Monthly Archives: November 2011

The U.S. History Regents and the REAL Goal of Education Reform

Zachary Taylor's nickname was "Old Rough and Ready"

Years ago I had a coworker who fancied himself a history buff. Not being a history teacher himself, he relished the thought of trying to stump me with a question. One of his favorites, which he asked me pretty much half the time, was “you do know what Zachary Taylor’s nickname was, don’t you?” I never answered the question, preferring to give him his moments to shine where he could puff out his chest and smugly inform me that it was “Old Rough and Ready”. I would nod my head in bland acknowledgment, allowing the conversation to end on a high note for him so I could get back to doing work. Like many self-professed history buffs, what he likes is not so much history as it is trivia. No understanding of history is required to know that Zachary Taylor’s nickname was “Old Rough and Ready”. My coworker would have done better to ask what role Taylor had in defeating Mexico or why he became president. These questions would require some ability to synthesize facts in order to give a sweep of history. It would be more in line with the historian’s craft.

Although the man is no longer my coworker, I am reminded of him every day by the fact that I have to prepare my students for Regents exams. For sure, I have spoken to many people associated with the crafting of the U.S. History Regents and they seem to be fairly competent and knowledgeable. The exams they produce, however, are the paper versions of my annoying coworker. They lie in wait brandishing overly specific questions, many of which they have asked before. A student’s entire worth as an amateur historian will be measured by whether or not they can answer tiny questions plucked from a vast historical universe. Maybe there is a student who knows everything about the Mexican War. They can even draw a map of Taylor’s and Santa Anna’s forces at the Battle of Buena Vista. But if they do not know that Zach Taylor was “Old Rough and Ready”, their knowledge of all early 1800s America is called into question. Essentially, our children are not expected to know much more than trivia when it comes to American history.

To be fair, the Regents usually do not descend to the same level of minutiae as my coworker. But when the format calls for chopping up 500 years of American history into 50 multiple choice questions, obviously some things will get focused on more than others. Take this past June’s Regents. The period from the ratification of the Constitution (roughly 1788) through the Reconstruction era (roughly 1877) was covered in six questions (questions 11-16): 11) Louisiana Purchase, 12) John Marshall, 13) Manifest Destiny, 14) Dred Scott, 15) Radical Reconstruction, 16) literacy exams, poll taxes and grandfather clauses. The message of these multiple choice questions is that it does not really matter if you know about Washington’s Presidency, the XYZ Affair, Lewis and Clark, the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson, Indian Removal, Nat Turner, John Quincy Adams or the creation of the Republican Party. The fact of the matter is that the Regents mostly asks important questions that every American should know. There is nothing wrong with asking about the Louisiana Purchase or John Marshall. The problem lies in the format. The test makers have to work within a framework that forces them to elevate certain topics over others. It is the only way they can get away with not asking a single direct question about the Civil War, the bloodiest event in American history. The grand, sweeping march of history is way too big for a series of isolated questions to contain.

In this we confront the danger of the education reformers. They love standardized exams. Exams are like the goose laying golden eggs of “data” for the reformers to use to give their vacuous ideas an air of scientific respectability. The grades on those exams will determine the fate of both the student and the teacher. That fate will involve a lot of school closings and a lot of money from those closed schools going into the pockets of wealthy charter school operators. As you can see, nowhere in this fate is our citizenry expected to have a true understanding of American history. They just need to be prepared for the dead end questions, many of them asked before, that are thrown at them arbitrarily. One of the original missions, if not the original mission, of public schooling was to help shape our kids to be solid citizens. If we have to give exams, why not give exams that require our kids to acquire, analyze and synthesize information so that they may have the critical thinking skills necessary to participate in American democracy? Why not have teachers create and grade those exams, since they should know better than anyone the themes and ideas to which their students were exposed? They can ask questions that require students to present a critical sweep of history.

We know full well why not. The reformers do not want our schools producing solid citizens. Solid citizens are informed, knowledgeable and expect certain basic things, like human dignity. The fabulous wealth these reformers accumulated in the business world depends upon an apathetic, uninformed citizenry. In short, the reformers want to educate poor children to accept poverty, while turning a blind eye to the obscene wealth of the reformers themselves. Instead of budding historians who would easily see how vast inequalities of wealth pervert democracy, they want a bunch of trivia freaks who can answer simple questions for prize money. Instead of professional teachers who know and love their craft, they want to boil teaching down to memorizing facts. The deskilling of the art of teaching that has taken place under the reformers is only their first step. Their goal is to get rid of teaching altogether. After all, if all kids need to do to graduate is spit back arbitrary facts, what better teacher than a computer? The student can run a computer program of random, disjointed facts from U.S. History played to catchy, repetitive music. After listening to it a few hundred times over the course of a semester, they will have memorized everything. In this way, learning will be no different than when kids listen to the radio and know all the lyrics to every song since the same songs are always being played. Test scores will go up, kids will think learning is cool, Bill Gates will be a triple gadzillionaire and the evil teacher unions will be no more.

It is time that people wake up and recognize that the reformers are genuine radicals who want to totally revolutionize what we are as a country. The rich and the powerful want to control the way every child is educated. They do this to keep themselves rich and powerful. The battle over our school system today will determine whether we can restore some semblance of democracy and goodness to our country, or whether the caste system that has taken hold here over the past three decades is here to stay.

Zuccotti Park: One Week after the Eviction

What is wrong with this picture?

It has now been a week since Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zuccotti Park. The park is quiet and desolate thanks mostly to the police officers ringing the perimeter, determining who is able to enter. They are the new occupiers of the park, bringing a different set of rules than the previous occupiers. “Occupation” in the style of OWS meant openness, an ironic twist on a word with usually repressive undertones. The police now at the park have restored “occupation” to its original, militaristic function. What has become of Zuccotti Park over the past week is a stark reminder of what both the protestors and corporatized society are all about.

Before the protestors were evicted, one could walk through Zuccotti Park and see for themselves what the Occupy Wall Street movement stood for. The tent village shared by the mostly young occupiers was a tribute to communal living. The constant pounding of the drums was America’s youth crying out to be heard over the din of consumerism. The free flow of food, available to anyone that wanted it, reminded us of how plentiful our resources are. They were showing us how to give freely without stigmatizing or criminalizing people in need. The “People’s Library”, flush with books about modern society, was a lesson in acquiring information in the information age. The marches reminded us, and will continue to remind us, of our duties as citizens. People who say Occupy Wall Street has no goals or no vision miss the point. It was their example, their occupation of Zuccotti Park, that was the goal and the vision. The occupiers not only showed us what this country could be, but that the collective will to make it so is real. After all, they did all of this in the shadow of the Wall Street giants who pushed us to despair.

That explains the midnight raid on Zuccotti Park a week ago. The Wall Street giants, along with their fellow travelers in government like Mayor Bloomberg, considered the occupation a cancer that had spread across the country. The raid struck at what they saw as the root of the cancer at Zuccotti Park. Police were sent in suddenly and without warning, like a blast of chemotherapy into a patient’s veins. The tents were destroyed, the drums were silenced, the food was taken and the books were burned. More than an eviction, it was a direct assault on everything for which the movement stood. By dismantling the occupation’s infrastructure, they hoped to dismantle the nationwide movement. In this regard, it had an eerie similarity to the “shock and awe” tactics used in Iraq: a sudden, sweeping and coordinated attack on everything that makes a society go.

And what Zuccotti Park looked like in the hours after the eviction was what the Neocons envisioned for Iraq after shock and awe: barren, desolate, a blank slate on which capitalists could build. There was the promise to the occupiers, as well as to the general public, that they could return to the park once it was “cleaned”, much like there was the promise of freedom in Iraq once the war is over. Yet, after a week, the police still surround the park and the sanitation workers are still “cleaning”, much like American troops and contractors remained in Iraq well after Saddam was captured and hanged. It was all an excuse to destroy in order to remind everyone of the extent of corporatist power, as well as to extend that power.

Zuccotti Park now is the corporatist ideal of the world writ small. It is a privatized public space. Police tightly regulate foot traffic into the park. They ensure that the crowd remains very small. The few activists that show up are conspicuous because they stand out. Instead of being part of a crowd of thousands, the people with the signs and the flags are spectacles. Instead of a group of people exercising citizenship, it is a confederation of individuals each drawing attention to themselves. No longer the shining example of collective democracy, it is now a marketplace for individuals seeking their 15 minutes. The corporatists like Bloomberg understood what the park symbolized in a way that the average critic will never understand. That is why while the average critic was dismissing the movement, Bloomberg was giving the green light for a merciless eviction. By occupying Zuccotti Park, the corporatists are now showing the world their own vision for society. It is a barren and hopeless world. Police scrutiny prevents political activism. People are atomized into a competition to be spectacles, like a bunch of reality show stars.

But the new occupation of Zuccotti Park does not mean that Occupy Wall Street is done. Anybody who was at the Day of Action on the heels of the eviction saw a bigger and more determined Occupy Wall Street than ever before. The corporatists, out of touch as always, were wrong in assuming Zuccotti Park was the cause of the Occupy Wall Street cancer. It is our deteriorating conditions as a people and the blind march of corporatism over every part of our lives that is the cause. Occupy Wall Street is the cure, corporatism is the cancer. If the corporatists want to do away with Occupy Wall Street, then they must first do away with themselves. Occupy Wall Street will continue to grow because the corporatist cancer continues to grow. More and more people will see their world decay around them and realize that Occupy Wall Street is their only hope.

What We Were Never Told about Teaching Kids for the 21st Century

Is this teaching for the 21st century? Is this teaching at all?

The first principal I worked under was genuinely a good man. He understood that the attention spans of kids at our school were damaged by years of watching television. In his mind, the only way to reach our children was to use technology in the service of education. You want to teach gravity? Show a clip of Wiley Coyote falling from a cliff. Since then, I have encountered many dedicated teachers who buy into similar ideas. When the vampire romance series “Twilight” was becoming popular with teenagers, I had expressed concern that the poor writing and shallow emotions would give them a false sense of literature. One of my colleagues, a very good English teacher, responded that he was happy they were reading anything at all. Educators young and old, myself included, recognize the impacts our ubiquitous pop culture has on kids. Yet, for some reason, I have never been as permissive when it comes to using it in the service of education. I decided to reflect upon why I am such a fuddy-duddy.

Some of it stems from what inspired me to become a teacher in the first place. I was inspired by Henry Adams’ famous sentiment about teachers affecting eternity. History’s greatest teachers like Buddha, Socrates or Jesus are long dead, yet their teachings continue to inspire. While I entertain no illusions about even having a thimble’s-worth of their influence, their simplicity has always been my ideal. These guys had no smart boards and had never sat through a lecture on differentiation, yet they were the most successful teachers of all time. Now, it might be pointed out that a sage with a motivated audience is much different than a public school teacher with a room of mostly unwilling teenagers. However, I do not take this to mean that our children do not respond to humanity and simplicity. Occupy Wall Street resonates with young people because it asks humane questions about an inhumane system. It forces us to confront the language of modernity (free markets, corporate influence, electoral politics, national security, etc.) with the language of simple humanity. On a grander scale, the religious revival that has taken place around the world (the Evangelicals in America’s Sunbelt, the Islamic resurgence in the Middle East, etc.) symbolizes humanity reaching for humanity amidst the encroachments of modernity. I see my role as a history teacher as a mission to connect children to a sense of humanity. Not only is it a time-tested pedagogy, it is an essential value children will need in order to navigate the modern world.

It is this mission that causes me to shy away from showing Looney Tunes or assigning bad books to my kids. While I acknowledge that modern culture is to the brain what sugar is to the teeth (namely, a corrosive force), I do not see how more corrosion is educationally sound. To me, a short attention span is a problem that needs to be solved, not a framework that needs to be reinforced. A nation of people with short attention spans is a nation ripe for propaganda. Corporate advertisers and political demagogues rely on short attention spans to hawk their wares, weather it is an essentially unnecessary consumer product or a destructive public policy. Aspiring to communicate knowledge to our children in the same ways that corporatists communicate their agendas only trivialize the learning process. It puts essential knowledge on the same frivolous plane as advertising, entertainment and mainstream news coverage. Teachers who want to go with the flow of modernity communicate to children that the wider world can only be accessed through sound bites, images and base emotions. We become marketers instead of teachers. The worth of an idea is measured in the impact it can make in less than 60 seconds. As a teacher, I see my role as one that should be as far removed from the methods of modernity as possible. If children get hours of mind-destroying imagery from popular culture, than I must demand of them that they pay attention for the 45 consecutive minutes they are in my classroom. I demand that those 45 minutes are treated as whole cloth and not something that can be broken into smaller chunks of images and activities.

My hope is that treating those 45 minutes like whole cloth demonstrates for students that knowledge itself is part of the whole cloth of humanity. That humanity is reinforced by the fact that no computer or television stands before them. One can learn from a teacher or a peer in a deep and lasting way. It is this experience, now more than ever, that is vital for our students to have. We have become too enthralled with the idea of pushing our children towards computers or smart boards in the name of preparing them for a modern world. Nobody seems to think that the modern world needs people with the ability to learn from human interaction or the desire to dive to the depths of new ideas. There is just the blind acceptance that schools need to pump out kids prepared to live in an increasingly complex society. There is no mention of how humanity has been reaching for something fuller, more familiar and simple than what modernity can offer us. The standardized testing forced onto the schools by both Bush and Obama is the centralized push to make schools places where children are severed from their own humanity. Standardized exams chop knowledge up into consumable sound bites. They will require computers to administer them. The reformers want to continue the degradation of the American attention span. It has been their stock-in-trade for decades. They are the same people responsible for the brain-rotting mass culture in which our children are ensconced, like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. Every time a teacher stresses knowledge and humanity over modernity, they resist the reformers and their desire for a nation of vegetables.

The Repressed Teacher

Teachers are the most regulated professionals in the United States. In the classroom, on the train, at the supermarket and on facebook, a teacher’s every action will be judged in the light of their profession. Much of it is necessary, since we are entrusted with other peoples’ children and paid by their tax dollars. But too much of it is downright ridiculous. Now a teacher in Chicago is under investigation for showing clips of the Daily Show in his class. A few weeks ago, a teacher in New Jersey was fired for posting that she felt like she was teaching “future criminals” on her facebook wall. In a 21st culture which entails a deluge of sex, violence, drugs and crime via our media outlets, teacher standards of morality are stuck in 17th century Salem. Teachers are held to standards that most other people refuse to countenance for themselves. I remember one day the super of my old apartment building yelled at me for knocking down a “Wet Paint” sign that I did not knock down at all. In return, I very snidely told him off, which caused him to mutter under his breath “some f***ing role model you are!”. This was a man with two young daughters who obviously never thought of his own duty as a role model. This is the type of everyday judgment and double-standard that drains on the personal life of a teacher. Our human and vulnerable moments are either judged by hypocrites or used as grounds for termination by petty and vindictive administrators. This type of sanctimonious repression is only killing our education system.

All teachers, high school teachers especially, deal in a world of ideas. In fact, I believe that the public school classroom is the single most important forum of ideas in the United States. For many of our kids, it is the only place they can get exposed to substantial intellectual discussions. It is one of the few places left that can offer a refuge from the vultures in corporate media out to destroy their attention spans and imaginations. A child’s encounter with the world of ideas should be free for them to take risks and encourage their greed to know more. Unfortunately, it is impossible for teachers to do this. We are in the most repressed profession on earth. All of our topics must be safe, non-controversial and insipid. Our methods must not embarrass or make students feel bad in any way. While no teacher should make it a point to be controversial or demeaning, knowledge itself sometimes gets at topics of controversy. Discussing something as American as racism is a potential pipe bomb, yet it is vital to an understanding of America. Children certainly will not get an honest race discussion from our media and it is just as unlikely that they will hunt down intelligent discussions of it online. The schools are the only places where they might potentially have a real discussion about race. But teachers are so scared of the fallout that they tend to stick with the saccharine clichés of “tolerance” and “diversity”. The list goes on. Not only racism but poverty, sexism, homophobia, religion and a slew of entirely relevant issues are either ignored or made totally vacuous by us overly regulated teachers. Something as open, free, elegant and glorious as unadulterated knowledge is maimed when it is entrusted to an institution as myopic, hypocritical and reactionary as our public school system.

We are the only professionals who get bossed around by non-professionals. Mayor Bloomberg, the education researchers and the wealthy charter school leeches have not educated one class of students between them, yet they foist their half-baked schemes for reform on us. All of them justify their schemes in the name of the “children”. Want to sound like the good guy? Tell them you are doing this for the “children”. Mayor Bloomberg apparently puts “children first….. always”. The education researchers fall over themselves to prove that their lame methods are better for the children. The wealthy charter school liars claim they provide quality education to underprivileged children. But “children” are their least concern. Bloomberg has not bothered to improve the neighborhoods from which these children come, being more concerned with taxing cigarettes and painting bicycle lanes in gutters. The education researchers do not concern themselves with what type of impact constantly changing their methods might have on the kids who have to suffer through those constant changes. The wealthy corporatists who build charter schools because they care so much for underprivileged children do not actually provide any jobs or services in the communities that keep those children underprivileged. The proof is in the pudding. If any of these people cared about “children”, we would not have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the world. The collective money and brain power of these smart, wealthy people could have saved these children they care so much about decades ago.

No, it is not children they care about, it is schooling. All of them, every single one, get lots of money and power if they have a slice of our public schooling system. That is what everything comes down to. They only use the name of the “children” because they know the general public eats that up. They have to repress teachers because we are the ones who do the schooling. If we feel empowered like actual professionals, their “reforms” go nowhere and they do not get the money and influence they seek. It is a power play and it has never been anything more than a power play.

I have been teaching for 12 years, knowing that I will always be paid less than peers with my same level of education. 12 years, despite the fact that I have no more job security thanks to Bloomberg’s reforms. 12 years of working every minute of the school year, writing lessons, doing research, making units, grading papers, improving my craft. 12 years of being judged and spied on by hypocrites.

And not once did I ever say I do it for the “children”

Occupy the Department of Education (Part II: Losing Ourselves)

I still remember my first teaching job interview. The summer of 2000 was coming to an end. Principals around the city were reporting for the coming school year. I had a B.A. in history, a file number, a provisional license and a full summer’s worth of paid teaching experience. I called several schools hoping that someone would take a chance on a kid trying to break into the system. The system was called the New York City Board of Education. We did not know it at the time but the BOE’s days were numbered. As the BOE was on its way out, I was on my way in. We lost something when Bloomberg replaced the Board of Education with the Department of Education in 2002, something more than just a name. Throughout all of the DOE’s “reforms” and the dialogue surrounding them, we have lost our sense of schooling as a public institution. As more veteran teachers get purged from the system, we lose our memory of how we used to treat our schools.

In late August of 2000, after discovering that principals were not in fact hovering over the telephones trying to fill vacancies, I was grateful to land an interview at a large, well-known high school in downtown Manhattan. From the sense of urgency the assistant principal of social studies portrayed over the phone, he seemed to need a lot of teachers (perhaps a retirement wave or, something more sinister?). He scheduled me for an interview later in the day. Armed with a scant resume and an unlimited reserve of enthusiasm, I made my way downtown. Arriving at the school, one could see why it is considered a fine piece of architecture. Built in the 1970s, it could compete with some of the more aesthetic school buildings completed by the WPA in a previous age. It still stands as a reminder of a time when we actually invested in public schools instead of shuffling kids around, stuffing them into old buildings or trailers.

The inside smells of marble, especially when it is empty like it was on the day I arrived for my interview. I walked through the wide hallways until I arrived at the social studies office. As I walked in, I saw a man in the back office in his late 50s, sitting down smoking a cigarette. It was the AP and he extinguished the cigarette as I came in. I told him I was a smoker as well. The thought of being able to smoke a cigarette under such pressure was too good to pass up. We immediately lit up and he commenced the interview. The first half of the questions revolved around personal matters like whether or not I was married, how old I was and who I lived with. I think he asked me those questions partially to get an understanding of who I was and partially to see if I would bat an eyelash at such a line of questioning. Fortunately it was a relief for me to field questions that I knew instead of something like teaching, which I knew little about at the time. The last half of the questions revolved around history, like what my favorite areas are and why. This was a test of my passion for history. I made a good enough impression for him to call me back a few days later, telling me to show up on the first day of school.

Unfortunately, I never got to teach there because of a hiring freeze, although I did eventually land a job at the school in which I spent my first six years. Later I learned that the man who interviewed me was one of the most veteran APs in the city, widely respected for his teaching talent and historical knowledge. He retired a few years after my interview, probably around when the Board of Education was retired. In today’s Department of Education, it is rare to hear of veteran principals who are respected for their teaching and knowledge. That is because the rungs of the career ladder in the Department of Education are much closer together than under the BOE. Principals today are not drawn from a pool of senior teachers who have paid their dues by learning what to teach and how to teach it. Instead, they are drawn from a pool of social climbers who teach for three years as a pretense for an administrative career. Many of them are drawn from Mayor Bloomberg’s expensive Leadership Academy, where they are trained in a vision that can be described as thoroughly DOE.

And that DOE vision has sacrificed what is essential in education. Today, it gets increasingly unlikely that a principal will care much about a teacher’s content knowledge or teaching skills. Instead, teachers are required to provide “evidence” of their teaching by showing “portfolios” to a hiring “committee”. Those portfolios better be filled with the latest empty educational jargon, like “differentiation” and other such nonsense, or else the teacher will not get a second look. In August of 2000, a job interview could be a thoroughly human experience. It had to be a human experience because there were people around who still viewed education as a human institution. That assistant principal was testing my human skills. The way I reacted to his unexpected questions showed him how I might deal with unexpected situations in the classroom. Getting me to talk with passion about history showed him if I had any passion to share with the students. Portfolios and standardized exam scores did not get in the way of what is essentially the life blood of education: human interaction and a passion for learning.

There was a time when we referred to our education system as “humanistic”. It was supposed to ask students to reach for abstract thought in hopes of connecting them to a canon of cultural knowledge necessary to partake in this thing we call civilization. But with the advent of the DOE, along with the entire standardized testing regime mandated by No Child Left Behind from which the DOE so enthusiastically takes its cues, our students are converted to test scores, our teachers are converted to “effect sizes” and our schools are converted to letter grades. None of this is real. None of this has anything to do with education. All the DOE does is take that whole human cloth out of which education is made and cut it up into isolated bits of what they call “data”. It is easy to see why. Talking about humanistic education requires a real discussion of what kinds of humans we want our children to be. It requires discussion of civic values, social justice and love of learning. Talking about “data” sterilizes the debate, making education a pointless race for numbers. Not to mention, these numbers are easily manipulated. New York City students have rising scores on state exams, yet stagnant scores on federal exams. New York City graduation rates are up, yet the amount of those graduates who have to take remedial classes at CUNY has ballooned to 75%. There is only one conclusion: the DOE delivers an inferior product. All the promises of “efficiency”, “success”, “accountability” and “performance” are belied by the facts.

The entire corporate mindset of education reform is the problem. Its catch phrases are nothing more than a multifaceted branding campaign. We have become so buried under jargon that we cannot see schoolings’ original role of creating a citizenry. Thomas Jefferson envisioned free public schools so that Americans might be united by a sense of republican virtue. But when you judge students, teachers and schools by standardized exams, republican virtue takes a back seat to memorization. When most of those exams stress science, math or reading, the humanities subjects necessary to teach republican virtue disappear. This is what is at stake in the current climate of school reform. The corporatizers who are currently pushing through their agenda across the country want to totally disconnect us from our sense of citizenship. The corporation is remaking society in its own image. Teachers are underpaid functionaries, parents are consumers and student test scores are products. From this we cannot help but notice that the students of today are the consumers of tomorrow. This is the dream of the corporatizers. Disconnect children from any sense of humanism and citizenship and prepare them to consume. Sit them at computers to learn and make them take exams, since those things will condition them to make choices as individuals, much like a consumer. Make them think that the only good knowledge is technical knowledge that could preferably be boiled down to numbers, since this blunts any ability for abstract thought or independent questioning and makes them ripe marks for advertising. This is the type of vegged out person the corporatizers want our students to become.

And this explains why the reformers never bring the debate to what kind of people they want our children to be. The truth is, their vision for our children’s future is very dark and deterministic. They want a nation of individuals disconnected from any sense of citizenship without enough brain power to resist corporate marketing. In other words: a nation that will internalize and acquiesce in the corporate rule over America.

The Occupied Classroom

The New York Times ran an expose earlier this year showing that Bill Gates gave money to pretty much every educational reform organization out there, no matter their agenda. The goal was to get reformers of all stripes to push for parts of the Bill Gates vision for American education: the Common Core Standards, high stakes testing, charter schools, computerized learning and, of course, the destruction of the teachers’ unions. In fact, most of the reformers who push for this vision are hedge fund managers, CEOs and other assorted rabble of the 1% with far too much money and time on their hands. They are what Diane Ravitch calls the “Billionaire Boys Club” in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The fact that Republicans and Democrats in Congress, not to mention Barack Obama and Rahm Emmanuel, support these things should be proof enough that the 1% is providing the marching orders on school reform. After all, Republicans and Democrats only seem to agree on things the 1% agrees on, like regressive taxes and deregulation.

Playing games with the education system is the 1%’s modern version of slumming. They have traded tinkering with neighborhoods in which they do not live for reforming schools their children will never use. When their facile reforms do not work they will simply go home, perhaps a little wealthier but none the wiser for the experience. They are driven by the same insipid sense of entitlement that drove Wall Street banksters to suck the wealth out of the economy. If one were to imagine asking Bill Gates what right he has to throw around gobs of money to enact school reforms he cooked up in his own brain (since it is patently obvious they are not backed by the preponderance of education research), one would probably be met by the same incredulous look that Lloyd Blankfein gave to Congress when asked why his company was selling products they were betting against.

Goldman-Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein looks quizzically at Senator Carl Levin after being asked if he thinks he should have told his customers that the products his company was selling them were crap.

“I’m rich and powerful and I do what I want. Why would you ask me such a silly question, peon?”

It is these bloodless suits who now want to determine how our children are educated. People who have no passion for the children of the 99%, and no responsibility to the communities in which those children are raised, now want to use the government’s compulsory child schooling laws to herd kids into a system of their design. It is yet another example of how we all get free markets while the 1% gets every benefit of the state. What is particularly despicable in the debate over school reform is how these 1% reformers talk about our children in terms of test scores. They boil education down to the same lifeless numbers found on their balance sheets. It is the only way the 1% can approach the children of the 99%. There is no way for them to relate to our children on a human level. They measure human growth by numbers we get on tests that we have never done well on to begin with. All the while they foist their barren ideals on us with an arrogance and obliviousness that rivals petty third world despots.

It is madness that we would even consider handing over our children to people with this outlook. Our public school system should be where the civic values of the next generation are instilled. We would be committing national suicide by sacrificing it to the same base value system that brought us things like obscene CEO bailouts, corporatist collusion with government and imperialist war. All of these things were brought about by a depraved sense of entitlement on the part of the super wealthy. The demonizing of the teachers’ unions in mainstream media is a subterfuge for the very real evil of the reformers themselves. It is not the teachers’ unions who are greedy, uncaring and entitled. It is the people who think they have a right to dictate how the rest of us get educated and who see our children as numbers and who throw around money to get their way who are destroying our future.