During my many years of work on ASCD at the Washington State and International levels I had the good fortune to meet many state, national, and international leaders in education. A few years ago I ran across the work of Jerry Bracey and ended up as a subscriber to his listserve, the Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency (EDDRA). Bracey was one of the giants of our time with extensive background in assessment and not afraid to call a spade a spade. EDDRA consisted of some of the top thinkers in the field of education who came together to identify and call out the misinformed, stupid, and out-and-out fraudulent information being promoted to the public. In Hemingway’s terms, we were a bunch of “crap detectors” bent on straightening things out.
I met many people through EDDRA, but one of the best analytical minds belongs to Michael Martin from Arizona. He is able to cut through the most obtuse argument to find the kernel of truth hidden within. I am amazed at his ability to read opposing views on a topic and, on the spot, develop a well thought out ten-paragraph response that reads like it was the result of hours of research and much editing.
To finally get to the point, when Mike sends me something he has written I know I had better read it carefully and pay attention to its points. I just received such a piece from him and knew right away I needed to get it to as big an audience as possible. Here is his take on what I refer to as the Federal/corporate takeover of the public schools.
Waiting For SuperFraud
By Michael T. Martin
Public schools have to fail. There is no alternative. So give up trying to argue otherwise with facts and logic.
The mockumentary Waiting For Superman made this clear. Funded by millionaires, the movie told the story of some privatized schools in Harlem portrayed as saviors of children otherwise condemned to public schools. Privatized schools mostly funded by hedge fund millionaires on Wall Street. They spent two million dollars to promote the film nationally. Another major film titled “The Lottery” told a similar tale: children in Harlem desperate to escape public schools. Funded by more millionaires.
State Senator Bill Perkins, who represents the people of Harlem, tried to put profit restrictions on these privatized schools. So the millionaires spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run an opponent against him in the November, 2010, election. The people of Harlem voted overwhelmingly to re-elect Perkins.
One of the supposed heroes in the mockumentary was Michele Rhee, the caustic head of Washington, D.C., schools. She subsequently was the focus of the November, 2010, mayor’s election in D.C., campaigning for the existing mayor who appointed her, promising to resign if he lost. The people of D.C. voted him and her out.
The little people in Harlem and D.C. who see the truth on the ground voted against the millionaires. But the big money people still rate Rhee as a hero and keep pouring money and propaganda into charter schools. Ever wonder why? Brooklyn city councilman Charles Barron laments the situation in New York City: “Our public schools need to be in the control of parents and the community, as opposed to businessmen who see the $23 billion budget as a means to giving no-bid contracts to their cronies.”
In April, 1999, the Wall Street financiers at Merrill Lynch published a 193 page “In-depth Report” titled “The Book of Knowledge, Investing in the Growing Education and Training Industry.” Early in the report they noted: “The K-12 market is the largest segment of the education industry with approximately $360 billion spent annually or over $6,500 per year per child. Despite the size, the K-12 market is the most problematic to invest in today. Entrenched bureaucracies and personal and political interests contribute to the challenges facing this sector.”
Public schools HAVE to fail in order to crack open this egg and give these financiers access to the $360 billion they are after (estimates are that it is around $700 billion today). No matter what logic you use to explain the problems or successes of public education, it will be of no avail: public schools HAVE to fail. Whatever it takes. In a 2007 appellate court decision ruling that Merrill Lynch could not be sued by Enron stockholders for facilitating the fraud of Enron, the dissenting third member of the judicial panel wrote: “The majority immunizes a broad array of undeniably fraudulent conduct from civil liability.”
Big money wants the public schools to fail and they are quite willing to engage in “undeniably fraudulent conduct” to ensure it. One prescient book titled “The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America’s Public Schools” told the tale back in 1996 but logic and facts won’t stop big money.
Back about the time NCLB was promulgated, Ron Susskind, a New York Times reporter, related a conversation with a senior aide to President George W. Bush in the summer of 2002: “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore.’”
Big money is “the way the world really works anymore.” Enough money to buy political influence. A lesson well taken from the experience of the tobacco industry in fighting the truth of lung cancer. A lesson perhaps best exemplified by the Tobacco Institute’s “Powell Memorandum” that exhorted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to establish a conspiracy to counter the environmentalism and consumerism of the public schools. The author of which was soon afterward appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The current leadership of the Republican Congress in the House and Senate both have long established economic ties to the tobacco industry. House speaker Boehner was criticized several years ago for handing out tobacco lobby checks on the floor of the House during a crucial vote on tobacco regulation. People whose self interest depends on addicting children to a poisonous product now claim to have the best interests of children in mind.
The overarching thrust of the mockumentary Waiting For Superman is that teachers’ unions are responsible for the faux failure of public schools. That teachers have their own self interest rather than that of children in mind. The teachers’ unions that have been major supporters of the Democratic Party since the Civil Rights era. So the Republican Party will stop at nothing to undermine public education.
After President Clinton was elected in the early 1990s, Reed Hundt, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (1993-97), asked H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Education Bill Bennett to support legislation that would pay for internet access in all classrooms and libraries in the country. “I asked him to support the bill in the crucial stage when we needed Republican allies. He told me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail so that they could be replaced with vouchers, charter schools, religious schools, and other forms of private education.”
Grover Norquist, a major political leader in the Republican conservative movement, was asked by writer Ben Adler of The New Republic “How evolution should be taught in public schools.” Norquist responded “The real problem here is that you shouldn’t have government-run schools.” Norquist is better known for his patriotic comment that he wants to shrink the federal government to where he can drown it in a bathtub. His words; somewhat evocative of drowning a child.
So there are powerful forces who will ensure that public schools fail. There is no sense arguing to the contrary, there is over $700 billion to believe otherwise. The same greed by the same people that left the U.S. economy in ruins, with millions of ordinary people unemployed and in bankruptcy, will ensure that the U.S. education system is soon in the same condition. Public education has to fail, because that is “the way the world really works anymore.”