Thursday, June 18, 2009

Duncan, Robber Barons, and Victims

Clay Burrell over at is bothered by Arne's Duncanisms. Scary Duncan has been out and about saying all sorts of things. As Burrell excerpted:

In a recent interview, Secretary Duncan discussed how he went about assembling his team, targeting people like Ms. Melendez who came from modest backgrounds, had a passion for the work, and showed an entrepreneurial spirit—and were willing to take what was likely a big pay cut to work in a federal job. No education policy or district superstars with big egos were welcome, he said.

“If they’re scared off because they won’t make more money ... or if they wanted a certain job title, ... that’s not the kind of person we want,” Mr. Duncan said. “We want people for whom this is a real passion. This is mission-driven work. Everyone is taking pay cuts.”

To which Burrell responded

Call me crazy, but you'd think people who were "education policy superstars," who spent their lives in classrooms and later in research, would qualify as "passionate" more than the "missionaries" with an "entrepreneurial spirit." People like, you know, Linda Darling-Hammond, who's devoted her life to knowing through research how to improve education, rather than taking a left turn from entrepreneurialism out of some "money + passion = change you can believe in" zeal.

... Duncan's rhetoric smacks of a sort of anti-intellectualism and pro-entrepreneurialism, and his staff picks reflect that as well. His DoE staffers are overwhelmingly connected more to Eli Broad and Bill Gates than to universities and classrooms.

To put this all into perspective, it's time to review how Duncan got his position.

Duncan earned a B.A. in Sociology from Harvard. That is pretty much the extent of his intellectual foundation. After graduating, he immediately went to Australia to play professional basketball for four years.

When he returned to Chicago, Duncan needed a job (Wanted: employment for a not-particularly-go-getting, perpetually grinning, newly married, only-bachelor-degree-earning Ivy League graduate). Fortunately John Rogers - a fanatic basketball-playing, longtime friend and private high school co-alum - had become extremely wealthy and needed someone to run a new, small, local education-related non-profit he was starting. He slipped Duncan right in to that position. One of the enormous benefits of attending elite private schools is making these sorts of useful connections; it's probably more important than the education itself.

Duncan's only accomplishment in working in urban education at this point was that he had tutored poor kids in high school. We all know how much he likes to tell this story over and over again. By the way, his mother forced ALL of her kids to tutor at her center; she also wouldn't ever let them watch TV.

After a few years of running his friend's non-profit, this mushy, likable bureaucrat got a job in Chicago Public Schools as Deputy Chief of Staff, most likely because of his great connections. A few years later, Mayor Daley appointed the malleable
Duncan as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. This was just after the public-school-system-hating, Broad-connected, education reformer-destroyers had settled down in town. I'm sure they immediately recognized that Duncan would be perfect to work with, and be the sort of perfect blank they could mold.

Meanwhile, having never attended public schools, nor be willing to use them for his own kids, Obama really didn't know all that much about public education. However, for years he had been regularly playing basketball with Duncan, who he met through Michelle's brother (a close friend, and former
Princeton basketball teammate, of John Rogers). This is a tight foursome, folks.

And that's how our nation is now stuck with a cheerful, but bumbling, average bureaucrat who Obama has assigned authority for running the whole show. I repeat: one of the benefits of attending elite private schools is making these sorts of useful connections. Did I mention that the Obama's sent their girls to the same
Chicago private school that Duncan and Rogers attended?

Duncan's presence at the Department of Education is not because of an incredible intelligence, a wide range of experience, or an exceptional level of knowledge; it's because he provides the White House with a level of comfort and familiarity (and honors mutual friend Rogers for his years of Obama political $upport, and who knows who else). By the way, Rogers’ ex-wife is the White House social secretary.

Mr. Casual "call me Arne"
Duncan wouldn't select cabinet members with more intellectual gravitas than he has because he is fundamentally insecure about his own. He certainly realizes his status would be challenged by the presence of someone who is actually distinguished in the field of education, and who may not agree with him on every point, and who would probably win all the debates.

The fact that Duncan signed on to both the Broader Bolder Approach and the Education Equality Project (manifestos with two VERY different points of view) demonstrates to me that the mutable Duncan wasn't sure where to stand. He makes a perfect puppet for the corporate edu-schemers.

By the way, Alexander Russo recently blogged about Arne’s weighing in on a number of issues including raising the driving age in
Ohio (against), a split lunch at Patterson Elementary next year (for), and changing monthly board meeting locations for Chattanooga public schools to the Denny's on Dalton Boulevard (against). Why would he do this? Sorry, but it makes me wonder about his level of intellect.

On the recommendation of Elijah Anderson, I am now reading Blaming the Victim, a classic work by William Ryan. As someone who is paying attention to the methodology of the corporateer-led destruction of public education, all in the name of doing "good," I couldn’t help but be struck by two lines on page 20:

In order to persuade a good and moral man to do evil, then, it is not necessary first to persuade him to become evil. It is only necessary to teach him that he is doing good.

This explains the disconnect I sense between the rhetoric spewed by the corporateers and Harvard MBA-type reformers, (“Education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century!”), and the fact that they never make a peep about the extent of our nation’s poverty and how it affects impoverished families, or our growing class divisions. Fervently believing that what they are saying and doing is good, they bristle and aggressively confront anyone who challenges their position. They declare that those who disagree with them is 1. a racist and 2. a traitor to the cause of wanting to help poor, disadvantaged children. Only their perspective is "good."

Ryan’s book was originally published in 1971. A revised edition was released in 1976 with a new introduction. By then Ryan says he had enlarged his vision of who the “victims” in American society really were.

In fact, everyone who depends for the sustenance of himself and his family on salary and wages, and who does not have a separate source of income through some substantial ownership of wealth, is a potential victim in America. He is vulnerable to the disaster of catastrophic illness in a private-enterprise medical-care system; he is vulnerable to the deliberate manipulation of inflation and unemployment; he is vulnerable to the burden of grossly unfair taxes; he is vulnerable to the endemic pollution of air and food and to the unattended hazards of the factory and the highway that will likely kill him before his time; he is vulnerable to the greed of the great oil companies and food corporations.

The victims in American society are not simply the 10 percent of us who are Black, the 15 percent or so who are officially below the “poverty line." The majority of us who are non-Black and, officially at least, non-poor, are also victims. At least two-thirds, perhaps three-fourths of us are relatively poor compared to the standards of the top 10 or 5 percent, and relatively vulnerable. Others own America, we’re just workers, whether we realize it or not. Some of us may think we’re flying pretty high and are much better off than those below us, but in the end, we’re just ‘house niggers,” allowed better food than the “field niggers” and wearing fancier clothes. But none of us owns even a corner of the cotton field. Massa owns it all and Massa – the two or three per cent who essentially own America—is the real problem.

It's probably good to be clear about who is really running things; it is Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Wal-Mart family, and other millionaires and billionaires along that line. If you are under the impression that we live in a democracy, this will bother you, or perhaps not.


nikto said...

It really IS turning out to be 95% of The People against the 5% Elite.

The percentages may vary a
few percent, but not much.

This applies in Education policy, as we discuss on this Blog, and also in Military policy, where vast, unprecedented budgets are approved with no questions asked, to energy policy, where huge corporations pay million$ to obfuscate scientific truths, to tax policy, which favors the Idle Wealthy & investments over working people, etc etc etc etc etc.

The Elite has a choice to respond to rational people and arguments, such as come from the folks on this blog. Sure, there is some anger here, but that's because we feel we are getting rolled by dishonest and indifferent outside forces.

For myself, and others on this board, Education is vital to America--Not as some "cash cow" or phony image as miracle solution to all social problems, but as
a living, viable institution that helps millions of people live better lives.

If the Elites aren't willing to compromise, or work with reasonable people, they may find that we will be pushed aside at some point by much less reasonable people (i.e. as in after a currency-crash, or similar economic calamity, which may still happen!)

If WE REASONABLE folks can't make headway, on a number of issues & not just Education, other, far nastier folks will push relatively nice people like me and Perimeter Primate and others aside, and the American Elite may have to eventually deal with harsher Americans who have regressed to thinking and acting more like the bloodthirsty Russian or French revolutionaries.

Takle millions of peoples' dreams away (pensions, savings, home, sense of security, and HOPE), and the mass-harvest will be bitter
and unprecedented.

What a terrible way for America
to go!

But it will likely go there if peaceful reform is continually blocked, in the face of a worldwide depression and all the chaos
it brings.

As long as the economy doesn't PLUMMET from where it is NOW, things will probably stay relatively OK.

But if the economy DOES PLUMMET from where it is now...

(all bets are off)

edreformer said...

Can't say you are really adding to the debate with this... Please lower the venom level and consider dropping the personal attacks.

nikto said...

edreformer---Please explain
your unclear and very
unexplained post.

Where is this "venom" in my last post you speak of?

Or do you really mean, "truth"?

If you think of that as venom, you don't read very well.

Read the post again.

And please explain where you stand on the issue of Charter schools in general, as part of your responding post.

Don't be afraid;Don't mince words.

The Perimeter Primate said...

The above comment is from Tom Vander Ark, or at least someone at Vander Ark/Ratcliff, a "full service strategic consulting firm focused on serving the education and non-profit sectors." It operates out of La Jolla, CA.

The VA/R team consists of the following following members:
- Bennet Ratcliff
- Melissa Bonney Ratcliff
- Karen Vander Ark
- Katherine Vander Ark
- Tom Vander Ark

They claim to have "had the good fortune" to:
• Work in the White House
• Provide leadership to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
• Establish the Broad Education Foundation communications office
• Serve as public officials in higher education and K-12
• Brand breakout media companies including MySpace
• Create award-winning political ads and TV spots that helped elect a US President
• Design winning campaign strategies for Governors, Senators and Congressmen
• Lead more than a dozen bond/levy, state and local campaigns
• Launch a community mentoring program and four companies
• Raise funds for a university, teen center, and dozen of non-profits
• Advise hundreds of education sector organizations
• Work on six continents

These are their services:
- Strategic Consulting
- Research
- Branding
- Marketing
- Communications
- Public affairs
- Creative Services

They most definitely like what Arne Duncan and his buddies are doing. Read Tom Vander Ark's edreformer blog at

A reply to the person who left the comment:

Actually, I do a fair amount of reading and intelligent research, and post the results here, so it's not all about personal attacks. Besides, everyone's a grown up capable of ignoring what I have to say if they think I'm completely off base, right?

As for the venom, it just seems to be simply occurring naturally. I wasn't at all inclined this way until I started to discover dirty manipulations going on behind the scenes, like how Oakland ended up with a certain set of state administrators.

More people would be outraged at what is going on, if they only knew. The problem is that the powerful, non-public school attending people you're involved with have infiltrated the public media with their influence; maybe you're even responsible for some of that yourself.

Not too long ago I was a completely apolitical, bake-sale-organizing-type parent who just wanted to send my kids to the local public schools. My agitation started when my daughters' school started being negatively affected by what Eli Broad's trained state administrators/henchmen were doing to my school district.

Do you have kids? What type of schools have they attended? Have people who are not members of the community in which you reside been placed in powerful local positions of authority in order to manipulate things that have a negative impact on you and the people you know? I'm guessing that the negative effects of the things being done is abstract to you.

nikto said...

I'm open-minded enough to accept a policy like Charter schools taking the BOTTOM 10 or 15 percent of Public School students (who we admittedly struggle or fail with), and PROVING charters can be succesful with THOSE troubled kids.

Good idea!

But it proves nothing at all to take behaviorally functional and hard-working students out of public school and put them in Charter schools.

It not only proves nothing, but frankly it is dishonest, to "cherry-pick" the better (i.e.functional) kids from urban public schools and populate a charter school with them, and then CLAIM that school is having success with ALL students.

Again and again, when charter schools are actually scrutinized, THAT is what is found to
be happening.

I have several students in my classes who were kicked-out of local charters after just a few weeks!
How can such charters possibly be seen as a solution to the problems of low-income students?

In some cases, I was able to work with the students and get them into a more-successful pattern.

I actually succeeded in some cases where a tax-dollar-eating charter school FAILED and gave up on a kid!

So please excuse me for a little "attitude" here.

ALL schools need oversight.
Charter schools need it as much
as ANY school.

It is certainly telling that when charters are investigated, serious problems are often found.

andrew said...

Well said Ms. Primate!

When you tear a new one for one of these corporate hacks, like Mr. Vander Ark, you do it with great elan. You are a well armed fighter.

Want to throw this into the mix. It hits the same question of who is really in charge in the US.

When AIG got its credit default swaps in a bunch, they were not shut down and reconstituted by the US Treasury Department. They were invited to back a truck up to the US taxpayer's store of wealth and shovel dollars into it. They made several trips. What is it now, $180 billion? What were the performance bonuses for AIG's failed managers and traders, $454 million?

When Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and others were driven into insolvency by reckless banking and investment practices they were not shut down and reconstituted by the US Treasury Department. They were invited to takeover the US treasury and to run it themselves. And if there was not enough in the American people's vault, the Federal Reserve offered to print more money for them. What was the bank bailout, $700 billion in its first installment?

In the wake of the bankruptcy filing by General Motors, it is widely reported that the "US taxpayer owns a 60% share" in the failed automaker. But the chief representative of the US taxpayer, President Obama says, "What we are not doing — what I have no interest in doing — is running G.M." So majority ownership apparently entitles the US taxpayer to cough up another $50 billion and stand by and watch. When the company fires enough workers, closes enough plants in the US, and kills the health care and pension benefits of enough retirees it will emerge as "the new GM."

One of the central features of the fascist state is the melding of corporate power and finance capital with governmental power. Sometime before the Italian people left Benito Mussolini hanging on a meat hook, he uttered one truism, "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."

Nascent fascism explains the US Department of Education diametrically opposite treatment of the public schools. The attack on public education gathered steam throughout the Reagan years and then was formally launched through the Business Roundtable's Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1989. The ball has been carried in the years since by corporate forces--Gates, Broad, the Walton (Wal-Mart) Family, and others. But in this moment of declining economic fortunes in corporate America (Bill Gates' personal fortune reduced by $18 billion, Warren Buffet's losses total $25 billion, Eli Broad's KB Homes and stake in AIG both in decline) the US government must step into the breach.

Enter US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the plan to use billions of taxpayer dollars to rescue the flagging corporate plan to shut down and reconstitute the public schools in the most depressed American communities and build the charter school movement as a viable replacement education system. Duncan's objectives are described by Sam Dillon in the New York Times (link below).

http://www.nytimes. com/2009/ 06/02/education/ 02educ.html? hp

If recent developments do portend a fascist America there are certain facts that public school workers and their allies should know. A full blown fascist state has no use for teacher's unions or unions of any kind. Indeed, the corporate state has no use for universal public education period.

The Perimeter Primate said...

So it turns out that Tom Vander Ark (above) of Vander Ark/Ratcliff above is a good friend of Arne Duncan.

"Tom Vander Ark, an education advocate and long-time friend and supporter of Duncan's, said ..."

ABC TV "This Week" Spotlight -- June 19, 2009
By Jennifer Parker

ATTENTION: The primate on the perimeter is calling out and warning her troop that danger is present!

A small group of people who associate with, and kowtow to the corporatists, are in the midst of maneuvering massive and destructive changes to our public education system from their very high and distant perch, all in the name of “reform.” Vander Ark is these false prophets’ assistant and spokesman.

These people are operating within a very small and closed-off sphere which intentionally excludes a meaty public exchange with the ideas and opinions of the people who are being affected by their manipulations most -- public school teachers and parents, and the other highly knowledgeable people on the ground who are watching as their schools get labeled as "failures" and then are closed, and who are witnessing their communities being thrown into disarray as longtime connections are broken and stability becomes a thing of the past.

These people are also forcing school districts to comply with feeding a false promise to massive numbers of poorly educated, low income parents who don't know better than to believe the lie: that ALL their children will be attending college. The truth is that not every child will be going to college; in fact it will probably be fewer and fewer, rather than more and more. The overwhelming majority of low income kids will never be able to attain that goal because college costs are rapidly escalating. Of course the corporatists have been arranging it so wishful18-year-olds sign their lives over to them, in exchange for a high interest college loan.

Watch the program on NOW: "How massive student loan debts are sinking American dreams and causing a national economic headache."

“According to the Department of Education, the average amount of undergraduate student debt in this country is now more than $22,000. And sudden changes in lenders' terms and rates can quickly turn a personal debt into a financial sinkhole, grounding the dreams of many college graduates even before they've started.”

Never will these people address the lack of a living minimum wage, not to mention the rising unemployment. Never will they address how this nation’s escalating poverty is forcing more and more people to turn to becoming suppliers and consumers in an alternative economy, this nation’s enormous Underground Economy. Never will they address how their own evil greed has caused our nation’s collapse.

Beware! Beware! Beware! Beware!

nikto said...

Another Attack Mission against Public Schools accomplished by LA Times via today's article on
Police Poll.

LA Times just can't stick to the subject, and can't resist taking a typical sucker-punch at Public Schools in an article where the main topic isn't even education!

Polls sure can come in handy!,0,2808718,full.story

Here are the 2 offending quotes (which seem almost "thrown into the article as an afterthought by ... Eli Broad?

"The positive opinions of the LAPD stand out as a bright spot at a time when Angelenos are feeling battered by the recession, highly critical of public schools and generally pessimistic about life in Los Angeles."

"...And only about 1 in 4 rated the quality of education at local public schools as excellent or good."

"Latinos were also slightly more upbeat about the state of the Los Angeles Unified School District than others, although support for the public school system was tepid at best.

About a third of those polled said they felt the district had stagnated in the last four years, failing to make any progress on teaching basic skills, stemming the dropout rate and preparing students for college or work. Ratings of the schools, however, were noticeably higher among those who have children enrolled."

So, "about a third" saw "stagnation"--Uh, excuse me, but a third is not close to a majority.

What do the OTHER 2/3 feel?

The article does not say.

Don't you just love the rightwing conservative pro-corporate
liberal media?

I knew you did.
Just like me.

doyle said...

I just want to be clear that I am reading this right.

You presented an informed piece on Arne Duncan's background, and Tom Vander Ark, a flak for Mr. Duncan, jumped in under your comments anonymously?

Puts a new spin on the big news from the DOE yesterday that Duncan (*gasp*) really listens as evidenced by an 8 minute phone call he made to someone who commented on Arne's Listen and Learn blog.

You cannot make this stuff up.

I may drag this over to my blog if that's OK--this needs to be seen. Better yet, take it to Clay Burrel's

The Perimeter Primate said...

Hi doyle,

Yes, that is exactly what happened. I just clicked on "edreformer" and was linked to, T.VA's personal blog. Anyone can do the same.

By the way, I took a quick look at your blog. We have connections you know b/c I'm a Montclair High graduate (early '70's). If I bring my kids with me when I visit my mom, I like to take them out for that overwhelming-menu-choice, gut-bursting experience at the Nevada Diner.

doyle said...

I'm going to poke around a bit, maybe post something, maybe not--I'm a tad upset that Mr. Vander Ark (or whoever represents him as edreformer) tried to manipulate the discourse as he did, then ignored the responses.

Kind of like Arne's own "Listen and Learn" tour. (Arne confounds me a bit--I'd be more assured if it was a "Listen to Learn" tour.)

Willie's Diner has been remodeled and is now the State Street Diner--it's giving the Nevada a run for its money. (You can't beat Holsten's, though, for the ice cream.)

nikto said...

I would guess Mr. Vander Ark and most of his Privatizer ilk are in reality big chickens who dread a debate with riffraff like parents, students, community people, and others who who argue with them, or ask probing questions.

They are accustomed to dealing from a position of power and distance.
Secrecy of operations is something they know how to build & organize quickly in running their charter-schools.

They are likely corporate people who are used to giving orders and dictating terms.

And they have a solid philosophical ground to stand on--Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman.
Read the news lately?

These ivory-tower thieves are just liars and manipulators who, in many cases, are likely hiding multiple felonies involving charters and their operations/funding, etc.

The more we can expose them, the more jeopardy they are in.

I'm sure they are properly Machiavellian----But let's just call 'em Neocon to be polite.