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The unmentionable oppression

On the sixth day of creation God empowered Eve and Adam with naming the animals.

Hey, that flying thing, we’ll call that a bird.

It’s an ancient lesson in the power of naming conventions, one political people and school reformers have learned well. As people who fight over education and how to define the education world, we have names for things, and sometimes those names help us further an agenda even if they do not foster public understanding.

Here are examples:

When schools are developed to serve oppressed populations outside of educational bureaucracies or professional monopolies, some call that privatization.

When commentators or policy wonks suggest we must create robust systems for understanding whether or not instruction of oppressed populations in classrooms is resulting in a desired effect (e.g. students achieving a set standard of learning), some call that teacher bashing.

When wealthy people dedicate massive portions of their wealth to building laboratories tasked with solving educational conundrums that exile oppressed people from the mainstream economy, some call that plutocracy.

When technologists devise educational methodologies intended to increase the number of oppressed students who can read and decode text, demonstrate math proficiency, and graduate high school prepared for college coursework, some call that an attack on public education.

When teachers prepare oppressed students to meet objective educational standards devised to ensure schools produce capable people for a demanding democracy, some call that teaching to the test.

I suppose it is good to name things. It’s a useful strategy to develop a common vision within common people.

One point of suggestion, however, is to maintain sanity by calling things what they actually are rather than what we suppose them to be. The naming convention above, one I safely said comes from some people, is not mine.

Perhaps education commentators have learned what political communications specialists have known for years: the power to name conditions, situations, remedies, problems, and so forth, is the power to control the public mind, and subsequently, the actions of the people, and the outcomes of our society.

So, what about those things that go unnamed?

For instance, what do we call it when we recognize an institutional pattern within the United States education system that delivers lesser qualified workers to classrooms where children of color, and those in poverty, sit awaiting the tools needed to carve out a fair American life?

What do we call it when research suggests the workers in these classrooms stereotype our students, and that stereotyping has a predictable negative consequence on their school performance?

What do we call it when people focus on how truancy impacts student achievement, but ignore the fact that worker absences affects achievement too?

What do we call it when residents of poor communities are redlined into “public” schools known to be of inferior quality in every respect, and when proposals to guarantee them pathways to better schools arise these workers in inferior schools fight to trap students there rather than fight for their liberation from state failure factories?

What should we call it when people cover the failings of state-run schooling systems by shifting attention from the vast research supporting the power of great teaching, strong instruction, effective school leadership, orderly schools, appropriate funding, and accountable systems, to the perceived deficits of children and their families, including their often mentioned lack of money, college backgrounds, and whiteness?

What do we call it when all of these systemic issues (and the many more issues that could be listed) are ignored by the defenders of the system as it is, as it was, and as it shall not be changed; those workers who represent the single largest expenditure in the current system, and thus, the single largest interest group in public education; those who are mostly white, mostly college educated, mostly middle-class; those who send representatives to every state capital in the United States year after year to warn legislators against any fancy ideas or proposals to give families in crisis communities opportunities to attend schools outside of the faltering schools assigned only to the poor, the black, the brown, and those without representatives constantly in attendance at legislative hearings?

In sum, my friends, there is no name for it.

There is no clever little way to package that for a public addicted more to intellectual candy than metabolic brain food. It’s the unmentionable. It’s the thing we shall not speak of as we try to be good progressives, or some other form of evolved people; colorblind, post-racial, and in solidarity with the workers of the world even if those workers are descendants of our oppressors, agents of a state that has failed to become just, and lords of a plastic middle class that speaks a good game about uplifting the poor while blocking pathways way out of poverty.

Oh, and about that middle class, that group with the most to lose if their educational hoarding were to be broken up with choice or erasing of borders; or if the jobs associated with ghetto schools were remade into some competent occupation, what’s the name for that problem?

What shall we call a middle class basting in self-righteous designer ideologies that suppose themselves to be defenders of the common good, while many of them lead petty consumerist lifestyles funded by commodifying the needs of the poor, and translating those needs into either public occupations preoccupied mainly with perpetuating public occupations, or into nonprofit grant requests to be traded on the philanthropy market?

I admit that’s wordy. There’s a lot to unpack there. It will be hard to name all that so it can easily roll off the tongue and capture the imagination of a society that thinks microwave foods take too long to cook.

Let’s keep it simple and classic. Why don’t we call it oppression.

And, I’ll remind you, God does not like it.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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1 Comment

  1. RJ

    October 2, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    So much truth here; apropos of “What do we call it when research suggests the workers in these classrooms stereotype our students, and that stereotyping has a predictable negative consequence on their school performance?”, check out the part in this story about resistance to improvement efforts in one district because of discipline issues.

    “Some PSJA teachers are organizing a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, citing concerns about school discipline, along with not having enough uninterrupted preparation time, or freedom to speak out when they have concerns. The discipline criticism suggests a point where classroom realities may clash with King’s broad goal of keeping every student in school. PSJA refers far fewer students to disciplinary programs than nearby districts do, which is generally a good thing for students. But teachers vying for leadership spots in the union have said the policy undercuts their authority with students, and leaves them stuck with kids who shouldn’t be in class. King says his staff has been meeting with teachers about it, but that the district’s policy is sound, if not perfectly implemented at every school.”

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.

And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.

“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.

Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.

The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.

And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.

And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.


In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.


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