Monday, January 23, 2017

How Defending Public Schools and the Environment can Save the Democratic Party

There has been much speculation about the whys and wherefores of the recent election as to why the Dems lost and the Trumpers won, and there’s been much hand wringing behind the scenes (in between the can-you-believe-he-did-thats) about how the Democratic party will recover from the election. They are fragmented, they are mistrustful of one another, and they are scared.

Right now in Congress the Republicans are ignoring the Dems like they were mailroom boys, while there are 33 Republican Governors, and 25 completely Republican state capitals, with another 20 state legislatures partially controlled by Republicans.  Let’s face it, ALEC is having a field day with state laws! If you wanna see pillaging, look to the states for rampant slash and burn politics from absolutely buzzark Koch legislators who now control our states.

Though there are some not so talked about ways we got to this disastrous place (hint: it’s by being more like the Republicans than like Democrats), I’d really like to present a clear option for getting out of the uncomfortably tight container where way more than half the country are crammed into a fraction of the legislative space.  

All the people issues are good, and as soon as the Dems get back the state houses and Congress they can pay attention to all of them.  But health care and immigration are going to be projects that are not easily solved, though we know we will have to fix them both.  However, there are two other issues that can deliver the country on a plate to the party that realizes it.

Here’s the solution-- Take a firm and strongly progressive stand on Education and the Environment.

First Education-- Yes, Education, and not just free college and more preschools; though loan forgiveness and quality childcare are definitely part of the solution.

Good old fashioned Local Schools with more nimble contemporary services and curriculum are the key to a renewed faith in government in this country.  I know, pundits and politicians are shaking their heads and mumbling “Who gives a …. About K-12 education”   

Well, here’s who-- Every parent in the country, every young couple considering children, every grandparent in the country, every teacher, recent graduate, or college student, and every person trying to make a better life for their family. They all care deeply about schools.

Common Core and Excessive Testing, Neighborhood school closures, Charter school scams and failure of federal and states’ school policies have had people all across the country hopping mad.  After all, if we can’t give our kids decent schools what the hell are we doing in the US? And the Democrats kept telling everyone we weren’t giving the kids a good education. (Which was a long way from the truth in most places).

The dissatisfaction rank and file citizens had with Democratic Education Policy, which in most poor localities was indistinguishable from Republican education policy, was highly overlooked in strategies during the 2016 election.

By pushing Outrageous Standards & Testing and complaining almost daily that the citizens’ children were stupid, Democrats managed to irritate huge swaths of the usually laid back public, and push a lot of usually noncommittal voters away from the Democratic party, including a lot of moms.

The political and economic elites seemed not to notice that local districts build, maintain and run their local schools without very much help from the feds (about 9%), and for the last 15 years every nickel the feds gave up for schools was hooked to overworking Jenny’s teacher to exhaustion with data collection, and paying most of the money to testing companies; the largest of which was overseas. Never mind the ongoing unfunded mandates, which continued to drain and raise local property taxes.

Then by side-stepping the views of rank and file teachers, the DNC grabbed the union endorsements without committing to any real support of the public schools--until the apparent difference between goals of the Dems and Repubs on public schools seemed that Dems were going a little slower and were for Common Core, which Republicans had the good sense to bail on earlier.  As a result, rank and file teachers did not turn out in the record numbers they might have for Democratic candidates, and the always relied on teacher boots-on-the-ground had to be begged, borrowed and hired elsewhere for 2016.

Because the upper campaign staff of Clinton was deeply wedded to privatizing schools, it never occurred to them that ordinary people might know what was up and resent billionaires taking over their local schools. The campaign staff and DNC had come to believe their own myth that everyone wanted to go to a pseudo-private school like rich people. Even worse, the heavy reliance on test scores and school closures came off as little more than closeted racism, labeling poor kids in mostly brown neighborhoods and their teachers as inferior and in need of fixing by colonizing gentrifiers-- Which made even voters of color question why they were sticking with the Dems.

So, what now?

Democrats need to announce, develop and promote a public schools plan for developing the Preeminent School System in the world-- not unlike the plan for the interstate highways, or for putting a man on the moon-- and finally put the money and real educationally trained talent into developing it at local levels.

However, that plan cannot be a thinly veiled rehab of Gates-Broad-Walton’s high tech vision of segregated, teacherless, perpetually testing virtual schools. There can be money for the tech companies, and money for corporations who genuinely want to provide relevant services and products for the kids, but first and foremost the money for the creative design and implementation must return to using people who have actually been around children and adolescents, who have been trained in childhood development, behavior and motivation, and who understand the need for positive stable enough environments to provide healthy growth for all our young people.

The money must go back into our neighborhoods, towns, and rural counties if the plan is to succeed, and if people are to believe the government is working with them and for them.

It is true that we are going to face exponential change throughout society for the next 40 or 50 years, unless we kill the planet or create our own extinction first. For that reason, we need to dedicate ourselves to the future of our children, and with that effort the Democratic party can prove themselves again to be friends of the people, rather than the billionaire elites' more amiable buddies.

Speaking of killing the planet and our own extinction-- The other category of voters that the Democrats lost in the 2016 election is the young people and those who love nature. Many of the millennials have not and will not return to the Democratic party without a firm, visible, and actual commitment to the planet.  They are pissed, and who can blame them. Our leaders have run out the clock to 3 minutes to midnight and ticking. Between their strong commitment to a status quo fossil fuel industry, and their politics as usual in the primaries, they pretty much alienated most people under 35.

By making the centerpiece of Democratic goals and ideology a commitment to our interdependent planet, Democrats can be the heroes of the 21st Century, and can activate an entire generation of committed and activist voters who will assure their long-term survival as a party. Otherwise, they may be the first or second minority party if there is a planet.

As with Education, this must be a well-articulated, well-funded, and globally collaborative act of leadership that pushes the fossil fuel companies and new entrepreneurs to be come true energy companies and to provide the newer technological jobs for a renewed, sustainable, environmentally sound economy. It can be done with the help of our scientists, but it will take national and state leaders who are unafraid to break with the past and unafraid to buck the global-corporate billionaires, but perhaps even the billionaires will recognize that there are no global markets without a population of consumers and workers and a globe.

But here’s the rub, if the Democratic party does not rise to this occasion, to speak up and put forward plans that are diametrically opposed to what Trump and the Republicans are pushing, they will be a party with little to offer, at both the national and states levels, and we all will suffer the consequences of a damaged or destroyed future.

They have a narrative that will work, that will bring them back to power, and do good.

What do you say? Ready to take back the state houses and the Congress -- For our Children?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Requiem for a Great Nation

And of all the places to get the news we are dying--at a Senate hearing for (of all things) the Secretary of Education. Yes, I know, surreal, but then terrible diagnoses always are.

You see, from the days Washington and Jefferson disagreed over whether 3 years or 5 years was the needed level of education for a democratic citizen, we have determinedly progressed toward an ever stronger, broader, and deeper education of our citizens. Until now a network of locally controlled schools covers the country and delivers for one of the few or only times in history, a nearly universal education to unsurpassed levels, and yes I do mean unsurpassed levels.

With that system, loosely strung together, mostly with local taxes, but augmented by state and a few federal dollars, and a large force of dedicated teachers, we have risen to become the preeminent nation of all time, the envy of the world, and a destination to reach; a place where people still want their children to grow up.

Generation after generation our schools have turned out bright, capable, innovative and empathetic citizens who, armed with what they learned, have produced unprecedented progress in almost every field of endeavor; each generation building on the last. Yes even and especially this generation. The results of our public schools have produced a staggering list of accomplishments, mind boggling in scope.

It has been a grand run, one for the history books, not that we will have history books after the....

A Grand run, that would still be going but for the “greed is good” movement, which decided to take over our schools. Like some munchausen syndrome attention seeker, that kills what it claims to love, they started with marketing, a long and expensive ongoing campaign. The messages were simple;
  • schools are failing;
  • you want special choice schools like the rich;
  • you don’t want your children with “those” kids.
  • The mostly women who are nurturing and teaching your children are not creative, charismatic, or smart enough;
  • Teachers, schools, and children need to be held “accountable.”

Then the “good greed” promoters moved in with deprivation, stripping schools in the poorest neighborhoods of basic things like heat, safe buildings, trained teachers, and supplies. Until finally the billions of dollars PR campaign began to pay off. And the piece de resistance, they bring on massive meaningless tests that setup failure deliberately and use them for the final flogging that could convince the populace that Mr. or Mrs. Jones, their child’s beloved teacher is worse than a failure; s/he is an ill-intentioned self-serving failure.

Finally, the "greed is good" munchausen movement had reached critical mass. Enough people believed our schools were inferior, to weaken them enough for the killers to move in for the kill.

Last night, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension committee delivered the final prognosis. The schools will die, and though they don’t acknowledge it yet, the nation with them.

The schools must die, not because they are actually terminal, but because we, the “greed is good” team are making them so. It’s ok though, they tell us. Disruption is good, even when artificial and not needed. This death will create new profit centers and all those inept teachers will get paid what they can demand in the open marketplace.

Last night, the Senate HELP committee informally but firmly announced that both sides of the aisle agree with the “greed is good” movement, and they are ready to move on with hiring the person who (with the help of some “greed is good' state legislators) can finally close the deal.

They are ready to choose the person to bring the last of the poison to young Kyra while she watches Punch and Judy, and Betsy DeVos makes no bones about her desire to kill public schools in a well-tailored suit that brings her much admiration. Last night she got the signal she will get that honor. Like the hunter allowed to kill the last of a beautiful species, or sacrificer who leads the young couple to the door of the labyrinth, she can deliver the blow. She has already performed the sacred task once for Michigan.

There’s only one problem.

Without the public schools, a nation dependent on a universally educated populace cannot survive, particularly in a time of exploding knowledge and exponential change. Washington and Jefferson knew that.  They lived in a similar time of massive change and fought similar “greed is good” long-term battles using the idea of education.

The “greed is good” team have already proven they cannot and will not teach exceptional children who do not provide a profit, and though they deny it, they cannot and will not provide the nurturing stability for children to grow. They can syphon off large salaries, shut down, leave town, deny rights, hire without qualifications, use zero tolerance discipline, do all the things detrimental to growing children; in fact, that is part of their business model.

It may take 5 years, 10, or  a generation, but without the stabilizing force of community schools building communities through providing our children with safe, balanced, nurturing places to grow, and without the creative, knowledgeable guidance for learning only highly qualified and dedicated teachers collaborating with parents can provide, we are doomed to become a shadow of ourselves-- if we survive at all.

The risks are unbelievably high. Almost all the many fields that hold danger for human survival, are dependent on a school system that develops those bright, capable, innovative, and empathetic people our system has always provided. And if we are to retain even the barest essence of our humanity in the face of spiraling increased technology, there must be a place with caring capable humans where our children learn what it means to Be Human.

The highly disruptive and stratified model the “greed is good” team proposes cannot hold our society together in the face of the quantum change our society is facing, neither can their amateur efforts at educating the wide and growing diversity of our children provide our children with the developmentally sound tasks and relevant motivation to help them become healthy, proactive, knowledgeable adults.

Quite simply, our human society cannot survive without our public schools--

  • Schools that belong to the communities they serve;
  • schools whose goal is to serve the children and community they belong to (not to provide a dividend for unknown shareholders);
  • schools managed by people who put children not profit first;
  • schools that stabilize and build a great nation;
  • schools that provide a prototype and connected collaboration to the entire global community.

Today is a day for requiems.

We lost a lot last night. We may have lost everything.