James Loewen calls out the eminent historian of the Civil War, James McPherson, on the middle school U.S. history textbook emblazoned with his name for its coverage of Southern secession. McPherson’s own great Battle Cry of Freedom makes it perfectly clear that the South seceded for slavery. But the middle school textbook does not and rather pushes myths about “civil liberties” and other canards to explain secession. Immediately I thought, I’ll bet McPherson outsourced the writing of the textbook. Loewen suspected this himself and McPherson basically confirmed it, saying he had little to do with the book “for at least the last ten years.” And while I get that if I was a super famous historian, it would be pretty easy to cash a large check for doing nothing, there’s also something about quality control around my own name brand. That’s an embarrassing find. Purging sub-college textbooks of faulty and racist historical interpretation must happen. Loewen does yeomen’s work for this purpose. At the very least, professional historians need to take ownership and responsibility over what is published under their names.
Above: Strikers in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1949
While right-wing states are freaking out about the new AP standards (never mind that this year’s AP US History DBQ was on the rise of the conservative movement), Connecticut has now passed a bill encouraging the teaching of labor history in the state’s classrooms, albeit with a caveat to also include free market economics, i.e., the destroyer of working people. Despite this, a major advance in including working people’s history in education.
Above: Terrible human being Michelle Rhee.
California teachers’ unions are under a new assault by teachers suing over unions using dues for political campaigns. Members can withdraw but they don’t have full union membership. Given the makeup of the Supreme Court, I think we know where this will probably end up. Who is funding this latest attack on unionism? The Koch Brothers? Chamber of Commerce? Republican operatives? Nope. Students First.
Financial backing for the lawsuit comes from StudentsFirst, the advocacy group founded by former D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has battled unions over issues ranging from teacher evaluation to charter schools. Defendants include the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, and its California chapter, the California Teachers Association. Also named are the American Federation of Teachers and its California unit, the California Federation of Teachers.
Can we please stop saying that Michelle Rhee, Students First, the charter school capitalists, or anyone else involved in the privatization of one of this nation’s most cherished, long-lasting, and successful public services cares about actual students at all? This is about profit and destroying workers’ rights. Michelle Rhee is one of the great villains of our time. She may not be the head of the organization she founded any longer, but her spirit still flows through the entire enterprise.
The voters of Kansas elected Sam Brownback governor. Then they reelected them. So now the reap what they sowed:
The economic fallout continues in Kansas, where Republican Gov. Sam Brownback recently signed a public school funding overhaul that cut millions in funding for the current school year.
Two school districts in the state are now ending the academic year early, according to the Associated Press, because they can no longer afford to stay open under the new plan.
The governor’s proposal, which passed the Kansas House in mid-March but was slowed by a court order that challenged parts of the plan, replaces the state’s previous education funding formula with block grants for the next couple years until legislators finalize a new formula. Critics say the proposed formula takes away millions of dollars in much-needed funding, including about $51 million this school year alone.
Brownback has received the brunt of the blame for Kansas’ fiscal woes after he spent his first term slashing taxes and promising an economic boom that never came. Instead, his “real live experiment” in applying conservative tax principles led to debt downgrades, weak growth, and left the state’s finances in ruins.
Sure Kansas children are falling behind those of every other state in the nation. But who doubts that Brownback could win reelection again, term limits notwithstanding? Not I.
Since she lacks a credible primary challenger, it might be awhile before we know whether Hillary Clinton is as in the pocket of the wealthy education privatizers and Rheeists as Barack Obama. Given her close relations with the teachers’ unions and the Wall Street Democrats, she is definitely being pulled in different directions. Where she does eventually fall may tell us much about what her presidency might be like for progressives.
I confess that I am not confident.
Above: A terrible person.
George Joseph has an excellent exposé on Andrew Cuomo selling public education in New York to billionaires looking for new profits off formerly public goods. You should read it. But why has Andrew Cuomo done this? Is it because of his deeply felt but perhaps flawed concern about poor children? Of course not:
Clearly, the governor’s ambitions are not focused on New York State any longer. A recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, indicates Cuomo’s education proposal has lowered his overall approval rating to its lowest in office, with only 28 percent in support of and 63 percent against his massive reform plan. While 50 percent support his advocacy of charter schools, an overwhelming 71 percent do not believe teachers should be evaluated based on student test scores, and 65 percent do not believe such scores should determine tenure. Furthermore, if Cuomo was at all interested in staying in New York, he would not be waging an all out war against the state’s still formidable teachers’ union, once considered the preeminent political force in Albany. “Andrew Cuomo’s career is based on copying everything Bill Clinton ever did, going against teachers’ unions with the support of billionaires, just like the Clintons did with Walmart,” argues one Albany lobbyist to The Nation. “He’s not especially original, but he’s tough, mean, and can execute a plan. He doesn’t give a rats’ ass about education, he just wants Wall Street money. He sees the backing of billionaires key to his future success.”
An even more right-wing version of the Clintons is precisely what the Democratic Party needs! Luckily, I think Cuomo has gone too far down this road to ever be the presidential nominee. He has become so toxic to Democratic Party activists that I think an “Anyone But Cuomo” campaign would unite Democrats around someone else were he to run. The one caveat to that is probably if Hillary doesn’t run in 2016 since there wouldn’t be time for another major candidate to play that role except maybe O’Malley and Biden, neither of whom would exactly galvanize the forces, or maybe Elizabeth Warren but she isn’t running in any case.
Elizabeth Yale has an interesting essay arguing that the real conservative outrage over the AP U.S. History standards is that AP is avoiding the “we” in history, not taking a stand that our past celebrates a glorious narrative of heroism and progress that defines “us” today. Of course, such narratives of “we” and “us” are automatically exclusionary and thus should be avoided since they inevitably imply a “you” and “them” that are not part of this grand historical narrative.
Yet, perhaps these questions don’t belong in a U.S. history classroom—or, at the very least, in that space, their answers should not be assumed. The AP framework seems to take this stance; this may be one of the reasons it so frustrates its critics. In its discussion of the early history of settlement, warfare, and colonial expansion in the territory that became the United States, the new framework resists saying “we.” On the religious roots of the American Revolution, it reads, “Protestant evangelical religious fervor strengthened many British colonists’ understandings of themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty, while Enlightenment philosophers and ideas inspired many American political thinkers to emphasize individual talent over hereditary privilege.”
This is hardly neglect: evangelical fervor is right there, strengthening British colonists’ resolve when confronted with challenges to their liberties. But in speaking of “British colonists’ understandings of themselves,” the language also sets up a distance between us and them. They understood themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty; we can adopt that view if we wish, but we don’t have to take it on uncritically. The framework creates this measure of historical distance not only between us and early American Protestants, but between us and each of the many different kinds of colonial Americans it discusses—enslaved Africans, Indians, and colonists, traders, missionaries, and adventurers from France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. It presents colonial history as a diverse space inhabited by many different kinds of people, with many different kinds of aims. Students of a range of backgrounds might see themselves here—though the framework certainly doesn’t force them to.
How do we acknowledge and move forward from the sins of the past? The historical “we” in place, the distance between past and present falsely collapsed, we can only understand them as our own. Here is where the historical distance created by the AP U.S. framework, with its careful locutions, pays off. For, of course, in seeing that U.S. history has been shaped by racism, one may be lead to reflect upon our inheritance of that history, and how it plays out in daily life, in ways big and small, across the United States. Our history, properly told, should push students towards these kinds of reflections (though it won’t dictate their outcomes). But such thoughts may be particularly painful—too painful to confront—for those who look back on the “Founding Fathers,” and say, “Them. Those are my people. Those are our people.”
That so many of the conservative critics of AP U.S. History standards are also deeply invested in exclusionary politics of other types–including repealing the meaningful sections of the Voting Rights Act–suggests that “we” is just as contested when talking about 2015 as it is about 1775.
This is a very small newspaper item from the small but pretty wealthy Rhode Island town of East Greenwich. But I think it is telling about education today, where school districts (and most certainly the outside funders) are pushing expensive technologies as answers to education issues while basic and fundamental aspects of education like funded pre-K are left to rot. We might ask whether every East Greenwich high school student student should receive a pricey Chromebook before universal pre-K is implemented in the town. I’d probably argue no but the fact that it happens that way here and no doubt in school districts across the country is too telling about educational priorities in the age of privatizing public goods.
Great to see students begin to realize that Teach for America is a way to bust teachers’ unions while placing young people in teaching situations that are way over their head. The anti-TFA movement is beginning to have a real effect.
Between the growth in parents opting their students out of stupid standardized testing, the rapid retreat of the technofuturists and their program of replacing professors with MOOCs, a real push back against Teach for America and its union busting program, and stories about the corruption of charter schools (and hopefully someone took the subtle anti-charter school message from True Detective), the year in education policy was unexpectedly someone less terrible than usual.
Talked about this last week, but Arkansas electing Tom Cotton is going to be horrible. So I don’t blame liberals and unions going all in for Mark Pryor, bleh as he is.
On the other hand, I do think unions should have some baseline standards before they give a politician money. For instance, should teachers’ unions give money to Pryor when he turns around and gets in bed with the union-busting charter school movement? I would argue no, but they are giving money to Pryor anyway. It’s one thing to give money to someone who is your not greatest supporter in Congress. It’s another to give it to someone who openly opposes what you stand for. I have trouble believing that’s in their members’ interest. After all, it is not unions’ job to be the only progressive organization to have to ignore their own self-interest for the broader progressive movement. It’s not as if NOW is expected to work for anti-abortion Democrats or Sierra Club is supposed to get out the vote for politicians in the pocket of the oil industry. But unions routinely go to the mat for politicians who don’t pay them back. Tom Cotton is bad but on the issue of teachers unions, Pryor is not much better and certainly not good.
“That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, makes no difference to the relation”
Turning schools into profit-making enterprises has been a disaster, not only in the U.S., but also in Sweden. Applying Taylorism to schools makes perfect sense to the high modernist education reformer like Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan, but does nothing positive to address the real complexities of the classroom.