My Students Are Scared of Donald Trump

 

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“Are they gonna’ make us all leave?”

 

That was the question one of my 8th grade students asked today.

 

He sits in the front row – quiet, reserved, eyes usually pointed sullenly at his desk.

 

He doesn’t ask questions. Not publicly.

 

If he has something to say, he’ll ask me before or after class.

 

But there he was with his hand in the air and his eyes firmly fixed on mine.

 

“Tyree, are you afraid someone’s going to make you leave your country?”

 

He nodded and I saw several other black faces nodding throughout the room.

 

“Are you afraid someone’s going to send you… where… to Africa?”

 

“Yeah,” Tyree said for the group.

 

I teach Language Arts at an under-resourced school in Western Pennsylvania. I’m white and most of my students are black. Almost all of them are from poor families. Very few are Hispanic or Muslim.

 

We had been discussing the Holocaust in preparation to read “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

 

I often try to make connections with current events during this time, but today I didn’t have to do any connecting. My students did it for me.

 

“I don’t like Donald Trump,” Jacklyn said. “He’s racist.”

 

And Tyree spoke again – impatiently, nervously – “Who are you voting for, Mr. Singer?”

 

I paused. “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to say,” I responded, “but I will say this…”

 

And I looked all of them in the face.

 

“Not. Donald. Trump.”

 

You could feel the sigh go through them like a physical thing.

 

They are actually scared. And something like it happened in every class today.

 

I mentioned Adolph Hitler and they came back with Donald Trump.

 

History had come alive. It was a boogeyman haunting the shadows. And the only thing that dispels shadows is light.

 

I had to reassure them. It wasn’t in my lesson plan. I had done no prior research for it, but this was the direction they were pulling me. I had had no intention of talking about Donald Trump, but we needed to go there.

 

We had a discussion comparing and contrasting the two men. They both wrote books, but “Mein Kampf” is very different than “The Art of the Deal.” Both were captivating speakers who promote violence, but Trump speaks at a third grade level. Both said hateful things against minorities, but only Hitler advocated eradicating people from the face of the Earth. Both proposed minorities be monitored by the government but Hitler focused mostly on Jews while Trump focuses mostly on Muslims.

 

The conversation went on.

 

In over a decade in the classroom, I’ve never had students so upset about politics. Sure they get angry when unarmed people of color are shot by the police. Sure they feel the pull of Baltimore and Ferguson. But never have they cared about who’s running for President. They won’t be able to vote, themselves, for five or more years.

 

But they wanted to talk public affairs. What was I to do? The purpose of history is to learn from it. We look to the past so we won’t repeat it. Yet that was a lesson I didn’t need to teach. They already knew it. That’s why they were bringing this up.

 

We talked political parties. We discussed how the Nazis were a political organization like the Democrats and the Republicans are today. We talked about how Hitler had been a house painter and Donald Trump was a reality TV star who inherited most of his money.

 

And we talked about racism.

 

Why people hate others. The definition of prejudice – how racism is one kind of prejudice but there are many others – hating people because of religion, because they’re disabled, because of their sexuality.

 

Jermaine said he was uncomfortable going to the bathroom in public in case someone gay walked in.

 

I asked if he thought a gay man would try to make a move on him while he was on the toilet. I asked if he’d ever make a move on someone while that person was on the toilet.

 

The class laughed.

 

Someone mentioned Chicago and how protesters had forced Trump to cancel his rally. Yes. An 8th grade student knew about that.

 

And then someone mentioned Bernie Sanders. Yes. They brought him up, too.

 

Some of my kids liked him because they said he wasn’t racist. Others thought he would legalize marijuana.

 

So I asked if anyone knew about the other candidates. And that’s where their news-savvy faded. Someone said something strange about Hillary Clinton that they heard she was against soil. I still don’t know what he meant.

 

Another child said he heard Tom Cruise was running. “TED Cruz,” I corrected. None had heard of John Kasich.

 

I explained how a primary election works. We talked about how Hitler was elected. We talked about the Reichstag vs. Congress.

 

“Didn’t we have concentration camps here in America?” someone asked. So we talked about Japanese internment camps and compared those to what you’d find in Europe.

 

At some point I lost track of all we talked about. But when the bell rang, the tension was gone.

 

They got up calmly and went to the door. Many of them made a point to cheerfully say goodbye or dap me up on their way. You always know middle school students love you when they do that.

 

Jason stopped by my desk on the way out and said, “My dad’s going to vote for Donald Trump.” He was blushing.

 

“He may have good reasons,” I said. “Maybe you should ask him about it.” He smiled and walked out.

 

Only one student was left.

 

“You, okay, Tyree?” I asked.

 

He was grinning. “You’d be a good history teacher, Mr. Singer,” he said.

 

I shook my head. “And you’re a good history student.”

 

I clapped him on the back, before writing him a pass to his next class.

 

 

My plans sat murdered on my desk.

 

But I had taught a much better lesson.

 

Nothing happens without cause.

 

We can understand it if we try.

 

Understanding is the key to prevention.

 

And we’re in this together.

 


NOTE: All student names have been changed to protect their anonymity.

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Charter School Lobby Donates $50,000 to Teachers-Union-Backed PA Attorney General Candidate

Giving a bribe into a pocket

 

What’s the best way to avoid a charter school scandal?

 

In Pennsylvania, apparently you bribe the Attorney General.

 

That may be why Students First PAC donated $50,000 to Josh Shapiro, a Democrat running for the position.

 

This political action committee is not to be confused with the infamous national group founded by Michelle Rhee. Students First PAC is a state organization that typically contributes to charter school friendly candidates.

 

And $50K is quite a chunk of change in a State Attorney General race – the office in charge of prosecuting charter schools for breaking the law.

 

Charter school scandals have been an almost weekly occurrence throughout the Commonwealth. Chester Community Charter School, the state’s largest brick-and-mortar organization, is under investigation for pocketing $1.2 million “in improper lease-reimbursement payments.” As Philadelphia public schools are being closed due to a miserly state budget, “nonprofit,” charter operator Aspira Inc. was caught using public money to boost its real estate holdings instead of using those funds to educate children. Nicholas Trombetta, the founder of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter, an institution that operates exclusively over the internet, “was charged with fraud, for funneling $8 million of the school’s funds into his personal companies and holdings.”

 

It’s easy to see how having the state Attorney General on your side would benefit an industry rife with fraud and malfeasance.

 

Shapiro, chair of the Montgomery Country Board of Commissioners, is the odds on favorite to succeed Kathleen Kane as the state’s highest ranking law enforcement officer.

 

He is running for the Democratic nomination against Northhampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, and Allegheny Country Attorney General Stephen Zappala.

 

Despite strong corporate education reform ties, Shapiro has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers union in the Commonwealth.

 

At a public debate earlier in March, challenger Morganelli called out Shapiro on the Students First PAC donation.

 

“Josh, you are really good at giving speeches but your resume doesn’t match your performance,” Morganelli said. “You have received $25,000 from Students First PAC, which is a charter school [organization], and you received it on March 4th 2015. That is a charter school advocate that is hurting our public schools. Josh gives a great speech here then takes $25,000 from Students First PAC, I think that’s wrong.”

 

Morganelli added in a prepared statement in Harrisburg, “It was later determined that Josh accepted an additional $25,000 from Students First PAC in 2012. Who knows how much more he may have received from them that has not yet surfaced.”

 

Shapiro has never publicly denied these allegations.

 

His response at the debate was that voters should judge him based on his record.
However, Shapiro’s campaign manager Joe Radosevich responded further.

 

“Josh’s record in support of public education is unmatched and he’s proud to stand with Pennsylvania teachers in this election,” he said. “Josh is the only candidate for Attorney General who will protect Pennsylvania teachers and stand up for the rights of each and every student to a ‘thorough and efficient’ education as guaranteed in our state constitution.”

 

Morganelli also took issue with PSEA for endorsing Shapiro over himself. He criticized the organization for a history of siding with candidates with whom high ranking leaders have a relationship regardless of their positions on eduction. He cited PSEA’s endorsement of Tom Corbett for Attorney General in 2008. Corbett won that election and went on 2 years later to become one of the worst Governor’s in state history whose “greatest” achievement was slashing almost $1 billion from our public schools.

 

PSEA’s endorsement of Shapiro is in the same line, Morganelli said.

 

“How can PSEA endorse a candidate who is in bed with the Charter school folks? This would be like someone being funded by both the NRA and CeaseFire [PA] – inconceivable!”

 

PSEA spokesman David Broderic compared Morganelli’s criticism to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

 

“PSEA’s members decided to recommend Josh Shapiro, based on his support for our issues,” Broderic said. “That’s what happens in politics. Today’s Trump-like antics don’t do anything but devalue politics. It’s a shame he felt the need to do that.”

 

Shapiro is receiving tremendous flack for the donations. In private, he explained the matter further, according to a confidential source.

 

He said the money was actually donated by his friend Joel Greenberg, a hedge fund manager who has worked with Shapiro on county, Jewish and Israeli issues. Greenberg funneled the money through Students First PAC. He gave his own personal money to Students First PAC which, in turn, gave it to Shapiro.

 

Greenberg is infamous in his own right as one of the three Philadelphia investment bankers who founded Students First PAC. He is also on the board of the American Federation for Children, a national school choice group with mega wealthy far right backers including the Koch Brothers.

 

The explanation makes little sense. It is shameful that the PSEA hasn’t pushed Shapiro to either publicly explain his actions or give back the money. At very least, the union could retract its endorsement.

 

Morganelli is to be praised for bringing the matter to public attention. Unfortunately, he is plagued by his own political shortcomings.

 

In 2007, Morganelli joined State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe for a witch hunt against illegal immigrants.

 

Metcalfe, a Republican from Cranberry Township, is so far right, he makes Rick Santorum look like Bernie Sanders! He is infamous in state politics for flamboyant actions against homosexuals and immigrants.

 

Metcalfe wrote a report called “Invasion PA” claiming Commonwealth lives were at stake because of a perceived influx of illegal immigrants. It was laughed out of Harrisburg, but Morganelli supported it – at least at first.

 

“It’s not an illegal immigration issue, it’s a crime and national security issue,” said Morganelli, who claimed about 5,000 illegal aliens in Northampton County had been responsible for a disproportionate share of the crime.

 

Five of 10 rapes in Northampton County last year were committed by illegal immigrants, Morganelli said.

 

Pennsylvania taxpayers are picking up the tab for illegal aliens housed in county and state prisons, he said.

 

However, when the report was met with ridicule, Morganelli tried to distance himself from it.

 

He called it ”deficient.”

 

”The report was, in my view, poorly constructed,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quoted Morganelli as saying. ”It was a compilation of opinions and inferences drawn from arrests that really did not support the conclusion that an ‘invasion’ is occurring in Pennsylvania.”

 

In addition to this catastrophic lapse in judgement, Morganelli is also a staunch advocate for the death penalty. Not exactly someone suited to state office.

 

Of the three Democrats running for the position, Zappala is clearly the best candidate. He has been a just Attorney General in Allegheny Country since 1998. For instance, he is in favor of treatment and prevention for drug abusers rather than incarceration.

 

The Republican candidates are John Rafferty, a state senator from Montgomery County, and Joe Peters, a Wyoming County resident who was a former police officer, federal prosecutor and spokesman for current Attorney General Kane.

 

Kane is not seeking re-election. The primary election is April 26.

 

The office has been plagued by scandal under Kane. She stormed into the position with immense political good will, the first Democrat and woman to be elected to the position since it became an elected office in 1980. She was a rising star likely to challenge Republican Pat Toomey for U.S. Senate. However, her star fell in August 2015. She was arrested and charged with multiple offenses, including two counts of felony perjury, and obstruction of justice. A month later the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania suspended Kane’s license to practice law, the first such occurrence for a Pennsylvania Attorney General. Since she was not removed from her position, she has continued to exercise her duties as with a suspended license by delegating legal responsibilities to her top advisers.

 

Pennsylvania needs an Attorney General free from controversy, and both Shaprio and Morganelli don’t fit the bill. We can’t let someone who accepts huge charter school donations take over regulating the industry.

 

And shame on PSEA for letting down the Commonwealth’s teachers, parents and children. Endorsements should be made based on what’s best for our schools not personal relationships.

Pennsylvania Breathes Sigh of Relief As Crappy GOP Budget Becomes Law

Pennsylvania Budget

The majority won in Pennsylvania this week.

After 9 months of bipartisan bickering, the state finally has a 2015-16 budget.

And it’s almost exactly the same spending plan favored by the majority.

The majority of lawmakers, that is.

Voters, however, wanted something much different.

They wanted it to heal almost $1 billion in cuts to public schools. They wanted it to be balanced and not to spend more than it takes in. They wanted everyone to pay their fair share.

But lawmakers disagreed and took the entire Commonwealth on an extended game of chicken while schools had to scrimp and borrow just to stay open.

Like any public spectacle, the conflict centered around two teams: Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans refused to raise taxes, even after they had previously reduced state revenue to a place where it could no longer provide the services taxpayers expect. The Democrats wanted to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations who were getting away without paying their fair share, thereby increasing services to a point citizens have come to expect.

The result? Nine months of finger pointing.

The GOP-controlled legislature passed the same budget over-and-over again, while Gov. Tom Wolf (a Democrat) kept vetoing it.

There was a brief moment when they almost agreed on a compromise budget, but GOP lawmakers just couldn’t stomach a tax increase if it didn’t include an almost definitely Unconstitutional measure to shortchange state workers pensions.

This week Wolf agreed to let pretty much the same Republican budget become law without his signature. Otherwise, some of the state’s more than 500 school districts would have had to close. He said he hopes to focus on next year’s budget which is due at the end of June.

Wolf came into office on a tidal wave of support from across the state to unseat the previous Republican governor. The people couldn’t have been more clear – fairly fund education and get the fiscal ship in order. But since state legislative districts were redrawn under the previous administration to gerrymander lawmakers, voters were silenced.

Which brings us to the inescapable question: why are voters putting up with this?

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

The above quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, sums up the proper relationship between governors and governed.

Our lawmakers aren’t afraid of us. Are we afraid of them?

The budget passed this week does increase education by $200 million. but that’s still far below what Republicans cut five years ago. Apparently, they aren’t afraid voters will make them pay a price for this. They don’t think we have the guts to unseat them in their safe gerrymandered districts.

They figure that since most of the voters in their districts are registered Republicans, they won’t have to answer for shortchanging school children – especially those at poor districts which receive more state support.

They figure other Republicans like themselves don’t care about poor black kids. Are they right? You tell me, Pennsylvania!

Likewise, they think GOP constituents don’t care if the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. They think we’ll buy the lie that business works kind of like getting pandas to mate at the zoo. We have to do everything we can to make them comfortable or else no little panda cubs.

So the rich and corporations get sweetheart deals while the rest of us – even Republicans – have to tighten our belts. What say you, Pennsylvania? You buying that?

While no one thinks the budget should be unbalanced, they are betting you will let them push the blame onto the other party. There is a $2 million deficit because Republicans didn’t want to raise taxes. Never mind that they opposed measures to fairly make up the difference. Never mind that they have no problem cutting services so that you don’t get your taxes worth from state government.

Well, Pennsylvania? Are you swallowing that whooper!?

We’ve become used to blaming our politicians. Both Democrats and Republicans love to rag on our elected officials.

But it’s not really their fault.

It’s ours.

We’ve let it get this way.

Sure, the odds are stacked against us. Corporate money floods legislators campaigns so they can buy endless ads convincing us to vote against our own interests. Legislative districts are drawn so that a minority of Pennsylvanians get a majority say.

But we still have the last vestiges of a functioning Democracy here. We still hold elections, and they still have consequences.

If lawmakers felt like they would be held accountable, it would change their actions. Why do you think they didn’t enact that terrible pension plan last year when the GOP controlled both the legislature and the governor’s mansion?

They were afraid of taking the blame. They were afraid voters of both parties wouldn’t put up with it. Republicans only had the guts to push it through if they could force Democrats to vote for it, too. That way, people would have no choice but to blame both parties and not just the GOP.

We need to make them feel that same fear for under-resourcing our schools. When Republican voters in gerrymandered districts show up to their legislators offices en mass and demand equitable school funding, that’s when things will change.

When Republican voters care as much about poor black kids as they do about rich white kids, that’s when things will change. When Tea Party citizens demand the rich pay as fair a share of the tax burden as they do, then things will change.

But so long as we pretend politics is a sporting event and you have to stand by your team, things will remain as they are.

Democrat. Republican. Tea Party. Progressive. These are nothing but labels that divide us. Throw them away.

Turn off the TV. Stop listening to talk radio. Crumble up the op-ed.

Go to the voting booth with the only thing that matters.

Vote with your heart.

Why is It So Hard to Vote in America? Voter Suppression is Desperation Politics

 

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No one should have to stand in line an entire work day to vote.

 

But that’s what happened to people in yesterday’s Arizona primary election.

 

Lines stretched literally for miles. People actually ordered pizza to be delivered to them IN LINE!

 

Citizens were already getting in line when polls opened at 6 am, and hundreds were still in line when polls closed at 7 pm. The last ballot wasn’t cast until midnight – a new record for the Grand Canyon State!

 

What the fuck!

 

The most populous county in the state, Maricopa County, reduced polling locations from 200 during the last election to just 60 this year. That amounts to over 20,000 voters for every location.

 

The reason? They were trying to save money.

 

Let that sink in. When you run government like a business, services suffer. It means fewer resources for your schools. More lead in your water. And long as fuck lines to vote.

 

Oh. And if your skin happens to be black or brown, you get it even worse.

 

Hispanics and Latinos make up more than 40% of the population of Phoenix (30% state wide). Yet in these densely populated neighborhoods, there were few to no polling places open. I can’t imagine why!

 

And to top it all off, this “oversight” was used for political gain.

 

At roughly 8:30 pm, a little over an hour after polls closed, with less than one percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the Arizona primary.

 

In Democratic primaries delegates are awarded proportionally. It’s not winner take all. Delegates are awarded by the percent of the vote each candidate receives. If the race is really close delegates are split.

 

Prematurely declaring Hillary the winner while hundreds are still waiting to vote discourages Bernie Sanders supporters from staying in line and, thus, can reduce the number of delegates he receives.

 

These are not the actions of a robust Democracy. These are the actions of a de facto oligarchy trying desperately to crush any last remnants of majority rule.

 

In an age when you can buy anything you want on-line, why do we have to wait on line to vote? If the Internet is safe enough for global commerce and government, why is it too risky for casting a ballot?

 

It isn’t. The only reason this hasn’t happening is because it would dramatically increase voter turnout. It makes things too easy. While pundits decry “slacktivists” on Facebook and massive political participation on Twitter, they actively discourage bringing Democracy to those same forums.

 

It’s the same reason why election day isn’t a holiday. If people didn’t have to sneak voting in before or after work or during their lunch break, too many of us would be heard.

 

During every election cycle, there is an outcry against shady practices like what happened in Arizona, but we never do anything about them after the election cycle. We look at our antiquated primary and caucus system (especially on the Democratic side) and wonder how a modern country can actually function this way. We shake our heads at the Electoral College and maybe make some noise about changing it until the next President is sworn in. Then we all go silent.

 

Meanwhile, voter suppression efforts gain ground every year – even when the White House isn’t changing hands.

 

Despite low turnout and nearly non-existent cases of voter fraud, state legislatures are making it increasingly more difficult to vote.

 

A total of 36 states now have draconian Voter ID laws on the books – 33 of them are being enforced this cycle. During the 2015 legislative session, at least 113 bills that would restrict access to registration and voting were introduced or carried over in 33 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

 

I know. I was part of the successful effort that defeated one of the most severe Voter ID laws in the country in my home state of Pennsylvania. State Rep. Mike Turzai proudly bragged in 2012 that our law would give the state to a Republican president. After protests and petitions from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and everywhere in between, the state Supreme Court struck it down.

 

Meanwhile, other states are trying to enact the same kinds of laws that were ruled unconstitutional in the Keystone State. Wisconsin’s Voter ID law is almost identical to the defunct Pennsylvania legislation. Instead of being defeated, Republican lawmakers are trying to restrict the kinds of permissible identification and prohibit country and town governments from issuing any IDs to residents for free.

 

And last year, a year after enacting a voter ID law, Alabama shuttered 31 driver’s license offices — most of them in rural, impoverished, majority-black counties. Civil rights groups have filed suit, arguing that the change disproportionately affects racial minorities.

 

All across the country, early voting hours are being cut. Same day registration is being discontinued. Mountains of paperwork are being required to ensure proof of citizenship. And mysteriously people who have had no problems voting for decades are finding themselves given provisional ballots because of bookkeeping errors.

 

This has to stop.

 

Either we live in a country governed by majority rule or not.

 

Corporations and billionaires set national policy. If we want any chance in taking back our country, we must continue to have the right to vote.

 

Voting should be protected. It should be free and easy. It should be every citizens right.

 

Fight for it, America. Fight like your life depends on it.

 

Your freedoms certainly do.

The One Reason Bernie Sanders is the Best Mainstream Candidate for Parents and Teachers

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It really all comes down to this.

You can talk all day about delegates and superdelegates.

You can talk about polls and electability.

You can talk about political experience, likeability, and authenticity. You can talk about political dynasties, union endorsements and campaign ads. You can talk about how many people show up at who’s rallies and who did what during the Civil Rights movement.

But when push comes to shove, there is one undeniable reason Bernie Sanders is the best mainstream 2016 Presidential candidate: He is running against privatization.

That’s it. Sold.

Everything else is nice. It adds to the appeal, but that one essential reason is enough to tip the scales – knock them over, really – to Bernie’s favor.

America’s parents and teachers are fighting a battle for our children’s schools. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stand against us. They are giving away the store. They are selling our system of public education – once the envy of the world – to for-profit corporations piece-by-piece.

They are stealing our schools out from under us, giving them to unscrupulous charter school operators who are stripping away services for our children so that they can pad their own bottom line.

And only Bernie truly stands against them.

It’s not about who said what. It doesn’t matter if he slipped up and said something ignorant about “public charter schools.” It doesn’t matter if Hillary Clinton, too, has occasionally criticized charters.

What matters is that standing against privatization is the backbone of the Sanders campaign. It is the bedrock which supports all of his other platforms. It is the foundation of his entire career in politics.

Might he screw it up once in office? Sure. He’s only human. But the odds are in our favor that he’ll actually improve things.

Hillary Clinton is an intelligent, capable politician. She is not the evil witch that the Right paints her to be. However, her campaign is largely supported by the same people who are privatizing our schools. They aren’t giving her all that money for her to act against their interests.

Might she make some compromises that forestall the worst effects of privatization? Sure. But odds are against us that she’ll be much help. The best scenario we can expect from another Clinton administration is a continuation of the status quo – a status quo that has dramatically increased school privatization.

There are worse things, but can’t we do better than vote for 4-8 more years of slow educational death?

If privatization is the first front of the war against public schools, standardization is the second. Schools are being forced to march in lockstep with Common Core Standards while giving a barrage of high stakes tests.

Both Sanders and Clinton have spotty records here. Sanders voted against the terrible No Child Left Behind legislation that spawned the beast, while Clinton helped nurture it. However, just this year Sanders joined Congressional Democrats trying to continue the era of test and punish through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – some of which failed and some of which became part of the final law.

But it doesn’t really matter.

Standardization is the claw of the beast. Privatization is the beast, itself.

High stakes testing is the justification for privatization. Low test scores at under-resourced schools are the excuse for turning them into charters. If Sanders stops the move to charterize, he removes the reason to standardize. A dead lion will not use its claws.

Moreover, he’s had some genuinely good ideas about how best to improve our schools. It was Sanders who inserted into the ESSA a provision allowing some states to develop alternatives to standardized testing.

While most Democrats champion increasing funding to the neediest districts, they blame their inability to do so on the Republicans. Meanwhile, Sanders has proposed rewriting the way schools are funded in the first place. He is the only mainstream candidate with a plan to ensure every school in America receives equitable funding. His solution: federalize pubic school budgets similar to the Scandinavian model that has been proven effective. Is it a risk? Sure. Might it not work? Sure. But at least Bernie has new ideas that could potentially do more than just put Band-Aids on decades of wrongheaded school policies.

This is radically more than just fighting privatization – it is turning it around in its tracks. Only Bernie is actually suggesting a robust, equitable education for all children from preschool through college.

THAT’S why I support Bernie Sanders. THAT’S why I can’t wait to cast my vote in the Pennsylvania primary. THAT’S why so many teachers, parents and concerned citizens are feeling the Bern.

Come join the Revolution already in progress.

It is our fight to win or lose.

I Was a Radical Republican – For About a Week – And I Didn’t Change a Single Progressive View

Republican

I do not like Ronald Reagan.

I own no guns.

Back in high school I won a debate arguing for pro-choice.

Trickle Down sounds more to me like a bladder condition than an economic theory.

So why was it that last week so many right wingers were retweeting me on Twitter?

Did I say “retweeting”? They were taking my words and memes and sending them out to the Twitterverse as their own thoughts with a reference to my account.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I think Michelle Malkin pushed down the new heart emoticon on something I wrote.

She may have retweeted me, too. Heck! I may have retweeted her back!

“What new Hell is this?” I thought. “Why am I getting so much love from people who – if they met me in person – would probably try to give me a wedgie and scream, “NERD”?

It turns out I was caught in a maelstrom of political events. And his name is John King.

President Barack Obama named the former New York Education Commissioner as his pick to replace Arne Duncan as US Secretary of Education.

As a public school teacher, this really pissed me off. It pissed off just about every public educator in the country.

Are you kidding, Obama!? John-Freaking-King!? The guy whose only previous experience was teaching for three years at a “no excuses” charter school!?

This is the guy who oversaw the systematic destruction of schools in one of the most populous states in the country all the while pointing his finger at teachers. He approved an obviously fraudulent charter school run by an obvious conman. He ignored and dismissed parents at various education forums. The people of New York hated him so much, he sparked the largest opt out movement in the nation.

And THIS is the guy you’re nominating as Secretary of Education!?

It’s not like he’s even pretended to change his stripes. After New Yorkers booted him out of their state, he was offered a job at the US Department of Education – a prime example of falling upward. Soon afterward, his wife took a job at a corporate education reform company, Bellwether Education Partners!

Isn’t that a conflict of interest? I mean – through her – Bellwether will have the ear of the highest education official in the land. And the rest of us will just be supplicants sending letters, making phone calls hoping for an audience with the King.

THIS was why I was upset. THIS was why I was writing angry blogs and pounding out my rage on Twitter.

And I wasn’t alone.

The usual gang of educators and far left progressives gave me the usual support.

But we were soon joined by a tsunami of social media activists from the other side of the aisle.

Very soon someone made a popular hashtag, #StopJohnKing, and I started seeing hundreds of retweets, restatements and messages of support.

Two of my tweets were particularly popular: one about the conflict of interest of King’s wife working for Bellwhether, the other a seemingly unrelated message about the need to fund public libraries.

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That’s when I started to notice the Twitter accounts of the people joining in. There were folks proclaiming their love for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. They described themselves as libertarians and refused to speak to “libtards.” And the pictures on their Twitter accounts were often famous conservatives, racist cartoons of the President, pictures of themselves packing heat or just the darn guns, themselves.

“What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I thought.

That’s when I questioned why they were supporting me. For many of them I wondered if it had less to do with how terrible King would be as Education Secretary than with who nominated him in the first place.

Ever since Antonin Scalia died, many Republicans have sworn a blood oath not to approve any of Obama’s nominees – for the Supreme Court or ANY office.

For them this wasn’t about opposing a terrible Presidential pick. It was about blocking everything Obama did.

I had to face it. I had become a radical Republican, and I hadn’t even needed to change one of my positions to do it. The GOP came to me.

I have to admit, my right wing supporters were mostly very nice. I felt like I had a stronger group behind me than during most progressive campaigns.

There was some strain, however. A few times I could tell they were choking back anti-union rhetoric. “Why don’t we fund our libraries? Because unions,” apparently. “Who needs libraries – I home school.” That kind of thing.

And unfortunately, my progressive buddies were starting to notice the right wing support and take offense.

I got trolled by several lefties demanding I support Common Core.

“How can you be against it?” they’d ask. “Rand Paul hates Common Core. Do you agree with Rand Paul?”

I’d respond politely that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Card-carrying Democrats refused to listen to any criticism of the Obama administration’s education policies. Little did these progressives realize, they were the exact opposite of the GOP activists they hated.

Many Republicans hate Common Core because Obama touched it. Many Democrats love it for the same reason.

The majority of teachers throughout the country hate it because we’ve read it, tried to use it and seen what a load of bullshit it is. We know it was developed with very little input from classroom teachers or child psychologists. We know it has no research behind it to show that it works. We see how it erodes our autonomy in the classroom and increases the amount and difficulty of high stakes tests for our students.

But my progressive friends refused to accept that anything Saint Hope and Change approved could be so terrible.

I’d turn to my newfound Republican posse only to find many of them hated Common Core beyond reason. It wasn’t just bad practice – it was going to turn our kids gay. It was a liberal plot to make children progressive atheists.

Oy vey.

The week just flew by. Eventually the Senate voted to approve King, both Democrats and Republicans – though the opposition was almost entirely in the GOP.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, the Senator I can usually count on to have my back (Bob Casey) stabbed me in the same place. And the Senator who usually only votes for things that are officially endorsed by Lord Satan, himself, (Pat Toomey) was my boy.

What kind of a topsy-turvy world am I living in!?

Elizabeth Warren – the liberal lion – said she wasn’t going to vote for King but ultimately gave in. Oh, Elizabeth. They got to you, too?

There were two points of light though. First, there was one Democrat who actually voted against him: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York – the sight of King’s last catastrophe. Second, my Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, didn’t vote at all. Fwew! I can irrationally justify that – he was too busy, that’s all. Bernie would never have voted for King. Tee-hee!

So once again we see the two major parties as mirror images of each other. Where Republicans made the right choice for the wrong reason, Democrats made the wrong choice for the right one. Progressives were circling the wagons around the President. They were making a point that they weren’t going to let the evil GOP block his nominees – even if one of those nominees was an absolute pathetic failure.

This is politics in 2016, folks.

Decisions are rarely made because of logic, experience, or sound judgement. It’s all political maneuvering, personal gain or both. Meanwhile, the world goes to Hell.

After the vote, I got a smattering of conservative retweets and then… nothing. As quickly as they had come, they were gone.

My tiny caucus of teachers, academics and other ne’er-do-wells are still there. We shout our truths into the wind hoping someone will hear.

On days like today it seems impossible.

But perhaps there is a silver lining in there somewhere. If people from such opposite sides of the political spectrum can agree on something like how terrible John King is, maybe there’s hope. If we can shake hands over the fatuousness of Common Core, maybe we can find other points of agreement.

Maybe these brief moments of concord are opportunities for understanding. Sure my GOP compatriots supported me for the wrong reasons, but maybe some of them were exposed to the right ones.

I know I’ve learned from them. I consider myself an FDR Democrat with an abiding faith in a strong federal government. But even I can see how both the Bush and Obama administrations overstepped their power with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

I don’t buy any of that baloney about Big Government vs. Small Government. But I do think that some things like education policy don’t belong at the federal level. The federal government should ensure public schools are funded properly and maybe regulate outright abuses, but local communities and districts should be deciding how to educate the children in their care.

If those ideas rubbed off on me, what rubbed off on my brief Twitter followers?

Will there come a day when we meet again, join hands and fight for our common good?

Can we overcome the blinders of party and politics to build a better world?

#IHopeSo

Blinded by Pseudoscience: Standardized Testing is Modern Day Eugenics

 

eugenics-testing.jpg

 

 

Adolph Hitler was a big fan of standardized testing.

 

It helped justify much of the horrors of the Nazi regime.

 

National Socialism is nothing but applied biology,” he said.

 

In other words, it’s just science, people. Some races are simply inferior to others. Black people, Jews, Gypsies, Hispanics – they just can’t hold a candle to the superior races of Northwestern Europe.

 

And Hitler based much of this on the “science” of Eugenics, especially the work done in America in the 1910s and ‘20s.

 

Eugenicists used a flawed and biased interpretation of Gregor Mendel’s laws on heredity to argue that lawlessness, intelligence, and even economic success are passed down in families due to dominant or recessive genes. Moreover, the negative traits are widespread in certain races and the positive ones in others.

 

Practitioners like Carl Brigham used IQ tests to PROVE white people were just the best and everyone else, well, maybe they should just stop breeding. (In fact, laws were passed in the U.S. imposing mandatory sterilization on thousands based on the conclusions of these “scientists.”)

 

Brigham was a U.S. Army psychologist who used WWI data to declare that whites (especially those born inside the United States) were the most intelligent of all peoples and that immigrants were genetically inferior. He went on to refine his work into an even better indicator of intelligence the he called the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T.

 

Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

 

In his seminal work, A Study of American Intelligence, Brigham concluded that American education is declining and “will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial mixture becomes more and more extensive.”

 

 

To combat this mixture, eugenicist education reformers encouraged schools to rigidly track students into low, middle and high level classes – similar to the way many of our schools are organized today.

 

 

Lewis Terman, Professor of Education at Stanford University and originator of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test, expressed these views in his textbook, The Measurement of Intelligence (1916). He wrote:

 

“Among laboring men and servant girls there are thousands like them [feebleminded individuals]. They are the world’s “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” And yet, as far as intelligence is concerned, the tests have told the truth. … No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable voters in the true sense of the word.

 

… The fact that one meets this type with such frequency among Indians, Mexicans, and negroes suggests quite forcibly that the whole question of racial differences in mental traits will have to be taken up anew and by experimental methods.

 

Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master, but they can often be made efficient workers, able to look out for themselves. There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding” (91-92).

 

This was the original justification for academic tracking. Terman and other educational psychologists convinced many schools to use high-stakes and culturally-biased tests to place “slow” students into special classes or separate schools while placing more advanced students of European ancestry into the college preparatory courses.

 

 

Compare that ideal to the increasingly segregated American schools of today. We have schools for the rich and schools for the poor. We have schools for black and brown kids and schools for whites.

 

 

Terman would have been in heaven!

 

 

It was the work of patriots like Brigham and Terman that the Nazis relied on heavily to justify their forced sterilization programs and ultimately the Holocaust, itself.

 

 

Does that sound extreme? It isn’t.

 

 

At the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi scientists repeatedly praised the work of American eugenicists, who uncoincidentally also created the standardized test model of education favored by corporate education reformers today.

 

 

It’s easy to follow their logic. If certain races can be scientifically proven to be inferior, it is a small step to thinking that they should be stopped from breeding or eradicated from the face of the planet altogether.

 

 

And the pseudo-scientific justification for this scheme was standardized testing. The IQ test – which has since been shown to be incredibly biased – was used to justify mass murder. And then Brigham refined that same test into our most popular current standardized assessment – the SAT. In fact, all standardized tests that students are forced to take today owe a huge debt to the SAT and other standardized assessments used by Terman and other eugenicist educators.

 

 

The resemblance between testing in the 1910s and the 2010s is obvious to those who will but look.

 

 

Similar to the IQ test, modern standardized exams like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) repeatedly have been shown to be biased in favor of affluent and white test takers. Supporters bemoan the “racial proficiency gap,” but that’s just a nice way of wondering why the same folks Hitler thought were “inferior” don’t do well on our modern tests.

 

 

This is no accident. It’s how the assessments are designed.

 

 

The IQ test is supposed to demonstrate an innate intelligence. However, modern psychologists have become increasingly skeptical that intelligence is fixed. So standardized assessments like the SAT are supposed to somehow show BOTH what students have learned AND their innate intelligence. That’s the justification behind the high stakes. You have to pass the SAT to show you’re smart enough to do well in college.

 

Such outright racism would not be tolerated today, so it becomes cloaked in doublespeak. It’s good that poor black students don’t score well on standardized tests because that shows us they need extra help. And then, instead of providing any help, we close their schools or turn them over to fly-by-night charter operators.

 

Once again, standardized tests are used as the justification for doing something obviously racist. If anyone said, “We’re going to close and privatize all the schools serving minorities and the poor,” people would revolt. However, when you say we’re doing it because of standardized tests – because of “science” – people just shrug and say, “You can’t argue with that!”

 

The same goes for Common Core State Standards. States were bribed to enact them so that the reasons for attacking public schools would be uniform across the country. This provides another level of pseudo-scientific justification.

 

They are supposed to ensure every student who graduates high school will be “college and career ready.” However, now that Common Core has been adopted in 46 states and their tests have become aligned with the standards, we’ve seen student scores take a nosedive. Only our rich white kids apparently are ready for college.

 

So what will we do with those who fall below the mark? We’re sending no additional resources to help them increase their achievement. We’ll just close their schools and/or privatize. And to make sure none of them escape, we’ll make passing the Common Core tests a graduation requirement.

 

This does not level the playing field. This does not – as some corporate education reformers claim – ensure the sanctity of students Civil Rights. It extensively violates them!

 

The education model of Test and Punish is a modern eugenics movement. We’re shellacking over class divides so that those below a certain point have no possibility of ever rising to the white place. And I do mean “white.”

 

Standardized testing is not a ladder of social mobility. It is a means of keeping certain people in their proper place.

 

Some try to deny the racial component by pointing to the intersection with class. Testing impacts poor white children as it does poor black ones.

 

To a degree this is true, but remember our eugenic forerunners saw everything in purely racial terms. For instance, today, few people would claim Judaism is a race. It is a religion. It is essentially a belief system, not a set of shared genes even though some adherents do share genetic characteristics after centuries of segregation. But the Nazis considered them a race and, thus, systematically murdered 6 million of them.

 

The same goes for the poor. Brigham and his Nazi admirers thought that people were poor mainly because of their genes. They are genetically predisposed to being lazy and good for nothing, so they can’t keep a job or advance themselves. Therefore, they’re poor. Pause for a moment to consider the large numbers of people in America today who would agree with them.

 

Standardized testing treats the poor the same way it does minorities. In fact, it is just the lack of opportunities that come with poverty that cause the very scores that are being used to denigrate these people. Lack of proper nutrition, food insecurity, lack of prenatal care, early childcare, fewer books in the home, exposure to violence – all of these and more combine to result in lower academic outcomes.

 

But standardized testing puts the blame on the victim. Students score badly because they aren’t working hard enough, corporate reformers say. These kids don’t have enough “rigor.”

 

To make sure few people actually volunteer to help, we blame their teachers, as well. We make the education profession as unattractive as possible, indicting teachers for all societies ills knowing full well that this will result – as it has – in a nationwide teacher shortage. Then we can deprofessionalize the field and replace educators who have four-year-degrees with lightly trained Teach for America temps.

 

These kinds of shenanigans didn’t fool the anti-racists of the past.

 

The great African American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois remarked in 1940, “It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [First] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.”

 

He could be talking about No Child Left Behind.

 

In “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” scholar Horace Mann Bond issued a warning about the misuse of IQ tests:

 

“But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.”

 

He could be talking about Race to the Top.

 

Karen Lewis, a present-day Chicago teacher and president of her union, says this:

 

“What many people do not know is that the use of standardized tests has its origins in the Eugenics movement …we have to be clear about the original purpose of standardized tests.

 

In a society fascinated by statistics, we are often compelled to reduce everything to a single number. Those of us who work with children know that there are so many characteristics that cannot be quantified.

 

Ask yourselves whether you want to be part of a legacy born of the unholy alliance between the concept of  “natural inequality” and the drudgery that has been imposed on many of our classrooms.”

 

Make no mistake. Corporate Education Reform is modern day eugenics. It pretends to justify increasing standardization and privatization of public schools through flawed and biased assessments. Its claims that any of this is actually supported by research are spurious. At heart, these are articles of faith – not science. Neither Common Core nor high stakes testing nor charterizing impoverished schools nor putting districts into receivership nor evaluating teachers based on student test scores – none of it has ever been shown in peer-reviewed studies to help students learn.

 

Corporate Education Reformers are asking all of us to have faith in a racial and economic social order that benefits those already at the top and keeps the rest of us in our place.

 

And for anyone who questions it, we are continually blinded by their pseudoscientific justifications.