A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Some Pragmatism Please

I’ve been a democratic socialist my whole adult life. In college, I was forced to read Michael Harrington’s The Other America, and I was hooked. I read all of his books, went to see him speak several times, joined what then was called the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. So, it should have surprised no one that I have a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Yet, I deeply believe that Bernie has gotten a little too full of himself and a little too self-righteous to boot. His criticism of the Democratic Party serves no useful purpose that I can discern.

If we have a hope of taking back the House of Representatives in 2018, Democrats are going to have to be competitive in some congressional districts that have historically voted Republican and some that have gone back and forth between the two parties. While I wish Bernie’s views could win in all those districts, the fact is they can’t. No amount of wishing will make that so. So, if we have to supports some candidates who are not for single payer healthcare at the moment, it is imperative that we do. There are probably a few districts where people will support a basically progressive agenda but will not support a pro-life candidate. We simply cannot be ideologically pure and expect to win the House.

Taking back the House is our best hope of disrupting the Republican/corporate agenda that seeks to end what has always been an insubstantial U.S. social safety net. To save that safety net, such as it is, and so much else of value demands that those of us on the left subordinate some of our more progressive ideas in the interest of protecting the least among us from the reign of economic terror the republicans have in store for them.

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Exposing the Techno-Hoax

Anyone reading my work over the years knows of my deep suspicion of the motives of the private sectors interest in public education. In recent times, I’ve been sounding the alarm about the unexamined influence of our nation’s high tech entrepreneurs and their companies and their influence on public schools and the employees charged with educating America’s youth. At best, education decision makers have allowed the voices of people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to be amplified by their billions, creating the illusion that they know more about public education than experienced professionals do. I have characterized their philanthropy as giving to get, in that our public schools have spent billions of dollars on their high tech products without any demonstrable improvement in educational outcomes. One would think that if the efficacy of tech assisted education were as claimed, our public schools would be paragons of academic excellence by now, having spent billions over the last twenty years infusing technology throughout our schools.

It was therefore very encouraging to read Natasha Singer’s article in this morning’s New York Times questioning the influence of our high tech billionaires on our schools. The very existence of such a piece on the front page of the Grey Lady suggests an awakening to the fleecing of the public’s schools. Perhaps the techno-hoax is at last being exposed.

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On the Passing of Thomas E. Syrett

I woke yesterday to the news that my friend and colleague Tom Syrett died over the weekend. Tom and I taught together for some years in an alternate education program our district used to have. We taught the kids who by their sophomore year in high school showed every sign of insufficient academic credits for graduation. More than teaching them English or social studies, Tom’s subject, it was our job to rescue them from the self-destructive behaviors that threatened not only their school careers but quite literally their lives.

For kids whose lives were out of control, Tom brought a daily stability. Kids who were truant for years ran to Syrett’s class, at first fearing the consequences of being late but gradually learning to expect it of themselves and not wanting to offend a man they had grown to love. Over the blackboard was a hand lettered sign that read, “Tough is not what you can dish out. Tough is what you can take. Thomas E. Syrett.” Find me a teacher today who would have the nerve to post such a sign.

I remember numbers of kids who at first had trouble making it to school in the morning. It only took a few morning visits from Mr. Syrett, having him grab them up out of their bed, to make coming to school on time easier. If we had a bullied kid, Tom taught him karate. He took phone calls at home from students and parents, often mediating family disputes. Many of his students remained his friends for years. Tom’s commitment to kids was unending. When one of his former students went afoul of the law and landed in prison, Tom periodically visited him on weekends, letting him know that at least one person hadn’t given up on him.

I know for a fact that Tom didn’t want to retire when he did. But for some quirks in the teacher pension system that penalize older members who die in service and a school district that grew increasingly less interested in students for whom AP and SAT are seen as acronyms associated with privileged students, Tom would have taught until he dropped. Retirement took away one of the very few pleasures he allowed himself, working with young people. He continued to coach track for a while after retirement from teaching, but it took only one politically incorrect comment to a student for the characterless leaders of our district to abandon him.

As she so often does, my friend Jane Weinkrantz raised a penetrating question in an exchange of texts we had yesterday. Lamenting how conditions in our schools have changed since Tom’s retirement, she asked, “Can you imagine one of today’s administrators coming to observe Tom with his laptop and Marshall Rubric?” Just about all that made Tom a great teacher and a great role model for kids is of little value in today’s schools. In a few more years, there won’t be anyone around who will even know what’s gone.
I could write a whole other piece on Tom’s commitment to our union and his service to it in various capacities. But it is as a teacher that Tom would wish to be remembered, and it is always as a teacher I will remember him. His memory will always remind me of the days when we were free to be teachers.

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Wake Up New York

Given the current state of our politics, can anyone imagine a New York constitutional convention broadening worker or union rights? Is it remotely possible that public employee pensions will remain a right or that our freedoms as citizens will be enlarged? At such a convention, the state’s economic elites will be disproportionately represented and will undoubtedly propose amendments tour constitution that privilege them further than they already are. That why I’m shocked to read of a recent poll showing a huge majority of New Yorkers favoring such a convention. That 60 percent of union members favor opening up our constitution to who knows what is but the latest indicatory of a defeated labor movement in what we like to think is a labor state.

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Research to Keep an Eye On

Read carefully, there is nothing astounding about the findings of a new study on the effects of introducing language and math concepts in pre-school. Yet, I suspect that much mischief will come of this study, as those who view childhood as a period of rat-race training use it to buttress their argument that to equip children for the 21st century economy we must intellectually assault them, demanding that they perform intellectual activities that their nervous systems are unprepared to do. Advocates of maintaining childhood as a special time of human development would be wise to read the actual study which offers almost no justification for some of the academic torture being inflicted on children. The researchers conclusions are what anyone versed in child development might have expected to find.

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Loraine Rubin

On Sunday, I joined with other NYSUT colleagues to say goodbye to Loraine Rubin, a pioneer in the teacher labor movement on Long Island who died the day before at almost 95. Lorraine was the wife of another pioneer, Paul Rubin, the local president I succeeded in Plainview-Old-Bethpage. Loraine was a leader of that brave group of teachers across Long Island who in the 1960s declared they had had enough of the lousy wages, working conditions and disrespect for their needs and decided to build unions to gain some power for themselves. Speaker after speaker at her memorial ceremony talked about how Loraine’s fortitude and courage inspired them to become union activists.

My relationship with Loraine was a strange one, but one that left me with profound respect for her knowledge, courage and commitment to the cause of unionism and progressive politics in general. It was at first awkward in that I ran for president of my local against Paul Rubin and won. When he passed away, our local set up a scholarship fund in his name and invited Loraine to join us in the process of selecting the recipients. It was at these meetings that I began to get to know her. It was also a time when a central focus of my union work was aimed at bringing about a merger of NEA/New York and NYSUT, a cause that Loraine shared with me. Without ever addressing the politics that caused me to run against her husband, without ever an unkind word, she began to call me from time to time to offer advice on what I was doing, suggesting contacts I might make with sympatric NYSUT people, questioning me about articles I had written.

I came to learn that her devotion to our mutual cause transcended any personal issues she might have had. There were important issues to be dealt with of much greater significance than the battles I had fought with her husband. After all, those battles were about competing visions of how to make our union stronger and more effective. I have always been attracted to union work’s call to something greater than oneself. Loraine heard that call until her last breath.

Our mutual friend Ken Ulric told a story about literally the last hours of her life. Moved to a hospice, Loraine knew her days were limited. Whatever time and energy she had left, it was still important to her that they counted for something. Knowing that there was a special election to fill a vacant assembly seat in her district, she summoned Ken to the hospital to get him to help her get an absentee ballot. After all, the Democrats had a NYSUT teacher running for the seat. Something important to our union was on the line. Loraine had to be there.

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Cut National Service?

Budgets are about what’s important to the budget makers. The trump budget is not an exception and should be a surprise to only the naive. Its overarching goal is to further the distribution of wealth and income upwards. Screw the poor, because, after all, poverty, our Secretary of Housing and Urban development tells us, is a state of mind. Screw the working class stiffs who voted for trump out of desperation, having seen their wages and working conditions capped or worsened over the past thirty years. Screw the old if they hadn’t the wisdom to save for their retirement. Screw everyone but the economic elite of our country, who no matter what they have always seem to need even more. Anyone with a modicum of political awareness fully expected nothing less from scam-artist Trump. Yet, there is one surprise to me in his budget proposal, his suggestion that we substantially cut support for volunteer, national service programs like Ameri-Corps, Vista and Peace Corps. It feels as though he proposed this one just for me, an old Peace Corps volunteer.

I strongly suspect that if you asked most of the volunteers to our national service programs to evaluate their experience, most would in one way or another say that the experience changed their lives for the better. That’s certainly the way I fell about my experience in Ghana in the 60s. Living for two years in a country where most subsisted on one dollar a day, teaching eight classes of English and biology a day in classrooms open to the air, with the occasional snake barging in gave me a visceral understanding how by the sheer accident of my birth in the U.S. I had a future so much better than the students I taught. I learned too to see my country from afar. It fell to me to explain to the people of the village I lived in the death of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. How fortunate for me to have had dinner of an evening at the Café Haiphong in Togo, with a group of Brits and French expats who wanted to engage me about the war in Viet Nam. Most of all, the Peace Corps began my experience of service to others. Without question my Peace Corps service made me a more aware, more resourceful, more engaged citizen of our country. Why would anyone want to deprive other young people of similar experiences?

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Public Wealth/Public Poverty

I’ve been so focused on the pretender occupying the office of President of the United States that I have temporarily forgotten hour homegrown faker. I was reminded of our bloviating bullshit artist governor when he spoke yesterday about the transportation infrastructure crisis in New York City. What chutzpah to suddenly recognize we have a problem and to offer a million dollar prize for creative ideas to resolve our problem. Our transportation system, like much of our infrastructure, has been crumbling for many years, years during which our political leaders of both political parties have conspicuously ducked what deep down we all know. To fix our infrastructure problems require higher taxes.

The creation of public wealth requires public investment. Yes, we need to understand that well maintained roads, high speed commuter rail service, accessible , modern airports, safe water and sewer systems, well equipped school buildings and so many other things that make our society possible are wealth that we share, wealth that enriches all of our lives, wealth that our leaders ought to encourage us to protect and grow. While it is true that government is not the solution to every societal problem, it is the only solution to provision of the infrastructure that undergirds our economy. We have not been building public wealth for some time. We have been sliding into public poverty instead, complaining all the while about being over-taxed.

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Union Pride

There have been few uplifting moments in labor union life in recent times. We have even lived to see some blue collar unions actively supporting President Trump in the vain hope that he will make good on his promise to provide job, high paying one at that. The picture is not much better in the ranks of teacher unions, as the anti-tax climate has translated into an assault on thee wages and benefits teachers have gained through union efforts. So when we see something good happening, when we experience a rush of pride in one of our leaders, it is a moment to be relished. I had such a moment on Wednesday, when my partner Judi and I attended a rally in Lawrence, New York in support of the teachers there who have been without a contract for seven years. Almost better yet, the moment in question was created by AFT President Randi Weingarten, someone with whom I’ve often taken issue.

Once the envy of most districts in the state, the Lawrence school district is a shadow of its former self. Where once it led the state in student achievement, where it supported its teachers with professional salaries and working conditions, today its student achievement has waned, its classrooms are filled with economically disadvantages students and its teacher are forced to fight to hold on to what they have, let alone gain some advancement. If all of the children who live in the district attended its schools, Lawrence would be more racially and economically integrated with the benefits of that integration enriching all of the community’s children. They don’t, however, as the district has been taken over by orthodox Jews who send their children to parochial schools, leaving the public schools to serve minorities and the economically disadvantaged.

Usually at these rallies, union leaders utter some boilerplate remarks. I myself have made such speeches too many times, the words streaming from the right side of my brain to the point where in a real sense I’m not really present. Randi Weingarten was different at Wednesday’s rally. She was viscerally angry. Disdaining her notes, she launched into a very personal expression of her contempt for what the Lawrence Board of Education is permitting to happen to the students in their public schools. Informing the crowd that she is an observant Jew, married to a Rabbi, she talked about the ethical obligations that come with the acceptance of the Jewish faith. Her face contorted, she reminded the leaders of the Lawrence schools that their faith obliges them to care and nurture children, their children and the children of others. We participated in our demonstration, she told us, to shine a light on Lawrence and the outrage that has been happening there, promising to continue to keep the spotlight on that community until such time as justice is done to the students and teachers of the community because Judaism is about justice.

It’s going to take Jewish leaders to stand up and challenge Jewish bigotry. No one else will have the nerve for fear of coming off as anti-Semitic. I admire Weingarten for having the balls to speak the truth. Unionism should be about justice. It was on Wednesday evening thanks to Randi Weingarten.

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A Trump Syndrome?

A few months ago, around the time of the election, my family doctor changed my blood pressure medication. Almost from the moment I took it, I didn’t feel right. There followed a series of different meds, all causing me to not feel not quite right. At my last visit to my doctor, he suggested a visit to a cardiologist to get a specialist’s take on the medicine I should be taking. While taking my history, the cardiologist asked me how long I haven’t been feeling well. I located the time for her as around the election of President Trump, and then took a shot at lightening the atmosphere with a little humor by saying, “Maybe Trump is the cause of my elevated blood pressure.” To my amazement, she smiles and says, “It’s not really so funny. I had a patient here a few weeks ago who while waiting for a test watched coverage of Trump on TV. By the time I saw him, his blood pressure was 200/100. He was not the first patient I’ve had whose condition seems to have worsened in response to the election. I’m thinking of writing a paper on the Trump Syndrome.”

So while the doctor and I may be guilty of faulty cause and effect thinking, then again what if there is a Trump Syndrome, a life threatening response to the politics of chaos. I’m already doing better after my visit to her. Was it the medicine she gave me or our discussion of the Trump Syndrome?

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Nitwits Embrace Academic Freedom

The nitwit right is doing its all to see to it that the function of our public schools is to spread ignorance. Their new approach is to clothe their anti-intellectual blather in academic freedom garb. After all, aren’t we all for academic freedom? But can academic freedom be defined down to the point where it covers demonstrable falsehood. Teaching children that the Judeo-Christian creation myth is as valid as evolutionary science is tantamount to yelling fire in a crowded theater. It’s dangerous. Ignorance is dangerous. People should be free to come to my door and give me little pamphlets claiming that the world was created six thousand years ago. I may even choose to humor them when they come. But no educated person would expand the definition of freedom to include teaching children to doubt scientific knowledge.

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Just Ask Google

If you haven’t read Natasha Singer’s front page, extended article in the New York Times on Google’s cornering the k-13 school technology market, it is a must read. While some of us have been sounding the warning about technology companies’ penetration of the public school market and their undue influence on what and how kids learn, the fact is that school leaders have accepted the marketing message of outfits like Google that traditional academic knowledge must give way to the skills needed by 21st century workplaces. Why bother to know how to solve quadratic equations, the causes of the American Civil War or the symbolism of the green light on Gatsby’s dock, when all one needs to do is ask Google or Alexa? Sadly, our school leaders and too many teachers themselves are seemingly incapable of answering that question. Singer exposes how Google cleverly and slowly but surely influenced teachers themselves to become de facto, unpaid sales representatives for Google hardware and apps. Perhaps even more concerning, she explores what may even be Google’s greater strategic interest, the collection of the personal data of people from kindergarten to death, the better to sell them all of the things that make people feel worthwhile.

I admit to extreme pessimism that articles like Singer’s will wake people up to the fact that powerful commercial forces are have a profound influence on what their children learn. Yet, I can’t help but have a germ of hope that when the subject reaches the front page of the New York Times, a least some people are waking up.

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Another Job for Teachers

We need to add yet another job to our teachers’ day. In today’s roiling political environment, when optimism for the future of our nation seems foolhardy, it’s important for educators to engage the thoughts of the young, seeking to instill in them the ability to imagine a government that promotes the general welfare. Russians compromising our elections, investigators of the matter fired, a president who insists that it is a fake issue all the while seeking to thwart a reckoning of the truth – what impression are our kids getting of their government and its relation to their lives. Recent generations have had their cynicism engendering moments – the Bay of Tonkin Resolution, the secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia, Watergate, “Government is not the solution to our problems; it is the cause of our problems,” oral sex in the Oval Office to recall but a few. If America’s teachers don’t attempt to counteract the growing contempt for government, how shall this generation of students develop the imagination to conceive of a government that provides for the common defense, promotes the general welfare, and, above all else, secures the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity? We have quite a challenge, one that many don’t want us to embrace. If we are teachers, however, we will.

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There But for The Grace of God…

Eighteen members of a Penn State fraternity have been charged with criminal offences including manslaughter in the death of a young pledge for the frat. To prove himself fit to join the brotherhood, Timothy had to consume round of vodka, beer and wine to the point that his blood alcohol level reached .40 where the legal limit for driving is .08. Members of the frat watched as Timothy repeatedly fell down stairs, his nervous system completely taken over by alcohol. While one frat boy apparently implored his brothers to get Timothy medical help, he was overruled until such time as the young man’s fate was sealed. Not one of these young people had the moral fortitude to buck the group and call for help until it was too late. Not one could imagine himself in Timothy’s position, in desperate need of help, surrounded by numbers of “friends” who could so easily provide the needed assistance.

It will seem a stretch to some, but I can’t help but see a connection of this event to a trend in our society that has concerned me for sometime – a seemingly growing number of people who believe that they have no responsibility to others in our society. We see this in so many ways – the staggering number of homeless people, many children; the attitude of many toward immigrants; the growing assault on social welfare programs to help the poor, the sick and disabled and very young; the waning support for public schools; in the dwindling respect for government. Wherever we turn, we find evidence of social neglect. Is this not, I wonder, the end product of a society that grows increasingly competitive – a society that send its kids to school to begin to hone their skills for the economic competition their lives will be rather than equipping them to understand their connections to others and their responsibilities to each other.

Some years ago, in an eleventh grade honors English class, I found myself using the expression, “there but for the grace of God go I,” I vividly remember too that when I asked what that expression meant, not a single kid could accurately tell me. I suspect the Penn State frat boys don’t know either.

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They Have Shamed Us

It has taken barely one hundred days for many of us to have become embarrassed to be American. We have and administration and Congress who are obsessed with the acceleration of the redistribution of wealth and income from the poorer classes to the rich that they are brazenly disinterested in the health and welfare of the people. In short order, they have begun to undo environmental regulations that been responsible for a steady improvement in the quality of our air and water and have begun to address the causes and consequences of climate change… They seek to open federal lands preserved for posterity to economic exploitation and a series of so-called tax reform proposals that are clearly intended gorge our economic plutocratic parasites at the expense of working people. With a disdain for the public welfare of criminal proportions, the House of Representatives just repealed significant parts of the Affordable Care Act, itself but a feeble step in the direction of providing citizens with what every other industrial democracy provides – universal healthcare. Should it become law, Trumpcare will cause upwards of 24 million people to lose coverage – 24,000,000 human beings! Some of these people will die for lack of access to quality care.

There appears to be broad consensus that the senate will not pass this bill. Regardless of what the Senate does, our mendacious representatives who callously voted yesterday to deprive 24 million men, woman and children the basic human right to healthcare must pay the political price for their indifference to the needs of their constituents. Here on Long Island, serious work must finally begin to defeat Congressmen Peter King and Lee Zeldin. By their vote on this despicable legislation they have revealed themselves undeserving of representing the working people of their districts. They have shamed our country.

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Worth Reading and Thinking About

Two articles in today’s New York Times are worthy of note for what they say about the increasing absurdity of contemporary education, both here and abroad. The first is about the broad usage of webcams in Chinese schools that enable parents, or anyone else for that matter, to observe the goings on in classrooms and to comment on what they see. While some schools in the U.S. have experimented with this technology, no place has used it to the extent that the Chinese appear to have, although there will undoubtedly be increasing pressures to do so in our schools. That pressure is generated by the unexamined notion that because we have the technical means to do something, it is probably a good idea to do so. The notorious tiger parents, for whom their children’s success in school is of paramount importance, now have the means to scrutinize their children’s performance minute by minute, all the while keeping an eye on their teachers as well. In a surveillance society, the camera sees everything. No one seems to care that that the presence of the camera profoundly changes what it records.

The other article worth thinking about is one on homework. Some elementary schools in New York City that are experimenting with no homework policies are being hit with a backlash from some parents who are demanding that worksheets and such continue to be sent home. Some less well-off parents that they cannot afford to fill the time previously taken up with homework with enriching activities for their children. Curiously, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to simply let their kids relax, go out in the street to play or watch a movie on TV. Fact – There is no evidence that doing homework in elementary school leads to greater achievement. Fact – There is ample evidence that play is an important factor in human development and that American children have less and less time for it. So, by all means, let’s do away with elementary homework, but let’s not do it in the name of some snooty concept of enrichment. The enrichment our children need is play time and down time.

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Otherness and Inequality

The election of Donald Trump has breathed new life into the movement to legitimize the spending of public dollars on parochial education. Our new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has been touring the country preaching her private school voucher gospel, doing what she can to gin up the public’s lack of confidence in its public schools. While I believe in the right of parents to send their children to parochial school, I strongly reject that citizens like me have an obligation to pay for it. Furthermore, I believe leaders in our society have an obligation to promote the importance of public schools to the health of our society. Our public school should be places where children from varying religions, economic backgrounds, races and ethnicities come together each school day to cross the barriers of otherness fostered by parochialism.

Here on Long island we have an example of the danger of parochialism to the welfare of children in our public schools. In Lawrence, Long Island, the public schools have been effectively taken over by religious people who send their children to parochial schools. For some years now, a once prestigious public school system has been in decline as there has been a reciprocal decline in the support for public education by citizens whose children do not attend the public schools. The children of Lawrence while they live in the same town effectively live in two different worlds, focusing on their differences rather than on their shared nationality and humanity.

Again, while I don’t like it, I support the rights of the religious people of Lawrence to keep their kids apart. What I don’t support, and what I don’t believe truly religious people can condone, is providing lesser educational support to the minority children of the town. At best, that amounts to indifference to those who do not belong to one’s religious group. At worst, it’s plain old fashioned bigotry.

On May 17th, the public school teachers of Lawrence, working through their union, will be holding a demonstration to protest conditions in the under resourced Lawrence schools. These hard working public servants have been trying for years to bargain a new contract without any progress in that direction. Indifferent to the educational needs of the district’s students, the board of education is equally indifferent to the needs of their employees as well. The board of education is going down the same path as East Ramapo, a district which but for the cowardliness of our elected officials would be taken over and a mechanism developed to put the district into the hands of the people who actually have their children in the public schools.

I will be in Lawrence on the evening of May 17 to lend my support to the educators and children in the public schools. I urge my local readers to be there as well.

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Economic Inequality

I’ve been reading Ganesh Sitaraman’s recent book The Crisis of Our Middle Class Constitution which explores the history of economic inequality in the United States from the relative equality of the Founders’ generation through to our time. It’s a long history, the issue having been front and center in the debates leading to the formulation of our Constitution.

From time to time in our history, as economic inequality grew, movements arose to push back against the growing political power that always accompanies when the differences in wealth and income between classes grows too large. We are clearly in such a period now, a period of inequality made worse by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. For those who think our time are so different from the past, I offer for reflection the constitution of the Knights of Labor, the largest labor organization in the United States during the 1860 and 70s. If we modernize the English, the cry of the Knights is not too different from that of the vanishing middle class. Take a look at the preamble.

“The recent alarming development and aggression of aggregated wealth, which, unless checked, will invariably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses, render it imperative, if we desire to enjoy the blessings of life, that a check should be placed upon its power and upon unjust accumulation, and a system adopted which will secure to the laborer the fruits of his toil; and as this much-desired object can only be accomplished by the thorough unification of labor, and the united efforts of those who obey the divine injunction that “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,” we have formed the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor With a view of securing the organization and direction, by cooperative effort, of the power of the industrial classes; and we submit to the world the object sought to be accomplished by our organization, calling upon all who believe in securing “the greatest good to the greatest number” to aid and assist us…”

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Commodifying Education

The hawkers of school choice frame their propaganda in terms of freedom. Freedom to choose – who could be against that. Why can’t citizens of a free country pick the school their children? It sounds so good, so in tune with the principles the founders of the republic, so American. It’s the same basic argument that being used to try to undo the Affordable Care Act (We need to stop calling it Obama Care.). Yet, do we not pervert any meaningful concept of freedom when we treat the necessities of human existence in the same way that we deal with toilet paper or deodorant, subjecting them to market forces with the rather sizable risk that the poorest among us will wind up with none.

Jason Blakely, in a concise, brilliantly clear analysis, gets to the heart of the school choice argument – commodifying education and subjecting it to market forces threatens universal access to education in America. If you are open to thinking about where the choice movement is taking us, read this very important article.

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Getting Serious About Mandatory School Attendance

Most teachers I know are angered when parents take their children out of school unnecessarily. Some parents often think nothing of asking teachers to facilitate their bad behavior by requesting assignments and materials for their children to work on while they are away. Often these illegal absences are to partake of lower airfares and hotel rates that exist during school vacations when premium rates are charged. Sadly, not only do the administrations in most school districts turn a blind eye to this behavior, they often insist that teacher due the extra work of providing assignments and materials for kids to take along. The teachers of these students have extra work up front and after the child returns when they are obliged to catch the child up on all that she has missed. Thus, parents and school cooperate in flouting the mandatory attendance law and in so doing set a really poor example for children.

With this background, I was interested to read that the United Kingdom has the same problem, but their Supreme Court has decided to send a message to the parents who illegally pull their kids from school. Fined $180 for taking his child out of school for a trip to Disney Land having been denied permission to do so, a father appealed his fine. While the lower courts sided with him, school authorities took the case to the Supreme Court where the fine was reinstated. Interestingly, that court noted the unnecessary imposition on teachers this parent sanctioned truancy caused and the bad example it set for children.

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