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Tag: "education"

Why We Need the Liberal Arts

[ 17 ] May 25, 2016 |


Danielle Allen has a long essay on the attack on civic education by proponents of vocational education who think STEM fields are the only legitimate fields. There are of course an endless number of problems with STEM-only education. One of them is that it undermines political participation and an understanding of the world in which we all live together. That’s one of the most powerful parts of the essay.

To make judgments about the course of human events and our government’s role in them, we need history, anthropology, cultural studies, economics, political science, sociology, and psychology, not to mention math—especially the statistical reasoning necessary for probabilistic judgment—and science, as governmental policy naturally intersects with scientific questions. If we are to decide on the core principles that should orient our judgments about what will bring about safety and happiness, surely we need philosophy, literature, and religion or its history. Then, since the democratic citizen does not make or execute judgments alone, we need the arts of conversation, eloquence, and prophetic speech. Preparing ourselves to exercise these arts takes us again to literature and to the visual arts, film, and music.

In other words, we need the liberal arts. They were called the free person’s arts for a reason.

To say that we need all these disciplines in order to cultivate participatory readiness is not to say that we need precisely the versions of these disciplines that existed in the late eighteenth century. To the contrary, it is the job of today’s scholars and teachers, learning from the successes and errors of our predecessors, to build the most powerful intellectual tools we can. Where their versions of the tools were compatible with preserving patriarchy, enslaving black Africans, and committing genocide against indigenous peoples, ours must not be. This revision of the liberal arts curriculum is controversial but necessary, for we want to retain the purposes and intellectual methods of the liberal arts, if not all of its content. We still need to cultivate capacities for social diagnosis, ethical reasoning, cause-and-effect analysis, and persuasive argumentation.

Given that the liberal arts are especially useful for training citizens, it should come as little surprise that attainment in the humanities and social sciences appears to correlate with increased engagement in politics. There is a statistically significant difference between the rates of political participation among humanities and STEM graduates. Data from the Department of Education reveal that, among 2008 college graduates, 92.8 percent of humanities majors have voted at least once since finishing school. Among STEM majors, that number is 83.5 percent. And, within ten years of graduation, 44.1 percent of 1993 humanities graduates had written to public officials, compared to 30.1 percent of STEM majors. As college graduates, the students are generally of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, suggesting that other distinctions must account for the difference in political engagement.

Of course, the self-selection of students into the humanities and STEM majors may mean that these data reflect only underlying features of the students rather than the effects of teaching they receive. Yet the same pattern appears in a study by political scientist Sunshine Hillygus, which controls for students’ preexisting levels of interest in politics.

Hillygus also finds that the differences in political engagement among college graduates are mirrored in K–12 education. High SAT verbal scores correlate with increased likelihood of political participation, while high SAT math scores correlate with decreased likelihood of participation. Again, since socioeconomic effects on SAT scores move both verbal and math scores in the same direction, this difference between how high verbal and high math scores affect the likelihood of participation must be telling us something about the relationship between attainment in specific subject domains and participatory readiness. Moreover, the SAT effect endures even when college-level curricular choices are controlled for. Just as Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Shleifer conclude, it is attainment in the verbal domain that correlates with participatory readiness.

Of course, there are probably zero non-STEM professors who argue that we don’t need engineers and chemists and biologists and computer scientists. We definitely need all of these people. However, a society that trains people only for these sorts of professions is a barren society, devoid of generations of human knowledge and understanding, one with real consequences for our politics and society.


Ban Devices in Classrooms

[ 145 ] May 24, 2016 |

Computers and Lecture

I routinely ban laptops in the classroom because the majority of the students aren’t going to pay attention to the lecture if they have the option to upload photos to Snapchat. I know this to be true, as if I have to attend a boring and pointless campus meeting, I am probably going to be on Twitter or reading the Times or something so that I don’t have to pay attention. But in the classroom, that option then undermines learning.

Now there is an answer, thanks to a big, new experiment from economists at West Point, who randomly banned computers from some sections of a popular economics course this past year at the military academy. One-third of the sections could use laptops or tablets to take notes during lecture; one-third could use tablets, but only to look at class materials; and one-third were prohibited from using any technology.

Unsurprisingly, the students who were allowed to use laptops — and 80 percent of them did — scored worse on the final exam. What’s interesting is that the smartest students seemed to be harmed the most.

Among students with high ACT scores, those in the laptop-friendly sections performed significantly worse than their counterparts in the no-technology sections. In contrast, there wasn’t much of a difference between students with low ACT scores — those who were allowed to use laptops did just as well as those who couldn’t. (The same pattern held true when researchers looked at students with high and low GPAs.)

These results are a bit strange. We might have expected the smartest students to have used their laptops prudently. Instead, they became technology’s biggest victims. Perhaps hubris played a role. The smarter students may have overestimated their ability to multitask. Or the top students might have had the most to gain by paying attention in class.

Of course this is just one study and I don’t really know why the smartest students would flop the most. Perhaps an overconfidence in their own abilities. But there’s no question that playing on devices in class means students aren’t learning as much. The phone issue is much harder to police, but what can you do.

Texas Education

[ 35 ] May 12, 2016 |


I didn’t really mean this to be “pick on Texas” day, but don’t blame me, blame Texas.

Remember those nice Texas history standards from a few years back that decided that slavery was a “side issue to the Civil War” and mandated that McCarthyism be portrayed in a positive light?

Well, one of the former state Board of Education members who pushed through these standards is now contributing to what seems to be the only acceptable book on Mexican-Americans on the state level, although the state did allow school districts to choose their own books. It naturally enough claims that the Chicano movement “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.” Here’s some more nice things about it:

The former BOE member:

Cynthia Dunbar was a member of the SBOE from 2007 to 2010, in the thick of the debate over social studies standards that cemented the board’s stoogish reputation and steeped yet another generation of Texas schoolchildren in a retrograde sense of history. “No one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses,” she said in 2010, during her opening prayer for a board meeting. Dunbar’s appointee to a panel of expert reviewers recommended removing Cesar Chavez from the standards altogether.

So, it’s fair to say that Dunbar’s time on the board did not reflect a great interest in Mexican-American history. She did have some notable publishing experience on the board, though. Her 2008 volume One Nation Under God — which was released while she was on the State Board of Education — called public schooling a “tyrannical” and a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” The book’s back cover bears a call to action: “America needs people who know the truth, speak the truth and stand for the truth. Unfortunately, many of us are simply not aware of the clear constitutional and biblical principles that initiated and governed the course of this union.”

And the content:

What’s most notable about the text, on first glance, is how little attention is given to the history of Mexican-American people, and how much is rote retelling of the separate histories of the United States and Mexico. In a 500-page book, only the last few chapters confront civil and labor rights issues. Most is subject matter you’d expect in any U.S. history book — the Declaration of Independence, the Kennedy assassination, the Cold War.

“Every year, Mexican-American festivals feature mariachi bands and traditional Spanish dancing,” one passage reads, before going on to mention the not-quite-so-Mexican salsa, tango and rumba. “Latino celebrities in general are considered to be full of talent, drama, and appeal,” it reads. A passage on “Latin Literature” features the beloved Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez — who at least lived in Mexico — along with the Chilean-American Isabel Allende and the Brazilian Pablo Coelho, who wrote in Portuguese.

Really, they’re all the same, amiright?

Hedge Funds and Charter Schools

[ 37 ] May 11, 2016 |


This is an excellent report on how hedge fund managers have been behind the charter school movement since the very beginning. Now they are buying school board seats by overwhelming cities with campaign donations that competitors who oppose charter schools can’t begin to match. From the very beginning, the hedge fund managers have seen Barack Obama has an ally. He has definitely confirmed their faith in him.

The hedge fund industry and the charter movement are almost inextricably entangled. Executives see charter-school expansion as vital to the future of public education, relying on a model of competition. They see testing as essential to accountability. And they often look at teacher unions with unvarnished distaste. Several hedge fund managers have launched their own charter-school chains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board.

Consider Whitney Tilson. Straight out of Harvard, Tilson deferred a consulting job in Boston to become one of Teach For America’s first employees in 1989. Ten years later, he started his own hedge fund in New York. Soon after that, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp took him on a visit to a charter school in the South Bronx. It was an electrifying experience for him. “It was so clearly different and so impactful,” Tilson says. “Such a place of joy, but also rigor.”

The school was one of two original Knowledge Is Power Program schools—better known as KIPP—which has since grown into a prominent charter network with nearly 200 schools in 20 states plus the District of Columbia, serving almost 70,000 students, predominately low-income and of color.

But back then, charter schools were still a rather unfamiliar novelty to most people. Tilson, however, was convinced that they were the future of education. He started dragging all his friends, most of whom were hedge fund investors, from Wall Street up to the South Bronx to see the KIPP school. “KIPP was used as a converter for hedge fund guys,” Tilson says. “It went viral.”

Many critics of the corporate education-reform movement are quick to accuse proponents of seeking to cash in on the privatization of one of the United States’ last public goods. And while there certainly are those in ed-reform circles who stand to benefit from a windfall of new education technology, testing, and curriculum services, hedge funders by and large do not fit that stereotype. Theirs is more of an ideological and philanthropic crusade, rather than a crude profit-seeking venture.

As Tilson explains it, hedge fund managers almost exclusively come from well-off backgrounds and got the best educations in the world. “I personally never knew what the situation was like for families forced to attend their local school in the South Bronx, or Brooklyn,” Tilson says. “I didn’t know of anyone who dropped out of high school or college—much less that there were high schools where half the students dropped off.”

And of course rather than blame poverty, he blamed unions, which the charter school movement has declared war upon.

Common Core Problems

[ 81 ] May 7, 2016 |


Because it is so despised by right-wingers, there’s a temptation to defend Common Core education standards. But as with so much of the education reformers’ agenda, in practice it is deeply problematic, although not usually for the reasons wingnuts have. One of the major problems is the combined issue of testing and privatization. Unfortunately, and I think this might be about to change to some extent, education this century has become about an endless cycle of testing and test-prep, to the detriment of independent thinking, real education, and fun. But who is going to grade all of these tests. Often this is contracted out to private education companies like Pearson. But do you think a corporation wants to employ a bunch of humans to do this grading? Of course not. So how are they grading writing? Through computer program. But computers are a terrible way to evaluate writing.

Here, Pearson appears to be suggesting that the robust marketplace in data-mining computer apps supplied with artificial intelligence will lead to a proliferation of jobs for ed tech entrepreneurs and computer coders, to make up for the proportional loss of jobs for teachers. This seems to be further evidence that their ultimate goal — as well of that of their allies in the foundation and corporate worlds — is to maximize the mechanization of education and minimize the personal interaction between teachers and students, as well as students with each other, in classrooms throughout the United States and abroad.

Well, the ultimate goal is profit, both personal and corporate. This is just a means to that end. But while a computer program can count big words or key words or whatever, it can’t evaluate for meaning, subtlety, originality, argument, or much of anything that actually makes up good writing. Terrible idea.

Another problem with Common Core is that it undermines good education programs that already existed in the country. Take for example Common Core and Massachusetts literature standards.

Until recently, classic literature and poetry saturated the commonwealth’s K-12 English standards. Between 2005 and 2013, Massachusetts bested every other state on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “the nation’s report card.” Great fiction and poetry contributed to Massachusetts’ success on virtually every K-12 reading test known to the English-speaking world.

But in 2010, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration succumbed to the temptation of $250 million in one-time federal grant money, killing off our edifying English standards in favor of inferior nationalized benchmarks known as Common Core. These national standards – an educational gooney bird – cut enduring fiction and poetry by 60 percent and replaced it with “informational texts.”

“We could find no research to support the assertion that substituting informational texts for literature will improve students’ college readiness,” scholars Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky said in 2012. “In fact, experience suggests that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.”

By 2015, the commonwealth tied for second in the country on the eighth-grade NAEP reading test, and SAT scores were down 20 points, especially in the writing portion. Students don’t learn to write well by reading Common Core’s soul-deadening “informational texts.”

This is an irresponsible descent from established academic excellence.

“For much of the 20th century, British literature held the center of high school English and … college courses in composition, English, history, (and) linguistics …,” Bauerlein and Stotsky continue. “We find no explanation for Common Core dispensing with it.”

But again, the pushback is on the way:

For Massachusetts students, the Patrick administration and Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s legacy of shooting down better English standards in favor of Common Core has been an albatross around everyone’s necks.

Recent WBZ News-UMass polling finds that Bay State voters, by a margin of 53 percent to 22 percent, support a statewide ballot initiative to restore our previous, higher-quality K-12 academic standards.

Nationally, Common Core backer and failed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called the standards “poisonous,” while Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently said Common Core’s implementation has been “disastrous.”

As Common Core has seeped into America’s classrooms, Brookings Institution researcher Tom Loveless observed last month, “The dominance of fiction is waning. … Teachers in 2015 were less likely to embrace the superiority of fiction in reading instruction than in the past, and the change is evident in both fourth and eighth grades after 2011.”

I suppose the argument is that all states aren’t Massachusetts and so the Bay State can sacrifice some while the standards helps Alabama students achieve more. But the standards are largely terrible, corporate, and designed not for students but to serve an ideological and financial agenda. Unfortunately, politicians of both parties, especially Barack Obama, are really susceptible to this line of thinking. As I’ve said many times, the single worst part of Obama’s legacy is his awful education policy.

Teach For America Applications Declining

[ 37 ] April 30, 2016 |


Seems as if young people are starting to realize that Teach for America is a scam that puts them in educational settings for which they have no preparation in order to bust teachers’ unions, a position that might not make sense to some who want to become full-time teachers.

Applications to Teach for America fell by 16 percent in 2016, marking the third consecutive year in which the organization — which places college graduates in some of the nation’s toughest classrooms — has seen its applicant pool shrink.

Elisa Villanueva Beard, TFA’s chief executive, announced the figures in an online letter to supporters Tuesday morning, describing the steps that the organization is taking to stoke interest and reverse the trend.

“Our sober assessment is that these are the toughest recruitment conditions we’ve faced in more than two decades,” she wrote. “And they call on us all to reconsider and strengthen our efforts to attract the best and most diverse leaders our country has to offer.”

TFA received 37,000 applications in 2016, down from 57,000 in 2013 — a 35 percent dive in three years. It’s a sharp reversal for an organization that grew quickly during much of its 25-year history, becoming a stalwart in education reform circles and a favorite among philanthropists.

Teach for America now boasts 50,000 corps members and alumni; some have stayed in the classroom and others have gone on to work in education in other ways, joining nonprofits, running for office and leading charter schools. Its alumni include some of most recognized names in public education, including D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle Rhee.

But as Teach for America’s influence has grown, so has resistance to it. The organization — which trains prospective teachers for five weeks and demands just a two-year commitment — has drawn criticism for creating instability in troubled schools that could benefit from sustained efforts with more experienced educators.

She blamed the decline on a number of factors that are driving enrollment drops in many teacher-preparation programs, including the improving economy, which offers young college graduates more options than they had during the recession. In addition, she wrote, the public debate about education is polarized and “toxic,” driving away talented people from a profession that needs them.

“Anyone concerned with the future of our nation should be alarmed by the staggering decline in enrollment we’re seeing across the country in teacher preparation programs,” she wrote.

She tacitly acknowledged that some of the recruitment problems are due to increasingly vocal critics of TFA, including some alumni. “The toxic debate surrounding education — and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field — is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact,” she wrote.

What Will We Do to Actually Desegregate Our Schools?

[ 78 ] April 20, 2016 |


I know the answer to the above question will be “nothing.” People who can, largely white people, will continue to move to the suburbs or send their kids to private schools while people of color will attend tax-starved public schools, continuing the long cycle of racial discrimination in this country. Every white person benefits from this today and many of us contribute to it, even unintentionally. But the problem is real and more people are articulating responses to it. Matt Delmont has a new book out on the busing controversies in the North and notes how much of the busing controversy was created by the media, who reported on southern civil rights problems as a moral issue but sided with whites on northern civil rights issues. Jake Blumgart interviewed Delmont.

Q: Do you think part of the reason Northern racism was harder to expose was that it was subtler and less dramatic? There’s this whole edifice of tightly drawn school district lines where residents are able to pull down the portcullis behind them with zoning regulations. Segregation in the North relies on incredibly complex policies that were just harder to make interesting and accessible.

A: The way racism functioned in the North was much subtler. In the South it’s easy to picture how racism operated—colored drinking fountains and white drinking fountains. The system of Jim Crow segregation was so visible. It was still incredibly difficult to overturn that system, but it was easier to visualize. For Northern white citizens and white politicians, the way their schools and neighborhoods were structured was just normal, they didn’t know or chose not to understand that it wasn’t just a matter of white families choosing to live in white neighborhoods and black families in black neighborhoods. There was a whole history of mortgage redlining, zoning decisions, public housing discrimination, and real estate discrimination that created those separate neighborhoods. But the subtlety of that allowed white people to just see it as common sense, just how our neighborhood and schools should be.

It’s easier for them to say, and mean, well, these are our neighborhood schools, this is our property, and we want to protect those things and lobby for zoning restrictions that reflect that. It made it easier because it they believed it to be an innocent thing that just happened and it gave them a language to be able to argue against school desegregation that resonated powerfully and didn’t seem racist.

Delmont concludes:

One of the goals in my book is to get people to think about the fact that schools are still segregated many decades after Brown v. Board because of intentional choices that politicians and parents and school officials made. In regards to school zoning, school financing, and student assignment, those were intentional things that happened. If we want to have a different set of outcomes in the future and have meaningful school integration in terms of race and socioeconomic status we have to make different choices. It wasn’t inevitable that Brown was going fail as it did and it wasn’t inevitable that schools were going to be segregated the way they are now. Those were choices that people made and continue to make. To have different outcomes, we need to have different choices.

We do have to make different choices. One of those choices may well mean committing to contributing to the solution of de facto segregation and then acting on it. Another solution may be a return to busing. That’s what Sean Riley, who was a bused student as a child and now teaches in the Seattle public schools calls for in response to the growing segregation of the city’s schools. He notes that busing worked in many ways, even though white people of course took advantage of it to dominate it for their own purposes. It led to better test scores for minority students, created a more inclusive city, and spawned a greater desire for integration throughout other facets of urban life. But that era ended, Seattle got rich, and the age of testing took over. That’s helped destroy what was good about diversified education in Seattle.

We must prioritize getting different kinds of young people working and learning together again. Therefore, we must prioritize reintegration.

First off, the Seattle Public School District—a district that currently disciplines black kids four times more often than whites—must immediately increase professional development around culturally responsive and socially just instruction. When schools resegregate, staff stagnate. We must ensure that classrooms use all students’ identities and knowledge as entry points. It takes incredible skill and openness to develop these abilities, and Seattle needs to commit serious resources to the work.

Seattle teachers should also blaze the trail on creating cross-district and inter-district collaborations. There is evidence, from groups such as Narrative 4 in New York City, that writing projects between disparate groups of students generate radical empathy, develop cultural flexibility, and nurture authentic writing skills. Writers in the Schools (WITS) and I are currently developing a collaborative writing project between Blaine and South End middle schools. As Seattle continues to segregate, these projects should extend beyond our district’s borders. Seattle Public Schools should look into applying for federal grant money to facilitate this work.

In the long-term, I propose something called the Seattle Civics Academy. Pulling students from all over the district, this would be a semester-long program that all Seattle high-school students would participate in at some point in their school careers. They would get to choose when, but no student could opt out—the overwhelming flaw in Seattle’s integration plan. Five days a week, all day long, students from across the city would attend completely inclusive classes that examine race, class, and gender through the lenses of math, language arts, and other disciplines. Teachers highly trained in socially just and culturally responsive teaching would emphasize and promote communicating across differences and fighting for a more just city and society. Each semester’s cohort would create an activism project to improve the city and its citizens’ lives. Such work would break down isolation, facilitate access to power, and promote harmony and empathy. Frankly, I also believe it would be fucking awesome.

Of course, Riley also understands the class dimensions of this–that Seattle can talk all it wants to about racial inclusiveness and support bringing in Syrian refugees but they will all end up in south King County because they can’t afford to live in Seattle. But we have to move forward to creating more integrated schools in very real ways. When wealthy people move to the suburbs or stay in the cities and find ways to put their kids in all (or almost) white private schools or push black students out of their schools because their parents can’t afford to live in a gentrified city any longer, they contribute to racial discrimination. This may not be intentional, but that’s how white privilege works. White privilege must be fought, including and especially by ensuring that all students have equality of opportunity at school. Separate but “equal” is a terrible thing, whether that is the de jure schools of 1954 the de facto schools of 2016.

The Testing Scam

[ 80 ] April 4, 2016 |


Diane Ravitch absolutely eviscerates the bipartisan education reforms of the last 15 years under Bush and Obama in a review of two new books for The New York Review of Books. The first shows the disaster that was Cory Booker and Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to remake the Newark schools by chartering them all, destroying teachers unions, and using students as subjects to experiment on through constant testing. The other is on a school in San Francisco that does a great job training students to be successful people and with a high college acceptance rate, but which is considered a “failing school” because most of the students don’t speak English as a first language and thus don’t fare well on standardized tests. The whole thing is very much worth your time. An excerpt:

Newark had one major attraction for the reformers. Its schools have been under state control since 1995. The governor had total control of the district, its budget, and its leadership. The district had been taken over by the state because of poor academic performance and pervasive corruption. But in the next fifteen years, the state had not gotten better results than the regime it displaced. Newark’s mayor since 2006, Cory Booker, wanted to uproot the school system and start over.

Booker had been raised in the nearly all-white suburb of Harrington Park, New Jersey, and had graduated from Stanford, Oxford, and Yale. He was a frequent guest on national television shows, and he moved easily among the rich, the powerful, and the famous. Russakoff describes a ride that Booker took with Governor-Elect Christie through Newark one night in December 2009, when they agreed to create a plan for a radical transformation of the Newark public schools. The confidential draft of the plan that Booker sent to Christie proposed turning Newark into “the charter school capital of the nation,” weakening seniority and tenure, recruiting new teachers and principals from outside Newark, and building “sophisticated data and accountability systems.”

In July 2010, Booker attended an invitation-only meeting in Sun Valley, where he mingled with fabulously wealthy hedge fund managers and high-tech entrepreneurs. There he met Mark Zuckerberg. Booker knew that venture philanthropists were looking for a “proof point,” a city where they could demonstrate the success of their business-style school reforms. He persuaded Zuckerberg that Newark was that city. Booker believed that a great education would set every child on the road out of poverty, and he also believed that it would be impossible to do this in the Newark public schools because of their bureaucracy and systems of tenure and seniority. That’s why he wanted to spend money turning the city into an all-charter district, without unions, where like-minded reformers could impose the correct reforms, like judging teachers by test scores, firing teachers at will, and hiring whomever they wanted.

That September, Zuckerberg, Booker, and Christie announced the gift of $100 million on The Oprah Winfrey Show, to tumultuous applause. When Winfrey asked Zuckerberg why Newark, he responded, “I believe in these guys…. We’re setting up a $100 million challenge grant so that Mayor Booker and Governor Christie can have the flexibility they need to…turn Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.”

As Russakoff points out, “What Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg set out to achieve in Newark had not been accomplished in modern times—turning a failing urban school district into one of universally high achievement.” Like other reformers, Booker earnestly believed: “We know what works.” Zuckerberg’s money would give him the chance to prove it. But while the media saw Booker as the “rock star mayor,” he faced a growing budget deficit and soaring violent crime when he returned from his frequent fund-raising travels.

Meanwhile, even in much wealthier places than Newark, real education, not to mention recess, gets sacrificed to the cult of standardized testing.

Today in the Republican War on Women

[ 218 ] April 3, 2016 |


Louie Gohmert, saying the quiet parts loud again.

Texas Representative Louie Gohmert has just established himself as public enemy number one for women by publicly opposing H.R.4742, a new bill that would increase federal support for entrepreneurial programs for women in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math.

A satirical site creates an explanation for Gohmert, which unfortunately was picked up in the original link as being real, as was pointed out in comments. But really, given current Republican rhetoric, it would hardly be surprising that Gohmert actually believes this.

Gohmert’s explanation for opposing this bill is that it discriminates against boys. In his own words, “this program is designed to discriminate against that young, poverty-stricken boy and to encourage the girl. Forget the boy. Encourage the girl.” In addition to this backwards argument, he continued on, launching into a ridiculous tirade about how this is also the wrong way to treat women. Naturally, he also had to bring in God and God’s intentions for women.

‘And, you know, that’s just not the way God intended us to be treating women. I know that everybody is today talking about equality and we’ve got groups that are trying to make us believe that women are equal to men. However, that’s just not the case. God didn’t make us equal. It is ourselves, we have created this illusion of equality. And you want to know what the most powerful evidence of that there is? Simple biology. We have parts they don’t and vice versa. So right then and there you’ve got proof of God’s master plan.’

‘Women were created for one thing and one thing alone. We are insulting the Lord by allowing women to act like men. Women are beautiful creatures, no doubt about that. We marry them, we look after them, we provide for them and we love them, but that does not mean they are the same as us. It is the job of a woman to stay at home, to maintain the household, to bear children and look after them after they’re born. Nowhere in the scriptures does it say that women should be chasing after fancy titles and knowledge. The only knowledge they need is the one we men allow them to have.’

Louie Gohmert may be an idiot. But this is really pretty close to the belief system of many Republicans. I guess affirmative action is for women after all too and that has to stop just like it does for people of color stealing the white man’s jobs! We all know that God intended for all good jobs to be held by white men. Why is the gov’ment getting in the way of Jesus?

On a more serious note, I will say that I strongly oppose special STEM-promoting bills or lower tuition for STEM students or the like because a) they largely are nothing more than job training programs for the jobs available in 2016 as opposed to providing larger skills that will allow students to be able to transition through jobs in life, b) they are short-sighted in terms of thinking about the relationship between students and jobs, and c) they are part of the open war on the humanities going on across the country.

Today in Rheeism

[ 140 ] April 1, 2016 |


Sean Combs or whatever name he is going by today sees a chance to make money by starting a charter school. Nothing like privatizing our public goods. Of course, he has to hire someone to run it. He made a great choice, someone who is open that he’s in it because he hates teacher unions and who has called teachers’ unions “roaches.”

Earlier this week, Sean Combs, a.k.a. hip-hop and vodka mogul Diddy, or Puff Daddy, announced that he had become the co-founder of a new charter school, due to open in Harlem this summer. The school will be overseen by Steve Perry, a union-buster accused of juicing graduation stats at his schools in Connecticut.

Capital Prep Harlem will open at 1 East 104th Street, with 160 sixth and seventh graders, in August, the Wall Street Journal reported. It will phase up into a 700-seat high school as the students age. “Creating this school is a dream come true for me,” Combs said in a statement. “I want to impact the lives of young people in my community and build future leaders. The first step is offering access to a quality education.”

He’s also a known ally of Michelle Rhee, the charter activist married to Kevin Johnson, and echoes her union busting sentiments. At a 2013 forum in Minneapolis, Perry proclaimed, “I know in polite company, you’re not supposed to talk about the unions…But I will. I know you’re here. I hope you hear me, because I’m tired of you. Every time you fight to keep a failed teacher in a school, you’re killing children, and that’s not cool.”

“It’s high time we call the roaches out and call them for what they are. I’ve been to too many cities where the excuses pile up, one on top of the other. You know what happens with those excuses? They kill our kids.”

Of course, he’s already had to leave his old job in controversy because the scam caught up to him. What’s a grifter to do but start the same con in a different state.

CTU Strike

[ 126 ] April 1, 2016 |


The Chicago Teachers Union, which in 2012 had one of the biggest and most important strikes of the last decade, is back on the picket line today for a 1-day strike. Like the 2012 strike, this is about more than just a contract. This is a political strike with broad if somewhat vague demands about the treatment of teachers and students, the racial injustice of Chicago, and of course the CTU’s archenemies, Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Rauner. The legality of this strike is questionable, although I’d be surprised to see Emanuel do too much with that. However, the CTU has deep roots in the Chicago community and is receiving a lot of community and labor support. Micah Uetricht explains what is going on.

The union is walking a fine line between the narrow issues they are legally permitted to strike over and those “bigger issues.”

“This [strike] is a call for revenue for funding the schools and social services in this state appropriately,” CTU President Karen Lewis recently told Chicago Tonight, shortly after explaining they were striking over the “steps and lanes.”

The union says that school closings and round after round of budget cuts and teacher layoffs have meant that many schools aren’t able to accomplish their most basic tasks.

“We’re not able to function with this low level of funding,” says Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo Academy. “And the board says they’re going to make more cuts.”

The strike comes amid a longstanding budget battle between Illinois’s Democratic-controlled State House and Senate, and Gov. Rauner. A former private equity mogul and near-billionaire, Rauner has refused to pass a budget for the state without new rules restricting public sector workers’ union rights and has enacted deep budget cuts that have caused numerous social service agencies in the state to close down or drastically reduce services. Illinois is currently the only state in America without a budget.

The union’s demands for increased revenue — a tax on millionaires, a tax on financial transactions like futures and options trades, and a progressive state income tax (Illinois is one of the few states that has a flat income tax) — can’t be won in contract negotiations. Some would require state constitutional changes. That makes a union victory hard to define.

“Victory will be showing a united force — not just teachers and parents and students, but actually creating a movement with other workers from around the city and the state,” Chambers says.

Still, the fact that an American union is going on strike alongside other unions and community groups with broad political demands is almost unheard of.

“[Such strikes] happen pretty much everywhere but the US,” says Professor Bruno. “They’re very common in France, they’re common in Germany and Central and South America. It’s only in the US, because of the historical evolution of labor law, that you can only strike legally under the narrowest of conditions. And a political strike over larger policy issues is clearly prohibited.”

That makes today’s strike “extraordinary.”

The action “hearkens back to the ’30s and ’40s, when organized labor was using the strike to make larger economic and political points and trying to pursue broader economic and social goals,” Bruno says. “We don’t have much precedent for it.”

See also Uetricht’s interview with CTU activist Sarah Chambers.

One of the biggest tragedies of modern politics is Karen Lewis coming down with cancer before taking on Rahm Emanuel. She would have crushed him.

Today in the Charter School Scam

[ 45 ] March 17, 2016 |


You may not be surprised that privatizing education is not actually a solution to the problems of racism and poverty that are the root causes of poor public education. Instead, those charter schools face the same issues and resort to the same “solutions” as public goods, with the added benefit of undermining public education and moving money into the pockets of the wealthy!

Black students are four times as likely to be suspended from charter schools as white students, according to a new analysis of federal education data. And students with disabilities, the study found, are suspended two to three times the rate of nondisabled students in charter schools.

These inequities are similar to those in traditional public schools, where black and disabled students are disproportionately disciplined for even minor infractions, and as early as preschool — although on average, charter schools suspend pupils at slightly higher rates than traditional public schools.

The analysis of charter school data from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights of close to 5,000 charters was done by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, a nonprofit civil rights research and policy organization.

Still, the report is likely to fuel an often fierce debate about disciplinary practices in charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. Some charter networks have come under fire for “no excuses” behavioral codes, under which students can be suspended for offenses like clothing violations.

Based on data from the 2011-12 school year, the report found that charter schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels suspended 7.8 percent of students, compared with 6.7 percent of students in noncharter schools. Among students with disabilities, charter schools suspended 15.5 percent of students, compared with 13.7 percent at noncharters. At the extreme end, there were 235 charter schools that suspended more than half of their students with disabilities.

If you like your educational system showing prejudice against people of color and people with disabilities, charter schools are for you!

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