Class Warfare Blog

January 14, 2019

Why Would Teachers Strike?

The teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are going to strike. Why would they do that? As all union officials know (I was one previously), strikes are “lose-lose” propositions, so their only justification is that without one, the losses will be much greater.

In reasonable school districts, teacher strikes just do not happen, that is because of mutual understanding and respect. On the other hand LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who came to the job with no background in education, commented to a reporter regarding the strike that “There are ways to educate kids that don’t rely on a physical body.” In other words, teachers are not necessary.

I wonder if the good superintendent would have the same attitude were he to need a substantial surgery, or were facing a threatening lawsuit, or whose tax forms were in terrific disarray? Would he have said “There are ways to operate on people’s bodies that don’t rely on a doctor.” or “There are ways to defend yourself in court that don’t rely on a lawyer.” or “There are ways to straighten out accounting messes that don’t rely on accountants.”?

Were this gentleman a skilled negotiator he would have realized that uttering such a statement, especially to a reporter and no matter how much he believed in it, had no “up-side.” It not only doesn’t produce any positive effect for “his side” but it mobilizes those on the “other side” against you. If you want labor peace, start with respect (it is easy to grant, not so easy to earn) and understanding (The rule for negotiators is: “seek first to understand before being understood.”).

I am not totally opposed to non-educators being selected for these positions, but I am against stupid people being hired for such positions.


April 28, 2018

Give Me the Child …

Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.
Jesuit maxim widely attributed to Ignatius Loyola;

In a blog post on the website of The Institute for New Economic Thinking (The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools by Lynn Parramore—April 6, 2018) the author summarizes part of the opinion of Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, thus:

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits.

She went on to say: “In the words of Noam Chomsky… ‘students will be controlled and disciplined.’ Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.”

While reading this I am also reading the book “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy” by Edward L. Deci. I reached a point in that book in which a long standing question of mine got answered. That question is: why do kids in kindergarten and the early stages of their educations show so much curiosity when that is no longer in evidence when they get to middle school and high school?” It seemed to me that education had the effect of beating the curiosity out of kids. I wondered why. According to Deci “It is truly amazing, as pointed up by our (research) findings, that if people are ongoingly treated as if they were either passive mechanisms or barbarians needing to be controlled, they will begin to act more and more that way (p. 84).” Controlling behavior includes structuring the environment, establishing the rules, enforcing the rules, defining the rewards, etc.

When Chomsky says “students will be controlled and disciplined” he is saying “more than they are now,” the effect of which is to stifle curiosity, creativity, political will to resist the “rules,” etc.

The oligarch’s effort to dismantle public education and remake it under their “leadership” is motivated by a desire for worker drones that will shut up, do what they are told, accept whatever salary and benefits they are offered, and not make problems.

It seems that 1984 is coming, just 30 years later than predicted. And there is no Big Brother;  there are, however, quite a number very wealthy men, old white men, who are auditioning for the role.

July 19, 2013

No Child Left Behind—Part of the Corporate Takeover of Public Education?

Okay, folks, this is rather easy. Under which president was the No Child Left Behind law passed? George W. Bush. That’s correct!

Now think of the Bush Administration’s policies and accomplishments: the wars for the war profiteers, the voiding of environment rules for their corporate sponsors, the regulations written by corporate lobbyists from K Street, the regulation of the oil drilling companies by former oil drilling corporation employees, the Energy Policy written in secret by VP Dick Cheney, former Halliburton CEO, and his coal and oil company buddies . . . are you remembering this stuff?

Now ask yourself, if NCLB wasn’t good for Bush’s corporate sponsors, would they have paid any attention to it at all?

Think about it.

The Many Errors of High Stakes Testing

I have been writing a lot about education lately and, yes, it does have a connection to Class Warfare, the topic of this blog, as the current efforts to corporatize our public schools is yet another effort of the monied interests to exert their control over the “proles.” To them, an education has one and only one purpose: to prepare youth for a job in one of their corporations. They care little about citizenship, personal happiness and growth, leading a well-adapted life, etc.

One aspect of their attempted takeovers of public education is the demand that tests be used to not only rate schools, but also to rate teachers. This sounds not all that unreasonable, but consider the reality of this. As just an example, consider an urban or suburban school almost anywhere in the U.S. In many of these schools, students come and go at quite high rates. We are blessed in this country with the freedom to travel and live wherever we can afford to and people avail themselves of this over and over. It used to be military kids that ended up hopping from school to school as their parent got transferred, but now it happens to greater numbers of parents scrambling to find decent work.

So, you test all of the students in a school district and, this year, “good news!” Scores are up 3.4% in reading and 2.8% in math! But 24% of those students weren’t part of the district last year to be part of that comparison. So what does those score improvements mean? They mean absolutely nothing as they are a comparison of apples to oranges, as the cliché goes. You tested two quite different groups of students and their scores came out different; no surprise there.

I used to hammer away at my chemistry students that numbers are fine and good but don’t mean anything until you can interpret them, that is make sense of them in context. Apparently that is not the case for educational “reformers” pushing high stakes testing.

With computers we have the capability to track the performances for those students who were in the district last year and compare their scores to those that are still here this year, but do we? I haven’t seen this done. And if we were to know those numbers what would those mean? I suspect they would mean very little, as you would be comparing fourth graders to third graders, for example. But, we must then set up standards for what a fourth graders and third graders know and can do, no? Ah hah, these have been set up, but are they accurate? If the third grade standards are just a little bit high, the scores for third graders would be artificially low and if the standards for fourth graders are a little bit low, the scores would be artificially high. And any measure of how fourth graders have “progressed” from the third grade would show an increase that has nothing to do with reality.

So, what about comparing the third graders to the fourth grades and tracking that improvement over time? Now we are starting to see approaches that might characterize whether students are getting better or not. But what if there is a Great Recession and student’s parents are out of work and can’t support them as well as they did before? What happens to their performance then? Do the comparisons and standards take “externalities” into account? I think not.

I am not opposed to measurement in our schools. In fact I am an advocate of measurement. But I strongly oppose stupidity in all of its forms and I more strongly oppose the pushing of high stakes testing by groups which have motives that are very, very suspect. And isn’t it interesting that many of the reform efforts are fueled by funding from corporations who sell tests and testing equipment, and who manage “charter” schools, and . . . I think you can see where this is coming from, no?

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