Are You Laughing or Crying?

Market Forces Joke

I’m a big fan of comedians who can put me in stitches while remaining apparently oblivious to their own jokes. I don’t need tickets to a comedy club to have my funny bone tickled, though. All I have to do is listen to what Bill Gates and other assorted dilettantes have to say about public education.

Gates broke out of the education comedy pack with his gig at the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2009, where he said that a common set of standards in education would “…unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching.” His frank and edgy humor surprised people who didn’t understand that what he says to get laughs out of an audience he himself takes perfectly seriously.

Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” This is Bill at his most sophisticated; after all, he knows full well that teachers are his tools. Technology is the means by which they will be pushed aside, so that students—instead of working together—will work separately, each facing their own glowing screen. Just another example of Bill’s subtle humor.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” This quip always makes me chuckle. Bill’s a magnificently successful businessman who just can’t imagine that educators might not share his views, and that’s why I enjoy watching him set himself up for a fall. I’d love to have a handful of bananas to toss in his path. Better yet, I think I’ll sell bananas to educators outside the Gates Foundation headquarters here in Seattle. I’ll be as rich as Mr. Gates in no time.

If you think that Bill kills with his one-liners, you ought to listen to the slick yarns the Koch Bros. like to promote.

Koch Industries leads with the statement, “…all forms of energy—whether oil, gas, wind, solar or biofuels—should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own in the free market, without the assistance (or hindrance) of government subsidies or mandates.” The punch line? The Kochs buy and sell about a tenth of all ethanol produced in the US, picking up plenty of cash from government subsidies. What a hoot!

And how about this “well-Koched” nugget: “We always strive to act with integrity, even if it’s politically unpopular.” Hey, maybe that’s why they spend so much on political campaigns! By winning, they can act without integrity and blame voters for the popularity of their ideas…Kinda makes me think that the boys have confused integrity with consistency, because their unethical actions certainly have established a pattern. Maybe they share a learning disorder and need 504 plans?

Their ideas for higher education are even funnier. The Kochs, paragons of virtue that they claim to be, recently handed Florida State 1.5 million dollars, asking that the university establish a course called “Market Ethics: The Vices, Virtues, and Values of Capitalism.” Suggested textbooks? (Wait, wait…) The books of Ayn Rand! (Cue groans from audience.)

The Kochs are equal-opportunity jokesters, and have no compunction about playing pranks on religious as well as secular educators. For instance, the funny fellas dangled a cool million in front of the staff at Catholic University of America in DC, with the requirement that the institution teach “principled entrepreneurship.” When the faculty identified the consistent principles of the Kochs as greed and duplicity, they demanded that the money be rejected. The Kochs seem to have had the last laugh, however. University officials pointed out that parochial colleges have been accepting Koch Koin for some time, and they saw no reason to demonstrate fidelity to ridiculous ideals like truth or social conscience at this late date. I got a pretty good laugh out of the idea that people might expect otherwise.

You know, you can choose to cry about the damage done to society by these purveyors of falsehood, but their claims deserve belly laughs, and that’s no joke.

Let’s just make sure we have the last laugh.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

One Step at a Time

Quote

DeaconSarcophagusBats

I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”                         Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Hope is an aspiration in itself. I’ve grown in hope as well as in despair for our public school system for some time. I’ve learned that hope and despair are necessary partners, not oppositional forces. If you are working for recognition of a fundamental truth in conflict with the interests of the wealthy, history says that you will learn this lesson. A few examples:

  • Thomas Clarkson, worked from 1787 to 1846 to eradicate slavery as a part of the British Empire and the United States. He did not live to see America in upheaval over bondage, and probably doubted it would ever occur, despite the demise of slavery in British colonies.
  • David Walker wrote aggressive abolitionist literature to contrast the lives of slaves with the values of democracy. He saw the Nat Turner rebellion crushed.
  • And finally there is Abigail Adams, whose entreaty to her husband, “remember the ladies,” went largely unheeded. Her suggestion that women’s rights existed absent a law to protect them only brought forth fruit in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. There is no indication that Mrs. Adams felt her words had no effect on her husband, or lost hope for women’s rights. Still, she must have been galled by the revocation of suffrage for women in New Jersey in 1807.

Each of these people not only did not live to see their fight “won,” but also witnessed setback after setback in their attempts to promote the idea of equal rights as inherent to a functioning democracy. We should expect no less. As our voices rise in volume to proclaim public schools off limits to corporate exploitation, we will be subject to political attack and professional harassment. Corporations can purchase loud amplifiers for their messages, assuming that if they drown us out, we’ll shut up.

Let’s not.

Instead, when we feel beaten up in the press, or when corporate dollars do prevail in a given political campaign, let’s take it as a sign that our voices have had an effect on public debate. It’s going to be a long, hard slog to make our message connect with the lives of persons who send their children to us for an education.

Right now, there is something each of us can do in the fight to protect public education.

Remember, corporatists value the bottom line more than anything. Now, individually, we can’t make much of an impression by refusing them our patronage. As a group, however, we can have a real impact. Why give your consumer dollars to corporations who work to violate the right of citizens to have an education free of corporate influence? Martin Luther King, Jr. said as much in his “Mountaintop” speech when he encouraged people not to purchase Wonder Bread. And that’s a great place to begin.

Flowers Foods: These guys produce Wonder Bread, Tastykakes, and Nature’s Own brands, among many, many others. They also give a greater percentage of their political donations to Republican organizations that sponsor attacks on public education than any other corporation. Surely you can find another bakery—perhaps in your own neighborhood—that bakes bread, but doesn’t scorch basic rights in the process?

I challenge you to identify and publish the names of other products peddled by corporate pirates who target the democratic values of a free and public education. Put them in a reply to this blog—and provide at least one link to substantiate each of your claims.

Help us compile a list that all soldiers in the fight against corporatism can consult. Then, we will post the list wherever those soldiers may be.

Just another step. It’s one step we can all take, whether we individually ever see the “Promised Land” ourselves.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

AlbertHandsome

I used to live in a room full of mirrors

All I could see was me

I took my spirit and I smashed those mirrors

Now the whole world is here for me to see

Jimi Hendrix

 

It is maddening to be assaulted with the cacophony of demands on public schools today. Schools (and by that I mean teachers) are expected to “fix society” in any number of ways. Each of these goals has a degree of merit, and it is not surprising that non-educators might hope that they would be met within the K-12 years. These expectations cannot be met, however. Schools have never, and will never, “fix society.” Instead, schools reflect the society they exist within.

Anti-bullying programs will not rid us of people who want to push society in one direction or another. Ask the Koch Bros. and Bill Gates if this isn’t so. “Raising standards” will not cause children to escape the effects of poverty or emotional deprivation. Teaching Shakespeare in elementary school will not inoculate future generations against the Duck Dynasties of the future.

The purpose of public schools is to preserve a democratic society by assisting citizens in their pursuit of happiness and to prepare citizens to take an active role in public affairs. Corporatists instead insist that education is utilitarian; that it functions to provide a workforce that will maintain American dominance in world markets. They work toward ensuring that every reflection of corporatism remains permanent—toward a society that shapes itself to a corporate structure, paralyzed by a need for certainty.

Corporatists are determined folks. They can amplify their messages and the political consequences of their beliefs in proportion to their willingness to use their cash. They believe that their position in society is evidence of the equivalence of capitalism and democracy, and that their socioeconomic status therefore entitles them to dominate the political scene. It’s a circular argument that has the added advantage of perpetuating their power.

It does not serve corporatists to have an engaged citizenry. They would much rather that citizens be passive spectators, disaffected by political chicanery and alienated from a government they do not think they can affect. This leaves civic affairs firmly in the hands of the one percent who distort democracy by manipulating the language of debate and purchasing the loyalty of persons who possess political power.

Corporatists want us to change the “mirror” rather than change our society. They demand a school system that conforms to market-driven forces. The mirror they offer is a distorted one; one that reflects with limited focus and exaggerated promise the possibilities of an instrumentalized education. We who have great experience in keeping the mirror in focus have been excluded from decisions that only those anointed by corporatists or their lackeys are permitted to influence. These anointed ones possess little or no experience with the population of students we engage with daily, yet feel entitled to meet behind closed doors to undermine the curriculum and limit student opportunities.

Jimi Hendrix encouraged us to smash the mirrors surrounding us, but I believe that refocusing and a bit of polish may yet permit us to enlarge and expose the image of society those mirrors reflect. Truth exists in mirrors that are square and plumb, not those built with distorting curves. That refocusing can only begin when the warping curves of education deform are straightened by teachers who demand transparency in the processes leading to determination of curriculum and the goals of public education.

At the same time, we must not permit corporatist initiatives such as CCSS and excessive standardized testing to dishearten us. If we do, our dismay will breed the apathy that permits corporatists’ unfettered control of the one institution that exists to provide students with experiences likely to instill commitment to democracy rather than oligarchy.

No, mirrors don’t fix anything, but they do permit us to consider those aspects of ourselves that might deserve attention. The discussions that can result from honest self-reflection are the heart of democracy. But there is no honesty in the reflection I see from the corporatist’s mirror. Their vision is of a profit-driven and profit-producing educational system, for that is the sort of society they are committed to. It is a society as bereft of humane interest as it is ravenous for mammon.

And yet, the number of people who have encouraged me during these “dark times” heartens me. If we all will reach out to others with and for support, our schools and world–and we ourselves–will be better for it. If we connect, then we will be able to make a commitment to a society that we will be proud to be mirrors for. My commitment is to a society that is inclusive, supportive, and fundamentally democratic and to an educational system that reflects those values.

What do you want to see in the mirror? Let’s make the changes to our society needed to bring that vision into focus in our schools.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

The Teeches & Leeches… by Dr. Soods

The Enemy

 

The peeples of Lernville were learners—the best!

They shared what they learned; it was school, sans contest.

 

The pathways of Lernville were twisty and turny,

Fun things to look at, no one in a hurry.

 

The Pooples of Lernville were taught by their Teeches—

The Teeches of Lernville: adored by their Pooples.

 

Learning’s the journey peeps wanted to last,

They never got finished, “What for?” they all asked.

 

The Teeches all knew each Poople they taught

And the Pooples were happy—they learned quite a lot!

 

The Teeches helped Pooples with readin’ and writin’,

They helped them with buildin’, they helped ‘em stop fightin’.

 

Teeches taught Pooples old songs and new dances

They talked about kings, long ago happenstances.

 

Pooples learned to count numbers, they learned algebratin’

It weren’t always easy— it could be frustratin’…

 

But all of the Pooples knew Teeches were there

To help them and guide them if they felt despair.

 

Teeches helped ‘em explore the world and its voices,

The Pooples of Lernville, they made learning choices.

 

Their neighbors in Gatesville weren’t nearly so lucky,

The Schoolmeister there was really quite touchy.

 

“A box for each student! A box that they’ll fit in—

We chop ‘em, we pound any part that is stickin’!

 

“We make sure they learns every fact in the book,

Or go back and start over, by hookety-crook!”

 

Gatesville was orderly; neat and quite straightly,

No wasting of time, no Poople-come-lately.

 

Schoolmeister McDuncan was very specific,

His speeches on learning were, alas, quite prolific.

 

A standard for reading, a test when that’s finished,

More standards, more tests to keep students skittish!

 

Obedient students reading 70/30,

Not too much fiction; it makes your head hurty!

 

The two Bros. Kooks were both up for a quest,

They relished a chance to purloin an int’rest.

 

They handed McDuncan their credit-y cards,

And told him to spend ‘til the stack reached to Mars.

 

And the man Gatesville’s named for, he told them to hurry,

“We got to remember, Standards must be quite sure-y!”

 

Together they Kooked up a doozy for students,

They called it the Kommon Kore Standard Impudence.

 

“No student can do this! It’s truly implacable–

With this we can show Lernville Teeches are laughable!”

 

“Once Lernville parents lose faith in their Teeches,

We sell them our Kommon Komputery Leeches!”

 

Quite soon in Lernville, the message descended,

Less fun for Pooples! No school open-ended!

 

It’s got to be done to fight off the foreigners,

National security calls for cast-iron outcomers.

 

The Teeches of Lernville were terribly stressed,

They didn’t believe what they worked for were tests.

 

The Pooples of Lernville felt less than inspired—

Their grades on the tests could get Teeches fired?

 

In place of the Teeches the Leeches were tendered,

Costly machines that Poople minds might be rendered.

 

At this point, Teeches and Pooples became furious,

They hated the changes, which had grown rather serious.

 

And all of the Teeches, they came to consensus

That all of that testing made no common senses.

 

They marched to the office of Principal Doopt,

“This testing is tedious, it’s dull and we’ve drooped,”

they said in one voice, “Away with this scam!

We want to help Pooples, that’s who we am!”

 

And all of the peeps of Lernville that day

Decided to make sure that Teeches would stay.

 

“We don’t want Leeches or any machines

That don’t know our Pooples and walk in like kings.”

 

And that’s how they ended the Kooky Kore Schemin’

While Pooples resumed both learnin’ and dreamin’:

“We want to do stuff, and share what we’re learning,

School always includes things we might need for earning.

But don’t try to stuff us like moon pies for parties,

‘Cause the dreamin’ part makes us more than just smarties!” 

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Money Talks…says the Court

DeaconPogoCourt

 The Path to Oligarchy

So how does a person go about obtaining power over what–on the surface, at least– appears to be a democracy?

1. Disrupt and deform the educational system–it’s the main tool a democracy has for preparing citizens to take an active role in public affairs.

2. Take advantage of the fact that our Founding Fathers could not have anticipated that corporations might be equated with living, breathing human beings by federal courts…

3. Ask Roberts, Scalia, et. al. to cement the power of the wealthy ȕber alles by permitting unlimited “donations” to candidates.

4. Wait and watch as the “little people”  become apathetic–after all, how many of them can spend $3.6 million per election to make their voices heard?

5. Remind the persons you put in office to enact legislation (pre-written and vetted by ALEC) guaranteed to line the pockets of your corporations and prevent any demands for reasonable taxes on your personal wealth!

An Alternative to Oligarchy

But we don’t have to allow the oligarchs to reign.

If the Supreme Court finds it constitutional to permit democracy to be destroyed and oligarchs to rule unencumbered, it’s time to help them out.

Change the constitution. We’ve done it before when we’ve noticed the Founding Fathers made a boo-boo…like leaving slavery intact after establishing freedom as a basic right.

No, it’s not easy–it’s not supposed to be. We do it only for very important reasons.

This is important.

Preserve the voices of all Americans by demanding a constitutional amendment limiting individual contributions to a level within the reach of most citizens…and define individuals as those who vote. Doing so will also limit the ability of the wealthy to dominate the political scene and encourage participation by every citizen.

What can you do? Write to your Congressperson; to your U.S. Senator; to your state legislators; to your union officials! Yes, it’s a bother. No, I know it’s a drag to use your valuable time this way. So do the Kochs. Do it.

I’m confident that the Founding Fathers would approve.

AlbertPogoSupreme