Tag Archives: economics

What IS the Common Core?

What is the Common Core? It certainly is not just this.

What is the Common Core? It certainly is not just this.

Here is an admission I am loath to make: I do not know what the Common Core State Standards are.

I have read them. Not only have I read the parts relevant to the grade and subject I teach, I have been slogging my way through the entire thing as well. I have read the blogs and the papers and the speeches. Not only have I been interested in how the CCSS might impact my classroom, I have been interested in how it was conceived and adopted. All of these elements, combined with its purported aims, constitutes what the Common Core is.

There are people, very intelligent people, who speak about the CCSS strictly in a vacuum. They look at its content and judge its merits based strictly on what is in black and white. Our old friend Leo Casey did something along these lines recently in his latest post on the Shanker Blog. Overall, Leo is in favor of the CCSS because he believes it has the potential to help equalize the quality of schooling across districts. His major bone of contention is with the way it has been implemented so far which, in his opinion, has been too much and too fast. Along the way, he labels some of the most vocal opponents of the CCSS as cranks and conspiracy loons. He quotes people who he dubs “fringe” characters on both the right and the left as a way to contrast them with the reasonable center who accept the merits of the CCSS, a center which he assuredly occupies.

For example, Mercedes Schneider is a conspiracy theorist because she has written articles that trace the money fueling the CCSS movement. Leo does not necessarily refute what she, or any of the “cranks” he quotes, actually say. Instead, he infers that these people are caught up on irrelevancies that merely distract us from the task at hand, and the task at hand is figuring out how we can use the Common Core to erase over 200 years of educational inequality in the United States. As a student of rhetoric, I do appreciate and respect what Leo Casey set out to do in his piece. It is a rhetorical sleight of hand that would make the likes of Roger Ailes over at Fox News proud indeed.

Yet, it is not just Leo Casey who attempts to put a velvet rope around the content of the Common Core. I have been in meetings with teachers, administrators and even savvy parents who get into hair-splitting discussions over the letter of this or that particular standard. However, the way my mind works will not allow me to separate what is in the CCSS from how it was conceived, ratified and implemented. To me, all of these things are what Common Core is.

The Rosetta Stone for deciphering the Common Core is its mission statement:

“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

Like many things that pass themselves off as “school reform” in this day and age, the assumptions that lie underneath this statement are downright reactionary. The goal of public schooling is to prepare students for “success in college and careers” so that we can “compete successfully in the global economy.” In this view, our schools are not so much civic institutions as they are places in which to develop the nation’s human capital. They are places that cater to the needs of the marketplace rather than promote the free association of citizens in a democracy.

After reading the mission statement, one can either turn the page forward to learn about the standards that are necessary to keep America economically competitive or turn backward to learn about the interests that have concocted and promulgated such a mission for our schools. For those who are interested in the former, you can immerse yourself in the Common Core State Standards by clicking on the link to its website. For those interested in the latter, you can read the accounts of people far more erudite than me.

Leo Casey does mention the abortive movement in the 1990s to implement national standards for our schools. American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker had been a major proponent of national standards as a way to equalize the quality of education for all students while also introducing a new form of accountability for school districts that had long neglected their most underserved children. In this he was joined by several progressives who wanted so-called Opportunity-to-Learn Standards whose goal was to de-link property taxes from school districts. Instead, school districts would be funded equally across the nation. Proponents of OTL believe that raising standards must be accompanied by providing more resources to poorer school districts. In the end, the national standards movement of the 1990s was defeated in Washington mostly by Republicans who saw it as a violation of federalist principles.

While many Republicans still oppose the Common Core on the same grounds today as they did in the 1990s (Leo Casey labels all of these Republicans “Tea Partiers”), enough leaders of both parties support it so that it has become a reality in 45 states and the District of Colombia. So what changed between the 1990s and today?

The first thing that changed was our president. While the Clinton Administration was toying with a program that would merely foist national standards on the states, the Obama Administration came up with a scheme that helped many states’ rights advocates overcome their compunctions about violations of federalism. That scheme is Race to the Top and it has worked by tying federal funding of public schools to participation in, among other things, the Common Core.

The second thing that changed was that the Common Core is a completely different animal than Opportunity-to-Learn Standards. Common Core aims to raise standards without even hinting at equalizing resources across school districts nationwide. It does not leave itself open to shrill denunciations of “socialism” from the right like OTL did. Politically, it plays well with a certain segment of the population that not only abhors so-called “socialism” but also believes that “those” children who go to public schools have been coddled for far too long. Instead, all “they” need is a swift kick in the pants so they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. No excuses.

Third, the litany of textbooks, exams and other classroom “resources” aimed at getting schools ready for the CCSS has been a boon to the McGraw-Hills and Pearsons of the world. It is another case of public dollars flowing into corporate pockets. This sits well with politicians on both sides of the aisle, since many of those bucks will eventually come back to them in the form of campaign contributions. It is a win-win if you are a politician or a publisher, lose-lose if you are anyone else.

Finally, faux progressives of the 21st century like Barack Obama and even Leo Casey himself can freely support the CCSS whilst brandishing their progressive credentials. Leo Casey makes much of the idea that the Common Core will help bring some form of equality to public schooling.

It is a curious equation. By mandating that all teachers in all schools teach to the same “standards”, teachers will somehow magically do so, accomplishing equality of education for all. It does not matter that the standards are generally nebulous. It does not matter that school budgets are shrinking. It does not matter that childhood poverty is out of control. It does not matter that our children’s brains are pickled in pop culture, Facebook and text messages for most of the day. A few black and white standards will do the trick. The Common Core is the “no excuses” mantra writ large. It is an expression of the vapid “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” trope that has been used to avoid serious solutions to inequality for the past four decades.

Yes, I am loath to admit that I do not know what the Common Core is. However, I know what it is not. It is not a recipe to bring equality to schooling in America. It is not a way to make participation in our democracy easier. Leo Casey accuses the critics of Common Core of ignoring its content in favor of tinkering around its edges. Yet, it is Leo Casey and the rest of the Common Core’s supporters who are tinkering around the edges. A focus on the content of the Common Core State Standards turns our gaze away from the material issues of poverty and inequality that have been proven, time and again, to be the biggest determinants of “success” in school and the job market. Any type of school “reform” that ignores these material issues is not really school reform at all.

As far as what the Common Core is: it is much more than the sum of its parts. Aside from being a list of standards for different grades and subjects, it is also a political program that helps Democrats pass themselves off as progressives and Republicans as friends of market-based school reform. It enshrines in law the idea that schools are nothing more than factories for human capital whose widgets exist to serve the imperatives of corporations. It is an exercise in self-serving lip service for the likes of David Coleman and Bill Gates who believe that standards can be raised without the messy work of raising material conditions.

I might not know what the Common Core is, but I do know that it is impossible to understand it without examining its antecedents.

WIKIPEDIA IS NO PLACE FOR OPEN DISCUSSION

Prove your arrogance and stupidity by wearing a shirt that shows which economic religion you follow.

Prove your arrogance and stupidity by wearing a shirt that shows which economic religion you follow.

Those of you mired in the teaching world may or may not be familiar with the so-called “Austrian School” of economics. Turgidly, the “Austrian School” holds that markets are perfect and the government should stay out of them so that they can work their magic. There is tremendous, if not total, overlap between Austrian economics and libertarianism. Ron Paul is an adherent of the Austrian School, as he and his followers constantly like to remind us.

You can get a quick introduction to the Austrian School by visiting its Wikipedia page which, apparently, has been locked in an internecine editing conflict. The conflict involves a criticism of the Austrian School by Paul Krugman which used to show up on the page. Certain libertarian acolytes have been taking down the Krugman part because they say it misrepresents Austrian economics. Others say that Krugman is a well-respected economist whose criticism should be included. Wikipedia has prevented the article from being edited for the rest of the month.

For my part, I do not see why Krugman’s criticism cannot be left up there. If the Austrian folks think his argument is a straw man, then they can always include a rejoinder from another economist demonstrating how. This would assume rational dialogue and open debate is also part of the Austrian School. Unfortunately, Austrian economics has become a fundamentalism to many of its followers and they live in a constant state of jihad.

There are Wikipedia pages about heroes of mine, like Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault (my avatar), that contain criticisms that I think are unfair. Never did I think of editing them out of existence. This is probably because Wikipedia is one very limited source of information. Those of us familiar with the ideas of these thinkers encountered them through the books they wrote. We have probably also read many books written by others that attempt to elaborate on these ideas and the criticisms they have faced. Therefore, when I read the Wikipedia pages of my intellectual heroes, I am already largely familiar with everything on the page. It is not a shock or an affront to read something negative about them.

This seems to be the crux of the entire Austrian School Wikipedia fiasco. It is a philosophy nay, an ideology, that has gained many converts in this age of the internet. People like Ron Paul have become heroes in cyberspace. His stances on issues like imperialist war, the War on Drugs and government surveillance appeal to a young crowd naturally and rightfully mistrustful of the system. On top of that, a generation of half-digested internet documentaries and websites convey many libertarian ideas in easily consumable sound bites and slogans. Someone who is honestly looking for news from a non-mainstream source cannot help but encounter these things, especially since many of them are the first, second, third and fourth entries that come up on Google searches.

Unfortunately, the whole anti-government tenor of the Austrian School is intellectually untenable. It posits that rules of the free market are immutably written on the face of nature, that a free market is the “natural” state of human society and that the existence of any imperfections in the market is the result of government interference. It is a system of beliefs that are not falsifiable. How does one “prove” that a “free market” is “natural”? This is such a loaded statement that it does not pass the giggle test. The Austrian folks take this as an article of faith, thereby betraying the spirit of economics as a social science. What sets science apart from most other fields is the fact that its conclusions are falsifiable through observation and analysis.

The great economist Joe Stiglitz called such people “free market fundamentalists”. He was referring to economists but the label can be easily applied to the laymen who consider themselves adherents of the Austrian School. Its tone of anti-authoritarianism appeals to people who mistrust the system. It just so happens that the internet attracts these types of people.

For my part, I have had many discussions with libertarians both at Occupy and in my salad days as an internet troll. When I ask what they would do with things like education, police, transportation, energy and other big government programs, their answer is always a simplistic “hands off” ideology for the government. For them, the role of government should be to merely hang back and enforce private contracts. When I would then ask them what happens if a monopoly starts to develop which is anathema to the free market, the answer either is “it won’t happen” or “there should be laws in place to prevent such things”. The first response is hokum with no basis in reality or history, another belief that is not falsifiable. The second response starts a slippery slope where every free market eventuality can be corrected with laws. In that case, free markets need the very same government that Austrian types blame as the cause for all of the free market’s ills.

What I have found is that people who believe this type of stuff fall into one of two categories. They can be wealthy people who have embraced an extreme “small government” idea that amounts to a bunch of self-serving nonsense. Or, more frequently, they are people with a simplistic, individualistic view of society who believe that everyone has full control of their destiny at all times. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” crowd. They are the people who watch a video of starving children in Africa and ask “why don’t they just move to where the food is?” or “serves them right for being lazy”. They are the people who think that the fact they can go camping in the woods for a weekend means they are “self-sufficient”, the meaning of that term apparently being totally lost on them. They are the people who believe that over 100 million unemployed Americans are just being lazy. They are the Ayn Rand fans and other assorted lickspittles of the wealthy.

It is no surprise that the page on Austrian economics is being purged of every criticism by its acolytes. To them, the internet is everything. Anything that is worth knowing about the world comes from cheesy documentaries and simplistic slogans delivered in pixels. The one idea that they have latched onto must be the correct idea, despite the fact they have not bothered to expose themselves to any other ideas. They are allergic to books, especially works of history since they tend to have a “liberal bias” or are a product of the filthy system. It is like the child who learns something at school and cannot wait to share it with everyone they know, assuming that they are the only ones privy to this awesome knowledge.

Despite what the Austrian folks think, they are not the guardians of knowledge and truth. Another person’s rejection of their beliefs does not automatically make that person an idiot. The world contains a vast array of ideas and perspectives. Knowing one theory about one discipline does not make you an expert on anything.

A Wikipedia page is not an indoctrination tool where every word has to follow the party line. It is supposed to contain a range of ideas associated with a subject, including criticism of that subject. This might not comport with the dogmatic, fundamentalist world in which they live but, after all, we do still live in the United States.

Although if the free market fundamentalists, Neoliberals and austerity hawks keep having their way, then I might not be living here for much longer.

 

WHAT RISING GRADUATION RATES TELL US

Which world is closer to the one the new graduates are inheriting?

Which world is closer to the one the new graduates are inheriting?

So the news has been flooded with headlines about how national graduation rates from public schools are up to a level not seen in nearly 40 years:

More than 3.1 million high school students received their diplomas in spring 2010, with 78.2 percent finishing in four years, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported Tuesday. The rate is a 2.7-percentage-point increase over the previous year, and those two rates are the highest since the 75 percent rate in 1975 and 1976.

This is not the cause for celebration that the media is making it out to be. If we look at the cheating scandals in D.C. and Atlanta we see the greasy underbelly of the motor driving these graduation rates.

Public schools have been bludgeoned into accepting so-called “accountability” programs that have held teachers responsible for tests scores and pass rates. We drill and kill for exams that seem to get just a tad easier every year. We overlook behavior issues and shoddy scholarship as a shortcut to getting kids to pass. Our jobs as teachers have increasingly involved getting students to fill in the correct bubbles in a certain 3-hour span, the rest of the education process be damned.

This isn’t due to anything we have done as teachers. Our educational leaders, from the Secretary of Education on down, have done everything in their power to put this system into place. With their myopic interpretation of what counts for “achievement”, they have reduced the learning process to a series of numbers and the teaching profession to a series of steps to color within these numbers. So now we focus on the “data” instead of the child; the “value” we “add” instead of what our communities teach our children to value.

Of course we would have high graduation rates in this type of environment. We have become adept at manipulating numbers because our jobs depend on it. The Secretary of Education, the governors, mayors, chancellors, superintendents and principals all need the numbers to go up. The testing companies and data-collection companies need to show that the numbers are going up. All of these entities require the numbers to go up in order to justify their influence. They have been in control of America’s education systems for so long that the numbers better have gone up by now.

The fix was in ever since the appearance of this thing called “education reform”. They came to us and said schools were not doing our jobs. They said they were taking over the schools and running them like businesses. They expected results and they were going to get them. It was foreordained that graduation rates would reach such high levels. They made all of us conspirators in their game of reform. The teachers were taken into a shotgun marriage that tied the survival of the educational leaders to the survival of teachers.

“If these test scores don’t rise, we won’t be around long. But we will make sure that you also will not be around long.” This was the Faustian bargain with which reformers presented teachers. Stand up against the system by not teaching to the test or by exercising your union rights and you go down. Play the game and get the numbers up and we will feature you as one of our success stories, as one of the “good ones”. Everyone wins. Teachers get to keep their jobs. Reformers get to say that their policies work.

And what type of graduates do we have? We have graduates who have been trained to bubble in answers. We have graduates that need an increasing amount of remedial classes once they get to college. This is exactly the type of graduate one  would expect from a school system run on the business model:  one-dimensional, unskilled and mass produced. They are light plastic cogs to be used in a giant machine, easily tossed aside and replaced when they get used up.

And what type of world are our graduates entering? One with proliferating low-wage jobs touted as “job recovery”. One where food stamp rolls, college debt and poverty are rising. This isn’t the bright open future baby-boomers saw on the horizon. Today’s graduates are inheriting a world of diminishing limits. The future is dark and small.

What more can we expect? We have concentrated on getting “achievement” as measured in “data” so much higher because the schools weren’t preparing children for “the future”. In the process, we have neglected to prepare a future for our children to inherit. The ones who would create the future for our children took over the school system and prepared them for exactly the type of future they had in store.

Blank graduates for a blank future.

Education reform is not about improving schools. It is about hollowing out the schools because the future will be hollow. These new graduation statistics are just the results of that.

So no need to be happy. It is the low tide of education reform leaving behind the effluvia they created.

The Obama Phone and Other Nonsense

The “Obama Phone” lady is the latest viral video on the net. Here it is for those who have not seen it:

Not surprisingly, the likes of Rush Limbaugh have already jumped all over it as proof of Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment. One of my favorite comedic radio shows had one of the hosts ranting for 30 minutes about how the woman in the video represents the “entitlement” mindset common to most Obama voters. It is tough to see the planet on which these people are living.

The equation for Rush Limbaugh, the aforementioned comedy show host and the rest of their ilk seem to be the following. Obama is black. Therefore, most black people support him. In return, they believe they will get increased entitlements like welfare, food stamps, public housing and now, cell phones. The fact that black people have been slipping ever deeper into poverty since Obama’s election seems to be lost on them. In reality, Limbaugh and company are thinking in caricatures left over from the days of Reagan’s war on mythical “welfare queens”. It bears little resemblance to actual black people, whether they support Obama or not.

Obama will win this 2012 election. This is something I have said since he won in 2008 and I was not exactly going out on a limb then. This is not because Obama has done such a bang-up job, although there are plenty who seem to think so. Rather, it is because the other viable alternative, which includes not just Romney but the entire apparatus supporting him, has proven too odious and out-of-touch to be relevant to anyone but a small delusional percentage of the population. To be sure, this small delusional percentage comprises an active voting bloc. Yet, I think 2012 will prove that this bloc will no longer be able to swing elections like they did during the Bush Era. It seems the Tea Party was the last dying gasp of their influence, a swan song made possible by the infusion of money and organization from the corporate class.

It has been pointed out elsewhere that the “Obama Phone” is nothing of the sort. What the woman in the video is describing is the federal program designed to provide cell phones to low income, elderly and disabled people started in 2008 while George W. Bush was president. My mother had one of these phones. It was a no-frills, antiquated cell phone with 250 minutes a month. My uncle, who is a Vietnam veteran, also has one. Although it was a help when my mother needed to communicate with me, I bought her a Blackberry with an unlimited plan because those 250 minutes never seemed to last her more than 20 days.

Are these the “entitlements” that Rush speaks of? Is this the free ride that 47% of us expect according to Romney? If it is, the ride certainly does not go very far.

One of the other tropes trotted out to buttress the idea that Americans in the Obama Era feel more “entitled” is the fact that the food stamp rolls have increased over the past four years. Is this due to some sort of mass laziness brought about by Obama’s presence in the White House?

When people get hired at Walmart, they are also given an application for food stamps. This is because Walmart welcomes their new employees to the world of the working poor. The food stamp program is available to anyone making enough money under a very strict definition of poverty. This includes people on welfare (whose rolls have been declining in many states, thanks to Bill Clinton’s reforms) and the ever-growing number of Americans who are joining the ranks of the working poor. The new jobs that have supposedly ended the Great Recession are the types that qualify people for food stamps.

Listening to that small delusional part of the population, one would think that this country is saddled with legions of unproductive people sucking at the government’s teat. Our ingenuity and creative energy as a nation are being sapped, the thinking goes. Those who style themselves “education reformers” add the coda that “failing” public schools are graduating incompetent and uncreative workers.

And yet, the Gross Domestic Product of this nation has been increasing over the past 30 years. Even throughout the Great Recession, our GDP has been rising other than the years of the toxic assets brought about by billionaire banks. This means that the American workforce has been more productive. There is something wrong with this picture. If the workers of this country are more productive, why are people poorer? (and how are schools “failing”?)

This is the million-dollar question. The answer seems to lie somewhere within the growth experienced by the wealthiest Americans during this Great Recession. Americans are producing more wealth for the wealthy.

Occupy Wall Street was born of this state of affairs. Now that the occupations have been swept away, the small delusional sect of the population is back to pointing to the “Obama Phone” lady and the mythical caricature she represents as the crowd on the prowl for handouts. Sadly, many in that small delusional sect of the population qualify as poor as well. It is the poor blaming the poor for why they are so poor.

The crooked railroad magnate Jay Gould famously said that he could always get one half of the poor to kill off the other half. It explains why the myth of the lazy, entitled (and black) Obama supporter still has traction. It explains why the corporatists behind the Tea Party were able to find so much support. It explains why Libertarianism has been considered some sort of independent “middle way” between Democrat and Republican, rather than the deformed Neoliberal ideology it is. It explains why the Republican Party still has any support at all, and why the Democrats of today are somewhere to the political right of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Entitlements in this country are going to predominately one place: up. Steven Perlstein’s Washington Post article over the weekend captured it perfectly:

I am a corporate chief executive.

I am a business owner.

I am a private-equity fund manager.

I am the misunderstood superhero of American capitalism, single-handedly creating wealth and prosperity despite all the obstacles put in my way by employees, government and the media.

I am a job creator and I am entitled.

I am entitled to complain about the economy even when my stock price, my portfolio and my profits are at record levels.

I am entitled to a healthy and well-educated workforce, a modern and efficient transportation system and protection for my person and property, just as I am entitled to demonize the government workers who provide them.

This is where we stand as a nation. If you believe these criticisms are the result of “class warfare” or “envy” of “successful” people, then you also believe that we live in a “democracy” with “free enterprise” and “equal opportunity”. You probably also wanted to end the “death tax”.

What is more likely: that a woman at a political protest talking about an “Obama Phone” is holding us back as a nation, or that our nation is really an oligarchy with corporate socialism that reinforces economic castes?

 

 

Compassion?: Education Reform’s Separate and Unequal Agenda

When Michelle Rhee was asked if she had any compassion for the principal she fired on camera, she responded, “compassion?”, because she really did not know what that word meant.

“The most important civil rights battleground today is education, and, likewise, the most crucial struggle against poverty is the one fought in schools” says Nicholas Kristof in Wednesday’s piece for the New York Times. After reading this sentence, we are prepped to believe the person who wrote it is a defender of social justice. This impression is reinforced with the very next sentence: “Inner-city urban schools today echo the “separate but equal” system of the early 1950s.”

Basic progressive bromides that lead us to believe that the solutions proffered throughout the rest of the article are part of the progressive canon. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, these are the tactics of the modern-day education “reformer”. An education reformer is a person who couches their rhetoric in progressive prose while pushing for retrograde policies. It is the reason why so many self-styled reformers are wealthy Democrats. Chiming in on the education debate allows them to brandish their progressive credentials while making apologies for the socioeconomic system that has blessed them with such great fortune.

Reformers love to cite the Brown case while totally ignoring its details. Thurgood Marshall, the esteemed NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court justice who argued Oliver and Linda Brown’s case, demonstrated to the Warren court how segregated schools reinforced notions of racial inferiority and violated the 14th Amendment. Black schools had underpaid teachers, dilapidated facilities and outdated materials when compared to their white counterparts. These were issues Marshall knew of on an intimate level. His mother was a kindergarten teacher at a black school who, by law, earned less than white teachers.

To the Warren court, as well as anyone else alive during the 1950s, it was pointing out the obvious to say that the nation’s black schools existed on a different plane than white schools, a plane of inferiority enshrined in law and tradition. The court ruled in 1954 that this state of affairs indeed violated the 14th Amendment. Historians since have pointed to the Brown case as the unofficial beginning of the civil rights movement. A year later, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama and a fiery young reverend named Martin Luther King, Jr. made his debut on the national stage.

For those of us familiar with urban public schools, we know that segregation is alive and well in all parts of the country. We also know that the solutions put forward by the reformers, represented in this case by Nicholas Kristof, have not only failed to ameliorate this segregation in any way, but have exacerbated it and promise to do so indefinitely.

For example, Kristof enthusiastically worships at the altar of value added. This is the idea that students should be tested several times a year so their scores can be used to hold teachers “accountable”. To make his point, Kristof cites the “Gold Standard Study” that makes the case for value added assessments. This was the study released earlier this year which “proved” that “bad teachers” in early grades could lead students to fail later in life, whether it means getting pregnant or dropping out of school. This “Gold Standard Study” has never been peer reviewed. It was funded by the reformer juggernaut Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its logical inconsistencies, obvious anti-teacher bias and junk science were ravaged from pillar to post, even while the New York Times was mindlessly repeating its findings. Even by the mushy standards of objectivity in the world of the social sciences, this “Gold Standard Study” has never passed muster.

What would have Thurgood Marshall argued in front of the Warren court? The crux of his case was that one set of standards applied to white schools and a totally different one applied to black schools. Kristof does exactly that. While the children and teachers of minority schools must submit to testing based upon junk science that has never been properly defended, justified or argued, the children and teachers of the Chicago Lab School, Sidwell Friends, Dalton and other schools for the rich do not have to deal with this at all. The motto for Sidwell Friends, the D.C.-area school attended by the Obama girls, is “let the light shine out from all”. The motto for everyone else’s schools is “pass these exams or suffer the consequences”. A rigorous curriculum of critical thinking, creativity and free expression for the wealthy. A narrow curriculum of bubble-in exams and endless factoids for everyone else.

It was not just the junk of value added over which Chicago teachers went out on strike. As Matt Farmer said in this great speech in front of the CTU, the reformers have aimed to get rid of art and music from public schools while reserving those programs for their own children. The new Common Core Standards, to which the schools of the reformers’ children will never be held, aims to squeeze out literary analysis and creative writing in favor of informational texts. In short, wealthy children will be free to develop and indulge the most abstract reaches of their minds. They will continue to be inspired to think creatively and see big pictures. Everyone else’s children will get the drudgery of standardized exams, the minutiae of factoids and the compartmentalized thinking that comes with a narrowed curriculum.

One group of children are educated to lead. Another group of children are educated to respond to prompts. This is the reformer agenda. While using the rhetoric of civil rights and the imagery of Brown vs. Board of Education, the reformers push policies that will enshrine segregation and inequality in law.

Perhaps the most revealing part of Kristof’s piece is when he says “some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be accountable until poverty is solved.” He says this while acknowledging “it’s true that the main reason inner-city schools do poorly isn’t teachers’ unions, but poverty. Southern states without strong teachers’ unions have schools at least as lousy as those in union states.” He understates the case by saying non-union schools are at least “as lousy” as unionized ones, since non-unionized states have the lousiest school systems in the nation. South Carolina and Mississippi come to mind.  Yet, it is rare for a reformer to admit that poverty plays any role in a child’s education. After all, there are “no excuses” for filling in the wrong bubbles.

Again, let us take a look at what Kristof is actually saying when he writes that poverty is the biggest deciding factor in schooling. Poverty can mean many things in the concrete, including a child not having a home to stay in, malnourishment or undernourishment, sickness, lack of positive male role models, gangs, violence, dysfunctional family life, the list goes on. There are actual physical and psychological impacts poverty has on students, children that could be as young as five years old.   They can come to class everyday with their stomachs growling or feeling weak. They could have walked through gang territory to get to school or to get home, exposing them to all types of destructive behaviors or psychological trauma along the way. They could have been beaten by their parents the night before, or been in the next room while their parents did drugs. More often than not, it is a case of a parent neglecting them by failing to ask about their day or sitting them in front of the television all night as a way to avoid interaction. This is what poverty means in the concrete, no matter how much reformers like Kristof try to make it an abstract sideshow.

When I was in high school, my best friend was shot and stabbed right in front of me. He spent weeks in the hospital where he almost died. During that time, what did he or I care about school or the upcoming exam? It did not matter in the least. Growing up in my poor neighborhood, I went to the homes of friends where the television was on 24/7 and the parents were barely around. There was no dinner on the table and, oftentimes, there was no table. In this situation, what does testing matter? What did holding our teachers “accountable” matter? It would have had no impact or bearing over our lives.

What the reformers are saying when they want to hold teachers “accountable” is that they wish to hold teachers accountable for all of these circumstances, circumstances over which teachers have absolutely no control. They want to allow society to continue to damage our children, to make them physically and psychologically sick, and then lay the entire blame at the teachers’ doorsteps. They want to continue to push people off welfare rolls, off-shore jobs, cut back on the most basic social services, air mindless garbage through the media and then turn around to the teachers and say “you fix it”. This is what accountability means to Kristof and the reformers. These are the implications of their policies.

Kristof at least mentions poverty, but he still shrugs it off in the end. Every columnist and billionaire reformer does that because, to them, poverty is not real. They can only approach poverty in the abstract, as a curiosity, as a statistic, because they are so far removed from its actual meaning. This does not mean a dictionary meaning but a three-dimensional meaning, one that is felt in the flesh and lived in real time. They are billionaires, pundits and opinion-givers. They sit in their air-conditioned offices and luxurious homes while their bank accounts get larger without them even noticing or doing anything. They want for nothing. It is all too easy for them to say poverty is not an excuse, to brush it off as a non-issue, to treat it as an abstraction because that is exactly what it is to them. That is all it can ever be to them.

In reality, poverty actually means something. So does education. When my friend was in the hospital, I bought him Gza’s Liquid Swords album, which we had been anticipating for a long time. Classmates of ours brought in artwork they made to put up in his hospital room. I started reading poetry and philosophy as a way to get a handle on life and look for solace. These things: music, art, poetry, abstract thought, are the things the reformers want to deny the poor children of the United States today. These are the things that got us as poor children through trying moments and made us aspire to great things. They might be great for wealthy children, but they are necessary for children of the poor. These are the things that help people understand their role and purpose in this world, and the ones that bring us beauty in times of darkness. The fact that the reformers want to totally eliminate this for children of the poor and leave them nothing but facts, tests, bubbles and computers is tantamount to child abuse. It is a civil rights travesty, no matter how hard reformers try to pass themselves off as new-age civil rights crusaders.

This is why the teachers of Chicago were striking. Anyone who has never lived in urban poverty, or who lacks basic human compassion or empathy, can never understand the destruction education reform means for our school system. These qualities, compassion and empathy, are what the reformers lack. Through their horrid educational programs, they want to turn our children into microcosms of themselves.

Won’t Back Down From The Hunchbacks

The parent trigger law originated in Los Angeles. The heaviest hitters in the quest to dismantle public education funded it from its inception: Broad, Gates and Walton. The law allows parents of children in public schools to turn the institution over to private (charter) management with a 51% vote. There is no provision in any parent trigger law allowing parents of charter students to vote to turn the institution over to public operation.

After its success in southern California, the American Legislative Exchange Council picked up on it and sought to bring parent trigger laws to other states. They have been successful in getting some incarnation of the law passed in seven of them.

With the sponsorship of the likes of Broad, Gates, Walton, ALEC  and DFER, it is obvious that parent trigger laws are merely a new vehicle by which megabillionaires can ransack the public school systems of the United States for private profit.  One would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to see it this way.

This ransacking of public institutions is the cornerstone of Neoliberalism, a political and economic ideology that has defined the United States for the past 35 years. Its godfather is the late economist Milton Friedman. Its international adherents include third world despots like Augusto Pinochet. Its ideological foundations are underpinned by such third-rate minds as Ayn Rand and her concubine, Alan Greenspan.

It is a naked worship of the rich and powerful. It is the belief that the rich and powerful should control every aspect of our lives.

Unfortunately, the United States has a pesky written Constitution and a Bill of Rights that still guarantee some semblance of popular sovereignty. Unlike Pinochet, the Neoliberals in America cannot merely ram their policies down our throats with tanks.

This is why the parent trigger law is such a grand idea for the Neoliberals. It comports nicely with the trappings of popular democracy by having parents vote. It gives parents a once-in-a-lifetime vote that they can never reverse and turns their children’s schools into institutions over which they will have no say ever again.

It is a maniacal, Machiavellian device. Anyone with a basic familiarity with education policy and recent American history can see it for exactly that.

The good thing is, we live in the United States, where neither history nor education policy exist in the minds of most people.

Enter the upcoming movie Won’t Back Down. The two men behind the movie, Rupert Murdoch of 20th Century Fox and Philip Anschutz of Walden Media, are two of the most retrograde forces in the United States today. Murdoch, of course, has given us such culturally elevating fare as Fox News and the New York Post, not to mention criminal wiretapping. Philip Anschutz is an oil man who funds every anti-gay group in the country, wants evolution to be taught in schools and funds Scott Walker of Wisconsin. He was the man behind the film Waiting for Superman.

Waiting for Superman was billed as the brainchild of Davis Guggenheim. Guggenheim had earned his liberal stripes by producing the movie An Inconvenient Truth. As we know, it featured one of the liberal heroes of our age, Al Gore, lecturing about one of the biggest liberal causes of our age, global warming. When Guggenheim released Waiting for Superman, it was merely assumed by most that its pro-charter, anti-union message was the liberal take on education.

Maybe it was the liberal take on education. But what it really was at its core was the Neoliberal take. Guggenheim might not be a Neoliberal, but Philip Anschutz certainly is. Guggenheim merely delivered a partially staged, over emotional, under intellectual “documentary” case for the Neoliberal idea that anything public is bad and anything run by billionaires is good. It is a funny thing, since it is those billionaire oilmen like Anschutz most responsible for the degradation of our biosphere against which An Inconvenient Truth so passionately inveighed.

Anschutz knows that showing his face publicly to advocate for Neoliberal policies would doom his cause. The public would see him for the utterly deformed character he is. His very presence is a public relations nightmare for Neoliberalism.

This is why Won’t Back Down is his latest way of pushing the Neoliberal agenda. In the place of his emotionally hunchback presence is a cast of beautiful young actors. They have played out a Hollywood script on the big screen that will no doubt evoke visceral support for parent trigger laws. The parents in the movie surely will want the best education for their children. The teacher unions will surely be more interested in protecting their incompetents than teaching. The unions are so entrenched and insidious that nothing but the indomitable will of a few plucky parents can get them to bow. Surely there will be some billionaire hero in the movie somewhere, some enlightened scion of the upper classes willing to provide the type of great school that the children of these plucky parents deserve. In the end, the parents get their great school and the closing credits will probably run to the inspiring tune of Tom Petty’s rendition of Won’t Back Down.

Applause throughout the theater. Applause and tears. Once again, those teachers and their unions are holding us back. They are just so evil and powerful. The billionaires are our saviors. Right under everyone’s radar goes the obvious immense power and influence of billionaires in our country. Never once will that click to anyone. The billionaires will save the day.

The Neoliberal message of billionaire worship will shine through. Ayn Randian lickspittles are going to made out of, what, a million, two million, five million movie-goers. Instead of rolling the people with armored tanks like they did under Pinochet, the Neolibs in the U.S. are rolling us with armored propaganda. It is the American way.

And tonight in Los Angeles is the start of this process with the so-called Teachers Rock event. It is billed as an event in support of teachers. It is being held in perhaps the biggest hotbed of liberal tolerance outside of Frisco: Hollywood. It will feature some of the most powerful liberal do-gooders in the nation: Hollywood actors. It is going to benefit some really do-goody sounding charities like Donorschoose and Teach For America. The beautiful people will be out in force tonight in support of, what, teachers? It is the promotional event of Won’t Back Down, the “movie”.

And behind the beautiful velveteen curtain, behind the million-dollar Hollywood smiles is the deformed, retrograde, hunchback figure of Philip Anschutz. Anschutz the gay hater, ape denier and environment killer. He is using Meryl Streep and Morgan Freeman like he used the cast in Won’t Back Down, like he used Davis Guggenheim. He is using the liberals to cloak the Neoliberalism that is his not-so-secret dream.

And of course it is Rupert Murdoch too. Murdoch the wire-tapper, monopolist and propagandist. And it is the Waltons, the union-busters, small business killers and labor exploiters.

America thinks they are getting the beautiful people of Hollywood. Rather, they are getting that other stratosphere well out of reach of Hollywood, the hunchback, shadowy, Neoliberals of the megabillionaire class. America tonight is not getting the 1%. They are getting the .1%, and they will applaud their own undoing until the very end.

The New Gilded Age

A recent article in Salon neatly describes how the current era of U.S. history mirrors the Robber Baron era of the late 1800s-early 1900s, also known as the Gilded Age. The familiar bugaboos for progressives are there: wealth inequality, political corruption and corporations run amok.

There is another similarity I see between the two time periods, which is the increasing tendency today to ascribe one’s station in life to inborn characteristics. During the Gilded Age, this tendency manifested itself in Social Darwinism and, more ominously, Eugenics. Today, we see it in the celebration of the 1994 book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, co-authored by Charles Murray. Turgidly. the point of the book is to prove how innate intelligence largely accounts for one’s socioeconomic class.

In the well-worn debate between nature and nurture, it seems nature wins out in static and conservative eras. It is a convenient way to justify gross inequality.

During the Gilded Age, Social Darwinism and even Eugenics were fundamental beliefs. Both conservatives and progressives subscribed to these ideas in some form or another. Even Woodrow Wilson, the Progressive’s progressive, believed in Eugenics. Then, by the end of World War II, Eugenics fell into disrepute because of its association with Hitler. The Great Depression damaged the entire nature side of the nature/nurture debate. It was proof positive that destiny was shaped by forces well beyond one’s natural gifts, like volatile business cycles. Post-war conservatives still clung to some form of “nature”, but it was persona non grata in liberal intellectual circles, and liberal intellectuals would be in the saddle for most of that era.

Today, it is not only conservatives like Murray who are reviving Eugenics. Liberal education reformers, like the one who wrote this essay, seem to be hung up on it as well. The article’s title asks the question, Can Schools Spur Social Mobility?

Before he answers that question, however, he delves into the world of Charles Murray. He explains that Murray answers that question in the negative. It is negative because we have already done a bang-up job of moving all of the cream of society to the top. There is simply nothing left for schools to do to increase mobility. Society is as mobile as it is going to get.

For the author, this creates a crisis of sorts. Agreeing with Murray “gives cover to educators who look at a classroom of low-income children and diminish their expectations—thinking that ‘these kids’ aren’t capable of much, educators who don’t buy the mantra that ‘all children can learn’”. It is tough to image which educators the author, Michael Petrilli, has in mind. Why would educators even choose the profession if they believe kids cannot learn? In Petrilli’s mind, it must be because of those fat paychecks and summer vacations.

Yet, in the very next breath, Petrilli pretty much concedes Murray’s point by asking “would we be shocked to find that the average intelligence level of such a classroom is lower than a classroom in an elite, affluent suburb?” But then he backtracks by stating:

“Yes, intelligence is malleable, not innate. Yes, an exceptional school/teacher/curriculum may boost that average intelligence level. But can those factors boost it enough to overcome the disparities Murray describes? If not, what can educators do?”

He then dedicates the rest of his essay to describe what educators can do. This means his recommendations aim not at boosting intelligence per se, but at boosting them within the very limited range of improvement allowed by Murray. So, he believes poor minority children can get smarter with a better education system, but not much smarter. For him, more gifted classes and online learning can help. Why he thinks these things can help he never really explains.

Petrilli ends by saying we will not move poor kids from the projects into Harvard overnight, but we can move them from the projects into police work, firefighting, nursing and plumbing.

For Petrilli, sky is not the limit. It seems to be about 90% genetic and 10% education system, especially the teacher.

What is absent from the ideas of both Murray and Petrilli is socioeconomic circumstance. Petrilli cites Murray by explaining elite universities overwhelmingly serve the children of the intellectual elite because their parents were of the intellectual elite. They both assume that the students at these schools are in fact the best and brightest the country has to offer. This means that George W. Bush, who went to Yale, got there on his merits and not because of his family legacy.

There is something to be said for the idea of moving students from the projects into professions like plumbing. Rather than call for more online classes, what Petrilli should be calling for is vocational education. Unlike endless batteries of standardized exams, vocational learning might actually bear some fruit in the future. Unfortunately, so-called progressive reformers like Petrilli, the prescription is the same no matter what you want the outcome to be: more education reform. There is no room for vocational education in that program. Online learning, testing and charters are where the money is at for deformers.

Both Murray and Petrilli are out of touch. While Petrilli starts off the essay as if he is going to disagree with Charles Murray, he essentially concedes Murray’s salient points. Yes, kids already in elite schools are smarter, as are by and large the social classes those kids represent. Petrilli disagrees with Murray only peripherally. For Murray, nothing can be done to make America more equal. For Petrilli, we must expend a lot of effort to get the few gems from the poorer classes into Harvard. The vast majority are destined for the life of working for a living.

This is the type of stale discourse we would have found in the Gilded Age. While one guy is supposedly conservative and the other guy is supposedly progressive, their ideas demonstrate a consensus in elite circles. They both believe that richer people are just plain smarter. This also helps explain the unquestioning, thoughtless and mechanical manner in which Common Core, online learning and charters have been foisted upon us. Since these are reforms conjured up by the rich and brilliant, then of course us stupid teachers and hopeless inner city students should accept it.

The creation of compulsory schooling during the Gilded Age was an invention of elites who knew what was best for poor people. The recreation of compulsory schooling in the form of education reform during this second Gilded Age is the exact same thing. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Sanctimonious Scions of Society (Why “Good” People are so Bad)

Corporate Buddha meditates under a tax shelter.

A great article in the New Republic describes the arrogant corporate mindset that permeates Google and other Silicon Valley outfits:

SEARCH INSIDE YOURSELF is a Zen-like curriculum in “emotional intelligence” that has been taught at Google University to Google employees since 2007. Its central concept is “mindfulness,” a kind of serenely focused attention, and it consists in a series of meditations and mind-body exercises—“wisdom practices in a corporate setting”—that are designed to enhance “stellar work performance, outstanding leadership, and the ability to create the conditions for happiness.” The irony of refining the attention of people whose business is to disperse and even destroy attention is of course lost on Meng, who soulfully includes a prescription for “mindful e-mailing” (“begin by taking one conscious breath …”). Meng does a meditation “every time I walk from my office to the restroom and back.” The restroom, indeed. “Mindfulness,” he explains, “is the mind of just being. All you really need to do is to pay attention moment-to-moment without judging. It is that simple.” (The denial of significant complexity is inscribed in the book’s vrai-naïf style: “Difficult conversations are conversations that are hard to have.”) Owing to Meng’s course, employees at Google get promoted, come to work more often, and have fun. As an example of someone who grasps that “your work is something you do for fun,” he gives—in one of the many unself-aware passages in this manual of self-awareness—Warren Buffett. More than fun, “your work will become a source of your happiness.” And of the company’s happiness, too.

I am pretty sure that Siddhartha did not meditate under a bodhi tree so that corporations can train their workers to be “non-judgemental” and “present”.

The article gets at a fundamental shift taking place in American society: the workplace has become people’s entire lives. Corporations like Google are training their workers to find spiritual fulfillment within the work place, making things like a social life and a family superfluous.

If one has to work 80 hours a week in order to get ahead in the company or, more commonly, to merely maintain their position, then there really is no room to have a family.

Not only does this mindset pacify an overworked labor force, it imbues those who work in Silicon Valley with a vacuous sense of self-importance:

 “Even though I am still very shy, I find myself able to project a quiet but unmistakable self-confidence, whether I am meeting world leaders like Barack Obama, speaking to a large audience, or dealing with a traffic police officer. … In most situations, when interacting with people, I let my ego become small, humble, and mostly irrelevant, while focusing on bringing kindness and benefit to whomever I am interacting with. … I am amazed by how much my simple aspiration for world peace has resonated with so many people.” The man who wrote those words must be insufferable. I have never met him, but I have read his book. It is called Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), and he is Chade-Meng Tan, an engineer at Google, Employee Number 107, known officially as the “Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny),” whose job description is “enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.”

The man humbles himself so that he may be exalted.

The engineers in Silicon Valley merely reflect the leading edge of a trend that has been overtaking the entire workforce. Whether one works 80 hours a week or not, those of us who work for a living are having our entire lives dominated by who signs our checks.

With employees being asked for the passwords to their Facebook accounts, or teachers being terminated for what they say on personal time, the American worker has had their civil rights trumped by the prerogatives of employers.

The workplace has become the centerpiece of our entire existence.

In Silicon Valley, where workers are at least decently compensated for their work, we see a scary sanctimony that seems to be becoming more pervasive among the members of the 1 percent.

Being non-judgmental is just plain stupid. Judgement is a fundamental human capacity, something that exercises the more advanced reaches of our brains. One of the first things I tell my classes at the start of the year is that they will be doing a lot of judging. They will have to analyze evidence and information in order to come to inductive answers to questions.

It is sad that this non-judgemental craze has taken public schools by storm over the past 20 years. Kids are trained from kindergarten to not judge or to be “tolerant”. It is designed to have the same impact on them that this faux-Buddhism has on Silicon Valley workers: to silence their inner moral voice in hopes of fostering “group think”. Everything everyone says is great. Every idea is equally valid because, after all, who are we to judge?

This is why so many pernicious and destructive ideas are so easily accepted in the United States. We have been trained to subdue our critical, questioning side. Evolutionists and Creationists, Democrats and Republicans, everyone’s ideas are “equal”.

Yet, when the richies are seized by this idea, it is accompanied by an insufferable do-gooder mindset that paves the path to hell. The article describes Google engineers who are so enthralled with their own enlightenment that they believe whatever services they market to the people must be good. After all, it was designed by “present”, “non-judgemental” people, so the product must be totally benign.

This is the same mindset that runs through all of the education reformers. Whether it is Bill Gates or Salman Khan (is it a coincidence that both of these guys have ties to Silicon Valley?), there is a sanctimonious sense that they truly believe they are working for some higher purpose.

And what about those who disagree with their ideas? Oh, they are just judgemental and petty. They are motivated by selfish ends, like those teacher unions who only look out for themselves. Our morals are superior, so it is justified that we roll right over all critics and protests without a second thought. Do these people not understand that we are trying to save the world?

The scariest people are the ones who are the most convinced of the righteousness of their cause. Sycophants are not only found in religious circles. They are found in Silicon Valley, where people believe they have reached Nirvana. They are found in liberal circles, where cultural identity issues merely mask the class oppression upon which wealth for the few is sustained. They are found on Wall Street, where the religion of economics inoculates even the brightest day-trader to the fundamental destruction wrought by their actions.

Beware of rich people bearing gifts. After they tyrannize their own souls, they will stop at nothing to tyrannize all of ours.

Monday Morning Picture Round-Up

Liberals, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry David: comedic genius, limousine liberal.

The gay marriage controversy is easily resolved. If I were President of the United States, I would issue an executive order legalizing gay marriage in every U.S. state and territory. My decision would be accompanied by a brief speech explaining that, in the United States of America, the government should make every effort to ensure the rights of consenting adults to build a life together in any way they see fit. It is a fundamental American value that government should guarantee “the pursuit of happiness” as an “unalienable” right.

The Emancipation Proclamation, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and prohibition of stem cell research all flowed from executive orders. Presidents have used the executive order to make sweeping changes to American society before. There is no reason why gay marriage could not or should not be resolved in the same way.

Most importantly, I would legalize gay marriage so fast in order to focus on what I consider more pressing matters.

Yet, over the past several years, activists have been filing lawsuits, judges have been handing down rulings and lawmakers have been working on legislation to legalize gay marriage. President Obama, facing reelection this November, recently came out in support of it. The media has been abuzz with this politician and that politician coming out for or against. In short, a healthy amount of the nation’s resources and attention has been husbanded to the gay marriage controversy. More than one respected source has alluded to gay marriage as either the civil rights struggle of our era, or the gravest threat to American values.

And yet, one wave of the presidential hand can make all of this go away.

A friend of mine said she read a statistic somewhere that most of the legislation that has been introduced and debated by this current Tea Party Congress revolves around abortion or women’s reproductive rights.

This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Gay marriage, abortion, marijuana and other such issues have been on the lips of our elected officials for a reason: they distract our attention from the grave structural problems that plague our civilization.

Childhood poverty has reached levels not seen since the late 1800s. The American worker, despite skyrocketing productivity over the past 35 years, has not seen their wages keep up apace. The average CEO makes around 300 times their average worker. Many multi-billion dollar corporations pay no taxes. There is no more class system in the United States, only an economic caste system. The financial sector is still largely unregulated; the student debt bomb being the next terrorist device set to explode because of it.

Our elected officials will give impassioned speeches about gay marriage, but when it comes to children living in households where their parents make less than 3 dollars an hour, they are totally silent. Indeed, the longer they can string these culture war issues along, the more they can make speeches about them and ensure that our structural class problems remain invisible.

As much as I would love to blame conservatives for trying to foist their religious fundamentalism onto the rest of us, the lion’s share of the blame must go to those who pass as “liberals” in this day and age. This includes not only so-called liberals in government, but self-styled liberals of the rank-and-file.

In order to test this, find yourself someone who you might consider a liberal and suggest to them that our country has more pressing matters to attend to than gay marriage. You will be met with moral outrage, if not a full-blown accusation of homophobia.

It is symptomatic of what has become of the entire liberal edifice over the past 35 years.

For example, somewhere along the way, the most prominent black leaders started worrying about “the n word” and which corporations were promoting blacks to middle management positions. All the while, almost a third of America’s black population live below the poverty line and the life expectancy of black Americans remain far below the national average. In essence, the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world became preoccupied with issues relevant to the black middle class or, in other words, those with the disposable income to give to their organizations.

One can only hope that Tavis Smiley and Cornell West have breathed new life into the black civil rights movement.

In the same manner, gay marriage has been the issue du jour of the white liberal class. Whether gay, straight or transgender, liberals around the country have mobilized for the fight for gay rights. For me, it is self-evident that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the right to get married. I consider myself a well-wisher of the gay marriage movement.

I can only say that if gay marriage is your number one political concern, you must have a pretty good life.

The people who pass as liberals in this day and age have played right into conservative hands. Liberal leaders have taken their most impassioned stances and scored their biggest victories in recent years on culture war issues. They have scored these victories because, in the end, conservatives have largely allowed them to do so. Allowing gays to marry will not make any deep structural changes to our broken socioeconomic system. That means that, while it is a loss for conservatives, it is a loss they can live with.

We live in an era of decadence, which literally means a “falling apart”. Both the liberal and conservative elite have reached a consensus that radical reform of our system is unacceptable, so they have resigned themselves to tinkering along the edges. While gays will be allowed to marry and marijuana will someday be legal, the economic caste system that rots our democracy will go unchanged.

While the people of France recently elected a new president in the hopes of altering the direction of the European Union, our president is campaigning on gay marriage. While the people of Greece turned many of their austerity hawks out of government, our leaders are garnering votes over the question of whether man came from God or ape. We are, without question, the single dumbest and most vegged out nation in western civilization.

This goes a long way towards explaining what has become of the Democratic Party in recent years. They are a conglomerate of special interests: gays, minorities, environmentalists, etc. Each interest single-mindedly pushes their agenda to the forefront and, at varying times, is successful at getting their pet issue at the center of the public debate. By bringing their issues into relief, the fundamental traditions on which the Democrats used to stand (the New Deal and the Great Society) fizzle away.

Whether one votes Democrat or Republican, the outcome is the same: the economic caste system stands unperturbed. Liberals should not cheer their superficial victories. They should instead mourn the fact that the culture wars are the only wars they have the heart to wage.