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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: A Non-Capitalist Response to the SOTU by UnaSpenser

3:31 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Author’s Note: Hi everybody! Welcome to a participatory diary. That’s right, participatory. I’m offering this up as an exercise for everyone to try. The original text is an explanation of the exercise and why I’m suggesting it, followed by a couple of examples. Then, it’s up to you to complete the diary. Add comments with your own examples and I’ll build out the diary with your content. Let’s see what the whole feels like when we make an attempt to respond to the State of the Union address together. When we make a conscious effort to dig into the principles we find buried in the speech and compare them to the principles we would like to live by, how aligned do they feel?

We’ve heard a lot of responses this week to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. What I find persistently frustrating with any US political speech the lack of unpacking the “capitalist”, “democratic” and “American Way” framework. Or rather, the lack of establishing the principles behind what is being said to see whether it’s fits with the principles and values that we hold.

I have not framed this diary as an “anti-capitalist” one. I am suggesting that regardless of how you feel about capitalism, you might find it useful to analyze what another capitalist is saying by setting aside the supposed common ground of capitalism and searching for what values are reflected in what is being said. Capitalism isn’t a value. It’s a type of economic system. When we identify as a capitalist, however, we probably attach a value system to that identity. What I’m wondering here is whether everyone attaches the same value system. Do you even know if the speaker has the same value system as you?

I am someone who gets frustrated when people try to make decisions or solve problems together without establishing their shared principles. “Capitalism” is not a principle. Principles are about values and beliefs. They are guides to how we behave, how we treat one another. You could claim to be a capitalist and believe that everyone has a right to food and shelter. You could claim to be a capitalist and believe that food and shelter are not rights, they must be “earned.” Those are mutually exclusive principles which two different people are claiming as part of the capitalist construct. If they simply greet each other as capitalists, it is possible for them to think they are aligned when they are not. This opens the door for misunderstanding, at best, and deception, manipulation and oppression, at worst.

Is that happening in this speech? The answer to that and the places where we feel it is happening may be different for each person. Hence, the participatory nature of this diary. What feels unaligned for me may feel aligned for you and vice versa. But, perhaps, we’ll find some common threads of values that we would like to see underpinning our governance and social life. Perhaps ….

Author’s suggestion: One way of assessing the values being presented might be by asking, “who does this serve?” When we’re living in a capitalist economy, that question is almost always equivalent to the “follow the money” rule of analysis. We may think we live in a democracy, but with capitalism, capital is king. To determine if a law, a goal, or a social norm feels like the right thing to do we always need to have clarity about how money flows with those choices. The people to whom the most money flows have a conflict of interest when it comes to those decisions. The only chance of stemming undue influence, and undermining the values we want to operating with, begins with knowing where those conflicts lie.

I’ll begin with some questions that came up for me right in the opening remarks. There is a transcript of the speech here.

Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.

An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup, and did her part to add to the more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.

An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world, and did his part to help America wean itself off foreign oil.

A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history. A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford. A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son. And in tight-knit communities across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades, and give thanks for being home from a war that, after twelve long years, is finally coming to an end.

First, I’m sure it’s a rhetorical device, but why do these examples refer to a single case of each one? Wouldn’t it be more powerful to say, “Today, teachers across the country spent extra time with students who needed it.”? My sense is that we’re supposed to be able to relate to it personally if he refers to “a teacher” or “an entrepreneur.” But, as I read it, it feels a bit lonely. It also makes me wonder if these are rare occurrences rather than common ones.

More importantly, let’s look at this assertion:

lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.

Questioning this one assertion leads to a long series of questions relating to other things claimed in the speech. Everything is connected, after all. In my mind, it went like this:

What constitutes “highest rate”? Is it the highest percentage of children in the US who graduated? Is it just the highest number of graduates ever? Is it the highest percentage of students who attended their senior year and graduated? How many didn’t even make it to senior year? I can’t get a handle on what he’s claiming here, so I’m dubious about holding it as a measure of anything. I’ve tried to figure it out and, while I didn’t do extensive research, I didn’t find the information to explain the source of this figure.

I must admit, I was distracted along the way by a story in The Atlantic about high school education rates. In it was a reference to an Ed Week report. In that was a quote from a school district supervisor about why attention should be given to school dropouts:

“I’d like to think [attention to dropouts] comes from a surge of academic conscience, but every student that drops out is a capital loss … and every one brought back is a reclaimed revenue source,”

Why are students who leave school only getting attention because they are “reclaimed revenue sources”? I don’t desire educated people because I see them as a revenue source. I appreciate education because it gives people the power to have choices and make more informed choices. A good education gives them the training to analyze and discern, which makes for better people to live and make decisions with. When he refers to a person as a “revenue source”, the first thought in my head is “for whom?” If the revenue is strictly the student’s, why would anyone care about whether they were a capital loss? This is a person of influence, overseeing the education of 20,000 plus students and he believes the social pressure to address student dropouts is about a drive for their revenue. Who is seeing it that way? Did we, as Americans, agree to this as the underlying reason we’re educating people? Who’s benefitting from this revenue? Nothing in what he said reflects my value system. How about you?

I digress. Back to the SOTU.

What is the quality of education these record-breaking graduates are walking away with?

According to a report from the Program for International Student Assessment, covered by NPR, US students are dropping in their rankings of reading, math and science education when compared to other countries.

“In mathematics, 29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the United States by a statistically significant margin, up from 23 three years ago,” reports . “In science, 22 education systems scored above the U.S. average, up from 18 in 2009.”

In reading, 19 other locales scored higher than U.S. students — a jump from nine in 2009, when the last assessment was performed.

Yet, later in the speech he says:

After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.

If other countries are doing a better job of educating their young people, how can we be better prepared than them? I start wondering about employment and the opportunities our youth have to contribute. Then, I see reports on the “mal-employment” of our college graduates:

More than a third of recent college grads with jobs are working in positions that don’t require a degree.

Economists call that figure the “mal-employment” rate, and right now it tops 36% for college-educated workers under the age of 25, according to figures crunched by Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

When college grads are getting jobs in retail stores and at restaurants, they are taking the jobs traditionally filled by those without a college education. They are also permanently tracked with lower expectations.

Taking a job below your education level carries a high financial toll. The mal-employed earn up to 40% less per week than their peers, Sum found. That could make it harder for them to pay off their student loans, move into their own apartments and even get married.

It can also affect their earnings for decades, since they enter the wage ladder at a lower rung, said Carl Van Horn, founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

That doesn’t include those who are unemployed or those who seek full-time employment but have only found part-time employment.

The official unemployment rate for grads under age 25 was 7% in May, but that doesn’t reflect all those who are under-utilized in one way or another. Nearly 8% of grads are working part-time, but would like full-time positions. These workers aren’t counted in the mal-employment rate.

That’s another 15%. So, 51% of our college graduates are not working at the level one would expect from a college education. And there’s this kicker:

“Employers are taking college grads over high-school grads, but paying them high-school grad wages, he said.

So, tell me again how we’re supposed to be better positioned than any nation in the world when our education quality is lowering and our employers are not paying appropriate wage rates?

It seems to me that the ability to prosper and have the security of food, home and health is a key factor to the strength and resilience of a society. Yet, wealth disparity grows in the US.

In 2007, the top 10% wealthiest possessed 80% of all financial assets.

So much so that:

In 2013 wealth inequality in the U.S. was worse than in most developed countries other than Switzerland and Denmark.

So, how are we better-positioned than any other nation on Earth?

You can see how digging into assertions and the use of data leads to questions; how those questions lead to ones where we’re not simply asking about that which was said, we’re pointing out differences in values. My questions show that I am concerned with each person having the right to eat, have shelter and get healthcare. I am not concerned with whether owners of corporations or other wealthy people make more money. I don’t value people have power over other people. I don’t value extracting revenue out of another person. I value each person being empowered and everyone being valued.

It’s not just about capitalism or democracy or the American Way – terms which get conflated and loaded – it’s about figuring out our principles. Once we have principles as a guide, it would be a lot easier to make legislative and other social choices together. So, what parts of this speech evoke questions for you? And what values do your questions reflect?

Differences Matter – Wage and Wealth Gap for Single Mothers of Color

2:40 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

The following is a guest diary by Diana Zavala. An educator, political activist and single mother of two, this is the second guest diary that Diana has written for us. Diana presented this piece as part of the panel at Left Forum 2013 organised by Geminijen.

Three years ago I found myself closing the chapter on my marriage. I did this against the advice of my friends who tried persuading me to stay for the children, for the sake of security and until I finished my studies. I had spent 10 years in an unsatisfying marriage and the thought of one more day for the sake of something/somebody else just was not acceptable. I left the marriage and while the emotional release was satisfying; but being independent and having to be responsible for my family was a reality I don’t think I fully grasped.

I decided there had to be a way that women in my situation could qualify for public assistance. Here I was a student, with two kids, huge rent bill, no health insurance, but these circumstances were only temporary I thought, and with a little assistance I would be able to overcome them and get myself back on my feet. I thought ‘hey, I’m not the quintessential “welfare queen” so demonized by society’, I’m someone who needs help and can become independent with some assistance. I discovered it wasn’t the case, that women who were in my predicament had no safety nets available for them to bounce back. I didn’t qualify for anything because I had too much money from child support which was just enough to cover the rent. The Welfare office recommended I become homeless in order to apply for Section 8 housing and I didn’t qualify for Food Stamps, nor did I qualify for Medicaid.

Here it was, I had been a high school teacher before getting married, I left teaching to care for my son while my husband’s career progressed and so did his income and retirement. I had no money and no savings and was being advised to become homeless so I could qualify for housing assistance and food stamps, so I could provide for my children.

I had walked into the office feeling like a strong feminist who had left her marriage choosing independence from a husband and who could make it on her own. I was college educated, employable, and young enough to have energy to fight and overcome. I came out of the office understanding that my situation was no different from other women who leave, that while I had education and language, my status as a single mother did not differ much from that of my mother’s when she immigrated from Honduras after she divorced my father.

Resulting from our divorces, both my mother and I took pay cuts and lost the ability to save and create personal and family wealth that we could pass on to our children.
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My mother’s decision to leave Honduras and come to New York where two of her siblings lived was the same as all the women who have enough and break free. She also walked in feeling privileged, she was college educated, documented, and had family here waiting to support her. She hoped this country would open itself to her and with effort, she could become independent and self-sufficient. For my mother, the reality she encountered served as a wake-up call that the odds were against her. She had trouble securing employment and for some time worked as a factory worker in NJ. She described that experience as having to wake up early to wait at a corner for a van to pick her and other immigrant factory workers in Queens to take them to Jersey. The conditions were unpleasant and workers were mistreated. The factory didn’t offer benefits and job security was zero. She was eventually laid off and she found work as a domestic cleaning rich people’s houses and babysitting their children. Meanwhile she couldn’t afford to pay for babysitters for us. My mother was poor even though she had a job as a domestic; we had no savings. By no means were we living large, but the system uses single mothers to blame them for poverty and stigmatizes them with labels that carry gender and racial connotations to make them seem like social pariahs draining society’s resources.

It’s important to acknowledge the reality that the status of ‘single,’ accompanied by motherhood, creates a whole other picture when discussing the relationship of women’s wage and wealth in comparison to our male counterparts.

While our society makes us believe that we’ve come a long way and that women are equal to men, the inequity that exists for single mothers is not representative of that picture. The disparity in wages and wealth for single mothers is most striking when we consider the role of race and ethnicity, language, immigration, education, and social capital as indicators of advantage. Recent census data indicate that Black women earn 69.5 percent of what men make, and Latina women earn 60.5 percent compared to white male counterparts. (see: www.labornotes.org). Single mothers make less than men, less than married women, and less than women who don’t have children.

The gender wealth gap, however, is another measure of gender inequality, not just their income, that is key to ensuring economic security and enables families to build better futures. The gender wealth gap which, measures the total wealth or net worth a woman has accumulated over time, shows that women have, on average, only 6% to 36% of the wealth owned by men and that the gap is growing. (See: “Shortchanged: Women and the wealth gap” by Alison Perlberg on Monday, April 4, 2011)

When using the wealth gap, black and Latina women, have negative wealth. That is, on average, they have no wealth and are in debt. The wealth gap for single women, of all races, especially those who have never been married or single women with children is similar. Meanwhile white middle class married women still have 67% wealth accumulation, compared to all men. (Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future, 2008)

Awareness and effort to address the racial and ethnic wealth inequities based on structural factors is important if women, especially single mothers of color, are to be self-sufficient in a capitalist society. Historically, and even today, both women and people of color have been “red-lined”– that is denied the right to buy a house, the major method of wealth accumulation in middle class families. Additionally, what used to be considered the “golden ticket” to financial independence that our Feminist sisters believed in, education, is no longer serving our society the same way and it’s leaving women of color and single mothers behind.

This is compounded by the absence of social safety nets that afford women the ability to market themselves in the public sphere and earn better wages, and balance the responsibilities of the domestic sphere.

The United States has recently promoted healthcare, education, and care for the elderly and children as an individual’s responsibility in order to maintain traditional social roles. These social roles continue to glorify the definition of marriage, when in reality half of all households are not married, and half of all marriages end in divorce. Since single mothers are often the custodial and residential parents, they have less disposable income to improve their quality of life and be able to invest in order to go up the wealth ladder. Part of the reason why it’s difficult for single mothers, especially for mothers of color, is because wealth is available through fringe benefits given to employees in addition to their salary, when single mothers can’t stay later and work longer hours, they forfeit the benefits of a bonus and or extra pay for their labor. As a result, single mothers of color make up the profile of poverty in America. In 2010 African American and Latina single mothers had poverty rates of 47.1 percent and 50.3 percent, significantly higher than the national average (www.legalmomentum.org).

A recent NYT article (April 28, 2013) describing the impact of the current economic crisis among the races concluded that “ the growth in the wealth divide is going to be very hard to close and there is no positive feeling about the racial inequality resolving itself with the recovery (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/business/racial-wealth-gap-widened-during-recession.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).”

What does this all mean for the future of our children? Education is no longer the cure for poverty if we can’t confidently believe it opens up jobs and upward mobility.
In my education activism both in El Salvador and with Change The Stakes, I’ve seen the way education reform models that have long been implemented by the IMF in third-world countries, are now being put in place at the local schools. The capitalist and privatization model is taking place and going full force in the current school system. Our schools are being turned into testing labor camps for private businesses. With the lie that schools are not serving students of color and that there is an ‘achievement gap’ the reformers are destroying education by robbing students from a meaningful and rich education, disrupting communities by closing and co-locating schools, severing the teacher-student-parent ties and breaking up the teachers union; causing as much disruption so that there are no safety nets.
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In communities of color with high levels of poverty, where the likelihood of a student being raised by a single mother is high, that is where the impact is most disastrous.
Federal policy such as No Child Left Behind, and Obama’s Race To The Top have placed public education under siege and they represent yet another attack on women. Education used to be considered a woman’s domain as part of social reproduction: to introduce early literacy and morality at home. With the language of ‘accountability’ mothers are no longer responsible for educating their children. Taking education away from women and charging the schools with not educating all students has made the agenda of ‘accountability’ take full steam. Believing that schools are nurturing places, students’ second homes and teachers as second parents is a thing of the past. Communities are encouraged to believe that teachers, who are predominantly women, can’t be trusted to teach. Therefore, they don’t deserve a strong union that protects their job and protects their ability to not only have a competitive wage, but also retirement safety (a pension) and the ability to save and create wealth. Children are being over-tested and critical thinking has been replaced with incessant test prep and rote-learning aligned with the Common Core. Students are being trained to be compliant and follow rules, find single answers, and be measured by test scores. The future of schools and the future of students is questionable and so is the future of women and the ability of future single mothers to close the wage and wealth gap.

-Diana
“To educate is to Free”—José Martí

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Obama Privatizes Public Schools: Out Of The Frying Pan Into The Fire by Geminijen

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

The battle to privatize education as part of the neoliberal shock doctrine is in full swing–on one side we have a rank and file movement of public school K-12 educators and parents mobilized by the Chicago teachers’ strike trying to save the teachers unions and neighborhood schools — on the other side we have the “educational reform” agenda using the full power of Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RTTT) policy which uses government funding to force the closure of “nonfunctioning” public schools and replace them with privately run “Charter” Schools .

This article will briefly outline some of the current issues and battles surrounding privatization. Much of the information was taken from Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation, edited by Jeff Bale and Sarah Knopp and Grassroots Educational Movement (New York), Chicago; also: gemnyc@gmail.com. Next month we will take up solutions from a Marxist perspective.

Who Are the Culprits? Education is a particularly vulnerable part of the privatization agenda because the mainstream folks that are supposed to be on the “right” side in this struggle (who at least nominally support unions, social security, medicare, etc.) have jumped ship and are actively supporting privatization.

privatisingamericasschools_shrunk
from: http://www.otherwords.org/files/5038/school-privatization-cartoon.jpg?width=800

This certainly includes the Obama/Gates/Duncan triumvirate which has trumpeted the success of its “Race to the Top” (RTTT) policy as educators, individual teachers and students are forced to compete for federal funds by implementing a policy which has resulted in thousands of public schools closures and the implementation of a publicly funded/privately run school model.

Behind the scenes, our most wealthy & influential capitalists such as Bill Gates and the Walton Family are using their combined $30 billion dollars in capital to mold the educational program into a corporate model, with little or no accountability to the general public or the parents.

The media has jumped into the fray with movies which demonize public school teachers (“Waiting for Superman” and “We Won’t Back Down” starring celebrities like Viola Davis). MSNBC recently aired a six hour discussion called Education Nation which put the Educational Reform agenda front and center as the possible answer to all our woes from saving our children to saving our financial system and saving the American Way of Life.

Al Sharpton as a spokesperson for a large section of the black community has travelled the country with Newt Gingrich (!!!) promoting this educational reform agenda.

And it includes many middle class white liberals and “progressives” who are all for a government social agenda — except when it comes to the education of their own children where they tend to run away to the all white schools in the suburbs, homeschooling, alternative schools or private or charter schools.

The Role of Education in a Capitalist Society. The public school agenda to educate our entire populace has been touted as one of the crowning achievements of US democracy. It attracted and still attracts immigrants from all over the world with the promise of free education and upward mobility. While this agenda is one of the real advantages our society has inadvertently offered its citizenry, it was not then nor is it now the real agenda of education. From a Marxist point of view, education, as a part of the economic superstructure, has always been used to benefit the capitalist class and impose the values of capitalist ideology. In the 1800s, when the US capitalists needed more educated labor as we switched from a farming to an industrial economy, capitalists encouraged mass public education to provide the factory owners with the future workers they would need. This educational model was top down, authoritarian, teaching workers external disciplines such as working on a time clock and to accept the information they were being taught without question. The perfect model to get industrial factory workers to obey their bosses.

The decline of the US public schools in the current period began in the 1970s with the globalization of Capitalism and, interacted with the racist legacy of slavery after we failed to fully integrate our society and schools following the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

As globalization has made it increasingly advantageous for capitalists to take their business abroad and outsource their work for cheap labor, the need for workers in this country is becoming more and more obsolete. The capitalist class is no longer willing to support universal public education and has begun a half underground/half overt campaign to end public education as we know it by starving the public schools of funding and resources and shifting its support to a “corporate market model” of education better suited to the “flexible needs of 21st century global capitalism” (per Bill Clinton).

Under the new public/private, for-profit school model, the focus has shifted to a market approach where education is no longer promoted as a public good but an individual choice where educational consumers (children) now become customers of a product (education) at which the corporations can make a profit. While the ideology of the corporate model still mouths the ideology that “No Child Will Be Left Behind,” by presenting students with “a variety of educational choices” in the market, it does not take into account the underlying social inequities of class, race and sex and assumes all students come “equal to the market place.”

The problems of globalization are piled on top of the other major legacy which has created huge inequities and divisions in the working class and, consequently, in public schools — the legacy of racism. For centuries the history of slavery and legal segregation divided the working class. Unions were mainly white (and male), women and people of color could not buy property (houses) in many states, and jobs and schools were restricted or segregated. Efforts of the civil rights movement of the 60′s to integrate white and black US citizens and other minority groups to overcome class, race and cultural differences were only partially successful.

There was a brief period of integration in the 60s and early 70s, when supported by funding from the government’s Great Society poverty programs, the achievement gap between black and white students actually did narrow. However, the backlash toward individualism and a conservative social agenda in the 1980s ended that forward movement in the schools. With white middle class parents fleeing to well-funded all white suburban schools, urban schools have become even more segregated today than they were thirty years ago.

This has given the cities more incentive to cut corners in the urban schools since the populations that are left –lower middle class, the working poor, children of color, disabled students, new immigrants– have very little political power to demand a seat at the table. The teachers’ unions have been one of the few effective voices in getting issues like smaller classes, more innovative programming and enrichment programs addressed.

However, since teachers are mainly white in urban schools where the student populations are predominantly black or Latino, the degree of mistrust of parents of color toward the school system and the degree of mistrust of teachers toward their students often remains very high. While there are many exceptions, since most teachers do not live in the area or send their children to the schools they teach in, there is often a failure on the part of teachers to understand and respect the differences in culture, knowledge and experience of the communities that their students come from.

One of the most egregious examples of racial conflict in the school system was the 1970s strike in New York City where predominantly white unionized teachers failed to support the black community in the Ocean Hills-Brownsville area who were demanding parental control of schools.

The new grassroots movement in Chicago and elsewhere, has overcome some of these problems since there is black leadership in their union movement. In one of the most radical moves which Rob Emmanuel and Duncan (Obama’s education gurus) are fighting tooth and nail is the establishment of local school councils in the Chicago schools which have a high percentage of low income parents and women of color in elected leadership positions.

The Role of Charter Schools.

Charter Schools were originally marketed as a limited alternative to traditional schools where outside groups – nonprofits, private corporations, universities, interested community groups — would “partner” with a public school. The public schools would provide the funding and the outside group would govern the school. It was felt the outside group, often a private for-profit business, would bring “creativity,” “choice”, money and resources, to experiment with new models that were freed from the bureaucratic control of the government. Moreover, it was supposed to be geared to helping disadvantaged students enter the mainstream.

From the 1990s to 2010 the number of Charter Schools grew from a handful of schools to some 4,600 enrolling 1.4 million children nationwide, about a quarter of which are run by private for-profit Companies. Although this increase was due in part to parents frustrations with dysfunctional public schools, it was primarily do to Obama’s major educational policy, “Race to the Top” which requires schools around the country to compete for educational funding which they can only get by increasing the number of Charter Schools and closing “nonfunctioning” public schools.

In the beginning, some well meaning liberals (including the United Federation of Teachers in New York City) supported this idea. In reality, the movement allowed private organizations and for-profit businesses to use public space and tax payer funds, free of charge & with little accountability for the day to day administration of the schools and control of the schools’ message. The only measure of success has been the improvement of students’ standardized test scores. Instead of freeing schools from government bureaucracy, the private sector (particularly private enterprises) have taken on an increasingly close partnership with the government to promote the neoliberal agenda and further their own corporate interests.

The neoliberal agenda in the educational reform movement can be seen in five specific features:

1) The use of austerity measures imposed after the 2008 financial meltdown to make working people pay for the economic crisis. In education over 350,000 teachers have been laid off, thousands of schools have been closed. The included the intentional effort to break the teacher’s union and establish non-union schools to cut labor costs.

2) The increased stratification of the educational population, separating out a minority of elite youth being prepared for the white collar knowledge economy in a few, select, Charter Schools, while investing as little as possible in the education of everyone else. Indeed, the name of Obama’s policy, “Race to the Top” expresses this idea quite clearly. This agenda is often clothed in the talk of “School Choice” which sounds like a very liberating option to many of us, but has consistently ended up in increased stratification where we cannot be sure that our children will not end up on the bottom.

3) Increased social control and an ideological shift from education as a social institution for the public good to a model of Ayn Rand “individualism.” The ideological emphasis on education as the means to survival in the “new economy” increases the competitiveness not only among educational institutions, but among teachers (who are now evaluated individually on the test performance of their students), and the students themselves.

The current trend is to shift the dialogue from equity and a basic education for all citizens to one of education as each person’s individual responsibility. Put into a corporate business model, the student becomes the consumer of the product, a product which they must acquire if they are to succeed in 21st century capitalism. The degree to which we succeed or fail, however does not take into account the larger society questions of poverty, sexism and racism as factors in educational outcomes, but simple talks about the “achievement gap” in certain populations and how we can make it up “individually.”

4) The privatization of the remaining public assets of this country. This is clearly advocated in the Race to the Top (RTTT) policy which will not award any money to a school district unless it increases its number of charter schools. Textbooks and testing companies and other subsidiary forces have also profited from privatization.

5) Following a corporate model, the neoliberal model promotes the centralization of power to one centralized body or one person such as a mayor or a state appointed overseer). In the educational system this means eliminating local, democratic parental/classroom teacher control. As Bill Gates notes “The cities where our foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible.”

The Success (or Lack Thereof) of the Privatization/Charter School Movement.

While the financial incentives of the RTTT program have had a lot to do with the explosion of Charter Schools, the already decimated and many dysfunctional traditional public schools, especially in the inner cities where the poorer and more disadvantaged population have essentially been left to fend for themselves, added another incentive.

Most parents were looking for a “good educational experience” for their children. Many parents in the black community were looking to form schools that would safeguard their children against the racism in the traditional public schools. Any many of the white middle class parents were looking to find schools where they would be assured that their children would be in classrooms where they would not feel “different” (read what you want). In both cases, parents were seeking to protect their children by opting out of the community, leaving others behind.

Unlike traditional public schools which have a commitment to provide a basic education to all students, most Charter Schools, in an effort to raise the standardized test scores (the main criteria used to evaluate their success and subsequent funding ) have managed to avoid populations who do not test well by writing their Charters to exclude these populations. Students with limited English won’t be able to attend a school that does not provide bilingual or ESL classes; students with disabilities will be excluded if there are no special education programs. The students with the least support from home will be excluded if the charter is written to require parental involvement and the child’s parents work two jobs and can’t participate.

When these measures fail (i.e., a percentage of the students are selected by lottery), the Charters have developed a strategy of “attrition” where they “counsel out” students who seem “inappropriate” for the school. As one student who was “counseled out” put it, using the new corporate language of the Charter Schools, “I got fired.”

The two for-profit Charter School networks who received the highest rates of excellence this year, KIPP and Democracy Prep, have a reputation for very high attrition rates. These schools received ratings between 89-95% and will receive 9 billion dollars that would have gone to traditional public schools. Moreover, there are, apparently, still 5% of public schools that rated higher –but that are not eligible for any of this money since RTTT requires that you only get the money by increasing the number of Charter Schools.

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from: http://larrycuban.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/futureschoolreforms.gif

Even given the “policy” advantages. increased resources and populations which have selected out the potentially most “successful” students, the overall record of Charter Schools, has not lived up to its promotion.

A national 2003 study by the Dept of Education under George Bush showed that, using the limited criteria of standardized test scores, the Charter Schools, did no better on average than public schools. The study was suppressed because it did reach the desired conclusions. A 2009 study by Stanford economists which included 70% of all Charter School students, found an astonishing 83% of the Charter Schools are no better and often worse than other Public Schools serving similar populations. Indeed, bad Charter Schools outnumbered good Charter Schools by a ratio of two to one.

The reasons for the low performance of Charter Schools are multiple, but one significant finding shows that for-profit schools tend to increase the ratio of students to teachers in an effort to increase profit (since schools are paid by the state on a per pupil basis). In Ohio, where half the charters are for profit, educational results lag significantly behind mainstream public schools (8% excellence to 63%, respectively). Since the implicit goal of the Charter School movement is to remain non-union to keep costs down, Charters generally have less experienced lower paid teachers with a significantly higher rate of turnover, again lowering the educational outcome.

Another outcome is the greater racial segregation of students in the Charter movement than in public schools, even though public school segregation has also been increasing. Studies attribute this to the “Choice” model. Wherever school choice, is included, there is greater stratification and racial segregation.

But the real tragedy of the charter school movement is that it is intended to serve only a small percentage of students, draining and debilitating the general public school population both financially and in terms of high achieving students.

Moreover, the closing of public schools has caused great hardship for students who must relocate when their schools close– especially if they have to take two buses and a train to school each day, adding an hour each way to their school day. If both parents work, this sometimes provides extra stress in how to get your children to school when the parents can’t take them. Often older siblings are late to their own classes because they have to drop off younger brothers and sisters before they can go to their school.

Since Charter Schools often co-locate in public school space, that space is no longer available to the general student population. In one school in Brooklyn, a for- profit Charter School owned by a hedge fund billionaire pushed the students who had previously been in that space into classrooms in the basement, next to the boiler room. The billionaire, who planned to make a profit off the school, did not pay one cent to rent the space in the public school that had been paid for by taxpayer money.

As Jitu Brown explained in “Rethinking Schools,”for affected communities, [the charter school movement] has been traumatic, largely ineffective, and destabilizing to communities owed a significant educational debt due to decades of being under-served.

How Can We Get Educational Equity in a Capitalist system?

brokenladder-shrunk from:
http://www.otherwords.org/files/5271/broken-ladder-economic-immobility-cartoon.JPG?width=800

Capitalists will tell you that you can get equal opportunity and upward mobility (which reflects the “Race to the Top” model) but it implicitly only works for a few. Besides, the US now offers less upward mobility than any other industrialized country. So you can take your chances on escaping the worst excesses of capitalism for your child — but it is a risk.

Marxists will tell you, you can’t. That the educational system is only a reflection of the larger economic relations and there will be no meaningful reform of education without connecting this struggle to the larger movements for social justice in society (how you bring the classroom struggles to the social movements and how to bring the movement into the classroom. This follows a “we’re all in the same boat” philosophy and also has its risks, but at least you’ve got a lot more progressive friends in the boat with you. So, what are our real options for our children and our society? Stay tuned to next month’s article on some revolutionary ideas for real educational change.

Anti-capitalist meetup: How did we get here? A look at human social evolution. And a book preview by Don Mikulecky

2:51 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Our new book: Global Insanity: How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World Is about to come out. This diary is a brief introduction to the book with additional comments about why it is in the Anti-Capitalist Meetup tonight. I will start by saying that the frames “capitalist” and “anti-Capitalist” are really not of much use anymore. We have created an entire new epistemology. The old categories neither work nor do the free us from what has caused us the problem. Any attempt to work within the old paradigm feeds the system that enslaves us. We need a revolution that is total. Capitalism, as it has evolved to this day is very much like an economic and social cancer. As one who has developed computer models of cancer and then therapy to fight it I can speak with some authority.Cancer is not an infectious disease. It is a way the system develops that eventually does that very system in. So my analogy is appropriate here. Capitalism has grown as a system that will do in the system it arises from. In that context, who could be for cancer? Once the present state of capitalism is understood, who could be for it? Clearly we have large numbers of people who are so there is more to the story than my simple analogy. That is really the simple part even though large parts of the human population still do not understand. Let’s carry the cancer analogy a bit further. How do we “cure” cancer? It can not be reversed. It must be stopped. All ways of stopping are harmful to the host. That is because it is such an integral part of the host. Chemically killing or surgically removing or radiating cancer cells does damage beyond just the cancer itself. Stopping capitalism before it destroys us is a similar problem. You and I are part of capitalism and we contribute to the damage it is doing by the way we live. You can not even have a remote hope that we can survive its destructive march to the cliff without dealing with our contribution to the disease. Every treatment for cancer involves pain and suffering. We claim to be concerned about future generations but will we willingly put that claim into action? Before you jump to the conclusion that I am trying to lay a guilt trip on you, realize that our book deals with how we got here and why no one is “to blame”. On the other hand knowledge transforms people and once they see the problem further inaction is certainly no longer excusable. I have spent my life trying to understand. Fortunately, when I thought I was close I published my initial thoughts and my friend and colleague Jim Coffman read that paper. Now we have this book. In it we speak about our continuing contribution to the cancerous blight of capitalism as an addiction. They pushed the “drug” and we are hooked! So if you are able to handle a quick diagnosis that is not at all pleasant then please continue reading

Our book is not a recapitulation of anything you have seen before. It is a radical new analysis that uses a lot of our cultural evolution to put that evolution into an entirely new perspective. First from the preface:

To work against your own short-term interests requires that you acknowledge that those interests are harmful or unhealthy. So it is reasonable to ask why more people do not acknowledge and act on the increasingly serious health problems that confront us all as a result of anthropogenic environmental degradation. The answer to this is, in a word, complex.
The efforts of science to speak to the condition of the planet are often met with hostility, to say the least. One working scientist who has been subjected to a living hell merely for doing his job is climatologist Michael Mann. A quote from his recent book gives a flavor of what is at stake:
We look back now with revulsion at the corporate CEOs, representatives, lobbyists, and scientists-for-hire who knowingly ensured the suffering and mortality of millions by hiding their knowledge of tobacco smoking’s ill effects for the sake of short term corporate profits. Will we hold those who have funded or otherwise participated in the fraudulent denial of climate change similarly accountable—those individuals and groups who both made and took corporate payoffs for knowingly lying about the threat climate change posed to humanity, those who willfully have led the public and policy makers astray, and those politicians and media figures who have sought to intimidate climate scientists using McCarthyite tactics?

Two things need to be pointed out in preparation for what we are offering here. First, the issues described by Mann are not isolated. The entire spectrum and character of political and civic life is subject to powerful economic forces, and while those forces may on the surface reduce to simple greed, below the surface are undercurrents that are not at all that simple, emanating from among other things our animal nature, human psychology and the historical origins of our culture. The second point concerns why political arguments cannot be won with empirically demonstrable facts and logic. We will attempt to address these issues in what follows.

Clearly I can not develop what we put forth in this short diary. There are those who will see this as a “book promotion” and it is that too, but it is also, and more importantly, an attempt to get get your attention for we have something very important to say. Here is the beginning of the introduction:

Introduction: Our Thesis, and What We Hope to Achieve
The thesis of this essay is that Western science has misconceived life. As a consequence, civilized humanity, by way of its scientifically informed industrial economy cum existential nihilism cum retreat into fantasy, is destroying the biosphere—and hence itself.
The misconception is that life is engendered and fully explained by mechanisms.
This is absurd. In biology anything that can be construed as a mechanism can also be logically construed as having a purpose. Means imply ends, and are thus meaningful. Life is neither created by mechanisms, nor an emergent property thereof: to the contrary, mechanisms, to the extent that they perform useful work, are created by living systems in the service of life. Wherever they exist, they do so in order to realize some subjective goal.
And at some level, all biologists know this to be true.

Let me try to remind you that George Lakoff and others have been saying these same things to us in a political context and our book bravely marches into that forbidden territory. Forbidden to “objective” science which is one of the myths that makes change so hard. Going further into the introduction:

We contend that Western civilization, in developing a global consumer economy based on industrial mechanization requiring rapid dissipation of non-renewable, high-grade energy, lost touch with reality and embarked on a path of self-destruction. Accessing a new path conducive to long-term human survival and quality of life will require that we fundamentally change our relationship with nature, which will in turn require that we significantly improve our comprehension of nature—including human nature. It will require that we develop a more realistic way of life, and healthier ways of imbuing our existence with meaning.
We are not alone in calling attention to the urgency of our situation. We do however have a unique explanation for how we got here, and the role of human intellect in that process. Contrary to what is now almost universally accepted as given, our technological creativity and scientific inquisitiveness have not served us well. The reason for this is that the development of our cognitive abilities produced an unhealthy mental imbalance. The technological aspect of the human mind has come to repressively dominate other aspects, and this is intimately linked to the unconstrained development of the consumer economy. Science and technology feed that system by supplying a continuous stream of ‘disposable’ commodities, as well as techniques for ensuring that people keep buying them, in order to drive economic growth, which then feeds back to drive science and technology. What many (perhaps most) people fail to appreciate is that this is a vicious cycle whose continuance assures the collapse of civilization, and quite possibly the extinction of humanity.
As will become clear in what follows, meaning is constructed by way of interpretation, and interpretation is a subjective matter. Depending on your perspective, the world can appear either simple or complex—and either very big or very small.

That should challenge you to read the book. I’ll be here when the diary is published to discuss what I have said. Thank you for the opportunity.

A footnote,/strong>: We develop a thesis based on the acknowledgement That “Cartesian Reductionism” is one of the fundamental epistemological bases for modern “enlightened” thought. What Descartes left us with is the mind/body dualism and the idea that all things can be seen as machines and therefore reduced to their parts. Then the study of the parts would lead to total understanding of the whole. We refute this and base our argument on the idea that reducing systems to parts removes their essence and makes them impossible to understand..