Archive for June, 2012

the corporatizing of public education?

Dear Parent Friends,

For a while now you’ve been hearing me rant about the negative effects of high stakes testing in education. Most of you have offered polite nods of understanding-being kind because of our friendship. Perhaps you even agree with me, but feel that either you don’t have enough understanding of the issues, or because you quietly concede that while such testing practices are in fact harmful, there’s little you can do to change things. I write this letter to you to explain as best I can exactly how high stakes testing plays into what is called a “corporate-reform” model of education, how a corporate reform model works, and how it’s fucking our kids. And lastly, I’d like to suggest that in fact there is something we can do about it.

I think we can all agree on the simple basic facts about high stakes testing: It dumbs down the curriculum, it creates a narrow and often inaccurate portrayal of how our children are doing in school, it takes away time from genuine and more creative learning experiences, and just makes the kids stressed out.  Race to the Top (RtTT) requires schools use the Common Core Curriculum (in spite of its many flaws), increase testing, and adopt new teacher evaluations that attach teacher’s jobs to their test scores. Legislation is being pushed across many states to increase school vouchers.  But what does this have to with corporations?  How exactly does that work?

Over the last 30 years, corporations (by which I mean the multinational giants) have developed a stranglehold on policy/legislation across many sectors including agriculture, energy, and health care. Their billions of dollars go into lobbying and “research” that force into law changes in regulations that serve their own interests. Having sucked the life’s blood out of the banking and housing industries in 2008, these same corporations have set their sights on education as the next way to make their profits at the expense of the public’s well-being.

I wondered at first why companies like State Farm, Walmart (via their “Walton Foundation”), Bill Gates, UBS AG, Eli Broad, GE, News Corp and RAND had any interest in throwing money at education. Of course there’s always the motive of the tax write-off for philanthropic giving. But wait. There’s more!

These are the same multinational corporations who spend billions of dollars in lobbying efforts and use their “non-profit” affiliations to sway legislators to write laws to their own benefit. The policy advisers (think-tanks and non-profits) driving education reform have direct and close ties to corporations and politicians who will benefit financially and in other ways from these education reforms. Nearly every single policy adviser, body of “research” and piece of legislation have the same agenda: Uniform standards of measurement and curriculum, increased funding to charter schools, teacher and school evaluations based on high stakes tests, dissolving teachers unions, and eliminating senior level teachers (replaced with younger teachers usually from Teach for America). These corporations are often members of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), a secretive organization led by right wing CEO’s and politicians to sway government policy toward free market practices that benefit the top wealthiest 10% and erode legislation aimed at protecting our environment, the food we eat, the air we breath, and our rights to a secure job and health care. Exxon and Phillip Morris for example, are leaders in ALEC. However, the efforts to privatize public education are not categorically led by “right wingers”-they are led by corporatists. While corporatists are frequently of the right wing persuasion, many Independents and Tea Party activists are opposed to the corporate domination of our public sector as well.

But why are corporations interested in education? Because there is money to be made in education reform. Data is used to track teachers and children. Data is also used to close public schools and reopen them as charter (choice) schools. The city of Philadelphia is attempting to turn the entire Phillie public school system into a charter/private model. Bobby Jindal, (former consultant for the billionaire consulting firm McKinsey and honored by ALEC) and now Governor of Louisiana, is pushing to privatize public schools for the entire state of Louisiana. But even if your school isn’t in danger of being “foreclosed” on, there is still big money to be made from the testing and curriculum forced on public schools by this “model legislation.” Pearson makes billions of dollars off the new testing and curriculum reforms while most schools eliminate teaching positions and quality programs due to insufficient funds. Where did the money go? Ask Pearson.  The testing also serves as a form of surveillance as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and the Department of Defense are all now acting as the keepers of your child’s private information and test scores from kindergarten through high school.

And who invests in these new charter schools? Hedge fund managers and free market venture corporations do. Billions of public tax dollars are funneled to subsidize school vouchers (which go to the corporations who opened these schools), to pay Pearson for providing the new rounds of tests, curriculum, and evaluation, and for per pupil funding that follows the kids to their new charter school replacements. In order to turn schools into private stocks for profit they need what McKinsey and Company (one of the world’s most powerful consulting companies and biggest backers of school reform) call “big data.” “Big data” can easily be provided by using a national Common Core Curriculum and standardized tests. “Think tank” consulting firms like McKinsey fund the lobbying to craft the legislation. Pearson, who has acquired partnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, MSA, SAT testing, GED testing, ACT testing, and the delivery of the National Common Core, receives state-wide contracts and receives billions of education dollars for their services. Then, Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates get paid to manage the data as a private third party once it’s collected.  The same billionaires who lobbied against telling the public about the ill effects of smoking in the 1970’s and who now pay “experts” to tell us that climate change is a “hoax,” have their sights on massive PR and lobbying campaigns to harness public education to their own selfish ends. Don’t be fooled. No matter what you read or hear, absolutely none of these reforms have anything to do with providing your child with a quality education. In fact the opposite is true. They are destroying any chance for a quality education your child might have in the name of making billions of dollars for themselves. And those tests our children take, which by 2014-2015 will double, and begin in kindergarten in all subject areas, are the keys they need to create their kingdom. Our children are merely data sets, dollar signs, and blue chips in the stock exchange for them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a teacher testing my child. I am all for assessments aimed at determining my child’s needs and abilities. I am all for holding teachers accountable for excellence in their craft.  But these high stakes tests being forced on schools and the Common Core Curriculum serve no benefit to children. The former does nothing to inform my child’s teacher about my kid’s abilities or needs, and the latter has been seriously challenged by teachers and teacher educators who have seen first-hand how the Common Core is not developmentally appropriate and robs our kids of many important experiences like exposure to fiction, creativity and the imagination.

There are a lot of times and places in our lives where we feel powerless to change the course of political policy. This should not be one of them. For once, we CAN do something.  Tell your child’s school administrators that your child will not be taking the high stakes standardized tests. Opt out! Tell them why. Expect push back from them. But it’s your right as a parent to opt your child out. This will stop only and if we stop it. How long are we going to be willing to rob our schools of the funding they need, and to subsidize billions of our dollars to pay billionaire corporations for the opportunity to destroy our children’s education?

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The title of this piece is a play on the old phrase “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Why? Because in this era of unfettered free-market wheeling and dealing to profit the Masters of the Universe at the expense of the rest of us, the key players in education reform know all too well that owning the data is how one rocks the cradle.  Peel back the layers of legislation, policy, reports from “think tanks,” relationships between and across education “non profits,” and political wrangling and you can find the central players: the same folks who brought you the financial crisis of 2008 now (behind the scenes) spear heading education reform (along with billionaire’s selling new technological materials). There are two central themes to all of this: Profit (to them) and surveillance (of our children).  Like the proverbial chicken and the egg, there are profits to be made in surveillance disguised as accountability, and surveillance is used to make profits- privatization disguised as “choice.”

While Rupert Murdoch probably requires no introduction, my readers may not know that Rupert Murdoch has undue influence on data collection via testing in k-12 education.  As Cody states: “The core of the technocrats’ push to reshape education is the all-powerful DATA that they believe ought to be driving all of our decisions.”

But Murdoch isn’t the only hedge-fund, venture capitalist, free market, data-collecting giant on the block.  Meet his BFF’s at McKinsey & Company.  Murdoch’s Wireless Generation (funded by Gates) will be joined by the consulting firm McKinsey, which led the first reorganization of Children’s First in 2003 (which included dissolving the district structure-contrary to law-and totally writing off parent input).

McKinsey Management Consulting firm hires the elite to serve the elite.  McKinsey “draws on both public and private sector expertise” helping “clients improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their central administrative offices and processes.”

While their finger prints can be found everywhere in educational “research” and education policy, it’s time to closely examine the constellation of influence cast by their key players, conveniently located in necessary “hot spots” of educational reform.

McKinsey itself cites that sectors positioned for greater gains from big data include education services. What they call Big Data. In order to collect big data one must have streamlined consistent measures of data collection.  So how does one clear the avenues to collect, analyze, and “sell” big data?  McKinsey & Company has followed the steps to privatize public education to the letter.  First, use “research” to create a crisis. Then, promise to bring solutions to this crisis, advocating the “need” for more data, and become the central warehouse for storing and using that data for one’s own purposes. There is a great deal of money to be made by McKinsey and the clients they serve every step of the way. And there is great power in being the holder of that data. The goal is to place public data, test scores from children among the most valuable data sets, into private hands for corporate profit and control.

According to their own research panel entitled: Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity– Capturing its value: Big data—large pools of data that can be captured, communicated, aggregated, stored, and analyzed—is now part of every sector and function of the global economy. Like other essential factors of production such as hard assets and human capital, it is increasingly the case that much of modern economic activity, innovation, and growth simply couldn’t take place without data.”

Leading this project (among others) is Martin N. Baily, a senior adviser to McKinsey and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (the place that just terminated its relationship with Diane Ravitch as a non-resident senior fellow.)

In the McKinsey Big Data report they cite that “lack of data-driven mind-set and available data” in education is the hurdle to overcome in order to move forward. McKinsey’s report cites that incompatible standards and formats of data in different sources can prevent the integration of data from which big data gets its value.

Enter David Coleman. David Coleman, one of the main architects of the National Common Core Standards, and now President of the College Board, was formerly an associate at McKinsey. Thus the National Common Core Standards, all soon to be available for more streamlined data collection via online services, provides a consistent and efficient means to collect data from children. Never mind whether or not the Common Core or the tests used to collect the data are even developmentally or pedagogically sound-they’re big money.

Fortunately for Mr. Coleman, he has his colleague, Sir Michael Barber, former partner and head of McKinsey global education practice who is now at Pearson as the Chief Education Advisor, to ensure that the data is collected courtesy of Pearson’s textbooks and testing products (which include development of, dissemination of, and/or evaluations of the SAT, PAARC, GRE, The National Common Core Standards for pre-K through grade 12, and the Teachers Professional Assessment). Barber’s philosophy on education reform comes right out of a playbook by ALEC. McKinsey’s unofficial motto could be his own: “Everything can be measured, and what is measured can be managed.”  Pearson’s push to create online services to streamline the collection of data on teachers and children also reflects McKinsey & Company’s goal to ramp up electronic forms of data collection.

Again, according to McKinsey, “Analyzing large data sets-so called big data-will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity, growth and innovation.” As Anthony Cody writes, they will be getting their wish:

“What will it mean for these state-level data systems when these tests are all nationalized through the Common Core? It seems as if we will then have, in effect, a nationwide data system with detailed information about every single person enrolled in a public school.”

This data is needed to propel education into a free market enterprise, where hedge fund managers (once stuffing their faces at the trough of the housing and banking markets) now feed off of education.  They use brilliant marketing strategies, using key terms to sell their markets and services under false pretenses. For example, streamlined data collection via online learning (which benefits for-profit online educational companies like Connections Academy and Bill Gates) is marketed as “individualized learning.” School turn-arounds, using vouchers and corporate model charter schools, are promoted in the name of “equity” and “access” (never mind that this surge of charter schools has increased racial segregation in many cities).  Uniform and accessible data sets needed to create big data sets, created through a National Common Core, standardized testing, and the Teacher Professional Assessment (all in contracts with Pearson) are touted in the names of “accountability” and “quality control.”

And who are their clients? Not children. Somehow I doubt that my child’s test scores in the hands of McKinsey and Rupert Murdoch will be sent to educational experts within their organizations, who will provide pedagogically sound feedback to my child’s teachers on how to best modify their instructional strategies to improve the quality of learning for my child.  They do not provide services for us.  Our children are providing services for them.

What have they done to help teachers and students for all the millions they’ve been paid for their “consulting fees?”

In 2007 McKinsey worked for the Minneapolis Public Schools, where the firm recommended that the district cut “high costs” such as teacher health care, and recommended converting the 25 percent of schools that scored the lowest on standardized tests to privatized charter-school status (a plan under which schools receiving public funds are run by independent charter associations, or for-profit entities, and operate outside the authority of local school boards).

In Seattle, McKinsey was funded by a $750,000 gift from local philanthropists (hmmmm, who could THAT be?) to conduct a comprehensive study of data collected in Seattle’s education system. Teachers in Seattle passed a resolution of non-compliance with McKinsey’s study of the Seattle Public Schools in protest.

At McGill University in Canada, McKinsey provided their services to McGill senior administrators for free. Awww, they’re so nice.  According to one report “McKinsey has a reputation for prioritizing profits over people, and for doing so opaquely and without public accountability.” They impose austerity measures like cutting the institution of tenure which is being replaced by a system that relies on less-costly sessional professors and course lecturers.

So, who do they serve? Or is the question, who serves them? Maybe its mutually symbiotic?

First of all they are Bill Gates and Eli Broad’s favored consultants.

Current and former McKinsey consultants now invested in corporate-model education reform include:  Louis Gerstner (co-chair of Achieve-the group that helped sponsor Nation Common Core), Rajat Gupta (financial backer of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Marshall Lux (on the Board of the Harlem Children’s Zone), Andrés Satizábal (Harlem Charter School), Michael Stone (Chief External Relations Officer at New Schools for New Orleans),  Terrence McDonough (English Teacher and Department Chair at Edward W. Brooke Charter School  and 5th Grade Teacher at Teach for America), Luis de la Fuente (with the Broad Foundation, who develops and manages a portfolio of grants to school districts, charter management organizations, and innovative non-profits), Shantanu Sinha (COO of Kahn Academies), and Jerry Hauser ( who served as the Chief Operating Officer at Teach For America). This list could go on ad infinitum.  But one final player of note is Bobby Jindal, former McKinsey consultant, and now Governor of Louisiana. He is forming policies to privatize public education for the entire state of Louisiana.

In addition, Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana Superintendent of Education, hired Sir Michael Barber to help redesign the Louisiana DOE.

Mitt Romney told the Wall Street Journal that if he is elected President, he will “probably” hire McKinsey to tell him how to reorganize the government.

In 2007 McKinsey was Mayor Bloomberg’s favorite consultant- “It took part in the restructuring that followed the Mayor’s takeover of the Department of Education. And why not? A C.E.O. Mayor and the consulting firm known for being a C.E.O.’s best friend.  A leader who believes in looking at the cold hard data, and a company ready to provide it. Bloomberg’s “bullpen”; McKinsey’s “teams.”

Joel Klein in partnership with McKinsey and Company began an intensive involvement in education issues more than a decade ago.  In 2007 their consultants played critical roles in planning the restructuring of the New York City schools under Chancellor Klein.

The Department of Defense contracts with McKinsey & Company as well. The Department of Defense has expressed direct involvement with the collecting and tracking of all student data as is indicated by their participation in GradNation, and calling for a “national security audit.”

Hedge fund managers love this stuff too. “Some of the best brains and biggest names in the hedge fund industry have put their philanthropic might behind charter schools in an attempt to redefine public school education in the U.S., giving millions of dollars to the effort.” They need those big data sets provided by McKinsey, because “in this world, measurements, reporting and data, including the notion of philanthropic return on investment, count.”

As the New York Times states: “Charters have attracted benefactors from many fields. But it is impossible to ignore that in New York, hedge funds are at the movement’s epicenter.” NYT adds that: “Younger on average than top executives at financial giants like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley hedge fund managers are often numbers-driven refugees of those banks, who chuck the suit and tie and work with a small staff, studying spreadsheets for investment opportunities.”

Those spread sheets of “investment opportunities” (formerly called children)  include the incessant number of mind- numbing and unreliable, pedagogically unsound tests designed and evaluated by Pearson that our children are now forced to take.  These spread sheets serve as the fodder for firing teachers and closing schools, and replacing them with “hedge fund investments.” Apparently unions, highly- qualified and experienced teachers, teacher salaries, messy yet meaningful curriculum, and bad test takers like ELL children get in the way of all that.

Our children’s futures, their education, and our tax dollars (funneled through “vouchers”) are now being used as the latest playthings of billionaires whose previous toys, banking and real estate, are now broken. And those policies and practices which broke those systems, but continue to line their pockets, are now being transposed onto educational policy. And McKinsey, safely pocketed in central locations within Pearson, The National Common Core, charter schools, and higher education, will be able to deliver education to them on a silver platter. Every test our children take, every ounce of data we allow them to collect on our children, our teachers and our future teachers in universities, serve as the noose we hand them to hang us with. And we pay them for the service of being able to hang us.

Didn’t we learn anything from the financial misdeeds of 2008?

In Honor of the “We”

Posted: June 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

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Our strength is greater than their wealth

 

My blog this week is dedicated to a few of my heroes: Individuals dedicated to schools as a democratic right and education as the foundation for social justice.  Their comments below were originally posted as comments which can be found at  Daily Cloudt . But their ideas are too good to “waste”-or to languish in a comment box.

The wisdom expressed by these scholars must be celebrated widely. Each person’s comments are posed in direct response to the issues confronting higher education right now in the eye of the reform storm.  

They speak to questions such as:

“Are k-12 schools customers to be served by Colleges of Education?”

“Can we preserve academic freedom and freedom of speech in light of oppressive educational policies?”

“What are Colleges of Education for?”

“What should Colleges of Education do to support schools, to transform public education and stem the tide of the corporate agenda?”

So, the next time someone asks you “What is education for?” you might quote one of the passages below.

I thank these all of these scholars personally for their brilliance, their courage, and their passion.  It is an honor to say “I will not be moved” in solidarity with each of them. While the reformers have more money, we have each other. And our strength is greater than their wealth.  We will not be moved.

Here is to those who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

Jim Horn (Cambridge MA) Professor in Educational Leadership. http://www.schoolsmatter.info/

In reflecting on the rise of the American university system in 1918, Thorsten Veblen wrote “It is always possible, of course, that this pre-eminence of intellectual enterprise in the civilization of the Western peoples is a transient episode; that it may eventually—perhaps even precipitately, with the next impending turn in the fortunes of this civilization—again be relegated to a secondary place in the scheme of things and become only an instrumentality in the service of some dominant aim or impulse, such as a vainglorious patriotism, or dynastic politics, or the breeding of a commercial aristocracy” (Chapter 1, para 18). Almost a hundred years later, that “breeding of a commercial aristocracy” has become a cancer in the heart and brain of American education, K-20, that is growing ever larger as it eats away its host. What is needed is radical treatment, by surgery, poisoning, burning, or any other means at our disposal to eliminate the disease before it is too late. One thing that this particular tumor hates is exposure to air and light, which has the effect of halting its spread … I know there are some in academe who have given up on the fearless pursuit of truth and would rather view themselves and their colleagues as epistemological shoe salesmen, always at the ready to fit the customer with the whatever product lines are being marketed at the time. Don’t be dissuaded in your mission or corralled by the cowards. Keep fighting the good fight for as long as our patient has breath. Let us never give up.

Tom Poetter (Oxford, Ohio). Partnership Director and Professor – Curriculum, University of Miami, OH

One of the important fields for debate right now concerns the ends to which corporations will co-opt our work in schools, our work on curriculum, our work on the day to day functions of the art of teaching. In Schools of Education, it seems particularly important for scholars to call our attention to events and entities that monopolize and ultimately surveille us. And it’s important for us to resist the language of customer and consumer when referring to educational acts and settings. It’s not organic, it’s transactional. The debate then steers from what is important to consider, and that is the educational and human impact on learners and schools when power races to control knowledge, evaluation, choice, and freedom itself. Education professors have long been vocal on these subjects and not heard. It’s time to be heard. (To fight) for stronger teaching, stronger schools, stronger schools of education, and a stronger democratic republic marked by equity, justice and freedom, which we all, ultimately, deserve and must work for.

Jesse- The walking Man- Turner. (West Hartford, CT.) Director of the Central Connecticut State University Literacy Center, Children Are More Than Test Scores (Facebook) Save Our School March National Steering Committee http://www.facebook.com/groups/Childrenaremorethantestscroes/

I never like the terminology of learners as customers. Customers can be, and are sometimes cheated. Business thinks buyer beware is an appropriate way to handle cheating. We have an endless history of law cases involving customers being cheated as well. So I rather stay away from corporate terms like customers in education. I certainly would not want public schools saying child beware. I also have an issue with the concept of serving school systems as well. Parents of children with special needs have often felt at odds with what their local school system over services. So a university serving the needs of a school system might very well place themselves in the way of doing what is right for a child in favor of serving the school system. We have lawsuits against school systems in 50 states over denial f services to ESL and Special needs students. We have the same regarding the failure to desegregate schools. Any notion of service to a school system might very well place universities front and center in courtrooms in those cases. If anyone serves anyone it’s should be children not universities, or school systems. Let’s all remember we may work for schools, or universities, history informs us that people have done some deceitful things to individuals to stay in the good graces of their employers. Something tells me at Pearson they put the bottom line first at their board meetings not children. You can bet your bottom last dollar that the moment any of this begins to not turn a profit Pearson will drop it. Let’s be honest the customer comes second in their world. Sadly sometimes this is true for both universities and school system as well. Children are not customers they are our future, and our future deserves something more than a customer-service provider relationship. If more people do not start putting children first then that headstone may very well be the foreshadowing of things to come.

Susan Ohanian (Charlotte, VT). K-14 educator, scholar, and writer. www susanohanian.org

In our current era of university silence on the corporate crushing of public education … I think Stanford University should be taken to task as well as Pearson. Pearson is, after all, a for-profit corporation, answerable to stockholders. What is Stanford’s excuse?

Tim Slekar (Tyrone, PA). Associate professor of teacher education. www.atthechalkface.com  and www.unitedoptout.com

Assuming that anybody is a “customer” in the endeavor that we call education creates a dichotomy of winners and losers. Whether it’s 1 year or 50 years of experience in education once you have been lured into the business language and culture of education I’m afraid that your values have been compromised. This article had nothing to do with teacher education and relationships with local schools. To bring this issue to the comment section is evidence of a motive that seeks to undermine the author instead of debating why we (educators) are allowing a single corporate conglomerate to control what, how, when, where and why we teach? And we don’t prepare teachers for schools as they are, we prepare them for how schools should be.

Stephen Krashen (Malibu, CA). Professor emeritus at the University of Southern California.

“We exist to serve the school systems and to meet their needs–” What is a university for? In my view, universities are the only place where scholars can pursue truth by doing research with no immediate application. Society needs them. The history of science tells us that major breakthroughs with very important applications often come from purely theoretical research (eg Boolean Algebra, non-Euclidean Geometry). In other words, university professors can pursue theory, without application. Schools of education have a unique position: They need to do both theory and application at the same time, working on aspects of learning theory that show promise of improving instruction. The rest of the university has the luxury of doing “esoteric” research and analyses, but schools of education do not. Moreover, pedagogical suggestions made by school of education professionals must be consistent with both applied and theoretical research, a daunting constraint. Companies like Pearson are free to focus only on the immediate perceived needs of their customers, without regard to the results of applied or theoretical research, and they often work hard to create a market for their materials. Schools of education serve both the short and long-term needs of the school system; they increase our body of knowledge about learning, and have the knowledge to point out when private sector products and claims are inconsistent with what is known about learning. If schools of education exist only to serve the immediate perceived needs of the school systems, there is no reason have schools of education. Pearson has already demonstrated that they are willing to fulfill this role. Footnote: Education professors who do only esoteric research (theory only with no possible application) and who are not up-to-date with what is going on in classrooms are incompetent.

Dr. Ira Shor (New York, NY) Professor of Rhetoric/Composition, City University of NY Graduate Center

The private sector cannot be the driver of public education policy b/c the private sector has a conflict of interest–it must derive large monetary profit from all its transactions with the schools. What the private sector comes up with has to satisfy first and foremost its profit-driven needs. The public schools and public colleges of America are not private enterprises. They are public goods, public treasures, public agencies to improve the social lot of the majority who use them. Students, teachers, schools, and colleges are not “customers.” They are mutually dependent stakeholders in a grand preoccupation with making this society a more humane, more democratic, and more fair place for our children. Businesses are not driven by those needs, so their imposition of commercial rhetoric on public schools–calling them “customers”–undermines the purpose of our embattled education sector. In these past years, we witnessed how unaccountable, profit-driven businesses drove the greatest economy in the world off a cliff. The business sector should be questioned for its damage to America, not bowed down to.  We must call out Pearson Inc. for what it is, a profiteer and privateer getting rich while our schools get poor.

Mark D. Naison (Brooklyn, NY). Professor of African American Studies and History Fordham University Founder and Principal Investigator. The Bronx African American History Project. http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/

The most dangerous idea floating around in academic today is the view that Universities provide “Customer Service.” When I became an historian, I thought that I my responsibility was seeking truth and honoring the best traditions of my profession as embodied by the scholars that came before me. The idea that I would subject either of those ideals to pleasing customers negates the ideals of liberal education and leads to the corruption of our profession. The extreme concentration of wealth in this society has the potential to corrupt our public education system and has done great damage already. Her prophetic voice should not only be applauded, it should be welcome by scholars and teachers throughout out Universities, even in graduate schools of education I will close by saying this: If any administrator at my university asked me to do “Customer Service” and treat my students as customers, they would rue the day they dared to address me that way. Scholars serve a higher power than university administrators, boards of trustees, and test companies.

A while back I made up a really bad joke that goes like this:

Question: How many academics does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Answer: One-they stand on the chair holding the light bulb and wait for the world to revolve around them.

I made this joke up after I had become an academic, a professor of education, myself. Me, like other academics (if we are rigorously honest with ourselves) have to concede that this is true, at least in part, some of the time. We work in an environment where we receive accolades for telling others that our theory, our ideas, our latest book, holds the “truth;” we teach others that we have the knowledge, that we are “right.” Sometimes….

It’s also more true that many of us are dedicated to something bigger than ourselves, something that overshadows the ego feeding realm of higher education. That something is social justice.

There is no one definition of what social justice means, and there are many varied ways to get there, and we often disagree amongst ourselves about these processes and terminologies. But what we share is a common goal to get there, to work toward a world that is more sustainable, peaceful, and equitable than the one we have right now.

Yesterday at work someone was pointing out to me (with some concern-whether it be for me, or for trouble I may cause in my workplace, I am not sure), but they pointed out that it seemed to them that recently I have grown more “political,” more outspoken; saying (without saying it) that I seemed more … radical.

And the proverbial light bulb in my bad joke went off over my head.  I realized something I hadn’t before.  Before yesterday, I kept thinking that it was me that was moving in a certain direction.  Yes, my need to speak out publicly, and to take real (and public) actions have increased … and I have experienced some real growing pains in the process.  But in the midst of yesterdays conversation I realized, and said out loud, “Nothing about what I believe or what I teach has really changed.  Ten years ago when NCLB was the reform du jour I spoke out to my students against that. Ten years ago I railed in my classrooms against high stakes testing.  I assigned readings by Paulo Freire and told my students that teaching and learning ought be revolutionary acts that change the world.” So what’s so different now?

I haven’t changed.  My commitment to social justice in education hasn’t changed.  But the world around me has. In over twenty years in education I have bore witness to the cyclical nature of education trends in policy and practice. Teachers perhaps are not worried enough about what’s happening in public education with recent “reform” efforts because they tell me they’ll just wait for the “pendulum to swing back again.” Sorry folks.  This time it’s different.  The pendulum will not be swinging back.  The bastion of current reforms is setting dangerous and historic precedents.  This isn’t problem-based learning versus an interdisciplinary approach, or “real” math versus “touch” math.  Education reform now is part of a much larger agenda.

This is the beginning of the end of public education.

Those of us fighting for social justice have been standing firm, holding the rope to the ship of public education for a long time now, and the tides of privatization are now unmooring it from its dock.  The forces of corporate power and interest are greater now than ever before in our history.  Waves of economic, political, social, ecological, religious and cultural interests that serve the rich and privileged are pulling like a sick rip tide, tearing at the foundations of our country.

And we will not be moved.

Is it really us who have become more radical?  Or, is it maybe that the rest of the country around us is shifting away from fighting for our own rights and our own freedoms without even noticing?  I suggest that the climate around us become more oppressive, more fear-driven, more destructive, and more insidious.  We see our democracy floating out to sea while everyone about us is over at the ice cream truck buying treats from Bill Gates, Wall Street, the banking industry, Eli Broad, the Koch Brothers, and investment brokers.

You know what I mean if you’re not moving either.  We have become radicals without having moved an inch. Here’s a quick test:  Do you have friends that avoid talking about education with you in polite conversation because they’re afraid you’ll start frothing at the mouth? You might be a radical. Do people at work avoid your gaze and shrink in their seats when you raise your hand at meetings to say something? You might be a radical.  Do your work superiors ask you to remain silent.. “or else”… about these issues of which you are knowledgeable, when they themselves lack any real understanding whatsoever about what’s really going on? You might be a radical.  Is your career in jeopardy for speaking the truth and fighting for the rights of educators and children? You might be a radical.  Do other parents and teachers dread seeing you enter the room at PTA meetings and other education functions for fear you’ll say something that makes everyone uncomfortable? You might be a radical.

It can feel isolating some days. Some days my mind is reeling with fears and anger, with new ideas for hope and change, all of which I keep to myself because I know that not everyone standing in front of me in the grocery store line is going to give a shit about what I am thinking or feeling.  They just want to get through the check out and move on with their day.

I call my “sisters in arms” daily just to ask the question “Are we crazy?” because some days I wonder. But then I remember. We will not be moved. We will not negotiate. We will not be pulled under by the rip tides of injustice. I haven’t changed. But I am fighting harder because I have to– because the stakes are higher than ever, and because the long lasting and far-reaching repercussions of our submission to the will of those who want own our rights to public education are unthinkable.

I stand with the others who will not be moved: Vincent Precht,  Barbara Madeloni , the teachers and educators in New York facing off with Pearson field testing this week , the New York principals , the superintendents in Texas , teachers in Wisconsin , those calling to Dump Duncan , the Ethnic Studies program in Tucson, AZ , and all the others (too many to mention but you know who you are  :)) risking their personal and professional lives NOT to be moved.

There is a lot wrong with public education now, and historically.  I do not advocate rolling back the clock of romanticism to some other era (which never existed unless you white and middle class anyway). The federal, state and local governments, the unions, the school board, the teachers, the administrators, the parents- all of us must take honest stock of our own roles in creating, perpetuating, or silently being complicit in the problems with public education.

To move forward with a genuine transformation of public education, we have to first own where we have gone wrong and identify what we must do differently.  And we must preserve its strengths.  A lot of folks are saying public education is a disaster-just get rid of it.  I disagree.

I think our democratic processes in this country are a big giant mess too.  But I would no more advocate for simply just eliminating the Democratic Experiment any more than I would its central tenet: the possibility of a free, accessible, open, and equitable quality education for all children; One that helps create a more socially just and sustainable future. We are the democratic process and we are the public. We have lost sight of that.  I recognize that often times our rights have simply been stripped from us, or denied to us from the very start, by powerful corporate interests and the wealth of the 1%.  But education must remain a fundamental piece of our democratic principles as a publicly owned, publicly run, publicly funded and publicly attended institution.

I want to take the democratic rights of citizens and the right to public education back.  They belong to me.  They belong to you.  They belong to us.  But we must fight for them.  And we must have the capacity to imagine what possibilities still lie ahead for a better future for public education.  Don’t give up on it. Fight for it.  And then, we use our collective passions and imaginations to fulfill its greatest potential- to which it has never before been able to fully achieve.  Reformers claim public education has failed, yet we never fully realized its full potential to begin with.  We know there are those with money, wealth, and power (now and in the past) who set it up for failure.  But we can change thatWe, will not be moved.