Archive for Education
Jeff Bryant’s alarming post at Salon details some of the financial services sector’s inventive, new schemes for funding education. Wall Street already saw K-12 schools as “the last honeypot,” a steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars just waiting to be tapped by charter schools. It first had to convince states to increase competition – meaning eliminating teachers and other public employees standing between investors and their money.
One could argue that the right’s small government, low taxes mantra always had as its goal eliminating the “creeping socialism” of government providing education and other public services on a not-for-profit basis. (What, no middle-man markup?) “Starving the beast” was never about the size of government, but about eliminating public-sector competitors and making sure the right people take a percentage of vital services funded at taxpayer expense.
Since the collapse of the housing market, the giant pool of money is looking for other places to invest. So it’s out with the NINA loans and the CDOs and in with the SLABS, CABS, PPPs, and ISAs. Jeff Bryant writes:
It’s not hard to see the allure of SLABS [student loan asset-backed securities]. Student loans seem to be an endless stream of revenue as colleges and universities continue to increase tuition, economic conditions and employment transience feed the unemployed back into continuing education, and political leaders urge everyone to attend college. The income stream is nearly guaranteed to pay off because the loans are next to impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.
A Huffington Post article by Chris Kirkham states, SLABS offer “seemingly unlimited growth potential at virtually zero risk. The burden of college loan repayment falls entirely on students’ backs, shielding corporations from the consequences of default.”
The reason business interests want to undermine public education, I argue, is to get their hands on the largest portion of the annual budget in all 50 states. At Salon this morning, Thom Hartmann argues that conservatives hate public education because “it’s hard to sell the Conservative brand” to people who know their own history:
So now, thanks to the war on education that began with Ronald Raegan, we have come to that remote period in time Jefferson was concerned about. Our leaders, ignorant of or ignoring the history of this nation’s founding, make a parody of liberty and flaunt their challenges even to those rights explicitly defined in the Constitution. And, perhaps worse, they allow monopolistic corporations to do the same.
Our best defense against today’s pervasive ignorance about American history and human rights is education, a task that Jefferson undertook in starting the University of Virginia to provide a comprehensive and free public education to all capable students. A well-informed populace will always preserve liberty better than a powerful government, a philosophy which led the University of California and others to once offer free education to their states’ citizens.
Two postings this weekend involving lynch mobs led me to an interesting bit of history from the Revolutionary War. Reading the L.A. Times op-ed title, “Southern ‘Hanging Bridge: A monument to Judge Lynch,” made me gasp. It had never occurred to me that lynching derived from someone’s name.
Jason Morgan Ward, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University, begins:
On Feb. 10, the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization Equal Justice Initiative released “Lynching in America,” a searing report that documents 3,959 lynchings in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. The researchers note that their count exceeds that of previous studies by at least 700 victims. The news media seized on the numbers and paid less attention to what the group characterized as an “astonishing absence” of lynching memorials in communities that boast monuments to Confederate soldiers and architects of the South’s Jim Crow regime.
As it happens, an abandoned, rusted bridge on a dirt road near Shubuta, Mississippi stands as a makeshift monument to the lynchings that occurred there between 1918 and 1942. When Ward asked locals if the new road bypassing the “hanging bridge” had anything to do with its history, a local told him, “People don’t need to see that.”
But Ward’s op-ed did not explain who Judge Lynch was.
It was news last week when Oklahoma legislators voted to cease funding an Advance Placement history course, echoing a key critic of the curriculum who believes “the concept of American exceptionalism has been deliberately scrubbed out of this document.”
At Crooks and Liars, Dave Neiwert suggests that one motivation for the legislation may be that Oklahomans do not want to see their own unflattering history revisited: the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the Osage Reign of Terror, also from the 1920s. In the first, white lynch mobs obliterated a prosperous black neighborhood – even dropping fire bombs from airplanes (one might consider that exceptional) – and in the second, white fortune hunters exploited and murdered Osage tribal members to gain control over oil rights. Combined, hundreds died. Neiwert explains:
Something about Sunday mornings brings out the preacher in me. I wrote about this yesterday, but this morning I’m still fuming about misguided efforts by right-wing ideologues to abandon our system of public schools for whatever crazy reasons, or because freedom. Listen:
One hundred and sixty thousand rugged individuals didn’t suddenly decide to grab a gun off the mantle, don uniforms, build landing craft, and separately invade Normandy on June 6, 1944 because if big gummint did it, it would be un-American, add to the debt, and we don’t like France anyway.
There are things we do as a people, together, that make us US.
Educating our nation’s children together is one of those things. Support for universal public education in this country predates ratification of the United States Constitution. It’s built into the state constitutions and enabling legislation that brought new states into the Union all the way up to and including Hawaii, the 50th state.
I don’t know what country chest-thumping, would-be patriots who want to abolish public education think they want to live in, but it’s not the United States of America.
My father in-law law fought on the front lines in Europe during WWII. One of the things he said distinguished the American GI from the enemy is that when their tanks and trucks and jeeps broke down, the Germans would abandon their equipment on the field of battle and walk away. But the American boys had grown up tinkering with their cars, trucks and tractors. It was a point of pride for them, he told me, that when their gear broke down, they could fix it and get it running again with whatever they had at hand. Shoelaces. Rubber bands. “Duck” tape. And get back into the fight.
That’s the spirit that won the war. You don’t hear that spirit from public school abolitionists. Freedom, my ass.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Jefferson may never have said an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people, but the idea strikes a chord. The urban legend lives on because the idea speaks to American aspirations that predate the signing of the Constitution. Among some of our American cohort, especially among our right-wing, would-be keepers of the flame, that aspiration is dying.
The movement on the right to abolish public education – that all-American institution – has been growing for some time. Ron Paul wants public schools abolished. So does Rick Santorum. So do T-party types from coast to coast. And, of course, Texas.
Now that fringe, fundamentally un-American idea is being mainlined into public via Fox News.
“There really shouldn’t be public schools, should there?” said “Outnumbered” host Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery during a discussion of the Oklahoma state legislature’s proposal to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History in high schoo for not promoting American exceptionalism. Talking Points Memo notes that this movement is spreading:
Efforts by conservative school board members in Colorado to make the Advanced Placement U.S. History course “more patriotic,” prompted a walk-out by students. Under the changes proposed in Colorado “students would only be taught lessons depicting American heritage in a positive light, and effectively ban any material that could lead to dissent.” In South Carolina conservatives asked the College Board to exclude any material with an “ideological bias,” including evolution. Similar efforts are underway in Georgia and North Carolina.
Amanda Marcotte looked at this and other ways “Republicans are purposefully trying to make Americans more ignorant.” I’ve looked at the ideological basis for eliminating from the university classroom any ideas that cut across the conservative grain.
What the new abolitionists want, it seems, is either a Disneyfied version of America (without “Small World,” of course); a pre-American one before universal, public education was a hallmark of the American experiment; or one that serves narrow interests of business interests in producing serviceable workers who will do but not think. Any of those options presents a pretty bleak vision of America’s future.
Last fall U.S. News examined the tension between broad learning and and education focused on technical skills:
The prevailing wisdom and research indicate a growing emphasis on and necessity for career-ready degrees such as computer science, engineering and finance – often included as part of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
At the same time, employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hires.
With a sluggish job market and companies still reluctant to reinvest in their workforces, the job prospects for all college grads have actually never been clearer: College graduates with career-ready degrees are best positioned to get hired and earn the quickest return on their educational investment.
But that’s a pretty threadbare method for evaluating an education’s worth, and one the Founders would not have recognized. While studying advanced dynamics, I received a flyer from my old college announcing its 150th anniversary celebration with lectures on medieval arts and sciences interspersed with recorder quartets. Where I was working on my engineering degree, I saw little love of learning for its own sake. Students raised their hands and asked, “Do we need to know this for the test?” The contrast was laughable.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?
Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.
What is the largest portion of the budget in all 50 states?
The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.
But first, the “risk takers” must remove anyone that stands between them and that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars. Teachers, and state and local boards of education, for example. The Midas cult won’t stop until it turns our daughters and our sons into gold, and maybe not then. If there is anything more addictive than wealth, it’s the power it brings.
Henry Giroux has been writing about that power for some time. He is back this week at Truthout with “Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education.” Giroux writes:
Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people.
The shortsightedness of the investor class is as stunning as its avarice. And its fickleness. Once the Great Eye looks elsewhere, what will remain of public education and public infrastructure past generations paid for in taxes and sweat to make America a world power? Once demolished, how will we rebuild when the Midas cult inevitably moves on to its next shiny, new investment opportunity? Of these “dangerous times,” Giroux continues:
As someone pointed out the other day, in some circles increased oversight of the police and the military is deemed improper and/or unpatriotic, yet other public employees are fair game. Public school teachers, for instance. Even as tests required under No Child Left Behind come under fire, teachers themselves face increased screening tests using “Big Data, ‘Moneyball’-style” tools. As Politico reports, “Prices vary widely, from $5,000 for a small district to $500,000 for a large district, depending on the product.”
Are they useful, or just another opportunity for investors to turn kids into cash?
The new screening tools slice and dice aspiring teachers into dozens of data points, from their SAT scores to their appreciation for art to their ability to complete geometric patterns. All that data is then fed into an algorithm that spits out a score predicting the likelihood that each candidate will become an effective teacher — or, at least, will be able to raise students’ math and reading scores.
The tools seek to cut through hiring biases that favor “geographic proximity” or “teachers with last names starting with the letters A through G” because résumés get alphabetized. But critics contend there is no magic formula for revealing who makes the best teacher.
Nicholas Kristof provides an opening this morning to spend more time discussing education with his celebration of Conor Bohan, founder of a college scholarship program for Haitian students: the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP).
“Education works,” Bohan said simply. “Good education works for everybody, everywhere. It worked for you, for me, and it works for Haitians.”
It’s a noble effort. But it’s the attack on public education in this country that gets under my skin. Kristof explains why:
Over time, I’ve concluded that education may be the single best way to help people help themselves — whether in America or abroad. Yet, as a nation, we underinvest in education, both domestically and overseas. So, in this holiday season, I’d suggest a moment to raise a glass and celebrate those who spread the transformative gift of education.
A few days ago, we saw the news of the horrific Pakistani Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. The Taliban attacks schools because it understands that education corrodes extremism; I wish we would absorb that lesson as well. In his first presidential campaign, President Obama spoke of starting a global education fund, but he seems to have forgotten the idea. I wish he would revive it!
Education corrodes extremism is a pretty concise explanation for why Wall Street has joined forces with the religious right in this country in a cynical effort to undermine public education under the rubric of “choice.” For the Big Money Boyz, the “education market is ripe for disruption.” Education reform is about mining public education and transferring as much as possible of that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars to the investor class by expanding charter schools. For the religious right, it’s about shielding their kids from knowledge they perceive as in conflict with their religious views. Like other fundamentalists, they want to keep modernism at bay. Because freedom. And because they resent having their tax dollars fund public education and not their religious schools.
More analysis now of the recent attempt by Colorado conservatives to present students with a properly soft-focused American history. Their preference? To limit history curriculum to only those events that “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.” And that do not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” (A unit on the Biblical underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution is sure to follow.)
It’s your basic, Lee Greenwood America. You won’t understand why the South seceded or what policies precipitated the Depression or that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, but at least you know you’re free.
Sean McElwee examines for Salon what freaks out conservatives about teaching unvarnished American history.