Tag Archives: America



About one minute ago this comment was left on my most recent post about this past week’s U.S. History Regents:

denton | January 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm | ReplyEdit

The answer for 14 is 3 slaveholders.

Denton is absolutely correct. The question has to do with the Dred Scott decision:

Which group benefited most directly from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford?

(1) abolitionists    (3) slave owners

(2) immigrants     (4) enslaved persons

To which I began my response:

They want answer (4) because Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that slavery was legally permitted in all of the territories. He also ruled that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” How can it not be choice (4)?

If you read the rest of my response to the question you can see that I clearly meant to say choice (3), not (4). This was a simple matter of me getting the numbers mixed up.

I will admit, Denton’s simple comment mildly devastated me. Despite the fact that I know the answer to the question and have a strong opinion about why this question is stupid, I myself felt very stupid once Denton made me realize my folly. I am sure that many, if not most, people who read the post picked up on my mistake but did not say anything out of politeness.

The fact that, according to my stats, this is the most-read of my recent posts makes me feel even dumber. Hundreds of people have already read my mistake.

If someone like me who is confident in his understanding of U.S. History to the point of insufferable arrogance can be made to feel stupid for a simple mistake, imagine how a teenager must feel when something similar happens?

How many times have students simply transposed numbers and ended up bubbling in the wrong choice because of it? How many times has a student bubbled in an answer in which they had confidence only to have a machine spit it back at them as “wrong”?

My mistake and Denton’s comment I believe strengthens my point about the folly of standardized testing. As the post clearly demonstrates, even students with a strong understanding of a subject can be screwed over by simple errors, putting their graduation and the careers of their teachers in jeopardy.

For now at least, I am one dumb history teacher.


Better fill in the right bubbles  or your teacher gets the axe.

Better fill in the right bubbles or your teacher gets the axe.


Students across New York State sat down to take Regents exams all last week. The January Regents, for most schools, are make-ups for students who did not pass an exam the first time. For many students, last week’s U.S. History Regents could have been the difference between graduating or not.

Which is why it is upsetting to open up a Regents exam for the first time and come across patently ridiculous questions. Last week’s Global History exam was actually worse in this regard but I don’t have a copy of it on hand. The U.S. History exam was bad enough.

There are many types of bad questions on these history exams. In total they make a great case for why the testing craze sweeping this country is destructive, not to mention why judging students and teachers by the results of these exams are just plain lunacy.

Take Question # 11 from the U.S. History exam:

One result of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory (1803) was that the United States

(1) acquired California from Spain

(2) gained control of the port of New Orleans

(3) ended border conflicts with British Canada

(4) annexed Florida

The answer they are looking for is (2). Of course, as I mentioned in my recent Thomas Jefferson post, the United States had been focused on getting New Orleans for a long time. Merchants and farmers out west were constantly frustrated at not having access to New Orleans which is at the mouth of the Mississippi River and, therefore, a major port of trade. Jefferson was fulfilling a long-time American dream by purchasing it and the rest of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.

But there were other “results” of the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition of so much western land focused Americans on westward settlement. It continued an entire western momentum that started with the French and Indian War (1754-1761), which is when American colonists started to penetrate beyond the Appalachians into the Ohio River Valley. With the Louisiana Territory in their possession Americans began to believe that it was their “destiny”, their God-given “Manifest Destiny”, to take control of the entire continent to the Pacific Ocean. 44 years after the Purchase, President James Polk instigated a war with Mexico to fulfill this destiny, gaining California in the process. Therefore, it could be argued that one of the “results” of the Louisiana Purchase was that the U.S. “(1) acquired California from Spain”. While the U.S. never acquired California directly from Spain (as we’ve seen, they got it from Mexico), both California and Mexico were colonies of Spain during the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

As you can see in this map, getting the port of New Orleans was the only result of the Louisiana Purchase.

As you can see in this map, getting the port of New Orleans was the only result of the Louisiana Purchase.

What if a teacher had taught this to their students to give them a more complete picture of the Louisiana Purchase in the context of American History? A student could have filled in choice (1), been at least partially correct and received no credit for it. What if a teacher explained to their students that the Louisiana Purchase put the United States on a collision course with Florida  (which was owned by Spain ), necessitating a series of arguments between the two countries over the borders of East and West Florida (which included the Gulf Coast regions of modern-day Mississippi and Alabama)? What if a teacher taught their students that, after the Purchase, several American generals (including Andrew Jackson) raided Florida in attempts to conquer it? Spain was a decaying empire who did not have the stomach for a trans-Atlantic fight with an aggressive and young United States. This led to the Adams-Onis Treaty (1819 – and negotiated by my favorite American ever, John Quincy Adams) where the United States annexed Florida, which is choice (4).

It is best for a teacher not to teach these things to their students so they will not be confused and fill in the “wrong” bubble on the exam. Of course, the only cost of this is a limited, stunted, incomplete curriculum of United States history, leading to a limited, stunted and incomplete understanding of U.S. history by our students.

But that’s alright. We need to show that we “add value” as teachers which, in this case, means debasing the value of the curriculum.

Three questions later, at question 14, we have another such question:

Which group benefited most directly from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford?

(1) abolitionists    (3) slave owners

(2) immigrants     (4) enslaved persons

They want answer (4) because Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that slavery was legally permitted in all of the territories. He also ruled that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” How can it not be choice (4)?

Well, it could be any of these choices. It can also be none of these choices. It is hard to say that anyone directly benefited from Taney’s decision. Even though he ruled that slave owners could bring their human chattel anywhere in the American territories, there is little evidence to suggest they did so. The country was so divided over the slavery issue in 1857 that it would be unlikely that slave owners would dare to bring slaves to any territory whose population was against slavery, lest the slave owners get a visit from John Brown and his family or similar types of crusaders.  Essentially, slave owners could only bring slaves to those territories whose people and climates were conducive to slavery, which is to say the territories in which slavery was already legal. The net direct benefit to slave owners in reality was negligible.

Remember the mass exodus of slave owners into the Oregon Territory?

Remember the mass exodus of slave owners into the Oregon Territory?

On the other hand, Taney’s decision strengthened the perception in the north that the “Slave Power”, as many abolitionists called it, dominated the federal government. It steeled their resolve to oppose slavery which became one of the big factors that pushed the nation into the Civil War. It would be the war that ended up abolishing slavery, in which case choice (1) makes sense. By extension, it also means choice (4) makes sense.

Or if you accept the premise that the Dred Scott case strengthened the institution of slavery, then choice (2) makes sense. Northern immigrants were some of the biggest supporters of slavery and the Democratic Party that defended it (indeed, immigrant support is one of the few things that have remained constant about the Democrats since the Age of Jackson). In their minds, slavery kept potential competition for their jobs chained in bondage far away in the south. One of the worst nightmares of many immigrants was an influx of freed slaves to the north undercutting their wages.

Again, heaven forbid a student has a wide-ranging mind that can take in all of these possibilities or had a teacher that taught this to them. They might fill in the wrong bubble and “prove” that their teacher did not “add value” to their understanding of Dred Scott.

Then, a mere eight questions later, we find this question:

In the early 1900s, the United States proposed the Open Door Policy to

(1) gain new colonies in the Pacific

(2) win support for building the Panama Canal

(3) improve relations with Europe

(4) secure access to markets in China

They obviously want choice (4) here. The United States’ economy exploded after the Civil War, ushering in an era of rapid expansion. The 1890 census showed that the “frontier” out on the western part of the continent was “full”, so Americans cast a covetous glance beyond towards the Pacific. Unfortunately, most of Europe had beaten them to the punch when it came to imperialism. The United States was oftentimes treated as a junior partner by the great powers in the game of geopolitical expansion. In Hawaii, Samoa and many other Pacific Islands, the U.S. asserted its growing influence in an attempt to both gain new markets and gain the respect of the great powers. Therefore, if the U.S. wanted to gain markets in China as choice (4) says, could that not also mean that they wished to “improve relations with Europe”, which is choice (3)?

C'mon Europe, let us get a piece of China. In return, you won't have to respect us or treat us well at all.

C’mon Europe, let us get a piece of China. In return, you won’t have to respect us or treat us well at all.

This, of course, all depends on what you mean by “improve”. As the U.S. expanded its influence the great powers took the growing nation more seriously, causing them to seek alliances, trade agreements and peace with the U.S. Would this not be an “improvement” by most definitions of the word? If the U.S. did not aggressively push its interests like it it did in China and other places, it would have remained a non-entity to the great powers and a country whose shipping was ripe for plunder on the high seas. In the world of geopolitics, might makes right.

An open-minded student could make a good case for choosing (3). Unfortunately, scantron machines do not care about making good cases and critical thought. No value added here Mr./Ms. Open-Minded Student. It is obvious that your teacher did not add any value to you.

A similar thing happens a mere six questions later in question 28:

After World War I, one way in which the Red Scare, the passing of the Quota Acts, and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan were similar is that they all

(1) exploited fears about people who were considered un-American

(2) encourages the assimilation of new immigrants into American society

(3) supported goals of the suffrage movement

(4) exhibited prejudice against African Americans

Granted, the answer that makes the most sense is (1). The question refers to the climate of “nativism” that swept the country after World War I. However, if the country was turning against everything foreign then would it not cause many immigrants to want to assimilate? No immigrant wanted to a visit from the KKK or to be raided by A. Mitchell Palmer in his quest to find communists. One of the best ways to avoid this was to act American, which would be choice (2). Indeed, one of the byproducts of the nativist climate was the drive to assimilate. It was in the 1920s when most children in the United States had been enrolled in public school for the first time. One of the original reasons to have public schools in the first place was to Americanize the children of immigrants. All of the things mentioned in this question certainly helped make up the minds of immigrant parents as to whether or not they wanted to send their children to public schools. Assimilate or suffer could have been a mantra of the Roaring 20s.

What better time to act all "immigranty" than when the Klan is marching on D.C.? To hell with assimilation, bring out the rosary beads and dreidels.

What better time to act all “immigranty” than when the Klan is marching on D.C.? To hell with assimilation, bring out the rosary beads and dreidels.

Too bad for the student who might see things in this way and for the teacher who taught this. There is just no value to be had in an idea that leads to the wrong bubble-in answer.

A mere two questions later it happens again with a very strange question:

As part of the New Deal, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) were created to

(1) allow for a quick recovery of stock prices

(2) provide direct loans to businesses

(3) protect individual investors from stock fraud and bank failure

(4) allow banks and companies to invest in the stock market

Choice (3) makes sense. The SEC attempted to make the stock market transparent so investors would not get fleeced. The FDIC allowed the government to insure bank deposits so that bank runs would not wipe out people’s savings. This is the answer they want.

On the other hand, the transparency that the SEC was designed to bring to the market was also designed to bring back investor confidence, in which case choice (4) makes sense. Now, yes, the FDIC did not affect the stock market but the Glass-Stegall Act, which was the law that created the FDIC, did. Not only did Glass-Stegall create the FDIC, it erected a “firewall” between consumer and investor banks. The former type of bank would only deal with savings and small loans. The latter type of bank would deal with venture capital and stocks. While choice (4) is not technically “correct” it is sort of a gotcha question. A student could read FDIC and think Glass-Stegall and bubble in the wrong choice.

So I suppose it is better for a teacher to avoid mentioning Glass-Stegall altogether. Instead, they should merely focus on the FDIC part of the law and teach it as an isolated event. Clouding a student’s mind with an unnecessarily full view of history will only lead to the wrong bubble getting filled in and a negative “value added” score. I guess the banks should be happy about this. Students would never learn that Glass-Steagall reined in some of the worst abuses of big banks, including using the money of their customers to gamble in the stock market and other risky ventures. Thanks to the Gramm-Leach-Blily Act (1999), the part of Glass-Stegall that prevented banks from doing these things was repealed. Now students will never learn that banks were once regulated in this way and instead assume that the giant casinos the banks have become is the banks’ natural, default way of doing things.


The banks themselves could not have designed a question better suited to preempt the future generations from understanding how they continue to abuse the economy and put all of us at risk, again.

These are not all of the stupid, vague, incomplete or just plain inane questions that can be found on the January 2013 U.S. History regents. However, this post is already longer than common internet decency will allow.

What these questions show us is that teachers are encouraged to teach a narrow American History curriculum. Any teacher who attempts otherwise runs the risk of “confusing” their students, leading to wrong answers, negative value added and, eventually, a pink slip.

This is the New York State’s version of newspeak. A small curriculum leads to large “value added” for the teacher. A vast curriculum leads to negative “value added”. The freedom students and teachers receive, freedom from being left back or freedom from being fired, is actually slavery in the form of a shallow, ignorant understanding of history.


Obama takes the Oath of Office for the second time. Upholding the Constitution hasn't been the only thing to which he has sworn.

Obama takes the Oath of Office for the second time. Upholding the Constitution hasn’t been the only thing to which he has sworn.

Glen Ford nailed the devil out of Obama’s Second Inaugural Address. Credits to Susan Nunes for turning me on to this article from the Black Agenda Report:

Much of what passes for the Left, and for traditional African American leadership, agreed with the New York Times’ assessment that Barack Obama’s second inaugural address represented a firm embrace of “a progressive agenda centered on equality and opportunity.” Significantly, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell echoed the sentiment: ”The era of liberalism is back…the speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages past.

It is in the mutual interest of corporate media and rightwing Republicans to move the bar of “progressive” politics ever rightward. However, for African Americans and white progressives, it amounts to erasing their own political legacies from history.

If we look at the last two Democratic presidents (you know, the ones who have held office since the start of the Reagan Revolution) we essentially see two mid-20th century conservatives. The “bar of ‘progressive’ politics” has indeed moved “ever rightward.”

Can we imagine Lyndon Johnson, on the eve of the 1964 election, ending “welfare as we know it” like Clinton did in 1996? Instead, LBJ laid the full Johnson Treatment on Congress to get them to pass the first meaningful civil rights law since the Reconstruction Era. Clinton tacked to the right because he knew that was where the votes were. LBJ tacked to the left even though he knew it would cost him the “solid south” that helped deliver the White House to every Democratic president since Andrew Jackson, which is to say every Democratic president ever.

In contrast, how have black Americans fared under the first Obama Administration?

An economic recovery has begun,” said Obama. Not for Blacks, whose official 14 percent unemployment rate is more than twice that of whites (6.9 percent), and whose median household wealth has fallen to one-twentieth that of white families – a catastrophe of historical proportions.

It took the Old Democratic policies of LBJ to help foster the growth of a black middle class. It took the New Democrat policies of Barack Obama to destroy it.

Yet Obama does have something in common with LBJ: the ability to skirt Congressional oversight to pursue long, bloody wars:

According to his unique doctrine, the U.S. cannot be in a state of war, or even “hostilities” with another people or country, unless Americans are killed in the process. Thus, Obama refused to report to the U.S. Congress under the War Powers Act following eight months of bombardment of Libya, claiming no state of war had existed since no Americans had died. By this logic, the U.S. is empowered to bomb anyone, anywhere on the planet at will, without the constraints of national or international law, as long as care is taken to protect the lives of U.S. personnel.

We are still fighting Vietnam. The only difference is that the modern-day version of Vietnam is diffused across the globe in a bunch of limited wars rather than being concentrated in one massive conflict.

Ford goes on to describe a litany of regressive Obama policies. In Obama’s defense, he did promise “change” back in 2008 and delivered in spades. Obama served the same purpose as Clinton in that they both solidified and extended the gains of the Reagan Revolution. No Republican could have ever destroyed welfare and get rewarded for it the way Clinton did. No Republican could have ever seriously put Medicaid or Social Security on the bargaining table the way Obama did and still save face.

The New Democrats are handmaidens of the Reagan Revolution.

Obama has earned one truly progressive stripe according to Ford:

It is true: Obama is the most gay-friendly president to date. I don’t think U.S. imperialism and Wall Street hegemons have a fundamental problem with that, either

Apparently, being gay-friendly is all it takes to be considered a champion of a “progressive agenda” in 2013.

I am all for the rights of gay people to get married, to be free from employment discrimination, to be protected from hate crime (and from Mitt Romney), to join the military and to generally have access to the same opportunities and respect as anyone else. However, as Ford points out here, it seems as if that is all one has to do in this day and age to earn the “progressive” label. This is dangerous because, as Ford again points out, it merely tinkers around the edges of progress without addressing the fundamental problems within our society that make all types of inequality possible.

The political climate of 2013 is conservative at its core with a progressive husk. The core has names like Reagan, Bush, Gingrich and Buchanan. The husk has names like Clinton, Obama, Schumer and Cuomo.

One thing that Ford did not mention in his otherwise brilliant analysis is Obama’s education policy. It is ironic (or is it tragic?) that our first black president gave his inaugural speech on Martin Luther King Day 50 years after that great man stood on the very same spot and exclaimed I Have A Dream and yet did not once mention education in any meaningful way nor address the resegregation of our school system at all.

Resegregation predates the first Obama Administration. It is one of the many vicious outgrowths of the Reagan Revolution. Yet, Obama has faithfully played his New Democrat role by solidifying and exacerbating this regression. He has done this by pushing the very same education policies that originated in right-wing think tanks. He has pushed them further than any other president before him.

The most recent nationwide study on the issue of resegregation was done by the Civil Rights Project whose findings were a scathing indictment of Obama’s Race to the Top initiative:

In spite of declining residential segregation for black families and large-scale movement to the suburbs in most parts of the country, school segregation remains very high for black students.  It is also double segregation by both race and poverty.  Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates (64%) are low-income, nearly double the level in schools of the typical white or Asian student (37% and 39%, respectively).  New York, Illinois, and Michigan consistently top the list of the most segregated states for black students.  Among the states with significant black enrollments, blacks are least likely to attend intensely segregated schools in Washington, Nebraska, and Kansas…..

The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, has taken no significant action to increase school integration or to help stabilize diverse schools as racial change occurs in urban and suburban housing markets and schools. Small positive steps in civil rights enforcement have been undermined by the Obama Administration’s strong pressure on states to expand charter schools – the most segregated sector of schools for black students. Though segregation is powerfully related to many dimensions of unequal education, neither candidate has discussed it in the current presidential race.

These findings should be alarming to anyone who considers themselves a friend of justice and democracy. Yet Obama has never acknowledged these disturbing trends. Not even standing on the spot where Dr. King articulated his vision for a truly inclusive society 50 years ago inspired our president to at least grant it a passing mention. It is safe to say then that Obama has no intention of ever mentioning it.

The type of school segregation that exists now is more insidious, more dangerous, more sinister than the type of segregation that defined the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow segregation was implemented and supported by traditional snarling racists who firmly believed the black race was inferior and should be treated as such. Today people like Orval Faubus, George Wallace and Bull Connor are seen as almost pitiable creatures because they ignorantly and hatefully clung to Jim Crow when it was clear the rest of the country would stand for it no longer. Those segregationists of yesteryear made no bones about who they were and what they believed. It was easy to spot them and fight them head-on.

The segregationists of today perversely wrap themselves in the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement to push for policies that have turned back the civil rights clock five decades. They smile, they bite their lower lip, they bemoan the “achievement gap” and speak of expanding opportunity. They are not the easily identifiable snarling white racists of the 20th century.  Not only are they not snarling, many of them are not even white. President Obama and Al Sharpton (who would like to claim Martin Luther King’s mantle) lend their legitimacy, influence and skin color to education “reform” programs that have led to the hyper-segregation of today. As the Civil Rights Project study points out, it is a segregation of both race and class. It is a double-betrayal of everything for which Martin Luther King stood.

It is hard to accuse reformers of racism when the most prominent black leaders in the country have signed on to their programs. It is hard to make people believe that reformers who only wish to “close the achievement gap” are elitists of a very similar stripe to Orval Faubus, probably even sharing some of his condescending racial views. It is hard to accuse people who brandish their “liberal” credentials at every turn of being some of the most retrograde entities in the nation today.

And yet the damage done by both the snarling racists of the 20th century and the darling racists of the 21st century is essentially the same. Segregation has been making its comeback with a vengeance. Minorities are mired in poverty now to a degree not seen since the pre-Reagan era. The type of education provided by the charter schools so highly esteemed by today’s darling racists betray a white paternalism that reminds one of slavery.

For charter schools only seem to be necessary in poor and/or minority neighborhoods. Much like the segregated black schools in the south during Jim Crow, teachers at these charters get paid a fraction of what other teachers pull in. These teachers have been trained to believe that they are doing charity work. Their job seems not so much to educate or enlighten or challenge as it is to civilize. The most important lessons for their students seem to involve sitting quietly, walking in straight lines and deferring to the enlightened wisdom of their elders. Instead of requiring their students to take stock of the world around them, charters prepare their children to be taken stock of by a ruling class that demands unquestioning obedience. One can’t help but be reminded of some of the more clever justifications for slavery in the antebellum era. Back then it was argued that the African race benefited from slavery since it “taught” them habits of industriousness, obedience, honesty and, of course, Christianity. Much like charter schools, slave owners believed a little corporal punishment was necessary from time to time to instill these good morals. 

At the head of it all is the nation’s first black president. A brilliant man to be sure but a man whose moral compass points due opposite of Martin Luther King’s. The fact that he stood on the same spot 50 years after King’s I Have A Dream speech, the one speech in American history that repudiated the worst injustices this nation has ever visited on its most vulnerable people, is one of the most sinister ironies I have ever witnessed.

Rather than a tribute to what the great Reverend stood for Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech, a speech which failed to even acknowledge the erosion of many gains of the Civil Rights Movement, let alone the president’s role in it, was a mockery.

The fact that Obama couched his rhetoric in progressive platitudes was tantamount to whistling through the graveyard, a graveyard that expands with the help of the president himself. As the graveyard continues to expand over the next four years, we should expect the whistling to get progressively louder.



Far from being the right-wing, gun-toting, fundamentalist Christian libertarian he is made out to be by the Glenn Becks of this country, Thomas Jefferson is the spiritual fountainhead of American education.

Far from being the right-wing, gun-toting, fundamentalist Christian libertarian he is made out to be by the Glenn Becks of this country, Thomas Jefferson was the spiritual fountainhead of American education.

Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone reads:

Here Was Buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the
American Independence
of the
Statute of Virginia
Religious Freedom
and Father of the
University of Virginia

These words were chosen by Jefferson himself. They reveal what Jefferson was most proud of. Nowhere does it say Minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President, President, Humbler of the Barbary Coast, Purchaser of Louisiana or Founder of the Republican (later Democratic) Party, even though these are some of the things for which our textbooks celebrate him.

“Father of the University of Virginia” has a place underneath “Author of the Declaration of American Independence.” Jefferson’s work in the field of education is eclipsed by his other mammoth accomplishments not to mention his affair with Sally Hemings, the woman he held in bondage for so long. Yet the University of Virginia was never eclipsed in his own mind.

It is instructive that the man himself was so proud of the University of Virginia. According to the university’s website:

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. He wished the publicly-supported school to have a national character and stature. Jefferson envisioned a new kind of university, one dedicated to educating leaders in practical affairs and public service rather than for professions in the classroom and pulpit exclusively. It was the first nonsectarian university in the United States and the first to use the elective course system.

Jefferson wished to draw the brightest youth to Virginia so they could be educated to serve the fledgling republican (small “r”) nation. In 1800, Jefferson wrote of his vision for such a university:

“We wish to establish in the upper country of Virginia, and more centrally for the State, a University on a plan so broad and liberal and modern, as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us.”

Therefore, it would be a public university funded by public money to serve a public purpose.

The foregoing should act as a caution to all of the so-called education reformers. Jefferson was proud of creating a publicly-funded university to serve the public interest. The current wave of creating privately-run charter schools would have probably struck him as counterproductive to the public good. The notion that the function of school is to produce workers to benefit private capital he would have probably found anathema.

It is true that Jefferson’s vision was what some might call “elitist” today. The University of Virginia was not for everyone, just the “brightest” youth (not to mention male and white). These “brightest” most likely would come from well-off families whose children could afford the time for idle study rather than the backbreaking work of farming that was the occupation of most Americans at the time. By our standards the University of Virginia’s mission as conceived by Jefferson was elitist and narrow.

But by the standards of his time Jefferson’s vision exemplified republican egalitarianism. Rather than birth determining how far one could rise, like it did in Europe, Jefferson saw a country where people rose according to their abilities. The University of Virginia reflected the Jeffersonian ideal of a meritocratic republican society.

By the time Jefferson founded his university in 1819 he was already an American icon. He had served two terms as president between 1801 and 1809 in which his greatest accomplishment, the Louisiana Purchase, ended up doubling the size of the United States. Today’s school children learn that the Louisiana Purchase was born out of America’s desire for the port of New Orleans, Napoleon’s need for cash and Jefferson’s willingness to push presidential powers to the limit to further the young nation’s interests. All of this is true but it certainly is not the whole story.

The title of Gordon Wood’s most recent book Empire of Liberty, which covers the early days of the American republic, is lifted from Thomas Jefferson. One of Jefferson’s goals for the Louisiana Purchase was to divide the territory bought from Napoleon into individual plots to be sold to American homesteaders at cheap prices. He hoped it would draw the growing American population out west and ensure that every American would own a certain minimal piece of land. This type of economic equality was necessary for political equality in Jefferson’s view. Enormous concentrations of wealth, which he saw as a tendency of the proto-capitalist system emerging in the north at the time, was anathema to a Jeffersonian republic of equal citizens.

Along with these homesteads, Jefferson hoped to reserve land in the new territory for public schools. He dreamed of a school system accessible to all (white male landowners) where people would be educated in republican virtues and Enlightenment thinking. These schools would instill a set of republican core values within the population and ensure the continued survival of republican government. Jefferson dreamed of a public school system that was a civic institution. This, along with cheap land, would be tremendous steps towards making all people equal, thereby fulfilling the promise of his Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson hoped that after a generation of homesteading and public schooling the population would be firm believers in equality. A continent of free and freedom-loving Americans united by common values, language and customs was Jefferson’s dream of an “Empire of Liberty”. Such an empire would have no use for a central government. Jefferson hoped that the state would no longer be necessary after the people were sufficiently “equal” and republican. At the very least he envisioned an American continent of 4 or 5 smallish countries living in peace due to a common belief in republican equality. Schools were to be an integral part of Jefferson’s Empire of Liberty.

While Jefferson certainly is not the first American to articulate a vision of public schooling he was probably the most important. The Pilgrims who landed in Massachusetts made public education a centerpiece of their “city upon a hill”. Under British rule, the Anglican Church established schools throughout the colonies to ensure loyalty to British institutions. Jefferson is important because his was a vision of schooling uniquely American, embodying American values as he saw them. We can never totally ignore nor totally escape the Jeffersonian influence upon our education system.

But that has not been from a lack of trying. Self-styled school reformers of our age prey upon public assumptions of what schooling is: a way for Americans to learn skills so they can “get a job” thereby keeping America “competitive” in a “globalized economy”. Essentially, schools are seen as the handmaiden of capital producing cheap labor for those who own the capital. This is why the reformer program of privately-run charters and results-based education (as measured by standardized testing) have resonated for so long.

This is because the school system as we know it today was largely the brainchild of capital. It was the Carnegies and Rockefellers of the world, the first generation of capitalists, who lobbied for the creation of a public school system. It was seen as a way to save the capitalists the trouble of training the workforce themselves. They found ready allies in nativist Americans who were put off by the strange new immigrants entering the country around the turn of the 20th century. For them, schools were a way to train the children of immigrants in American values. The nativists were closer to the Jeffersonian ideal of schooling than the capitalists.

In 2013 it is safe to say that the capitalist influence has won. The biggest engines for reform are modern-day tycoon families with names like Gates, Broad and Walton. The language they use to describe schools reflects the jargon of an economics classroom, as do the charts they use to measure the learning process. Education reform as we know it today can be seen as an effort on behalf of the capitalist class to press their claims regarding the school system to its ultimate conclusion.

If the corporatists win the battle for our public schools then Jefferson’s vision of schooling dies. Jefferson was a champion of publicly-funded schools serving the public good for an egalitarian republican nation. The reformers see the public good in terms of what is good for the corporate class. The nation, republican values, egalitarianism are anathema to them.

And why shouldn’t they be? Modern-day corporatists know no nation. They move money and jobs around the globe with ease no matter what impact that might have on the United States, not to mention the rest of the world. Republican values are seen as a threat to the corporatists since it might stir up the citizenry enough to demand the government curb the abuses of capital. Egalitarianism might as well mean pure “socialism” to the corporatists who wield their influence over the state to create a wholly stratified nation.

Jefferson is the biggest enemy of corporate school reform.

Those of us who oppose the corporatist takeover of our schools should draw from the deep Jeffersonian reservoir. He reminds us that schooling does not have to be about myopic policies to foster “achievement” and “competitiveness”. He reminds us that schools were a way to put all people on an equal footing, With the moral progress we have made since the time of Jefferson, equality has come to take on a much broader meaning. His equality was one between white males. We know now that we have the tools as well as the duty to broaden the meaning of equality, taking it places that Jefferson himself dared not dream.

Public schooling should be a civic institution that helps bring that most perfect of Jeffersonian documents to fruition. Public schools should be part of a grand project to fulfill the Declaration of Independence, the accomplishment Jefferson himself was most proud.

These are the ideological foundations for the backlash against corporate school reform. Look to Thomas Jefferson and then go beyond the limitations of his era.



Gun control is the issue of the moment. The talking points are being presented within the usual left versus right matrix to which we’re accustomed in this country. The Fox News crowd screams about how the 2nd Amendment is a right given to us by the Founding Fathers to protect against tyrannical government. The MSNBC lot points out that less gun control means more guns, and more guns means more gun violence.

As usual, the two camps are not budging an inch. What is particularly remarkable in this debate, especially as it has played out in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, is how both sides are completely wrong. The networks have muddled the issue so much that one wonders if any of the talking heads they place in front of the cameras have ever placed their noses in a history book.

Only a sane minority have the right stance on gun control, a stance I will explain to you free of charge. With this knowledge you will be able to bludgeon your coworkers with cold logic and historical fact.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution were added by the first ever Congress. They were included to safeguard some of our rights, both as individuals and as states, lest the federal government get out of control. Collectively, these ten amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights.

So far we agree, no? So stay with me as we get to the meat and potatoes of this argument.

The Founding Fathers were profoundly shaped by their experiences as subjects of the British Empire in both good and bad ways. One of the good ways was their inheritance of British Whig sensibilities, which carried with it a belief that the individual was entitled to certain rights.

The Founding Fathers experienced first hand all of the methods a monarchy employed to subvert the rights of individuals. One of those ways was by employing a standing army. Standing armies were dangerous because they were loyal only to the crown, were totally unaccountable to the people and were always at the ready to enforce the arbitrary will of the king (or Parliament) when softer methods of coercion were exhausted.

If the new federal government of the Americans had control of a standing army, it would have been just a matter of time until it used that army in dangerous ways. At least this was the article of faith held by the Founding Fathers. All of them knew, including the general George Washington, that standing armies had no place in free republics. It is a well-known fact that one of Washington’s heroes was Cincinnatus, the Roman aristocrat who led an army that saved the Roman republic, then relinquished all of his power to return to the life of a simple Roman patrician. On at least two occasions Washington relinquished power when he could have easily continued to wield it absolutely: first when he relinquished command of the Continental Army and then when he stepped down after his second term as President.

The Founders would be damned if a standing army became part of any republic they created.

Yet, there was no ignoring geopolitical realities. The British, still hot at losing the  War for Independence, dominated both the seas with their navy and the land immediately west of the Appalachians by continuing to garrison troops there. (Despite the fact that it was American land by the terms of the Treaty of Paris.)

Spain still held sizable colonies on the American continent, including control of the Mississippi River. The Father of Waters was a valuable artery of commerce for the fledgling American republic. At any point they wished, the Spanish could cut off America’s access to it. Indeed, Spain did do this from time to time as a way to entice the western American states to join them. The prospect of unlimited access to the Mississippi did lead to serious talk of secession in states like Ohio and Kentucky.

And then there were the Native Americans. The tribes west of the Appalachians were readying themselves to defend their hunting grounds against the inevitable flood of American settlers to come. They were armed and trained by the British in this endeavor, making tribes like the Shawnee formidable, dangerous and determined opponents of the new American republic.

America was beset with enemies on all sides. There had to be a way to defend America from external enemies without falling into the trap of creating a standing army. It was a circle that was easily squared by the Founding Fathers.

The answer was a well-regulated militia. Many Founders deeply admired the Roman republic and Athenian democracy of antiquity. Athens, a tiny city-state beset with menacing neighbors like Sparta and Persia, kicked some serious butt with their version of a”well-regulated militia.” Athens’ military consisted of citizen-soldiers, men who farmed for a living but had arms at the ready in case their city-state needed to be defended. These citizen-soldiers were called hoplites and they came together to form the phalanx, the most fearsome fighting force of the ancient Mediterranean. Their tight-knit formations, the way they compensated for their lack of training by sticking together and fighting hard to defend their farms, wives, children and temples, were able to defeat the biggest, most well-supplied and professionally trained army of the era: the mighty Persians.

America, in the minds of the Founders, was in a similar boat to ancient Athens. They were a free people surrounded by tyrants who commanded massive standing armies. The answer to this was to allow the people of the free nation to keep their own arms at the ready in the event they needed to defend their homeland against attack. What they lacked in training they would make up for in  motivation. What’s more, an armed populace would obviate the need for a standing army that was a hallmark of tyranny.

Hence, the first words of the 2nd Amendment are: “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…” It was self-evident to the Founders that the militia would fight America’s wars. They believed that any war in which America found itself would be defensive since offensive wars were the pursuit of tyrants who wished to build empires. Defensive wars as a rule are easier to fight. Quite simply, there was absolutely no reason in the minds of any of the Founding Fathers for America to have a highly-trained professional military ready to strike any moment. There was absolutely every reason for America to avoid such an institution at all costs.

The 2nd Amendment was a no-brainer for the Founders. It was designed to provide for the 18th century version of the ancient Athenian hoplite: the free farmer with musket in hand.

This is where the meat of the argument ends. In all of the palaver coming over the airwaves in recent weeks about gun control, does any of this ever get mentioned? Has there been any effort by either the right or the left to truly educate the country on the meaning of the 2nd Amendment?

In many ways, the story of 19th century America is the story of the slow demise of the militia. General William Henry Harrison’s militia was unable to score a decisive defeat over the Native American force led by Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe. America lost many key land battles to the British during the War of 1812, culminating in the burning down of the President’s Mansion (later called the “White House” after the burns were painted over with the cheapest color paint available at the time). Instead, most of America’s biggest victories during the War of 1812 were won by the navy, the most professional branch of the military. Even the Battle of New Orleans, where General Andrew Jackson decimated a force of redcoats a few weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was officially signed, was won  with a hybrid force of militia and professional military. Jackson had complained throughout the war that his militia men were ill-trained cowards and lobbied vigorously to get more professionally trained men into his ranks, which is what he had at New Orleans.

But the culmination of all of these 19th century conflicts, from Tippecanoe in 1811 until the Spanish-American War in 1898, was the creation of the American standing army. The Spanish-American War was truly our first offensive intercontinental war in the name of empire. After acquiring Spain’s colonies in the Caribbean and Asia we fully instituted a standing army to keep guard over them. There was no outcry that this development effectively rendered the 2nd Amendment irrelevant. There was no outcry that it totally went against everything the Founding Fathers stood for. It was self-evident that the 20th century for America was the age of empire. Empire requires a standing army. The 2nd Amendment remained in the quaint 18th-century where it belonged.

The 2nd Amendment was buried the moment America attained an intercontinental empire. Nobody mentioned the 2nd Amendment. Nobody thought about it. Time had passed it by and nobody batted an eyelash. It was not until very recently, maybe within the past 30 to 40 years or so, that certain interests  attempted to resurrect the ghosts of the 2nd Amendment for their own myopic agendas. Namely, gun manufacturers and their lickspittles on the right

The Cold War ensured that the production of weapons, or what Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex”, became a major fact of everyday American life, a healthy chunk of the GDP and the lion’s share of the federal budget. It was only natural that guns designed to kill Commies, built in American factories, would somehow spill onto Main Street, USA. These guns were not the Colt .45s that made every man equal on the frontier. These guns were weapons of mass destruction, implements of modern-age warfare.

And thanks to the slick propaganda of the gun lobby, people began to honestly believe that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington wanted Americans (preferably all Americans), to handle these pieces of machinery as a civic duty. I mean, it’s right there in the 2nd Amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Of course, the propaganda never mentioned the responsibility of those who owned these arms to fight for their country when duty called. Of course not. According to the gun lobby, the only responsibility gun owners had was to clean their instruments of mass death and lock them away in a safe place so grandma doesn’t accidentally get her head blown off. Is this not what the Founding Fathers had in mind?

It is also not a little bit ironic that many of the same people who see the 2nd Amendment in this way vote for political candidates who send the boys and girls of the actual standing army overseas to die in imperialist war. They don yellow ribbons and have bumper stickers telling the world they “support the troops”, yet they have no problems sending those troops off to meet mechanized death.

They support only the part of the 2nd Amendment that says they can have a gun. They ignore the other part that says that having the gun requires them to fight for their country. They fully support our troops by allowing them to fulfill that responsibility for them. “I own the gun. Let someone else do the dying.” This is the real motto of most gun enthusiasts today.

This is the gun debate in America today.  It is gun nuts wrapping themselves in the 2nd Amendment without understanding one bit what it means. They quote the Founding Fathers without one iota of appreciation for the context in which they were writing and the intellectual universe they inhabited. It is liberals who are afraid of calling them out on their ignorance, lest they be accused of opposing the Bill of Rights and being “un-American”. Instead, the liberals relegate themselves to spouting sterile statistics about gun violence in other countries to justify “gun control” laws here in America, laws that merely aim to reduce gun ownership instead of eliminating it.

What is the point of citing the examples of nations that allow absolutely no gun ownership if you’re not going to call for absolutely no gun ownership?

I support your right to bear arms under one condition: the next time America is in a war, you’re the first one in line with your cache of weapons to defend the country. Only then will you be coming close to the spirit of the 2nd Amendment.

But if you want to totally fulfill the spirit of the 2nd Amendment, then you must call for the elimination of the standing army. You must call for the shuttering of every single American army, navy and air base both here and abroad. You must pull all American troops out of every foreign country: Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Japan and South Korea. You must then fire all of the men and women of the armed forced. You must want to convert the Pentagon into something else, maybe a museum or low-rent housing for the poor. You must call for the elimination of the entire defense budget.

You must then raise your hand and say “I am here with my gun ready to defend the flag I so fondly wave around and the Bill of Rights in which I so firmly believe.

Then, and only then, will I support your right to bear arms.

Yes, I am a true believer in the 2nd Amendment.

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?



Andrew Rotherham’s Advice for Obama II

The Devil always knocks on your door with a smile.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece where notable Democrats offered what they would like to see come out of a second Obama Administration.

For education, the WSJ chose our pal Andrew Rotherham. Rotherham leads Bellwether Education Partners and runs the Eduwonk blog.  I love Andy because his writings provide insight as to what the education deformers are thinking and doing.

Rotherham gets right to the point:

President Obama had a pretty good run on education policy in his first term. Even Republican governors frequently cite the issue as one where they can agree with the president. The bad news? Education special interests are pushing back and momentum is slowing.

Rotherham is saying essentially the same thing as Diane Ravitch and many others: there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican vision for education. Rotherham himself is listed as a “Democrat”, yet is one of the most strident apologists for charters, testing, Common Core and the rest of the corporate reform agenda.

What concerns Andy here is the fact that “education special interests are pushing back” against his beloved policies. By “special interests”, does he mean the Chicago Teachers’ Union, who will most likely begin an extremely important strike today? Does he know that the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators won control of the CTU after tireless organizing of not only school staff, but of parents and students as well? Should the parents and students of Chicago be categorized as a “special interest”? What about the hundreds of students, parents and teachers who showed up to Brooklyn Tech this past February to protest another round of Bloomberg’s school closings, a protest that the actual “special interest”, the United Federation of Teachers, failed to support?

Categorizing actual members of the communities that are being destroyed by education reform as “special interests” is a clever sleight of hand on Rotherham’s part. People tend to associate that term with self-interested bigwigs, like our union here in NYC, with no real interest outside of themselves. It is Andy’s self-serving narrative that pits heroes like himself against entrenched mossbacks like the big bad teachers’ unions. The only union pushing back is the CTU, and they have been all but disowned by their national parent, the AFT under Randi Weingarten.

Rotherham flips the narrative here. He lauds Race to the Top which continues to be a boon to “special interests”: testing companies, charter operators and hedge fundies. A “special interest” is an organization that tricks people on the internet into signing a phony pledge so that organization can count your click as actual membership in their organization (StudentsFirst?). A “special interest” is a charter school operator that goes outside of the school district they wish to invade in order to get “parent signatures” (Eva Moskowitz?). Special interests are astroturf organizations, the ones for which Rotherham shills so effectively.

Congress is now five years behind schedule to update the No Child Left Behind law. That impasse led Mr. Obama to provide some flexibility to states struggling with the law’s requirements. But this has created a highly uneven accountability system. Virginia, for instance, was given approval for a plan that held its schools accountable for passing less than 60% of African-American and low-income students by 2017. After a public outcry, the administration is now forcing Virginia to raise its ambitions—but other states are quietly lowering expectations. The president will need to insist upon a rigorous accountability floor for students currently underserved by public schools. Without one, little else in federal policy will matter.

So it seems that not only do Republicans approve of Obama’s education policy, but “Democrats” like Rotherham approve of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. Rotherham admonishes us for being “five years behind schedule” of the goals set for us by the testing companies and textbook publishers about a decade ago. Virginia is failing 60% of its black student body, a statistic that obviously is the fault of the school system. They are being “underserved by public schools.”

Rotherham is able to write in such thick, simplistic terms because he is allowed to do so. To most of the country, this is what the education debate is about: pass rates, test scores and failing schools. It is not the poverty of that 60% of Virginia’s black population, nor the system that spawned such inequality. No, our socioeconomic system is just fine. It is the schools’ fault, and the lazy teachers that are nothing more than a “special interest”.

This is not a policy discussion. This is escapism, a fantasy land where all things are equal except the schools. Pass rates are ripped out of context and placed in a vacuum. It is in this vacuum where reformers like Rotherham excel. There is nothing to see here but the same old “failing schools” tripe that has been fed to us for the past 10 years. I guess the fact the country is “five years behind” is not in any way an indictment of the NCLB law that Rotherham supports. Accountability for everyone except the people who formulate and support the same failed policies year after year.

The Race to the Top competition led states to compete for federal education money by designing ambitious improvement plans. The first and second rounds were genuine, but the third round was little more than a guaranteed consolation prize for the also-rans. Meanwhile, a Race to the Top competition for early-childhood education was so small that no state made dramatic policy changes to win it. But a competitive model can encourage policy innovation. A second-term Obama administration can apply it elsewhere in education—for special education or English-language learners, for instance—but only if the competitions are real and the dollars large enough to give states an incentive to change.

The sterile words that Rotherham uses masks the fact that he is pushing educational poison in this paragraph. First, why should schools compete for federal funding in the first place? Is there any nation on earth with a successful school system that does this? (The answer is no, by the way.)

And the Race to the Top, the competition that Rotherham wants to ramp up, is competition based on test scores. It is funny how nowhere in this entire piece does Rotherham use the term “standardized test”, even though this is exactly what he is pushing. This I take as a minor victory. The advocates of real public education have successfully branded that term with the negative connotation it deserves. Notice how Rotherham does not get anywhere close to using it.

If he did, then people would be able to realize that he is advocating standardized exams for kindergarten. That is what he means when he says the “a Race to the Top competition for early-childhood ed was so small that no state made dramatic policy changes to win it.” He is encouraging Obama to force schools to get to testing as soon as children fall out of the womb.

He does not stop there. At the end of the paragraphs, Rotherham advocates for using standardized exam scores to determine funding for English Language Learners and students with learning disabilities. He wants every last federal dollar slotted for our neediest students to be based on a nationwide competition for the highest exam score. What if a group of special needs students fail the test? They get no funding, obviously.

Finally, Rotherham wants to tackle public universities head-on:

The president rightly began to regulate for-profit colleges in his first term because the data are starkly clear that many students are ill-served by these schools. In a second term, Mr. Obama should seek to apply similar accountability to all colleges and universities. Too many for-profit colleges are bad actors, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t the same problems among traditional public and private colleges and universities.

Forget about the for-profit colleges, the ones who run TV ads in the middle of the day offering viewers the world. Forget about charging the poorest people in the nation upwards of $60,000 for fake internships, online classes and minimum-wage school staff without the standing to call themselves “professors”. Rotherham believes Obama has regulated them. The real problem are those other universities with the tenured faculty. They need to be “regulated”. I suppose that means more laws from the Obama administration making online courses for universities more widely available, qualified professors less available and tuition even more expensive than it is now. After all, that is exactly what “regulation” brought us in the for-profit college sector.

Or, maybe like David Brooks, he wants all college students to take standardized exams and all professors to be judged on a “value-added” metric. For Rotherham, it is about cradle-to-grave testing. The next step is to force senior citizens to take an exam before they can collect their first Social Security check.

This is why I love Andrew Rotherham. Nobody advocates such extreme and evil policies with such innocuous language. You would think he actually cares for education in America if you did not know the layer of meaning contained just below the surface of those words.

Despite his benign delivery, Rotherham is an extremist, an educational Jihadist with a one-track mind. Unfortunately, he reflects the educational policy for the Democratic Party. A Republican could not have such a forked tongue without being called out on it.

The Disuniting of America

An interesting article I read not too long ago describes some problems with the study of history in the United States today.

The author starts by describing a recent case heard by Montana’s Supreme Court. The court upheld the state constitution’s ban on corporations donating directly to political campaigns. In order to justify its decision, the justices cited many works of history in order to recreate the thinking of the time period in which the ban was instituted, which was almost 100 years ago. As a history teacher, it is good to see courts using history to come to what seems like a just ruling.

However, according to the author, most of the books to which the justices referred were all published before 1977. The reason, according to him, is that books of political history have been hard to come by since that time. Instead, the study of history has been dominated by gender and race. To him, this is an unmitigated tragedy and a blow to the more traditional historical concentrations, like politics, war and foreign relations.

My own feelings on this issue are mixed. History, by its definition, tends to be a conservative field of study. I remember the tragedy of 9/11 taking place during my second year as a history teacher. People were walking around saying “this is the worst day in American history”. Although their feelings were justified given the magnitude of the tragedy, I thought back to things like Pearl Harbor or the Battle of Antietam and realized that there were days when our country had it worse. 9/11 was certainly the defining tragedy of our era, sort of Generation X’s version of the Kennedy assassination, but I will never concede that it was the worst day in our history.

Because history tends to be conservative, it is true that high school and college curriculums used to focus on the doings of dead white men. In order to counterbalance this, the 1960s and 1970s saw a new wave of historians, writers and researchers focused more and more on the struggles of ethnic minorities and women. The pinnacle of this movement is probably represented by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. A walk through the history section of the bookstore, or a quick scan of history classes offered at universities, shows a thriving movement of historical study as seen through the lens of minorities and women.

On the one hand, I believe this movement was necessary because minorities and women were indeed made invisible in the history curricula of old. On the other hand, I sympathize with the sentiments of those who believe that the ethnic and gender movement in historical study has gone too far. The people who believe that it has gone too far are not all right-wingers either. The eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a book entitled The Disuniting of America towards the end of his life where he bemoaned what ethnic and gender studies have done to history. More recently, one of my favorite historians,  and probably the greatest living expert on early American history, Gordon Wood, has made no secret of his distaste for the same. Conservatism cuts in many ways. Both of these men, while sensitive to the need to include minorities and women in all historical accounts, are merely defending what they see as the dissolution of the traditions that have made history a valuable subject and art form.

A story from my own experience can perhaps demonstrate what these scholars are criticizing. Years ago I had to take one of those graduate level education classes for my permanent state license. Most of my classmates were elementary school teachers in their early-mid twenties, most of them women. One of our assignments required us to give a presentation of a unit we would teach to our classes. One of my aforementioned elementary school teacher classmates gave a presentation about a unit on early American history. I do not remember all of what she presented. What I do know is that, over and over and over again, she said to us “and the Founding Fathers got their idea of the Constitution from the Iroquois.” or “did you know that it was the Iroquois who gave the Founding Fathers the idea for the Constitution?” She said it with rapt enthusiasm. You could tell that she expressed the same type of enthusiasm when she taught it to her own students.

Whenever students come into my class with plain wrong ideas of American history that they picked up from elementary and junior high school, I always think about that teacher. She was referring to the Iroquois Confederacy and how it bears resemblance to the federalist structure of the Constitution, or the division of powers between state and federal government. This was a popular thesis during the 1980s, a time when many ethnic and gender reinterpretations of American history were coming out. Here is the problem: there is not one shred of evidence to conclude that the Founders were at all inspired by the Iroquois. Now, this does not mean that the Iroquois did not have an enlightened and effective system of decision-making, one that united many tribes of the northeast United States. It simply means that there is no evidence of direct influence of the elegant system of the Iroquois on our own elegant system.

The Founders who were at the Constitutional Convention bequeathed to us thousands of pages of writings: transcripts from the convention, newspaper articles debating pros and cons of specific measures and personal correspondences. Together, they give us a wonderful glimpse into the time period. This means not only the things they debated, but the assumptions they held. A close reading gives us a sense of the intellectual universe they shared. One thing is painfully clear from their writings: they moved in an intellectual universe that was heavily European. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, buried himself in histories of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as studies of British common law and the British constitution (which is not a written constitution as we know it), in order to prepare himself for the Constitutional Convention. He was also intimately familiar with the workings of each colonial government, which themselves were heavily influenced by England. Furthermore, the Founders shared the European arrogance towards Native Americans in thinking they were savages with very little to contribute to civilized life, including the workings of civilized government. In short, not only were the Founders not inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy, they had no motivation to be inspired by them.

This is where Schlesinger and Wood believe the ethnic and gender movement in history has gone too far. In a mad dash to give a more prominent place to groups who have traditionally been ignored, our bookshelves and our curricula have been littered with specious and questionable historical theories. By teaching her students that the Iroquois influenced the Founding Fathers, that teacher gave her students an incorrect impression of American history. While we as teachers of inner city students might feel a need to make minorities and women an important part of our curriculum, we also have to keep in mind that the end goal of history is not to boost self-esteem. We merely cannot pervert and distort facts to come to wrong conclusions just to make ourselves and our students feel good about themselves. By doing this, we lose the art, the interpretation and the pursuit of truth that the study of history is meant to be.

In fact, there is no need at all to lie or distort history to give women and minorities a prominent role. Any history teacher that knows the subject will be easily able to provide examples of the contributions of all types of groups to the American story. Lying or stretching the truth only ends up doing a disservice. It is intellectually dishonest. Even worse, what if the student later finds out the truth about a lie they were taught about a woman or minority group? The damage can have long-lasting impacts.

The bright side is that there are still political, military and diplomatic histories out there. They are tougher to find for sure, but these traditional histories are still around for anyone determined enough to track them down. What is more, owing to the push for greater inclusion since the 1970s, these more traditional types of histories are sure to have the women and minority characters that histories of a previous era might have lacked. Gordon Wood himself is a prime example. His breathtaking renditions of early American history seamlessly include the roles of dead white men and women, as well as those dead people of color. Looking at most of the histories associated with the Oxford History of the United States, I would say most of them do the same thing. What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe is especially adept at weaving the experiences of white men, upper class women, free blacks, enslaved southerners, Native Americans and Hispanics into an era of American history that has traditionally been associated with one racist white man: Andrew Jackson.

Students often ask me “when are we going to learn about my people?” This is the type of divisive tribalism that has been engendered by the overreach of the ethnic and feminist movements in the study of history. There is so much I want to say to the student who says this. “Why don’t you study it yourself?”, “who are your people?”  or “what does it mean to have a people?” However, what I often say is “all people are our people”. Anyone who has read history to any extent realizes that it is impossible to separate these people from those people. There are usually six degrees of separation between any two cultures. Somewhere along the way, cultures have borrowed ideas, goods and practices from other cultures, who have adapted it from other cultures. It is common for a student from, say, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic to blurt out “what were my people doing at this time?” when studying ancient Rome. They are shocked to hear that Puerto Rican or Dominican culture as they know it was still a long way off from being forged. That lesson will have to wait until Columbus’ major mistake of 1492.

I fear that this is one of the destructive legacies of the ethnic and feminist movement in history. As the title of Schlesinger’s book, The Disuniting of America, suggests, studying history in this way encourages us to see people as part of an identity. We atomize history into black history, feminist history, Hispanic history, Asian-American history and we lose sight of the fact that we inhabit this country and this planet together. Critics like to call people who study history in this manner “Marxist”, but I doubt Marx or any champion of the working class would approve of dividing people in this way. I would label this merely “liberal” because it is in step with the identity and culture war politics in which elitist liberals of today excel. It is a great way to get the poor classes to divide from each other, argue over what group gets which month and take our minds off of the class oppression that transcends all ethnic and gender identities.

This brings me to another point made in the article I cited in the beginning. The author bemoans how university history departments across the country hire a disproportionate number of Democrats. How he can be sure that this is the case is beyond me. I will concede, however, that most historians I know of and read seem to have a leftist bent. The author ascribes this to discriminatory hiring practices. For my part, I think things are a lot less sinister. Quite simply, historical facts tend to have a leftist bias. As I have heard others express it before, “facts tend to lean to the left.”

It is tough to imagine how one can call themselves an historian and a Republican in 2012. Being a Republican today not only requires the traditional GOP faith in markets and the private sector, but it requires an entire reading of American history that bears no resemblance to any history book I know of. What historian is going to believe, in good conscience, that the Founding Fathers were Christian fundamentalists  who believed cutting taxes for the wealthy and allowing corporations to do as they please was the “American way”? In Nixon’s era, it was possible for one to be an historian and a Republican, since the GOP had yet to go off the deep end at that point. Today, however, you either know something about American history, or you are a Republican/Libertarian.

During the 1970s, well after the protests of the 60s had revealed that the intelligentsia was overwhelmingly leftist, wealthy right-wing interests established an entire infrastructure of their own dedicated to spinning an alternate reality. This included the creation of private colleges dedicated to the teachings of right-wing extremism, like Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It also included the establishment of think-tanks dedicated to spinning an entire web of right-wing reality, like the Heritage Foundation. These organizations were established because it was feared that the leftist intelligentsia had a hold on the minds of youngsters. During the 1970s, progressive government had been in the saddle for decades, or so they seemed to believe. The youth of tomorrow promised to imbibe the leftist program thanks to liberal universities, then they would go on to be tomorrow’s leftist voters. There needed to be an alternative way of seeing history and public policy, one that could compete with the leftists who controlled the education system. This movement to establish a parallel, conservative universe has been wildly successful. It has been one of the major reasons why ultra-conservative government has been in the saddle since Reagan.

So I believe it when the author of the article says that leftists are in history departments across the country. Liberal arts departments are some of the only places where leftists can wield any type of influence any more. The halls of government are cut off to them, as are the major media outlets. Sadly, the defunding of state universities and the paltry opportunities people have to make a living with liberal arts degrees are choking off even this small enclave for leftists.

What all of this represents, from the way we study history to the way universities hire, is a fracturing of America’s social fabric. The culprits are liberals who partake in identity politics and conservatives who live in a hermetically sealed fantasy world.

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.