Monthly Archives: December 2011

New Year’s Resolutions for Education Reformers (2012)

We want 2012 to be the year where the United States finally builds a world-class school system. Great civilizations are built on great education. Here is a list of things we will do to ensure that happens.

- Standardized exams for each subject and each grade. No civilization has reached greatness without mastering the skill of bubbling in circles with a pencil. (No. 2 only!)

- Eliminate every subject that can’t be tested. This means art, music, physical education, woodshop and every other non-essential subject. After all, no advanced civilization has ever valued abstract thought, physical health or skilled labor.

- Close all public schools and make them charters. The free market just works better. And what market is freer than one that gives gobs of taxpayer money to large corporations to build schools that nobody in the community asked for on shoestring budgets so the CEOs of those private entities can pocket the difference? The private sector just makes sense, even in a government-funded institution.

- Technology! We envision a future where all jobs will be computer-based, so we need to prepare public school students for them now! They will need to spend their 13 years of school staring at computer screens in order to train them to have the proper Pavlovian reactions to the different alerts and notifications of these computers.

- Technology, Again! Once graduates speak proper computer, they can occupy one of the many high-tech jobs that we promise to provide in the future. Of course, the higher paying jobs will be taken by our own children who will still be educated in actual classrooms by actual teachers. But tech-savvy graduates will be ready to use computers to record what size soft drink or French fries were ordered. We need public schools to train students for tomorrow’s low-wage jobs.

- No more teachers! I am sick and tired of teachers with their tenure, pensions, salaries, benefits and vacations. By the end of 2012, every public school child will be taught by holograms. We can’t have workers around who think it is ok to join unions. It sets a bad example to all the future low-wage employees we hope to produce. Holograms are better role models. They have no salary, tenure or benefits and they work as long as we want them to without complaint. If only our future public school graduates would be more like holograms, the world would be a better place (for us).

- No more excuses! We can’t let people whine about poverty anymore. “Boohoo! My family lives in a homeless shelter.” Big deal. When I was a kid we only had TWO floors in our home, not including the basement, porch and swimming pool. I know what it is like to struggle, to be down to your last maid, to have to drive a Bens because the Rolls Royce was just a little too pricey. I had to fight through it to become the self-made billionaire you see today. All poor students have to do is not make excuses and all of their hunger, apathy, asthma and gang violence will go away.  Just think positive and be happy!

Hopefully, by the end of 2012, all of our students will be well underway to becoming the type of people that can stay within the bubble and properly communicate with computers. Instead of abstract thought, they will learn following orders and scripted responses. This will make them pliable workers, willing to toil long hours for no money without questioning it. In other words, we want them to be like computers. We want them to graduate from public schools already programmed so all we need to do when we hire them is install them in a low-wage job.

Robert Reich, How Unequal Can America Get Before We Snap B3HP44G2KXQS

As I register with Technorati, I thought I’d share this excellent Robert Reich lecture with everyone. When you get the time, get some chips and dip and enjoy. Reich is a great teacher.

The Lesson of the Black Panthers

Original six members of the Black Panther Party (November, 1966) Top left to right: Elbert "Big Man" Howard; Huey P. Newton (Defense Minister), Sherman Forte, Bobby Seale (Chairman). Bottom: Reggie Forte and Little Bobby Hutton (Treasurer) -Wikipedia

The New Black Panther Party has gotten a lot of attention from Fox News. In both 2008 and 2010, Fox ran video clips of black men in berets and sunglasses milling about outside polling stations in a supposed attempt to scare away white voters. It is part of Fox’s not-so-subtle campaign to associate the Obama era with out-of-control, overly-assertive black people. Considering that more than 1/4 of black Americans remain in poverty, and that the most popular black man of 2011 aside from the president was the Koch-shill Herman Cain, it seems that the good white people at Fox have little to worry about. As always, reality is less of a concern to the mainstream media than imagery. While the image of the Panthers might inspire fear in some, this New Black Panther Party is nothing like the old. The old Black Panthers gave some whites a lot to fear not because they were militant, but because they represented an alternative to organizing the inner cities.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense started in Oakland in 1966, at a time when “Black Power” was influencing the Civil Rights Movement. West coast cities like Oakland had been growing since World War II. At that time, the government flooded the area with money to build the factories that would supply the soldiers in the Pacific theater. The new manufacturing jobs attracted migration, including blacks migrating from the south. At the same time, many west coast police departments like Los Angeles recruited southern whites and consulted with southern police chiefs who had more experience dealing with the “black” issue. The result was a tense relationship between black communities and local police departments. The mostly white police forces were seen as occupying armies in black communities, ensuring that blacks did not stray from their neighborhoods or assemble in public. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was formed in this environment, prompted by the shooting by San Francisco police of an unarmed black man. The Panthers would enjoy a few years of success joining education, militancy and self-help in a reform program for the inner cities.

The Black Panthers established free breakfast programs for poor children, educated their communities in radical politics and patrolled their neighborhoods with loaded shotguns. They were fond of military imagery and third world revolutionary philosophy. Like Mao’s Long March during the Chinese Revolution, the Panthers hoped to help the poorest people build self-sufficient communities with a heightened revolutionary class-consciousness. After all, if the Panthers could bring coherence, peace and enlightenment to the inner city, the police would no longer be necessary. Inner cities would be small islands of self-sufficiency that could then unofficially opt out of the wider society, especially the police “protection” provided by that society. As the years went on, the Black Panther Party became more inclusive, uniting the struggle for black progress with the struggle of poor people worldwide.

Panther membership reached 10,000 at its height, with a circulation of a quarter of a million for their newsletter, The Black Panther. Young white radicals hung pictures of Huey Newton in their dorm rooms, while many urban black youth looked to the Panthers as role models. They provided a more radical, confrontational black idol that stood in stark contrast to Martin Luther King. Because the Panthers saw themselves as defenders of their communities against the police, the two groups often got into shootouts. The Panthers took full advantage of the loose gun laws in California at the time, which made it legal to carry loaded shotguns as long as they were not concealed or pointed at anyone. By 1969, many Panther leaders had died in shootouts with the police or been jailed. There was no doubt that the testosterone involved in violence and rebellion was a major reason why so many young men were attracted to them. Their violence and popularity led J. Edgar Hoover, still the head of the FBI at the time, to refer to the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”

It was not long until Hoover’s FBI went to work on the Panthers. They devoted seemingly limitless resources to infiltrate the organization. Through spying, provocation and out-and-out assassination (including the murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago, who was killed after being put to sleep by a barbiturate slipped into his drink by a double agent.), the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was destroyed. Some of the remaining leaders went into hiding, while others tried to parlay their fame into show business dollars. The group officially disbanded in the 1980s, which means the New Black Panther Party much maligned by Fox News has no association to the original. The rise and fall of the Black Panther Party is a cautionary tale in the fight against oppression.

One of the reasons why the FBI feared Fred Hampton so much was due to his role in trying to co-opt the street gangs of Chicago’s South Side. His organizing work in Chicago promised to double the size of the Party with more armed and vocal black men. Indeed, Fred Hampton represented what would have been the next stage of Black Panther progress: to divert the efforts of the street gangs towards revolutionary ends. It is no coincidence that the rise of the Crips in Los Angeles took place as the Panthers were fizzling away. There was a power vacuum on the streets of many inner city areas that was quickly filled by powerful street gangs. The FBI knew that the Panthers were role models to millions of urban black youth. An entire generation promised to internalize the Marxist teachings of a growing Panther organization. By ridding the ghettoes of the Panthers, the FBI ensured that the street gangs would be the only local role models left for black youth. The post-Panther 1970s saw a spike in urban violence, much of it due to young black men murdering each other. Hard drugs like heroin, cocaine and, later, crack flooded inner city streets and made the street gangs very wealthy and entrenched. The death of the Black Panther Party meant the birth of inner city urban blight as we know it today.

What scared Hoover the most about the Panthers was the same thing that scared slave owners 100 years prior. Nat Turner’s attempted rebellion in Virginia in 1831 had shown slave owners the danger of educated, radicalized and charismatic black leaders. They read books that put big ideas in their heads, ideas that were bigger than the plantation system under which they lived. It was a lesson that threatened to kindle too many fires in too many bellies. Although Nat Turner’s rebellion was crushed, southern states ensured future Nat Turners would not exist by legislating that slaves could not be educated or assemble. A black man with a gun was scary. A black man with a book was even scarier. Black men with both books and guns were the most terrifying thing to white supremacists. The war against the Panthers was an extension of this fear. It was not just because they shot police. It was because they shot police as part of a larger struggle against oppression. It makes one really wonder, if law enforcement was so effective in destroying the Panthers, why have they been so ineffective in destroying the gangs that replaced them? The history of rap music reflects the same trend. Rap started out as a distinct cultural expression of the urban poor. Early groups like Public Enemy were part of a heightening pro-black consciousness and renewed struggle against oppression. Rap music was maligned by the mainstream as just mere noise. Two decades later, corporate labels got their hands on rap music, sanitized it of all its revolution and left behind a husk of materialistic chanting about money and women. As long as urban youth were too busy sagging their pants and worrying about being “gangsta”, rap music became an acceptable form of mainstream entertainment.

Rather than promoting education and unity in the inner city, the powers-that-be have actively sought to prevent these things. The Black Panthers were a fearsome force because they promised to become strong black role models to a generation of youth who had nothing else. If the worry was really cop-killing or gun-toting, the FBI would have went after the street gangs the same way they attacked the Panthers. It was the fact that Panther gun-toting and cop-killing was part of a struggle that the Panthers saw as wider than their city, or even their country. It was because, just like Nat Turner, the Panthers offered oppressed people something larger than their oppression. They threatened to imbue the next generation with large ideas and grand expectations, the type of expectations that make people impatient with poverty and injustice. Better to leave the ghettoes in the hands of the gangs, or rap music in the hands of the corporations, because these things hold out nothing more than the prospect of being “hood rich” for a limited period of time. They do not broaden the horizons of poor people beyond the urban ghettoes in which they live. Instead, they teach people to think small, local and selfishly.

I suppose one can understand clearly now my distaste for education deformers. It is not that I think their plans will not work. It is because I see them as assailants on the urban poor. Their design to break experienced teachers is an attempt to break some of the only strong educated role models urban youth have left. Bloomberg’s effort to shut down big schools and co-locate charter schools is an attempt to break the only sense of unity left in inner-city areas. Their adoration for technology ensures that education will be mechanical and rote to those that get it, while the poor who do not have the same access to technology will also have less of an education. It is an old war that is now dressing itself up as something new and progressive. There is nothing noble about education deform. From top to bottom it is a regressive and counterrevolutionary phenomenon. The Black Panthers might be gone but their story teaches us everything we need to know about how people in power respond to urban poverty.

Sources:

1968 by Mark Kurlansky

Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 by James T. Patterson

Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion by Herbert Aptheker

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Panther_Party

A Brief Study of Economics with Ron Paul

We learned last time that August von Mises was the Father of the United States. He led the country to victory over Britain in the War for Independence and later wrote the Constitution. While birthing our nation he was also helping birth the Austrian school of economics, the only economic school known to man. It just makes sense that a highly theoretical school of economic thought conceived in central Europe in the 20th century should be the best economic model for the United States to follow. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “nothing should interfere with the workings of Austrian economics, absolutely nothing.” Austria is pretty similar to America. After all, Vienna did have its own Congress.

The first thing economics teaches us is that the government is a giant rat bastard that always looks to take money from productive people in order to give it to lazy people. This is a natural fact of human society. Egyptian pharaohs taxed landowners so they could give jobs to the Jews to build pyramids. This was a waste of Egypt’s resources. There was no demand for pyramids at the time. Instead of getting welfare, the Jewish migrant workers should have found real jobs in the private sector. This is why Egypt only lasted 5000 years as a civilization.

We see that it is a natural law for governments to be greedy. They use things like central banks to create fake money. Before central banking, people had the freedom to use whatever money they wanted however they wanted to use it, as long as it was gold. All the civilizations that used cowrie shells or wampum were just plain wrong and did not understand nature as well as we do. We believe central banks should not control the money supply or interest rates and instead let the free market decide what kind of currency people use and how much they charge for borrowing it, as long as it is gold. You see, government money is fake because it is fiat, meaning it only has value because the government says it does. We want to replace fiat currency with gold, since gold has value because we say it does. Gold’s value is intrinsic. That means God created gold because its value can be measured in worthless fake government fiat currency. When we become the government, we will just cut out the middleman and tell people they have no choice but to use gold, making it the new fiat currency. Of course, the gold supply is limited and that means the government won’t be able to just make more out of thin air for stupid reasons like poverty or unemployment. You should have bought gold before you went and got fired.

The fake currencies of central banks are inflationary. The constant flood of worthless money into the marketplace pushes prices up. We care about poor people and we do not like this inflation tax that they have to pay. On top of this, government makes these poor people pay income taxes. The 16th amendment that introduced the graduated income tax in America was the worst thing to happen to the working man. We want to replace the graduated income tax, where wealthy people have to at least in theory pay a greater percentage of their income, with a flat sales tax. Flat sales taxes are great, since it is equal for all. It does not matter if the poor end up paying a much larger percentage of their money than the wealthy, all that matters is that we end the graduated taxes and inflation that hurt the poor. It has nothing to do with the fact that these are policies traditionally championed by the wealthy. We are for the working man.

The underpinning of all of these policies is the idea that the government has no place telling the private sector what to do. When we say government, we of course mean the federal government. We all know the Austrian economists had no problem with the overweening power of state government, Austria being a hotbed of states’ rights sentiment and all. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was evil because it told businesses that it had to desegregate their facilities. On the other hand, the Jim Crow laws of southern states which mandated business segregate the races was an exercise in economic freedom. We want to undo the Civil Rights Act so that the state governments could have the exclusive privilege of telling businesses what to do.  Plus, it makes sense to have economic regulation as the exclusive province of state government, since many of the businesses that would be regulated would be bigger and wealthier than those state governments.

One of the most economically oppressive things the government (federal, of course) does is protect the environment. Just because a few hipsters in coffee houses want to stop global warming, there are all types of federal laws telling businesses what to pollute and how to pollute it. If they make a mistake, they get hit with a fine or a lawsuit. It is impossible for business to survive in this system. We believe if a business has given you cancer, you should sue them. If a multinational corporation pollutes a poor neighborhood, those poor people should just sue the corporation. In other words, it is citizens who should try to penalize corporate pollution, not the government. It is unfair for the government to use its coercive power against defenseless corporations. We believe in a fair fight. Pitting poor people against Monsato is a fair competition between equals in the marketplace.

It is clear that Dr. Paul knows the policies that will lead us towards utopia. Austrian economics is the study of natural, observable behaviors of the human race. Those behaviors have proven that the government (federal) is the only one that has coercive power and is always out to use that power to rob people of their hard-earned money. Other economists like the Keynesians who think differently do not have the keys to human nature like we do. We are scientists. Our theories are backed by testable evidence. This makes us right and any economist not from Austria is wrong. Why do you think Dr. Paul lectures everyone about Austrian economics without bothering to think that there are other schools of economic thought out there that could be pontificated upon with greater logic and clarity? We all know why. It is because Dr. Paul is the only one who knows America and the Constitution. After all, James Madison, the father of the Contitution, approved the creation of a central bank when he was president. Why not elect Dr. Paul, since he knows better than the Founding Fathers?

The New Obama Song…

Remember this song that went viral when the country was in the throes of Obamania?

 

Well, three years into the first Obama Administration, he has a new song reflecting a totally different national mood:

A stark contrast indeed.

 

What’s Your Excuse?

Excuse for what?

I grew up poor in New York City. My mother was on and off welfare throughout my 13 years in NYC public school. She instilled in me a sense of social justice that later germinated into the full-blown leftism you see today. One of the reasons I became a teacher was because I wanted to relate history to kids who were similar to me growing up. I was under no illusions about turning all of my students into future historians. No matter what would become of my students in the future, I wanted them to get an appreciation for the art of history and what it might teach us about social justice.

I had these expectations because I knew poverty. The countless hours I spent growing up with peers and friends on the basketball courts, in the classrooms and at their homes gave me a picture of what poverty is. For every poor city kid like me who had a parent actively interested in their education, there were countless others with absent or indifferent parents. I had friends that did not eat at home, where the television was always on and all the male role models were drinking, fighting or selling drugs. They lived in a universe of small horizons and expectations. Teachers played a limited role in our lives. Even the best high school teacher only saw us 45 minutes a day. That is a drop in the bucket compared to the hours daily spent within our neighborhoods and the years already spent mired in poverty. I had to keep these memories alive when I started teaching, lest I get carried away on fluffy white clouds of idealism. Instead of thinking I can correct for years of injustice by turning all of my students into future historians, I thought it more realistic to think of myself as a strong male role model who might expand my students’ horizons.

But I had the good fortune of starting my career at the moment the education deformers brought their agenda to New York City. Many teachers at my first school were young like me, so I did not think it strange. The big difference was that they tended to be from upstate New York, Connecticut or New Jersey. Sweatshirts with Columbia or New York University were everywhere. Usually, they were the types that sat their kids in groups, allowed the kids to make up some of the class rules and used a lot of construction paper and paste. Only later did I find out that many of them were from the Teach for America program, where the only training they had was a 5 week seminar over the summer. They cared about their students but they were damned if they knew how to reach them. They were teaching kids in a totally different way from what most of them received growing up. Kids in their classes were frequently kicked out for insubordination (which usually means they cursed the teacher out) and would end up spending the period with me when I was a dean. Students acted out in these classes when there was a failure to communicate: either the student misinterpreted something the teacher said due to the tone in which it was said, or vice-versa. For example, a student who yells “balls” during class might be maliciously attempting to disrupt the class or offend the teacher. But if I ever had a kid who yelled “balls” in my class, I took it as a sign of boredom, corrected the behavior and moved on.

After a few years of working alongside many TFA “grads”, I started to get a clear picture as to why so many of them had behavior problems. Aside from the loose classroom environment they seemed to encourage, they also addressed the kids like babies. The “balls” kid, if not kicked out of class, might get a talking to from their TFA teacher in a tone of voice one might reserve for toddlers or kindergarteners: “Now John, you know you can’t say that word in class.” A speech like that might be met with a roll of the eyes and a hollow nod of agreement that they will not say that word again. Rarely was it the type of interaction that would engender respect and understanding of student for teacher. As a teenage boy, I certainly could not respect an adult that spoke to me and treated me like a baby. I would never do it as a teacher.

The other thing I did not know at the time was that the Teach for America program was the vanguard of the education deform movement. The thinking behind TFA, very turgidly, was that bright, fancy-college-educated suburbanites would bring their experiences into the classroom and the inner city students would benefit from it. By 2011, many TFA teachers have given themselves platforms from which to advocate for certain aspects of the deform agenda. December 19th’s Daily News ran an op-ed piece written by a TFA teacher where she recited the Michelle Rhee-ish philosophy of “No Excuses” for students. The South Bronx School blog very ably pointed out how condescending and arrogant someone who has never struggled with poverty has to be in order to tell poor students that they have no right to make “excuses”. But this is the entire deform movement in a nutshell. People who have never struggled with poverty, never taught a class of students, never bothered to spend any real time in the communities from which public school students come are telling us that we have no more excuses.

To trivialize poverty as an “excuse”, rather than a tragic human condition, is callous. When the mayor, the Secretary of Education or the President say such things, it is laughable. These are the people responsible for sustaining the conditions of poverty by not using their power to do anything about it. They have abdicated any responsibility they have to poor children. They will not build housing in the inner-cities or encourage job growth in inner cities but they will say they care about the kids living in the inner cities. And how do they show their care? By saying to those kids, “pass this test, no excuses. If you fail, your school gets closed.” It is a mad recipe that has led nowhere except to enrich some already wealthy people who own charter school chains. One would think that the biggest child advocates, the teachers, would stop this nonsense. But our tenure has been made meaningless, so we feel afraid to speak up. The untenured ones from TFA, by and large, have been reared on the no excuse philosophy. Just like our political leaders, TFA teachers come from relative privilege. They certainly had no excuses growing up. So why do they recommend for inner-city kids the same solution?

Because the unspoken assumption, from TFA, from Rhee and from the entire deformer movement, is that people are poor because of some personal disorder. The poor are lazy, drug-addicted and base. They are poor because they make excuses for themselves. The deformers think they will break a “culture of poverty” by reciting the “no excuse” cant. It explains why so many TFA teachers I saw treated their teenaged students like babies. In their minds, these poor kids were lesser beings. Their goal was not to teach as much as it was to civilize. “No Excuses”. Do something that I consider disruptive to learning and get kicked out of class. “No Excuses”. Fail the test and we close your school. “No Excuses”. Apparently, all poor people have to do is stop making excuses for themselves, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do what needs to be done. The people in the gated communities know this, why don’t the poor? In his book, America’s Struggle Against Poverty in the Twentieth Century, historian James T. Patterson describes one constant throughout all of the ideas we have had to help the poor: they all assume it is the poor’s fault. Out of work? You need to attend training so you can learn how to write resumes and go on interviews, as if the poor are illiterates without the social grace to shake hands or respond to questions truthfully. Need unemployment? Take this drug test, since we know the poor are unemployed because they show up to work high and they will buy drugs with taxpayer money. Maybe one of the reasons the education deform movement is such a failure is because it treats the people it is supposed to help as if they are wrong, wrong in their lifestyle, wrong in their choices.

The deformers need to chant the “No Excuses” mantra right at themselves. There is no excuse for over 20% of children in the United States to live in poverty. That is not a failure of millions of children and their teachers, that is the failure of everyone, especially those with the wealth and influence to prevent it. Of course the deformers want to gloss over the realities of childhood poverty. Talking about it would shine a light on the failures of those very same deformers. When children come to school hungry and hopeless, that is a failure of our leaders: our Presidents, Mayors and Tycoons. They have abdicated responsibility for poverty, for the existence of poverty as a result of economic and political choices. What is your excuse for that? What is your excuse for the corporate-tax-break-giving, job-outsourcing, union-busting, corporate welfare policies you have supported that caused such horrific poverty in the first place? And all those TFA teachers who leave the profession after two years, treating teaching poor kids as nothing more than Peace Corps charity work, what is your excuse? You expect students to succeed in school without food and hope, why can’t you survive in a profession where you get no support or respect? I know it’s tough, so what? No Excuses. We can play the No Excuse game all day. The longer we do, the longer we trivialize the rampant poverty in our country. There is no excuse anymore for doing so. True school reform will start when we reform poverty.

Help Overturn the Citizens United Decision….

by signing this petition in support of the Saving American Democracy Amendment.  Sign Here

Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court decision in a case called Citizens United vs. FEC.

The Saving American Democracy Amendment states that:

  • Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
  • Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
  • Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
  • Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.