Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bullying or witch hunt?

The extreme amount of hatred and venom being hurled at public school teachers these days has got to be some sort of misdirected expression of the deluded people who still think that all things are possible for all people in this country. Or, is it the result of manipulation by those who are fully aware of what is going on and decided to toss in a red herring?

This country’s social mobility has pretty much hit the wall and we are entering uncharted territory. The empire is in decline. The citizenry knows that things aren’t right, but still haven't completely computed it. They don’t know what else to do other than to join in the fun of blaming a whole class of workers.

Mind you, I am not a teacher and I don't belong to a union. I am a longtime urban public school parent observer who is monitoring events and sensing that something evil is afoot.

Diane Ravitch recently wrote:

Did you see Newsweek last week? What a stunning and uninformed attack on teachers and teachers' unions. The cover of the magazine told the story: The Key to Saving American Education, by Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert. It was printed on a classroom blackboard. In the background, on the same blackboard, was the handwritten phrase, repeated again and again, "We must fire bad teachers."

The story itself is a parody of a right-wing rant. It seems that the nation's classrooms are overrun with "bad teachers," pedophiles, "weak" teachers, ineffective teachers, dumb teachers, and others who remain in the classroom only because they have "lifetime tenure." Evil teachers' unions protect these people who are harming our nation's children. Researchers now know, the writers say, that if we could fire all these malingerers, the notorious achievement gap between the races would soon close and America would once again lead the world in education.

I submit to you that teachers have been targeted because their work symbolizes our nation’s uncertain future. It is easy to attack the nurturers and caregivers of our children because they are fairly ineffective with defending themselves and with retaliating against the attacks. Stressed public school teachers are too busy working on the daily tasks of trying to make 25-35 kids focus on class work and behave right, and at the end of the school day, their energy is drained. Add to that the fact that, these days, the teachers are increasingly demoralized. I believe this demoralization is one of the primary goals because it produces emotional breakdown and powerlessness.

It would be much harder for people to go after the higher status entities that function with an aggressive, masculine nature, like the business, legal, or warrior classes. What else explains why the nation’s response to what Goldman Sachs did (and is still doing) to us has been so muted?

So why go after the teachers? Because they’re easy targets and bullying is an adrenaline rush. It's also easier to bully and blame than to deal with the deeper, societal issues that eat away at this country.

The nasty scapegoating mentality is best revealed by the “no excuses” rhetoric. But the fact is that we will never be a society where everyone gets a college degree, where people at higher positions on the social ladder willingly sacrifice their spot to someone else, and where the poor and the less fortunate don’t exist.

As for the scene in urban areas, Michelle Alexander (author of “The New Jim Crow”) is telling the difficult-to-hear-truth: America now has a permanent under-caste. She writes:

Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Think any of this might impact the academic achievement of the children born into this caste? Of course, you will never hear anything significant about this theme acknowledged or uttered by the people now setting education policy and pushing for "reform." That such a stark admission is missing is either by intentional neglect, or because their heads are buried in the sand.

Either way, this country's approach is very dangerous stuff. It's a bit difficult to bring this up out loud, but is anyone else getting that slight sense that fascism and/or thoughts of genocide are lurking in the wings?

Of related interest is the commentary by James Boyd White (link found in this post). See also, A Real Crisis.

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Added 3/18/2010

Watch this interview with Michelle Alexander here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Bob Herbert (3/12/2010) wrote about Bloomberg's NYC "stop and frisk" policy:
...Blacks and Hispanics, and especially those who are young and those who are poor, are disproportionately singled-out for this peculiar form of police harassment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and other top leaders in this town would never tolerate this kind of systematic abuse of middle-class or wealthy, white New Yorkers.

The overwhelming majority of the stops yield no law-enforcement benefit whatsoever. An analysis of the stops in the first three quarters of 2009 showed that contraband, which usually means drugs, was found on just 1.6 percent of the blacks who were stopped, 1.5 percent of the Hispanics, and 2.2 percent of the whites (who are stopped far less often than the other groups).


NYC Educator said...

There's also the undeniable fact that we're one of the last bastions of vibrant unionism in American. It's really a sad time when a Democratic President joins the witch hunt. Stuff like this makes me wonder whether I should retire and move my family, especially my kid, to Canada.

Michael Fiorillo said...

A really fine, albeit disturbing post.

I'd just like to add the following:

- Newsweek is not just a megaphone for hysteria and libel directed against teachers. Like Kaplan test prep, a favored recipient of corporate ed deform patronage, it is a subsidiary of the Washington Post Corporation. They are a financially interested party in this debate, and thus their opinion counts for less than zero.

As the Wall Street guys who are among the stalkers of public education would say, they've got "skin in the game," and are "talking their book." Everything they say on this subject transacts at an extremely high discount.

- Second, while I think your analysis of attacks on teachers as coming from sublimated/misdirected insecurity, anger and confusion is important, let's not leave out plain old, tried-and-true, step-on-your-throat neoliberal opportunism.

The US is in the early stages of something very similar to the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) that were imposed on developing countries over the past thirty years, as a result of credit crises. These SAPs entail huge cutbacks, reorganizations, layoffs and privatization in the public sector. They are an in-your-face form of class antagonism, and teacher unions are one of the few institutional barriers against the complete imposition of this economic regime (which, by the way, Barack Obama was hired years ago by Finance and its philanthropic appendages to help broker).

Having first looted the economy, then engineered a bailout of their recklessness that has made them even more powerful, Finance is now going for strike three by manipulating the ensuing economic crisis to achieve some long cherished goals. Watch for escalating and intense attacks on public sector unions, their pensions, Social Security, Medicare, and all the vestiges of progressive 20th century struggle.

nikto said...

More Conservative contamination regarding education here:

It is time to start asking:


The old horny devil would love himself some conservatism, bigtime, for sure.

nikto said...

Here;s the ugly truth about Obama as an enemy of teachers:

Anonymous said...

In the responses here and in the original article, the educational Ponzi scheme has been articulated very, very well. Thank you for allowing me to realize the paranoia is actually acute awareness.

nikto said...

Do Public School teachers have any friends at all left in politics?

Here's how Democrats are treating them in Michigan:

Please pardon this teacher for not voting for Democrats so much anymore, unless they are absolutely, positively
Progressive to-the-hilt, and very outspokenly PRO-TEACHER and PRO-PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Sadly, that leaves out most Dems (and nearly ALL repubs) these days.

Really simplifies voting,
from now on.

Anonymous said...

This was a great piece of blogging, thank you.