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.