The Balkanization of American Education and the Election of Donald Trump

The charter movement may have had one great success and that is the election of Donald Trump.   His election is probably due to the balkanization of American culture through the charterization and privatization of a great chunk of our educational system over the last twenty years. The result has been the dilution of common values and beliefs that public education imbued in most Americans. Our common culture has been fragmented to the point that large groups of Americans no longer have common values—socially, economically and politically.

It is my contention that it was not only the educational level, but also the type of education people had played a large part in this election.  In an analysis of several polls, the average Trump voter has an income of about $70,000.  So there goes the idea that it was the alienated working class that put Trump into office because of their loss of good factory jobs.  Instead, there were two other key factors.  First, the lack of diversity within the community that voted for him, i.e., mostly white and second, the education level of the Trump voter.   It is my opinion, there must be an analysis of the type of education many of the Trump voters either have or support.   This goes way beyond whether key voting blocks were college educated or not. It is my feeling that the type of education one acquired played a critical role in the vote.   If you look at the mostly white communities that voted for Trump in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, I would bet there is a large presence of Charter or nonpublic religious schools.

In March 2013, in this blog, I wrote in this blog an article “Education and Class Warfare.”   Little did I realize that I was predicting what was to come.  I wrote, “Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson, John Dewey and others had a very simple view of public education.  To these men, public education in America would be the great equalizer.  It would create a common American culture and an educated citizenry that would make decisions that would benefit the whole nation.”  With an educated citizenry and common political culture, it was felt people would make informed decisions as to whom to elect.  People would learn to differentiate between emotional rhetoric and sound policy decisions.

Unfortunately, the charter and voucher movements over these years have created schools where there is a lack of oversight as to what is being taught.   One cannot create a common culture when one is isolated and does not interact with others who are different.   How many charters and fundamentalist religious schools in rural areas of Michigan teach about the diversity of different people that make up this nation? How many have anti-bullying programs or teach tolerance toward students who are LBGQT?  Instead, we have not only charters, but also sectarian schools run by people with certain religious notions teaching that the earth is 6000 years old, that it does not matter that we will deplete the environment because none of this will matter when the rapture comes, and that a good portion of the population is hell-bent because of their lifestyles. Even if one does not teach such religious notions, the segregated nature of many of these schools, in the end, lead to the same result—intolerance toward others.

In addition, many charters focus so much on the core skills that social studies and civics barely exist.   When your focus is on passing an ELA test, one does not learn how to interpret and analyze critically different types of writing.  One should be taught to differentiate between propaganda and objectively-based arguments.   In addition, when these schools teach social studies, there is no standard curriculum that makes sure students learn to analyze both sides of an argument.  For example, we all know that the Koch brothers are trying to create schools that teach a one sided, free market, but really crony capitalistic, economic view of the world. The good teaching of social studies involves students learning both sides of a historical issue and then debate as well as discuss the different points of view. I remember one of my social studies teachers, Mr. Lepler out of John Bowne High School.   During each lesson he gave us a handout describing both sides of every issue and we debated the pros and cons of each argument. He would never tell us his opinion and we could not get him to tell us about his politics.  Years later, when I became a teacher, I met him at a conference in my old high school.  I asked him whether he was a liberal or conservative.  His answer was that he was neither—he was a pragmatist.  He based all political decisions on two factors—ethics and reason, not emotion.

The plan of future Education Secretary DeVos is to institutionalize nationally a fragmented educational system where millions will lack an enriched education in unregulated charter schools and private religious schools paid for through vouchers.  She surely is not basing her decisions are any type of reason.  If you described to her every study in the last few years showing that overall, charters are no better than public schools and those that lack regulation are often worse, she is one who would disregard all this research because her plans are ideologically based. She sees nothing wrong with teaching religious concepts in publicly funded charters and holds that public schools are nothing less than a dead end.   I do feel she does understand one thing.  It is that history shows that when one controls the education of a society, one ends up controlling that society.  The people now coming into power want charters to create a less educated citizenry.   They want to defund public education so that fewer schools will be able to teach the type of skills where diversity is accepted and people learn to think for themselves.  Instead, DeVos and her supporters want schools that will teach students to be docile, submissive and accept the whatever the government says.  All of this is the hall mark of an authoritarian society.  The people who will now run the Department of Education may talk about school choice, but they want anything but.  It is no choice when one takes away limited resources public education and give it to unregulated private entities. It is not choice when the government favors a private system over a pubic system while, at the same time, enact policies meant to destroy the nation’s community-based schools that are truly accountable to the people through democratic processes.

I went to public school in the mid-1960s just as the civil rights movement was just reaching a crescendo.  Thus, I remember “brotherhood week” where we learned to understand others no matter their race, color, or creed.  I remember making friends with an Italian classmate and ending up at his confirmation and he at my Bar Mitzvah.   I made friends with an Afro-American peer who played classical, jazz and gospel music on a piano and who taught me more about our musical heritage than any appreciation class could every teach.  However, now I fear that America in now headed in a completely opposite direction.   Will there even be an Afro-American History Month or a Woman’s History Month in the schools?  Will there be anti-bullying programs in the schools?   I don’t know.   Without a common culture that teaches the acceptance of diversity not only of people, but ideas, I fear for the future of this nation.  There may not be choice for my 10 month grandchildren when they enter school when the only choices that exist will be mostly segregated or online schools teaching test prep or fundamentalist ideas.  It has been America’s public education that has been the fabric that has held together this nation based on law, justice and respect. Without such a system, how can our national identity survive?

 

 

 

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire or (The Pathological Lies of the Charter Movement)

On Friday, I took a personal day from school to deal with some long standing doctors’ appointments. Between appointments, I went home for lunch when the phone rang. The person on the other started the conversation by saying. “Hello, may I speak to . . .”

I answered, “Yes, that’s me.”

Next came this: “My daughter was going to one of New York’s best charter schools and I am so upset that Mayor DiBlasio has closed my child’s school and she has nowhere to go. We need your help in this fight so my beautiful child, Bianca, can continue to have a good education. We would love for you to help us by making a small contribution to continue this fight.”

Then I blew my stack and asked who is really paying you to say this. How can your daughter’s charter school be closed when it never opened in the first place? Mayor DiBlasio did not close any schools. How can one close a school that was never even opened? By the way, with all the money being paid for your fake grass roots campaign, jingoistic ads and commercials, your pal Eva could build ten more charters. Of course, she hung up in the middle of my rant.

I was still angry and wanted to say more. So I looked on the call waiting and, to my surprise, it was a 518 number which is the area code for the Northeastern part of New York State. I called back the number and the mailbox was full. Therefore, I decided to wait until Saturday night and got through. The voice mailbox said, “This is campaign headquarters, please leave a message.”

Now my investigation began in earnest. I did a reverse phone lookup. What did I find? The phone number was a landline located in Averill Park, New York, which is suburb outside of Albany. I guess that Bianca must have had a long commute to her Success Academy Charter every morning to Manhattan.

Next, I put in the Google search engine the name of the town, charters, and campaign. What came up was a list of jobs on Monster for the Northeast Charter School Network. Listed was a bunch of positions for a state-wide campaign in support of charters. Then I went to their beautiful website to see who runs the joint. The Board Chairperson was a man named Chris Jacobs who is a wealthy Buffalo Republican who held several political positions. He was an undersecretary with HUD under Jack Kemp and was Secretary of State in the Pataki administration during his last year. Presently, he runs a network of charters in Buffalo. Next, was Treasurer William Morris who was a retired executive for J.D. Morgan/Chase. Then we have trustee Joe Williams, Executive Director of Democrats for Educational Reform. There were several more, but you got the gist. Their Board of Trustees is a who’s who representing the one percent.

Here we have an AstroTurf non-profit asking for contributions from ill informed, but sympathetic citizens. I know some people may fall for this sob story of how these poor children are being deprived of an education by our evil Mayor. One wonders who is paying this organization to run such a campaign of lies and misinformation. If you look at the Trustees of this organization alone, one knows that their pockets are deep. In addition, they are playing dirty by making believe they are a grassroots organization of parents whose children are being deprived of an education. Last I heard, public education is still compulsory and there is always a place (unlike our charter friends). Well, I think we should play dirty too. Folks, in case you are interested, the number that called me from the Northeast Charter School Network is 518 712-4492. We should all call that number and leave them a nice message in order to call out their lies. You might even get Bianca’s mom and ask her about her daughter’s school commute from Albany to New York City.

Review of Reign of Error (and How to Help the Misguided)

As I was on the R train headed to the UFT for the Delegate Assembly meeting that endorsed Bill de Blasio for Mayor, I started to read Diane Ravitch’s long awaited book. It took me three days to devour information that was little surprise to me. As an avid reader of her blog, I had some idea of what she would say. This book explains in historical terms the origins of the “so-called” school reform movement. In addition, the book describes what motivates the movement, and why, even with so much evidence as to its failure, it continues to proliferate.

Interestingly, on the day I started reading the book, I got a good lesson as why these reformers are so relentless. The power of their money is even being used to convince even teachers to vote or advocate against their own interests. On Wednesday, I decided to post a video, taken from my smart phone, of a portion of candidate de Blasio’s speech to the UFT. A few hours after I posted the video on Facebook, one of my friends wrote that she would never vote for this person because he is “soooooooo liberal.” How can someone help those people who cheat on welfare and are stealing my hard earned money?” She went on to say that, she and “most of her teaching friends” who work in schools made up of the children of such families really understand what is happening. These teachers will not vote for a candidate that wants to help the poor and only cares about “stop and frisk.” He has said nothing in his speech about helping middle class people like her. She concluded by saying that she plans to vote for the Republican candidate (who plans to keep the anti-union, privatization policies of Mayor Michael Bloomberg).

Without success, I tried to change her mind by referring to Diane’s book and some of the information contained within it. She did not believe me when I said that the goal of Bloomberg and others were to privatize education. Instead of looking at profiteers who have used or (stolen) millions in public money to set up for-profit charter schools, her focus was on the weakest within this society. If she lived in the 19th century, her focus would be on the waif that stole a loaf of bread rather than a robber baron that paid slave wages to his factory workers and forced these same workers to buy goods for exorbitant prices at a company store insuring their indebtedness forever. Another one of my Facebook friends linked her to an article on how J.P. Morgan Chase stole billions by cheating their customers in violation of Federal Regulations and asked her who really was stealing public money? She gave no answer.

Unfortunately, my friend has fallen into the trap of listening to the mainstream media. As a result, she is now convinced to vote against her own self-interest. Here is a person who is in her sixties, close to retirement, and with financial problems. However, she plans to vote for someone who will possibly not give her a raise after another four years. She wants to supports a politician who will possibly close her high needs school based on an invalid school grading system, and possibly turn her into a dispossessed teacher, who, under our present contract, will be sent monthly from school-to-school, without any hope of being hired because her salary is too high. All this done by a Mayor who created a budgetary system that makes it unaffordable for any school to hire an experienced teacher. Under our present system, the central board will pay toward the salary of a dispossessed teacher to work as a monthly school substitute, but if a school picks up this experienced teacher for a permanent position, the salary has to be paid by the public school whose resources are cut, and cut, and cut at every opportunity.

She bemoans the fact that someone would prefer welfare to working. She had better look at the real world that exists in our country. On one side, there are billionaires that do not pay their fair share of taxes through “corporate welfare” while on the other side are those that try to work at minimum wage and have no benefits. Why would anyone work for a slave wage at a fast food restaurant when the dole offers more.

Later that night, I got a personal text on Facebook from someone who was probably her friend who saw her public postings and my attempt to convince her otherwise. She said that de Blasio, Ravitch and me want to pick her pocket. The poor deserve nothing. She has a class of over 40 kids that is out of control because of no parent support and that she only wants to teach kids that can learn. I wrote her back saying that her class was so large because resources that could decrease class size is being sent to charter schools. Her reply was that I was only confusing the issue and that she saw no connection between her school and charters. Again, I said Diane’s book would make everything clear. Her final answer was that she would not waste time reading dribble and garbage. It is sad when someone who is educated is so closed minded.

A lot of this has to do with the mainstream media’s attempt to marginalize this book. Here is a book made up of facts, research, statistics as well as a host of solutions ranging from prenatal care, early childhood education, wrap around services, the need to lower class size as well as a strong discussion as to what makes a rich educational environment. By the way, the educational environment Diane describes is not new. I was taught in such an environment right here in New York City when I was a child in the 1960s. However, the vultures started to circle even before the book’s publication date. Several major newspapers personally attacked the character of the author and ignored the ideas within the book while Congressman Jared Polis calls her evil and that her ideas are harming education. However, he should be challenged to say which one of her ideas are doing harm. Is it the lowering of class size? Is it the idea of having a full service educational environment? Is it prenatal care? Is it early childhood education?

Finally, here comes this so-called television program called Education Nation. Every true educator should boycott this program. How dare the producers of such a program only invite a true leader of education only as a member of the audience. What an affront to Dr. Ravitch! This program does not plan to have any real discussion. It is nothing less than propaganda and a love fest for those corporate reformers that have been using their money to control the agenda. Gates, Broad, and the Walton family are no better than those robber barons of the 19th century who bought legislatures, governors and even a president or two to preserve profit margins and prevent the passage of laws that would end child labor, sweatshops, unsafe working conditions, and allow collective bargaining. Those in government and in the mainstream media do not want a real debate on public education because they know they will lose the debate. All their evidence is nothing more than ephemeral and amorphous beliefs based upon meaningless platitudes. Platitudes will not lead to the money that is needed to really try to end poverty and truly invest in an effective public education system. Instead, public money is going to charters that discriminate and publishing companies pushing an untried as well as unproven magic curriculum. Our tax money is greasing the greedy palms of those who wish to profit on the backs of Americans children and are creating a dual educational system that, I fear, will rip apart the very fiber of our democratic society. Diane’s book needs a full public hearing and must lead to a true debate as to the nature of education in this society. Those of us who believe in public education must be heard with respect. If we are shut up, such as the woman who recently was arrested for speaking out against charters at a school board meeting, those of us who believe in this democratic institution will push back. Those who are in power had better start acting as democrats (with a small d) and not as bullies. Teachers, parents and children all have the right to be heard and play a major role in preserving a democratic institution that has served this country well for nearly two centuries.

And this brings us back to my misguided Facebook friend. It is unfortunate that she has heard only one side of the argument because those who control most branches of government and the mainstream media do not want to have a true debate. To do so is to look at the underbelly of our country. Sadly, it is ugly. It is hard to look at oneself and realize there are many imperfections. Those who control the levers of power have convinced many to blame the victim when they are the ones to blame for educational inequality and poverty. The old saying that money is not everything is a lie. It is everything and it can solve a lot of problems. Where should this money come from? For a start, I think that Mr. Gates and the Waltons have more than enough to spare. If these billionaires really wanted to help kids, they would pay their fair share of taxes so that the money can go directly to kids in public schools and not to fake foundations, AstroTurf organizations, charters that teach fairy tales in lieu of science, consultants that have never set foot in a real classroom, and the pockets of corrupt politicians.