Celebrating the Differences

On this day celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., it is important to remember not only the need to fight those who teach hate but to support those who model love. Remembering that we have had powerful leaders in the past who worked successfully to make the world a better place for all of us gives me hope that there will be such leaders again in the near future, and in fact are here, now.

 

One of my favorite quotes of King’s was one that echoes the Buddha and Gandhi, among others: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

 

King was not a perfect person. But there are no “perfect” people. We might feel the pressure, both from ourselves and others, to think we should be perfect. Or that if we aren’t perfect, how could we demand ethical behavior, clarity of thinking, or compassion from politicians? But what King fought for and the fact that he fought is inspirational.

 

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

 

We might think that those who are already social and political leaders must be either absolute saints or absolute sinners. We often want myths, not reality. It can be difficult to admire someone without mythologizing them.

 

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

 

For example, some people of faith think the rich and powerful are favored by God, and so truth is what erupts from their leader’s mouth. However, when we think of our leaders as greater than us, greater than life, it’s too easy to ignore who they are or what they aim to do. The more real, the more human a leader is, the more we can learn from them. Instead of making a leader greater than us, we need to make ourselves into leaders, or at least informed citizens. We need to learn to examine the implications of policy proposals to determine as best we can what kind of world any leader would create.

 

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

 

Do we want to “make America great again?” What does ‘great’ mean to T or his followers? From a study of T’s actions, we can see that he is trying to undermine democracy. His aim is to bring our nation back to a time before the Bill of Rights, before the constitution, maybe before the revolution. He wants a nation without a free press, without voting or civil rights, without a balance of powers between different branches of government, and with one-man rule. Or maybe he’s trying for something even worse, a white nationalist kleptocracy in which the rich are not controlled by laws but assume total power over the laws ⎼ something that didn’t even exist here 300 years ago.

 

“Every man must decide if he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the utter darkness of destructive selfishness.”

 

In 1947, in the Morehouse College student newspaper, Martin Luther King wrote: “If we are not careful, our colleagues will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.” And this is what the Presidency is now teaching. T, along with his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is trying to replace education with propaganda,  public schools with private, a commitment to improving equity and protecting student’s rights and safety with a focus on producing workers desperate for income, open inquiry with religious centered mind-control.

 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

 

We must not say: “This is awful but does not affect me directly. This is an assault on democracy and this is unjust, but I can live with it.”

 

Instead, we must be aware that: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

This is what, and whom, we celebrate today.

 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

 

 

 

*The photo of is of a wall painting of Martin Luther King Jr., in Lake Worth, Florida.

“A government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people…”

Last week, Mother Jones magazine ran an article about how “The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded.” It tells the story of the failure and collapse of a charter school called the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which recently had a student body of over 13,872 students, the largest public charter school, maybe the largest k-12 school, in the US. You might find it interesting. According to the article, the school provided for many a “sham education” and “functioned more like a profit center than an educational institution.”

 

Related to this, the Tallulah Charter School in New Orleans was closed in December after the Louisiana Department of Education voided 325 scores on the LEAP tests after finding evidence of systemic cheating. An investigation found the school was “administering incorrect accommodations, administering accommodations inappropriately and giving students access to test questions prior to the test.”

 

Charter schools are not subject to the same regulation as public schools, so such abuses as reported above are understandable. As Diane Ravitch argues in her book Reign of Error, they “…are deregulated and free from most state laws….” Unlike public schools, which take any and every student who comes to their door, charter schools can screen for the most advantaged. Despite this screening, they are no more successful than public schools. As educator Steven Singer put it, “school choice is no choice.” The schools chose the students more than the other way around. When adjusted for the economic situation of students, statistics show charters often do worse. Charter and other privately run schools can hire uncertified teachers who are not unionized, not as well trained, and who can be paid less.

 

But despite these problems, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, says she is in favor of establishing a voucher system, where parents can choose where to send their children for their education. Public funds will be used to pay for students to attend charters, religious, or other private schools instead of public ones.

 

She argues, despite evidence showing otherwise, that “choice” will increase equity among all students by forcing competition in the education market. But her approach treats our children as commodities, sources of money, (as exemplified by speaking of “value added” to students by schools) and conceptualizes the purpose of education as meeting the needs of employers, (or in DeVos’ case, meeting her agenda of Christianizing education: see the NYT article on the subject) not meeting the needs and dreams of students.

 

The push for “choice” developed over many years of attacks on the image and funding of public schools. Diane Ravitch argues that education corporations worked with individual politicians to undermine public schools, teachers, and teacher unions, and have been attacking the very concept that a public institution working for the general good, instead of a for-profit corporation, can successfully manage and direct an educational system.

 

Once public education was forced into this deliberately manufactured crisis, there were increasing calls to create privately run, publicly funded, charter schools, and vouchers for private schools. In 2016-7, there were 3.1 million students enrolled in charter schools, triple the number from 2006-7. With charter schools, public money is transferred from teachers and administrators, who are mostly in the middle or lower class, to corporate investors. In the case of cities like NYC, hedge fund managers, whose primary goal is fast profits, have taken over several charter schools.

 

If our society truly wanted to create an equitable educational system it would begin by investing more money in schools where the need was greatest. It would treat teachers with the respect they deserve and need in order to creatively and compassionately meet the educational needs of students. It would do a better job of treating students as whole people with emotional, social, and health needs as well as intellectual ones. It would do any of these things before it would spend one nickel on vouchers or corporate created charter schools.

 

The call for “choice” is a call for privatization of the whole public sphere. It is part of an across the board effort to undermine all aspects of our democracy and to send taxpayer money to rich investors. It is happening with our water systems. In 2011 three quarters of municipalities had public water systems. But the Trump EPA has steadily worked to undermine the rule of law and cut back on protections for rivers and other water systems, and his calls for infrastructure improvements have been tied to pressure for privatization of municipal water systems.

 

It has been happening with prison systems. In 1983, the first private prisons were opened. By 2015, 126,272 people were imprisoned in private institutions. It has been happening with the military. Since the 1990s, the US and other nations have increased their dependence on private military firms (corporate mercenaries). This was highlighted last year when Betsy DeVos’ brother, Erik Prince, tried to get the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan and turn it over to Prince.

 

It is happening with health, pension and earned benefits systems. The GOP has repeatedly tried to privatize Social Security and end or undermine Medicare and Medicaid in order to appropriate the benefits earned by workers. Mr. T and other Republican politicians repeatedly attack the FBI and CIA. These efforts are partly to undermine the Mueller investigation. It is also to establish an intelligence and investigation institution that owes allegiance not to the constitution, “the people” or the government as a whole, but to Mr. T, personally, as evidenced by T asking for Comey’s “loyalty” and saying he expected the attorney general to protect him from the Russia investigation.

 

I could go on and on, talking about attempts to end voting rights, economic justice and racial, religious or gender equality, destroy the free press, the postal system, etc. Privatization is a vehicle for undermining democracy and destroying the best hope of this nation. President Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, called for people to dedicate themselves to “the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far nobly advanced… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.” Maybe I’m going too far here, but it seems to me that ending a government of, by, and for “the people” is exactly what Mr. T is trying to do. Thus, resisting him and the GOP is nothing less than helping to complete the unfinished work President Lincoln called for.

 

**Thank you to Jill Swenson for the heads up about the first two links about charter schools.

Why Teach? Why Do Anything?

“Why become a teacher? Why chose one profession or job over another? Why do anything? I have to admit that after high school, I told myself I would never teach in a public school. I found education valuable, but the school I had attended was too big and restrictive. I wanted to do something with my life that was meaningful, alive, creative, like write novels, plays or poetry or do something adventurous….

I think teaching is … is one of the most meaningful things you can do. After a day of teaching is over, you don’t have to find other ways to make the world a better place—you do it daily….”

 

To read the rest of this blog, please go to the Good Men Project, which just published it today. It is a re-write of one of my earlier posts.

 

kid

Undermining the Public (In Order to Rip Us Off?)

Yesterday, Mr. T spoke to members of the National Sheriffs Association and said: “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” According to the Washington Post, he blamed the news media for not publicizing this development, and then added, “But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.” But according to the Post, Politifact, and the FBI, this claim by him is clearly false. In 1980, the murder rate was 10.2 per 100,000 residents. In 2014 it was 4.4. In 2015, it did go up to 4.9, less than half of the 1980 rate. Violent crime in America in general has gone down. But not in the America Mr. T sees. He sees, or tries to get us to feel, that the rate is going up. Why? To create fear. To create a sense of society falling apart so he can ride in and save us.

 

Likewise, on 2/6 Politifact reported on Mr. T’s comment that the US news media, regarding terrorist attacks, are “dishonest” and it has “gotten to the point where it’s [terrorist attacks are] not even being reported.” He tells us that there is so much more extremist violence happening and we are not safe. But, of course, the violence committed by Muslims from other nations is being constantly reported, maybe even too much. And, as Democracy Now, CNN, and other respected media report, if there isn’t any violence, Mr. T and his associates will lie or manufacture “fake news” to make us think there is. For example, Kellyanne Conway talking about a “Bowling Green Massacre” that never took place. Why? To create a sense of distrust in the media and a fear of the other, of other people, of our society falling apart so he, or HE, can ride in to save us.

 

But he has no plans to save anyone. In fact, this is the same strategy started in the Reagan administration to undermine public schools. Diane Ravitch argued in her book Reign of Error that different corporations, working with political institutions and individual politicians, are leading an effort to undermine public schools by undermining teachers, teacher unions, and the very concept that a public institution working for the general good, instead of a for-profit corporation, can successfully manage and direct an educational system.

 

The strategy calls for publicizing deceptive and often inaccurate information to create a sense of a crisis in education so corporations can step in and save the day. For example, A Nation At Risk, a report issued by the Reagan administration in 1983, claimed public education and teachers were responsible for everything from a declining college graduation rate to the loss of manufacturing jobs. It said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” It said graduation rates, SAT scores, etc. were decreasing—all later proved untrue. According to Edutopia and government statistics, Academic achievement from 1975 to 1988 was actually improving, and not only for middle class white Americans. The divide in academic achievement between rich and poor, white and African-American, Latino, Native-American, was diminishing. But the A Nation At Risk report was just the beginning. Betsy DeVos and the destruction she might wreak is the end result.

 

In 2007, Naomi Klein wrote The Shock Doctrine. Klein’s book argued that when people feel they are in a crisis, they support doctrines, policies, laws that they never would have supported otherwise. Crises can be of all kinds; economic, public health, national security, education. Mr. T. is shocking. He is creating a crisis so he, with the help of some large corporations and his billionaire buddies, can step in and sell the solution.

 

As I said in an earlier blog, we live in relationship with others and our world. This relationship, and our very lives, is more fragile than we like to recognize. If society falls apart, it is not so easy to piece it back together. Mr. T is not a populist working for the common good, but someone working to undermine the sense of relationship that underlies a society and then reconfigure it to fit his interests. By favoring the very few over the whole, his policies undermine the public good and he weakens and isolates himself and his cohorts ever further from everyone else. His delusion and hunger for power threatens every person, maybe every living being on this planet.

 

Only by understanding even those you oppose can you fight them. Only by working to create a society that prioritizes relationships that are mutual, inclusive, caring, and honest can we, as a species, live well, and possibly, live at all.

 

*For information on a foiled white supremacist terrorist plan to massacre African-Americans and Jewish people in Bowling Green, Ohio, see ProPublica post.

Do You Want A New Chief of Education Whose Aim Is to Dismantle Public Schools?

Betsy DeVos is Mr. Trump’s choice to be the Secretary of Education. She is in favor of “choice,” meaning she favors vouchers and charter schools. A voucher system means public funds are used to pay for students to attend religious or possibly private or charter schools instead of public ones. This means we might soon have a chief of education who wants to dismantle public education. I oppose this nomination.

 

Why is it a bad idea to privatize public education? Is this nomination a culmination of recent moves made by wealthy private interests to undermine public schools? If you’d like a short historical review and analysis from earlier blogs, read on.

 

For the last 30 years or more there have been waves of attacks on public schools in the US. These attacks go along with a larger war on the concept and institutions of democracy. How? One of the functions of public schools is to educate all students to be able to understand and meaningfully participate in a democratic government. It is to “level the playing field” so people who put in the effort can create a good life. Are we now purposely creating “separate and (certainly not) equal?”

 

Diane Ravitch argues in her book Reign of Error that different corporations, working with political institutions and individual politicians, have been leading an effort to undermine public schools by undermining teachers and teacher unions. They have been attacking the very concept that a public institution working for the general good, instead of a for-profit corporation, can successfully manage and direct an educational system (or a water, health, or other system).

 

The strategy calls for publicizing often inaccurate and deceptive information to create a sense of a crisis in education so corporations can step in and save the day. For example, A Nation At Risk, a report issued by the Reagan administration in 1983, claimed public education and teachers were responsible for everything from a declining college graduation rate to the loss of manufacturing jobs. It said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” It said graduation rates, SAT scores, etc. were decreasing—all later proved untrue. Academic achievement from 1975 to 1988 was actually improving, and not only for middle class white Americans. The divide in academic achievement between rich and poor, white and people of color, was diminishing. The A Nation At Risk report was just the beginning.

 

With the fomenting of decreasing trust in teachers and public schools, there was also increasing pressure to turn to private companies to create assessments, curriculum, and even to decide who would be allowed to teach our children. In 2001, President Bush supported and signed the No Child Left Behind legislation. This was a “noteworthy” achievement. It increased the number of standardized tests that our students had to take which made us the most tested nation in the world. Then came President Obama’s Race To The Top legislation in 2009. Amongst other things, this set the stage for the Common Core, and mandated that test scores be used in teacher evaluations, and encouraged the closing of public schools whose students “underperform” on test scores. The result was that some of those dire claims about the education of our children began to come true.

 

Once most of the country was fooled into thinking of public education as facing a large scale crisis, there were increasing calls to privatize schools and create privately run, publicly funded, charter schools, and vouchers. From 2003-4 to 2013-14, for example, the number of students enrolled in charter schools rose from 1,6 million to 2.5 million. This number continues to rise. With charter schools, public money is transferred from teachers and administrators, who are mostly in the middle or lower class, to corporate investors. In the case of cities like NYC, hedge fund managers, whose primary goal is fast profits, have taken over several charter schools.

 

Secondly, these schools, as Diane Ravitch points out, “…are deregulated and free from most state laws… This freedom allows charter schools to establish their own disciplinary policies and their own admission rules.” Unlike public schools, which must take any and every student who comes to their door, charter schools can screen for the most advantaged students. Despite this screening, charter schools are no more successful then public schools. And, when adjusted for the economic situation of students, statistics show they often do worse. Charter and other privately run schools can hire uncertified teachers who are not unionized, not as well trained, and who can be paid less. The public sector can now be drained of funds and left to educate the most disadvantaged students with fewer resources.

 

Public schools were further undermined over this same time period by federal, state, and local cuts to educational budgets, including cuts in teaching staff. In 35 states, for example, the funding in 2012-2013 was below 2008 levels. At the same time, there was an increase in spending on standardized testing. I don’t think it’s smart to try to increase the performance of schools by decreasing the number of teachers teaching. During this time, however, there were increasing outcries against the common core tests. From 2013 until today, more and more parents have helped their children opt out of standardized tests, and the resistance to teacher evaluations based on those tests has expanded. And soon, we will have new policies by Betsy DeVos that we might want to oppose.

 

Proponents of “choice” argue their policies will benefit all students and increase equity by forcing competition in the education market. However, this approach treats our children as commodities, sources of money, (as exemplified by speaking of “value-added” to students by schools) and conceptualizes the purpose of education as meeting the needs of employers, not meeting the needs and dreams of students.

 

If our society truly wanted to create an equitable educational system it would begin by investing more money in schools where the need was greatest. It would treat teachers with the respect they deserve and need in order to creatively and compassionately meet the educational needs of students. It would do a better job of treating students as whole people with emotional, social, and health needs as well as intellectual ones. It would do any of these things before it would spend one nickel on corporate created standardized tests, charter schools or vouchers. So, is the corporate “reform” agenda part of a larger move in our country to undermine not only public education, but the power of the public in general? I hope not. But, I think, that is the result.

 

**A few links  and resources:

For a chart on vouchers and school choice, provided by Steve Singer, BadAss Teachers:

To sign a petition against Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, go to this link. For information on her connection to the religious right, read this article by Jeff Bryant.

Diane Ravitch blog.