Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Not Even a Bridesmaid

I have nothing to say about the Democratic debate, really. Neither does any other education blogger, though Steven Singer covers it as well as it needs to be covered. "Near silence" indeed.

So this is how it's going to be. The GOP is going to have a cartoon discussion about education, focusing on how to use charters to dismantle public ed and on how to find wacky ways to pretend that we're not havin' that Common Core stuff. And the Democratic line on public ed? The Clinton campaign locked in on their line months ago-- stick to the safe-and-easy topics of universal pre-K and accessible, cheaper-somehow college education.

That mantra is comfortable and easy. Plain folks can listen to it and hear, "Aww, more pre-school for those precious cute little kids, and a chance for young Americans to make something of themselves," while corporate backers, thirsty hedge funders, and ambitious reformsters can hear, "Expanding markets! Ka-ching!!"

The $64.50 question is, "Would education be on the front burner if Clinton had not already locked up the AFT and NEA endorsements?" Because as it is, we aren't on the front burner, the back burner, the bunsen burner, or anywhere near the stove. Well, hey-- Lily Eskelsen-Garcia suggested that once we were all in with the campaign, Clinton would be more inclined to hear our message and pay attention to it. What did Eskelsen-Garcia have to say about the debate last night?

Really? We don't want to hear anything about the disastrous policies of the last twelve years that have systematically broken down and dismantled American public education and the teaching profession? Dang, but I could have sworn we wanted to hear about that. But I guess now that the union is on Team Clinton, our job is not to hold her feet to the fire so much as it is to give them a little massage and carry some baggage for her so that she can save her strength for other issues. Important issues. Issues that aren't US public education.

Sanders, with his focus on how the rich have commandeered so many parts of our democratic society, is so close to making useful statements about the education debates, but it just doesn't happen. And I'm not sure how somebody helps it happen at this point. And those other guys? Generic Candidates #3-5? I don't know what they think about education, but I suppose now that the education vote is supposedly locked up by Clinton, they won't feel the need to go there.

Bottom line-- US public education, despite the assorted crises associated with it (both fictional and non-fictional) is shaping up to be a non-issue once again in Presidential politics. I would say always a bridesmaid, never a bride, but it's more like always the person hired for a couple of hours to help direct the car parking in the field back behind the reception hall. Or maybe the person who cleans up the reception hall after the bridal party has danced off happily into the night.

If I was harboring any dreams, any spark of hope that maybe this would be our year, that maybe, given everything that has happened, this might be the year that public education somehow became a real campaign issue, that spark has been extinguished, buried, stomped on and drowned in a bucket of tears.

Worst of all-- and this really galls me-- I might owe Campbell Brown an apology. I wrote earlier that no Democratic candidates (and almost no important GOP ones) came to her education summit because they found her irrelevant. And while I'm comfortable with that assessment of her role in education policy debates, there is one other possibility-- when it comes to public education in this country, none of the candidates actually gives a shit. I could believe that nobody went to Brown's parties because they didn't think her summits would be a good setting for a serious discussion about public education. But last night the Democrats had a chance to hold that serious discussion, and they walked right by it.


  1. The Dems can't talk about education. Their funders want one thing, their voters want the exact opposite. They are, of course, on board with their funders, knowing where their bread is buttered and all, but they can't say that out loud. They have some wiggle room to mouth some platitudes to mollify their voters, but they can't stray too far lest they lose their funders. So platitudes are about all they have left. And since no one (except Jill Stein, who hasn't been invited to any debates) is willing to buck the funders, what do they have to debate with each other about? I'm sure there was a mutual agreement beforehand that anyone who brought up education in any but the most general way would get met in the parking lot by a few guys into kneecaps.

  2. It reminds me of the old fashioned commet "he won't buy the cow if the milk is free".

  3. Our unions certainly dropped the ball. Maybe we need to fire the unions and get new ones. The present ones' leaders are too much a part of the power structure. It might help some if everyone who could, withheld the part of the dues that are for political purposes, but it's really a problem.

    I can't say I'm disappointed none of the candidates talked about K-12 public education because I didn't expect it, especially not in this first debate. Sure, even though there weren't any questions about it, they could have woven it into their answers and statements if it were an important part of their platform, but it's not on their radar.

    I think the Resistance is making some headway -- CCSS has not been uniformly adopted, many states have rejected PAARC, it looks like the new ESEA will put some brakes on what the USDOE can do -- but other factors have also had influence. And so much damage has been done at the state level, and culture changes at the bureaucratic level happen so slowly, at this rate it's going to take another 10 years and the complete implosion of the system to really turn the tide, which is really depressing. It would really help to have a political ally.

    Bernie is the only possibility I see for a potential political ally. He's been talking about the same issues for 40 years, and it's hard for him to widen his focus, but his issues dovetail with ours, if we could only bring his attention to them. It took BLM being "disruptive" to get him to focus more on changing the criminal justice system, but once it got his attention and he saw the need to focus on it, it easily fit in with his platform and the beliefs he's always had. Disruption goes with his movement; he says we need a revolution of millions of people to change the structure of our society so that it works for everyone.

    The only thing disruptive about our campaign so far is the opt-out movement by parents against standardized testing, and so far it hasn't really won any battles. Nobody outside our blogosphere seems to be aware of the damage being done by the corruption to the system caused by hedge fund CEOs and for-profit charters. There have been a few articles in mainstream media, but so far it's like the words have been hitting a wall or an echo chamber.

    How do we bring Bernie's attention to the urgency of our concerns, and get Democrats to see that K-12 has as many problems and is as important as pre-K and college affordability? Do we have to grab the mic or organize mass demonstrations? Maybe it would help if we all emailed Bernie's campaign and said that in spite of the unions' endorsement of Hillary, if he addressed our concerns he'd certainly get our votes. And also emailed or tweeted questions en masse to the channels that host the debates. Bernie likes facts and figures, and we have to convince him that unregulated charters are hurting, not helping, the cause of education and social justice.

  4. The realization that Senator Sanders cannot see, or will not address, the fact that billionaires are damaging our democracy by destroying our public schools is very disturbing because he criticizes those same billionaires for damaging democracy through the excessive influence of their money in both the financial markets and the political sphere. He either cannot broaden his campaign effectively or he is willfully disregarding an injustice that he is acutely aware of. Either way, it is looking more and more likely that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee.

    1. His campaign hasn't been going on that long. Most people who are not involved in K-12 education are not aware of what's happening, because the rich charter advocates control this bandwidth in the media, and it's a relatively new phenomenon. You would think that if he were aware, he would be glad to weave in another example of the corruption of this excessive influence of money, and for the chance to get another constituency, teachers, to vote for him. This is a tricky issue, however, because of the belief of many minorities, fueled by chartarista propaganda, that standardized tests and charter schools have been created to benefit and will benefit them.

      I wouldn't assume yet that Hillary's going to be the nominee. All the corporate media pundits declared her the winner of the debate, but all the focus groups said it was Sanders. It's still early days.

  5. As a teacher I would like more discussion on national TV. As a citizen I want a Supreme Court filled with Democratic appointees. As someone who follows educational reform, I know that Hillary is pro-charters while Bernie is not. I know that Bernie is a stronger advocate for unions. And as a citizen of a state captured by Republicans (North Carolina) I know what Republicans will do to education.

  6. As a teacher I would like more discussion on national TV. As a citizen I want a Supreme Court filled with Democratic appointees. As someone who follows educational reform, I know that Hillary is pro-charters while Bernie is not. I know that Bernie is a stronger advocate for unions. And as a citizen of a state captured by Republicans (North Carolina) I know what Republicans will do to education.

  7. Hi Peter: You're right. I, too was disappointed in the lack of conversation about this whole destructive process for public education. You might be interested in this very recent spirited discussion in Colorado after a screening of Education, Inc--a great documentary that shows what's happening: