Thursday, December 24, 2009

Poetry: Reading Hayden's Frederick Douglass to the Dealers


By George Higgins

Like attaching safety pins on baby diapers

I tie a Windsor knot over the alleged drug dealer’s shoulder.

The brightly colored Salvation Army ties

I bought in bulk before my lecture

flutter like big box kites at Cesar Chavez Park

around their muscled necks.

Twelve recently arrested alleged street dealers, eighteen to twenty-one

sit around the conference table at Probation Hall,

executives in their orange molded plastic chairs.

I try to mentor them by measuring their necks

and arms; I teach them how to iron shirts.

My auntie showed me how says one.

She flicks the water from a bowl like that he demonstrates.

I use one of them clip-ons says another boldly.

The lady probation officer interrupts

Uh-huh, you still need to learn how to tie a tie.

When I recite the Hayden poem they won’t look up.



By Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful

and terrible thing, needful to man as air,

usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,

when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,

reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more

than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro

beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world

where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,

this man, superb in love and logic, this man

shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric,

not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,

but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives

fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Predatory Pseudo-Philanthropy

The accurate term for the highly manipulative spending which Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family are engaging in is “predatory pseudo-philanthropy.” It is the logically evolved and naturally-conceived outcome of the predatory capitalist approach of these billionaire CEOs.

With predatory pseudo-philanthropy, non-profit foundations are set up to operate as vehicles with which the CEOs can acquire control of public institutions. It is these foundations which allow them to maneuver their power, and permit them to exert great influence and take possession of the functioning at the top levels, all under the guise of some sort of "generosity" to chronically under-funded, urban public school systems.

In the realm of public education, the foundations make tremendous “gifts” of money and personnel to school institutions (at local, state, and federal levels). The “giving” is their pathway to control. Foundations admit this goal outright and call it "venture philanthropy." The unsuspecting American public has been fooled into believing these astronomically wealthy individuals are simply being nice and are incapable of doing any wrong. What the American public believes is wrong.

All this reminds me of a friend who was repeatedly sexually abused by her father when she was a girl. As a woman she still could not throw out the beautiful riding saddle he had given her -- even though its presence repulsed her. As a child she had loved riding horses, and his "gift" made it easier for him to get what he wanted from her. Such is the essence of pure manipulation.

John Perkins (“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”) explains the mindset of these CEO-types and the nature of their predatory capitalism in his new book, “Hoodwinked." Here are some excerpts:

"The guiding philosophy for this particular form of capitalism [the one promoted by Milton Friedman] is an uncompromising belief in the privatization of resources, the granting of unfettered powers to corporate executives, and the encouragement of debt so extreme that it results in contemporary modes of enslavement – for countries and individuals alike.

Based on the assumption that the CEOs running our most powerful corporations constitute a special class of royalty who, unlike normal people, do not need to be governed by regulations, it totally altered geopolitics."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"We have accepted the cancer, the predatory mutant virus of capitalism, as the norm."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"It is a system that evolved through the subterfuge and economic cunning of people who freely move back and forth between corporations and the U.S. government (collectively, the corporatocracy)."

On the model’s policies and techniques:

"…the abandonment of laws that force corporations to adhere to strict environmental, social, truth-in-advertising, and other standards that protect the rights of the general populace; assumption of larger amounts of personal, corporate, and governmental debt; privatization of utilities, prisons, and other “public” institutions; increased police surveillance under the guise of “homeland security”; and the use of public lands to serve corporate interests."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Members of the corporatocracy are a, “… club of CEO powerbrokers of business and finance who dine with the like of senators, members of congress, regulators, and presidents [and others]."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"The ruling elites—the members of the corporatocracy, “… are not chosen by the people, do not serve limited terms, and answer to no one…They wield tremendous influence in the halls of both local and national governments. Almost no politician gets elected without money that flows through them and their stockholders. They control the mainstream media, either through direct ownership or advertising budgets."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lobbyists are “one of the most effective political weapons in the corporatocracy’s arsenal. These men and women make sure that politicians draft laws that support corporate needs, even then those laws countermand campaign promises and disregard pubic opinion.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Communications networks work in tandem with the lobbyists. Corporatocracy dominance of the mainstream media has grown steadily, paralleling the rise of Friedman capitalism. In 1983, fifty corporations controlled that vast majority of all news media in the United States. By 1992, that had been reduced to less than thirty. In 2004, only six huge corporations … owned most of the industry…In both their news reporting and their editorials, they promote “free trade” agreements, privatization, and the other polices that have led to the current crises."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Members of the corporatocracy are not part of a conspiracy, but they are characterized by an obsession with winning. They will invest vast amounts of money to get their way."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"We often justify the unscrupulous actions of the modern robber barons because they contribute money to philanthropy and the arts."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"... the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been severely criticized for investing its endowment in companies that are accused of contributing to poverty in the very Third World countries where that foundation’s stated goal is to relieve poverty.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"As a young founder and CEO, Gates had a reputation for brutally beating down competitors. He and Microsoft have been attacked in many countries for business practices that at best are morally questionable and at worst illegal."

Read more about the corporatocracy's takeover of urban public education:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Education For Change?

Education for Change is an Oakland charter management organization which was started under Randy Ward, OUSD’s first Broad-trained state administrator. EFC was given two traditional public school sites to takeover: Cox Elementary in East Oakland and Hawthorn Elementary in the Fruitvale district. EFC has one school at the old Cox site (Cox Academy) and two schools at the old Hawthorn site, World Academy (K-3), and Achieve Academy (4-5).

This is the total enrollment for the three schools:

  • 0405 = 879
  • 0506 = 1282
  • 0607 = 1317
  • 0708 = 1234
  • 0809 = 1222

Charter management organizations are structured much like school districts. Controlling the schools are top managers and a non-elected board of directors, with sometimes an advisory board. EFC, with only three elementary schools so far, is like a “mini-district.” The CEO holds a position similar to OUSD’s superintendent.

Salaries and benefits (from EFC's available 990s, EIN 20-2204424, from NCCS). The other expenses our tax dollars are paying for (legal fees, computer support, architects, etc.) are listed in the 990s.


  • 2005 – $174,586
  • 2006 – $189,437
  • 2007 – $194, 850

VP/Chief Operating Officer

  • 2005 – $148,398
  • 2006 – $147,317
  • 2007 – na

Chief Academic Officer

  • 2005 – $120,000
  • 2006 – $137,478
  • 2007 – $140,725


  • 2005 – na
  • 2006 – $109,124
  • 2007 – $128,981

Site Director

  • 2005 – $110,000
  • 2006 – $124,487
  • 2007 – $127,735

Top principal (one of three)

  • 2005 – $107,198
  • 2006 – $110,956
  • 2007 – $113,663

In lieu of an elected school board, like OUSD's current Directors Yee, Dobbins, London, Kakishiba, Gallo, Spearman, & Hodge), Education for Change has a Board of Directors. Here are the four members:

1. Desten Broach, President of the Board, a group product manager at Sun Microsystems. He is responsible for the complete life cycle and business success of several Sun software products. Prior to joining Sun, he held similar positions at America Online, Netscape Communications, and Intuit, Inc.

2. Joanne Weiss, Vice President of the Board, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at NewSchools Venture Fund, where she oversees the organization's operations, as well as investment strategy and management assistance for many of NewSchools' ventures nationally and on the West Coast. As part of this work, she serves on the boards. Prior to joining NewSchools Venture Fund, Joanne was CEO of Claria Corporation, an e-services recruiting firm that helped emerging-growth companies build their teams quickly and well.

Of course, last May Arne Duncan appointed Joanne Weiss as Director of Race To The Top so she may be on a hiatus from her position at EFC.

3. Jonathan Garfinkel, member, Vice President at Texas Pacific Group, a private investment fund with $15 billion under management. Prior to joining Texas Pacific Group, he worked as a financial analyst at Newbridge Latin America and at Lehman Brothers. Mr. Garfinkel has also worked at NewSchools Venture Fund.

4. Harold Jones, member, the Deputy Director of External Affairs for the Port of Oakland. Prior to his appointment, he served as Manager of Government Affairs for the Port.

Below is EFC’s current management team. Keep in mind that this is the district level administration which oversees only three schools (= 1222 students). What a piece of cake!

1. Kevin Wooldridge, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, was most recently an Executive Director in the Oakland Unified School District supervising 13 elementary schools. He has been a bilingual educator for 26 years, working in three Bay Area school districts at school sites, including 12 years as a site administrator and several years as a senior central office administrator

2. Jessica Evans, Chief Academic Officer, was formerly the Director of Elementary Education for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).

3. Fabiola Harvey, Director of Finance & Operations, came to EFC after serving as the Area Financial Manager for the Las Vegas Cluster of Edison Schools. She led start-up and business operations for 7 schools with over 6000 students and 500 employees in Clark County School District. This was the first time that the district awarded a cluster of schools to be managed by one Charter Management Organization.

NOTE: EFC's former COO is James Willcox. Willcox is now the Chief Executive Officer of Aspire Public Schools (headquarters are in Oakland with schools in the Bay Area, Central Valley, and LA region). Prior to his appointment as CEO, Mr. Willcox was Aspire’s Chief Operating Officer. Willcox follows Founder Don Shalvey as Aspire’s second Chief Executive Officer. When Shalvey went to work for the Gates Foundation last spring, the Foundation gave Aspire $2.9 million.

"Mr. Willcox has also served as a Principal at NewSchools Venture Fund, where his work focused on the evaluation of investment opportunities, the on-going support of management teams within the investment portfolio, and the design and implementation of NewSchools’ charter school facility investment strategy. Prior to NewSchools Mr. Willcox was a nonprofit consultant with the Bridgespan Group, and served as a U.S. Army officer for over seven years."

As you can see, all of the players are in a very cozy and connected group.

FYI, this is a typical profile of the CMO/EMO model which is busy establishing charter schools that are steadily squeezing out the traditional American public schools (those overseen by public school districts and elected school boards), but only in the school districts in urban areas that are largely inhabited by low-income, brown-skinned kids. Also, none of the teachers, classified staff, or service workers of the replacing charter schools are members of unions.

The whole point of lifting the charter school cap is to make it inevitable for charter schools to claim a bigger and bigger share of the schools in any given area.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Urban School Districts Make Easy Targets

In Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (2003), Annette Lareau compares the parenting styles of middle-class families to that of working class and poor parents. I’ve written about her work before.

According to Lareau, one characteristic of working class and poor parents which would make them easy targets for the school privatization movement is that this group does not have the same type of social competencies as middle class parents. Lareau describes how these different competencies affect the types of interactions which the parents have with their children’s schools, for instance, working class and poor parents:

  • are less likely to customize interactions to suit their preferences
  • accept actions of persons in authority, but at times covertly resist them
  • are sometimes not as aware of children’s school situation
  • may resist school rules as unreasonable
  • have trouble getting “the school” to respond to their needs
  • give a lesson in powerlessness and frustration in the face of an important institution
  • are generally unable to make the rules work in their favor when they confront the institution

Because middle class parents rear their children in a “concerted cultivation” model, succeeding generations are instilled with a sense of entitlement. Working class and poor parents rear their children according to a “natural growth” model, which perpetuates a sense of constraint in their succeeding generations.

Nearly completely absent in education reform discussions is how schools could be improved by building stronger ways to foster a greater sense of entitlement in working class and poor families, as well as to guide them in ways to effectively implement it. This would be especially challenging to do with those who have experienced living under a weak or non-existent democratic model, or who have limited English-speaking abilities, but it would not be impossible and this is what the venture philanthropists should be spending their money on. Increased civic engagement on the part of parents would certainly provoke a greater bureaucratic response on the part of their school districts. Parents who feel empowered and competent who are advocating for change can accomplish a lot. Remember the Chinese fishing proverb?

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

But because building a greater sense of mastery for parents has not been sufficiently nurtured, and has even been sabotaged and discouraged by school bureaucracies, a door has been opened wide for the outside privatization forces to insert themselves into those communities. This is evident in the expansion of “we want your child, but we don’t need your input" charter schools. And as this feature is getting more and more firmly rooted in the ground, any and all remaining levels for an opportunity for true community engagement is being entirely wiped out. With school boards being abolished, no elections will be held, and no meetings will be conducted to invite public input. School enrollment is depending more and more on how successfully schools can market themselves to working class and poor parents, with pretty imprinted pencils, glossy color brochures and glowing promises.

The popular explanation of how it this all going to sort itself out is that parents “will vote with their feet.” This method causes an awful lot of disruption, as unhappy parents who don't have a say in how things are run, yank their kids out mid-year and wander over to the next school. Most parents would be perfectly happy if their children could stay put, if their input was regularly solicited, if their comments actually listened too, and if they were made to feel that they were respected and that their views were considered to be valid. This doesn’t happen enough in today’s school bureaucracies, and it hasn't for years. But it is entirely excluded when there is a top-down regime operating from afar, such as is the case with Oakland’s largest charter school provider, Aspire Public Schools. The members of its board of directors hail from far reaching communities, big businesses, and venture capital organizations, and none of them have anything to do with the People of Oakland. A middle class community would never permit its public schools to be run this way.

So along these lines, there was an interesting segment on The World the other day (12/9/09). Anchor Marco Werman spoke with Christian Science Monitor correspondent Fred Weir in Moscow about the Russian culture of accountability. Weir has been living in Russia for 23 years. The story pertained to the Russia’s culture of corruption, indifference and fatalism in relation to the tragic nightclub fire:

I think it’s an age old problem, probably because people are disconnected, and always have been, from authority and the means of getting things done. You know it’s very common for people in Russian to say, “Well nothing depends on me.” I think that’s part of the story and the corruption comes also from just an unaccountable bureaucracy. They’re not elected, they’re not transparent, they’re not susceptible to public pressure and they tend to use their positions – and this is an age old thing in Russia again – to enrich themselves…

…Russia has never had a functioning democracy. It doesn’t have the civil society, the kinds of unity avenues by which people, say in the United States, do insert themselves in the process, again not perfect, but you have so many different ways if you are an individual in a Western country to express yourself, be heard, to at least take a shot rhetorically at an official who you feel has wronged you.

You have so many different ways [in the U.S.] that just don’t exist in Russia, and never did. And this, of course, leads to the sense of impunity on the part of bureaucrats and officials who just don’t feel any need to respond to public pressure.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

...[change] involves actually changing that bureaucracy, dragging them out into the open, making them publicly accountable, having elections that are truly competitive and which would allow opposition figures perhaps to come into power. You know, allowing people in their communities to show initiative runs the risk of them challenging authority, and this is where Russian reformers always tend to draw the line after they’ve made these wonderful speeches. They want the country to modernize, but they don’t want opposition to form. They don’t want real, independent initiatives to take place, and that’s the conundrum that we always see.

Urban areas don’t need more charter schools and more passivity; this is a wrong and dangerous direction to take. For our democracy to stay strong, we need to start building the capacity of people to become regularly and effectively engaged. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is alarmed at the loss of civics instruction in school over recent years. She said:

... public education is the only long-term solution to preserving an independent judiciary and, more importantly, to preserving a robust constitutional democracy,” she said. “The better educated our citizens are, the better equipped they will be to preserve the system of government we have. And we have to start with the education of our nation’s young people. Knowledge about our government is not handed down through the gene pool. Every generation has to learn it, and we have some work to do.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One unintended effect of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is intended to help fund teaching of science and math to young people, is that it has effectively squeezed out civics education because there is no testing for that anymore and no funding for that,” she said. “And at least half of the states no longer make the teaching of civics and government a requirement for high school graduation. This leaves a huge gap, and we can’t forget that the primary purpose of public schools in America has always been to help produce citizens who have the knowledge and the skills and the values to sustain our republic as a nation, our democratic form of government.

Related concerns are also expressed by James Boyd White in Part one of his essay, Law, economics, and torture. White is a law professor, literary critic, scholar and philosopher who has been teaching at the University of Michigan since 1983:

As the government withdraws from the regulation of the economy, as it has been doing for decades now, its place is taken by private individuals or private organizations which have immense power over the lives of all of us.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The rhetoric supporting this movement speaks of government as the enemy, and the market as freedom for us all. But the power that is created by the disparity of wealth is real power and, unlike governmental power, it is not shaped or guided by law and democracy. Corporate owners and managers are not elected by the people, not subject to the constitution, not supposed – or even allowed – to be motivated by any ideal other than the acquisition of wealth and power, and usually not responsive to argument or complaint.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The consumer dream of our culture teaches us that we have no responsibility, no capacity for action, no right to demand meaning in our work and lives, and no obligation for the welfare of others. It induces the sense of learned helplessness I referred to earlier—which is exactly the opposite of the kind of vigorous independence and competence upon which democracy depends.

And in discussing propaganda and advertising, White says

…one characteristic of both forms is that nothing is meant, everything is said for the moment, all on the assumption that the people who make up the audience have no memory and no capacity for critical thought. A world is created where thought is not possible. In neither domain—the consumer economy or the world of politics and government—are we defined as responsible participants in a world of shared life and action. Rather, we are manipulated objects of an empire.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

…the reason we do not rebel at the immense and unfair transfer of wealth, and all that is associated with it…is that in some sense we do not believe that we really have democracy at all any more, at least in the sense in which we once thought we did.

With restricted autonomy and “learned helplessness,” calling ourselves a democracy is a falsehood. To make our public schools better and to keep our democracy strong, this is the situation we need to begin to reverse, and quickly.