The Save “Our” Schools Actions and Comic Con West
by Rich Gibson
July 31, 2011
The recent Save “Our” Schools maneuvers did precisely what the organizers hoped: about 5,000 people showed up, exactly the figure leaders predicted, and had a chat, plus a rally–against Big Tests.
Education elites, the High-Priests and Mother Superiors (Diane Ravitch of the Social Democrats USA and the Shanker Institute, liberal Democrat Jonathon Kozol, Linda Darling-Hammond, early educational adviser to the Obama campaign, Lily Eskelsen, boss at the National Education Association which helped create the Race to the Top, the Democratic Socialists of America’s Deb Meier, and others noted below) of the missions for capitalism that are US schools spoke.
Absent colorful robes and funny hats, it may have been hard to recognize the Priests and Superiors real roles as imitation interpreters of reality from on high. True dress-up, as we shall see, was left to others a week earlier, but the crux of things was the same---more efforts to deflect, dis-organized, demolish, a real social movement for equality and justice, ram people conned by false hope and sham analysis into voting booths.
To be sure, many honest rank and filers attended the SOS rally. At issue now is whether or not SOS upends itself, develops a to-the-root analysis of why things are as they are (class war and imperialist war would be a good start), and begins to organize direct action that can be sustained, real empowerment in theory and practice. That remains to be seen. However, the tilt to the disingenuous right is dominant now.
The greater likelihood is that SOS evaporates or becomes a get-out the vote machine for one lesser evil after the next, ratifying evil at elevated levels over time.
SOS, claiming de rigeur grassroots status, reveled in corporate press coverage of actor Matt Damon. He delivered a rouser citing his teacher-mother. Liberal TV comedian Jon Stewart tossed in a video. Even professional poverty huckster, Jesse Jackson, signed on as did the usual suspects from By Any Means Necessary, a front of the Revolutionary Workers League. Christians tossed in hope from God.
The National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers offered money, perhaps hush money. Two days after the SOS rally, the NEA V.P Eskelsen praised the organizers while NEA hyped its own contribution, taking credit when they could not deflect and demolish. The following day, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel praised the “Deficit Ceiling” deal which promises a vicious attack on poor and working people as “Better than a catastrophe.”
A good deal of venom was aimed at US schools’ overseer, Arne Duncan, equivalent to a Cardinal of schools, but Kozol was a rare speaker who aimed at the Pope, Obama, who hired Duncan and maintains him in robes. Kozol felt “betrayed.”
Obama, a transparent demagogue from the outset, betrayed nobody. He did precisely what he said he would do, and what he had done in Chicago: backed imperialist warfare (preferring Afghanistan to Iraq), the extension of the corporate state, an imperfect merger of labor bosses, government puppets, and the puppeteers, corporations and bankers.
With the 2008-2009 $12.9 trillion bailouts, the corporate state was finalized. The government became an executive committee and armed weapon of the rich–cutting the legs off the nation’s children with an extra-legal maneuver that, unlike the Patriot Act for example, can never be reversed. Fascism was no longer emerging. It emerged.
None of the SOS highlighted Mother Superiors and High Priests had the slender slice of integrity that would cause them to say, “I was completely wrong before about Obama and now I realize my analytical capabilities are nil so I am going to silence myself and grow old without annoying you more.”
SOS promoted all-class unity and its logical partner, nationalism. After all, if they are “our” schools, rather than capital’s, it would be odd that “we” don’t run them already, would it not?
The for-profit press loved it; the Washington Post, clarion bell for Michelle Rhee, the Race to the Top, and Obama, touted the conference and march with a torrent of pre-SOS blogs and interviews. Education Week, the right wing of school press, gave uncritical pre-event coverage, noting that organizers had a meeting with Duncan who described the exchange as a “good conversation.” (Education Week, July 29th).
Following the organizing methods of the presently non-existent anti-war movement, SOS dodged a critique of why things are as they are and, predictably, wound up with the usual results of the interactions of sectarianism and opportunism: few people showed up and those who did learned nearly nothing of import, a recipe for deepened gulled oppression in the cruel days ahead.
From the right, one SOS head, Anthony Cody, insisted he urged the vacillating reactionary Diane Ravitch, architect of much of the No Child Left Behind Act, on board to create the broadest support possible. On the left, some ostensible Marxists argued that the SOS action would be “objectively anti-capitalist.” Each side of that coin was wrong.
Others said that either people must be led by baby steps, one trick after then next, in order to come to a thoroughgoing grasp of capitalism, while some suggest that we all know that already. There is no evidence for either view.
The central message of SOS was, predictably, opposition to high-stakes testing. Demands about local control of schooling appeared initially, then were mislaid. Local control, though, had a lot to do with the segregation of schools, by class then race, that now parallels pre-1954 Brown versus Board of Education levels.
Direct action rejecting the regimentation of curricula, segregation, inequality, quickly fell off whatever SOS table they may have been on. The connection of the education agenda as a war agenda, a class war agenda and empire’s war agenda, was obliterated from the outset. The militarization of campuses in poor areas was whitewashed. Sensible tactics, strategy, and grand strategy, all went by the wayside.
Typical of products of colleges of education who mindlessly accept the division of labor that is a key prop to capitalism, the key complaint SOS produced was a teaching method, the Big Tests; not the harsh fact that all kinds of methods can be used to teach children to be witless bayonets of the US military, WalMart clerks, and future prisoners.
But the Big Test method, in the opportunistic, “what about me?,” views of SOS, really becomes fear of merit pay, layoffs, and cutbacks–food out of the teaching force’s trough. That, to all appearances, is the crux of the matter.
It will be acceptable if Obama continues the wars, if inequality booms, if entire cities collapse, as long as those Big Tests evaporate, or will it?
Given that the overwhelming majority of school workers proctored the Big Tests for nearly fifteen years with hardly a complaint, many of them now incapable of work without them, and given that faculty actions on university campuses dovetail with K12 teacher practice–willing to trample students to keep a raise or a job--SOS’ micro-complaint is a hollow whine.
But, SOS marchers felt empowered, even the rank and file who offered up their critical consciousness to people who have every interest, right down to the dollars, in deceiving them–and it worked, as we shall see. Many participants, and observers, were thrilled.
It was only somewhat less so at Comic Con West, in San Diego where more than 140,000 people, self-proclaimed Geeks and Nerds, stood in line for hours, dressed as their favorite super-heroes, enjoying moments of power and popularity, even if in a factitious world that they knew would disappear in 4 days. Comic Con attendees probably paid more than SOS marchers to appear at their events, several of them investing thousands of dollars in costumes, travel, and pricey San Diego hotels. Others rode the rails and slept in an Ocean Beach hostel.
Alienation, separation from critique, people, and the processes of knowledge in this case, proves to not only dis-empower those who engage in estranged practices, but it empowers those who profit from the daily grind, or spectacles, of disconnected life. SOS, after all, interrupted nothing.
140,000 people engaged, knowingly, in a mass expensive farce: Comic Con. That’s a lot more than 5,000; indeed it is 28 times more, speaking in some tangential ways to the current state of America’s mind. Even if the wars at Comic Con are Star Wars, at least warfare is acknowledged, as is the legitimacy of open rebellion, if merely in fancy.
Like SOS’ rank and file, most of the geeks at Comic Con applauded those who exploit them–the Zionist Steven Spielburg for example, as well as the “stars” of the many vampire series sucking up money at the turnstiles now. Comic Con, though, did this in an openly deluded spirit of good fun. SOS did not.
SOS’ 5,000 is a hapless figure considering that the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers bosses offered thousands of dollars and page after page of union print heaping praise on the SOS organizers. One, a self-described Nationally Certified Board Teacher (sic) was given a two page color spread in the magazine of the California Teachers Association, mailed to more than 300,000 members.
The New York Teachers Union, the United Federation of Teachers, under severe attack by the Bloomberg administration, claims more than 200,000 members alone. Where were they?
With more than 3.8 million unionized school workers in the USA, 5,000 would add up to about 1/760th of the school work force or .13%.
Five thousand people engaged in a job action around schools on a Monday, at the beginning of school, might matter a good deal. That figure in front of the White House, in a nation pre-occupied with wars and financial collapse (not on the SOS menu), on a Saturday, caused only a little murmur. Five thousand teachers demanding longer leashes and softer handcuffs sums up to little account. Lash Larue, a regular BD/SM imitation at Comic Con, would scoff.
It was, assuredly, an unlucky weekend even if Amtrak did offer SOS travel discounts.
The liquidity crisis, falsely portrayed as a “debt ceiling crisis,” prompted by a collision of crises–lost wars, $12.9 trillion bailouts to the banks and billions to failed auto companies, frozen home sales, mass rising unemployment, collapsing consumption in an economy rooted 70% in frivolous spending and spectacles–and a government, corporate state, paralyzed by competing interests in the ruling classes (throw in some nutcases), all meant that SOS was more than a bit overshadowed in the minds of most people.
Worse still, the National Football League lock-out ended and Major League Baseball’s trade deadline passed. American adults could look forward to painting themselves Team Colors, getting drunk, and fighting it out in the stands, again---with flyovers, flag ceremonies, and in the case of the San Diego Padres (sic), players in camouflage.
Afterward, the SOS march never made the Washington Post’s front page , nor the New York Times. Even Obama’s favorite, Truthout, ignored it. A WaPo blog advertizing the march vanished early on July 30th. The Socialist Workers Party praised it. WaPo’ Valerie Strauss, full of praise for SOS, was good enough, though, to reproduce actor Matt Damon’s speech in full.
Damon never got to exactly why the current perseveration over Big Tests is so prevalent (regulating what people know and how they come to know it, producing people who don’t like to learn), nor did he mention that Diane Ravitch was one of their biggest supporters, nor that she remains a key player in the drive for a nationalized curricula. Like all of SOS, Damon portrayed teachers, not students, as the key target of regimented knowledge, an inversion of the real relationship.
Wall Street mobilized more lobbyists on the weekend of July 30th than SOS could ever muster.
The New York Times of July 31st said, “Bankers have deluged Congressional staff members with research reports outlining the bleak consequences of a default, or even a downgrade of United States government debt by the major rating agencies. And in corporate America’s version of grassroots mobilization, Allstate e-mailed 45,000 employees urging them to call their local members of Congress and demand a deal.
“Hedge fund managers, normally among Wall Street’s most secretive tribes, have been stepping out of the shadows, too.
“Marc Lasry, a major Democratic fundraiser who manages the $14 billion Avenue Capital hedge fund, said he spoke to half a dozen members of Congress from both parties on Thursday and Friday with blunt warnings that failure to compromise on the debt ceiling risked permanently damaging the nation’s financial standing.”
Wall Street brought cash–the personification of the fear and greed that trumped their numerator, trust, in capital’s casino long ago. Money matters. Five thousand people cheering mis-leaders and Quislings, don’t, except in propping up what is in slightly new ways.
The “Save Our Schools” effort initially involved some decent, honest, dedicated people who eventually became what they set out to oppose.
The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and the fact of booming inequality met by the potential of mass, class-conscious resistance rooted in direct action. “Save Our Schools” wants no part of that. SOS, as it is, will guarantee the continuation of unilateral class war from above—because SOS rejects that fact–and its most celebrated leaders have a stake in the rejection.
They eagerly fell into the trap laid for them in an extraordinary meeting on February 14th, 2011, at the National Education Association offices. The meeting included bosses from the NEA, AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and some national community groups. NEA, the nation's largest union with more than 3.1 million members, isn't affiliated with the bankrupt AFL-CIO, nor CTW, although NEA's leadership has sought affiliation for 25 years, a move repeatedly rejected by NEA members–wisely so as the only people the AFL-CIO is good at fighting are their own members.
The February meeting grew out of labor tops' worries about the nascent risings of students (especially in California and New York), school workers, and others--some drawing inspiration from accelerator events in the Middle East.
Their worries were somewhat justified. A class conscious movement dedicated to direct action in work places and communities would make the labor bosses irrelevant as their key project is to sell labor peace in exchange for dues income (the sole remaining definition of "collective bargaining" is, now, "send us the money").
The concerned union overseers formulated a plan to surround, divert, and demolish any movement that might truly challenge US capital, their feed trough.
The scheme involved guaranteeing that mention of imperialist wars, capitalism, and direct action in workplaces or at schools was off the agenda, as was sharp criticism of Obama. The solution the united Quislings resolved was more than predictable: herd people into voting booths, add a few fake small-issue demonstrations to let off steam, then re-elect Obama and Democrats.
They re-dedicated themselves to fund-raising for the Democratic Party. NEA alone plans to spend about $60 million backing Obama's campaign. The day before the SOS march, NEA circulated an email signed by Karen M. White of the NEA Fund to every one of its 3+ million members asking for an additional ten dollars, clearly to support the Democratic Party in upcoming votes.
Indeed, the union tops wanted to bulldoze a movement that actually did grow up from earnest rank and file, grassroots, action led by students but was, quickly, destroyed. California’s Teacher Association, NEA, set a model–a cooked up Save Our Schools demonstration in Sacramento complete with carefully arranged and gentle arrests of some NEA mis-leaders while staff and local officials pointed out more militant members to the police.
SOS offered a falsified activist cover for those who want to collect dues, preserve social control through capitalist schooling, and expand wars that, not incidentally, benefit them.
Specifically, Diane Ravitch is a member of both the Albert Shanker Institute and the Social Democrats USA, both tied to US intelligence agencies for decades through front groups like the National Endowment for Democracy, the Meany Center, the American Institute for Free Labor Development, as Paul Buhle, Kim Scipes, George Schmidt of Substance News, and I have all registered.
The notion behind these organizations is, like the founding of the racist American Federation of Labor in the 1800's, is that US workers will do better if other workers, particularly those at the ends of the tentacles of empire, do worse. The upshot is that the Central Intelligence Agency and its fronts work in deadly fashion to destroy indigenous workers’ movements throughout the world.
Lily Eskelsen of SOS and the Vice President of NEA as well as by rights of progenitor, the next president, joins with Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, and their past presidents, at Education International, the successor group of the CIA sponsored international counterfeit education unions.
FairTest, a key sponsor of SOS (as well as an honest broker about the impact of the Big Tests) is on the NEA payroll, a relatively small grant of around $35,000, but a grant nonetheless.
Deb Meier is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, one of the left, leafletting wings of the Democratic Party and was an early Obama backer. She shared podiums with him, uncritically.
Kozol has been a liberal Democrat, urging the idea that people can vote their way out of oppression and the rich out of their money, for nearly a lifetime, other than his earlier radical moments backing the Cuban revolution, long forgotten. He has lost the edge of his earlier days, if his speeches that I attended are any indication. He portrays himself as a "simple-minded guy" (who is a Rhodes scholar from Harvard) and he wants the US, "to not be two societies, to be the good democracy we can be." He wants "teachers to protest the (high-stakes) tests, but do not make your principals miserable." He wants capitalist schools without capitalism. He says “I will never stop defending teachers,” (to the foreseeable standing ovation) but doesn’t mention that means defending what the majority of teachers actually do.
The fact that NEA and AFT were key players in the development of the Race to the Top, the Big Tests, and their birth-father, the No Child Left Behind Act, was blotted out at SOS. Perhaps SOS chiefs forgot that NEA endorsed Obama’s re-election in its representative assembly early in July.
Two days before the SOS march, the Emergency Financial Manager of the Detroit Public Schools announced that he would override a recent contract which gave up $10,000 in concessions and more, and issued a 10% wage cut, about $7,400 per employee. Weeks before that, the Washington D.C. Teachers union, an AFT affiliate whose past leaders are in jail for looting the treasury, witnessed 206 firings. In February, 2011, the Providence, Rhode Island, district fired all of its 1926 teachers. What did leaders do? Threaten court action, a hopeless cul-de-sac. What does SOS prescribe? Nothing at all. Leaders claim their job is not to offer prescriptions.
Ten years ago, members of the Rouge Forum, the Whole Schooling Consortium, and many other groups traveled the US urging boycotts of the Big Tests, explaining in detail why they came to be: inequality booming and preparation for war.
In some cases, as in Michigan and California, entire districts opted out. In one Michigan suburb, a superintendent confronted Michigan Education Department officials (the tests in Michigan were initially run by the Treasury Department and scored by Standard and Poors, of bailout fame). The superintendent, who had the backing of masses of students, teachers, and parents, said, “If you think the people of this district are going to subject our children to this madness, you don’t know how power works.”
In another instance, dozens of students followed this slogan: “Be a hero! Get a Zero!” It proved that they were both smart, and rebels. This time, however, is gone.
Now, a decade on, with six losing wars in play, a full scale assault led by a corporate state on poor and working people in ascending color-coded fashion; the focus must change from the Big Tests to (1) the connection of imperialist war, paid with the blood and treasure of workers (including school workers), (2) to capitalist collapse (and the merger of government, corporations, and union tops), (3) to the reality of the emergence of fascism as a mass, popular, multi-issue movement, (4) to the true role of nationally regulated curricula and of schools as missions for capitalism and teachers its missionaries, (5) or honest analytical rebels aimed at direct action in schools and communities: real resistance.
What the AFT, NEA, chief mis-leaders in SOS, the AFL-CIO and the rest want to do is preserve and protect that corporate state which feeds them. Specifically, they trade labor peace for dues income, the traditional trade-off that is the bottom line of the charade that is collective bargaining today–everything conceded but the dues.
This year, school experts at the National Association of State Budget Auditors claim the k-12 world could see $2.5 billion in cuts nationwide, about half again last year’s figure. The university world might see $5 billion in cutbacks. Masses of teachers and students, by the thousands, have already engaged in direct actions against this draconian set of assaults–seizing campus buildings, invading and blockading banks, and more. SOS offers a not-so-loud wail and little more.
The more people buy into the legal system where the fascist Supremes, millionaires in black robes, rule; into the Constitution, written to protect the rich and their properties; into holograms of democracy like unions which are not democratic nor unions in any sense of solidarity or resistance, the more they give up (eager to make concessions in Wisconsin in order, only, to preserve dues check off). The more people "Defend Public Education" (an indefensible myth); the more people protest under American nationalist flags; the more the people see the Democrats as "lesser evils," the more they ratify evil, and the sharper become the attacks from capital as capital in crisis, as it is, MUST attack. That is the track record of fascist self-alienation.
To urge reliance on the capitalist, corporate, state means to allow in and quicken the emergence of fascism. To reject direct action, some of it illegal, is to guarantee loss heaped on loss.
On Sunday evening of the day after the Saturday SOS march, July 31, Obama, proudly announced a solution to the pseudo debt ceiling crisis: “the lowest level of domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president,” which will ensure more homeless encampments, more mass unemployment, a gutted safety net, hungrier children, cuts for school workers, and, without question, more war. He is the fellow the High Priests and Mother Superiors helped elect.
Schools are now the centripetal organizing point of life in de-industrialized North American. About 49 million children are enrolled, nearly half of them draft eligible in the next five years.
The school fight, which elites clearly grasp, must re-connect daily life in schools with the social realities that serve as their foundations, in our case, again, war and class war. The disconnect that SOS insists upon it leaders and ranks, typical of the lowest common denominator of teacher thinking, is a false flag that must be rejected.
We recently witnessed the fact that good ideas and analysis can upend armies, can turn guns around. SOS has no real ideas. SOS rejects the connection of the poles of concrete analysis and direct action. Rather than good first steps, it’s another stumble.
The High Priests and Mother Superiors, Comic Cons, of schooling seek to keep the parishioners in the arms of the mission for capital and on the electoral tithe.
Educators “lead out.” Mystics sell entrapment.
All concerned should cast them aside.
Rich Gibson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an emeritus professor at San Diego State University
Eskelsen on NEA and SOS: http://lilysblackboard.org/2011/07/the-good-fight/
Dennis Van Roekel on NEA backing Obama on the Deficit Ceiling: http://neatoday.org/2011/08/02/nea-president-debt-deal-flawed-but-default-would-be-catastrophic/
Ravitch with SDUSA: “Invade Iraq”:
Socialist Workers Party on SOS: http://socialistworker.org/2011/08/02/a-stand-to-save-our-schools