By Bruce Gagnon
Dec. 21, 2008
Chicago teacher Jesse Sharkey writes:
“In the past couple years, Arne Duncan [Obama's pick for Secretary of Education who hails from Chicago] has been turning public schools over to private operators–mainly in the form of charter and contract schools — at a rate of about 20 per year. Duncan has also resuscitated some of the worst ’school reform’ ideas of the 1990s, like firing all the teachers in low-performing schools (called ‘turnarounds’). At the same time, he’s eliminated many Local School Councils and made crucial decisions without public input.”
“To me, the thing that made Duncan’s role clear came after three months of organizing at Senn High School, the community school where I teach, against the Chicago Board of Education’s proposal to install a Naval Academy.”
“After an inspiring campaign that involved literally hundreds of people in the biggest education organizing effort in the area in decades, we forced Duncan to come up to our neighborhood to listen to our case for keeping the military out of our school. More than 300 of us — parents, teachers, and community supporters — held a big meeting in a local church and, at the end of the meeting, we asked Duncan to postpone the decision to put the military school at Senn.”
“Duncan’s answer was a classic. He said: ‘I come from a Quaker family, and I’ve always been against war. But I’m going to put the Naval Academy in there, because it will give people in the community more choices.’ “
Arne Duncan is an advocate of Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and is closely associated with the Daley family political machine in Chicago. Duncan has a market view of education – the business model of schooling. Many education experts claim that he made no real progress in the last 7-8 years in Chicago leading that public school system. Real education comes when we teach kids to play with ideas, to learn to think. This Duncan corporate model on testing, “reform,” teaches kids to take tests, to memorize, and to become automatons.
Educator Jim Horn, who has written extensively about Duncan at School Matters, notes:
“If Obama is committed to moving backwards to a time when the most that public schooling could do was to ‘rake a few geniuses from the rubbish,’ as Jefferson would have it then the stupidifying corporatization of public education is just the ticket ….. Arne is entirely capable of leading the charge.”
Greg Palast, who devoted part of his instructive book Armed Madhouse to NCLB, describes its workings :
“At the heart of the program is testing. And more testing. Testing instead of teaching. When tests go badly, the solution is to push the low-test-score kids to drop out of school. If the triage isn’t enough, then attack their teachers.”“Here’s how Duncan operates this program in Chicago at Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto. Teachers there work with kids from homeless shelters from an economically devastated neighborhood. Believe it or not, the kids don’t get high test scores. So Chicago fired the teachers, every one of them. Then they brought in new teachers and fired THEM too when, surprise! test scores still didn’t rise.”
The bigger view is necessary here. I have written and spoken extensively in recent years about the Pentagon saying that America’s role under corporate globalization will be “security export.” We aren’t going to have jobs making things in our country anymore. Our job will be building weapons and waging endless war to grab declining resources around the world. In order to pull that off you need a growing cadre of young people who have no ambition, no dreams, no ability to get into college — you need a dumbed-down generation.
My friend Richard Rhames, a vegetable farmer in Biddeford, Maine writes an award winning column for his local newspaper. He wrote about education last week and had this to say:
“The US educational system has, since working class kids gained entry in the early 20th century, functioned largely as a sorting mechanism, where children were indoctrinated, trained in docility, but sometimes, through the work of motivated teachers, exposed to a world of ideas, and perhaps the subversive minefield of independent thought.”
The days of teachers having the time and the ability to motivate and inspire kids to expand their minds is under frontal attack.
Obama has made another pick that benefits the corporatization and militarization of American culture. His children have always attended, and will continue to attend, private schools where the elite ensure their kids get a stimulating education.