Churn, Churn, Churn

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Churn, Churn, Churn

[With sincere apologies to the late Pete Seeger…]

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

A time to recruit, a time to hire

A time for ads, a time to conspire

A time to fib, a time to conceal

A time to invest, a time to make the deal

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

No time for doubt, no time to think

No time to reflect, more bucks for machines

No time to inhale money’s stink

No time to heed the voice of learners

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

Get rid of real pros, the TFA plan

Get only the young, they don’t have a clue

Get rid of the educators who squawk

Get rid of all who are not the true believers

 

For charter schools– churn, churn, churn

There is one purpose– earn, earn, earn

And no time for equity in education

 

A time to open, a time to close

A time to arrive, a time to flee town

A non-profit gig that pays owners well

The public’s been conned, I hope it’s not too late!

 

 

Charter schools are for the Byrds.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Coercion—the Post-democratic Tradition?

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Gates Menace

”Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature.”            Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

When Jefferson wrote those words, he was emphasizing the need a democratic society has for tolerance of minority viewpoints. Today, even majority viewpoints may be subjected to coercion—by those whose pocketbooks enable them to purchase tremendous political power and who use that power to undermine democratic process in the public realm. The Gates Foundation subverts democracy by determining the “correct” path for public education, funding secret meetings and promoting private decisions—and misrepresenting those decisions as legitimate public policy. These actions fly in the face of American tradition and violate any sense of legitimacy.

Today, we hear people talk about the “Founding Fathers” as if they were some monolithic bloc of unanimous assent to the policies enacted by our national government. In reality, they were a bag of cats, arguing, conniving (and drinking) to create a constitution that might satisfy the needs of a diverse population. At least three delegates did not sign the final document. The Founding Fathers did, in fact, work secretly—a choice made to alleviate public outcry that might prevent full and uninhibited exploration of possible answers to the young nation’s problems. But while the meetings were held in secret, the attendees at the Constitutional Convention were legitimate representatives, granted authority by their respective states to make decisions on their behalf. The final document was then open to public debate and ratification—a heated contest, to be sure, and one that took nearly a year to complete. The Founding Fathers, lacking the hubris of corporate oligarchs, anticipated that changes to the Constitution might be desired, and provided a clear means to do so.

It was a model of democratic decision-making.

How well does the creation story of the Common Core State Standards measure up to that model? Not very.

The committee members for the CCSS were chosen by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). None of the NGA Educational Division staff had K-12 experience. You might expect that the members of the CCSS Math and English Language Arts Work Groups would have had extensive classroom teaching experience, but you’d be disappointed. Out of the 24 members, less than half had any classroom experience at all, and several of those were experienced in a content area other than that of their committee work. 14 members had direct ties to testing companies. That tells me that people were not primarily selected for professional qualifications, but that ties to the less-than-edifying testing industry counted at least as much. It also suggests to me that the purpose of the group was not to compose a document primarily for student benefit, but was instead to build a system that would be mined for profit. The fox was building the henhouse and designing the security system, so to speak. No wonder NGA and the CCSSO resisted releasing the names of committee members— obvious conflicts of interest between the common good and commercial interests were the rule.

These conflicts of interest alone ought to have caused queries of corruption; add to them the secrecy concerning membership and the process by which the committee worked and there is no reason left to grant legitimacy. Anyone believing that the CCSS is a document that has earned the right to be enforceable public policy has little understanding of democratic process.

Beyond all of this is the omission from the document of any method for ratification or amendment. CCSS was a fait d’accompli on arrival, since state officials were asked to commit themselves before the working committees ever met. In fact, the CCSS is not exactly a “public document” in any real sense, since ownership remains in the hands of the NGA and the CCSSO. This group got Arne Duncan and the federal Department of Education to act as their enforcers, making adherence to the CCSS part of the requirements states must meet for taking federal dollars. No state or individual has any legal power to demand reconsideration of the CCSS in whole or part, and probably never will.

At the rotten core of this perversion of democratic process is the Gates Foundation. Over $170 million dollars has been provided by Bill Gates to fund the creation and implementation of CCSS. These donations are not benevolent grants provided without strings to further a common good. They are at first bribes offered to public officials who, starved for ongoing revenue sources for any educational initiative, jumped on board without due diligence. They are at last the basis for coercion of the states, which must adhere to requirements for testing by companies that created the tests corresponding to the CCSS… and the (at least) equal coercion of teachers, for states must use those test results as a means for evaluating educators.

The power of law has been granted to CCSS without the necessary process to assure public input and debate. Coercion, rather than professional debate, has taken precedence as the source of educational policy.

That coercion is geared to turn math and English language arts classrooms into production venues of standardized, homogenized instruction. “All children can learn” becomes “All children will learn what, how, and when we want them to, and for as long as we make money from it…”

Thomas Jefferson warned against people like Bill Gates over 230 years ago. Bill Gates is that fallible man who is governed by a bad passion for privatized, monetized, and standardized education. He seeks uniformity because it provides a sense of certainty in a field which ought to reject anything of the sort. Corporations can’t adequately predict needs and outcomes if educators creatively expand horizons of learning as they work alongside students. As Gates said, back when the CCSS committees were just getting started, “When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.”

Mr. Gates, the common good is not compatible with coercion. When your “donations” are offered to grateful educators so that they can do meaningful professional work in a democratic setting, you’ll be welcome to join in at the appropriate moment for public input. You are not welcome to pre-determine the topics for discussion, nor the outcomes of those discussions. You are not welcome to disregard the voices of professionals or to fund the coercion of educators.

We intend to close the door on Mr. Gates.

Join the Washington State BATs on June 26, 2014, at the door of the Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA!

© David Sudmeier, 2014

One Step at a Time

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DeaconSarcophagusBats

I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”                         Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Hope is an aspiration in itself. I’ve grown in hope as well as in despair for our public school system for some time. I’ve learned that hope and despair are necessary partners, not oppositional forces. If you are working for recognition of a fundamental truth in conflict with the interests of the wealthy, history says that you will learn this lesson. A few examples:

  • Thomas Clarkson, worked from 1787 to 1846 to eradicate slavery as a part of the British Empire and the United States. He did not live to see America in upheaval over bondage, and probably doubted it would ever occur, despite the demise of slavery in British colonies.
  • David Walker wrote aggressive abolitionist literature to contrast the lives of slaves with the values of democracy. He saw the Nat Turner rebellion crushed.
  • And finally there is Abigail Adams, whose entreaty to her husband, “remember the ladies,” went largely unheeded. Her suggestion that women’s rights existed absent a law to protect them only brought forth fruit in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. There is no indication that Mrs. Adams felt her words had no effect on her husband, or lost hope for women’s rights. Still, she must have been galled by the revocation of suffrage for women in New Jersey in 1807.

Each of these people not only did not live to see their fight “won,” but also witnessed setback after setback in their attempts to promote the idea of equal rights as inherent to a functioning democracy. We should expect no less. As our voices rise in volume to proclaim public schools off limits to corporate exploitation, we will be subject to political attack and professional harassment. Corporations can purchase loud amplifiers for their messages, assuming that if they drown us out, we’ll shut up.

Let’s not.

Instead, when we feel beaten up in the press, or when corporate dollars do prevail in a given political campaign, let’s take it as a sign that our voices have had an effect on public debate. It’s going to be a long, hard slog to make our message connect with the lives of persons who send their children to us for an education.

Right now, there is something each of us can do in the fight to protect public education.

Remember, corporatists value the bottom line more than anything. Now, individually, we can’t make much of an impression by refusing them our patronage. As a group, however, we can have a real impact. Why give your consumer dollars to corporations who work to violate the right of citizens to have an education free of corporate influence? Martin Luther King, Jr. said as much in his “Mountaintop” speech when he encouraged people not to purchase Wonder Bread. And that’s a great place to begin.

Flowers Foods: These guys produce Wonder Bread, Tastykakes, and Nature’s Own brands, among many, many others. They also give a greater percentage of their political donations to Republican organizations that sponsor attacks on public education than any other corporation. Surely you can find another bakery—perhaps in your own neighborhood—that bakes bread, but doesn’t scorch basic rights in the process?

I challenge you to identify and publish the names of other products peddled by corporate pirates who target the democratic values of a free and public education. Put them in a reply to this blog—and provide at least one link to substantiate each of your claims.

Help us compile a list that all soldiers in the fight against corporatism can consult. Then, we will post the list wherever those soldiers may be.

Just another step. It’s one step we can all take, whether we individually ever see the “Promised Land” ourselves.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014