Class Warfare Blog

December 22, 2013

A Recipe for Improving Our Public Schools

Here’s a simple recipe for increasing the quality of our public schools.

First, decrease the number of teachers and increase the number of students. Our public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. At prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment would have grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, according to Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Second, reduce overall spending upon education by the states. Due to the recession and very bad planning by many state governments, education funding has been substantially slashed over the last several years. In addition, monies that would have gone to our public schools have been diverted to charter school experiments that not only prove to be no better than our traditional schools but lead to greater segregation to boot.

Third, reduce any attention the arts, music, etc. receive in the curriculum and focus on English, math, and science, even to the exclusion of most of the rest of the curriculum. None of that stuff will help you find a job, anyway.

Finally, adopt a culture of high stakes testing and spend a large portion of class time on test preparation, rather than real learning. Sure, there is no linkage between such test scores and happiness, success, or the economy as a whole, but it is another way to divert millions of dollars away from things we know work to these things we haven’t got a clue as to whether they will work and, well, certain business partners who will enjoy the profits they’ll make.

All we have to do is wait and see what we get.

Does this sound like a recipe you’d want to try?

 

Note: This recipe originally appeared on the Cooking the Books Channel.

December 19, 2013

‘Tis the Season

Merry Christmas, you bums! To celebrate this season of gift giving the Republicans are kicking 1.3 million people off of extended unemployment benefits three days after Christmas. I say the Republicans are doing this because in the recent budget negotiations they went into those negotiations with that benefit cut off as a “non-negotiable demand,” meaning there would be no new budget without it.

When asked what the people losing this benefit should do, the response was “they should go out and get a job.” This attitude is apparently not informed by any knowledge in that the number of jobs available is much smaller than the number of people needing them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “There were 3.9 million job openings in October, little changed from September. The number of openings was little changed for total private and government.” The BLS pegs the number of unemployed at 10.9 million with about 4 million not counted because they have given up looking for work (at least for one month). So, 15 million unemployed, 4 million jobs available, about 1 job for every 4 people wanting one.

Now, consider that the average unemployment check is roughly $300 per week (although there is quite a wide range, so some make much more than this and many quite a bit less, but we have to start somewhere). If one were to get a job that netted $300 per week, let us assume that they would have to make $400 per week to cover costs of payroll taxes, maybe income taxes, commuting costs, etc. At $400 per week and a 40 hour work week they would need a job paying $10 per hour, so immediately a good portion of the jobs available don’t pay that much. Worse, many which do pay that much won’t hire people to work 40 hour work weeks, instead they get many fewer work hours, so really they would need two jobs if the pay is $10-$15 per hour or less. There are not enough jobs for everybody to have even one job, but the Republican plan is for these folks to go out and get two jobs.

Oh, and by the end of next year another 3.6 million people will lose such benefits.

These are the same Republicans who ran the country, hell the whole world, into an economic ditch. They are now salving their political impotence by beating up on the poor and the temporarily down on their luck folks. They basically are saying that if you lost your job, the only reason you don’t have one yet is because you are shiftless and lazy.

Possibly, the fact that these unemployment monies get spent almost immediately to buy food, pay the rent, etc. supports the local economies of these laid off workers (you don’t get unemployment benefits unless you were working and paid into the insurance program) and the people who receive that money spend it again (this is called the multiplier effect), plus this stimulus is targeted in the areas that need it the most (areas with the highest unemployment) means this is the only form of economic stimulus that gets distributed to ordinary people, and since it is economically stimulative, the Republicans are against it.

They are also against any sort of jobs programs, like the ones that have been so successful in the past.

I don’t know, Grinches, Assholes, heartless, mean bastards, un-Christian . . . you’ll have to come up with your own label for the New Republicans yourself.

Don’t Discount Republican’s Anti-intellectualism

In the current wave of conservative-backed “reform” of higher eduction a long-standing streak of anti-intellectualism in the Republican Party is clearly evident. (I had to put quotes around re-form because it means just that: “to formulate something different from what it once was,” and “different” does not necessarily mean “better,” even though it has that connotation) The Republican Party used to have quite an array of intellectuals on display. But that was then and this is now and by and large they have been purged or pushed off of the stage. What passes for a Republican intellectual today is Paul Ryan (really!).

I can still remember the sneer in Spiro T. Agnew’s voice when he used the phrase “pointy-headed intellectuals” to describe President Nixon’s Eastern establishment critics. Coming from just any old Republican wouldn’t have been news, but Mr. Agnew was Vice-president at the time. The Eastern establishment Republicans are nowhere in sight and the anti-intellectuals are everywhere (Gimme that old time religion, gimme . . . )

The “public schools are failing” trope is propaganda, pure and simple.

A New York Times editorial recently implied that some of the reasons students in places like Finland, Canada, and Shanghai do much better in science and math than American students were cultural, and concluded that those places care more about preparing teachers and elevating the cultural position of education, while ensuring that more resources go to the neediest schools. While ignoring that here, teachers are poorly paid, poorly prepared and generally disdained, while the richest schools and students get the most money. They also seemed to ignore, while mentioning, that Finland, for example, provides free lunches for all school children, free medical care, pyschological services, and myriad other supports directly to students to ensure that everyone of them gets a good education.

Interestingly, the schools in the U.S. with kids of well-off parents get test scores as good or better than those countries touted as being iconic. In fact, many of the Asian “countries” listed in these international test score lists aren’t countries: Shanghai for example is a city, a city that has a major part of its students excluded from its schools. (Can you guess which ones? The poor ones, you say? Got it it one, you did.)

The propagandists are not only anti-intellectual but also anti-union. And which of the unions have been the most politically effective for Democrats over the last thirty years or so? Answer: the teacher’s unions.

The fact that the richest kids get those high test scores tells one immediately, well it does if you aren’t anti-intellectual, that the problem is not with the schools. In fact, if you look at the in-house test scores, public schools perform as well or better than private schools in the country. Public schools perform as well or better than charter schools in this country. So, why are the public schools being described as being failing? The answer is simple: they are not. The “public schools are failing” trope is propaganda, pure and simple. The propagandists are not only anti-intellectual but also anti-union. And which of the unions have been the most politically effective over the last thirty years or so? Answer: the teacher’s unions. So, you take a wide streak of anti-intelelctualism and an wider streak of anti-unionism and, gosh, the current “school reform” efforts fall neatly into pace. Charter schools are created in which unions are banned. Charter schools suck money out of the public school system with their union-loving teachers and are then allowed to cherry-pick the students that are entered, selecting those with good academic records and rejecting those without and those with special needs and, in many cases, those with the wrong skin color. Data now show that with these “reforms” schools are becoming more racially segregated over time. Now where is the base of the New Republican Party? Uh, the South? Oh.

So, we have had roughly 30 years of the New Republican Policies (Down with Egalitarianism, Up with Individualism!). The Social Safety Net is being shredded and is currently under attack, social mobility is declining rapidly, the rich are getting way richer and the poor are getting way poorer, the environment is being ravaged, and we are being told to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, even though we no longer own boots.

How’s that “every man for himself” working for yuh?

December 18, 2013

We’ve Been Here Before

The Republicans keep wanting to cut the federal budget and increase defense spending. Conservatives often point to President Warren G. Harding (1921-23) as a president who cut taxes and got a large economic boost out of it. Their basic argument is that President Harding cut taxes and government spending thereby turning a recession (the Recession of 1920-21) into the roaring 20’s.

Let’s, as they say, unpack this a bit.

Yes, Harding reduced the highest marginal income tax rates from 65% to 58% and then later to 25%, so, he did indeed cut taxe rates. And, yes, he cut government spending. But between 1920 and 1923, major national defense outlays dropped from $4 billion down to about $680 million while total government outlays dropped from $6.4 billion down to $3.1 billion. It was because of the military budget being slashed by 83% that the total budget diminished, the remaining civilian budget grew slightly.

This is hardly what today’s conservatives are recommending.

Listen, the situation was entirely different. The “Panic” of 1893 was still in memory and similar recessions (as we call them now) occurred in 1910-12, 1913-14, and 1920-21 (following the end of WWI, the demobilization allowing for the big defense cuts) and, of course, The Great Depression was coming in 1929 so, so much for the “success” of the “Roaring 20’s.”

Also, in the early 1920’s the United States was running a significant trade surplus as opposed to today’s massive trade deficit. And, Paul Krugman points out the recession that Harding “licked” was an inflationary one (unlike the current recession) which was addressed by the Federal Reserve by raising interest rates from 4.75% to 5% to 6% and then to 7% in June of 1920. When these interest rates were dropped (the standard procedure—raise rates to cool off the economy, lower them to stimulate it) shortly after Harding was elected the economy took off again. Harding also expanded the tax base, something today’s Republicans are adamantly opposed to. (Just Say “No” to Revenue Enhancement!)

So, the Repubs are right, their tactics have been tried before, but they can’t seem to come up with an example that is comparable. In fact, all of the examples one can come up with oppose what they are claiming.

So why is there so much support for their austerity tactics? Well, let me break it to you—there isn’t any real support, not from the general population, not from the majority of economists, and certainly not from the history books. The Republicans are able to do what they are doing for the simple reason that their wealthy paymasters want them to do it. The only “support” outside of the Republican Party for their policy ideas is from some in the media, primarily media companies owned lock, stock, and barrel by wealthy people or wealthy corporations, all of which are heavy donors to the Republican Party, because it is carrying their agenda for them.

The question always remains as to why ordinary Republican voters support the “all benefits for the rich” agenda of their party? Is it the sops they are thrown over social issues? Or are they old people operating on inertia (We’ve always voted the Republican ticket.), or . . . ? The shocking thing is that those ordinary Republican voters are voting against their own economic well-being and against what the Founding Fathers wanted in the way of our own self-government. They certainly didn’t want the country to be run only for the rich (although they were in favor of it being run by an elite). Possibly this is the meme still driving ordinary Republicans—cut welfare because all of those folks, the unwashed masses, are shiftless and lazy and unworthy, you know, black and brown.

December 17, 2013

Getting an Education

There is a movement to use various test scores as indicators of educational quality and teacher quality. A recent MIT study shows that such tests don’t do what people assume they do. Most people think of a test as a “difficult” task and that you either do well or not and it means something. How this has been reshaped to become an evaluation of the test giver is beyond me. A small part I can understand, a major part, no.

The MIT researchers found, among other things, that students who were randomly selected to attend high-performing charter schools did significantly better on the math test than those who were not chosen, but there was no corresponding increase in “fluid intelligence scores.” Such skills are described as “fluid” because they require using logical thinking and problem solving in novel situations, rather than recalling previously learned facts and skills. “It doesn’t seem like you get these skills for free in the way that you might hope, just by doing a lot of studying and being a good student,” said the study’s senior author, John Gabrieli, in a statement.

I was a teacher for 35 years. Along the way I told every group of students that “what you get by coming to class is “schooled;” an education is what you get between classes.” What I meant by that is the private study, the extracurricular reading, the bullshit sessions, the arguments, the discussions, the exposure to other people and their ideas, and the intellectual stimulus you get from having your ideas challenged is what results in a student becoming “educated.”

The current “educational reformists” are willing to settle for “schooled” students who then get plugged into “jobs.” When I was young, I was told that prime objectives of my education were to become a functioning member of a democracy and to live a good life. They didn’t mention “jobs,” not before high school (people actually went to work after high school back then, you know).

Turning our schools into the corporate minor leagues is not a good idea . . . for anyone.

Ratcheting Up the Class War

A recent characterization is, in my mind, an escalation in the rhetoric of the class war currently going on. It may be a sign of desperation or an isolated blip on the social radar but the term “parasite” has been introduced as a description of the ultra-rich. A parasite rarely contributes anything to its host, except by accident, yet derives all of its sustenance from the host, like ticks, for example.

The über-rich use their wealth to change the rules of society to make themselves more powerful. They distort the tax laws so that they pay a smaller fraction of their income as taxes than do the middle class. They change the laws of society so that society reflects their beliefs more than they reflect the beliefs of the country as a whole or the founder’s beliefs, for that matter (see anti-abortion and anti-union efforts in conservative lead states).

The political and legal discourses of this country reflect the concerns of the rich and not the concerns of the poor or the middle class. The politicians, whose jobs are to determine the needs of society in toto, pay attention solely to the needs of the rich, which apparently are focused upon getting even richer above all else.

Are these the behaviors of parasites? Seemingly. The big question is what happens to such people when the backlash comes. Behave like a psychopath long enough and eventually people will believe you are one. Behave like a parasite . . . and you may be treated the way we treat ticks.

Many are clearly seeing that they are the losers in the class war begun over 30 years ago. The American Dream has been abandoned and life as a corporate drone has been substituted as a goal in and of itself (see The Common Core Standards being pushed into our schools by corporate funded foundations, with a boost from their political drones). People see that their children will not be better off than their parents like they were . . . and it is very clear that this didn’t happen by accident. The Class War was orchestrated and run by and for the very wealthy of this country. The fact that they were conservative meant that they saw themselves as natural leaders, certainly more so than the unwashed, unworthy masses, so the systems needed to be reshaped so that they lead and others follow (see attacks on voting rights).

Before retaliation is made against any group or social entity, first members of those groups get characterized negatively; we say “the enemy is demonized” as, say, “parasites.”

I wonder if the very rich notice . . . or care?

December 16, 2013

More Conservative Bullshit Exposed

The Bush administration started wars they didn’t have enough personnel to fight because they could hire “contractors.” Contractors were non-military employees doing jobs that used to be done by military employees, lessening the need for more military employees … and putting all of our soldiers in harm’s way as none of them could be clerks or cooks or supply gofers, etc.

By conservative logic, private contractors had to be more cost effective because the private sector can always beat government when it comes to efficiency. It is a matter of faith with conservatives. Once again, faith proves out to “pretending to believe things that are not true.”

The truth is that contractors cost three times as much as DoD employees. Consider this infographic from the folks at pgo.org.

Contractor Costs

 

December 12, 2013

Does Freedom Make You Happy or Does Happiness Make You Free?

The current position of conservative American politicians is that our freedoms are very, very important, apparently the most important of which are the freedoms to fail, to hunger or even starve, and to die from treatable disease. Freedom, they say, will make you happy.

The country of Denmark, takes a different approach. Denmark was just rated as the happiest country, according to a survey of 156 nations called the World Happiness Report. And according to Christian Bjornskov, an economics professor at Aarhus University, “The second factor is a strong belief in personal freedom — that you can always change things in your own life.” (The first had something to do with “trust;” gasp, they trust their government!?)

Denmark thinks that if many of the smallest things like basic food, shelter, and health care are provided for, then people are free to be whomever they want to be. Danes don’t have to grub for a basic existence.

Apparently Danes don’t have a view of their fellow citizens as “takers” who will put up a hammock and television set as soon as possible and vegetate their lives away. And apparently they are correct; they are industrious and hard working . . . and happy. Amazing that the Danes can do this and we cannot. They must be exceptional.

Are Republicans Politicians Really Scum-Sucking Pigs?

According to today’s Republicans, unemployment benefits aren’t a palliative that allow people who have lost their jobs to escape economic disaster until they can find another. No, they are a moral trap leading to sloth and “taker-hood.” Getting something for nothing is an offense to these conservative stalwarts.

These same Republicans seem to be fine, though, with paying farmers to not plant crops, some of those farmers holding seats in the House of Representatives. They seem to be fine with giving oil companies subsidies that were inaugurated in the early 1900s to stimulate oil production when the price of a barrel of oil was measured in cents rather than dollars. Republicans have blocked repeated attempts to remove those subsidies even though said oil companies are the most profitable of all companies now.

Ah, I have finally understood the Republican’s policy position; it is simply “Yes to rich, no to the poor.”

December 11, 2013

Will We Ever Learn . . .

I have written before about Massive Open Online Courses having been touted as a major innovation in how we educate college students. I argued that there is a long history of such innovations and they have all failed. I argued, and continue to argue, that education is a social activity and any barrier put between the human beings involved will diminish success. I do not mean that under extraordinary circumstances, a few students can’t succeed fabulously using some form of distance learning, just that such things make the process much harder for the bulk of students.

Consider the following from today’s New York Times:
A study of a million users of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, released this month by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education found that, on average, only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses.

Four percent! Wow, what a success rate! Now consider what students and other adults do with “social media.” There is frantic activity to share what the participants are doing socially. Huge amounts of time and effort are spent sharing social activities, but not face-to-face. How effective do you think those actions are in improving the social lives of the participants? Do you think those efforts are worthwhile or closer to what I call a GWOT or a Giant Waste of Time?

So, my question is, why take an intense social activity like education and insert the same barriers to success that social media do?

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