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Update: What Reformers & Critics Don't Quite Get About Occupy Wall Street

XDHAoIt seems like no one can resist making comparisons between what's going on at Occupy Wall Street and what's going on in education reform.  And you can't blame them.  Some of school reform's most well known names -- Mike Bloomberg, Whitney Tilson, Boykin Curry, Bill Gates, Eli Broad -- are quite literally members of the 1 percent (albeit Democrats). Many other reforms aren't One Percenters but have enough of the trappings -- Ivy League educations, Rhodes Scholarships, Bain and McKinsey pedigrees, a corporate style of dressing  and speaking and a certainty and rigidity about their ideas -- that they are easily lumped in. Many of their ideas -- public school choice, performance pay, and competition -- have capitalist trappings.  

In her article Why Not Occupy The Schools?, Dana Golstein explains that the comparisons don't really hold:  "The dominant ethos of the school choice/Bloomberg/Obama reform movement is one borrowed not from Wall Street, with its desperate lust for profit, but from Silicon Valley, with its commitment to meritocratic innovation that—yes, of course—earns money, but also serves the public." 
That doesn't mean that there aren't problems with school reform, or troubling similarities between reformers and One Percenters.   (Indeed, Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft are despite all their trappings just as focused on money making as any other company.) Reformers should take heed of the fact that at least some teachers and parents readily confuse them with Wall Street, and that the situation is proving so easy for oppents to use against them.  They should reflect on the possibility that they, the respectable class, have been "taught to believe in their own goodness" in ways that may be limiting their ability to acknowledge issues and blinding to the views of others (via Tom Hoffman). The self-censorship and lack of public dissent within the reform community is really quite startling.  Reformers should acknowledge that some of their ' favorite ideas -- online learning, 1:1 tablet initiatives, common standards -- would bring millions to big education companies.
At the same time, reform opponents need to make sure not to  discredit themselves by trying to turn Democratic-funded philanthropies and well-intended nonprofit CMOs into Wall Street or heartless corporations, or to rush headlong into the arms of teachers unions and organized labor groups that, when all is said and done, have largely gone along in creating a system that does not do right by parents and poor children in particular. School districts, elected officials, and teachers unions have done much too little for poor children for much too long to ever be mistaken as defenders of all that is good and just.   

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This description the Chris Hedges article you linked to does fit the ed reformers like one of their handmade shoes: "A glass tower filled with people carefully selected for the polish and self-assurance that come with having been formed in institutions of privilege, whose primary attributes are a lack of consciousness, a penchant for deception and an incapacity for empathy or remorse."

I challenge this teacher-bash, though: "School districts, elected officials, and teachers unions have done much too little for poor children for much too long..."

So easy to say for someone who has no contact whatsoever with poor children.

"School districts, elected officials, and teachers unions have done much too little for poor children for much too long..."

That's a nice point from the corporate overlords, who have done nothing whatsoever for poor children except drive them deeper into poverty, and now steal their Title I money for bogus crap they eduvend.

And then, there are the actual teachers. I don't think you could wrap your mind around what I've done for specific "poor children", for instance. It isn't that I'm indifferent to the organizational aspects, but they were rotten everywhere and children are trapped in them. I went into buildings with kids in them, and learned how to teach them. All teachers do that, there's no shortcut where you can know teaching from a pundit perspective. If a single one of your reformers was actually serving poor children, I'd know it, and I'd be an apostle.

My hypothesis, for decades, was that one could lead by example, from the inside of one's own life, and so I dedicated all my intellect and heart and strength to the particular children in front of me. Whatever their institution, that's the decision teachers make. "Reformers" can't imagine it, but it's the secret to the transmission of human knowledge, culture and identity from generation to generation: the "Status Quo" of life touching life.

Teachers do that. And you left us out of your formulation (again), didn't you?

The simple fact is that the major factor impacting minority children in poverty is lead poisoning from deteriorating housing. Public health studies have demonstrated this over and over. So there is a very simple rule to ask these "reformers" who claim to be so interested in poor minorities: what have you done to prevent them from being lead poisoned? To my knowledge they have done nothing and there is a concerted effort among corporations to undermine efforts to do anything.

The connection between Wall Street and the education "reformers" is simple: they are primarily concerned with lining their own pockets, buying off politicians to mandate that people line their pockets, and interfering with efforts that might actually help the children involved. Show me their efforts to improve democratic processes instead of top down usurpations; show me their efforts to protect poor minority children from neurotoxins in their housing. These billionaires could clean up deteriorating housing with their spare change and really benefit society. But that would cost them money instead of lining their pockets.

Given the billions of dollars these people (I mean the philanthropists under attack here) have given to innumerable projects all around the world, these charges border on the irrational.

Sure, Bill Gates doesn't have enough money already, so he decides that a sound business strategy is to invest in saving millions of poor children in Africa from malaria -- so they can buy more Microsoft software, no doubt.

There are valid criticisms that can be made of such people -- the applicability of their business-oriented approach to the management of public institutions is one, and Dana Goldstein gets at that. But the nasty turn to the ad hominem attack is a tactic that the defenders of traditional public schools make time and again, and is an embarrassment to the educational profession.

Bruce, the billionaires and their voices may be well-intentioned, but they are clueless, arrogant, supremely cocksure, and convinced that they know more than people who work in public schools with children, and that those with the least experience but the most money are absolutely right. I so wish I were a religious person so I could predict eternal flames of hell for whoever is running those ads (Gates-funded?) accusing teachers of "holding poor children back."

Caroline, we know who is running the ads. Alexander published the link right here!

“Rather than “intellectualize ourselves into the [education reform] debate…is there a way that we can get into it at an emotional level?” Berman asked. “Emotions will stay with people longer than concepts.” He then answered his own question: “We need to hit on fear and anger. Because fear and anger stays with people longer. And how you get the fear and anger is by reframing the problem.” Berman’s glossy ads, which have run in Washington, DC, and New Jersey, portray teachers unions as schoolyard bullies. One spot even seems to compare teachers to child abusers."


And... Bruce? For some reason, I don't think you're a sock puppet. I would ask you to do this. Read the entire 4 page article I just linked, and then get back to me. Say, if you can,

"I've read the Nation story about the for-profit online virtual education vendors, philanthropies, and lobbyists, and I still say the nasty turn to the ad hominem attack is a tactic that the defenders of traditional public schools make time and again, and is an embarrassment to the educational profession."

I had crafted a lengthy response to your comment on the Gates Foundation’s work in Africa, as well, which posted and then disappeared. Strange. Well, it is off-topic, but here are some links that may interest you.





When we turn over a rock, like the online-learning scams, and see such ugly things swarming underneath, we have to wonder about the details of similar leveraged philanthropy in third-world countries. Gates was in Nigeria in October, to push his new polio vaccination drive. The visit happens to coincide with a legislative showdown over the Nigerian Public Health Law, passed this summer by the senate but not yet signed into law. We have to worry that means he's opposing the Health Law (he is ideologically opposed to public health plans).

This blog against Gates by a local insider is kind of a rant, but it smacks of truth in its detail. Ask yourselves, when you offer our agressive billionaires' leveraged philanthropy your blind allegiance, "What if this is true? Shouldn't I investigate?"

Bill Gates And The World Bank’s Plan To Eradicate Polio In Nigeria Is An Epic Fraud

in these times traces the subtle but important differences between social movements like OWS and labor movements, and wonders if labor and OWS can really work together as much as some people hope


All right, Mary, it cost me nearly an hour, but I can honestly write, "I've read the Nation story about the for-profit online virtual education vendors, philanthropies, and lobbyists, and I still say the nasty turn to the ad hominem attack is a tactic that the defenders of traditional public schools make time and again, and is an embarrassment to the educational profession."

The question that arises is why you thought my reading those pieces was going to influence my thinking about ethical argumentation. They do not bear on that issue at all, unless you are implying that, because right-wing extremists use unethical tactics and are temporarily successful, others should do so as well. If that were the case, the model to follow would be Hitler.

I don't see any ad hominem attacks. Ad hominem attacks are defined as trying to discredit an argument by pointing out a perceived characteristic of the opponent THAT IS IRRELEVANT TO THE TOPIC. It's quite relevant to point out that many proponents of education reform are overwhelmingly non-educators with no personal experience with public school at all, for example. Completely relevant.

I think the "ad hominum attack" Bruce means is the suggestion that the billionaires' investments in education reform are motivated by the drive for profits, rather than love of humanity. So, I will use my own "attacks" on Gates and Broad as examples.

In fact, I've called both Gates and Broad sociopaths for their amoral and secretive use of their wealth in pursuit of legislation to compel compliance with their for-profit "accountability" laws and forced takover strategies. You may disagree that they are afflicted with that specific personality disorder, but the charge is relevant to the topic under discussion.

I'm not criticizing their personal lives, and we aren't talking about a style of argumentation.

Carolyn's point is a good one, therefore, Bruce. You offered Gates' very participation as an ab hominum defense of reform: how could such a good and generous rich man be involved in sleazy, unethical monopoly-driven business and lobbying practices? He financed a movie to show how saintly his motivations are, without mentioning any of the things his Foundation is caught actively supporting and funding in that Nation expose. Many have called him a hypocrite for that.

Gates has put himself in the position of needing to be debunked by bunking himself up. The largest category of his education reform donations are for "advocacy", not actual education. That's why pundits have a higher opinion of him than educators. He gives those guys money, in so many ways. But he is taking money from public education, through his legislative drives, and diverting it to an army of profiteers, lobbyists, cheats, liars, and frauds, all singing his praises.

That piece by Mike Elk has a revealing slant of its own, though, Alexander.
"That may be a tough lesson for the labor movement, which often struggles to cede control to the rank-and-file."

Most people reading In These Times are (like me) the rank and file, of course, and not the leadership; so we see "the labor movement" as being comprised of ourselves, and we see "the leadership" as just bought, rather than as "suffering from the Stockholm syndrome".

And, at this moment in history as in others, we see the rank-and-file struggling to take control of our unions, rather than the leadership struggling to cede it. The Grassroots Education Movement in NYC is at the leading edge of rank-and-file participation in OWP, and is also struggling forcefully to help Weingarten "cede control" of the AFT.

We learn in logic courses that ad hominem arguments are always fallacious: the truth of a statement does not change with a change of speaker. (For the same reason appeals to authority are also invalid.) And yet some people use ad hominem attacks so continuously as to be unconscious of when they are making them. I regret to point out that Alexander was the original victim of an ad hominem attack in this thread: "So easy to say for someone who has no contact whatsoever with poor children." But that was passed over on the way to other attacks of people likely also never met by those on the attack, but that doesn't prevent the attackers from possessing the marvelous ability to divine the motives of strangers.

Bill Gates and Eli Broad aren't sitting on a hill in Athens uttering syllogisms. They are both paying cash money to lobbyists and agents, and subborning public officials to divert public funds to hidden partners. "Why" and "Who" matter.

Laws are being broken under cover of the illigitimate authority conferred by bribes and leverage. It is appropriate to investigate, and point to those responsible.

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