Tag Archives: occupy wall street

Occupy’s Two-Year Anniversary: It’s All in the Data


Occupy Wall Street was the first major event that I wrote about on this blog. Until this day I feel fortunate for working in such close proximity to Zuccotti Park. It afforded me an opportunity to be part of an event that I believe will eventually define the coming historical era. While the original occupations fizzled out due to general disorganization and authoritarian repression, that does not mean the movement itself will not resurface at some point in some form in the future, bigger than before. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to agree with this prediction if they were in downtown Manhattan a few days ago on the second anniversary of Occupy.

Walking past Zuccotti Park at seven-thirty in the AM on that day was a depressing sight. The entire perimeter was blocked off with metal police barricades, not to mention police. They were allowing the first trickle of protesters in as I was on my way to work. Seeing 5 or 6 young protesters in the middle of the square setting up shop while dozens of officers ringed the park was a far cry from what the place looked like two years ago. Back then a sea of humanity overflowed the benches, the floors and the sidewalks while the police tenuously occupied a sliver of the curb on Broadway, helplessly looking on as people exercised all types of freedoms right in front of them. Now it was the police who overflowed the park, firmly entrenched on all four sides while protesters sheepishly trickled in between the blue uniforms.

Later in the day, as I stepped out to grab lunch, I bore witness to a tame march of protesters circling the block of Zuccotti Park. They were relatively quiet, controlled in their movements and all held up signs with exactly the same size fonts and lettering. Each sign hearkened back to many of the messages of the original protest: “Stop Stop and Frisk”, “Get Money Out of Politics”, etc. But the spontaneity, the disorganization and the general exuberance were gone. The police looked on seemingly pleased at the good behavior of the young people who quietly passed through the narrow corridor of sidewalk they had left available. As the old police cliché goes, there was truly nothing to see here.

In fact, the real spectacle was on my side of Trinity Place across the street from the park. As I loitered by the phone booths smoking a post-lunch menthol, a different sea of humanity was passing by me as well. This humanity was much nosier and much less organized than the protesters across the street. Instead of holding signs with political messages, this sea of humanity was holding cameras and maps of Manhattan. That is right: it was a sea of tourists stopping to gawk at, and snap pictures of, the puny exercise in democracy taking place across the street. Ironically, this sea of unruly tourists did not have any NYPD officers circumscribing where they could walk.

It was at that point that I realized I was watching history unfold. On the Zuccotti side of the street, you had the protesters who stood against everything Pharaoh Bloomberg’s New York City had become. On my side of the street, you had the tourists who reveled in everything Pharaoh Bloomberg’s New York City had become. My side represented the era of repression and commercialism that is on its way out. The Zuccotti side represented the era of free association and community that is yet to be born.

To the tourists who pass through downtown Manhattan, everything is a spectacle. While Trinity Church, Federal Hall and even the giant-testicled bull at the foot of Broadway are nice photo opportunities, the tourists take things much further. Most of these out-of-towners are either coming from, or trying to get to, the 9/11 Memorial. They skip lightly with their children in tow, oftentimes herded down the street by tour guides with light blue 9/11 Memorial shirts on. “Let’s keep moving. We’re almost there” these tour guides can be heard saying to their pliant charges. They usually form a bottleneck along Cedar Street outside of the Ho Yip Chinese buffet as they shuffle along. Some of them even return the death glares that one lone history teacher throws them as they pass by, although they cannot return the menthol smoke he directs into their faces.

It is always a party atmosphere along Cedar Street. The only problem is that they are going to see two giant holes in the ground where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives 12 years ago. They will snap some pictures and then come back outside where they can stop at the 9/11 Memorial gift store to pick up World Trade Center memorabilia. The entire spectacle, from the obnoxious digital cameras to the pushy tour guides to the oblivious foreigners to the cackling children, is a giant Bloombergian farce.

One cannot totally blame the tourists for what downtown Manhattan has become. Thanks to Pharaoh Bloomberg, Larry Silverstein and the bloodsucking state politicians in Albany, what should be hallowed ground and a national reminder of our shared history is instead a hokey exercise in commercialism. Compare the 9/11 Memorial to the monuments in Washington, D.C. like the Lincoln or FDR or World War II memorials. Sure, those places can have floods of tourists too. However, at the end of the day, they are public spaces. They are shared spaces. They are civic spaces. There are no gift shops around them. There is not a constant parade of tour groups being led single-file by obnoxious guides who admonish them to keep up, monopolizing the small strips of public space that exist. Visitors to these places are not asked or guilted into making “donations” to the monument. One cannot buy a mug with an image of the D-Day invasion down the block from the World War II Memorial.

Even if there were all of those things around our national monuments in D.C., it would still be more tolerable than what has become of what used to be the World Trade Center area. Lincoln was killed 148 years ago. FDR died and World War II ended 68 years ago. There is a good chance that people involved in those events are not living and working in the D.C. area anymore. On the other hand, downtown Manhattan still has many residents and workers who were there in 2001. Some of them might have even narrowly escaped with their lives. Some of them might still suffer illnesses from breathing in the acrid smoke. Some of them, including police and firefighters, might have even saved people’s lives or lost friends that day. And yet, the survivors of this national tragedy have to look on each day as downtown Manhattan turns into a circus. While Bloomberg is not totally at fault for this, it is certainly in step with the Bloomberg plan for the city.

This is what I saw on the 2nd anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. To the tourists, the Occupy protesters were a curiosity and a spectacle much like the 9/11 Memorial. They did not expect to see democracy in action when they showed up that day with their maps and their cameras. Metaphorically speaking, the three-ring circus was featuring the dancing bear but the out-of-towners got the bearded lady as a bonus as well. They oohed and aahed throughout both acts, snapping pictures the entire time.

Bloomberg can say that downtown Manhattan has bounced back. The independent eateries and souvenir shops that were around before 9/11 are certainly crammed with tourists now, many of whom have American dollars burning holes in their pockets after converting from Euros. The Freedom Tower is more or less complete, all 1776 feet of it. Yet, just like Bloomberg’s “successes” with public schools and fighting crime, it is a success on the surface only. One only has to dig an inch deep to find the rot that Bloomberg’s gild conceals.

At the end of the day, whether it is tourist dollars, test scores or crime stats, the only thing that has been accomplished under the reign of Pharaoh Bloomberg in NYC is an artful manipulation of numbers. Those numbers bear very little resemblance to reality. Tourist bucks are flowing in, yet downtown Manhattan still bears a national scar that has not been properly treated. Test scores are up (or at least they used to be), yet our students still have trouble making their way in the world after they graduate. Crime is down (or at least it used to be), yet many average New Yorkers are being robbed by a ridiculous cost of living. For the poorest New Yorkers, the NYPD has terrorized them in their own communities thanks to stop-and-frisk.

That is why when I was standing there between the Occupy protesters and the tourists, I was able to feel the tide of history wash over me. One side represented the dying Bloomberg era of optimistic data that continues to fool so many people. The other side represented the coming era of a mass awakening of what that data was always concealing.

On Occupy’s One Year Anniversary, The CTU Carries The Torch

I miss Occupy Wall Street. Even though it only lasted a few months, I have stories from there that I will remember forever.

My favorite thing to do was to head to Liberty Square after work, make a quick cardboard sign and stand on Broadway holding it. Making signs was a skill. The lettering had to be large enough for people to read but small enough to fit the point you were trying to make. I would always choose a smallish piece of cardboard in order to not block out anyone else’s sign. I got good enough where I could make a good point in a short sentence, sometimes even using statistics. I would never use slogans or clichés. The point being made had to be authentic and original.

I would head to Broadway with my sign and find a nice spot in the line of sign-holders. There was a healthy amount of foot and car traffic on Broadway that increased as the Occupy movement gained steam. It was a great feeling when a passer-by would lock eyeballs on my sign, read it and shake their heads in agreement. Sometimes they would come talk to me, either to ask a question or give me a compliment. All types of reporters threw me questions and there are still Youtube videos up made by independent journalists that contain interviews with me. Occasionally, students of mine would pass by and it became known around my school that I was going to the Occupy protests. The students were all very supportive, making it one of the best teachable moments of my career.

Of course, not everybody came to Occupy in support. There would be the occasional Wall Street guy or random angry person that would pass by and call us “communists” or “losers”. There were people who fancied themselves little Glenn Becks or Sean Hannitys who would walk down the line of sign holders trying to start debates. I would crave their attention. It did not take much. I would just stand there, staring straight in front of me and, boom, I was face to face with a street pundit who was going to put me in my place.

One of these guys was a self-professed libertarian, as most of these smart-alecks were. His debating style was not so much a give-and-take discussion as it was a yelling of libertarian clichés ad nauseam. He thought he had disposed of all the people in the line pretty easily, so he was real confident by the time he got to me. Unfortunately for him, I was all-too-familiar with libertarian talking points and knew exactly what he was going to say before he said it. He did not dispose of me quite as easily as he expected. Instead, he stayed there next to me yelling his point, the same sentences, over and over. A crowd started to gather, mostly passers-by who thought there was a fist fight brewing. I was completely calm knowing I would never get into a fist fight over a silly political debate. The circle grew with every moment. They were in rapt attention of the discussion going on. His point, as is the point of most libertarians, is that the government does not do anything right. For good measure, he called me a “union bum” because I was a teacher. For every one of his clichés, I calmly retorted a counterpoint. I asked him why he was so quick to yield power to his corporate masters, why he believed everything should be commodified and asked him if there would ever be a Hoover Dam, a subway system, public education or a highway system if the forces of profit were given the reigns of society. My point to him was that there were things that are necessary for the greater good, and just happen not to be profitable, so the government has a duty to step in and provide them. I ended by saying, “this sidewalk you’re standing on, you’re using it to voice your free speech and it was built and maintained by government. Why are you using this government sidewalk if you hate government so much?”

He walked away. He did not even go to the next protestor, he just left the vicinity. Many in the crowd of onlookers shook my hand and others offered their opinion on why the other guy was an idiot. One guy came up to me, well dressed with a foreign accent, and he said “you know, I agree with you. I have been out of a job for over a year and that guy just thinks it is so easy to find work.” He was really unsure of himself. I realized then that, although many in the crowd were relatively informed, there were others like him who were on the fence. For some of them, this might have been one of the only real political debates they have seen. I felt as if I had swayed a few minds to my way of thinking in that moment.

Those were my greatest moments at Occupy. Sure, connecting with people who shared my concerns on the dark path our nation treads is great. But being able to get those people who have never really thought about the way our country is headed  over to my side was so much better. What happened in those little moments at Occupy mirrored what was happening around the country. The movement was making people face the stark reality that our system needs change. People are suffering because the system is rigged to favor the well-to-do. A new vigor and honesty was injected into the public debate, one the media could not even ignore despite their best efforts to do so. This was Occupy’s greatest accomplishment.

Ever since the evictions, Occupy has never been able to regain the influence it had in those heady days of autumn 2011. Occupy’s one-year anniversary is coming up and events at Liberty Square are being planned. As we look upon the nation today, there is one glimmer of hope that Occupy’s spirit is still alive.

You have guessed it, it is in Chicago. The marches filling the streets of the Windy City are reminiscent of when Broadway was stacked for a mile with protestors. In both cases, the media totally underreport the numbers to portray it as some sort of fringe movement. The fight for better education in Chicago reminds me of the high and honest ideals people supported at Occupy. The exasperation over corporatism, privatization, commodification and political corruption define both movements. More importantly, they have forced the corporate media to discuss issues they would rather ignore. They have forced the media to do the job they are supposed to do, which is to inform and educate.

For example. the mainstream media usually portrays teacher evaluations based on test scores as a sensible measure. They merely parrot the billionaire privatizers. When they mention the concerns of teachers over these measures at all, they portray it as teachers resisting “accountability” and reinforce the notion that teachers oppose “improvements” to the education system. However, as the strike drags on, more and more op-ed pieces and media reports are forced to present more thoughtful analysis of the testing issue. Pieces are being written now that would have been unthinkable just a year ago. As time goes on, hopefully the issues of class size, teacher experience and childhood poverty will also be examined in greater detail.

And just like at Occupy, the media has done their best to not discuss these issues. With the Occupiers, it was all about how they did not know what they wanted, had no demands and were looking for handouts. As time went on, that myth was being exploded and the media had no choice but to mention the words “poverty” and “corporatism”. With the CTU, it is about how the teachers are striking for “more money” and “better benefits”. Yet, according to even Rahmbo himself, those issues are pretty much settled. The media has had no choice but to start to mention the impacts of testing and class size. I read a few editorials today that even mention how Rahm’s own children attend classes of 18 students, leading to the notion of how the privatization movement is creating a two-tiered education system: one for the wealthy and one for everyone else.

The CTU us shining a light on issues that the media has traditionally ignored. Just like with Occupy, these are issues that make the corporate masters who control the media uncomfortable. Just like with Occupy, the movement has gathered so much momentum that the media now has no choice but to grudgingly mention these issues. That in and of itself is a victory.

What I think of is all the people who have never thought of education before, or who have allowed the media to frame the education debate for them, having that moment of clarity where the truth finally clicks.. I saw it so many times at Liberty Square and I am excited to think that it is starting to happen now in the crusade to save public education.

Hats Off to the University of North Carolina Class of 2012

Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are organizing an Alternative Commencement Ceremony to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2012 without symbolically honoring New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will speak at the official University commencement on May 13th.

Students decided to organize the ceremony in light of Bloomberg’s support for what became a violent eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park, and the NYPD’s repression of credentialed journalists who attempted to enter the park during the eviction process. The students also take issue with Bloomberg’s handling of New York City public schools, for which he has received harsh criticism from teachers, parents, and community members. Organizers are further concerned by the recently exposed NYPD blanket surveillance of Muslim student groups and community centers across the northeast, and most recently by Bloomberg’s public support for the financial giant Goldman Sachs, which has been implicated in manipulative and fraudulent banking practices which contributed to the financial collapse of 2007.


This is what we need as Bloomberg starts thinking about national office. He is banking on the fact that being an Independent in an age of odious partisanship will propel his career in federal government.

As teachers in New York City, we want to fight the day-to-day battles against Mayoral control, school closings and charters by taking to the streets. This is necessary work, the type that seems to be getting more popular every day.

We need to use this inspiring work to tarnish Bloomberg’s name on the national stage. He has met with Obama and signaled his willingness to work with a president from either major party. Combine this with his comments about the NYPD being his own army, his desire to fire 50% of NYC teachers and his crusades against smoking and trans-fats and you get a clear picture of an out-of-touch megalomaniac.

It is easy for Bloomberg to be bipartisan, because he is a corporatist with the means to fund his own political career. He does not need to latch on to any major party to run a political campaign.

This helps explain his fear of Occupy. Occupy is bipartisan in its own way, more accurately post-partisan, and the last thing he wants is a grassroots movement to steal his thunder. He wants to represent the next stage of politics where party does not matter. Yet, it is just a stage and is designed to maintain the corporate status quo.

Occupy is more than a stage. It represents a new era aimed at dismantling corporatism. It, like Bloomberg, keeps its distance from both major parties. They are Bloomberg’s direct competitor.

Hopefully, the coming American Spring will end up destroying Bloomberg’s national reputation. As we can see from the University of North Carolina, that process has already started.

Matt Taibbi Explains Shady Mortgages…and Charter Schools?

Banks were selling “oregano as weed.”

This is what charter schools do too.

Take a school building, slap a fresh corporate logo on it, hire a bunch of inexperienced teachers, get some fancy gadgets, tell the students and parents that there are “no excuses” and, voila, you have a charter school.

Meanwhile the hedge-fundies, banksters and politically-connected CEOs that run them rake in ridiculous profits.

And if a student is too difficult to educate, get rid of them. It is like a bailout. When a charter school has “toxic assets” (difficult students), push them off on the government (pubic schools). This way, the charter gets to keep up the illusion of profits (test scores). That is what this article is all about.

Charter cheerleaders in the government like Arne Duncan are like Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke who told us the banking industry was sound on the eve of its collapse.

It is the same movie that plays over and over again.

How many times is the public going to buy oregano?

Zuccotti Park Revisited: Reign of a Parade

The Giants had their victory parade down the Canyon of Heroes today. Their route took them through the heart of the financial district, including what used to be the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Zuccotti Park. Since November’s eviction, Zuccotti Park has been a wasteland of empty sitting areas, police officers and a few protestors (not all of them associated with OWS). Today, it was a place for revelers to take a load off (and even sneak a libation or three) after standing along Broadway for several hours. What a difference six months makes in the life of Zuccotti Park.

It was just this past September that a few dozen activists set up camp in the concrete square. That act alone awakened the conscience of a nation. Over the ensuing weeks and months, people like me were able to go to Zuccotti Park to talk about poverty, inequality, the environment, corporate greed and our morally bankrupt political system. Thanks to the brave people who held the park over the course of three months, issues that concerned citizens had been talking about in the wilderness for years all of the sudden took center stage. It was a shot of adrenaline into what normally was a sterile and farcical political discourse.

But then the eviction came. The White Shirts and beat cops gave way to riot police. They took the park by storm in the middle of the night, ripping up tents and burning books in an inquisitional orgy of repression. The movement certainly did not die that day, but no longer would the protestors be able to use Liberty Square as their base of operation. The police promised them that the square would be open to the public the next day and then ringed the block with barricades and blue shirts for the next month. All signs of life and community vanished from the area. There was very little liberty to be had in Liberty Square.

Today’s parade was a mockery of what the occupiers started to build six months ago. The occupiers held the park in an exercise of mass awareness and citizenship. Today, red-cheeked and well fed onlookers stood facing Broadway, their backs to the park, in order to catch a glimpse of their favorite millionaire athletes. It was an exercise in mass distraction. Bars in the area quickly filled up at midday with partiers intent on keeping the mass distraction going. They spilled out into the street, making noise, slapping hands and blocking crosswalks. Yet, there was no pepper spray, no mass arrests, no White Shirts and nobody was dragged to the paddy wagon. Nobody questioned them as to whether they should be at work or whether they might find better things to do with their time. No sanitation worker talked down to them or called them lazy do-nothings. Instead, they dutifully followed behind the revelers, cleaning up ticker tape and other assorted refuse. When normal life resumes in the financial district tomorrow morning, it will be like nothing had ever happened.

That is why, on this day especially, it is important for us to remember the work that started at Liberty Square 6 months ago.

The Uncertainty of 2012

It was the first hour of 2012. The occupiers returned to Zuccotti Park to briefly convert it to Liberty Square. There was revelry. A few tweets of hope went out on Twitter. 2012 will see the final triumph of democracy. Then the police closed in. The occupiers were ordered out of the park. Plastic handcuffs were readied. The police took the space back. There will be no new occupation after all. It was the opening note of 2012.

And this is a fitting note. The uncertainty this morning at the park reflects the uncertainty surrounding 2012. We do not know exactly what will happen this year. All we know is that things will be much different by the time it is over. There are many wild cards: Occupy Wall Street, the elections, Scott Walker’s recall, deteriorating relations with Iran and a worldwide economic crisis. How these wild cards pan out by year’s end will go a long way in determining exactly what type of change 2012 brings.

Behind all of these things is a classic battle between good and evil. The forces of evil have been in the saddle for over 30 years. In that time we have seen an increase in the wealth gap, incarceration and suppression of certain opinions. It has been an era of corporate repression. But, for the past few years, there have been signs that might indicate this era is ending. Icons that made their name in this era, like Jerry Falwell, have passed from the scene. New types of leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are rising.

And so we instinctively know that 2012 will be a watershed year for determining this battle. Something is going to change. It is entirely possible that the forces of corporatism can win, only in a much more radical form. This can take the shape of even more severe repression of democracy at home, something which a war with Iran can accomplish. It is also possible that there can be an outpouring of democracy led by a new crop of straight-talking, progressive leaders. The elections can help this along, even if only some people elected are true friends of democracy.

This is the battle that played out this morning at Zuccotti Park. For a minute it seemed as if 2012 was going to start with a giant, heartening victory for democracy with the return of the occupiers. Then the cops rolled through and showed that things will not be that easy. Both sides are dug in for the new year, knowing that what they do over the next 12 months will go a long way in deciding the course of history. By the time we get to the end of 2012, the template for the future will have been made.

Zuccotti Park: One Week after the Eviction

What is wrong with this picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Occupy Wall Street Might not be Able to Come Home Again

If you are like me, Occupy Wall Street holds out the possibility of building a modern New Deal. Many protestors are so outraged about wealth disparity because we know it was not like that before the corporate takeover of our government. We fully understand that all remnants of FDR’s New Deal are in tatters. We understand that the last 35 years of U.S. history was defined by the triumph of corporate power over the New Deal coalition. Historian Robert Patterson, in his book Grand Expectations, calls the period from roughly the end of World War II until the early 70s “The Biggest Boom Yet”. It was the largest sustained period of economic growth in U.S. history. The results of that growth were much more equitably distributed than they are now. Common sense would dictate that a return to those New Deal programs that brought about the The Biggest Boom Yet is the cure for our ailing economy. But there might be reason to doubt that these measures alone will bring us home again. The reason revolves around the differences in the international scene between then and now.

During The Biggest Boom Yet, the United States existed in a world with one serious rival: the Soviet Union. The threat posed by the leftist Soviet regime continually prodded us to expand democracy here at home to save face around the world. The Civil Rights Act and the Great Society would probably not have happened as fast if the U.S. was not concerned with protecting its image as a free country in the face of Soviet criticism. There was also the threat of the Communist Party USA, which was an arm of the Politburo and acted as the ideological whip for the entire American left. In short, there might not be enough political will in the U.S. to redeem the New Deal. Occupy Wall Street can hopefully garner enough sustained political will to both revive and improve upon the New Deal. This is one of the things we hope for. We hope for it because at one time it seemed impossible.

But even if the will is there, we also must consider the blow to America’s “superpower” status since The Biggest Boom Yet. We had success with the New Deal when most other industrial nations were wracked by the destruction of World War II. Our factories were the only ones humming. It would take decades before the rest of the world could catch up. In the meantime, they would have to buy from the United States, who became bread basket to the world. Perhaps it was easier to have a living wage and health benefits in an age when so much money came into our country via favorable balances of trade. As the 70s approached, the United States encountered serious new competitors to its industrial might. Western Europe was beginning to tie its economy together thanks in part to the efforts of Charles de Gaulle, who feared France would never be able to keep up with the American commercial juggernaut. Middle Eastern countries in OPEC proved they could send the economy into a tail spin by manipulating oil prices. Our loss in Vietnam bespoke a third world that was ready for an awakening. By the 1980s and 90s, the United States operated in a multi-polar world where Europe, the Middle East, China, India, Mexico, Japan and South America all began to take a greater share of political and economic power. Can the United States afford to revive the New Deal in a multi-polar world? Is taking care of our people compatible with losing what used to be our share of the world’s resources?

The extreme version of all of this, which still might turn out to be the right version, is that this nation’s bigwigs have long foreseen the downfall of the United States. It turns out that hollowing out our manufacturing, infrastructure and schooling while going trillions into debt to fight imperialist wars was not the recipe for national strength. The bankers and the corporate plutocracy said “hey, what the hell? We’ll pick the carcass for all its worth” and we are fast approaching the stage where the carcass will be totally stripped. In that case, can OWS lead to a more equitable stripping of the carcass as we all circle the drain? Shouldn’t we all have the right to have blood on our lips when the music stops?

Just a few questions that Occupy Wall Street might end up answering, whether we like it or not.