want one). Believing that only women who meet an unattainable standard of perfection “deserve” to be happy sets girls up to settle for second-best in one area where they should never compromise.

This perfectionism dovetails dangerously with another theme in young women’s lives: the “good guys are hard to find” narrative. This belief that reliable and loving young men are rare reinforces the pursuit of skinny, sexy, beauty: the fewer decent lads out there, the more “choice” those guys have. And even the decent ones, so the culture tells us, will make relationship decisions based on women’s appearance. For some, that means all the more reason to compete – and for others, all the more reason to opt out and “settle” for what they’ve been told is the best they can reasonably hope for.

We need to see how the pressure to be perfect – a pressure that is nearly omnipresent in young women’s lives, even the lives of those who don’t seem to be pursuing an ideal – is rooted in a false scarcity model. There won’t be enough for you, the culture says, unless you try harder. And if in your own eyes, you’re well short of that ideal, then you need to be realistic and settle gratefully for the crumbs.

Young women often tell stories about their girlfriends, whom they often describe as amazing and wonderful. “It’s so sad”, Jessica will say, “Amy doesn’t see what we all see. She’s so pretty and smart, but she keeps dating these losers. She doesn’t know her value.” Of course, half the time, Amy is saying the same thing about Jessica. Teen girls are almost invariably fonts of great wisdom for their peers – but lousy at taking their own advice to heart. The truth is, of course, even the young women who most closely match the rigid beauty standards are bitterly aware of how they “fall short of the mark”, at least in their own minds.

It’s not a stretch to point out that the “scarcity model” combines with perfectionism to let men off the hook time and again. The less girls believe they deserve, the less they’ll ask for – and the less young men need to provide. Until we ask who benefits from this cruel system, we’re not getting close to solving the problem.


The McEducation of the Negro

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Oldspeak:“Administrators pushing out low-performing students. Teachers helping students cheat. Administrators hiring managers with no background in education or working with children. The banking system of education, infused with a profit (funding) driven, corporate business ethos centered around high stakes”teaching to the test”, with teachers as technicians and students as widgets to be serviced, produces results like these. Disadvantaged children are being groomed to be unthinking, creatively challenged happiness machines, learning to follow rules and directions in a hyper competitive ‘global marketplace’. Completely commodified. Neatly packaged to perform their designated functions without questioning the misguided system. Democracy has no chance in a society of  misinformed citizens, with no language to engage in critical thinking and discourse.”

From Natalie Hopkinson @ The Root:

Franchising is an outstanding model for selling Big Macs. But it can be toxic to classrooms.

Something wasn’t right at the high school that Darwin Bridgers’ son attends, so he sat in on the class to see for himself. All morning long, the instructor at the Washington, D.C., charter school pointed to a list of ground rules, a detailed list of rewards and punishments posted on a wall near the front of the class filled with black and Latino students.

Then the students filled out worksheets. That’s how it went: rewards and punishments, then worksheets. No instruction, just worksheets. At the end of the class, Bridgers, who works as an exterminator, pulled aside the teacher, a young white male and recent graduate.

“I wanted to know when he was going to do some, you know, teaching,” Bridgers explained to me recently. “You know, like, how we used to have in school? She would stand in front of the class … ”

I nodded my head. I attended K-12 at schools in Canada, Indiana and Florida in the ’80s and ’90s, but I knew exactly what he meant. There would be assignments to read from textbooks. A teacher would give a lecture and randomly call on students. Students would ask questions and write things down. Then there would be some sort of written exam to see what you’d learned.

Of course, today the “reformers” say that that way of teaching is old school. It was fine before the days of social media and the “information revolution” and the global economy. But now, as the argument goes in films like Waiting for Superman, no self-respecting parent would ever send his or her child to a “failing” public school like the one that generations of Bridgers’ family attended in their neighborhood in Northeast Washington.

For Bridgers’ son and a disproportionate number of black students around the country, charter schools have become the preferred choice. The idea is that charters can find a model that produces results — measured in test scores — then apply it to different campuses. They can raise and spend money independently. They can have management consultants, and they can compete — just like a business. As the charter school movement picks up steam nationwide, the District of Columbia may provide a glimpse of the future of “choice”: Roughly 40 percent of children enrolled in District of Columbia public schools attend charters.

Many D.C. parents are finding that, sure, there are plenty of choices — just not a lot of good, or even passable ones. When you mix corporate strategies with an ominous 2014 compliance deadline under the No Child Left Behind law, you often end up with scenes that look nothing like what most of us might recognize as a classroom.

“What once was an effort to improve the quality of education turned into an accounting strategy,” the acclaimed education historian Diane Ravitch writes in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. “The strategy produced fear and obedience among educators. It often generated higher test scores. But it had nothing to do with education. It produced mountains of data, not educated citizens. Its advocates then treated that data as evidence of its success.”

That strategy has grown even more intense as teachers and administrators are testing for their professional lives. Under NCLB, 100 percent of schools must reach certain test-score targets by 2014; schools that fall short could lose federal funding, or be closed.

Even if the law is repealed, which is something the Obama administration has signaled it will do, education has been changed in this country forever. Obama’s Race to the Topprogram continues to use the same sticks and carrots that require educators to teach to the test or else be fired or make less money.

The looming deadline is making people do crazy things: Like administrators pushing out low-performing students in North Carolina. Like teachers helping students cheat in Atlanta. Like officials producing math so fuzzy, it would make Wall Street CEOs blush. And, in the case of the Oprah-certified former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, like importing shoddy private managers to take over a school.

Under this framework, “failing” schools are by definition the ones serving the most vulnerable populations — recent immigrants learning English, families battling poverty, children with trifling or MIA parents. The reformers say that even these students would produce better test scores if only they weren’t sitting in front of “lazy” teachers collecting checks, a slight upgrade from Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens.

Under this movement, teachers don’t get better with practice. Instead they are installed and reinstalled like interchangeable parts. Teachers’ unions, originally organized to protect the mostly female work force from capricious regulations of their marriages and lifestyles by mostly male administrators, are depicted as the enemies of progress. (Police unions somehow escaped blame for rising murder rates.)

I’m less concerned about the teachers and administrators than I am the children stuck in those classrooms. What it means to learn has been transformed for a generation of urban children. Education is acquiring a basic body of knowledge needed to competently vote and play Jeopardy, appreciate music and art, go to college and get a job, communicate and so on.

But in the name of reform, it’s as if somehow the goalpost has been moved without our realizing it. Now education — for those “failing” urban kids, anyway — is about learning the rules and following directions. Not critical thinking. Not creativity. It’s about how to correctly eliminate three out of four bubbles. The whole messy, thrilling, challenging work of shaping young minds has been reduced to a one or a zero. Pass or fail.

A decade of this language has taken its own toll. Kids attend “failing” schools. A majority of black boys are “failures.” Whole communities are branded with a collective “F.” Conservative California politicians liken Compton parents who demand the heads of school staff to modern-day versions of Rosa Parks.

So in cities such as New York, they bring in the number crunchers instead of real education experts — even if these privatization experiments can go horribly, tragically wrong. And even if choosing a charter school often means choosing to racially segregate.

Public schools that enjoy certain socioeconomic privileges (and a minimal number of needy kids) are thriving and will continue to be left alone. But for the “failing” communities and students, there will be no public system. Instead they are required to navigate the education marketplace, choosing between neighborhood schools that have been creamed of their best students and the new experimental start-ups that on average perform worse than traditional public schools. “This strategy plays a shell game with low-performing students, moving them out and dispersing them, pretending they don’t exist,” Ravitch wrote.

We have collectively decided that we are incapable as a society of honoring the social contract to own buildings and pay teachers in disadvantaged communities. How can a whole demographic of children need to be “fixed”? How can all of them be wrong?

As for his black son, Bridgers believed that there was something wrong with the medicine. “The teacher was too young,” he says. “He couldn’t handle the pressure.” A week after Bridgers visited the school, his son told him that the young teacher had left and never come back. So Bridgers sent his son to live with his mother in Pennsylvania. “I coach football Little League,” he told me. “This is what we talk about on the sidelines. It’s terrible what they are doing to these schools.”




Selling Out New York City’s Public Schools: Mayor Bloomberg, David Steiner And The Politics Of Corporate “Leadership”

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2010 at 11:56 am

Oldspeak:”The corporate take over of public education is in full swing, as evidenced by Boss Bloomberg’s appointment of the grossly unqualified Hearst Magazines C.E.O. Cathleen Black who has zero background in public service/education as chancellor of the the country’s largest school system. Her mandate is to implement the Wal-Mart model of education,” ‘in which students are viewed as a cheap supply of labor, valuable to the extent that they “help employees get more education and to build a better work force.” As is usual with corporatization, the poorest and most vulnerable people will suffer. Zero-tolerance disciplinary measures, increased surveillance and criminalization of  social behaviors will further augment the school-to-prison pipeline.”

From Herny A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Politicians, anti-public intellectuals and conservative-leaning media pundits no longer ask what kind of education is needed in a democratic society. Nor do they value the importance of educating teachers and students to think critically, engage in meaningful dialogue and function as producers of knowledge rather than as objects of its transmission. Curiously, given the disastrous state of the economy since its 2008 meltdown, the leadership driving the new reform movement in education are hedge fund managers, multimillionaires, Ivy League apparatchiks and corporate executives. For them, education is largely about “applying business strategies and discipline to public schools.”(1) Education has become the new frontier for the investment dollar and very likely the next big bubble to burst. But what do the proposed reforms mean for education now, on the ground, so to speak, in classrooms across the nation? Educational theory – the guiding philosophical principles that provide a vision of what it means to be a fully functional educated citizen, as well as the vision of the kind of society educated men and women should aspire to build – has been stripped of its critical and emancipatory possibilities, in this latest demand for educational accountability and innovation, just as pedagogy has been reduced to a managerial and disciplinary process largely driven by market values, a crude empiricism and the ideology of casino capitalism with its relentless prioritization of economic interests over human interests and a politically compliant and technologically savvy labor force over one that aspires to independent thought and ethical stewardship in its efforts to meet the needs of a democratic polity.

What is emerging out of this anti-public model of education is the Wal-Mart approach to schooling, in which students are viewed as a cheap supply of labor, valuable to the extent that they “help employees get more education and to build a better work force.”(2)Evidence of how this business model, with its all-too-obvious flight from social and moral responsibility works is evident in the recent decision by David Steiner, the recently appointed commissioner of the New York State Department of Education, to name the utterly unqualified Cathleen P. Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, as the chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

The appointment of a person who has little involvement in public service and no meaningful experience as an educator to head the largest public school system in the country has prompted a great deal of public outrage and generated a significant amount of coverage in the dominant media. At one level, the protest has centered on the imperial rule of Mayor Bloomberg who, true to his corporate values, once again exhibits his disdain for any notion of governance that solicits public dialogue, values and community involvement. Not only has Bloomberg appointed a majority of his supporters to the Board of Education, but when they disagree with his policies, he simply fires them. To his critics, Bloomberg is elitist, autocratic and largely dismissive to those who challenge him. Surely, this characterization of the New York City mayor has been reinforced by the highly secretive way in which Black was chosen to assume such a vital role in educational leadership. The imperial nature, to say nothing of the thoughtlessness, of his selection of Black was echoed by her comment that “the offer came out of left field.”(3) Though, of course, in accepting the position, she reproduced the distorted assumption that “all the school system needs is a smart and talented manager.”(4) Even the director of education policy studies at the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute – no friend of public education – was puzzled over the official rationale for Black’s appointment and stated that it was naive for Bloomberg to believe that the only requirement necessary for Black to become the head of the New York City school system was that she was a CEO and “that all C.E.O.’s have the skills to lead this large organization.”(5)

As public outrage grew over Bloomberg’s appointment, a number of groups, including the editorial board of The New York Times, argued that one possible compromise would be to appoint a professional educator as a chief academic officer to act as Black’s chief adviser. The only person with the power to insist that Black be provided with a surrogate tutor was Steiner – at which point, the media coverage of the story shifted to Steiner. Steiner has the power, under a 73-year old state law, to prevent Black from taking the position by denying her request for a school district leader certificate, particularly in light of the fact that Black has no advanced degrees or educational credentials whatsoever. He also had the power to give her a waiver under certain specified conditions, one of which was to work with a professional educator as second in command. Only by providing a waiver to Black would it be possible for her to assume the position as chancellor of the school system, a position for which, again, she is singularly unqualified given her lack of educational preparation and experience.

Of course, Steiner, true to his own corporate-driven ideology, eventually granted Black the waiver to assume the job, but with the qualification that she work with a chief academic officer by her side. In agreeing to provide the waiver, Steiner wrote, “Despite her lack of direct experience in education, I find that Black’s exceptional record of successfully leading complex organizations and achievement of excellence in her endeavors warrant certification.”(6) Steiner is stretching the logic of deliberation and good judgment here to the point of disbelief. How does running a successful business qualify someone to run the largest school system in America? And if she is qualified by virtue of that experience, why, as a precondition for assuming the job, is she being assigned a deputy chancellor who, as an experienced educator, is serving as her private tutor – a condition which makes clear how unqualified she is for the position in the first place? Needless to say, once Steiner made his decision, Mayor Bloomberg made clear how irrelevant such an ill-conceived and conciliatory gesture was by pointing out, “There will be one person in charge. Make no mistake about that.”(7)

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This kind of mindless authoritarianism by Bloomberg feeds into a type of lethal ignorance regarding what constitutes educational leadership, and is part and parcel of free-market ideology that assumes that all social, economic, educational and political problems can be solved through the template of a business culture increasingly characterized by top-to-down modes of governance, unchecked financial recklessness, a contempt for democratic modes of deliberation, a hatred of unions’ and teachers’ rights, a disdain for all things public and a flight for social and moral responsibility. But the real issue here is not about the appointment of Black to a position for which she is embarrassingly unqualified, but about corporate power and a business culture, along with its pocketed elites, who both detest public education and who pose a serious threat to the educational conditions necessary for critical thought, engaged citizenship and democratic life itself.

Steiner’s pusillanimity is a case in point. When it became clear that he had the power to derail Mayor Bloomberg’s appointment of Black, The New York Times ran a front-page story on Steiner, portraying him as a sensitive, thoughtful Oxford graduate who was having trouble sleeping over the decision. Or so it was reported in The New York Times, “He has been having trouble sleeping, gazing at a print of Rembrandt’s ‘Philosopher in Mediation’ in his apartment and taking solace in Schubert Opus 100.”(8) Not only was Steiner portrayed as a well-educated, classics enthusiast who dared, at least momentarily, to stand bravely in the way of Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to appoint Black as the new school chancellor, but also as a sensitive intellectual who, by virtue of his education and Ivy League pedigree, would surely make the right choice. The hidden order of politics here is that the well-educated elite, even when they have been bought off by the rich and powerful, will end up making responsible decisions. This is a familiar story and legitimates the millionaire/billionaire-driven culture of philanthropy that is now waging a war against public and higher education.

The barbarians in this narrative are not the business elites, but the hordes of alleged philistines who make up the teachers unions and confront every day the growing challenges of engaging students in the classroom. In this widely fabricated and revolting scenario, this merging of the business elite with the alleged best and the brightest, while they may have given us a string of wars extending from Vietnam to Afghanistan along with scandals extending from Enron to the current financial meltdown, are, as a bloc, much too educated and civilized to be viewed as corrupt, greedy, politically challenged or subservient to the naked interests of powerful corporations. Not only does this script rival the banalities of celebrity culture, but it says little that is truthful about the reality of the alleged superior educational views, politics and morality of the elite. In this view, the presumed power of the cultivated imagination of the rich and powerful prevents them from being narrow, craven, inhumane or eagerly subservient to established power. Little is said about the shortcomings of the education that the elite actually receive, nor is there any acknowledgment that Nazi leaders along with Pol Pot and others who reviled democracy also appreciated “great” books and works of art, but that did not stop them from engaging in horrendous crimes against humanity. The truth of one’s politics lies elsewhere; it speaks in and through relations of power, compassion, empathy and public values; it is also rooted in the decisions one makes and the consequences they have regarding the important issues of equity, social justice, equality and the public good.

In the end, Steiner’s soaring imagination and literary tastes simply become a convenient alibi for refusing to engage his politics and the slavish role he now plays as a courier for corporate power and neoliberal ideology. The result, in part, has been a mainstream, media-driven narrative that depoliticizes the most important issues at hand in the Bloomberg appointment, and the role that is played at the highest levels of state power by an intellectual elite who provide support for such malfeasance. The Bloomberg decision raises larger issues about the crisis of public education, the war being waged against youth of color, the rise of the punishing state and its influence upon education and the growing disinvestment in education as a public good. The New York Times story about Steiner takes a crucial issue about educational leadership and reduces it to an utterly privatized account of Steiner’s life. While the article obsequiously gushes to its readers that Steiner is a “walking Bartlett’s, known for weaving Homer, Plato, Shakespeare and Dante into his conversation and e-mails,”(9) this is all beside the point. It hasn’t translated into effective new leadership in New York City schools. Nor does Steiner’s alleged intellectual gravitas impact in any way the literacy rates of New York City school kids. Rather, it serves as a shameful cover for divesting them of the resources necessary for meaningful and critical education. The real news is that Steiner is just as much a neoliberal, free-market enthusiast, who has a long record of prioritizing the teaching of methods over theory, substituting training for critical education, advocating for charter schools and supporting the punishing bromide of reducing teacher and student evaluations to the draconian demands of high-stakes testing and empirically based performance measures. Rather than being treated to a celebrity-style commentary about the refinement of Steiner’s musical or literary tastes, the public deserves more. For example, how does Steiner address the meaning and purpose of education so as to do justice to the hundreds of thousands of parents, administrators, teachers and students who believe that education is a central and formative element in teaching young people how to think critically and engage the world, not merely as workers, but as informed and critical citizens? What are his views on addressing the economic inequities faced by so many school children in New York? Or, for that matter, the increasing disproportionate suspensions and expulsions of poor students of color, and the increasing presence of the police in schools, and the list goes on and on.

Not only does Steiner’s actual history of policy making suggest that the outcome of his decision about Black was never in dispute, but it also reveals how conservative politicians such as Bloomberg are putting into positions of power neoliberal apparatchiks, who willingly promote the business culture and social relations so vital to the assault on public schools, teacher unions, teachers and students that marks the rise of the new neoliberal hedge fund, millionaire school reformers. Despite the Times’ willful myopia, Steiner’s conservative credentials are on full display in a number of articles he has published in highly right-wing journals. His disdain for critical pedagogical practice and support for corporate-based notions of schooling was highly visible during his tenure as dean of Hunter College. While at Hunter, he promoted charter schools, reinforced the anti-intellectual nature of teacher education by developing programs that emphasized practice over theory, criticized any attempt to deepen the connection between research and teaching, defined pedagogy as primarily the mastery of methods and abstracted any vestige of critical theory from classroom teaching by emphasizing clinical training – all the while going on record expressing a disdain for any attempt to view teachers as critical intellectuals whose classroom performance could be enhanced through a familiarity with scholarship and critical theory in general.(10) Whatever the high cultural gloss given to Steiner, his decisions and actions at various levels of the New York educational system would reveal just another neoliberal, free-market ideologue whose view of education strips away any vestige of critical imagination, undermines an environment of collaboration and undercuts teacher autonomy from classroom teaching. Steiner’s educational philosophy in the end reduces the purpose and meaning of education to the dictates of a business culture more interested in training than in educating. It is also a philosophy that supports the increased use of disciplinary measures in the schools that increasingly transform schools into laboratories for modes of surveillance that pose a threat both to civil liberties and to democracy itself. In fact, it can be argued that the use of cameras to monitor classrooms poses a troubling threat to poor black students because this type of monitoring tends to produce crime by criminalizing social behavior, removing those populations considered disposable, thus producing more bodies for the school to prison pipeline. For example, Steiner’s trademark support for videotaping classroom teachers as pedagogical practice firmly supports Bill Gates’ recent suggestion that monitoring devices be placed in classrooms as a way of evaluating teacher performance.(11) Little is said about how these technologies, elevated to pedagogical essentials, desensitize children to being under constant surveillance in the workplace and various other public spheres. In this case, the pedagogy of business culture often bears an eerie, if not chilling, alignment with diverse modes of policing.(12)

Schooling in this view is all about preparing people for jobs and setting up policies that remove critical thinking as a serious condition for independent action and engaged citizenship. What haunts people like Steiner, Arthur Levine, Gates, Jack Welch, and the rest of this neoliberal crew is that teachers might actually be educated as critical intellectuals – thoroughly versed in theory and subject matter and not simply methods – and, in doing so, may engage in the dangerous practice of teaching students how to think, hold power and authority accountable, take risks and willingly embrace their role as producers and not merely transmitters of critical information. Steiner’s decision to cave in to Bloomberg’s authoritarian view of education is just another example of a how corporate power and values in education are now working to create what Martha C. Nussbaum calls “generations of useful machines.”(13)

Footnotes:

1. Stephanie Strom, “For School Company, Issues of Money and Control,” New York Times, (April 23, 2010), p. A1.

2. Stephanie Clifford and Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Wal-Mart to Offer Its Workers a College Program,” The New York Times, (June 3, 2010), p. B4.

3. Elissa Gootman, “Frustrations With Mayor Are Backdrop to Nominee Uproar,” New York Times (November 25, 2010). P. A28.

4. Editorial, “The Mayor and the Chancellor,” New York Times, (November 24, 2010), p. A30.

5. Elissa Gootman, “Frustrations With Mayor Are Backdrop to Nominee Uproar,” New York Times (November 25, 2010). P. A28.

6. See Steiner’s 12=page defense for granting the waiver online here.

7. Cited in Javier C. Hernandez, “State Grants Waiver for Schools Chancellor,” New York Times (November 29, 2010).

Within a few days, it became obvious why Black had been chosen by Bloomberg. In an interview reported in The New York Times, she asked her critics to simply give her a chance. And, yet, she made quite clear that she would pursue the same punishing neoliberal policies instituted by her predecessor, Chancellor Joe Klein. According to Black, she “planned to continue Mr. Klein’s efforts to increase the robustness of teacher evaluations, reconsider the policy of life time tenure and seek to change the law that requires layoffs to be determined by seniority.” In other words, she will use the same slash-and-burn policies made famous by neoliberal educational leaders such as Michele Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of Washington, DC, schools. Simply put, she will eliminate tenure for teachers, disregard seniority and the job protections it offers, continue high-stakes testing modes of pedagogy, tie teacher evaluations to stripped-down empirical evaluations, close schools that are underserved and promote the opening of charter schools.

8. David W. Chen and Javier C. Hernandez, “A Classics Buff Agonizes Over Challenge to Mayor,” New York Times (November 24, 2010), p. A27.

9. David W. Chen and Javier C. Hernandez, “A Classics Buff Agonizes Over Challenge to Mayor,” New York Times (November 24, 2010), p. A27.

10. For a puff piece that spells out and celebrates Steiner’s neoliberal position on education and some of the policies he has implemented in accordance with it, see Kevin Carey, “‘Teacher U’: A New Modal in Employer-Led Higher Education,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, (December 13, 2010). Online here.

11. Sam Dillon, “Teachers Ratings Get New Look, Pushed by a Rich Watcher,” New York Times (December 4, 2010), p. A1.

12. I want to thank my colleague David Price for bringing Gates’ article to my attention and for his comments on the issue, some of which I have used.

13. Martha C. Nussbaum, “Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities,” (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010), p. 2.


Lessons To Be Learned From Paulo Freire As Education Is Being Taken Over By The Mega Rich

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

Oldspeak:”The banking system of education is no longer viable. The “Race To The Top” change being pushed is a variation on the same misguided system. Corporate and monied interests have taken control of the “education reform” debate, championing privatization, profit-driven charter schools, placing people with business backgrounds and no background or experience in education into positions of power to push forward education policy that emphasizes memorization, conformity and high stakes testing. Universities have been converted in to corporate funded factory farms, churning out widgets that fit well into their profit generating machines. ‘They are increasingly defined through the corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge and credentials in building a workforce that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in China and other southeast Asian markets, while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power.’ ”

From Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

At a time when memory is being erased and the political relevance of education is dismissed in the language of measurement and quantification, it is all the more important to remember the legacy and work of Paulo Freire. Freire is one of the most important educators of the 20th century and is considered one of the most important theorists of “critical pedagogy” – the educational movement guided by both passion and principle to help students develop a consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, empower the imagination, connect knowledge and truth to power and learn to read both the word and the world as part of a broader struggle for agency, justice and democracy. His groundbreaking book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” has sold more than a million copies and is deservedly being commemorated this year – the 40th anniversary of its appearance in English translation – after having exerted its influence over generations of teachers and intellectuals in the Americas and abroad.

Since the 1980s, there have been too few intellectuals on the North American educational scene who have matched Freire’s theoretical rigor, civic courage and sense of moral responsibility. And his example is more important now than ever before: with institutions of public and higher education increasingly under siege by a host of neoliberal and conservative forces, it is imperative for educators to acknowledge Freire’s understanding of the empowering and democratic potential of education. Critical pedagogy currently offers the very best, perhaps the only, chance for young people to develop and assert a sense of their rights and responsibilities to participate in governing, and not simply being governed by prevailing ideological and material forces.

When we survey the current state of education in the United States, we see that most universities are now dominated by instrumentalist and conservative ideologies, hooked on methods, slavishly wedded to accountability measures and run by administrators who often lack a broader vision of education as a force for strengthening civic imagination and expanding democratic public life. One consequence is that a concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while higher education – once conceptualized as a fundamental public good – has been reduced to a private good, now available almost exclusively to those with the financial means. Universities are increasingly defined through the corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge and credentials in building a workforce that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in China and other southeast Asian markets, while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power. There is little interest in understanding the pedagogical foundation of higher education as a deeply civic and political project that provides the conditions for individual autonomy and takes liberation and the practice of freedom as a collective goal.

Public education fares even worse. Dominated by pedagogies that are utterly instrumental, geared toward memorization, conformity and high-stakes test taking, public schools have become intellectual dead zones and punishment centers as far removed from teaching civic values and expanding the imaginations of students as one can imagine. The profound disdain for public education is evident not only in Obama’s test-driven, privatized and charter school reform movement, but also in the hostile takeover of public education now taking place among the ultra-rich and hedge fund zombies, who get massive tax breaks from gaining control of charter schools. The public in education has now become the enemy of educational reform. How else can one explain the shameful appointment by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of Cathleen Black, the president of Hearst Magazine, as the next chancellor of the New York City public school system? Not only does she not have any experience in education and is totally unqualified for the job, but her background mimics the worst of elite arrogance and unaccountable power. Surely, one has to take note of the background of someone who should be a model for young people when such a background includes, as reported in The New York Times: “riding horses at a country club where blacks and Jews were not allowed …. lending a $47,000 bracelet to a Manhattan museum … and [refusing] interviews since her appointment.”(1) With friends like Rupert Murduch, it should come as no surprise that she once worked as a chief lobbyist for the newspaper industry in the 1990s “fighting a ban on tobacco advertising,”(2) which is often targeted toward the young. It seems that, when it comes to the elite of business culture, ignorance about education now ranks as a virtue. Then, of course, there is the sticky question of whether such a candidate qualifies as a model of civic integrity and courage for the many teachers and children under her leadership. Public values and public education surely take a nose dive in this appointment, but this is also symptomatic of what is happening to public education throughout the country.

Against the regime of “banking education,” stripped of all critical elements of teaching and learning, Freire believed that education, in the broadest sense, was eminently political because it offered students the conditions for self-reflection, a self-managed life and critical agency. For Freire, pedagogy was central to a formative culture that makes both critical consciousness and social action possible. Pedagogy in this sense connected learning to social change; it was a project and provocation that challenged students to critically engage with the world so they could act on it. As the sociologist Stanley Aronowitz has noted, Freire’s pedagogy helped learners “become aware of the forces that have hitherto ruled their lives and especially shaped their consciousness.”(3) What Freire made clear is that pedagogy at its best is not about training in techniques and methods, nor does it involve coercion or political indoctrination. Indeed, far from a mere method or an a priori technique to be imposed on all students, education is a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills and social relations that enable students to explore for themselves the possibilities of what it means to be engaged citizens, while expanding and deepening their participation in the promise of a substantive democracy. According to Freire, critical pedagogy afforded students the opportunity to read, write and learn from a position of agency – to engage in a culture of questioning that demands far more than competency in rote learning and the application of acquired skills. For Freire, pedagogy had to be meaningful in order to be critical and transformative. This meant that personal experience became a valuable resource that gave students the opportunity to relate their own narratives, social relations and histories to what was being taught. It also signified a resource to help students locate themselves in the concrete conditions of their daily lives, while furthering their understanding of the limits often imposed by such conditions. Under such circumstances, experience became a starting point, an object of inquiry that could be affirmed, critically interrogated and used as resource to engage broader modes of knowledge and understanding. Rather than taking the place of theory, experience worked in tandem with theory in order to dispel the notion that experience provided some form of unambiguous truth or political guarantee. Experience was crucial, but it had to take a detour through theory, self-reflection and critique to become a meaningful pedagogical resource.

Critical pedagogy, for Freire, meant imagining literacy as not simply the mastering of specific skills, but also as a mode of intervention, a way of learning about and reading the word as a basis for intervening in the world. Critical thinking was not reducible to an object lesson in test taking. It was not about the task of memorizing so-called facts, decontextualized and unrelated to present conditions. To the contrary, it was about offering a way of thinking beyond the seeming naturalness or inevitability of the current state of things, challenging assumptions validated by “common sense,” soaring beyond the immediate confines of one’s experiences, entering into a dialogue with history and imagining a future that would not merely reproduce the present.

By way of illustration, Freirean pedagogy might stage the dynamic interplay of audio, visual and print texts as part of a broader examination of history itself as a site of struggle, one that might offer some insights into students’ own experiences and lives in the contemporary moment. For example, a history class might involve reading and watching films about school desegregation in the 1950s and ’60s as part of a broader pedagogical engagement with the civil rights movement and the massive protests that developed over educational access and student rights to literacy. It would also open up opportunities to talk about why these struggles are still part of the experience of many North American youth today, particularly poor black and brown youth who are denied equality of opportunity by virtue of market-based rather than legal segregation. Students could be asked to write short papers that speculate on the meaning and the power of literacy and why it was so central to the civil rights movement. These may be read by the entire class, with each student elaborating his or her position and offering commentary as a way of entering into a critical discussion of the history of racial exclusion, reflecting on how its ideologies and formations still haunt American society in spite of the triumphal dawn of an allegedly post-racial Obama era. In this pedagogical context, students learn how to expand their own sense of agency, while recognizing that to be voiceless is to be powerless. Central to such a pedagogy is shifting the emphasis from teachers to students, and making visible the relationships among knowledge, authority and power. Giving students the opportunity to be problem posers and engage in a culture of questioning in the classroom foregrounds the crucial issue of who has control over the conditions of learning, and how specific modes of knowledge, identities and authority are constructed within particular sets of classroom relations. Under such circumstances, knowledge is not simply received by students, but actively transformed, open to be challenged and related to the self as an essential step toward agency, self-representation and learning how to govern rather than simply be governed. At the same time, students also learn how to engage others in critical dialogue and be held accountable for their views.

Thus, critical pedagogy insists that one of the fundamental tasks of educators is to make sure that the future points the way to a more socially just world, a world in which critique and possibility – in conjunction with the values of reason, freedom and equality – function to alter the grounds upon which life is lived. Though it rejects a notion of literacy as the transmission of facts or skills tied to the latest market trends, critical pedagogy is hardly a prescription for political indoctrination as the advocates of standardization and testing often insist. It offers students new ways to think and act creatively and independently, while making clear that the educator’s task, as Aronowitz points out, “is to encourage human agency, not mold it in the manner of Pygmalion.”(4) What critical pedagogy does insist upon is that education cannot be neutral. It is always directive in its attempt to enable students to understand the larger world and their role in it. Moreover, it is inevitably a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge, values, desires and identities are produced within particular sets of class and social relations. For Freire, pedagogy always presupposes some notion of a more equal and just future; and as such, it should always function in part as a provocation that takes students beyond the world they know in order to expand the range of human possibilities and democratic values. Central to critical pedagogy is the recognition that the way we educate our youth is related to the future that we hope for and that such a future should offer students a life that leads to the deepening of freedom and social justice. Even within the privileged precincts of higher education, Freire said that educators should nourish those pedagogical practices that promote “a concern with keeping the forever unexhausted and unfulfilled human potential open, fighting back all attempts to foreclose and pre-empt the further unraveling of human possibilities, prodding human society to go on questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished.”(5) The notion of the unfinished human being resonated with Zygmunt Bauman notion that society never reached the limits of justice, thus, rejecting any notion of the end of history, ideology or how we imagine the future. This language of critique and educated hope was his legacy, one that is increasingly absent from many liberal and conservative discourses about current educational problems and appropriate avenues of reform.

When I began teaching, Freire became an essential influence in helping me to understand the broad contours of my ethical responsibilities as a teacher. Later, his work would help me come to terms with the complexities of my relationship to universities as powerful and privileged institutions that seemed far removed from the daily life of the working-class communities in which I had grown up. I first met Paulo in the early 1980s, just after my tenure as a professor at Boston University had been opposed by its President John Silber. Paulo was giving a talk at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and he came to my house in Boston for dinner. Given Paulo’s reputation as a powerful intellectual, I recall initially being astounded by his profound humility. I remember being greeted with such warmth and sincerity that I felt completely at ease with him. We talked for a long time that night about his exile, how I had been attacked by a right-wing university administration, what it meant to be a working-class intellectual and the risks one had to take to make a difference. I was in a very bad place after being denied tenure and had no idea what the future would hold. On that night, a friendship was forged that would last until Paulo’s death. I am convinced that had it not been for Paulo and Donaldo Macedo – a linguist, translator and a friend of Paulo’s and mine – I might not have stayed in the field of education. Their passion for education and their profound humanity convinced me that teaching was not a job like any other, but a crucial site of struggle, and that, ultimately, whatever risks had to be taken were well worth it.

I have encountered many intellectuals throughout my career in academe, but Paulo was exceptionally generous, eager to help younger intellectuals publish their work, willing to write letters of support and always giving as much as possible of himself in the service of others. The early 1980s were exciting years in education studies in the United States, and Paulo was really at the center of it. Paulo and I together started a Critical Education and Culture series with Bergin & Garvey Publishers, which brought out the work of more than 60 young authors, many of whom went on to have a significant influence in the university. Jim Bergin became Paulo’s patron as his American publisher; Donaldo became his translator and co-author; Ira Shor also played a important role in spreading Paulo’s work and wrote a number of brilliant books integrating both theory and practice as part of Paulo’s notion of critical pedagogy. Together, we worked tirelessly to circulate Paulo’s work, always with the hope of inviting him back to America so we could meet, talk, drink good wine and deepen a commitment to critical education that had all marked us in different ways.

Paulo, occupying the often difficult space between existing politics and the as yet possible, spent his life guided by the beliefs that the radical elements of democracy were worth struggling for, that critical education was a basic element of progressive social change and that how we think about politics was inseparable from how we come to understand the world, power and the moral life we aspire to lead. In many ways, Paulo embodied the important but often problematic relationship between the personal and the political. His own life was a testimony not only to his belief in democratic principles, but also to the notion that one’s life had to come as close as possible to modeling the social relations and experiences that spoke to a more humane and democratic future. At the same time, Paulo never moralized about politics; he never evoked shame or collapsed the political into the personal when talking about social issues. Private problems were always to be understood in relation to larger public issues. For example, Paulo never reduced an understanding of homelessness, poverty and unemployment to the failing of individual character, laziness, indifference or a lack of personal responsibility, but instead viewed such issues as complex systemic problems generated by economic and political structures that produced massive amounts of inequality, suffering and despair – and social problems far beyond the reach of limited individual capacities to cause or redress. His belief in a substantive democracy, as well as his deep and abiding faith in the ability of people to resist the weight of oppressive institutions and ideologies, was forged in a spirit of struggle tempered by both the grim realities of his own imprisonment and exile and the belief that education and hope are the conditions of social action and political change. Acutely aware that many contemporary versions of hope occupied their own corner in Disneyland, Paulo was passionate about recovering and rearticulating hope through, in his words, an “understanding of history as opportunity and not determinism.”(6) Hope was an act of moral imagination that enabled educators and others to think otherwise in order to act otherwise.

Paulo offered no recipes for those in need of instant theoretical and political fixes. I was often amazed at how patient he always was in dealing with people who wanted him to provide menu-like answers to the problems they raised about education, people who did not realize that their demands undermined his own insistence that critical pedagogy is defined by its context and must be approached as a project of individual and social transformation – that it could never be reduced to a mere method. Contexts indeed mattered to Paulo. He was concerned how contexts mapped in distinctive ways the relationships among knowledge, language, everyday life and the machineries of power. Any pedagogy that calls itself Freirean must acknowledge this key principle that our current knowledge is contingent on particular historical contexts and political forces. For example, each classroom will be affected by the different experiences students bring to the class, the resources made available for classroom use, the relations of governance bearing down on teacher-student relations, the authority exercised by administrations regarding the boundaries of teacher autonomy and the theoretical and political discourses used by teachers to read and frame their responses to the diverse historical, economic and cultural forces informing classroom dialogue. Any understanding of the project and practices that inform critical pedagogy has to begin with recognizing the forces at work in such contexts, and which must be confronted by educators and schools everyday. Pedagogy, in this instance, looked for answers to what it meant to connect learning to fulfilling the capacities for self and social determination not outside, but within the institutions and social relations in which desires, agency and identities were shaped and struggled over. The role that education played in connecting truth to reason, learning to social justice and knowledge to modes of self and social understanding were complex and demanded a refusal on the part of teachers, students and parents to divorce education from both politics and matters of social responsibility. Responsibility was not a retreat from politics, but a serious embrace of what it meant to both think and act politics as part of a democratic project in which pedagogy becomes a primary consideration for enabling the formative culture and agents that make democratization possible.

Paulo also acknowledged the importance of understanding these particular and local contexts in relation to larger global and transnational forces. Making the pedagogical more political meant moving beyond the celebration of tribal mentalities and developing a praxis that foregrounded “power, history, memory, relational analysis, justice (not just representation) and ethics as the issues central to transnational democratic struggles.”(7) Culture and politics mutually informed each other in ways that spoke to histories, whose presences and absences had to be narrated as part of a larger struggle over democratic values, relations and modes of agency. Freire recognized that it was through the complex production of experience within multilayered registers of power and culture that people recognized, narrated and transformed their place in the world. Paulo challenged the separation of cultural experiences from politics, pedagogy and power itself, but he did not make the mistake of many of his contemporaries by conflating cultural experience with a limited notion of identity politics. While he had a profound faith in the ability of ordinary people to shape history and their own destinies, he refused to romanticize individuals and cultures that experienced oppressive social conditions. Of course, he recognized that power privileged certain forms of cultural capital – certain modes of speaking, living, being and acting in the world – but he did not believe that subordinate or oppressed cultures were free of the contaminating effects of oppressive ideological and institutional relations of power. Consequently, culture – as a crucial educational force influencing larger social structures as well as in the most intimate spheres of identity formation – could be viewed as nothing less than an ongoing site of struggle and power in contemporary society.

For critical educators, experience is a fundamental element of teaching and learning, but its distinctive configuration among different groups does not guarantee a particular notion of the truth; as I stated earlier, experience must itself become an object for analysis. How students experience the world and speak to that experience is always a function of unconscious and conscious commitments, of politics, of access to multiple languages and literacies – thus, experience always has to take a detour through theory as an object of self-reflection, critique and possibility. As a result, not only do history and experience become contested sites of struggle, but the theory and language that give daily life meaning and action a political direction must also be constantly subject to critical reflection. Paulo repeatedly challenged as false any attempt to reproduce the binary of theory versus politics. He expressed a deep respect for the work of theory and its contributions, but he never reified it. When he talked about Freud, Fromm or Marx, one could feel his intense passion for ideas. Yet, he never treated theory as an end in itself; it was always a resource whose value lay in understanding, critically engaging and transforming the world as part of a larger project of freedom and justice.

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Vigilant in bearing witness to the individual and collective suffering of others, Paulo shunned the role of the isolated intellectual as an existential hero who struggles alone. He believed that intellectuals must respond to the call for making the pedagogical more political with a continuing effort to build those coalitions, affiliations and social movements capable of mobilizing real power and promoting substantive social change. Politics was more than a gesture of translation, representation and dialogue: to be effective, it had to be about creating the conditions for people to become critical agents alive to the responsibilities of democratic public life. Paulo understood keenly that democracy was threatened by a powerful military-industrial complex, the rise of extremists groups and the increased power of the warfare state. He also recognized the pedagogical force of a corporate and militarized culture that eroded the moral and civic capacities of citizens to think beyond the common sense of official power and the hate mongering of a right-wing media apparatus. Paulo strongly believed that democracy could not last without the formative culture that made it possible. Educational sites both within schools and the broader culture represented some of the most important venues through which to affirm public values, support a critical citizenry and resist those who would deny the empowering functions of teaching and learning. At a time when institutions of public and higher education have become associated with market competition, conformity, disempowerment and uncompromising modes of punishment, making known the significant contributions and legacy of Paulo work is now more important than ever before.


Business Culture And The Death Of Public Education: The Triumph Of Management Over Leadership

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Oldspeak: “Management divorced from leadership privatizes hope, deskills teachers, treats students as consumers and exhibits an utter disdain for any mode of knowledge that cannot be reduced to empirical forms of measurement. It is more concerned with training than educating, and it increasingly relies on punishment models of governance when dealing with teachers and unions while simultaneously using harsh disciplinary measures against those students viewed as disposable because they are poor, black, or viewed as flawed learners.”

From Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

The recent news that Mayor Bloomberg has anointed Cathleen P. Black, the chairwomen of Hearst Magazines, as the new chancellor of the New York City school system is another high profile example of how much business elites in the United States despise public education and its traditional role as a guardian of civic values, democratic politics and public culture. It appears that Black’s only suitability for the job is that she has “extraordinary qualifications as a manager,” has “marketing prowess” and has participated “in a mentor day with Michelle Obama at a Detroit public school and, several years ago, [served] as ‘principal for a day’ in a school in the south Bronx.”(1) This appointment could provide fodder for a skit for “Saturday Night Live” if it were not both true and tragic. Of course, there is a larger script here that points to the increasing power of corporate leaders and a business elite to eviscerate from public schooling any vestige of public values, democratic modes of governance, teacher autonomy, critical thinking and a vision of schooling as a space in which to teach students to be critical thinkers and engaged citizens. Within this stripped-down view of schooling, enlightened self-interest, efficiency and market-driven values rule. In this view, management is divorced from any viable sense of leadership and the connection between schooling and the public good is replaced with a business model of schooling that disregards both the social and any vision not defined by the crudest forms of power, instrumental rationality and mathematical utility.

It is important to note that the business culture at work here not only reduces all social bonds to market relations, it also gives us shocking levels of inequality, impoverishment and a market morality that issued in the second Gilded Age with its ode to rapacious greed, moral impoverishment and an utter indifference to the massive hardships and suffering it produced globally with the economic recession of 2008. Management divorced from leadership privatizes hope, deskills teachers, treats students as consumers and exhibits an utter disdain for any mode of knowledge that cannot be reduced to empirical forms of measurement. It is more concerned with training than educating, and it increasingly relies on punishment models of governance when dealing with teachers and unions while simultaneously using harsh disciplinary measures against those students viewed as disposable because they are poor, black, or viewed as flawed learners. The mode of authority at work in this type of management is not simply punitive and overly dictatorial; it is also a caricature of a viable notion of leadership and social vision. It does not lead, but tramples, bullies and uses fear as its modus operandi. This is a mode of authority and management that believes that money is the only incentive for working hard, making knowledge meaningful and understanding the dynamics of learning. The egoism and cult of efficiency and materialism that informs this view of schooling and the world has no way of recognizing anti-democratic tendencies in the culture, has no language for recognizing how private troubles are related to social problems, ignores ethical issues, and lacks the slightest insight into what it means to educate young people as critical citizens.

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Business management of the market fundamentalist stripe now trumps any trace of a democratic social vision, while corporate and private interests take the place of public values and notions of the collective good. Unfortunately, the real story here is not about outsiders from the business world with little classroom or educational experience being appointed to positions of leadership in public schools systems. On the contrary, it represents the rise of a market-driven culture and apparatus of power that fills the void in a society in which informed memory is under siege and neoliberal pedagogy permeates every aspect of the cultural apparatus. Bloomberg’s actions once again suggest the power of a business culture and corporate class that despises debate, hates the formative culture that makes democracy possible and is willing to strip public education of all of those values and practices that suggest that it might serve as a democratic public sphere for generations of young people. Under this market-driven notion of schooling, management has been embraced as a Petri dish for stripping education of even minimal ethical principles and poses a growing threat to public life and the promise of democracy. Mayor Bloomberg’s notion of management does not identify agencies of change, hope and social responsibility because these are attributes that inform democratic modes of leadership. There is no call to liberate the imagination in his view of management, just the often strident, if not illiterate, attempt to measure knowledge, bestow learning with the most stripped-down capacities and sever teachers and education from any notion of self- and social empowerment and social change. Market-driven notions of management do not mobilize the individual imagination and social visions. On the contrary, they do everything possible to make them irrelevant to the discourse of leadership. Bloomberg’s appointment of an entirely unqualified, former Hearst executive is symptomatic of the crisis of leadership we face currently in the United States, when democratic visions and public values fall into disrepute. In this instance, Bloomberg and the market-driven billionaires who support his view of education are now asking the American people to be proud of what we, in fact, should be ashamed of – the rise of a market-driven business culture that hates democracy and the forms of education that make it possible.


When Generosity Hurts: Bill Gates, David Guggenheim, Public School Teachers And The Politics Of Humiliation

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Oldspeak: “We should be wary of the opinions of billionaires who have very little practical knowledge of education, championing seismic changes in our education system, that have little to do with education and everything to do with producing a uniform product that will be competitive in the “global marketplace”. Our children are not widgets to be fit in some corporate meat grinder, our teachers are not technicians maintaining and testing parts for a plutocratic machine. They are thinking, feeling, creative and uniquely skilled beings, not durable goods to be profited from by “Market driven forces”

From Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time. Everyone … is in one way or another aware of that. We are in a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country. The society in which we live is desperately menaced … from within. To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible – and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people – must be prepared to “go for broke.” Or to put it another way, you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won’t happen. -James Baldwin

Baldwin’s words offer a glimpse into a legacy of bad faith, culture of cruelty and politics of humiliation that seems to have gained momentum in American society since he spoke those words in 1963. His words reflect something of the all too evident brutish transformation of the revolutionary zeal that marked an earlier era’s investment in substantive democratization to that which piously and patriotically calls itself revolutionary some 50 years later, and seeks nothing less than the total destruction of the democratic potential of American education. Not only have such pernicious practices descended on America like a dreadful and punishing plague, but they are now ironically embraced in the name of an educational reform movement whose “revolutionary” pretension is antithetical to the civil rights revolution for which Baldwin was fighting. Once eager public servants in the fight for equality and justice, teachers are now forced to play with a severe handicap, as if assembled on a field blindfolded and gagged. The one constancy that runs through these last several decades, less obvious only because of its utter pervasiveness in public life, is summed up by Baldwin as the legacy of “bad faith and cruelty.” Bad faith and cruelty are now combined with a power-assisted politics of humiliation, all the more acute, because such commitments circulate continually as spectacle in a 24-hour media cycle universally assessable in a digital and commodified culture.

When I refer to a culture of cruelty and a discourse of humiliation, I am talking about the institutionalization and widespread adoption of a set of values, policies and symbolic practices that legitimate forms of organized violence against human beings increasingly considered disposable, and which lead inexorably to unnecessary hardship, suffering and despair. Such practices are increasingly accompanied by forms of humiliation in which the character, dignity and bodies of targeted individuals and groups are under attack. Its extreme form is evident in state-sanctioned torture practices such as those used by the regime of torture promoted by the Bush administration in Iraq and in the images of humiliation that emerged from the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib prison. The politics of humiliation also works through symbolic systems, diverse modes of address and varied framing mechanisms in which the targeted subjects are represented in terms that demonize them, strip them of their humanity and position them in ways that invite ridicule and sometimes violence. This is what the late Pierre Bourdieu called the symbolic dimension of power – that is the capacity of systems of meaning, signification and diverse modes of communication to shield, strengthen and normalize relations of domination through distortion, misrepresentation and the use of totalizing narratives.(1) The hidden order of such politics lies not just in its absences, but its appeal to common sense and its claim to being objective and apolitical. Culture in this sense becomes the site of the most powerful and persuasive forms of pedagogy precisely because it often denies its pedagogical function.

Such practices and the cultural politics that legitimize them are apparent in zero-tolerance policies in schools, which mindlessly punish poor white and students of color by criminalizing behavior as trivial as violating a dress code. Such students have been assaulted by the police, handcuffed and taken away in police cars and in some cases imprisoned.(2) The discourse of humiliation abounds in the public sphere of hate radio and Fox News, which provides a forum for a host of pundits, who trade in insults against feminists, environmentalists, African-Americans, immigrants, progressive critics, liberal media, President Barack Obama, and anyone else who rejects the militant orthodox views of the new media extremists and religious fundamentalists. Policies that humiliate and punish are also visible in the increasing expansion of the criminal justice system used regularly to deal with problems that would be better addressed through social reforms rather than punishment. Homeless people are now arrested for staying too long in public libraries, sleeping in public parks and soliciting money on the streets of many urban centers. People who receive welfare benefits are increasingly harassed by government agencies. Debtors’ prisons are making a comeback as millions of people are left with no recourse but to default on the myriad of bills that they cannot pay.(3) The growing number of people who are jobless, homeless and increasingly living beneath the poverty line are treated by the government and dominant media merely as statistical fodder for determining the health of the GNP, while their lived experience of hardship is rarely mentioned. Millions of people are denied health care, regardless of how ill they might be, because they cannot afford it. Rather than enact social protections such as adequate health care for everyone, the advocates of free-market capitalism enact social policies that leave millions of people uninsured and treated largely as simply disposable populations who should fend for themselves.

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Echoes of such cruelty can be heard in the discourses and voices of right-wing and conservative politicians such as Joe Miller, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Alaska, who has stated that he wants to abolish Social Security. We hear it in the words of anti-government libertarians, who insist that all problems are self-made and claim that those who suffer from a variety of misfortunes whose causes are outside of their control are undeserving of government help and protections. In this neoliberal cutthroat scenario, one’s fate becomes exclusively a matter of individual choice and hence “interpreted as another confirmation of the individuals’ sole and inalienable responsibility for their individual plight.”(4) The arrogance of power, cruelty and discourse of humiliation that frame this discourse have become viral in a society that has learned to hate any vestige of the social contract. We hear it in the words of the super rich such as Bill Gates, who insists that pension payments should be reduced for retired teachers, a hypocritical and heartless demand coming from one of the world’s richest people and, ironically, one of the world’s best-known philanthropists.(5) We see the politics of humiliation and cruelty at work in the efforts of politicians to slash food stamp benefits, openly deriding the poor while doing so. Within this discourse of neoliberal fundamentalism and adherence to free-market values, social protections and spending entitlements are viewed as forms of big government corruption that need to be abolished, giving credence to a notion of market freedom in which everyone is expendable or potentially disposable. In reality, the culture of cruelty and the politics of humiliation make it easier for people to turn away from the misfortunes of others and express indifference to the policies and practices of truly corrupt individuals and institutions of power that produce huge profits at the cost of massive suffering and social hardship.

Even more disturbing is that this growing culture of humiliation works in tandem with a formative politics of dislocation and misrepresentation. One example can be seen in the efforts of Gates (Microsoft), Philip Anshultz (Denver Oil), Jeff Skoll (Ebay), and other members of the corporate elite to use their power and money-soaked foundations to pour millions into a massive public pedagogy campaign that paints America’s system of public education, teacher unions and public school teachers in terms that are polarizing and demonizing.(6) Humiliation in this case parading as generosity couples with an attempt to divert attention from the real problems and solutions needed to improve American public education.(7)Real problems affecting schools such as rising poverty, homelessness, vanishing public services for the disadvantaged, widespread unemployment, massive inequality in wealth and income, overcrowded classrooms and a bankrupt and iniquitous system of school financing disappear in the educational discourse of the super rich. Moreover, the policies promoted by such anti-public reformers are endlessly legitimated through a massive public relations campaign that is one-sided, politically reactionary and sectarian in its attempts to disparage and drown out more critical and progressive voices. The foundation for this mode of soft domination can be seen in the ways in which the rich and elite institutions use the popular media to promote their ideologies, especially those that promote the impoverishment of public values, public spheres and democratic public life. Movies such as “Waiting for Superman,” “The Cartel” and “The Lottery” function as huge propaganda machines masquerading as truth-telling art, produced and circulated within a cultural apparatus that takes its cues from the Disney empire’s slick and powerful marketing machine.(8)Sprinkled with the pixie dust of urgency, a desperate call for reform and alleged good will, the new market-driven cultural apparatus and public pedagogy of the educational anti-reformers bombard the American public with films and other media that denigrate public education while promoting the values of casino capitalism. And, yet, the American people largely endorse the “culture of philanthropy,” unlike the British who, as Terry Eagleton points out, “[N]o more want their children’s education to depend on billionaires than they want Prince Charles to hand out food parcels in Trafalgar Square to the deserving poor. Most British students believe that higher education should be a public responsibility and should come free.”(9) This is precisely the position that the anti-public reformers want to eliminate from any discourse about public and higher education.

The discourse of these so-called educational reformers is simplistic and polarizing. It lacks any understanding of the real problems and strengths of public education, and it trades in authoritarian tactics and a discourse of demonization and humiliation. For example, rather than educate the public, “Waiting for Superman” carpet bombs them with misrepresentations fueled by dubious assertions and denigrating images of public schools and teachers. Beneath its discourse of urgency, altruism and political purity parading in a messianic language of educational reform and a politics of generosity are the same old and discredited neoliberal policies that cheerfully serve corporate interests: privatization, union busting, competition as the only mode of motivation, an obsession with measurement, a relentless attack on teacher autonomy, the weakening of tenure, stripping educational goals of public values, defining teacher quality in purely instrumental terms, an emphasis on authoritative modes of management and a mindless obsession with notions of pedagogy that celebrate memorization and teach to the test. High stakes accountability and punishing modes of leadership, regardless of the damage they wreak on students and teachers, are now the only game in town when it comes to educational reform – so much so that it is called revolutionary. At the same time, Gates and his billionaire friends gain huge tax write-offs from the money they invest in schools, while at the same time reaping the rewards of controlling institutions funded by public tax revenues. Gates and his cronies use these tax deductions to control public schools and the tax paying public, in this case, loses valuable tax revenue, and cedes control of publicly funded schools to the rich and powerful corporate moguls. This isn’t philanthropic, it is morally and politically irresponsible because it represents a form of hostile generosity that serves to expand the power of the corporate rich over public schools, while offering the illusion of enriching public life.(10) It gets worse. Many hedge fund operatives and banks invest in charter schools because they get windfall profits by “using a little-know federal tax break” called the New Markets Tax Credit “to finance new charter-school construction.”(11) Once the buildings are finished, they are rented out to public school districts at exorbitant prices. For instance, one Albany “school’s rent jumped from $170,000 in 2008 to $560,000 in” 2010.

Democratic goals and public values no longer have any merit in a reform movement in love with the logic of measurement, profit and privatization. This is not a reform movement, but an anti-reform movement, that can only imagine schooling within what my colleague David L. Clark calls “an eternal present of consumption and subjection.” It is a movement that appears to kill critical thought, the ability to think imaginatively and any notion of pedagogy that takes matters of individual autonomy and social empowerment seriously. In the name of reform, we now face increasing numbers of schools that either bear a close resemblance to the old Ford factory production lines or are modeled after prisons. These are the new dead zones of education, increasingly inhabited by demoralized teachers and bored students and largely supported by the new educational reformers. Manufactured contempt for public schooling breeds more than misrepresentation and a politics of humiliation. It also covers up the real problems public schools face when locked into the ideology and practices of the anti-public reform movement. There is no mention of the cheating and corruption of school administrators, dumping of underperforming students, deskilling of teachers, refusals to take students for whom English is not their first language or who have learning disabilities and other forms of violence that accompany such reforms now being undertaken with the blessing of the super rich and corporate power brokers of casino capitalism. Charter schools have become the dressed-up symbols of the new politics of disposability – presenting well-scrubbed, uniformed children as symbols of order and middle-class values. In actuality, the anti-public reformers who embrace charter schools have little to say or do with the millions of children who are arguably the most disposable of all – kids with various learning and physical disabilities along with poor white and black kids who will never be counted as relevant in a system in which conformity and high test scores are the tickets to success. These kids are shunned by the army of privateers and pushed into schools that warehouse, punish and use disciplinary methods rooted in the culture of prisons. At the same time, these reformers demonize public schools and public school teachers, but they are silent about the fact that some of the most extensive studies of charter schools have found that fewer than 17 percent of charter schools outperform traditional public schools.(12)

Excessive wealth and power do more than direct high-level educational policy in the United States, although their influence in that realm should not be underestimated;(13) they also circulate and promote their ideologies and market-driven values almost completely free of a sustained critique across the dominant cultural and media landscapes of America. The educational force of the wider culture has now become the weapon of choice in promoting market-driven educational reforms and denigrating American public education and its struggling, hard-working teachers. This marketing machine explains the well-publicized and orchestrated hype over the movie “Waiting for Superman,” a bought-and-sold product that offers no critiques and lets the right-wing talking heads and hedge fund advocates provide most of the commentary.

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For example, not only are there endless numbers of newspaper editorials, television series, media advertisements, YouTube clips, and every other imaginable element of the new and old media promoting “Waiting for Superman,” but it is also being highlighted by NBC as part of its series “Education Nation,” sponsored no less by the for-profit University of Phoenix. What is incredible about this series is its claim to offer a balanced commentary on the state of education, when, in fact, it is an unabashed advertisement for various versions of corporate educational reform. The enemies it targets are the system, teacher unions, tenure and teachers whose students do not do well on high-stakes assessment tests. The film’s misrepresentation breeds more than uniformed citizens, it also collaborates with the dominant media to promote a form of public pedagogy in which the school reform policies of the anti-public school advocates become the only game in town.

Examples of this massive form of corporate-sponsored pedagogy – of which “Waiting for Superman” is only one example – become almost omnipresent, moving in relay-like fashion through a corporate cultural apparatus that promotes an anti-public ideology with its denigration of public education and other institutions of the welfare state as if it were just a matter of common sense unworthy of debate, critical interrogation or opposing arguments. How else to explain, for instance, the overwhelmingly positive reviews this deeply biased and conservative film has generated from the dominant liberal and corporate media? In part, this can be explained by the propaganda blitz engineered by the corporate backers of the film. We get a glimpse of the hermetic and sutured nature of this campaign from Dana Goldstein in her catalog of the venues that have promoted the film. She writes:

“Can One Little Movie Save America’s Schools?” asked the cover of New York magazine. On September 20 The Oprah Winfrey Show featured the film’s director, Davis Guggenheim, of An Inconvenient Truth. Tom Friedman of the New York Times devoted a column to praising the film. Time published an education issue coinciding with the documentary’s release and is planning a conference built in part around the school reform strategies the film endorses. NBC, too, will host an education reform conference in late September, Waiting for Superman will be screened and debated there and many of the reformers involved in its production will be there. Katie Couric of CBS Evening News has promised a series of segments based on the movie.(14)

In this case, the dominant media is providing the broader cultural landscape and mechanism through which such a film receives endless praise as one of the most significant commentaries on educational reform to come along in years. And, yet, the film is nothing more than an advertisement for charter schools, corporate values, market-driven reforms, a slash-and-burn mode of leadership that glorifies tough-love policies, which bear an eerie resemblance to the way boot camps are run in the military, and a polarizing piece of propaganda aimed at undermining public education while also demonizing and humiliating teachers. Exhibiting an unquestioned faith in market values and charter schools, it is in denial about both the public schools that work and the need to improve public schooling rather than turn it over to the advocates of free-market fundamentalism and a discredited casino capitalism. The success of this film ultimately speaks less to the persuasiveness of its arguments than it does to the way it is being bankrolled and promoted aggressively by hedge fund operatives looking for a quick profit. Diane Ravitch has aptly called this group – made up of the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations, and others who “are committed to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores” – the “Billionaire Boys’ Club.”(15)

Within this pedagogical apparatus and marketing spectacle, high-quality schooling for all students is now replaced by the closed and demeaning logic of the lottery, cloaked in the sanctimonious language and magical aura of “individual choice.” Life and its various facets such as schooling become within this panacea of choice a perpetual search for bargains and consumer goods rather than a search for justice. As morality is rendered painless and stripped of any social responsibility, the new anti-public reformers render poverty and inequality invisible as important factors in promoting school failure. At the same time, they argue with no irony intended that the absence of choice is the most profound cause of educational failure. Under such circumstances, equity is divorced from excellence just as the public good is replaced by individual choice and the private good.

It gets worse. There is no talk in this film or among these so-called billionaire educational reformers about the connection among democracy and schooling, learning and civic responsibility, the dignity of teacher labor or the violence that is done to education when the only way we can talk about it is by using industrial metaphors. The repeated emphasis on education producing a product, as if it were designed simply to produce durable goods, does nothing more than justify its treatment as a machine to be repaired rather than a complex social institution made up of living, breathing human beings. Schools in this stripped -down discourse exist free of the relations of iniquitous funding systems, class and racial discrimination, poverty, massive joblessness, overcrowded classrooms, lack of classroom resources, rotting school buildings, lack of basic services for children in need, and so on. This absence is not a minor issue because without a larger understanding of the political, economic and social forces that impinge on schools in different contexts it is impossible to understand why and how some schools fail and some children are underserved. Successful schools cannot function without public services that help children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds just as they cannot function adequately when a society refuses to pay teachers decent salaries, provide them with high-quality teacher education and make financial and ideological investments in order to validate teaching as one of the most dignified and civically cherished professions in the country.

Moreover, there is little or no attempt on the part of the wealthy class of educational misinformers to analyze schooling as a place where students learn about the operations of power and what it means to take risks, engage in critical dialogue, embrace the important lessons that come with shared responsibilities, or learn the knowledge, skills and values needed to be imaginative and critically responsible citizens. Instead, we are told – not surprisingly by the hedge fund reformers and billionaire gurus – that schooling is about the production of trained workers, memorization is more important than critical thinking, standardized testing is better than teaching students to be self-reflective and learning how to read texts critically is not as important as memorizing discrete bodies of allegedly factual knowledge. Having their desires and skills shaped in such a way, students and teachers are reduced to a permanent underclass, denied the opportunities to develop a capacity and motivation to challenge the power and authority of a rich elite. Pedagogical practice in this neoliberal framework is cleansed of any emancipatory possibilities, stripped clean of its capacity to teach students how to engage in thoughtful dialogue and exchange and use their imagination in the service of understanding the lives and experiences of individuals and groups different from themselves. In addition, all of this educational nonsense is reinforced daily with the silly, if not destructive, notion that wealth guarantees wisdom and that wealthy hedge fund types and the culture of finance offer both a good model for ethical behavior and airtight insights in how to organize schools. Under such circumstances, the corporate controlled media slavishly repeat and sanctify almost anything that is said by the rich and the famous, suggesting that what they have to say not only has merit, but provides a valuable resource for guiding policy, especially educational policy. I was reminded of this recently when Gates appeared on “NBC Nightly News” and stated that any form of teaching and knowledge that cannot be measured is useless. And there was not a shred of criticism from Brian Williams to indicate the reactionary implications of such a statement.

Within this anti-public educational discourse, with its relentless claim to political innocence, its celebration of individual choice and excessive competition, allegiance to corporate values, unflappable sense of certainty and Wild West mode of governance, there is a mode of engagement and politics of representation that not only mimics an arrogant, corporate-based world view, but increasingly deploys a strategy of humiliation as a way to wage war against anything that promotes public values and the public good. What does it mean when NBC News presents a video clip without adding any of its own critical framework or commentary of Republican Gov. Chris Christie addressing members of the New Jersey Teachers’ Union about his plan to strip teachers of tenure and reduce them to the status of clerks with no job security and dismal working conditions and then adding to his explanation with the following insult: “Your performance was awful, you didn’t do what we asked you to do, your didn’t produce the product we wanted you to produce, but we don’t look at that, all we look at is are you still breathing,”? Disregarding the foolish suggestion that the purpose of education is to produce something akin to an industrial product, Christie’s commentary is beyond demeaning and ignorant. It is symptomatic of a type of public bullying that has become a prominent feature in American society and takes its cue from a shift in the larger culture away from a discourse of social investment and compassion toward one of insults, disdain, unchecked individualism and scorn for both public values and the institutions and people who work as public servants in them.

Unsurprisingly, Christie is a governor who not only wants to balance the New Jersey state budget on the backs of teachers, but is also, as Les Leopold reports, “resolutely opposed to reinstituting the ‘millionaires’ tax’ – even though the state’s fiscal crisis is a direct consequence of what millionaires and billionaires did on Wall Street.”(16) Economic Darwinism with its ruthless survival-of-the-fittest ethic is more and more legitimated both through an outright attack on teachers, public servants and unions and through a mode of public pedagogy in which humiliation is used to wage war on one’s opponents, preventing any attempt to create the conditions for thoughtful dialogue, exchange and debate. Anger rather than understanding and thoughtful reflection is now the most celebrated feature of a society that scorns the connection between reason and freedom. The unmediated and evidence-free outburst now rules, and the more stupid and insulting it is, the more attention it gets as it circulates through a screen culture addicted to spectacular displays of indiscriminate ranting that can be packaged to improve viewer ratings.

Outrageous spectacles of cruelty and humiliation have become the weapon of choice among those elites and corporate moguls now waging war on the social state and vital public institutions and services.(17) This is particularly true for the increasing assaults on public education by a diverse group of anti-public educational reformers, armed with their hedge fund connections and limitless trust funds. And while these corporate power brokers often couch the discourse of humiliation in terms less harsh than what we hear from right-wing politicians and hate-talk, shock jocks, their anti-public discourse with its polarizing enemy/friend divide and demonization of teachers and teacher unions furthers among the general public a culture of silence and complicity in which debate, dialogue and thoughtful exchange are largely absent, while media spectacles substitute for the genuine public spheres that make such reasoned practices possible. The educational reformers claim to uphold important educational principles and, yet, behind their cocoon of privilege, wealth and power is a pedagogical machine and cultural apparatus that shuts down the very public spheres in which such principles become operative.

What has become increasingly clear is that teachers are the new scapegoats for the market-driven juggernaut that is sucking the blood out of democracy in the United States. The call for charter schools and vouchers and the appeal to individual choice emulate the language of the bankers who were responsible for the economic crisis of 2008 and the suffering and destruction that followed. The blatant ideological effects of this ethically sterile discourse have now taken on a more militant tone by flooding the media and other commercial spheres with a politics of humiliation that, to paraphrase Michel Foucault, mimics war, annihilation, unconditional surrender and full-fledged battles. Public schools and teachers are now the object of a sustained and aggressive attack against all things public in which they are put in the same disparaged league as advocates of health care reform. And what should be obvious is that they now occupy such a position not because they have failed to do their jobs well. but because they work in the public sphere. Public schools, teachers and unions have become objects of enormous scorn and targets of punishing policies. So-called reformers such as Michelle Rhee, who took over the District of Columbia public schools three years ago, have become iconic symbols for enacting educational policies based on a mix of market incentives such as paying students for good grades, merit pay for teachers and firing teachers en masse who do not measure up to narrow and often discredited empirically based performance measures.(18) Reform in this case is driven by a slash-and-burn management system that relies more on punishment than critical analysis, teacher and student support and social development. The hedge fund managers, billionaire industrialists and corporate vultures backing such policies appear to view teachers, unions and public schools as an unfortunate, if not threatening remnant, of the social state, and days long past when social investments in the public good and young people actually mattered and public values were the defining feature of the educational system, however flawed. This hatred of public values, public services, public schools and teachers is only intensified by a wider culture of cruelty that has gripped American society.

The growing culture of humiliation in the United States suggests that anyone who does not believe in the pursuit of material self-interest, unbridled competition and market-driven values is a proper candidate to be humiliated. If one makes even the slightest gesture of protest toward the dissociation of economics from ethics, the stripping from social relations of any vestige of public values, the undermining of important modes of solidarity or the promotion of a market fundamentalism that views social responsibility as a weakness, they are fair game to be publicly denigrated and insulted, or at least dismissed as irresponsible. Next to the ethos of a society now driven by the metaphors of war and survival of the fittest, any critical reference by individuals or groups to the social problems affecting American society or concerns voiced about the need to reclaim civic courage and defend the institutions that deepen democratic public life invite scurrilous comments intended to embarrass and humiliate. When the disadvantaged make reference to their plight, they are viewed and labeled as human beings who lack dignity and are subject to insulting remarks, just as the social programs designed to alleviate such suffering become the objects of a discourse that both humiliates and punishes. Consider, for example, presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee referring to people with pre-existing health conditions as houses that have already burned down – a cruel and crude attempt to place himself in good stead with the health insurance industries. There is also the all-too-common example of Sharron Angle, who claims that insurance companies should abolish insurance coverage for autism, mocking the term as if it were some kind of reference for a joke told on Comedy Central.

It gets worse. When the Republican candidate for governor of New York Carl Paladino shamelessly stated, “that space in prisons should be turned into work camps in which poor people would get … classes in personal hygiene,” the dominant media ignored the underlying hatred for the poor such a statement expressed.(19)When it was revealed in the press that Paladino had emailed his friends images and photos of “a group of black men trying to get out of the way of an airplane that is apparently moving across a field [with] the caption: ‘Run niggers, run,'” the American public barely blinked. In fact, Paladino’s poll reatings increased, furthering his quest to become the governor of New York.(20) When Rush Limbaugh speaks to millions in terms that are racist, demeaning and thoroughly uncivil, the media responds compliantly by treating such views as just another opinion among many. Humiliation as a mode of discourse and public intervention – enacted upon others with no apologies – has become so commonplace in American cultural politics that the only time we notice it is when it literally results in young people committing suicide, as in the recent tragic deaths of Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi.(21)

The politics of humiliation is fluid, mobile and capacious as it increasingly spreads and infects almost every public and commercial sphere where ideas are produced and circulated. As an ideology, it is politically reactionary and morally despicable. As a strategy, it seeks to denigrate and silence others, often targeting those already disadvantaged, while promoting unthinking self-interest, arrogance and certitude at the expense of critical thought, dialogue and exchange. Unfortunately, America is now being shaped by an anti-educational reform movement that uses the politics of humiliation for creating stereotypes about public schooling, teachers and marginalized youth. At the same time, the movement wins supporters from the dominant media and corporate elite by celebrating the very market-driven values that plunged America into a financial catastrophe. And yet, 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 increasingly takes aim at public schools and their hard-working teachers, it is embarking on a form of self-sabotage and collective suicide whose victim will be not merely education, but democracy itself.


 


How “The New Progressive Education Reformers” Push The Wrong Theory Of Learning

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Oldspeak:” Don’t believe the “Waiting For Superman” hype. Firing “bad teachers”, scuttling public education and teachers unions isn’t going to fix the U.S. education system. Teaching, many long-time teachers know, isn’t a simple matter of transferring information into a kid’s head, but a far more complex, multi-step process. The teacher has to (a) “get inside” that head to figure out what’s thought to be true, right, or important, (b) understand the kid’s value system well enough to offer ideas sufficiently appealing to warrant taking them seriously and paying attention, (c) choose language or tasks that question old ideas and clarify new ones, (d) get feedback as necessary to decide how to proceed, (e) load the whole process up with enough emotion to carry it past short-term memory, and (f) do this for a roomful of kids, no two of whom are identical.

From Marion Brady @ The Washington Post:

In alphabetical order: Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. Eli Broad, financier and philanthropist. Jeb Bush, ex-Florida governor and possible 2012 presidential contender. Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education. Bill Gates, business magnate and philanthropist. Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City schools.

In education issues, mainstream media sometimes call these gentlemen, “The New Progressives.” They’re major movers and shakers in the current reform effort.

None is, or has ever been, a teacher. Many think that’s a very good, even a necessary thing. It’s widely believed that American education is a mess, that teachers deserve most of the blame, and that they either can’t or won’t clean the mess up. What’s needed, it’s thought, are no-nonsense leaders – CEOs from business, lawyers, politicians, ex-military officers.

The New Progressives are on a roll. Their views are sought after and respected by congressional committees. They have money, and cash-starved school districts will do whatever it takes to get some of it. Their press conferences are well-attended. Most newspaper editorial boards share their perspective, so their op-eds get published. The Common Core State Standards Initiative they strongly supported — if not helped engineer — has already been adopted by more than half the states. Leading Democrats and Republicans are on board. Those who question their top-down approach to reform have been neutralized by labeling them “obstacles to progress,” “reactionaries,” “union shills.”

A recent press release provides an example of the New Progressives’ long reach: “NBC Universal presents ‘Education Nation,’ an unprecedented week-long event examining and redefining education in America.” The event will be held in Rockefeller Center in September, 2010. The two leaders with top billing: Bloomberg and Duncan.

The New Progressives and their fans have something else in common besides running the education reform show. They share a big idea – a theory about how humans learn.

Let’s call it “Theory T.” “T” stands for “Transfer.”

Theory T didn’t emerge from successful teaching experience, and it’s not backed by research, but it has something even more useful going for it: The Conventional Wisdom. It’s easily the New Progressives’ most powerful asset, for much of the general public (and a disturbing percentage of teachers) already subscribe to it. Because its validity is taken for granted, Theory T doesn’t even have to be explained, much less promoted.

Theory T says kids come to school with heads mostly empty. As textbooks are read, information transfers from pages to empty heads. As teachers talk, information transfers from teachers’ heads to kids’ heads. When homework and term papers are assigned, kids go to the library or the Internet, find information, and transfer it from reference works or Wikipedia. Bit by bit and byte by byte, the information in their heads piles up.

At an August conference in Lake Tahoe, California, Bill Gatesclinched his Theory T credentials. “Five years from now,” he said, “on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world.”

Let the transfer process begin!

Measuring the success of Theory T learning is easy and precise – just a matter of waiting a few days or weeks after the transfer process has been attempted and asking the kid, “How much do you remember?”

No research says how much of what’s recalled at test time remains permanently in memory, nor to what practical use, if any, that information is later put, but that’s of no concern to Theory T proponents. Their interest in performance ends when the scores are posted.

There’s another, less familiar theory about how humans learn. Those who subscribe to it – mostly teachers who’ve spent many years working directly with learners – aren’t backed by big money, don’t get mainstream media attention, aren’t asked to testify before congressional committees, and can’t organize week-long affairs in Rockefeller Plaza, all of which help explain the second theory’s unfamiliarity.

Those who accept the alternative to Theory T don’t think kids come to school with empty heads, believe instead that the young, on their own, develop ideas, opinions, explanations, beliefs and values about things that matter to them. As is true of adults, kids’ ideas and beliefs become part of who they are, so attempts to change them may come across as attacks on their identity and be resisted.

Teaching, many long-time teachers know, isn’t a simple matter of transferring information into a kid’s head, but a far more complex, multi-step process. The teacher has to (a) “get inside” that head to figure out what’s thought to be true, right, or important, (b) understand the kid’s value system well enough to offer ideas sufficiently appealing to warrant taking them seriously and paying attention, (c) choose language or tasks that question old ideas and clarify new ones, (d) get feedback as necessary to decide how to proceed, (e) load the whole process up with enough emotion to carry it past short-term memory, and (f) do this for a roomful of kids, no two of whom are identical.

If that sounds really difficult, it’s because it is. If it were easy, all kids would love school because learning is its own reward. If it were easy, young teachers would be successful and stay in the profession. If it were easy, adults wouldn’t forget most of what they once supposedly learned. If it were easy, the world would be a much better place.

Most of what we know, remember, and use, we didn’t learn by way of Theory T. We learned it on our own as we discovered real-world patterns and relationships – new knowledge that caused us to constantly rethink, reorganize, reconstruct, and replace earlier knowledge.

Let’s call this relating process “Theory R.”

Theory R is why little kids learn so much so rapidly, before traditional schooling overwhelms them with Theory T. Theory R is why Socrates was famous, why project learning, internships and apprenticeships work so well, why the Progressives of a hundred years ago were so adamant about “hands on” work and “learning by doing,” why real dialogue in school is essential, why knowledge of a subject doesn’t necessarily make a teacher effective, why asking good questions is far more important than knowing right answers, why tying national standards to a 19th Century curriculum is stupid, why standardized tests are a cruel, anti-learning, Theory T joke.

The educationally naïve New Progressives have engineered an education train wreck that, if allowed to continue, will haunt America for generations. The young, beaten with the “rigor” stick, are being trained to remember old information when our very survival as a nation hinges on their ability to create new information.

Theory T and Theory R have implications for every major issue in education – building design, budgets, classroom furniture arrangements, textbooks, schedules, class size, the role of corporations, the kinds of people attracted to teaching, how kids feel about themselves – everything. Add to that list the newest Big Thing for the New Progressives – “value-added assessment.”Theory R tests look nothing like today’s machine-scored Theory T tests.

Theory R people, appalled by the current thrust of reform, have been trying for at least six presidential administrations to get Theory T people in Washington to discuss how humans really learn. No luck. So sure are the New Progressives that those who disagree with them are self-serving defenders of the educational status quo, they’re unable to see themselves as the true reactionaries.

Sooner or later it will become obvious even to Theory T true believers that their theory only works in a world in which tomorrows are exactly like yesterdays. Unfortunately, when that realization comes, it’s unlikely that any teachers who understand Theory R will still be around.

Concerns Raised Over Use Of Computer RFID Chips To Track Preschool Children

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2010 at 11:09 am

Oldspeak:” ‘The Matrix is all around you….’ First cattle, then inventory control, then kids. Yeah! That’s a logical progression. Don’t be surprised if the day comes when children get RFID tagged at birth.” 😐

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

Privacy advocates are raising concerns over the use of RFID chips to help track students at a public preschool in California. The technology is being tested on 240 preschool students in the Head Start Program in Richmond. Preschool students have been outfitted with jerseys carrying tiny computer chips that have a radio antenna that can be tracked from a distance. We host a debate.

Guests:

Karen Mitchoff, spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department, which oversees the Head Start centers in Richmond.

Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Privacy advocates are raising concerns over the use of RFID chips to help track students at a public preschool in California. The technology is being tested on 240 preschool students in the Head Start Program in Richmond. Preschoolers have been outfitted with jerseys carrying the radio frequency identification tags, tiny computer chips that have a radio antenna that can be tracked from a distance. The tags now help teachers keep attendance and track the whereabouts of the students. RFID tags have been used for years to help monitor cattle, prisoners and store merchandise, but the preschool in Richmond is believed to be the first childcare center to use the technology.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Karen Mitchoff is a spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services, which oversees the Head Start Program in Richmond, California. And joining us from San Francisco is Nicole Ozer. She’s technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

Karen Mitchoff, let’s begin with you. Explain what this program is. Where are these radio frequency devices being inserted on the children’s clothes, and why are you doing it?

KAREN MITCHOFF: Good morning.

The children wear a jersey that has a little pocket in it, and when the child comes to school each morning, a chip is placed in the pocket, and the child wears the jersey throughout the day. And when the child leaves school, the jersey is removed and stays at the school, and the chip is removed.

AMY GOODMAN: And why are you doing it?

KAREN MITCHOFF: We got a technology grant. This is something that helps us at Head Start. I do want to make sure—you know, I’ve heard this thing about how it’s used to track prisoners and cattle and animals. This, you know, is completely different. It’s very—I just want to disabuse that concept, because this is used as a tool to assist teachers doing their job. It’s not to alleviate them of any responsibility. It’s—as I say, we got a technology grant. And it was something that we decided to do to assist the teachers, have more time for teaching.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Nicole Ozer of the ACLU, why are you opposed to it?

NICOLE OZER: We’re really concerned about this program and why, actually, federal stimulus funds are being used to track kids. You know, RFID technology is very expensive, it’s very intrusive, and it’s often very insecure. And microchipping students is just a very bad idea. You know, what we’re talking about here is tracking preschool kids with extremely powerful RFID technology that can be read at a distance of up to a hundred meters away, so the length of a football field. And, you know, this technology has been used to track cattle, to track products moving through a manufacturing sector or through a warehouse. And while that might make some sense, trying to use the same technology on people, particularly young children, leads to very serious privacy and security concerns.

RFID technology is designed so that the information that’s encoded on that chip, whether it be a name, whether it be an address, whether it be a unique identifier number, can be read at a distance without anyone ever knowing that it’s been read. So, you know, while we don’t—while this school might have intended this as a cost-saving measure to help with attendance, the reality is that unless the security on these chips is airtight, when these kids are wearing these chips around the school, on the playground and on field trips, unless that security is airtight, it’s not just the teachers who can potentially read this information and track these kids. It’s someone across the street or down the block that can potentially read these chips, read this information, and potentially use that information to harm kids.

And, you know, we have seen that these tracking and security threats are very real. Just last year, a security researcher read the RFID chips that are on the United States passport cards and the enhanced drivers licenses from a distance of thirty feet with a device that he built for $250 from parts that he bought on eBay. So, you know, we don’t doubt that the school district may have thought that this was a cost-saving measure that potentially could be safe, but the reality is that we have seen, time and time again, that RFID technology can be very unsafe and that it’s just a very bad idea to use on children.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Karen Mitchoff, what about the security issues and also the cost? Could you talk about how much this is costing? You say you got a grant from the government for this.

KAREN MITCHOFF: Sure, and I recognize what Ms. Ozer is saying. We are—feel very confident that, while the issues she raises relative to other cases do not apply to this case. The tag is child-specific, has—I’m sorry, has no child-specific information on it, so anything that could be read, there’s just no child-specific information on it.

Relative to the cost, we got a $115,000 stimulus grant for technology, supplemented by a $45,000 grant from Head Start, so the total grant amount is $160,000. For the first site, it was $50,000, because this is our largest Head Start site. This purchased the equipment and the jerseys and the tags. Should we decide to roll this out to other Head Start sites, they are smaller in capacity, and so the cost won’t be that much. We will be evaluating whether we do that or not. I don’t have a time frame for when we will be evaluating that. And that’s how much it cost.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And it was $50,000 for about how many children?

KAREN MITCHOFF: Two hundred. There are ten classrooms at this Head Start site, and each classroom has twenty children in it.

AMY GOODMAN: Who initially came up with this idea? Was it the Head Start Program that was looking to solve a problem, or was it the government that was looking to spend some money and to push forward this technology?

KAREN MITCHOFF: This was our Head Start site that recognized that this would be a tool that could be used to assist teachers. They had known of the technology. And when the grant opportunity came across a staff person’s desk, they looked and researched it more. We applied for the grant. The grant was awarded. And we went through a request for proposal process. This was very public and known, as far as a process. There was no specific company in mind. There was—three applicants put in for it, and then one company in California was awarded the contract for us to move forward with it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And then, could you tell us whether—the reaction of the parents of these children? Were they—did they have to sign off on this, or is this mandatory for all the children in these daycare centers?

KAREN MITCHOFF: The parents were notified. There were community meetings, if you will, parent meetings. Overwhelmingly, the parents were very supportive of this. It’s not a mandatory program. Should there be a reason that a child should not participate, the child does still wear the jersey so that that child is not teased or taunted, if you will, by the other children in the class, as to “Why aren’t you wearing a jersey, and I am?” But the chip is not inserted in the pocket.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the district’s intent? If you’re not—if these students aren’t individually identified, what’s being accomplished by getting this aggregate information?

KAREN MITCHOFF: And I do appreciate it’s a very complicated issue. What happens is the tag or the chip has no child-specific information on it. When the child comes into the classroom that day and puts on their jersey and the tag is inserted, at that point the child’s name is on it. But there’s no birth date, there’s no address, there’s no other information on it, so that the child—we do know that Johnny is moving around at the site. When the child leaves, the tag is taken out, and it’s swiped, and there’s no longer any information on the tag. The information is downloaded to a server that shows, as I said—Head Start needs to take attendance every hour. So it shows that the child was at the site for those hourly attendance counts. It assists us in meals, as far as—because it’s a Head Start site, we get money through the Department of Agriculture for nutritional supplement—or not supplements, but nutritional requirements, and therefore we can just say, you know, how many students were fed what type of meal. And those reports are then sent on to Head Start in accordance with the program.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Ozer, what’s your bigger issue with this, and where do you see this headed?

NICOLE OZER: You know, we can understand that Head Start Programs want to be efficient. But the reality is that using very high-powered chips that have a read range of up to a hundred meters away and that have been shown to be very insecure is not the right solution. And we’re certainly hoping that this—that the district is going to look very closely at the fact that RFID technology has been shown to be very insecure and is not appropriate to use on schoolchildren. Five years ago, parents up in Sutter, California, dismantled a similar program when they realized that there were really serious privacy and security concerns. And we want to make sure that preschoolers are safe and also that federal funds are being used in a way that’s appropriate.

You know, this is an expensive program. It’s incredibly intrusive. And it’s really potentially very unsafe for these kids. You know, this information can potentially be read at a distance, and once it’s been read, a duplicate chip can actually be created, and that can confuse the system and make people think that the children are actually safely on campus, when they’ve actually been taken off of campus. You know, we really can appreciate that school districts want to be efficient with their record keeping, but parents should not have to pay for public school with the privacy and security of their kids. And federal stimulus funds really need to be used appropriately and safely. And we certainly hope that the Department of Health and Human Services and Head Start and this district are going to look closely at this program and realize that there’s cheaper and safer ways to take attendance for school kids.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Nicole Ozer, are you planning any action, or have you been in contact with any of the parents who are directly involved with this program?

NICOLE OZER: You know, right now we’ve been asking a lot of questions, and we’re still trying to find out a lot of answers about this program and about the technology that’s being used. But we are very concerned about how safe this is. You know, even though there may be limited information on those chips and that the chips are actually rotated, if somebody can track a child for a minute, an hour a day, that can be very, very harmful to that child, when they’re on the playground or out on a field trip. And we want to make sure that the Department of Health and Human Services and Head Start and this district have looked closely at these issues and that parents aren’t going to have to forfeit their child’s safety for this issue. So we’re very concerned that the school district did not understand this technology appropriately and that parents certainly didn’t understand the risks that it posed to the privacy and to the security of their children.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Ozer, we want to thank you for being with us, of the ACLU, and Karen Mitchoff of the Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services Department.

Educators Push Back Against Obama’s “Business Model” for School Reforms

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Oldspeak: “Education shouldn’t be about winners and losers or a profit motive to achieve and innovate. It should be about finding the best practices for educating kids and implementing them for all of them. “Nobody disagrees with accountability. That’s not the issue. The issue is, what do you use? We still know that high-stakes testing basically tell us more about a student’s socioeconomic status than it does anything else. And until we’re honest about that and want to deal with the fact that we have neighborhoods in our cities and across the nation that have been under-resourced, have been devalued for decades, and for some reason or other, the schools are supposed to fix all that and change that.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

As millions of children around the country begin a new school year, the Obama administration is aggressively moving forward on a number of its education initiatives. On Thursday, federal education officials announced that forty-four states have joined a new $330 million initiative to replace year-end English and math tests with new national exams. The funds are drawn from the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund. The new testing systems are scheduled to be rolled out in the 2014-15 school year. The tests are a part of an effort to create a new set of national academic standards known as Common Core Standards, which nearly forty states have already agreed to adopt. Critics have suggested that national standards would erode state and local control of schools.

Meanwhile, through Race to the Top, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also pushed states to lift caps on charter schools and link student achievement to teacher pay. The initiative has come under fire from civil rights organizations, community groups and teachers’ unions.

Before being appointed Education Secretary, Arne Duncan was the head of Chicago’s Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school system. During that time, he oversaw implementation of a program known as Renaissance 2010. The program’s aim was to close sixty schools and replace them with more than a hundred charter schools. This year, the Chicago public system is facing a $370 million deficit. Hundreds of teachers and city school workers are facing layoffs as part of cost cutting measures and budget cuts.

Well, for more on the Obama administration’s education initiatives, we’re joined by two guests. Lois Weiner is a professor of education at New Jersey City University, and Karen Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

I welcome you both to Democracy Now!

KAREN LEWIS: Thank you.

LOIS WEINER: Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to start with Karen. Arne Duncan comes from your city.

KAREN LEWIS: Yeah, sorry.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And he is now basically heading up education policy for the Obama administration.

KAREN LEWIS: Mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your sense of his legacy in the Chicago public schools?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, Arne’s legacy was—you know, let’s look at the fact that he’s not an educator, never had any experience. As a matter of fact, he would be arrested if he went into a classroom and tried to teach, because he’s uncredentialed completely. So his legacy is: “I don’t know what to do. Let me just give it over to the privatizers. Let somebody else do”—I mean, basically, under his aegis, the Board of Education abrogated their responsibility towards education and gave it away, because he literally had no idea, and still doesn’t have an idea, of what to do.

The problem is the system is obviously broken. I don’t think anybody will argue with that, that the system is broken. It is—it has not basically changed since the 1900s—1800s, for that matter. And as a result, it has never been able to absorb real innovation. And the problem is it’s just a lot easier to test, test, test children. Our curriculum has narrowed in Chicago. If you look at the average day for an elementary school kid, it’s reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, reading, math, math, math, reading, reading, reading, reading, math. I mean, kids are bored to tears. They’re hating school at an early age. There’s no joy. There’s no passion. And the results show that. They’re very indicative of that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But now, what’s wrong? The supporters of Arne Duncan, superintendents like Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC, Joel Klein in New York City, and others around the country, are saying, what’s wrong with having higher accountability standards for teachers? What’s wrong with encouraging experimentation and entrepreneurship, in terms of how you deliver public education to the millions of children who so far have not been served by the public education system? So what’s wrong with that?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, the problem is that the whole idea of the business model doesn’t work in education. In the business model, you can select how you want to do something. You have an opportunity to innovate in a way that discriminates. It’s very easy to do. Whereas in a public school system, where we do not select our children—we take whoever comes to the door—what we need is actually more resources and more support for the people that are there and the work that’s being done. However, again, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein—I don’t know about Joel Klein—none of these people are superintendents. You have to have, again, credentials for that. These are business folks. Look, the business model took this country to the brink of Armageddon in 2008. And yet, we want to follow a failed business model and imprint that on top of public education? No. And these things are not innovative. What they are is they’re terrorism. They’re “my way or the highway.” And they’re still not producing, quote-unquote, “results.”

Nobody disagrees with accountability. That’s not the issue. The issue is, what do you use? We still know that high-stakes testing basically tell us more about a student’s socioeconomic status than it does anything else. And until we’re honest about that and want to deal with the fact that we have neighborhoods in our cities and across the nation that have been under-resourced, have been devalued for decades, and for some reason or other, the schools are supposed to fix all that and change that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Lois Weiner, you’ve been, in your research, conducting what I would, I guess, call a macro analysis of the education reform—

LOIS WEINER: Right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —comparing not only what’s happening here in the United States, but around the world, in terms of these so-called reform initiatives. Could you talk about that?

LOIS WEINER: Absolutely. And I think it’s important to understand that Race to the Top is not unique to the United States, and what Arne Duncan did in Chicago is not unique to Chicago. And in fact, the contours of this program were carried out first under Pinochet in Chile. And this program was implemented by force of military dictatorships and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Latin America. And the results have been verified by researchers there. They produced increased stratification. So I think what we’re seeing right now are the results of that increased stratification, a stratification, inequality of results, because if you think about it, No Child Left Behind is almost a decade old. And what are the results? The results are a growing gap between poor minority—achievement of poor minority kids and those kids who come from prosperous families who are—who live in affluent suburbs and in those suburban schools.

And I think it’s also very important to understand that this focus on educational reform is replacing, is a substitute for, a jobs policy. We need to understand that. Education can democratize the competition for the existing jobs, but it cannot create new jobs. And when most jobs that are being created are by companies like Wal-Mart, education cannot do anything about that. So, we need to—we really need to look critically at Race to the Top and understand the way that it fits into this new economic order of a so-called jobless recovery and that what’s really going on is a vocationalization of education, a watering down of curriculum for most kids, so that they’re going to take jobs that require only a seventh or an eighth grade education, because those are the jobs that are being created in this economy.

And so, I think that while we—while it’s important to look at the particulars of each state and each city, each school district, it’s also important to see this large picture, because almost anything that you can point to me that’s being done in Chicago or New York or San Francisco, we can find another place in the world that it was already done, and we can look at those results. And the results are not good.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But those who are at the forefront of this so-called reform movement—

LOIS WEINER: Mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —say that the charter schools that they’re creating, the small schools that they’re creating, are doing a better job, by the testing model of educating children, especially minority children, than has occurred in decades past under the existing public school system. What’s your response to that?

LOIS WEINER: My response to that, first of all, is that I want to see the evidence. And what’s really incredible and disastrous is that this enormous social engineering that’s going on to transform—I would say destroy—public education has not been accompanied by government funding for serious, objective evaluation. We have this so-called Institute for Education Science, but if you look at the sorts of research that they’re funding, they are not funding the kind of large-scale evaluative studies that we need to determine whether these reforms are going to be effective. And we shouldn’t permit that. We should identify this as what it is, which is an ideological venture that does not have a scientific basis, and it doesn’t have a basis in evidence.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You’ve also taken a look at the impact of No Child Left Behind on teachers. Could you talk about that?

LOIS WEINER: Well, I think it’s important to understand that there are—No Child Left Behind is part of this global project to deprofessionalize teaching as an occupation. And the reason that it’s important in this project to deprofessionalize teaching is that the thinking is that the biggest expenditure in education is teacher salaries. And they want to cut costs. They want to diminish the amount of money that’s put into public education. And that means they have to lower teacher costs. And in order to do that, they have to deprofessionalize teaching. They have to make it a revolving door, in which we’re not going to pay teachers very much. They’re not going to stay very long. We’re going to credential them really fast. They’re going to go in. We’re going to burn them up. They’re going to leave in three, four, five years. And that’s the model that they want.

So who is the biggest impediment to that occurring? Teachers’ unions. And that is what explains this massive propaganda effort to say that teachers’ unions are an impediment to reform. And in fact, they are an impediment to the deprofessionalization of teaching, which I think is a disaster. It’s a disaster for public education.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you know, one of the—I’ve been, for several years now, looking deeply into these charter schools, and especially their tax forms. And one of the things that has struck me as I look at their various audited financial statements is that, generally speaking, the pay levels of the teachers in the charter schools are far lower than they are for normal public school teachers, but the pay of the executives—

KAREN LEWIS: Yeah.

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —of the charter schools is far higher—

KAREN LEWIS: Higher, yeah.

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —than it is for superintendents. So you’re, in essence, creating a much bigger wage gap in the schools through the charters—

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —between management and the employees who actually cover the work.

LOIS WEINER: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m wondering what you found.

LOIS WEINER: Well, that’s part of the—you know, that’s part of the thinking here, that teaching really is not—does not have to be a skilled profession, because we’re not going to teach—we’re not going to educate kids to do anything more than work in Wal-Mart or the equivalent. They only need a seventh or an eighth grade education, at most a ninth grade education, and so we don’t need teachers who are more than, as Grover Whitehurst, a former Undersecretary of Education, said, “good enough.” That’s all we need is teachers who are “good enough” to follow scripted curriculum and to teach to these standardized tests. And if you only need teachers who are good enough, you don’t have to pay them very much. And that’s the project. And regardless of the rhetoric, regardless of the intentions of some of the people who are supporting these reforms, people like the Education Trust, whose work I respect, I think it’s important that we look at something beyond the intentions and the rhetoric, and we really look at this project as being a project that’s global in its nature.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Karen Lewis, you led basically an insurgent movement within your own union to win the presidency of the UFT—

KAREN LEWIS: Naaah.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —of the Chicago Federation of Teachers.

KAREN LEWIS: No, Chicago Teachers Union.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Teachers Union, I’m sorry.

KAREN LEWIS: Yes, that’s OK.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you talk about how you did that and the relationship of the teachers with the community, in general, in terms of dealing with these education reforms?

KAREN LEWIS: Well, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, or CORE, spent two years basically organizing with parents and community groups against school closings, against the turnarounds, and against the Duncan policies. We did not have an electoral strategy, to be perfectly honest with you. We just wanted to see a change in this whole idea of privatizing schools. And what we found was that, in general, there is this animosity between teachers and parents and communities, because we haven’t been working together. And yet, we are still seeing the devastation of our communities based on the fact that our institutions have been underfunded.

So, what we ended up doing was spending a lot of time talking to our members across the city. And the more we got ready to speak—and in addition with that, we changed the way the Board of Education does business. They would put schools on a hit list, and they were closed down, and that was it. We forced the board to start coming to these community meetings. They had never shown up. They just basically rubber-stamped whenever Arne Duncan wanted. And, of course, when Arne Duncan left, the guy that came in, equally as unqualified, had a slightly different vision. So six schools were taken off the hit list. That had never happened. But in addition, our union leadership was nowhere to be found during these hearings. We went to every school closing hearing, every charter school opening. And in addition, we had data that showed that these charter schools not only did no better, but that in some cases actually did worse than the neighborhood schools. And the problem is that those studies never get publicized, and certainly not in mainstream corporate media. So we had an uphill battle, because nobody would talk to us, nobody paid any attention to us. But, school by school, building by building, that’s how you build consensus. That’s how you build capacity for change.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You are a veteran chemistry teacher.

KAREN LEWIS: I am, yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about the impact of these so-called reforms on your own ability to teach chemistry?

KAREN LEWIS: You know, I’m going to be honest with you. Being a veteran teacher, I have basically ignored them, to be real honest. But I’ve had that ability because of the fact that I’m so passionate about teaching and that I care about what I do and that the results I get, which are not test-driven, as far as I’m concerned, are what speak for themselves. I mean, ultimately, administrators want to know how well you relate to your students, how well you relate to parents, and I’ve always had that ability to do that. So, as far as I’m concerned, these so-called reforms—just get out of my way, as far as I was concerned.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Lois Weiner, could you compare what’s happened in Chicago with the teachers there to some of the bigger unions, to the United Federation of Teachers, to what’s been happening with the NEA, in terms of confronting some of these changes?

LOIS WEINER: Well, you know, I think that CORE’s victory is really a watershed. and I’m just delighted. And I have to say that I spoke at a rally of CORE earlier this year, and I heard Karen speak to teachers in the audience. And what struck me in the way that Karen talked about the reforms and what’s going on in public education was her passion about teaching. And I think it’s—the fact that CORE contains teachers who are committed to social justice, they’re committed to a new form of teacher unionism, and they’re committed to facing racism, it really makes it a model for what we want to do in unions elsewhere, I have to say especially the UFT here in New York.

But we’re beginning to see in other large city locals a renaissance of activism among young teachers, because, unlike Karen, they’re not protected. And these reforms, they’re losing their jobs. They’re being terrorized by principals. Their schools are being shut down, because very often they teach in the most vulnerable schools, because they’re new and that’s where the jobs are. And they want a union. They want a union that’s going to fight for them. And the message that we have to bring them is, I think, that CORE does, is “You are the union. Nobody can do it for you.”

And I think in New York City we’re beginning to see that. I’ve been working with this group called Teachers Unite, and I think it’s a ginger group for a new—the kind of reform that we need in New York City. Los Angeles already has a reform leadership. Detroit has a reform leadership in the AFT. And I think that that’s going to pull—those changes are going to be—pull, I’m hopeful, the national unions to more progressive, more militant, and more pro-parent and pro-education stances.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you also about the intervention of other elite forces on this education reform debate—

LOIS WEINER: Right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —the right-wing foundations, the Walton Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, as well as all of the hedge fund and Wall Street people that have gotten involved in funding schools and creating charter networks. What do you analyze is behind this?

LOIS WEINER: Well, I mean, their effect has been, really, all-encompassing and quite pernicious. And we have a great deal of research about what’s going on with this, if we want to take a look at it. It’s never—it’s never mentioned in the popular media, in the corporate mass media. And they are controlling the education agenda. They are controlling these new core curriculum standards. And if people really looked at these core curriculum standards, I think they would be aghast. You know, vocationalization of the curriculum is beginning in first grade. They’re doing career education in first grade, if you look at these standards. What is that about? That we’re preparing kids for the workforce when they’re in first grade? And the foundations, the right-wing foundations, including the Gates Foundation, they are absolutely driving this. They’re funding it. They’re funding the media campaign to persuade people that this is necessary. And they are funding the—

KAREN LEWIS: Research.

LOIS WEINER: They’re funding the research.

KAREN LEWIS: They’re funding the research, mm-hmm.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Karen Lewis is president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Lois Weiner, professor of education at New Jersey City University. And we will continue to follow this story.