Public Education, Justice, Civil Disobedience and Conscientious Refusal—is there a Common Denominator?

When I was an undergraduate at Queens College in the 1970s, I took a course in political philosophy.   As part of the course, I had to write a term paper.   The 1970s was a very turbulent time in America and so I decided that my paper would be about the right of protestors to engage in civil disobedience in their opposition to the Vietnam War.   When I started to research civil disobedience, I started with two premises:  One that the protestors and draft resistors were absolutely right in their justification to take over buildings, burn their draft cards and even attack police and two that I understood what civil disobedience really meant and when it was justified.   When I was finished with my research under the guidance of a true educator, I ended up having more questions than answers.

This professor taught me that a truly educated person is one who is comfortable to walk in the shoes of those you disagree with.  Only in this way can one garner a true understanding of what various concepts really mean.    Doing this increases one depth of understanding and clarifies all the “isms” that people use—more as clichés than anything else.  It also enables one to make connections and synthesize different ideas.

Originally, I planned to write about how we educators may need to use civil disobedience in order to try to stop those who want corporatize and privatize education through charters, vouchers, and de-professionalizing teaching.   Then something happened in the last week that made me rethink everything that I planned to write about.  The event was the Supreme Court ruling making gay marriage the law of the land.   All of a sudden I started to hear the word civil disobedience coming from those opposed to the ruling.  What I did not hear was the specific type of civil disobedience those on the right planned to engage in.  Then it became clear to me why the myriad of GOP presidential candidates and fundamentalist religious preachers could not describe exactly how they planned to be civilly disobedient.   It is because they do not have a clear understanding about when civil disobedience is justified or what exactly is civil disobedience.  And obviously next I began to think about whether public educators have a justification to be civilly disobedient.

We in public education and those who oppose the Supreme Court ruling have something in common.   We both believe that laws have come into existence, which are unjust.   In addition, we both believe that we are absolutely right in our world view.  Where we differ is in how we define the philosophical concept of justice. One side views justice as coming from some ephemeral being while the other side views justice as a concept that is a human construct.

Recently, I posted an article on Facebook which elicited an angry response from a friend.   It was an article from a clergyman who had a different interpretation as to what the bible says about homosexuality.   My Facebook friend believes that what a particular bible says is immutable because he/she knows that it was written by god and anything written by god can never be changed or interpreted in a different way.   Here is someone who is unable to walk in someone else’s shoes to gain a deeper understanding of the those who see the world in a different way.   Obviously, what the bible says has been reinterpreted many, many times.   One just has to look at history and see about two thousand years of religious wars and conflicts over the nature of god and the truth in three different bibles. (By the way I am purposefully not capitalizing the words bible and god for reasons that will soon be obvious).  The fact that there are three different bibles, canon law, talmudic law and sharia law as well as a myriad of commentaries on each is the evidence that our religious and spiritual understanding of god and our relationship to a possible supreme being has changed many times over the centuries.   Even the Jewish bible or old testament to Christians and Moslems changed in its spiritual understanding of the nature of god and the universe.   Biblical research reveals that different parts of the bible were written at different times by different men.  For example, there are two stories of Adam and Eve in Genesis.  In addition, the modern conception of heaven and hell does not exist in the first five books.  Those ideas would come into Judaism and later Christianity from the Hellenistic world.   Now I know what I am saying may offend some who read this.   I bring this up to show that free and open inquiry through education and study made our understanding of how our Western religions developed and changed possible. I do not capitalize the word bible because there is more than one bible and I do not capitalize the word god because there is more than one conception of god.  If there was only one interpretation of the bible there would not be hundreds of Christian denominations, different branches of Judaism, and the Sunni and Shiite conflict within the Moslem religion. Furthermore, there are several billion people who inhabit this earth who have a completely different spiritual understanding of the world. It is unfortunate that people who believe that their view is the absolute truth and who have used some type of power relationship to enforce their truth have a lot of blood on their hands.  One needs to look no further than South Carolina to see what is wrought by any type of extremism—either religious or political.

Let us move away from religion and return to the concept justice.   Historically speaking, the modern view of justice comes not from religion but from the Enlightenment.   Originally, governments were thought of having received their authority to rule from a religious perspective.   The Chinese thought Emperors received a mandate from heaven, a thousand years ago, European feudal monarchs believed they had to be anointed by god’s earthly representative (the Pope),  and approximately five hundred years ago the absolute monarchs of Europe thought they ruled by “divine right.”   Our modern concept of governmental justice derives from a social contract between people and the political institutions that they create.  It is simply that governmental power derives from those who are governed.   People established governments to keep order, protect us from danger, and give us a measure of “liberty” and “justice”.  Ah, it is these last two concepts that have caused every political, social and economic conflict in the modern western world over the last several hundred years.

When I took political philosophy in college, I was greatly influenced by the writings of John Rawls.  In 1971, he published “A Theory of Justice.”  It was this book in that college course which gave me insight into what exactly is injustice and the role civil disobedience plays in trying to correct injustice in a given society.   Rawls defines justice to mean that people within a given society should have equal liberty and equal opportunity. In addition, he states that liberty is a reciprocal relationship between people and groups.  Basically, your liberty cannot harm someone else either socially, economically or politically. Rawls believed that injustice can only occur in a near-just society that is well ordered and has a constitutional government.  He also understood that most near-just societies often are imperfect and that the concept of justice is ever changing and usually defined by those who have power in that society in order to keep or derive some economic, political or social benefit.

This definition clearly describes the history of our country.   The founders knew they were creating an imperfect political system.   Otherwise, our constitution would not have an elastic clause or a process to amend or change it.  Also, it was created through compromise based on certain religious, social, economic and political concepts that existed at the end of the 18th century.  However, most of our founding fathers had the general conception that justice meant that a government should not deprive a person of his/her life, liberty or property without some type of due process of law that all members of the state would agree with.  Furthermore, Rawls also understood that a strong democratic process enable groups to exchange opinions and ideas without fear of intimidation. He felt that exchanging opinions checks the partiality of different groups and widens their perspectives.  However, even after long and fruitful discussion—especially in a democratic republic—it sometimes does not yield a unanimous agreement.   Therefore, we have to apply the basic principal of any democracy “majority rule” as Rawls called it, which means the majority wins.   This principle is based on the presumption that it is less likely for a majority to be mistaken. On the other hand, sometimes the majority can be mistaken because of selfish economic interests, religious beliefs or certain life-experiences.  It is for this reason that he believed that a “near just” society allows the minority to express their views.   In our society, the way we have decided to do this is through education and the social contract imbedded in our constitution that allows for dissent through a free press, the right to petition the government for redress, and the right of legislative representatives to express their varying points of view.

So what exactly is civil disobedience and when is it justified.   First, civil disobedience is political in nature.   It is used when a political law is deemed to be unjust based on evidence that the law denies equal liberty and equal opportunity to a minority.  It is a clear, serious and blatant violation of justice by denying a group economic, social or political participation in a democratic society.   Next, normal constitutional routes must have been tried and have been subverted by those who hold power.   Third, the level of disobedience must never reach a point where it threatens the rule of law within a society because those who engage in civil disobedience accept that most of the laws of the society are just.   Fourth, the action must be controlled so as not to provoke those in power to unjust violence.  Therefore, it must be peaceful.  Fifth, the exercise should be rationally framed to advance a specific objective (change of a law).  Sixth, it should be public and educational.  Seventh, those who engage in civil disobedience must accept the legal consequences of their action in a peaceful manner.  Therefore, when I began to apply this definition to those who were protesting the Vietnam War, I came to realize that many protesters were not really engaged in civil disobedience.  Instead, they were engaging in what he termed conscientious refusal.

According to Rawls, what he calls conscientious refusal or objection is a simple refusal to obey what one considers an immoral law based on a personally held and immutable moral, social or political view.  Therefore, conscientious refusal is not really appealing to a “shared” political conception of justice.  It is not necessarily seeking to convince the majority or the authorities to change the law. It is often the attempt to force someone’s will through violence and power. For example, those who burned draft cards did not object to the draft law, but to end the war based on their own point of view—moral, economic or political–and chose to create disorder to force their belief system on the government.   Often, the conscientious objector does not have a sense of justice because many objectors  use violence to resist the law that is opposed, such as anti-abortion protesters that find abortion so wrong that they will manhandle pregnant women and kill doctors that perform abortion.  And yes, it has been reported that several groups have threatened that one solution to preventing gay marriage is to inflict harm on those who acquire a legal marriage license.

Now, what has all this to do with public education?  To me, the most important purpose of public education at the school and college level is to create a common civic view of what constitutes justice in our society through open and free discussion.  Through education one develops a common civic culture through consensus.   It is to develop the conception that there are general principles of civic justice and a constitutional mechanism to resolve our differences.    It is to develop the understanding that we are a country based on law and not on threats and fear.  It is for different people to get together and try to create a common civic conception of government and justice.

The real beginning of the voucher and charter movements was based on the idea of conscientious refusal.   It began when America’s consensus of what represented justice fragmented.   That fragmentation occurred when the Supreme Court in 1954 ruled separate but equal to be unconstitutional.   There was a plurality that was unable to accept Afro-Americans having equal political, social and economic status in our society.   Therefore, by creating separate charters, home schooling, or enacted vouchers to pay for religious schools, a separate and different type of curriculum could be taught.   One could create a curriculum based on a biblical view of the world or one that would create limited opportunities for certain groups through the exclusion of disabled, noncompliant, or ELL students.   One purpose of the many no-excuses charter school is to create compliant workers and citizens who will not question authority.   By defunding public education, what remains is a shallow shell, teaching a limited curriculum in which there is no time to discuss different ideas.  In addition, common civic institutions have little control as to what is taught in many charter and voucher schools.   The Gates, Broads, Kochs and Waltons understand that when one controls education, one controls the story. They do not want students to be taught alternate viewpoints.   They want students to accept their power and authority to control the government by saying that through their schools, they will give everyone the opportunity to join them in membership while at the same time really allowing very few into the club.  The control of education is really about who will control American society.

Those who want to privatize education truly hate public school teachers because most of us are products of a liberal arts education.   A liberal arts education teaches one to think, question and become a lifelong learner.   Instead, the reformers wish to create a post-secondary educational system that is vocational and job related.   They see no purpose to teach history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy or political science.   I believe their purpose is to destroy the intellectual foundation of those who would question their right to control this nation socially, economically and politically.  It is for this reason that they are trying to destroy unions—especially public employee unions by undermining their ability to collect dues. They want to make it impossible for people to organize collectively in order to create a political balance.  It is interesting that they got the Supreme Court to rule that money represents speech for corporations in Citizens United while, at the same time, they want to destroy that same right for workers.

I fear the ultimate goal of those who want to privatize and corporatize this nation is to fragment our common civic culture.  The privatizers want to use schools to divide us and not unite us.   They want an educational system that will foster hate and mistrust among different groups.   They want Afro-Americans to distrust middle class whites.   They want different ethnic groups to be in conflict with each other.   They want Latinos and Afro-Americans to fight each other over the few crumbs thrown to them.   They surely want to foster and support schools that will try to circumvent the tolerance most Americans now feel toward LBGT people, not really because of any real religious or moral point of view, but to create enmity in order to hold onto power.  After all, when one studies history, those who rule often disregard the moral codes they impose on others (the Borgias Popes, the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, etc.).  Our present billionaire oligarchy that controls so many politiicans want to destroy Rawls conception that justice means equal liberty and equal opportunity for everyone.  When one turns people into human capital only having economic worth, it is dehumanizing and sets up one group against another.

On the other hand, people should be free to believe and teach their children whatever they want, but not on my dime.  It is for this reason public school must remain democratically run so that a consensus can be reached as to what should be the curriculum within a given community.  Yes, the politics of school boards can be messy, but that is what democracy is all about.  Strong democracies force people to compromise and moderate their ideas through open discussion.   In addition, strong democracies are able to deal with civil disobedience.  In strong democracies, civil disobedience is a stabilizing force in a well ordered society.   In this country, its use has been to offer protection to the least advantaged.   Its use has been to expand justice in our society.   However, charters, vouchers and other privatization schemes are really a form of conscientious refusal to accept an expanded view of justice.  People should be wise to learn from our history that each time people in our nation chose to limit liberty, it led to violence, conflict and dysfunction within our political system   Think about Prohibition, Jim Crow and McCarthyism.

Finally, should teachers engage in civil disobedience to save public education?  The answer is obviously yes.  Teachers feel that de-professionalization, punitive evaluation systems, denial of collective bargaining, and the closure of public schools based on circumstances where they have no control violates the consensus of what represents justice.  These acts deny equal liberty and equal opportunity afforded to others in the society.  The purpose of these laws is to deny teachers, parents and children equal liberty and equal opportunity to participate economically, socially and politically in our nation. Teachers as well as parents must engage in civil disobedience to motivate those in power to change certain laws.  Its purpose will be to educate most Americans to understand that we now have injustice. Civil disobedience often works best when those in power do not have the means to prevent it from happening. Here would be some examples.  Groups of retired teachers could follow around hedge fund billionaires that finance charters and give support to AstroTurf nonprofit organizations whose goal it is to weaken public education. We could do the same with Arne Duncan until he engages teachers in a constructive discussion.   Retired teachers could trespass and video for YouTube the private schools where the corporate reformers send their children to contrast the type of education they want for their children as opposed to everyone else.  Teachers within a collocated school could also take videos of the well-stocked charter classrooms as compared to the resources their public school classrooms have.  Teachers can picket collocated charters before the start of school and after the day ends (charters usually have longer school days) to drive home the fact that a separate and unequal school system has been created. In mass, public school teachers can educate parents about the consequences (or lack thereof) of opting out of the test culture that has been created outside of the school day.  The most extreme act of civil disobedience would obviously be to just refuse to give those invalid and unreliable common core assessments to prevent its use until those in power negotiate with all stakeholders—parents, teachers and students.

I think this country has to make a choice.  Either we want to use education to create a common civic culture that expands justice for all Americans or we want to create an educational system that will fragment and create rifts that will eventually be unbridgeable.  This happened in the past.   One just has to study how schools in the United States developed during the anti-bellum period in the North and South.   It lead to the development of two separate cultures that either could have gone their separate ways, but what often happens in history, a majority culture  that is more powerful economically and politically forces their will on the weaker.   We know the result and still live with its consequences.   On the other hand, we can build a common national civic culture, using public education as a foundation, to create a shared sense of justice, but also respect for our individual differences and beliefs. There is a place for private and religious schools in our society, but their role should be to engage with the dominant political culture and not to impose their will on others.

Reflection after Three Months into Retirement

I hate to be asked how I am enjoying retirement.   People who ask this question have created a fantasy world of what it means to be retired.   After listening to my friends, family, former colleagues as well as perfect strangers, I have synthesized all their dreams, hopes and aspirations by creating a make believe world they call Retirement Heaven.   In Retirement Heaven, you can wake up late every morning—no earlier than 11:00 AM.  You never ever set your alarm clock again.   Upon waking up, your spouse will deliver to you breakfast in bed that is no less than 2000 calories.  After breakfast, it is time for a relaxing shower.  After a shower, you put on shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers for either your daily run or your two hour workout at the gym.  By the way, in Retirement Heaven, it is always summer. At about 2:00 PM, you make your way home for lunch and a few hours of television.   You’ve recorded on your DVD only mindless television programs to watch for the next few hours.  Now it is time for dinner.  In retirement, you are not allowed to make dinner, but instead, every evening you go to a different restaurant to eat meals that have no fewer than three courses.  You return home, take out your trashy novel and read until you drift calmly to sleep at about one in the morning.

For someone like me, such a retirement heaven would be like that old Twilight Zone episode where a gangster dies and is given every one of his heart’s desires.   He is given wealth, beautiful women and the ability to successfully commit every crime known to man without consequence.   In the end, he is completely bored out of his wits and asks to go to the other place only to be told he is in the other place!

To me, retirement means having the freedom to choose the type of work that I want to do.  It is also the ability to focus on those endeavors that are really important. On the day that I retired from teaching, unfortunately all the problems that existed before my last day of work really did not disappear.  Several people said to me you shouldn’t care what happens to the world of education.  One person told me that if all the public schools blew up tomorrow, you will still be retired on your nice pension.  Would I?

First of all, if public education ended tomorrow and was completely privatized, it would make it all the more easier for those in power to end pubic pensions.   Public education and my pension, which I earned through hours of hard work as a teacher, both represent a social contract. It is a social contract between the government and the people it represents.  If you end one, you can easily end the other.   The philosophical basis of public education derives from those Enlightenment thinkers who believed  that power derive from the governed.  The governed allows power to be given to a government so that it can establish policies that will benefit the collective.  The 18th century Philosophes believed that public education’s purpose was to create a sophisticated citizenry who would be able to immediately spot tyranny and remove it from power—either through constitutional democratic means or by force if necessary.   The concept of public pensions also has its basis in the 18th century idea of a social contract.   Public servants will serve society for a number of years at a lower rate of compensation so that the state can benefit from their skills.  In return, the public servant will receive a pension paid at the end of their public service so they can live the rest of their life in dignity.   But the purpose of a pension also is based on sound economic and social principles.   Instead of the retired worker being a drain on society, the retired worker will have enough income to continue to purchase goods and services (providing employment to others) and still be able to contribute to society (and the economy) in other ways, such as through volunteering or part-time employment.

Therefore, in retirement, I now have taken on a new job—saving public education.  One way is by working part time in the school where a spent the last third of my career.   For the majority of my 36 year career, I had a job that came into existence because New York City grossly violated the rights of disabled students back in the late 1970s.  Federal law mandates that disabled students need to be evaluated every three years and if there has to be a change in services, any reevaluation must be done in a timely manner.   Thus, in the late 70s, the city was sued because it had a backlog of close to 30,000 reevaluations. It resulted in the court ordering the creation of a team of professionals in each school whose job it was to make sure assessments and subsequent IEP conferences were held in a timely manner.  My job was as case manager and Educational Evaluator.   I became highly skill in conducting norm-referenced, criterion referenced and curriculum-based assessments.  The purpose of these assessments was not to punish teachers but to diagnose the educational needs of disabled students so as to help teachers meet their IEP goals. (Yes, this is the real purpose of testing.) A quarter of a century later the city was in relative compliance.   Because most city schools have relatively large populations, the team needed a psychologist to conduct intelligence and projective tests, an educator who was a skilled diagnostician and a social worker.  This ended in 2003 when Mr. Bloomberg embarked on reforming special education in New York City, which really meant he was trying to find a way to save money.   He made my job disappear overnight and gave the case management piece and educational piece to the school psychologists that now are so overworked, they are forced to cut corners in order to remain in compliance.   As for me, because Bloomberg violated so many of the contractual rights of Educational Evaluators (who were teachers), he was ordered by an arbitrator to create the job of IEP teacher.  I held this job for the final eleven years of my career. When the job was created by  the arbitrator, it was undefined. It was up to a building principal to define what IEP teachers would do. Bloomberg hoped that most principals would make the lives of these new IEP teachers so miserable that many would leave the system.   The opposite happened.   Most of us ended up doing many different albeit necessary educational tasks within our schools.  As for me, I became in charge of compliance, testing, data, and academic intervention services.

When I retired, the new principal would ask who did this and who did that.  My name was mentioned each time and before I knew it, I was back in the school a couple of days a week.  However, I am doing what I loved doing the most—working with kids.   Unfortunately, the city schools have a simple philosophy—the minimum is the maximum.  Because the union contract stated that IEP Teachers would only be funded for those who were former Educational Evaluators like me, once I retired, the money dried up and the position disappeared.   It disappeared even though the school would now have no one to provide state mandated academic intervention services for those students who received level 1 on those wonderful Common Core State Assessments in ELA and Math.  As for all my other jobs, I am helping to train three other professionals to do different pieces of my job.   When I started as an IEP Teacher in 2003, testing was just a little piece of my job, but as we all know, it turned into a monster with three head and twenty arms.  It took up so much of my time that I often could not work with students.   Now I am trying to give students the skills to do better on these assessments (notice that I did not say pass).   For example, it is not enough to say to a level one student that they need to use context clues.   What I do is to try to give them four or five strategies to help them try to figure out the meanings of so many unknown words on passages that are always above their grade level.  Yes, I hate the test, but I have to do something.  Many of these students are former English Language Learners who supposedly reached proficiency in English on a state assessment measuring second language ability.  By the way, I am in one of the few middle class school districts within the city.   However, we have many immigrant families.  The parents of these children work two, sometimes three jobs so they can live in a nice area.   However, because our scores  are a little better than the state average and we have fewer students on public assistance, we get less money than other schools around the city.   And knowing this, the city cut funds to hire just one academic intervention services teacher.

In addition to working part time in my school, I am also tutoring and I am collaborating with someone in writing a review text to help students try to pass these horrible state assessments.  Some might say that I am hypocritical trying to help students pass these assessments when they should be done away with.   For years, I have tutored students to pass the SAT even though I hate everything these assessments stand for.   However, by not helping these students, their low grades stand as a barrier preventing them from getting their foot in the door to enter the world of higher education.   As long as these institutional barriers exist—common core, SAT, etc., I will help student acquire the skills to work the system while at the same time advocate for change.

What I found most interesting these last several months was watching the types of teaching jobs posted by various online employment services.    Last June, I rewrote my resume and posted it on an employment site.   Now my email is inundated with lists containing scores of teaching jobs.   The first thing I noticed that most jobs posted today are for charter schools.   In the New York area, the one charter that comes up all the time is our favorite—The Success Academy.   Interestingly, one of Eva’s charter schools has been looking for a SETSS teacher since June.  I have a simple theory.  No one wants this position.   Who would want to work for a school where you are on-call 24 hours a day, paid low wages, and then spit out after two years.  Sometimes I think about applying as a lark.   I am sure once they realized my age and the fact that I had a 36 year public school career, my resume would end up in the circular file.  Interestingly, a well-known tutoring company saw my resume and wanted to interview me.  I asked what their pay was.  I   laughed when they said $15.00 an hour.  I told them that when I first started SAT tutoring in 1987, I worked for a college preparation tutoring service and was paid $20 an hour.   I added,  “When you have a high turnover rate, you end up getting what you pay for.”

I would never work for a charter or such a tutoring agency because they violate our society’s social contract.    I believe in and will fight for public education because every cent of public money must go to the child.  And yes, paying public school teachers decent wages benefit children.   A well paid professional feels invested in the system and will work hard for those under their tutelage. A well paid professional wants to dedicate their lives to public service.   The social contract is broken when education is privatized.   The privateers view teachers and students as human capital whose purpose is to create profit.  I call these privatizers education pimps.   Students cannot benefit when your purpose is greed and not the creation of a well-rounded individual who is able to think and make sound life decisions.   The purpose of these corrupt and greedy charter operators is to throw a few crumbs to their school’s students and teachers while they hoard our public dollars.  I want my tax money to be invested honestly and completely into each public school.  Charter operators will be quick to say that they are capitalists taking risks.  Yes, when one invests private capital, risks are taken, but what is being invested is our public money.   It is public money that is being given to them by elected officials who are in their corrupt little pockets.   These officials are also pimping our dollars for private gain and must be ousted.  Our elected officials have forgotten that they serve us and derive their power from us.

Getting back to that retirement fantasy world I mentioned at the beginning, I ended up doing one thing that I rarely did during my work years.  I have watched a lot more television.   One thing I ended up watching was Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts.   It reminded me that our society is again in a Gilded Age where a few wealthy men have taken control of our government and its institutions.   Ken Burns thinks that it was the power of these singular individuals that changed America in the first half of the twentieth century.   What he does not understand is that these great individuals could not have done anything if people did not organize and petition first on the local level and then nationally for change.  We have to regain control of all levels of government to make it again, as FDR believed, a force to create a just and fair society in which everyone has some share in the economic wealth of this great nation.   I know we have a hard fight ahead of us, but we are making headway.  There is an old adage:  The Ocean started as single drops of water.

Linda Taylor, Charter Schools, Private Agencies and Race

When I retired several weeks ago, I said to myself that now I would have a lot of time to devote to my blog. I would now become a prolific writer. I would churn out one article after another. My pen would lambaste the reformers, privatization, VAM, charters, etc. However, instead of having the free time I dreamt, it turned out that I am just as busy as I was prior to retirement. I retired only to continue working in a summer job that I have had for the last eight years. I trek to Manhattan five days a week working for one of New York’s Committees on Special Education. My job is to hold IEP meetings and write over 100 individual educational programs for students who attend private or parochial schools. These students receive either Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) or related special educational services that are paid for by the New York City Department of Education. In years past, the DOE had lists of independent providers that provided such services. Many of the SETSS (resource room) providers were either retired school teachers or teachers that wanted a flexible work schedule for various personal reasons. The same held true providers of OT, PT, Counseling and Speech. However, in recent years, these services are now mostly provided by teachers and providers hired through large private contract agencies that offer the DOE the best price for their services, i.e., lowest price—supposedly.

Earlier in the month, a colleague of mine who is doing the same job in another CSE began holding IEP Conferences for a parochial school in one of the five boroughs of New York City. She began to notice the progress reports of a particular SETSS teacher sent by an agency to the school. The school was composed of grades K to 8. Here was this one SETSS teacher servicing every disabled child in this school. And no matter what the grade, no matter what the problem, every progress report was exactly the same. Every child had major decoding problems, comprehension problems, as well as computational problems. In her progress report, each child was at least two to three years below level—even those in Kindergarten! Needless to say, all her draft IEP goals were exactly the same. For every disabled child in the school, her goals used the same strategies. When my colleague counted the number of students on the master list, it totaled over forty. Interestingly, many students had 10 periods of SETSS services a week. It was amazing how this particular provider was able to serve this many students in a 7 period day. I guess she took no lunch and worked every period. Yes, she must have done all her preparation at home in order to have created such fine differentiated lessons for such a diverse population. Interestingly, many of the parents of these disabled kids remarked to my colleague how their children made very little progress, that the teacher was harsh to them, and that each child was rarely picked up for services during the course of the year. I think we all might agree that we have some circumstantial evidence for possible fraud—especially when one realizes how little these contracted out providers are paid by many of these agencies. In the past, retired teachers who provided such services would complain that they were only paid DOE per session rate, which was about $40.00 an hour. I gather these contract-out providers get less than half that amount because the rest of the fee logically goes to the agency. Therefore, although wrong, it is understandable why some providers would pad their numbers. Where is the outcry for such embezzlement? This is our tax money?

Now let’s talk about a woman named Linda Taylor. A few months ago, I read an interesting article in about this woman. Linda Taylor was Ronald Reagan’s infamous Welfare Queen. Yes, I hate to disappoint some of my liberal friends who believed all these years that the she was one of the Great Communicator’s made up stories. Unfortunately, this woman was real although the Great Communicator did embellish many facts of the case. However, this woman was not so much a Welfare Queen as possibly one of the greatest criminal minds of the 20th century. This woman not only embezzled money from just about every government program, but was possibly also a kidnapper and murderer. The amount she took from Aid for Families with Dependent Children was small change compared to the amount embezzled from social security disability, the Veterans Administration as well as a host of other government programs. At the time, obviously, the outcry was against those minorities on welfare who were living high on the hog while the rest of us had to work like dogs to scrap together a meager existence. Therefore, the Federal Government only prosecuted her for welfare fraud in which the sum total of her embezzlement was $8000. She was not prosecuted for the theft of over $100,000 from other Federal programs, possible kidnapping or possible murder.

I remember at the time many conservatives saying that this woman proved that we must get rid of welfare and food stamps. Even though she possibly stole more money from the VA for fraudulent disability payments, I never heard any of my conservative friends talk about doing away with that program. Even though she embezzled tens of thousands from social security, few demanded that we do away with social security disability insurance. To working class whites, she was the embodiment of the black woman who had multiple children from different men who dared to own three Cadillacs, three homes, beautiful clothes and fine jewelry at taxpayer expense. Interestingly, the article said that she possibly was not even black, but of mixed race and was really considered white for most of her life. It also did not matter to a big part of our working class population that census figures showed that most women who received AFDC in the 1970s had only between two and three children and were also white. Race trumped everything and this audacious black woman represented every black woman who was on welfare at the time. As a result, when Reagan was elected in 1980, he had willing supporters who applauded his draconian cuts in social programs because now these minorities had to be put in their place.

What has this got to do with charters? Here we have these schools who are embezzling government money as recently reported in Diane Ravitch’s blog . In addition, we have reports of charters involved in criminal activities in Texas, Connecticut, California and Ohio. Here again is tax money being embezzled. Money that is supposed to serve children are lining the pockets of wealthy investors or those who administer these charters. But how come we do not hear, “Let’s get rid of those charters. These people are taking our money to live high on the hog.” The difference, I sadly have to say, is that these charter administrators and hedge fund investors are mostly wealth and white. These people live high on the hog anyway. Imagine, if you total the amount stolen by these charters, the amount is in the millions and not thousands. The American people should be rising up and screaming that we must account for every cent these charters get from localities, states and the Federal government. On the other hand, if tomorrow, some black woman parked her BMW in Wegman’s lot and proceeded to buy groceries with food stamps, it would be front page headlines in the New York Post.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that race is the key factor. Both Linda Taylor and the many charters are exactly the same. Both used the lack of government oversight, as was the case in the 1970s for Linda Taylor and today for the charters. Linda embezzled because we did not have yet the type of computer technology that allowed the sharing of information among different government agencies that we have today. On the other hand, there is a lack of oversight because the large pockets of those who invest in charters have bought lock, stock and barrow legislatures and governors who would pass and carry out such laws. Linda was a lone wolf who worked the system while those who do it today are being supported with a wink from many levels of government.

Now let’s put this all together. Here we have private contract agencies with what appears to be little oversight engaged in theft of services (from those disabled children who need such services desperately), charters stealing millions also because of lack of government oversight and depriving our public schools of the necessary funds and resources to succeed, and finally Linda Taylor who was convicted for stealing only $8000 in AFDC because race stereotypes blinded those in power to the true nature of her many criminal acts. To me, all three acts are heinous crimes against our civil society and each should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, about 40 years ago, a real criminal got a slap on the wrist while millions of impoverished Americans were severely punished for the crime of being poor while today millions of public school kids are being punished while the real perpetrators appear again to be having their wrists slapped.

Tom Friedman—Policy by Anecdote

These days, I carry a handy little application on my Iphone and Ipad. It lists each Common Core Learning Standard by grade and its correspondence to college and career readiness. I carry it because we are mandated to put these little CCLS numbers on our lessons plans, rubrics, and even bulletin boards in an attempt to placate the DOE’s Common Core police. However, I also have an ulterior motive for carrying this application. I like to use it against those who are now wedded to the CCLS as a new type of educational religion. Now, we have several new gospels. They are the gospels according to Saints Coleman and Saint Duncan.

I have just written to the New York Times and to Mr. Tom Friedman in particular because he has violated CCLS RI.9-10.8. This standard states that ninth and tenth grade students must “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient. Students must “identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.” Oh, Mr. Friedman, how can you engage in such shoddy reasoning in your op ed piece. One must follow the Common Core. Evidence must not be based upon anecdote but on expert opinion. In addition, one must evaluate the expert opinion to make sure that the evidence is “valid.” A common core student review book I recently perused stated that valid evidence is evidence provided by “expert scientific opinion.” Only research that uses scientific methodology as taught by the hard as well as social sciences could validate a general hypothesis.

Based upon a little anecdote about a high school student who feels it is more important to answer his Facebook messages than do homework, we now paint every single American student with the same brush stroke. In addition, this little tidbit proves that the basketball player in charge of the DOE is correct in his opinion about the laziness of American students—especially middle class suburban kids. Mr. Friedman, for this one anecdote, I can offer another one in contradiction. I know this kid, who despite having ADHD and other medical issues, studied five hours a night all through high school and graduated with a 4.0 GPA as well as got an ACT score in the 99 percentile. This resulted in a complete scholarship to a top state university campus where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. By the way, he also has about 800 Facebook friends. I can vouch for the veracity of this story because I am talking about my own son. I know of another young man that was diagnosed with a significant learning disability as a boy, who also worked hard despite having parents that had to work two to three jobs to make ends meet here in New York City. He studied hours a day on his own and made it into a four year college. And this student is a friend of my son.

Do my stories prove me right and Mr. Friedman wrong? No, these stories prove nothing. They are nothing but anecdotes that are nothing more than firsthand accounts that have no scientific or research validity. They are no better than those TFA stories about the superman teacher who worked day and night to get their kids from a quartile ranking one to four in a single year. Instead, one must look at valid and reliable data. Not the fake biased data of those fly-by-night nonprofits financed by our billionaire friends, but real research that can stand up to peer review at the university level. One can only accept research that is critiqued, analyzed as well as ripped apart at the seams to make sure that it measures what it is supposed to measure.

What the mainstream media is now giving us is propaganda and not journalism. Journalism is hard because one must look and analyze different points of view. One must determine if a particular point of view use either facts or research as its evidence. For example, Ravitch and others cite valid and reliable research that drill down into PISA scores to show there is no significant achievement gap between American and foreign students when you compare apples with apples. Suburban-middle class American students perform as well as or better than many foreign students on these challenging international assessments. The media does not report the fact that in America we do something that many foreign countries do not do. We include everyone in our score obviously depressing the total aggregate. Often, other countries exclude certain populations in order to skew their scores. Furthermore, many countries in this world still do not even attempt to educate certain students. There are nations in this world that exclude those who are disabled or those who cannot pass certain tests to acquire a secondary or post-secondary education. There are countries that divide students along academic and vocation tracks based upon a single assessment. I for one do not wish to emulate such countries. I have no interest in emulating a country in which one assessment determines the course of the rest of your life, such as Korea and some European countries. I also do not wish to emulate the educational system of a Communist totalitarian state (China) that rigidly teaches students to obey and not think.

Mr. Friedman should instead realize that this middle class student on Facebook may have been turned off by our educational system because of NCLB and RTTT, which has been national policy for over a decade. Psychological research shows that when students are frustrated, they give up. If one is given tasks that are too hard, one tries to escape. Special education has always taught that you start a child form where they are. Standard reading practice for the last century has always been that you work with a child at their instructional reading level. Students do not learn when you give them material at their frustration level. Most students will not rise to the task when the work is beyond their ability. When I was in high school, I hated Spanish. I avoided studying it like the plague because I had a lot of difficulty memorizing words. Only when a teacher showed me a bunch of mnemonic strategies did I become a more willing student. Imagine what would have happened if instead of giving me strategies, I was given more random words to memorize. If that would have happened, I may not have had a thirty-six year career as a teacher because a foreign language requirement at that time would have barred me from entering college to even become a teacher .

This has always been a nation built upon the ideal of giving people second chances. We gave millions of immigrants the second chance to start a new life during the 19th and 20th centuries. We have always tried to give students who failed second chances. Yes, I did fail one semester of Spanish in high school, but I recouped with some extra help from my teacher, a good friend (who was great with languages) and my parents. Good teachers always allow students to make up missed worked or give students a second chance to pass a test. We have high school equivalency diplomas that enable those who flunked out of high school to benefit from some type of post-secondary education.

However, what is happening now in this country is the attempt to create a privatized educational system that is stratified, segregated and intentionally violate worker rights. Now here I am making a general statement that needs evidence to back it up. By looking at the education budgets of many states and cities, public school funding is being cut in favor of unregulated charter or voucher-based schools that have no oversight and choose their students (Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina). Experienced and tenured teachers are fired or forcefully excessed in favor of TFA five week wonders (Florida, Louisiana, Illinois). Rich curriculums, music, art, and extra-curricular activities are all being cut in favor of charters for the sake of creating VAM testing using the Common Core. And yes, there is a good amount of child development research that shows that the Common Core violates how most children learn.

When only 30% of total students , 7% of disabled and 5% of ELL students in New York State can pass a Common Core assessment, there is no doubt that the vast majority of our students will feel demoralized. Children are not lazy when they are tested on items that have never been taught or are significantly above their ability level. One does not build an educational system upon a curriculum and assessments that only above average students can hope to pass, so that our public school system can be dismantled. Do not kid yourselves in thinking that the corporate reformers who have controlled educational policy this last decade have even an iota of altruism. Their goal is a charter-based, free-market educational system to primarily line their pockets and secondarily educate a few subservient managers and docile, non-thinking workers bullied into submission through schools that offer zero-tolerance. As for me, I want a curriculum that will teach students how to question and challenge those in authority. According to a recent blog by Diane Ravitch, Mr. David Coleman once said that no one really cares about what a student thinks and feels. What is important is writing and reading information text. Thus, the Common Core is an amoral curriculum. There is a Common Core module analyzing the Gettysburg Address. It is supposed to be done without referring to its historical context. It has to be analyzed based on whether Mr. Lincoln used “evidence” to support his points. If our 16th President would have been taught by the Common Core, we would not have one of the greatest pieces of oratory that epitomizes what our nation believes in. Abraham Lincoln had a sense of justice and the belief of what was right and wrong. That little speech has given our nation a moral compass. Those who want to force this nation to adapt a utilitarian curriculum appear to have no ethics or morality. I guess such a utilitarian view of the world makes it easy to fire teachers and remove students who do not fit into their cut throat view of mankind.

I told Mr. Friedman in my letter to him that the problem was not with us coddling parents or with educators who are trying to hold onto a tiny scrap of dignity. The problem is with those who have controlled educational policy since the Bush era. If our public school system is now struggling to survive, it is because those in power have given us body blows and have kicked our groins. If Mr. Friedman likes the reformers so much as well as the Common Core, it is high time he start measuring his skills and his own beliefs by their standards.