Thursday, January 17, 2019

Oh, Arne.

Arne Duncan is always talking and it's never good.

Let's take a look at two recent batches of word salad thrown up by the former secretary of education and current ed reform gun-for-hire.

Earlier this month the Duncanator was the keynote speaker at Morgan Park High School's career day in Chicago. The appearance would have been unexceptional had Duncan not spelled out in perhaps the starkest terms ever his ideas about the relationship between education and crime.

Hats off to reporter Kyle Garmes, who led with a great fake-out sentence:

As he sat in front of juniors and seniors at Morgan Park High School (MPHS), Arne Duncan apologized.

You might immediately think of a dozen things that Duncan owes apologies for, but none of those are on his list. Instead, he apologizes on behalf of all adults for not keeping students safe from gun violence. But here is the kicker:

Duncan stressed the importance of students continuing their education after high school, whether in college or trade school. He frequently works with gun violence offenders and victims, he said, and many found themselves in precarious situations because they lacked knowledge.

“None of them received the education they needed,” Duncan said, “and unfortunately they ended up on the streets. … So, the work that CPS is doing is never done. We always have to get better; we always have to get better fast.”

Maybe Garmes didn't get that quote exactly right, but this certainly sounds like Duncan-- crime and poverty are caused by a lack of education. Gun violence offenders ended up in precarious situations because they lacked knowledge. Poverty, systemic racism, economic issues, starvation wages for crappy jobs, all the problems that come along with those-- no, Chris ended up in trouble because Chris's fifth grade teacher dropped the ball. Duncan did go on to acknowledge "other challenges" like mental health issues and peer pressure, but his same old message is clear-- almost all of society's ills, most especially issues of poverty and inequity, are the fault of schools.

In a way, this helps explain why he joined the anti-teacher chorus that tried to avert the LA strike through negative pressure. Sure, he has always sided with the corporate charter side of ed reform, and yes, establishment Democrats hold all the cards in California, so they must take all the blame, but the kicker to his list of Reasons Not To Strike is this--

Students who live in poverty and who are already behind will spend days or weeks not learning in the classroom.

So I guess the lack of education will turn them into criminals.

Fred Klonsky, in his pointed takedown of Duncan's pre-strike remarks ("L.A. Teachers Are on Strike. Arne Duncan Is An Idiot") points out that Duncan not too long ago was calling for a student walkout over gun regulation, so maybe his concerns aren't for the children at all. Maybe Duncan just continues to sympathize more with corporate reformsters like Eli Broad than he does with actual classroom teachers. Maybe he continues to be far more interested in charter schools than in public education. And maybe he continues to blame all of society's problems on schools and teachers because that way, there's no need to trouble his corporate thinks tank bosses or his establishment Democrat friends to be part of any solution other than some superficial support noises about education.

I know it's probably best for me not to keep going back to Duncan, but he remains a fine example of everything wrong with Democratic political animals when it comes to education. It remains to be seen if the strike shakes loose any Democrats who actually support public school teachers. That would be a serious improvement over this business where, on the one hand, teachers have the power and responsibility to cure all of society's problems, but, on the other hand, should know their roles, shut their holes, and do as their told.

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