"Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain"
Perhaps the social studies needs a good screed. The discussion on an internet listserv attended by readers of TRSE is alive with notes which rise from the questions posed by the Rouge Forum several years ago: How do I keep my ideals and still teach? Why have school? Indeed, why have hope? Within this screed I am going to explore the particular social context of teaching in Michigan, the general situation, and review several texts which offer answers to our questions. I will also tender some answers of my own. Perhaps the way into this is an anecdote.
From 1995 through 1999 I visited Detroit and suburban schools. My plan was to visit classes of friends and students, to reconnect with the classes I attended and taught many years ago in my hometown, and to research the relationship of school and social change. In a Detroit high school, I met a with a group of students and asked them about their vision of the future. One student replied quickly, heatedly, " Whatda you mean future?"
"What do you think you want to be doing, say, at the turn of the century?"
"What's up with that? My future is to get as much stuff as I can--RIGHT NOW."
"We all know we aren't gonna make twenty-one".
hyperbole," I asked the other students if she spoke for the group. They
confirmed her position and added plenty of chapters and verses about their
chances for survival. After class, their veteran teacher affirmed the sincerity
behind the young woman's comments and added, "Actually, I don't want to
live in the world these kids will inherit. She wasn't entirely wrong, you
In a suburban school not far from the 8 Mile Road moat which separates mostly African-American Detroit from suburbia, things were a bit different. In a college-bound history class, I met a kid who said, "The future is more of the same trash. More school."
Which trash is that?
"Bogus classes and tests. College. Then managing a Mickey D." His comments were uproariously ratified: school is rubbish. After class, their teacher gently pointed to a Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) test, "We get a lot of chatter about teacher- empowerment, professionalism, and student-centered classrooms. Then we get more standardized tests, bigger classes, and the blame for bad scores. Hell, we're clerks. Luckily we can still close our doors."
This interplay of alienation and despair, a shared depression, is endemic in schools and society. To deepen a contrast, consider the Richmond Hill prison in Grenada, where the former leadership of the New Jewel government, overthrown by a U.S. invasion 16 years ago, is conducting classes today in a dank prison built in the seventeenth century. The classes are full of life and dispute, while classes on the rest of the beautiful island are stilted and directive. The prison-school test scores are higher than most of the schools in the country. The New Jewel prisoners, sentenced to life, are far more hopeful than their teaching counterparts on the outside (Coard, 1997).
While the daily practice of many school workers and students everywhere is a good counter-argument, that many people are swimming upstream because they have embodied hopeful beliefs; it remains that our conversation in Detroit was restated so frequently, it is a suggestive tendency.
Many of the participants on the TRSE listserv agree that teacher time is being overcome with illegitimate standardized curricula built around high-stakes exams, both designed to deepen the segregation of kids and educators, first by class, then race or caste. Children, the curricula, teachers and parents, all become commodities and objects of the designs of others. Educators' creative humane work is replaced by alien commands directing what shall be learned, when, and how-all reverberating back on the scaffold of testing, sorting, kids. These mandates originate in locations ever more distant from the classroom, ever more separate from the community, the children, and front-line educators. In a job that is 85% women, the pattern continues that the workers' mind is overpowered, becoming the clerical body taking direction. Learning for joy becomes learning for extrinsic rewards, or the fear of hierarchical consequences. It is no longer possible to just close your door and teach. Complaints on the listserv hint that we are in new territory, and that this tendency toward an intense command system in schools is over-archingly true. At issue, at least in part, is: how shall we as educators understand this and what shall we do? (Ross, 1999).
The collective efforts of the Whole Schooling Research Project in Michigan serve as a basis for much of this essay. Our research indicates that teachers in Michigan spend about 30% of their time teaching to standardized exams which break their connections, affective and cognitive, with kids. Educators don't receive the scores for some state tests for six to eight months. While teachers usually get scores for individual kids, they do not get an analysis of what went wrong-or right. The high-stakes exams require that kids be separated, usually by predicted ability to test, even in schools that promote inclusion at every level. (1)
The MEAP deepens the separation of children and their educators at every conceivable level, within an inequitable social context. In 1994, Michigan passed a reform bill was presumed to ease funding inequities. Today, the richest district in the state receives about double the per-capita funding of the poorest district. Over time what equity was built into the initial bill, which shifted the tax base to the sales tax, was thoroughly eroded, a process that continues. The state lottery was passed with promises of money for education. The income goes to the general fund. The usual differences between wealthy and poor districts, like the surrounding resources of cash donations and available time from volunteers, were never addressed. Now, money that was won from a lawsuit against tobacco companies is earmarked to reward students who take and pass the MEAP, a payoff for birthright, as we shall see. Detroit is especially isolated by an economic crisis far deeper than anything in the state. The city receives about $1000 per capita more than the poorest district in Michigan, but the crisis of the infrastructure of the city is far more profound. In Michigan's poorest district, where many children do not have running water, there are libraries in the schools. In many Detroit schools, there are none.
Even so, especially in elite schools and the economically poorest schools, but also among the tenured or popular, educators have a good deal of freedom to do as they choose. If our initial observations are correct, it appears that some teachers self-censor, create boundaries that are not necessarily there, or they respond to authorities in more disciplined fashion than their immediate employer expects. It seems that there is truth in the analyses discussed on the listserv, but it is incomplete, lacking historical context at one end and wise direction at the other.
Once I have interrogated the social context in which educators must work, I am going to examine five popular well-meaning texts which offer to answer the questions asked on the listserv. Our authors, using different approaches, are going to suggest ways to teach well-for democracy and equality. I am going to ask: What is the method of analysis here? How is it situated in a social context? How does it stand up? What is urged? What will happen if we do this? What is the DNA of the text, that can help us understand what has been and what can be-and how we can for democratic change act in school and society? Where does this author locate hope, or despair, and how can hope be rationally drawn from our present conditions?
At the outset, my screed needs foreground. Any good screed requires assertions. Here are mine:
Our world is simultaneously becoming more united, through systems of production, exchange, and distribution; and divided, through systems of politics and economics which require that people be estranged from one another, in life and death competition. People are set apart from their work, their creativity, their collective intellectual explorations, and the ways they reproduce themselves and their societies, even their sexuality: their humanity. The evidence of rising inequality is overwhelming, even within a prosperous nation. (New York Times, October 2, 1999, p.A7). Intensified authoritarianism trails close behind. Nationalism, the reification of borders, holds a continuing appeal. Obscurantism, irrationalism, is now public policy, as is the fear of sexuality. Some states are offering vouchers to religious schools. President Clinton fired his Surgeon-General for promoting masturbation, before the President was impeached for masturbation. These deepening social antagonisms, summed up as social versus anti-social being, has its marrow in three interrelated requisite conditions of advanced capital: (1) the extraction, theft, of value, or surplus value, from the labor of people who must work to live, by people who inheritance or luck offers them ownership, (2) alienation of productive life (the loss of control over the process and product of labor), (3) reification and fetishization of social relations (people become as commodities, relations among people disguised as relations between things within a given historical context are transformed into relations which take on a "phantom objectivity," which makes oppressive human relations appear to be the natural order). In other words, value is extracted from the work of masses of people, who cannot be paid the full value of their work, by individual owners. People without property who must work for others to live do not consider their work to be their lives, but an intrusion on life. The more people engage in work, the more that work enriches their enemies. As the process deepens, intellectual work becomes alienated as well. A wall is placed between many people and their ability to comprehend and transform their world. Capital and the people who embody it are able to obscure a system of dominance with a variety of maneuvers which appear to place a sense of permanence and normalcy over what is in essence a historically transient moment: God made things this way. The law says it is illegal to strike. Tests prove you are born to be a collegian, or a coolie. You should rely on the union president to protect you and interpret your work rules. ( Rubin, Lukacs, 1971, p.83).
These social processes necessarily intensify with the equally imperative expansion of capital. The processes turns up in every aspect of human interaction, including school. Capital is an encompassing socio-political system, turning human relationships into base economic transactions, often a quest for cruel petty advantage. Capital, the war to pluck surplus value from the work of someone else, I think, has little meaningful to offer to anyone anymore, including school workers. Capital can indeed offer spectacles and treats to conceal meaninglessness and to inveigle one group to rule over the next. In the most ostensibly powerful country in the history of the world, capital can dole out sensational pomp and rewards with surgical precision-and couple that with punishment for those who behave outside the bounds. While race, class, and national divisions are fundamental to capital, elites often have enough sense to offer social mobility to a few from the substrata, and to integrate, to a degree, their own ranks. Today, dominance is far more multi-cultural than schools or educators. The arms industry, for example, is thoroughly integrated at the top, caring just a whit about race or class. Arms dealers know profits are not stamped by skin color. Organized religion, or the trade unions, involving millions of poor and working people, are apartheid operations, as are many U.S. professional educator groups.
In the U.S., the highest stage of capital's development as yet, the economic system has evolved to the point that its key goals, its own re-creation and expansion, is ever more apparent. The "personifications of capital," the people who temporarily hold capital, take a secondary interest to even production, a primary interest in Capital itself (Meszaros, p.601-624). The practical effects of this are, on one hand, the movement of key industrial bases to other areas, where profits are higher, coupled with an obsessive focus on creating value through the exchange of capital itself, currency profiteering, the stock market, etc. On the other hand, in ideology, capital is left with few ideals for motivating the people who must finally create it. For example, the military now rarely attempts to indoctrinate troops by telling them the general situation they face, the specific challenges directly in front of them, and the long term hopes that are expected to make their potential sacrifices worthwhile: Fight Fascism for Democracy, A War to End All Wars, etc. Now, when the battles are rather clearly fought to protect bald oil interests for example, the bottom line ideology presented in boot camp is: Protect your buddies for your life depends on it. This is capital in organized decay, not the heady days of capital expansion when young men lined up to enlist. The U.S. can no longer offer ideals of democracy and freedom as an international beacon. Instead, it must offer more stuff, greed; a technologically superior military, force; and a system of ideas underpinned by the thought that we are all in this together, irrationalism. In school nationalist irrationalism is met by religious irrationalism: Kansas bans the big bang and evolution.
In this, teachers play a crucial role as a force for equality and democracy-or in opposition. In a deindustrialized society, North America, teachers inhabit the organizing center of the community. They are the most unionized people in the U.S., a total of about three million educators belong to the American Federation of Teachers or the much larger National Education Association. More importantly, teachers have demonstrated a wise distrust of their union leadership, and a willingness to act on their own, to take risks for the good of their children and their community, as evidenced by the recent Detroit teachers strike, and the refusal of the NEA rank and file to adopt the undemocratic structure of the AFT in the failed merger engineered by the NEA leadership in 1998. (Gibson, 1999, http://eserver.org/clogic/2-1/gibson.html). Educators are often natural organizers. Done well, teaching parallels organizing technique: know the terrain, know your community, know your subject, know yourself, adopt flexible principles and strategies, listen a lot, build on people's strengths. Teachers frequently have deep professional and personal ties in their communities. Their complex product, children and their relationships with ideas, evokes at least sympathy. Many educators love their kids and are eager to teach well. Teachers have invaluable skills. Most educators communicate reasonably well. Many have been trained in reflection. They must repeatedly move quickly between the spaces of theory and practice. Some practice social critique every day. People in electoral campaigns love teachers. They can follow directions, make phone calls with little supervision, and fund-raise among the wealthy. Teachers union representatives were the largest single constituency at the last Democratic national convention.
Teachers, as intellectual activists, can also devise interesting methods to unmask the reasons for the rise of inequality and strategies to mobilize conscious citizens to compose a more rational future. Or teachers can allow themselves to be purchased, usually at low cost, to be segmented along the lines of the parental income and caste/race of their students, and to assist in the creation of social divisions which will make social control more viable, to tamp down the expectations of children who will enter a society that will likely offer them a lower standard of living than their parents.
Some teachers have fought hard for democracy and equality. In the U.S., Margaret Haley stands as a beacon as a teacher-activist, as we shall see. Many teachers, however, turned the other direction. There is no historically grounded reason to believe that most teachers are going to be in the forefront of progressive social change, although there is a great deal of evidence, in history and social context, to say that many of them will. In a country with incredible largesse available as a carrot to be distributed with personalized precision, in a job imbued with the mythology of the elitist side of professionalism, the subtle purchase of teachers to become agents of their own and others oppression has had success. Those who are bought off will, in time, discover that an injury to one does indeed precede an injury to all. As their colleagues' livelihoods collapse, so will theirs, perhaps more slowly. In a more and more inequitable world, teachers must answer the old labor question, "Which side are you on?" more often-and the consequences are more transparent.
Choosing sides is not simple. What appears to be two sides may be the reality of legitimate alternatives thoroughly shrouded by dominance. For example, one is supposed to be either for or against public schools. The liberal cry to save the public schools seems a bit disingenuous, as are the proofs that the crisis in public school is either abysmal or manufactured. There never was one public school system in the U.S., but probably four or five-serving to reproduce and recreate different classes and castes of people. Dominance used public schools to integrate their ranks, minimally, and to sever others. Even now, in a period of near hysteria about the need to save public schools, important elite forces are right in the front of the march to do so. (http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/092399philanthropy-edu.html ). Choosing sides in this debate requires an inquiry into why schools are there at all, whose interests they serve.
Following O'CONNOR, schools are funded by surplus value routed through the state (O'Connor, p.11). Per Weber, schools are structures for domination (Weber, 1946, p.426-434)). Schools are also immense markets (consider the busses and architects, salaries, lunches, etc). They perform a vital child-warehousing function, serving as a tax-paid babysitter in a society where daycare is a necessity, as any school strike demonstrates. Inside, educators create and recreate the skills of society, its ideologies and myths grounded in its relations of production and exchange (note the shift from religious to industrial education). While the main message of some schools is, "You cannot understand or change your circumstances," many students learn otherwise. Teachers fashion hope: real and false. This has been the practice for a century. To doggedly fight for public education without recognizing the competing interests at work and the underlying conditions that make public and private schooling inequitable, is to ignore both the basis for political work, and the potential of confounded results.
Divisions of caste and class in schools are surely pronounced, reflecting deepening inequity in society and the turn to authoritarian answers. Things are more intense. For example, the rich seized the Detroit Public Schools in March 1999. The reported reasons for the takeover were fiscal irregularities, the drop-out rate, poorly prepared employees, and low scores on the state standardized exam, the MEAP. Detroit schools, though, scored mid-range on the exam, with dozens of districts, many in large communities, scoring lower. The Detroit distinction: race.
Fiscal irregularities on the school board have been chronic in Detroit. In 1973 the board failed to pay teachers when they ran out of funds. The crisis was averted by the sale of high-interest bonds (Ewing, p.190). Even so, in 1998 what is now the former board had a balanced budget for the three years preceding the takeover. The dropout rate is and has been extraordinarily high, but the new board's solution, the end of social promotions, would seem to be incongruous. Moreover, the Detroit schools reported an 84% graduation rate in October 1999, seven months post-takeover, a statistic that is simply laughable. (www.mde.state.mi.us). It may be true that Detroit schools are not preparing employees for local business. Dave Bing, former Detroit Piston, complained that the kids who appeared at his 1000 worker auto parts factory complained that his taxes for schools had to be duplicated in his training programs, "to get a good employee." (Detroit News, February 21 p.14a). But corporate maneuvers to cut their taxes have contributed to the inequitable funding and resources that has hurt Detroit schools. It is reasonable to seek other explanations, which requires some foreshadowing.
A white Republican governor, John Engler, a lifetime beneficiary of racist voting patterns, abolished the elected school board and directed the black Democrat Mayor to appoint a new board. He did, demonstrating the unity of class at the top. The board then hired a Chief Executive Officer who, alone, has full authority over all school operations. All of the press, even the local cultural weekly, supported the new board, which became known as the "Takeover Board." Six of the seven members of the new board are unmistakably representatives of wealth. Allow me to introduce them and the CEO:
Dr. David Adamany, the CEO of the Detroit schools, who resigned as president of Wayne State University in Detroit in 1997, lives in one of the richest suburbs of the U.S. He was roundly despised by faculty, campus workers, and many community people. While Dr. Adamany was adept at transforming the physical structures of WSU, as well as the fiscal structure, he was "famous for his vindictive memory,"and was "never able to get the rank and file to behave." "As King, he was good at scaring the princes, but the peasants just kept quietly refusing to work." While he declared he achieved his "every teacher on the same page of the same text" every day goal, few people actually did it. "All the staff knew his 'quality of work life partnership' was a sham." He resigned, following a faculty vote of no confidence. "David Adamany lives in a world of giving orders, and pretending they are implemented. Does not work well with others; goes on his report card." (Interview with a Wayne State University AAUP official, June 1, 1999).
The Takeover Board:
Mike Murphy: as a Michigan state treasurer, white Murphy lives in a suburb of Lansing, the state capital, about 90 miles from Detroit. When he attended his first Detroit School Board meetings, he required a police escort to enter the school, not because he was threatened, but because he was fearful. Murphy, as the Governor's appointee, notably, holds veto power over any action of the board as a part of the takeover rules.
Pamela Aguire, a suburban socialite, daughter of the famous Detroit Tiger left-hander, owner of a low-wage downtown Detroit factory, never lived in Detroit, never attended a public school as a student or a teacher. The teachers of her own children, at a prestigious private Grosse Pointe academy, never met her. She attended only three of the first 14 board meetings. For at least one of these meetings, she was counted as present when she attended via cell phone. During the meeting, she could be heard giving directions to her cook. Aguirre was forced to resign from the board recently. It was discovered she lives mostly in Arizona. Ms Aguirre, according to one community activist, "should have been arrested for truancy."
In October 1999, Aguire was replaced on the board by Nelida Bravo, who with her husband Facundo, also owns a small southwest Detroit plant, employing about 200 workers, a subsidiary of her larger plant in rural Howell, Michigan. Most of the workforce in Detroit is Latino. The Argentine woman came to the US in 1971. She reports she taught in Argentina and in California. She now lives in a nouveau suburb, White Lake Township, about 30 miles from Detroit, but claims knowledge of the schools: the people who apply to her for jobs lack skills (Detroit Free Press, October 1, 1999 p.1) http://www.freep.com/news/education/qdps1.htm.
Marvis Cofield, the owner of an east-side Detroit Martial Arts Academy which also serves as a community center, is the only Detroit resident with connections to the schools on the board. A former Detroit substitute teacher, Cofield has clearly demonstrated a commitment to the community over time. His colleagues on the board pay scant attention to him, referring to him as "The Citizen," to his face. Cofield was placed on the board a week after the Mayor, a former state Supreme Court Justice known for his bourgeoisie background, overheard Cofield discussing Detroit schools in a barber shop. They had never met. The only time the question of racism was raised by the press during the takeover was when a columnist in the weekly cultural newspaper attacked Cofield as "a racist," when he criticized the selection of Dr. Adamany, suggesting that available and equally qualified black candidates might be better choices.
Freeman Hendrix, the chairperson of the board, is a mayoral aide to Dennis Archer, who would like to be chief of the Democratic National Committee, and is a practiced authoritarian like Dr. Adamany. Unaccustomed to being challenged, he is extraordinarily brittle when people oppose his views, as demonstrated by his inciting a police assault on middle school kids and older women at a March 1999 board meeting. Required by a residency law to live in Detroit, Hendrix sends his children to Catholic schools, declaring his deep faith. Hendrix would like to be mayor, according to other members of the board.
Frank Fountain is the vice-president for marketing for Daimler Chrysler. He lives in an opulent northwest Detroit suburb. Fountain, whose allegiance has to be primarily to the profits of a German auto company is one of those who, during the recent teachers' strike, charged educators who allied with community people as working with outside agitators. Fountain's suburban school system receives $11, 239 per child from the state. Less than 2% of the children get free lunches. Nearly 99% of the students graduate. Detroit receives $7,802 per pupil. Two thirds of the Detroit children are on free lunch. Less than one in three graduate. (State of Michigan Report on the schools, October 1999, www.mde.state.mi.us)
Glenda Price is the head of Marygrove College, a small walled Catholic school on the city's northwest side. Price came to Detroit in July, 1998 from a job as a provost at Spellman College, a women's college in Atlanta. She has no background in the city of Detroit and lives in a suburb.
Bill Beckham carries the trump card on the board, and should know the terrain, though like the others hubris and arrogance hold him back. Beckham, recently appointed to head the Skillman Foundation, was the CEO of New Detroit for more than ten years. New Detroit is a committee created by industrialists and retailers like Henry Ford and J.L. Hudson during the 1967 Detroit rebellion. In one of their founding documents, New Detroit declares that all of the citizens of the city, many of whom were fighting an invasion of U.S. troops on their streets, share a common interest, "there has been much talk about them and us, but it isn't that, it is we" (Ewing,1978, p.250). The son of a UAW official, Beckham was an aide for long-term Mayor Coleman Young. His is a voice of power on the board.
Beckham has not only a good grasp of the city, he has the results of extensive surveys and focus group interviews, done in 1998 at school district expense by a GM public relations firm, which detail the problems in the schools. Beckham, however, is inclined to ignore the survey results and listen to his own instincts. Other board members like Beckham, respect his leadership and analytical abilities, as well as his links to power, and they are inclined, when push comes to shove, to follow his lead. Mayor Archer, once a state supreme court justice, also appointed his former law firm, Miller-Canfield, to be the board law firm. The firm has a long history of international corporate law, with branches all over the globe. A check of the biographies of the firm's partners on their web page reveals not only corporate expertise, but extensive intelligence connections. In toto, the board of education is a whipsaw for wealth and privilege. (http://www.millercanfield.com/welcome.html)
Although a local radical attorney, George Washington, filed suit against the Takeover Board on constitutional grounds, the new CEO quickly got the board to adopt his agenda: every kid in a uniform, every teacher in the same grade on the same page of the same text every day, arrest parents of truant kids, end social promotions, extend the school day, intensify the use of national examinations-up to eight a year in core subjects, close schools with low scores, military schools for troublesome children, merit pay for educators. (CEO Report July 12, 1999) That this was the program of the original board seems to go unnoticed. The previous board was so corrupt and incompetent, a tradition in Detroit going back a century, that hardly a peep of protest was heard from the community. The old board was notoriously paralyzed by bickering about who should get the pickings from a 1.5 billion dollar bond issue voters had passed to repair the schools, that is, whose relatives and friends in which firms should get the construction contracts. The new CEO embarked on a school repair program, promising that every school, many of them in utterly decrepit condition, would be fully repaired by the beginning of the 1999 school year. In part, the project succeeded. However, on October 3 1999 the Detroit News in a front-page copyrighted series revealed that the repair project was rife with corruption (there was no bidding process) and many schools are left unrepaired. This means that the children in White Elementary, a multi-story eastside school holding more that 1,000 kids, will breathe the fumes from a 90 year old coal furnace for another year. The CEO explains that the bidding process was skipped, "for the children, and I would do it again." Bill Monroe, a parent activist with the Whole Schooling Consortium who sought to expose school repair fraud for four years said, "They always pose this 'for the kids.' It's the same thing, year after year, and it is really for their pockets." (Gibson, 1999,http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/DPScrisis.htm).
Coupled with the forceful takeover of the schools is a campaign to deepen the surveillance of students and educators, to link that surveillance to consequences, and to simultaneously set individual schools against one another in competitions for survival. Part of the school repair campaign has been to dramatically raise the number of metal detectors and police in the schools, a national trend. One principal, on the first day of school, routinely has his school "swept" by squadrons of cops, arresting students and others, not only in the school but near it, for minute infractions. Invariably, the offenders are released without charge, after a trip in a squad car, but the principal thinks this sets a good tone for the year. Suburban schools banned back packs in the fall of 1999, after a series of bomb threats in the spring, post-Columbine, shut down the administration of the state exams. The suburban back- pack ban was lifted after powerful parents complained. The Detroit sweeps continue. This is the relationship of the iron fist behind the more benign forms of surveillance, like the high-stakes standardized exams, which will become a greater part of the reform project with time.
School reform in Detroit is a mix of private and public blessings. The Annenberg Foundation is deeply involved in Detroit schools, as is the Skillman Foundation. Annenberg held out promises of significant grants to clusters of schools, groups of three or four schools banded together ostensibly to make change-and get the cash. Led by ambitious and well-meaning principals, dozens of schools in the city adopted a variety of well-known school reform models and wrote proposals. The Annenberg promise was that ten clusters would be funded. Competition was dizzying, one cluster seeking an advantage over the next. In September 1999, Annenberg announced they would fund seven schools clusters. Top insiders tell me they could not fund ten. The remainder were too poorly written.
Detroit's school CEO attempted to order up a contract with Detroit educator whose union leadership from the American Federation of Teachers had agreed to every aspect of the takeover, including the CEO's promises to dispatch the unions of the blue collar and administrative workers in the system. At the start of the school year, the union rank and file rebelled against the contract, engaging in an illegal wildcat strike that lasted 8 days. The strike that was in clear violation of a purportedly tough state law and was openly opposed by their union leadership. The demands of the strike--smaller class size, books, school libraries (although there are no libraries in many Detroit schools, resourceful educators have stocked incredible classroom collections) and supplies, and a fair wage system-- united educators, parents and students. (Gibson, 1999, http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/DPScrisis.htm ). Hundreds of parents and students joined the picket lines, participated in integrated planning meetings. The Detroit Federation of Teachers leadership had no plan, other than to reestablish control, sign another contract, and to return their members to work. The press attacked the strike, offering to represent the anguish of children kept from school, though the New York Times did note that the overwhelming majority of parents supported the action. The Mayor bitterly criticized the strike, saying it shattered, "the euphoria of Detroit's comeback."
The final contract contains no victories on any of the key issues. Indeed, the new contract insists that in order to get raises, the majority of the teaching force (75% of the teachers are at the top of the pay scale) will need to subject themselves to racially-biased tests like the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards exams; tests which will guarantee that the deepest crisis of the profession, the fact that soon a teaching force that is 95 % white and middle class will face a student population that is mostly kids of color, remains unresolved. The new contract allows closures of schools with poor test scores. The teachers wearied of an assault from the media and government agencies, had done their best, and went back to work. They ratified the contract, 6,328 to 2,030, on a ballot that gave them the false option of a "yes" vote or a longer strike. The state government, recognizing that punitive action against 11,000 teachers would be unwise, chose to ignore the anti-strike law it had passed five years before, a law both the state representatives and the teacher union leadership had told educators was too tough to defy-proof that the only illegal strike is a strike that loses. Within two weeks, professors at Wayne State, the city's urban university, and bus drivers, followed the teachers in illegal work stoppages. The impact of the Detroit teacher wildcat continues to echo through the state as other educators remind one another of strikes in the past.
The CEO, Dr. Adamany, and the new board believe they are well on the way to school reform. The CEO boasts his past as president of Wayne State University, a dubious record of attention to the physical plant, where he survived four faculty strikes, being finally leaving after the vote of no confidence. He left, but not before he named a new undergraduate library after himself. Wayne State librarians say the new building is a metaphor for Dr. Adamany's work. It is full of computer stations, but very few books, located in a small area on one floor. During his tenure, change was apparent, superficial. He demanded that all freshman and sophomore basic classes adopt a common curriculum, on the same page of the same book. After awhile, he was told they were. They were not. His summer1999 repairs of the Detroit Public Schools went fairly well, until corruption throughout the process was exposed by the press.
The reform that the Detroit teacher contract codifies is a paean to the reality of current school reform efforts, ostensibly built around partnerships of business (every Detroit schools has been adopted by a business), government, union leaders, and educators. The partners from wealth certainly understand their interests as a class. They meet privately, often using their interlinked relationships with private foundations and shared legal assistants as a cover. They send their children to private schools, and behave as a relatively cohesive group. The government partners have their own ambitions: to be Vice-President (Engler), to be head of the Democratic Party (Archer), to be the next Mayor (Hendrix), to be CEO of a bigger college or private fund (Dr. Adamany, Price, Beckham). The union leaders now make, on the average, twice what teachers make. They live in places where teachers do not live, but administrators do. They discovered fashionable shops and long vacations-out of the classroom. The partnership works for these partners. The partnership is only crumbled at its foundation, where most of the people are. The 1999 Detroit teacher contract which allows for schools to be closed, and teachers to lose their jobs, based on the scores of standardized tests which research for the last three years demonstrates is clearly class and race biased. The reform will not work in the interest of most kids, partially because this reform is entirely top-down, but primarily, as Jean Anyon (1997) has richly described, reforming schools without reforming the economies they are situated in is like washing the air on one side of a screen door. The partners cannot be partners. The bases of their existence are at odds with one another. They have nothing in common but contradiction. The companies represented by seven-eights of the people on the new board are not only the companies which are largely responsible for the collapse of the Detroit economy, but the are the companies who intend to profit from the low-skill jobs now offered in the city. There is indeed, contra New Detroit, an Us and a Them.
Detroit is a rust belt city that never recovered. Located adjacent to one of the most prosperous counties in the world, the Motor City is third world. The most racially segregated metropolitan area in the U.S., the city has a long history of race and class violence. ( Widdick, Sugrue) The only plan for economic reform is the opening of three casinos, and the restructuring of the downtown as a sports-entertainment center, which is at the base of the current school takeover. The casinos were born after four consecutive votes inside Detroit rejected their construction. Then the issue was placed on a state-wide ballot. It passed. The casinos, located just blocks from pockets of grotesque poverty, depend on social peace, social control, which cannot be won from people who have no hope-a key answer to the question: Why seize the schools now? The city community college advertises a curriculum devoted to blackjack dealing.
Linda Ann Ewing examined the genesis of power in Detroit in 1978, tracing a genealogy based on industrial and retailing might (Ewing, 1978, p.151).The turn to casinos, and the school seizure, may reflect an economic shift in power at the top in the city, from industrial capital to finance capital. Specifically, of the top 25 industrial powers listed by Ewing in her study, only 6 remain in the city. The banks have gone through a succession of mergers, but remain in place. Although the retailers too have merged and been bought out, at least two of the six listed continue to operate in Detroit (Ewing, p.294).
Besides the casinos, another major new player in Detroit is Mike Illitch, who owns the Detroit Tigers, the hockey Red Winds, and several downtown theaters and buildings-and Little Caesar's Pizza. Illitch the pizza maker is not Henry Ford the auto builder. Finance capitalists have somewhat different interests from industrial capitalists. The latter need engineers, technicians, scientists. They need many Robert Oppenheimers but no Klaus Fluchs (of A-bomb fame). Finance capital wants clerks, gamblers, etc. Twenty years ago the downtown area was mostly owned by auto magnates and related banks. The competing interests of these groups, and their fundamental unity, must be recognized in unraveling conditions in Detroit, a town which has been a head-water.
The Depression started in Detroit, as did the Students for a Democratic Society. What happens in the city seems to happen with more force, sooner. Because of the bellwether nature of the auto industry, the adage once went that if Detroit sneezed, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Youngstown, Gary, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and South Bend all got pneumonia (Sugrue, 1998, p.12).The escalating attack on poor and working people in the U.S., over the last 25 years played itself out early in Detroit. First came the closure of the mental institutions, those least likely to resist. Patients were frequently dumped in front of welfare offices and told to apply. They were ineligible: no addresses. Then came the attack on welfare, a system that expanded dramatically after the 1967 Detroit rebellion and receded as resistance ebbed. About the same time came the end of most city auto production and the destruction of families who for generations had counted on jobs in the plants.
How bad is it in Detroit? It depends on where you live, a geographic form of volunteer adult tracking determined by caste and class; and whether or not you are a shopper. There is not one department store left in the city. Detroit lost 1.3 million residents in the last 40 years. Since 1968, the school population dropped from 300,000 to around 180,000 (Kerner, 1968, p.90). Racist white-flight, buttressed by color-coded federal home loans in the suburbs, was a key factor, forging strict lines of race and class between school districts. White resistance to school integration was significant-and led to considerable violence. The city schools are now about 90% African American, 4% white. Detroit is the poorest sizeable city in the country, based on median family income (Detroit News, February 21, 1999).
In the 1970's and 1980's, joblessness in the city reached 60%. The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued fraudulent loans to contractors who took the money and skipped town. The houses they owned went empty. Cold and hungry people invaded vacant homes, stripped them of wiring and plumbing to be sold for scrap, then tore up the floorboards to use for fuel. The vacated homes became uninhabitable: drug dens, homeless hangouts, etc. Then the national media ridiculed Detroiters who burned these hulks on Halloween eve, evidence to the journalists that the city, by then 85% black, was ungovernable. When the vacant homes were finally bulldozed, the fires stopped.
750,000 auto workers were laid off in the last fifteen years. In the 1970's, Chrysler was in such poor shape that CEO Lee Iacocca demanded one billion dollar bailout from the State of Michigan and the federal government. He got it. The same day, welfare grants were slashed. The auto companies now report record profits. Welfare is virtually non-existent, steep eligibility requirements and forced work programs, coupled with a booming economy, nearly wiped out the safety net. Since 1975, Michigan transformed a proud superstructure of roads, libraries, medical care, social services, and schools into a privatized skeleton, in the midst of a relative economic boom. Like the rest of the U.S., the last twenty years in Detroit saw a massive drop in industrial jobs. While state unemployment levels are officially low, like the rest of the nation it now takes two workers in a family to support what one provided in the past. The incredible amounts of surplus value that makes it possible to operate the standard of living in the U.S. are generated, for the most part, in the third world, the reality of globalization. The problems of a one-trick economy were not entirely learned in Michigan. Auto still rules, but less lavishly. Finance capital is potent, as is Amway, but the car, really the SUV and light truck, is still boss in metro-Detroit. With the industry temporarily reaping record profits, in the suburbs outside Detroit there is an anxious sense of well-being.
Sometimes living in Michigan seems surreal. In September, 1997, as the Governor moved to close some of the last mental hospitals in the state, state workers picketed at what was once one of the largest sites in Detroit. Inside, the lone administrator was a volunteer retiree who had continued to come to work for nearly a year to supervise 140 employees. There was one patient.
Children in Wayne County, encompassing Detroit, suffer a thirty per cent poverty rate: about 169,000 kids arrive at school hungry. State-wide, about 600,000 kids live in poverty--reflecting the rapid increase in income inequality in Michigan (Kids Count Data Book). Once a generous state where every child could receive free dental care, Michigan now has the largest number of kids without immunizations in the U.S. A once-proud public library system, with branches throughout the city and a door-to-door delivery system, collapsed as the tax base evaporated in the period from 1965 to 1990. Corporations left town, along with employed citizens. At the same time, Detroit gave generous tax breaks to profitable companies like General Motors and Chrysler whose leaders threatened to leave Motown. The tax shifts accompanied political shifts, reflecting changes in the population, which rang through the schools. A principals' academy, a rigorous training center for school leaders, was abolished in the 1980's on the charge that it was a method of racial selection, as in some cases it was. However, principals became political appointees, chosen by a notoriously corrupt system of administrators reporting to an equally corrupt school board. Dr.Adamany, meeting with principals in the summer of 1999, informed them that one of his goals is to dispose of, "about ½ of you." The administrative sector of the school system bloated as the city simultaneously allowed school physical plants to decay. Administrators fill an eight story building. Inside that building are notorious bottlenecks. The personnel office requires a fee from applicants to apply for jobs. The clerks routinely lose applications, reportedly less by mistake than design. People they like get return calls. New hires frequently go months without a paycheck-and quit. In October 1999 the secretary for the new board admitted that approximately 10% of the teaching force, about 1100 educators, had not been paid all school year, blaming the problem on a "glitch." However, educators say this problem is habitual.
The CEO guaranteed this bottleneck would be changed. Dr. Adamany also recognizes the school bureaucrats as a monumental waste of money. On September 30 1999, Dr. Adamany announced his effort to have the legislature pass a bill abolishing the AFL-CIO affiliated administrative unions. On October 1st, he advised that he will be replacing top administrative officers in DPS, like the chief of personnel and the finance officer, with executives from industry, General Motors, Ford, Michigan Consolidated Gas, Thysen Foods, who are on paid leaves of absence from their companies. (Detroit Free Press, October 1, 1999, p.1)
The site-based management plan which the CEO has discussed with board members is to shift administrative responsibilities to individual schools, to lower the cost and number of personnel involved in distributing layers of oppression. That is, under the rubric of site based management, individual schools will be given authority to determine who is hired, to carry out school worker discipline, even to determine the distribution of budget resources, all within the context of enforcing a standardized curricula, high-stakes exams, and uncritical support for the budget process as a whole. Onerous responsibilities are shifted downward, without the necessary authority or money to solve the larger problems (Gibson, 1999).
While the administration grew, the teaching force grew older and comparatively poorer. Detroit educators were once among the top-paid school workers in the U.S., probably due to two factors: the organized activism of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and the largesse available from a booming Detroit industrial core. By 1999, Detroit teacher wages slipped to the lower ½ in Michigan. At the top of the pay scale, they average about $10,000 per year less than suburban teachers. Teachers and prized skilled principals, especially educators of color, were heavily recruited by nearby suburbs. Many left, but few I have interviewed indicated that pay was critical. Instead, they raised issues of curricular freedom, available technology and facilities, smaller classes, more time for continuing education, all ahead of pay. This verifies a 1999 union survey of 100 respondents, Detroit teachers who resigned, which indicates that lack of administrative support (34%) and class size (10%) were the top reasons they left (Michigan Education Reporter, Early Fall 1999, p5).
Detroit is where Ken and Yetta Goodman honed many of their founding notions about whole language, an optimistic student centered vision of literacy and learning. There are still, in the city, many educators who remember the halcyon days when they met regularly in study groups to sharpen their skills, to share kid-writing and stories, to build a community of educators. Some of them still meet, carrying on the work, swimming upstream. But those I have interviewed feel under siege, isolated, even defeated by a by the aggregate alienations (class size, standardized exams, crowed rooms, weak leadership, hungry and despairing angry kids) of a system that demands steep emotional sacrifice, and which offers too few rewards. Overcrowding is severe in Detroit. According to district records, more than 50 schools hold 100 or more children over the physical limits. Grade school classes, in October 1999, meet in hallways, closets, basements, wherever a spot can be found. The new Tiger stadium, to be called Comerica Park, is nearly complete. It will hold 40,000 people, cost $260 million, most of it in public funds. The first casino cost $300 million, was built in seven months. My colleagues in the whole language schools say their kids can easily read that signal.
School drop-out rates, veiled by administrators, have increased exponentially for the last 8 years. Drop-outs nearly doubled from 1990 to 1994. For Detroit's mostly black youths, the chances of reaching the twelfth grade are one in three. Thirty percent of the people in Wayne County never finished high school; only thirteen percent finished college. Immediately to the north, across a virtual moat called Eight Mile Road, in overwhelmingly white Oakland County, the figures are simply reversed: thirty percent finished college, fifteen percent never graduated from high school. The median family income in Detroit is about $18,000 as compared to a $31,000 national median. Recently, the state legislature shifted the bulk of the Michigan tax burden to a regressive income tax, and boosted the sales tax, capping a move away from taxing non-productive income like inheritance, profits, and property. Michigan class size rates now rank 47th in the nation (Gibson, 1998, Cultural Logic).
In the mid-1980's, Detroit's two newspapers engaged in what is best called a phony war. They created appearances of cutthroat competition in order to win court approval for a merger. During that period, one paper published an internal memo of the other paper, a directive from an editor to the staff advising them that the purpose of the paper was to become a topic of conversation at suburban cocktail parties. The Detroit newspapers, three years ago, defeated a strike of their unions. A newspaper boycott, which cut circulation by one-half, continues today. The Detroit papers are so notoriously bad, they are routinely banned from use in area classrooms. Residents rely on tabloid television for local news.
The Kerner Commission on civil uprisings, formed after the Detroit rebellion in 1967, wrote that key factors underlying urban insurrections go beyond a loss of hope and joblessness, a culture of depression, segregated schools and housing, and a city rife with rumors, to hatred for and mistrust of the police. (Kerner, p.299) The commission sharply criticized police brutality, suggesting that society cannot jail its problems, and that a social policy of inclusion must be answer to the exclusion of people from economic life. 35 Detroit cops, including the last chief of police, caught with $1 million in cash stuffed in his ceiling, are now in jail for corruption, most of it related to the drug trade. The head of the narcotics unit was removed from his job, in September 1999, when his daughter was found in his driveway with a kilo of cocaine in her car. The city has settled, with one attorney alone, more than $1.8 million dollars in lawsuits directed against police brutality in the last year. The first people charged with robbing a casino, on October 4 1999, were two Detroit cops. Another two police officers, convicted of murdering a young black man in front of his home in 1994, won their infamous cases on appeal and were freed, a signal to the citizenry. This is a pattern of corruption extending back to Lincoln Steffans' Shame of the Cities, written three-quarters of a century ago, perhaps in a period too early to state that the businesslike work of big-city police is to organize crime, not prevent it.
Commuters are routinely herded off major roads due to what the media calls "police situations," usually robberies or shootouts of some sort. Detroit's major streets are lined by miles of boarded up vacant buildings. The roads leading to the casinos were recently improved, the rest are known to citizens as "tank traps." The drive on Jefferson, a major spoke running east from city center, goes by much of Detroit's history of organized decay. To the south is the riverfront where the city was first settled. The precious property decomposed for decades, old vacant buildings with smashed windows looking across the river to once-placid Windsor, now a casino hot-spot in its own right. The land on the river, promised the Mayor, would belong to the people in perpetuity. The casinos would be located elsewhere. When the casino bill passed, he changed his mind.
The black churches are a powerful force in a city overwhelmingly African-American. For decades the churches have played at least a dual role of passivity and resistance. Many black churches were in the forefront of city civil rights struggles, and the solidarity of black church leaders made the UAW's organization of Ford's possible-even though the white UAW had done little to deserve the support. As the casinos pressed for legalization, black church leaders were on the horns of a dilemma. As the city's retail and financial structures had toppled, church attendance went up, as did church income. Some predominantly black churches now own dozens of city blocks, encompassing housing and retail stores. Church leaders vehemently opposed casinos in the city on moral grounds until the state ballot passed. Then, presented with a black mayor's singular hopes for an urban resurrection, hints of chances for casino funded vouchers for parochial schools, or social unrest, the church leaders went silent. On October 5 1999, the federal mortgage company announced a massive federal home loan program for Detroit, which will be administered by a coalition of black churches.
To the north of Jefferson was the black bottom, a ghetto of music and poverty and gambling and honky-tonks and homes, systematically ripped apart by expressways and urban removal. Farther north still, the Brewster-Douglas projects, some of the toughest in the city, was birthplace to Diana Ross and several Motown artists. They moved to L.A. in the early seventies. Brewster-Douglas was recently refurbished, but it will be torn down now. It is too close to the new Comerica Park. Aretha Franklin, queen of soul, whose father's ghetto church was a sacred organizing point of the civil rights movement, moved to a posh northwestern suburb. She joined an exodus of many of the black bourgeoisie, a population shift which quietly integrated several nearby suburbs. Detroit's mayor is part of a group who stayed, but who live in enclaves sequestered from the woes of the city. Whites continued to flee north. At her last Detroit concert, in August 1997, Franklin led a eulogy for a monarchist, deceased Princess Diana.
Farther east is the United Auto Workers' solidarity house, where the solidarity-unionists only recently tore down the sign, "Park your foreign car somewhere else." It became a problem when the UAW-Chrysler team was purchased by Germans, giving the UAW-driven, "Buy American," campaign a special meaning. Then on Jefferson comes a former jewel of the city, Belle Isle, once called Hog Island. The hogs were originally taken there to eat the snakes. An enormous park, with a petting zoo, an aquarium, a boat club, early in the century it was a family playground. In 1967, it became a holding area for the hundreds of people arrested during the rebellion against racism. In the 1990's, youths mixed with the families, and the latter drifted off as gunfights and murders hurt the island's reputation. The mayor tried to institute a pass system.
All along our Jefferson drive are hulks of destroyed businesses. Drug dealers swarm just off the block. On the corner near Hibbard, a street once filled with the single-family homes of workers from the Ford Rouge Plant, you can buy crack, heroin, weed, speed, women, boys, and Hilfinger knock-offs, all on half a block. The Rouge once employed more than 100,000 workers. Now it there are just about 9,000, some of them employed by a Japanese company that bought part of the plant. In 1999, ancient huge boilers in the Rouge exploded, killing and burning nearby workers. The UAW leadership, repeating that they are part of the UAW-Ford family, quickly issued statements sympathetic to the workers families, and William Clay Ford, who said he was having one of the worst days of his life. Ford and the UAW solidified their partnership with the 1999 auto agreement in which Ford promises to organize plants on the behalf of the UAW, as the union promises labor piece while the company shrinks the wages and the workforce at the 23,000 employee Visteon parts subsidiary.
The people who live off Jefferson are among the, "½ of the male adult population," with no connection to the city's labor market, living outside even the margins. (Sugrue, 1999, p.262). This was the turf of the Earl Flyns (sic) and the Chene ( a street, pronounced chain) gang in the 1970's, when Detroit won its reputation as the "Murder City." One initiation rite for the gangs was to kill somebody. They did, at the rate of two or three a day. Then-mayor Coleman Young declared that the toughest gang in the city was his gang, the cops, and told the criminals to "Hit 8 Mile Road," the legendary northern boundary of the city, more of a moat than a road, that has long separated white and black as worlds apart. (The color line in Detroit is perceived as black and white, although there is a growing Hispanic population, and a large nearby Arabic community). Suburbanites, encountering a black mayor for the first time, believed Young was exporting crooks. Instead, the Detroit Police interpreted his remarks as an order of, "by any means necessary," and, according to substance abuse counselors in Wayne County, introduced the gangs to heroin. The gangs were soon defunct. There was a heroin epidemic.
The children who attend elementary schools near Hibbard walk past burned out wrecks of homes, through piles of used needles, to get to schools that have no books, are heated (sometimes) by 90 year old coal furnaces. Class size is often 40, though the schools count on absenteeism to balance the failure to hire educators. In the summer of 1999, computers were delivered to the elementary schools in the area. They were promptly stolen. There are no libraries in the elementary schools. The librarians who protected the libraries were shifted into classrooms as the budget decayed. Principals, who do not live near this area, lectured parents on the need to set up security patrols for the buildings. In 1998, there were more than 1,000 vacant positions in the Detroit Public Schools, another 1,000 jobs were filled by permanent substitutes, some skilled veterans, others uncertified novices. The profound black-white-Latino-arabic segregation that is the crux of the school system also echoes into the question of inclusion, or the isolation of labeled kids, kids with disabilities. They are shunted apart in separate schools, an interrelated form of sequestration that goes unnoticed, the default drive. Class size in the Hibbard neighborhood is sometimes 28, with absences playing a key role; and sometimes 55, because teachers are often absent too. The older kids on Hibbard often walk to school too. Bus passes were slashed for Detroit's kids three years ago. The younger kids on Hibbard must walk along decayed sidewalks, across crumbling paved playgrounds unblemished by serviceable equipment, to get to school.
Suddenly, like exiting a tunnel, the traveler eastbound on Jefferson at Alter Road enters Grosse Pointe, the richest suburb in the U.S., home to the Fords, the Dodges, and the Mob. The burned-out wrecks are replaced, immediately, by magnificent trees forming a canopy over the street, monumental homes with stained glass windows looking out onto Lake St Clair. Police patrols are methodical. Driving while black is a commonly known crime. There is no busing problem for kids in Grosse Pointe. They either drive, or their parents drive them. One school library I visited has 20,000 books and computers everywhere.
It is common in metro-Detroit for even suburban residents to lose electrical power for up to two weeks, so common that citizens in several communities are suing Detroit Edison, which announced a major merger with Michigan Consolidated Gas on October 3, 1999. Public transportation is nonexistent in the Motor City. People without cars cannot be timely for work. Electric trolleys which spanned the city were purchased by the auto industry and shipped to Mexico City. The fall 1999 Detroit bus drivers' strike was couched in terms of passenger safety. The crippled old busses in use are brakeless. In the winter of 1998-1999, the city was paralyzed for seven days by a moderate winter storm. Schools and businesses closed because Detroit has no equipment to plow streets. During the same storm, the major airline serving Detroit held passengers prisoner on planes on the tarmac for up to 14 hours. The airline had no contingency plan for a storm. In October 1999 the entire sewer system at Metro backed up, demolishing travel for another day, and making airport sleep impossible. The airport was voted by airline passengers as the worst in the U.S.
Detroit is home to federal empowerment zones, what one alternative paper called Maquiladoras of the North, low-wage zones where mostly third-world workers are paid at the minimum, offered few environmental protections or work rules, no unions, and employers are paid cash for hiring people. The state incarcerates 443 per 100,000 citizens, about 10% more than Ohio, 25% more than Illinois. The land where Hemingway learned to love the woods, the "Up North," is surrounded by razor wire, one prison bumping into the next, as local citizens compete for jobs in the jails. Chicago educator and reporter George Schmidt calls the prison system, " the only educational structure that America has been willing to pay top dollar for, for young minority males" (Schmidt, 1999). The prison guards are loyal members of the AFL-CIO, as are the local police. In downtown Detroit, however, where the bulldozers have created huge empty fields in the city which once held more single-family homes than any other, it is commonplace for residents to kick up a pheasant. Some of the state's prisons are run by for-profit corporations which now compete in the labor market. Factory jobs are moved inside the jails. Managers appreciate the punctuality of their new employees. Furniture workers in western Michigan say they may have to do crime soon to keep their jobs. There are now about 150 charter schools in Michigan, 18 of them in the Grand Rapids area, home of Amway. The charters enroll about 50,000 students, and are growing rapidly. Both the charter schools, as many of the prisons, are for-profit operations. Public school, in some quarters, is beginning to be seen as a loss item. But only a tiny percentage of parents, less than 1% in the metro-Detroit area, chose charter schools for their kids in 1998-1999. In 2000, an amendment to the state constitution allowing vouchers for parochial schools will likely appear on the ballot. It is favored by Amway and the Catholic church, opposed to the conservative Republican Governor who wants to be president (Michigan Education Report, Early Fall 1999, p.1)
Detroit was once a rowdy city, where honky-tonks, blues bars, rock and roll, all found a home on the streets and in the plants. Now, perhaps leading the nation, Detroit is commodifying and confining what was once the margins-and giving the citizens a health dose of authoritarianism at the same time: a capitalist hug. The casinos, gambling centers, promote themselves as family entertainment centers, replacing the back-room card games-and the music that fronted for them in all-night bars. Prostitution is moved off the streets, into trendy counter-culture newspapers, into the
casinos, and into a burgeoning strip joints surrounding the city. Even action as a form of entertainment becomes the alienated life of the spectator-the crux of the revival of downtown sports stadiums, dice-joints, and movie theaters. The suburban voters who thought they could locate gambling and immorality in Detroit alone are finding their daughters turned into dancers. An annual Woodward Dream Cruise is designed as a nostalgic look back at late 1950's cruising of the street that a popular national magazine once called the "Longest Unrecognized Drag-way in the World." It was a scene of kids racing cars, fighting cops, coupling, drinking, night after night, for their right to enjoy cars, sex, and rock and roll. In July, 1999, more than 1.2 million white auto fans showed up for the Fifth Dream Cruise. 5,000 suburban cops shut down Woodward at 9:30 p.m., threatening anyone walking on nearby sidewalks with arrest, simply because, "Too many people are here." This, like most city cultural events- -and churches--is profoundly segregated.
The labor movement, once the choice of those seeking social change, and a school for the leftists who created it, was born in Michigan strife. It is now a nullity-as is most of the left. While some communists, socialists, and democrats did attempt to build an anti-racist labor movement, big labor was never truly open to people of color, and grew especially distorted in Detroit by the systematically racist policies of the UAW under Walter Reuther. This form of ideological alienation blows back on those who cultivate it (Hill).
The AFL-CIO today cannot mobilize its members to Vote Democratic, cannot mobilize mass strike action nor organize new plants, and represents just about 12% of the workforce. While the most powerful sectors of the AFL, like the UAW, claim to have bargained good contracts, in fact they have assisted in the shrinkage of the work force, with those who remain earning wages which only keep up with inflation-at the cost of a sixty hour work week. While a declining number of North American workers have continued to live relatively well with the temporary economic. boom; the distance between the workers and their employer-owners has increased exponentially (Mishel, p.119). The workers' labor has deepened their own dependence on and distance from capital, while allowing capital to expand into other areas-a maneuver which will eventually impoverish the workers who made it possible when capital, ever fickle, abandons them for sweeter fields of surplus value (Marx, 1973, p.88).Within this context. the AFL-CIO does not unite or mobilize working people, it urges them into struggles distant from the workplace, where the issue is undeniably control, to arenas like electoral politics, where the issue is to ascertain the good capitalist. The AFL-CIO divides U.S. workers, from each other and the workers of the world.
Michigan's homegrown UAW serves as simile for the betrayal of the leadership of labor. On the one hand, leaders like Mr. Reuther chose to continue the segregation of the work force, especially the skilled trades and the better jobs in plants, a racist practice that quickly rebounded. (Sugrue, 1996, p.101).In the 1996 strike against the Detroit newspapers, labor leaders expected the "union town," to pour out in solidarity. While there was considerable community support, the black community mostly stood aside, as the skilled trades-workers strike disintegrated. One the other hand, the UAW leadership worked through the logic of the AFL-CIO: if workers have more in common with the owning class than less, it finally follows that the task of union leadership is to formalize a marriage with the employers, a partnership, and to organize the capitulation of the workforce, to ensure the success of national capital at all costs (Serrin, Keeran, Hill). There is now a generation of people, even in Detroit, who know nearly nothing about unions at all. The AFL-CIO frightens nearly no one, except perhaps its own members. The failed newspaper strike in Detroit was not lost because of employer opposition, but internally; because of a lifetime of racism within the strikers' ranks, and because the UAW and Teamster leadership joined forces to systematically disorganize mass community pickets at key plants-because they did not want to saddle William Clinton's presidential campaign with labor violence.
John Sweeney, president of the AFL, proclaimed his devotion to the spirit of capital, and a partnership with its personifications, when he rang the opening bell on the stock exchange, early in 1999. The AFL-CIO continues to spend nearly one-half of member dues income outside the U.S., most of that spent on efforts to organize AFL-style unions in competition to indigenous worker organizations. The big labor federation's are inordinately close to U.S. intelligence, the police (Schmidt, Buhle, 2000).The AFL line is: U.S. workers will do better if other workers of the world do worse. A small labor resurgence, publicized by the Labor Notes collective and academics like the prolific Michael Yates among others, has these politics at its heart.
The left is hung on its own labor petard. The communists and socialists who gave up lives and careers to establish an organizing committee for working people did indeed succeed in confronting capital early on. The battles in Flint that formed the UAW, in Minneapolis that formed the Teamsters, the fights all over the U.S. that forged the steelworkers, even the struggles that put the American Federation of Teachers on the New York map, were all led by radicals of one stripe or another (Kraus, Linder). But the unions they formed also assumed the structures the radicals proposed, frequently undemocratic designs to insulate the top. When radicals found themselves on the outside, after Joseph McCarthy, and after the Communist Party's vacillations and capitulation to racism and employers during WWII, there was no way to make union reform using democratic means. Today, the AFL-CIO affiliates are nearly impossible to change. The only union of any size that retains a formal tradition of internal democracy is the 2.3 million member National Education Association, independent and unaffiliated with the AFL.
Opportunism is made ever more possible because of the expansion of U.S. capital following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the meanness of a life in poverty located as an example is not too far from most suburbias. The internal structural make-up of the unions make them nearly impossible to change, and the general organizational structures, dividing workers by craft or industry, make them undesirable to revive. There is no reason to believe the industrial working class or its leadership in the U.S. will be a force for democracy and equality for some time to come.
For workers in schools, poverty has a very practical effect. The superintendent of schools of Saginaw, a mid-Michigan city just north of Flint, an area still feeling the reverberations of the shift in auto production to more exploited sections of the world, says more than half of the students in his elementary schools move at least twice during the school year and change schools. One student changed schools 13 times in one semester. The administrator's solution: urge parents not to move. In one Detroit Whole Schooling site, the principal tells me that less than one-fifth of the kids are there through an entire semester. She has mixed feelings about the idea of having every kid in the same grade on the same page, everywhere in Detroit, every day.
The Detroit 1996 school year began with student walk-outs at three high schools which planned to eliminate basic classes like English, required for graduation. Other walk-outs followed, around questions like the absence of toilet paper, textbooks, and the erasure of once-free transportation to school. On opening day, a young girl was shot to death in front of one of the largest high schools. Early in the school year, the city Board of Education, claiming near-bankruptcy, found funds to seek an injunction to prevent a long time board critic and lawyer-activist from attending public board meetings. The injunction was overturned. Another board critic was maced and arrested for speaking during a public comment session. The board's accountant, having been brought to task for being unable to account for several million dollars in bond money earmarked for school renovations, resigned after admitting she had been less than candid about her background; she had no accounting experience. Shortly thereafter, she bought one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. But the superintendent, unable to explain the misuse of millions in unspent bond money, retained his job. White suburbanites were appalled, citing this as further evidence that the city leadership was incapable of governance. They had forgotten that early in the century, Detroit's populist (white) mayor, Hazen Pingree, had ordered the arrest of the entire (white) school board on the grounds that "You are so corrupt you won't stay bribed". As had been the case in the early 1970's, the last deep financial crisis, there was growing social unrest emanating out from schools (Conot, Ewing, p188).
In 1999, when the Governor took over the Detroit schools, the newly appointed board was so fearful that the citizens would attack them that their initial meetings were surrounded by police, up to two hundred officers from gang squads, SWAT units, narcotics squads, beat patrols, surrounded their meetings, and continued the tradition of beating citizens who complained, urged on by the board chairperson, Freeman Hendrix, who screamed into a microphone ,"Get them! Get them now! I am telling you to get them!" as the police pounded on a group of mothers and middle school girls who rose to speak at an early board meeting. The police assaults, repeated at several meetings, only stopped when a cordon of men took the microphone and announced that Hendrix would be held physically accountable if, "you continue to beat our women." Hendrix became almost demur.
Detroiters are proud of their spunk. The defacto city symbol is an enormous sculpted clenched fist on an outstretched arm, a memorial to Joe Louis, aimed toward the Renaissance Center. The RenCen is a remnant of Mussolini-era architecture on the riverfront, circular towers designed to make people feel lost and insignificant, separated from the rest of the city by huge concrete berms. On the Fourth of July, when people come to the river to watch fireworks, the berms serve to completely close out the riffraff. In 1984, the Tigers won the pennant. During the last game of the series, the police repeatedly warned citizens not to invade the field at the end of the game. Cops on horseback ringed the outer area of the playing field, menacing citizens with billy-clubs. The people obeyed. They went outside and rioted through the night, while the police held the field. A celebrated photograph shows a young fan, Bubba Helms, belly protruding beneath t-shirt, waving a Tiger flag, standing beside a burning Detroit police squad car. Each New Year's Eve air traffic is cancelled over the city. At midnight, celebrating armed citizens open fire with a variety of weapons, shotguns, pistols, semi-auto rifles, making the city sound like a battle zone. The police know the Detroit working class is armed. People who survived the heady war years when Detroit was the arsenal of democracy, the 1967 rebellion, the uprisings in the plants led by the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement and others, the collapse of auto, the quietus of the social service safety net; Detroiters would appear to be patient and wise strugglers, retreating when necessary, ready to fight when there is hope. The city is large enough that events in Detroit often have national import, small enough that a demonstration of 500 people is an event (Georgakas p.121).
There has been a sense of collectivity, perhaps solidarity is a better word, in Detroiters for a very long time. The city was among the first to make heat, lights, water, etc., public property. Even some of the rich in the city, uncommon philanthropists who sometimes did not seek to simply seek ways to recreate their power in other disguises, took on public issues. The Couzens Foudation, created by a $25 million grant from one of Henry Ford's first investors, guaranteed medical care for the children of the entire state for 25 years, until 1957, when the stipulation of the will required all of the money to be spent. The union movement in the city goes back a long way, to the Marine Engineers Benevolence Association, Great Lakes shipworkers. In the 1840's a fellow named Cronenweth was jailed for being the "chief disturber" in a series of job actions on ships on the Great Lakes. Joseph Labadie, a founder of North American anarchism, was widely accepted, even beloved, in Detroit. Even today, a traditional annual gathering, the Buck Dinner, involves nearly one thousand city supporters of radicalism. In Detroit, there is a deep-felt tradition of neighbor caring for neighbor, coupled now with memories of a union movement and public services not so long gone.
Most suburbanites never see Detroit at all but for televised images of depravity, violence, and crime. They miss the day to day lives of 600,000 employed adults, most of them African-American, who work in factories, in public service, teach, and worry about house payments, college tuition for the kids, and burned out lawns in the hot summer months. Many of the leaders in the U.S. labor movement are from Michigan, even today. Rumors that the "Michigan Mafia controls the NEA," the largest union in the US by far, are not unfounded. The top staff and most of the key political leadership in NEA's recent history has come from Michigan.
While it is true that Detroit is the most segregated city in the U.S., it also is home to thousands of citizens, black, white, arabic, hispanic, native american, who have participated in common anti-racist actions, like strikes-or more importantly like integrating neighborhoods, and whose dedication to a lived sense of multi-culturalism has passed life or death tests (Hartman, 1997 p218). Grace Lee, a Chinese Ph.D. and daughter of prominent restauranteurs, married a black factory worker, James Boggs, and moved to Detroit in 1953. The Boggs' gained international renown as Marxist intellectual activists. Part of the ongoing development of their thesis, which has also been a continuing self-critique, has been the centrality of the struggle over what W.E.B. Dubois called the "color-line" and the critical role of the resistance of black poor and working people. Since 1992, Grace Boggs has led a community organizing project on the east side of the city, designed to restore civic life in areas savaged by a destroyed economy. Thousands of youths, elderly people, and community workers have participated in the "Detroit Summers," bringing murals, flower and vegetable gardens, and literacy education to breathe vitality into the apparently barren streets. Before his death, James Boggs posed this question to those who seek an inclusive society: "How can we put our hearts, minds, hands, and imaginations together to redefine and create a City of Compassion, of Community, Cooperation, Participation, Enterprise, in harmony with the Earth?" (Boggs, undated flyer in my possession). Grace Boggs' Marxism is tempered by a deepened sense of humanism today, but has lost none of its critique of tyranny.
Domination in Detroit has routinely met stiff resistance. The Ku Klux Klan elected a Detroit Mayor in the 1920's. He was forced to resign in a year. Anti-integration movements did well in the city in the 1950's and 1960's, but most of the racist right is now located in the distant suburbs. The fascist movement has a history in Detroit's suburbs too, probably most graphically represented by the radio priest, Father Coughlin, whose church, the Shrine of the Little Flower, still towers at a major intersection four miles north of Detroit's boundary (Warren, 1996, p.79).The Michigan Militia, a force to be taken seriously, is an unconnected movement of anarchists, states-righters, and nationalists. Father Divine, a religious black nationalist, had currency in the city, but recently the Nation of Islam and other nationalist movements have never gained a real foothold. Street gangs exist, like the Crips, but they are not powerhouses like their colleagues in Los Angeles or the Black P. Stone Nation in Chicago (Schmidt, 1999).
Most recently, integrated demonstrations of hundreds of citizens from every area of the city protested the building of an incinerator, a monstrosity twice the size of a new casino, designed to burn hazardous waste. They lost. Brown hot air, spruced up by a variety of cleansing methods, blows directly south and west across the Detroit River to Canada. The smokestack is owned by Phillip Morris. A slight wind shift sends the effluent directly into the new Comerica Park. In early October 1999, more than 20,000 Detroit citizens led by the Catholic Focus Hope group marched in favor of integration and cooperation. Their march carried them right past the new Comerica Park, the replacement for Tiger stadium, renowned as one of the most beautiful of ballparks, which went empty and vacant, with no plans for renewal, on September 27, 1999 (Detroit Free Press, October 11 1999, p.1).
Spectacles are worth something. With the opening of the casinos and the promise of new sports stadiums like Comerica Park replacing Tiger Stadium, property values are up for the first time in two decades in some parts of the city. The mayor sponsored a campaign in 1998 to stop the New Year's shooting. In mid-August, the Wall Street Journal praised Detroit's comeback. On August 30 1999, the day Detroit teachers voted to strike, the Washington Post carried a long article lauding Detroit's black mayor for leading a "dramatic turnaround," calling him a leader of the "post civil-rights era." White people, a rarity inside the city limits after dark for quite some time, did return to attend Red Wings games, and held their own million white peoples' march when the team won two championships. Nearly 1,500 mostly white educators from all over the U.S. stood in line for hours at a Detroit schools hiring fair in the summer of '99. Full of hope, they were offered signing bonuses, deeply resented by long-time Detroit educators. Later, their new union negotiated a 6% raise for entry level teachers, over three years, leaving them about 4% behind projected inflation rates. The same day the first casino opened, the county closed 29 lakes due to ecoli pollution. Days later, the lake inspectors were laid off.
One Detroit teacher has a resume that stretches across the recent history of the city. Bill is the grandson of the main character of the film/book, "Cheaper by the Dozen," the fellow who ran his prodigious family based on F.W. Taylor's time and motion systems, every family member performing a specific task within the unit, with each movement prescribed by the thinking overseerer. In 1972, as a worker at the Chrysler Mack Avenue plant, a hellish pit where injuries were commonplace, our grandson helped lead a sit-in strike that lasted for three days. On the fourth day, before sunrise, citizen-supporters who picketed outside watched busses arrive at the plant. In the mist, the busses disgorged dozens, perhaps hundreds of men, carrying nunchuks, iron pipes, baseball bats, sap gloves. They wore UAW jackets. Thinking they were there for support, the pickets parted and watched them go into the plant. A second phalanx from the busses then attacked the pickets, beating most of them senseless. The first wave entered the plant. Surprised workers welcomed them, until the UAW staffers attacked, pounding the sit-downers into the oily cement floor, dragging them out, and turning them over to the police. The UAW leadership defended its action, saying they had to protect a contract which promised Chrysler labor peace. The UAW came full turn: born 35 years earlier in a massive sit-down strike in Flint, they smashed their own strike. This was a severe message from the white-dominated UAW to the fledgling Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), an organization of black auto workers taking a far more militant tact, drawn from UAW history, urging the control of the plants by the people who work in them. Before the Mack sit-down, DRUM had led plant seizures in three other Chrysler factories. The rank and file leader at Mack, a teacher today, was charged with a variety of felonies. But, this was Detroit. The boy from "Cheaper by the Dozen," a Maoist, was tried in front of a Marxist judge, Justin Ravitz, elected by the citizens, and eventually freed to become a teacher years later. Now an anarcho-communist, he teaches at the end of the public school line, in a school designed for kids as the last place before they drop out or go to jail. His kids will either do well on the state standardized exam, written by people from the richest suburb in Michigan, a test which has nothing at all to do with Detroit students' daily lives, a literacy test they must translate through suburban double-speak like "Our Core Constitutional Values," or their school will close and their teacher will lose his job. The children in the school have told me in vivid language that they believe there is utterly no hope for their future, that their chances for survival alone are not good. This educator, active on the picket lines during the Detroit teacher strike, also faces the dilemma: How can I keep my ideals and still teach?
Detroit is not Mars. These are the specifics of the social context of schools at the millennium: carrot and stick, divide and conquer, hollow spectacles, surveillance so common it goes unnoticed, crime made a family affair, commodified high-stakes exams as substitutes for the authentic struggle to gain and test knowledge in a reasonably free and honest atmosphere, obscure inequality and methods of analysis. Social control and despair meets work, hope and desire. This is the content of the construction of hegemony. People are driven together by systems of production and exchange, split apart from their work and the rest of humanity by systems of politics and economics that require alienation so deep it goes unnoticed. Educators from Margaret Haley to Dewey, Hilda Taba to Counts to Neill to Dubois to Freire have all addressed estrangement in education. But all of them have tried to resolve the appearances of the problem without resolving the key questions that underlie it. That is, they want democracy without the irreconcilable battle for equality, an anti-racist society attained without considering the profitability of racism, literacy for democracy without the organization and upheavals that the reach for democracy must require, the productivity of socialism without egalitarian practices in schools, or anti-authoritarianism until the authority becomes themself. I suggest those fundamental issues are: the contradictory relationship of labor and capital, the need for elites in an inequitable society to ultimately obscure rationalism and reason--and to turn to forms of authoritarianism to back them up when necessary--and the role of sexual oppression of all forms in buttressing undemocratic and unjust practices.
So what is the role of an educator or school in this mix? The dead end of reform is that it seeks to address the appearances of conditions that have their origins in the essence of all social relations, without ever addressing the contradictions within those constitutive relations. The common good, or democracy, or peace, is offered as a transparent overlay to what, in screed, is clearly class warfare. The cul-de-sac of sectarian or mechanical revolutionism is that it seeks to resolve the fundamental contradictions of society without preparing itself to address the appearances that reverberate in the minds of everyone who lives in an inequitable and undemocratic society: subservience, the hope that someone else will interpret and act on the world, racism, sexism, etc.; nor does revolutionism often address the question of the relationship of democratic decision making power to productive capacity, nor the key question of how we can learn to love one another as we fight relentlessly against a resolute opposition. In philosophical practice, revolutionary truth has mirrored the truth of dominance, one emanated from the party, another from the higher reaches of the church, or ownership. Both have it wrong, reifying truth outside the processes of social engagement: practice.
The juncture of socio-economic decay and hope for the future creates tiers of overpasses, connecting one route or another. The difficult thing is to make sense of the map of the past and find within it legitimate reasons for optimism, hope; to locate the quarks of what ought to be within what is, and to find transformative practices to make hope more than a reverie Teaching for democracy and equality is to assault the system of capital, which can tolerate neither for long. The puzzle is, which way out?-- when some of the routes are disguised, others are dead-ends, as we have seen.
There are five books I want to examine, each offering pathways for educational artists who seek to create a better world: Teach Me! Kids Will Learn When Oppression is the Lesson, by Murray Levin, The Discipline of Hope by Herb Kohl, Transforming Teacher Unions by the Rethinking Schools collective, Race, Class and Power in School Restructuring, by Pauline Lipman, and The Naked Children, recently reissued by Daniel Fader. These texts represent a good assemblage of ideas on change in or through school.
Murray Levin arrives via the Marxist Monthly Review Press, publisher of a wonderful monthly journal by the same name, and a prodigious sweep of reformist and revolutionary texts ranging from socialist ecology to political economy, a publishing house that raises expectations. Teach Me! comes well touted, recommended by radical and liberal icons like Francis Fox Piven and Howard Zinn. Levin taught political theory to freshman classes of 500 at the college level for more than three decades. Then, at 70, as a "good deed," he worked for three years at a community high school, a "holding pen to keep the students unarmed, uneducated, and off the streets..." (Levin, 1999, p.1). With all that experience, he didn't want to ask a co-worker how to teach, so he winged it (p.58). Over the years he interviewed 63 kids. He taped them. He offers their brief quotes, and, annoyingly, his interpretations of what they say.
Like most education writers, Levin asserts what people should know and how they should come to know it. He suggests his work is political, but not partisan (p.141).Levin says, "I planned to teach them how to think," and he points toward Marx's materialism and Hegel's dialectic as the method (p.4, 18, 24, 140). It is fair then to look at not only the internal dialectical contradictions of his work, but also to question his materialism (in brief, "being determines consciousness," as set apart from the idealist, "I think therefore I am.")
Levin sees his ghetto kids as without constitutive skills, intuitive, musical-not literary, hopeless, "robbed of their patrimony," instinctual, disorganized, unable to relate cause and effect, filled with paranoid conspiracy theories, chaotic, unable to think beyond the present with really no sense of time, religious, and nationalist-almost worse than empty vessels who need to be "shocked back to life" (p.144). They live in an "urban jungle" (p.60). Their problem is "nihilism and self-hatred, the twin scourges of the ghetto." In describing his trip to the ghetto from a wealthy suburb, Levin captures the appearances of poverty, an ugly landscape, but is never able to get to its sources. There is precious little here about jobs, labor, racist unemployment, who rules the area, and how. He lands hard on the side of appearance, which is indeed important, but soft on the side of essence, which is key.
"I decided to overestimate them" (p.110). His caricatures have a disturbingly familiar ring. At the same time, within this missionary project, there is a sense of kindness in Levin and the kids that seems to transcend some of the problems that he goes on to create, and then seeks to overcome. If anything, the book may allay the fears of some future educators; the ghetto is more kind to visitors than the surrounding world is to ghetto-residents who leave.
Levin sees no commonality of ghetto kids and the college kids he taught. He seeks to design something special for the former. He is clear about his project: his form of Marxism. However, his is not so much Marxism but an earlier viewpoint, Hegelian objective idealism, a nonetheless rich viewpoint that sees ideas as a weapon, dialectics as a study of change, and the discovery of order and purpose out of chaos (p.61). Levin's idea of Marxism is a naive, idealist, teleological take, which sees ideas, and appearances, not the totality and irreducible contradictions of the capital system itself, as the key source of oppression. This leads him to a common binary in those who seek to change schools: the inability to bridge reform and revolution through a careful examination of concrete circumstances, where the clues to the future are secreted, which then becomes a sense of what is, hopelessness, ("I did all I could,") and descriptions of what ought to be ("remedial work in vocabulary...small classes...tutored with affection and discipline....called on in every session...intimate settings ..where they can be unashamed to plead ignorance...p.147) and no clear descriptions of how to address the real knowledge, and social upheaval, that will be necessary to get there.
Because Levin is not a materialist, does not root his view in a careful study of concrete conditions as they change, he works with a limited form dialectics, a caricature. He leaps from one side of a contradiction to another, without being able to examine the spaces between. For example, Levin says he wants to show the kids that an acorn is best defined as an oak tree (my emphasis, p.145). But an acorn is not an oak tree. It has the capacity to become an oak tree, but it may become fertilizer. It is the examination of the unity and struggle of internal potentiality, within the social, political, environmental context, that is the heart of the materialist dialectics that Levin says he adopts, but clearly does not fully understand. He grasps, in a closing sentence, that the core of the crisis in schools is political economy, but has no plans to alter the social relations that buttress it. Caught on one horn of the dialectic or another, not seeing dialectics as a study of relationships but as the shopworn thesis-anti-thesis, Levin gets stuck.
Levin had the sense to quickly toss the assigned textbook, and then he also tossed his choice of a counter-text, Zinn's book, People's History of the United States. He focuses on a very small class that met once a week. He lectured on competing historiographies (Carlyle, Marx, etc.); chose the subject ("the most important decision teachers make is what shall be taught" (p.141), his emphasis): The Cuban Missile Crisis, and began to teach. One youth suggests, "Let's buy the missiles from Cuba and end it... Everything has a price." Levin disapproves. (p.87)
The presumption is that Murray Levin knows how to think and the kids do not, that he grasps how change occurs in the material world and they do not, that their reality and their solutions are fantasies. They need someone to straighten them out. He suggests he offers a non-partisan, but political education, a conundrum insufficiently explored. But Levin thinks Ghandi and non-violence paved a wise path for India, that the moral high-ground is determinative, which is a profoundly partisan stance, as is any claim to change what people know or how they come to know it. Levin's non-partisanship is pacifist. His kids, under his tutelage, finally see his light on India and exchange high-fives when he nods approval.
Levin wants people to vote. He presses his kids into another research project, on his past research about alienated voters. He starts with a lesson on illusion and reality, using this statement from a student, "Elections change nothing. We are no better off no matter who is elected. Doesn't matter...the real power not in the government. It's in the big money, the big dudes in the corporations, and the drug money, not affected by our elections" (p.130). Levin is unclear whether this view of the government as primarily a weapon of the powerful, an unaffected summation of Marx, needs to be corrected or not. In response, though, Levin does not go to the issue: Why have government? Where do governments come from? What is the history of this? What are the contending philosophies? Instead, he goes right to his old research; "the alienated voter," harkening back to the Dukakis presidential campaign, when Levin interviewed a series of political consultants and saved the notes. It seems the project here is to convince the kids that they should take special note of Republican schemes to get them not to vote, and then be sure to go vote, a dubious prodding.
Levin's great strength, which powers the book despite its theoretical and pedagogical shortcomings, is that he genuinely cares about the kids. He is willing to listen to them and to take some limited direction from them (the discussion on voter alienation progresses into a wonderful talk about the relationship of racism and the fear of sexuality), and finally to affectionately build some personal ties with them, even if in a limited way. He ate lunch with them, every month. He wanted the kids to understand how power works. While I see no evidence that they questioned his own assumptions, it is clear that because of the trust he was able to establish, he was able to go much farther than many others in the same spot. These are the beginnings within Levin which might allow him to return, with a self-critique, and teach again.
Now comes Herbert Kohl, inspiration of a generation. He is part of a generation of teacher-scholar-activist who kindled hope in the schools in the 1960's. Jonathan Kozol, Daniel Fader, John Holt, James Herndon, and Kohl are (male) icons of the 1960's generation. Indeed, I owe Kohl. This, from 36 Children, I have never forgotten:
"I wanted the children to
see themselves in the perspective of history, to know the changes of fortune,
of the balance of wealth and power that have constituted history, and of
the equally real change of the oppressed into the oppressor. I wanted them
to be able to persist, revolt, and change things in our society and yet
not lose their souls in the process.(p. 55).
Let us see where Kohl is today, with The Discipline of Hope.
Michael Apple and James Beane, in Democratic Schools, paraphrase John Dewey, "If people are to secure and maintain a democratic way of life, they must have opportunities to learn what that way of life means and how it might be led" (p.7). Kohl cast his life in this mold He aimed at democracy with a series of books that trace his struggle as a "craftsperson of learning," whose work grows out of an abiding sense of hope-that transformation of social institutions can rise up from, at least in part, the belief that all kids can learn and have a right to. He's the boogeyman to the right: he wrote the book on open schools (Kohl, 1998, p.10).
Discipline of Hope is a retrospective on a phenomenal career, but it is no sigh. It's an honest, often humble revisiting of his work in New York City where he left Harvard and entered the k-12 world just before the 1964 Harlem rebellion, his rejection of the AFT's racist 1968 strike against community control and his decision to cross the picket lines despite a long lineage of unionism, his shift to Berkeley in the height of the anti-war years, and his construction of his educational vision that the keynote of school must be that every child can learn. He taught at every level of schooling, for more than thirty years. He paid his dues. Discipline of Hope is a counter-denouement in many ways. Nothing is tied up, nothing finished. It ends with an outline of what Kohl hopes to learn next, like how children learn to read-even though he knows he can teach them.
Kohl knows good teaching and offers advice through a wise and memorable filter: stories. He must be organized and sentimental. He still has kid-writing from his first class in 1963. He uses it to good effect here. From the stories, we can see his pedagogy develop and grow rich: know your kids and build on what they know; kids need to see themselves somewhere in the curricula; love them as your own; never accept prescribed limits on what kids can learn; listen; create a safe place where honest personal exchanges, affective and cognitive, are probable; listen some more; have them read and write in their own ways, and read to them a lot (in a crisis, grab a story); go to their homes and understand their families and communities; never dogmatically make the kid fit the system; kids are often wise and will get you through, and even protect a good teacher, if you let them; spend the time and make the emotional sacrifice to understand the kids; stay on the side of your kids; fight racism every day; listen some more still. Learning is a great method of defense. Be fair, the central quality of teaching (p.58). He offers a nice outline of good pedagogy, to answer rightists who suggests that caring egalitarian teachers give not a hoot for skills. The reader would do well to wend the way through the stories to find it.
This is the stuff that student teachers should see first, the righteous writing that can remind everyone of the community of scholars that has stretched across the centuries to memorialize ideas about good pedagogy. As Kohl's honesty demonstrates, there are, however, problems. There is a sense of impatience and individualism here that propels his good work, on the one hand, and becomes a weakness on the other. For example, his advice to teachers who must encounter standardized exams is contradictory: teach the kids how to pass (p.17), and reject the demands of the system, follow the kids (p.14). Kohl knows this. It may be why he quickly decided he could not stand the conditions in his public school in New York City and went to Berkeley, where he worked in a series of alternative schools, most of them with relatively small classes. He did not support, early on, the 1960's school boycott in New York, because he felt it was more important that the kids encounter him. Yet, he wisely chose to cross the picket lines of the 1968 AFT strike. He feels the reading wars, phonics versus whole language, are simply silly, because phonics are part of a curriculum that allows kids to struggle for meaning. He has a naive take on the potential of teachers unions, which he believes must be a bulwark for public schools. Yet he understands that the union's promotion of standardization, and high-stakes exams, for teachers and kids, will only segregate children and the profession. And one of his projects is to work toward the certification of teachers of color. Teacher unions, following the racist craft union path of the AFL, promoting the notion of worker-employer unity, are an unreliable ally in the fight for democratic schooling, as we have seen in Detroit. Kohl does not see the politics of social control versus the politics of exploration beneath the appearances of the arguments.
His sense of counter-dogma is powerful. There is distinctness in his work, perhaps coming from his many experiences. He understands that small schools, or even small classes, do not make much difference if they are filled with bad teachers (p.105). He worries about the fear of sexuality in schools today, fear that sanitizes the bond between students and teachers when they can never touch, for any reason (p. 67). He is clear that he is teaching for democracy, and he believes there is no one way to get there. Good teaching, he believes, stands above political planning. What is primary to him is the process and content of teaching, not overcoming social and political oppression (p.69). This is where I think he sets up a contradiction that, I hope, is not there. To the contrary, there is a relationship, an interpenetration, an exchange, a unity and struggle, of the process and content of teaching and teaching for political reasons-which we all do. Discipline of Hope is especially powerful because Kohl opens the breadth of his experience to this kind of critique, and has the humble good sense to let his students offer him some guidance. For example, his students in a psychology course he set up, listened to him carefully and began to convince him that the key feature of our lives is not loneliness but community, and that people must create it when it does not exist (p.141).
He has not simply listened to his students, he has engaged their lives in his day to day practice. He goes out and sits on the stoops. His students pop up in his later life, sometimes as teachers themselves. Through his willingness to risk encounters, he has studied the role of racism in the classroom and the community, and struggled to find ways to bridge the terrific gaps that exist between the emotional and social lives of young people of color and white middle class educators who face them. He has the sense to say that the kids have been good to him.
Like Levin, Kohl has problems in finding the indications of what ought to be within what is. Instead, he is inclined to utopian solutions, the idealist solution to unresolved antimony, seeking to create that one great school in the midst of capitalism, even in his own life. In pedagogy, Kohl is still choosing the important vocabulary words for his kids, despite his urging about following their desires. He cites the Sylvia Ashton Warren, an inspiration to the whole language movement, and the exceedingly directive Soviet, Makarenko, as intellectual mentors (p.56). Kohl wants to shy away from the primacy of politics, but he wants to pursue, "situational teaching...(which answers).. Who are my kids? What is happening in the world, the nation, the community, and the social lives of my students that can be brought to bear upon their mastery of the subject?" (p.317). This, clearly, is a politicized program. He says he does not teach through psychology, but given a chance, one of the first things he does is start a psychology class. He employs Freireian methods of picking generative words, a problem in a language like English, which, unlike Portugese, takes inconsistent phonetic paths. Yet Kohl keeps seeking out alternative school settings, rather than returning to his public school roots-though he does rue the privatization of the public sector. Kohl is at war with despair. He is inclined to locate hope, though, more in dreams than in the concrete conditions of day to day life. But it is his engagement with everyday life that leads him to reflect on his dreams in more profound ways (p.330). Like Levin, surprisingly, Kohl measures the success of his pedagogy, the proofs that his students are defeating alienation, in part by indicating that they vote, perhaps the most alienating of all political actions. Today, the deeply contradictory Kohl works for the foundation run by the richest man in the world, George Soros' Open Society Institute. He and his wife, Judy, live on eleven acres with three houses in California. He says he has an ongoing love affair with teaching. "I want it all." (p.18). A life for change that has this bibliography of writing and students, and these living conditions, appears to have come close. There is within Kohl both the implications of a better world, and some clues on how to get there. What is missing is the perseverance that it takes to pursue a long career in one spot long enough to build a community for change and the political understanding of a community prepared to fight real opposition, which is not merely an imposed ideology, but a political and economic necessity. This is a kind of internally contradictory monism that hopes good teaching can overcome the domineering relationship of surplus value and alienation, which I think is quite unlikely. But making radical change without grasping what Kohl embodies as the future would make that change quite incomplete.
A generation of teachers who had the good fortune to encounter Kohl may have met Daniel Fader at the same time, the late 1960's. Those who did also met Uncle Wiggly, Cleo, Wentworth, Superduck, Rubbergut, Sis (Cicero), and Snapper, the kids who taught him to re-read the world, their community and their junior high school in Washington DC. Fader wrote Naked Children about his 1965-66 experience in school reform. Boyton-Cook, in a terrific series, has re-released the book as a companion with others from the genre; Ken Macrorie's Uptaught , and John Holt's What Do I Do Monday?
Naked Children is Fader's passionate story about disconnects: kids from literacy and print, the language and values of school from community, students from teachers, formal knowledge from the paradigms of the streets, the hope people once had for schools from the despair even great educators seem to feel today, disinclination from disability, pleasure against subservience as a motive, the appearances of kids who make themselves invisible from the essential investigation requisite for good teaching, the lies and double lives required in schools against the truths schools purport, the barrier of working class kids of resistant caste and middle class teachers, real resistance from the appearance of resistance that only recreates oppression. Over and over, Fader addresses the question: Whose side are you on? He answers: You must be on the side of the kids, love the kids, even at the risk of career.
Fader seeks to bridge the disconnects by using a powerful interplay of storytelling and reflection, a memorable span. He probes the relationships of language, literacy, and power. His immediate project, in 1965, was to build his, "English in Every Classroom," program, a system he initiated at Michigan's Maxey Boys Training School. The plan is reasonably simple: surround kids with print, often magazines, newspapers, cartoons, etc., focused on questions that interest them, and let them read-everywhere. Let them work in groups and talk about their work, where they can get the attention and build the communities that class size and individualized exams make impracticable. His notion of collective work signals his convictions about the collective nature of the construction of knowledge. Study the kids, listen, learn from them, and if necessary let them organize the school for you.
Fader learned from Wentworth, who could not read. Rather, in his school he could not and would not read formally. He read hot rod magazines under his desk. Wentworth had learned that if you tell them you can read, they will make you read trash and answer inconsequential questions. Another youth was labeled in the "dumbhead" track. He had memorized the names and full backgrounds of everyone in the baseball Hall of Fame. Uncle Wiggly was a tracked dumbhead, but he could make intricate maps of the city. Sis couldn't talk. His peers understood him. One Fader thesis is that functional illiteracy is a decision to reject formal literacy, and that motivation must be reestablished, connected to pleasure..
Fader showed up in D.C. from the University of Michigan with a plan for change and a great deal of faith in schools that he says is now mostly gone (p.xi). Fader had the sense to locate truth, not in himself or a textbook, as many teachers do, but in the social practices of the school-which meant watching and listening and historicizing and contextualizing. He spotted Wentworth and the gang led by Cleo, a girl who led a gang of boys with wisdom and sexuality. Fader was warned by the faculty not to be seen by that kind of child. His literacy project, which he insisted must maintain its integrity by demonstrating its worth in any school rather than to create a lab, gained limited support from the teachers, yet Cleo's gang adopted him and improved the plan. They had read his theoretical framework, distributed to the faculty only, and determined that it might be worth pursuing. Fader understood that his program was meeting teacher resistance and took the chance to have the kids organize the program for him, to have other kids be sure that the texts he was delivering to classrooms were at least handled. He took the side of the kids, a risk in many schools. They did the job and met some teacher resistance of their own. Many of the documents were only handled. But the gang took up a literacy project: Sis. They read to him, make sure he was fed, had him read into a tape recorder to overcome his self-propelled idiom.
Fader knew restraint and patience, learned at Maxey and elsewhere. He knew some kids would battle his program, although they could not win in the traditional classroom. The latter was recognized with the imperator of habit and respectability as school. Fader's literacy program was not. Cleo predicted that his work would not survive.
Fader took the gang on trips; to used bookstores where they selected texts in which they could see themselves, to the National Gallery, to campuses, to restaurants, where he learned they could navigate and were hungry for food and knowledge. They learned they could gain tools to understand and effect their world-a dynamic counter to what Fader says is the message of most schools: You are not competent and what you do does not matter (p.151). He was sufficiently open to learn what the kids already knew, the turf at their school. They knew little about their city or its many invitations. They began to read and explore. On the adventures Fader describes, the kids venture out in his rented cars and meet unfriendly cops in Washington National Airport, other kindly cops on horseback who allow a brief pet, a generous bookstore owner who teaches the kids about anti-Semitism, and a black college student who Wentworth, competing for Cleo, thinks is too glib.
The program was dead in a year, after the gang of kids and Fader left. Cleo was right. Fader suggests that it is the disconnect of the linguistic alienation of the kids, the depressed sense of literacy, that rage turned inward of people whose egos are under incessant assault, on the one hand, the arrogance of educators whose class invades a community created by inequity that they do not understand, on the other hand, that underpins the continuing death throes of public education, which he identified as near-asphyxiated thirty years ago.
He goes at a key assumption, "we have been feeding on false hope." We thought that school was the route through illiteracy. "However, we may regard the classroom and literacy, it is time we realized that significant portions of the impoverished community now regard both as deadly enemies of their self regard and self preservation.." (p.214).
Fader takes a linguistic turn: the most formidable gap he sees between him and Cleo's gang is- -language. (p.203). He represents Uncle Wiggly, who might say anything at all in a classroom, as having a "distrust of verbal people" that characterizes his caste. For Fader, the problem is not that some live off others, but that we do not listen, we do not understand. He asks that others pay attention.
We are hung on the pillars of thesis, anti-thesis, brittle oppositions. Language is abstracted up and out of, above, material life, inequality lodged in exploitation. Then the abstraction is declared to be the crux, in this case a crux suspended on antimonies: the language of the ghetto and the language of privilege. Hence, the way out, literacy, is blocked by distrust, or the correct perception of competing interests. Language as a reciprocal process of recreating life and understanding within a social, political, and economic context, is reified as the barricade. Inside the abstraction, language alone, there is no bridge, no potentially shared trust and literacy. There is no way out. Language, ideas enacted, is the key gap for Fader. The gap is impossible to bridge if one community sees itself as the victim of the other, especially if social structures require this victimization. Fader's way out would be to change the status of literacy, but the way out keeps failing. Washington, D.C. schools look a good deal today like they did when Fader did three decades past. In fact, on September 29, 1999, the New York Times reported that writing scores in D.C. on the National Assessment for Educational Progress exams are the worst in the country. Only one percent of the nation's students scored at the advanced level (p.A-18). But what if everyone can read? What is solved? One would be hard pressed to find a more literate society than Germany, say, in 1935. Hope must be more than a literate population.
What is the ethical teacher to do, confronted by the demands of high-stakes standardized exams which rupture the key relationships of an honest classroom? That depends on where the teacher's ethics come from. If they are ethics of the ages, standing outside and above social construction, reified ethics, then perhaps the teacher should beat her breast, denounce acquiescent colleagues, take consequences as they may, write a screed and a petition demanding concessions, and quickly become a memory. A teacher whose ethics rise up from a careful study of the material world, who choices on the question of Whose Side Are You On?, are not fixed but contextualized within the process of historical struggle, a teacher who ethics are stamped with the brand of working people, is likely to fight, retreat, organize, and fight again, all the time answering the question with: Love the Kids, survive!
However, again, it is Fader's willingness to engage in practice that rebuilds the power of his project-and his book. It is within his struggle to fashion a literate and critical environment, within his honest report about pedagogy, kids, and the particulars gained from a scrupulous reconnoiter in circumstances that many teachers do not enter or know, that we can see many clues to the process and product of the future. His battle to overcome racist barriers to human interaction is, as he demonstrates, repeatedly made profound, and often met with more kindness than he predicts, when he entangles himself, connects, with day to day life. The answers he offers in theory are more deeply offered in an examination of his practice. All of this is captured in his understanding of the foundations of good teaching, placed within a simultaneously hopeful and despairing book. The truly despondent do not write, as Fader sees. And Wentworth's grandmother offers a semaphore of wisdom that begins to answer a foundational question that must be answered to fashion a more equitable and democratic world: What is equality? When asked if she would take in Sis, whose uncle was headed south and who would have to leave school if he followed, she said she would manage: "His need is bigger than ours" (p. 141). Those who want to know the fate of the kids who they remember from earlier readings are urged back to the text; worth the full reminding.
Pauline Lipman has composed a brilliant analysis of educational change, a model of educational research that should become a benchmark for ethnographic research in schools. This book is a terrific example of intellectual work on the reciprocal roles of education, research, and social change. Her task, as she sees it, is to examine a particular school system, Riverton, a mid-sized southern district, within the social context of schools and society. Lipman does not conceal her background, views, and aims. She pretends no false contemplative objectivity outside the struggle between those who own and those who do not. In a moving introduction, Lipman eulogizes civil rights activists who died in Greensboro, shot by the Klan, many years ago. She says, in a paragraph too good to paraphrase,
"the negative educational
experiences of children of color are rooted in their oppression in society...daily
life in schools can reproduce, disrupt, or transform dominant relations
of power...academic failure and student alienation must be analyzed through
an examination of educational policy and practice. My goal was to understand
how schools can be changed to support the efforts of marginalized students
and communities to transform their lives (p.17).
Lipman writes with clarity and meticulous precision, in a dissertation-like style that is both rigorous and sometimes repetitive. She writes things, not words; she describes the particulars of hegemony as she says it. Her effort to communicate parallels her opening statement of views in setting her apart from once-radical academics who have concluded that the world is too complex to comprehend, so their writing should be too. The task she adopts moves the concerns of marginalized people to the center of academic discourse. She exhibits a remarkable ability to report and reflect upon unexpected consequences, surprising connections, unpredictable events, which complicate and enrich any analysis that attempts to go beyond the dogmatism of reality bent to a template. This is a dynamic investigation of complex interconnected processes as they occur- -even within a rationally framed inquiry. It's a good story with people you are going to cheer for, but it is also a thorough-going report from someone who is expert in the humbling art of the reconnoiterer. As a white northerner entering a southern school, she was wise to enlist local colleagues who could "triangulate" her work.
Lipman investigates both the social context of the school and the ideologies, habits, and traditions that motivate Riverton educators. Riverton is a pseudonymous school district, deeply segregated by class and race, as is the city in which it sits. Segregation replicates itself in the internal operations of schools. Riverton schools are carefully tracked. Black Riverton students were being suspended at a rate more than double the rate of white students; black students failed classes at twice the rate of white students, etc.
Lipman researched foundation-initiated efforts at two junior high schools, Gates and Franklin, in 1991-1992 Gates is a relatively wealthy public school. Parents in the PTO contribute thousands of dollars every year. 65% of the students are black, 34% white. The black students in Gates score far lower on standardized exams than the white students. There are 41 white teachers, 8 black educators, most of whom are in positions with little prestige or power. Gates' principal is strong, and is able to rely as well on the power base of active involved parents and a long tradition of academic success.
Franklin's students are over 80% African American. The teacher force at Franklin is 50-50, black and white. It's known as a problem-student magnet, with unpaved parking lots, little parent participation. Delisa Johnson, Franklin's principal, is deeply involved, knows every kid by name, and seeks to set up every event, including punishment centers, as a learning moment. While little moves in Franklin without her consent, she is a new principal, unable to call in long-standing bureaucratic debts or to turn to powerful parents in her community. Teachers Lipman calls Othermothers and Mentors build close ties with the children, bracketing their school work with their lives, their language, and their community. While Lipman believes that exclusion impoverishes us all, it is clear that the key to understanding the context and practices of the two schools is to grapple with the multitude of negations which counter her vision: racism in the teaching force and in the school structures buttressed by power and tradition; cultural differences between students and the school's organizational complex as well as between students and curriculum and instruction. Although Lipman does examine in detail the contradictions that exist between progressive educators, at all levels, and the school bureaucracy as well as the community, she is reasonably clear that the key contradiction is that between students and the state, the government that initiates and propels school.
Lipman sets up a four explanations that Riverton educators used to interpret the failure of African American students to perform at exemplary levels on standardized exams: (1) a deficit model aimed at "at risk" students, a euphemism for black students who were assumed to have nearly insurmountable problems or inheritances originating outside the school, (2) a social relations model which pyschologized the foundations of the issue and which saw the answer in esteem-building, (3) a critique of racism focusing on the kids' strengths, examining the ways students were alienated from the educational system, and (4) an educational critique which in theory directed investigation at the failing education system as a whole, and in practice sought to make school experiences more relevant. While this template offers clarity for interpreting any educational paradigm, what is most interesting is Lipman's use of it, never forcing the circumstance to fit the profile, never reifying her own work, but an exacting reconnaissance that demonstrates the many interrelated ideas held within some of the same individuals, which makes them tough to categorize, illustrating what Lipman calls the, "complexity, contradictoriness, and fluidity of ideological make-up" (p.97). Nevertheless, Lipman has captured tendencies which make it possible to anticipate what may come next. There was no skin color attached to the model. Black and white teachers alike adopted one outlook or another, some crossing the entire spectrum. Only a handful of teachers represented the critique of racism, and most of them had little power. Class background and outlook appears to hold a centripetal role.
School unions were not players in this southern town. Change agents were not organized other than at the top and within small groups of relatively isolated rank and file school workers. The flow of restructuring in Riverton was consistently from top down. The hierarchical relationships, teacher to administrator, student to teacher, that rise out of the reification of inequity were rarely acknowledged or challenged in the reform effort. As Lipman aptly demonstrates, potent forms of domination rely on invisibility and disingenuousness.
The crux of any classroom exploration must be truth and honesty, unless one seeks a subservient student. It is hardly worth the candle to gain and test knowledge in an essentially dishonest relationship. The host of forms of alienation working in any school system, grades, a standardized curriculum and exams, were multiplied in Riverton by cultural misunderstandings surrounding African American student behaviors, teachers' negative racial stereotypes and fear of African American males, and a cycle of resistance and punishment" (p.224). In addition, those who had won small shares of power, like teachers, principals, and administrators, sought to gloss past real differences in the spirit of demonstrating the cohesiveness of the education family.
Restructuring at Riverton did not work. To the contrary, the reform stratagem allowed the powerful to win again in struggles about race and class, and controversial issues, especially question of race were not brought forward; to the contrary, they were suppressed. In one instance, Lipman documents the development of a yearbook project, initially led by African American educators, which was supplanted by a "Keepsake book" initiated and controlled by white teachers and students, as part of the restructuring project. All of the powers of the institution shifted from the former to the latter. The Keepsake book became the yearbook of choice. No one openly criticized the shift. From the top down came the need to create an appearance of racial integration, but never the understanding that might get to the essence of white supremacy or racial oppression in Riverton schools. Lipman not only reports this as a Riverton reality, she offers a thoroughly researched review of the history of this keeping of the secrets in schools.
So where is the hope? Lipman is not only studying dominance, but resistance, at least in terms of teaching well despite the grinding structures and messages from above-and all around. For Lipman, hope is located in those teachers who "provide an empowering education to students who are failed by the institution as a whole...these teachers are a crucial bridge between what is an what might be in restructuring schools"(p.245). She suggests that these teachers (she reports on three) are central to the transformation of school in the interests of "all children" (her emphasis, p.246). These educators started with student strengths, aimed high, reinforced kids' knowledge and self-worth, created respectful classrooms, built close ties to students, and had few discipline problems. But all of these teachers ran into a power so embedded that it appeared benign. Indeed, teachers were repeatedly told they were empowered, which meant they were allowed to discuss how policy would be implemented.
The entire educational community assumed a vision of education so deeply ingrained that it did not need to openly resist challenges, it simply drowned them in disregard. Only one of Lipman's model educators was not wholly marginalized on the faculty and she was not seen as an educational leader, but as a teacher with innate talents that probably could not be duplicated.
Lipman does not offer a close examination of circumstances in Riverton, perhaps because she lives elsewhere, but most likely because her research focus was centered on the schools. This only weakens her project in the sense that she is unable to fully trace the ideas and practices of the district back to the competition of interests which hovers over education. However, her urgent signal is that to grasp schools, one must address how they are socially situated.
The restructuring in Riverton did not challenge existing belief systems, did not wear away social or educational inequality, and in many ways appears to have deepened the peripheral role of educators and students of color. To understand how this might have worked, Lipman offers three themes: the power of the social context, the influence of ideology in school, and "the essential role of marginalized groups to change the equation of existing power relations..."(p.288). She then offers examples of how these tangled themes worked out in daily practice, one weaving with another inside the complexities of teachers and her focus schools. Lipman's close study of the development of hegemony as a reciprocal process which involves its victims suggests that it is imperative, somehow, to place the interests of the least powerful in the front of any reform. A significant part of this process is good teaching itself.
Good teaching, which Lipman interrogates in fascinating detail, is but a part of the way out, the passage to hope. She is quite clear: school restructuring, if it is to match its rhetorical promises, must be part of a struggle for democracy and social justice. In brief, it must be organized.
The Rethinking Schools collective, led by practicing k-12 teachers in Milwaukee, came to prominence in the early 1990's, when they published Rethinking Columbus, an inexpensive text that helped reposition the celebration of Columbus' 1492 discoveries as an invasion. The magazine sold thousands of copies and spoiled Columbus' party. Revenue from that success made further efforts possible. The group publishes a model newspaper, Rethinking Schools, presenting the writing and drawing of school workers, kids, public intellectuals like Howard Zinn and Michael Apple, and community people. They put out a book, Rethinking Schools : An Agenda for Change, in 1995, used by most of the teacher education faculty that I know. If there is an apparently organized left in education, similar to Labor Notes within the labor movement, this appears to be it. In fact, I consider myself a member and have promoted their texts in my classes.
There are three unfortunate things about Transforming Teacher Unions. A lot of hopeful people will buy it. They will probably read the worst parts in it, missing the longer and better stuff. These people might actually act on what they have read. The many political and pedagogical tendencies within the Rethinking Schools (RS) constellation will likely be seen as in agreement with it; the blowback being that the group will be defending a line that many people only tangentially support, at best.
Peterson and Charney succeeded in publishing a short version of their school reform vision in the September 8 1999 issue Education Week, and were promptly attacked by the right in the September 28th edition. Letters to the editor accused the NEA and AFT of conducting an anti-choice "jihad" to keep their mandatory dues. With this thinking as the opposition, many activists will want to circle the wagons, to put debate in the education family on the back burner. My goal is to the contrary.
Transforming Teacher Unions addresses the complex question of school unionism, social justice, and pedagogical life with a series of short articles, the kind that appeal to people who live in a period when time is a commodity related to privilege. Teachers don't have much of it. They will be drawn to the little essays and may well miss the longer historical lessons like those drawn by Dan Perlstein who authors a fine piece on New York City unionism. This time, though, the editors (Bob Peterson and Michael Charney, both asserting modest union backgrounds in the NEA and AFT respectively), abandon the standard format that has typified a lot of RS work. Instead of plenty of kids' voices and writings from the rank and file, Peterson and Charney present work from the top, like Sandra Feldman, protege of Al Shanker's AFT, and Bob Chase, inheritor of Mary Hatwood Futrell's position as president of the NEA, and Adam Urbanski, AFT media favorite from Rochester. If appearances are significant, then the form of the transformation we are to see is heavy at its pinnacle.
Peterson sets the stage for what can be portrayed as a series of brief presentations from people in leadership roles who have addressed school reform. He outlines what he sees as the context: public education is under attack, unions are in retreat, we need a kind of unionism that addresses social justice, on the side of children. Peterson says there are really three viewpoints within teacher unionism: 1) professional unionism, as represented by the NEA's Bob Chase's call for "New Unionism;" 2) industrial unionism, as seen in the labor-management conflicts built into traditional contracts; and 3) social justice unionism, which "is grounded in the need to advocate for all students which in turn leads directly to confronting issues of race and class" (p.11). He suggests that a good example of this latter vision, which Peterson suggests is a "class conscious perspective" is addressed in a section, "Confronting Racism in British Columbia," by Tom Mckenna, which I will take up later (p.16).
The triangular construct Peterson creates is disingenuous, addressing apparent differences as if they were fundamental issues. The initial philosophical and practical question to a unionist is not, what form shall our union take, but why is the union there? Each of the three categories of unionism that Peterson proposes fails to wonder if the reason for existence is that union members have less, not more, in common with their employers, with capital. Peterson's notion of class consciousness , as represented here, is extraordinarily thin. Indeed, history demonstrates that industrial unionism and New Unionism believe that they have more in common with capital than not-and Peterson's social justice unionism is willing to mention class, but not capital. There is nothing whatsoever new about "New Unionism," which NEA's Chase has repeatedly described as an alliance of business, government (especially schools), teacher union leaders, and the rank and file-wrapped in the language of national interest, children's interest. Peterson never analyzes the state corporatism that underpins this stance, though he must be intimately familiar with it. Chase's intellectual model comes from the work of Detroit's Barry Bluestone, author of The Great U-Turn, with whom Chase is extremely close, and Charles Kerchner and Julia Koppich, authors of A Union of Professionals. (Gibson, )The practical model is the worker/boss partnership of Saturn Corporation, which Chase highlights at every NEA representative assembly. New Unionism has been a contested issue with Saturn's work force for a decade. The New Unionist proposed partnership is not only between the union members and capital, but between union members and the top leaders of the union, like Feldman and Chase, which is a problem, as we shall see. Moreover, Peterson unwittingly raises a dual problem with teacher unions, and with reformist unionism in general: "Historically, teacher unions have operated on the premise that their overarching responsibility is to protect their members...in the long run, unions will be able to do so only if they adopt a social justice union model" (p.19).
In fact, if we are to measure by history, the NEA, the largest union, hardly operated in the interests of its members. It operated in the interests of school administrators, textbook publishers, etc., as Peterson is aware. (Sinclair) The AFT, which has historically operated in opposition to internal democracy since at least the watershed year of 1968 worked to promote not the interests of most teachers, but to protect banks. (Selden )Even so, what if the interests of many, even most teachers are in fact in conflict with the children they face, or even more significantly, with the children of the world? What if white teachers benefit from racism, or perceive themselves as beneficiaries, as the practice of the AFT would indicate? Would not the role of the union to be to protect the interests of its members? Once unionism has identified itself with capital, with the interests of the national elite, that unionism cannot escape the question-nor the obvious answer.
For example, NEA's Chase's New Unionism promotes the kind of teacher professionalism, also adopted by Peterson's social justice unionism, that on the one hand encourages the multiplying hoops of teacher education programs, like the testing processes of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which systematically work to segregate the teaching force, by cost and by the racial coding of the exams themselves. On the other hand, Chase's New Unionism promotes the standardization of the curricula and the high-stakes testing attached to the standards, which deepen the separation and inequities in schools. (Ross in Z and TRSE). Peterson is too kind to Chase when he says, "Professional unionism as a whole tends to downplay the issues of race" (p.19) Chase's unionism is racist, as is Sandra Feldman's.
Feldman is the heir-apparent of Albert Shanker. She earned her spurs with her support for the racist AFT strike at Ocean-Hill Brownsville, which Herb Kohl best describes in his chapter in Transforming Teacher Unions (p.93). Let us look at what the NEA had to say about the practices Feldman endorsed in the AFT, before the leadership of the NEA and AFT tried to go to the altar.
"1. At the 1975 AFT convention, Shanker gave up the gavel to speak from the floor to oppose a motion from the union's black caucus "to endorse and support busing" as a means of urban desegregation. Shanker "won".
2. In 1977 AFT submitted an amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court in support of Alan Bakke's challenge against the University of California's affirmative action plan. The brief argued against the use of quotas in employment.
3. In 1978 Shanker sought to have the AFT submit another amicus brief, this time on the Brian Weber case, which would have opposed a union negotiated affirmative action plan. Black leaders who prevailed against Shanker now consider the result of their effort, the union's "no position" on Weber, a major victory.
4. In 1985, again behind Shanker, AFT did submit an amicus brief in the Wygant case. Here AFT argued that a NEA negotiated affirmative action plan in Jackson, Mississippi, should be abolished. NEA had bargained an affirmative action agenda for the employment of minority teachers. The plan included an affirmative action retention policy. The Supreme Court upheld the right of a union to negotiate an affirmative action plan, but voided the retention policy.
In this instance, Shanker
used the old craft union argument, seniority above affirmative action.
But, as many critics point out, Shanker's own locals take peculiar stands
on seniority. In New York City, teacher seniority is counted on an "at
site" basis, that is a teacher with 20 years in the system but three years
in one assignment has three years of effective seniority. (See "AFT--An
Historical Outline" by Don Keck and Dan Mckillip, 1990 NEA publication)"
The three-pronged perspective that propels Peterson influences and taints the entire text. For example, Margie Slovan, a freelancer in Seattle, writes about the New Unionism instituted in part by long-time NEA staffer Roger Erskine in her city. In doing so, she interviews Seattle educator Doug Selwyn, who she quotes as supporting the concept of New Unionism "wholeheartedly," although she says he has a few problems with it in practice. Selwyn, however, does not support the New Unionism. Here is what he has to say, cut and pasted directly from email exchanges with me on October 1 and 2, 1999:
"What new unionism in Seattle has meant, from what I can see, is the administration says what it says and the union says, ok. I don't see the union standing for anything right now, and seems mighty in bed with the folks across the street."
"These changes are no better, I think for three reasons (or more). One, the same people are still entrenched in the union hierarchy so they still do what they've always done. Second, teachers are so fried and overwhelmed and, by nature, apolitical (at least at elementary) that they rely on someone else to do what needs to be done. No system works if people are uninvolved and uninformed. The rep assemblies are filled with procedure and internal politics and almost no substance so no one goes to the meetings, but little else is happening. Third, the union here spends much of its time allowing the district to set its agenda, or nursing grudges held against other unions in the state rather than working with them. Sad story
The theory of people working together for a common goal is an attractive one, and that's the story of the Saturn type contract. It was also the story that was fed to us in Seattle, the myth of the trust agreement. One major flaw in the ointment is there has to be trust to have a trust agreement. We had a power/publicity crazed ignorant general to trust and now we have a banker. And Roger Erskine. So that's one minor flaw. The second is that no matter how the agreements shape up, if the same people are in place at the top there is no real change. We have regular district shake ups downtown and what happens is the same people have different signs over their doors, different secretaries and go about their business as usual. So, in reality, I don't like the new unionism any better than the old one, and maybe less (though I like the theory more). I like fairy tales ok and
it makes sense to me that
we should really work together to make good decisions for all the people
This is not the voice of a person who can be fairly represented as a whole-hearted supporter of New Unionism, unless one begins with the frame and chooses to make the picture fit. Selwyn does, however, do more than flag a certain dogmatism within the interpretations of this book. He signals a wide gap between school workers (tens of thousands of people in school are not teachers, but provide vital services, from bus drivers to media specialists to cooks and custodians) and their union representatives. This gap is both indicative of the historical sexism of teacher unions (all of three top leaders of NEA in 1999 are men)and the material reality that union staff and leaders lead lives aligned with a social class out of the reach of many school workers.
According to NEA Secretary Treasurer Van Roekel, the average NEA member makes about $40,000 a year. In this sense, at least, the gap between leaders and the membership is fairly wide, though surely not as wide as many CEO's and their workforce. Van Roekel reported staff and leader salaries, allowances, and expenses to the Labor Department in 1997. Executive Director Don Cameron's total was $216,593.55. (Cameron, in the NEA structure which clearly demarcates staff and governance, is staff.) Bob Chase's total was $301,302.03. Weaver reported $275,162. Van Roekel's predecessor tallied $252,658. That year, while Van Roekel was on the NEA Executive Board, he collected a total of $50,723 in expenses and allowances. NEA secretaries, who like school secretaries are often actually in charge, average nearly $50,000 per year. A typical NEA staff person, an organizer, made a salary and expense total of $104,669.
The NEA is not poor. In 1997, it reported assets of nearly 145 million dollars. The union long ago decided to travel first class, to reward its staff and leaders well. The NEA spent millions in the late eighties and early nineties to refurbish its building in downtown D.C., while many of its members lived and taught in trailers. Board of Directors members are feted with generous expense accounts. They were given around $1800 per person for unaccounted expenses the week of the 1998 representative assembly. They get free trips, time out of the classroom with union-subsidized substitutes, free luggage, briefcases, dinners, trips to resorts for meetings, chances to meet with high-ranking officials, etc. For classroom teachers, this is often seen as the big time--a lot to lose if one votes wrong. There is sometimes a lot to gain in exchange for an affirmative vote: jobs with AFL-CIO related organizations, for example, during the conflagration over the AFT-NEA merger. Delegates from one large southern state are convinced their president was promised a job with an insurance company controlled by the federation in exchange for the state's "yes" vote. In sum, with the rigors, and occasional terrors, of the classroom counterposed to the multiple carrots of a leadership role, many school workers choose the later, and lose sight of their beginnings.
Peterson suggests that the work led by the AFT's Adam Urbanski in Rochester, New York, might serve as an example for social justice unionism. Let us look at some of Urbanski's history. The president of the Rochester local has been in place for well over a decade, an indication of the kinds of internal democracy that plague both the NEA and the AFT, but that typifies AFT large locals. Urbanksi led the charge, with Shanker, for his brand of New Unionism, corporate-educator unity, which focuses on teachers disciplining teachers: the euphemism being teacher-mentors.
In Rochester the AFT local cultivated the teacher-mentor plan for about three years. There, after a period of intense implementation, both the teachers and the school board voted to reject a new contract based on the continuation of the plan and to start from scratch. The board was unhappy that pay for performance wasn't being measured sharply enough. The teachers refused to ratify the contract because their experience demonstrated that measurement of performance was mostly subjective. But the AF T made the members vote until they got it right (three times), the teachers chose to let the Rochester Plan drag along. (For the AFT's side of the Rochester debate, see "Real Change is Real Hard" by Adam Urbanski, Education Week, 10-23-91, p. 29). Historians are a strength of the book, though, and Christine E. Murray's essay makes it clear that over the years Rochester teachers have struggled mightily with Urbanski's plans, rejecting contracts over and over again. In addition, Urbanski's plan does nothing to address the power of capital as it erodes public life. Indeed, following Urbanski's path exacerbates the trend. Now, Rochester teachers face an impoverished student population. About 50% of the kids move in and out of a given school in a year. To link wages to performance in Rochester is to link wages to capital's decay. Since the district will not pay for advanced degrees, the call for greater professionalism remains an unpaid piper (p.49).
Peterson, as I noted above, suggests that the substance of at least one issue vital to social justice unionism is captured in Tom Mckenna's article, "Confronting Racism in British Columbia," an illuminating and honest piece which offers the opportunity for an exchange (p.52). Mckenna is a Portland teacher whose interest in the BC teachers' union anti-racist project grew from explorations on the internet. Believing that U.S. unions do not have programs against racism (actually NEA at least has a small department of staff devoted to the question) he was happily surprised to see such a program at work just across the border. He describes the struggles of educators who sought to adopt a program against racism emanating from their union. Established in 1977, the Program Against Racism (PAR) was once funded at more than $300,000. The two key examples of action that Mckenna sites are an early slide-tape presentation about the internment of Japanese citizens in BC during WWII, and a later video (linked to lesson plans) that emphasizes "social action. PAR outlines four elements of a racist incident: (1) perpetrator, (2) target, (3) bystanders, and (4) interveners." The goal is to make bystanders interveners (p.55).
There is considerable evidence that when people speak out against racist jokes or sexist comments, the number of incidents decreases. However, this kind of activity, laudable as it may be, will not get to the kernel of racism. McKenna never develops a class-conscious sense of the construction of racial privilege, just as Peterson seeks to have class consciousness without a developed notion of where social classes originate, and the necessarily antagonistic contradictions between classes that follow. Critique becomes a cry of indignation, a call for guilt, rather than a radical examination of concrete circumstances as they change. This spare take on racism has pedagogical and political consequences which I hope to illustrate as part of a broader critique of weaknesses in Peterson's social justice unionism. Here I offer two perspectives on racism, one based in Hegelian idealism, one drawn from dialectical materialism, marxism.. This simplification splits apart positions which often intermingle, but the oppositions I offer may clarify differences or sharpen critique.
For the idealist, racism is a system of ideas that has always been with us. Racism hurts everyone, since we are all in the same boat. The way to eradicate racism is to appeal to higher moral codes, suggesting that racism is unkind or unfair, either to other people or as an offense to god.
The key to white opposition to white supremacy is motivation through guilt. Opposition to racism from its victims must largely come through their unity as a given race. Diversity and limited notions of multi-culturalism, that is, pluralism, are effective ways to combat racism in that they combine the united efforts of given races with an underlying appeal to white guilt. Pluralism is embedded in the notion of a common national (U.S.) interest. Since racism has no particular history, transmitted mind to mind, there is a deep-seated hopelessness in this position, that is, racism will always be with us. The other side of this coin is to simply declare that we have all changed our minds and that
racism is no longer an issue.
A class conscious reply goes as follows: Racism is a system of ideas constructed and buttressed by economic and political requirements of the development of inequality. Racism has a history, coming into being as we now know it with the rise of capitalist nations. Racism hurts most people but some people profit from racism (lower wages, dividing work forces, building ideology for armed violence against other nations, etc.). Opposition to racism is a matter of material interest, not missionary work. An injury to one precedes an injury to all, that is, class solidarity. The key to opposition to racism is integrated movements striving for democracy and equality. While racism is a powerful ideological system, its foundations can be eventually erased by obliterating the socially structured need for racism, that is, inequality in material life. Given that it appears the trajectory of human history is equality and democracy, and given that domination has regularly been met by resistance, there is hope built even within an inequitable system, that is, the many do not forever tolerate the ideological and material oppression of the few. Hence, this is an optimistic vision of the possibilities to end racism..
McKenna's brief analysis suggests the PAR program fit almost neatly inside the idealist paradigm. If this is what Peterson sees as social justice unionism, it appears well-meaning, but too hollow in a period when racism must be addressed as a life and death question. Mckenna's Program Against Racism in British Columbia was shifted into an umbrella project, joined with issues of homophobia, justice, First Nations grievances, and sexism. Originators of the program are probably rightly concerned that their work will lose its focus, be diluted with larger Federation projects. Some of the founders of PAR are organizing their own network, Educators Against Racism, in hopes of retaining the spirit of PAR.
The idealist pattern of thinking also permeates the analysis of the merger of the NEA and the AFT which the top leadership of the two unions had secretly tried to engineer for more than a decade. Authors in Transforming Teacher Unions predicted the passage of the merger, indicating their close relations with Chase and Feldman . The two union leaders were shocked by the NEA rank and file vote which overwhelmingly opposed the merger(p.132). Ann Bastien, an official of the New World Foundation, suggests the NEA delegates were simply backward, not prepared to accept New Unionism, "the new paradigm in education politics," as represented by the Teacher Union Reform Network, a coalition of activists led by Adam Urbanski, which addresses, "a much larger of educational entitlement for children as well as professional empowerment for teachers (p101).
This banal and uninformed representation patronizes a secret ballot vote of thousands of NEA rank and file members who democratically rejected a top-down maneuver designed not to innocently create one big union of teachers, but to push the NEA into the AFL-CIO, to have the NEA adopt the AFT's undemocratic structure, and to ratify the partnership with corporations which is the substance presented by Chase at the 1998 NEA representative assembly. Chase and his officers at the assembly on a Fourth of July weekend wrapped themselves in rhetoric about children and the flag in a demagogic display unparalleled in NEA history. They sought to portray their opposition as people who would also reject the Bill of Rights, the American Revolution, and the needs of hungry children throughout the world. The people who led the opposition to the merger were from industrial states like Illinois, Michigan, and New York, many of them with parents in the AFL and friends in the AFT, and who were knowledgeable not only about the potential of educator unification, they also knew that the potential unity would be subverted by the undemocratic structure which was part and parcel of the merger. And, probably most of all, they had come to distrust and resent their leaders. Chase, it must be noted, never put his New Unionism to a vote. He has, however, lost the vote in every major disputed initiative of his tenure as NEA president (Gibson, 1998, http://eserver.org/clogic/2-1/gibson.html) .
The anti-racists portrayed by Mckenna and many of those who rejected the NEA-AFT merger may be unwittingly following, or veering from, a path described by Dan Perstein in his lucent historical article on the New York City teacher unions. Perlstein highlights the work of educators in the communist-inspired Teachers Union ( noted with appreciation in Herb Kohl's essay) which made racism the focal point of its work. The TU militantly fought for what the Communist Party then called "interculturalism," which implied a unity based on the kinds of marxist principles described above. The CP-TU stretched across a span of perhaps thirty years, from the early 1930's to around 1965. The TU was banned by the New York board in 1950, but its former members kept the struggle alive. They had organized in opposition to corporal punishment meted out against black students, for an anti-racist curricula, for better school buildings, for hiring black school leaders, and for free lunches for kids. They mobilized parents, school workers across the spectrum, kids, and community people in front-line actions against more than bad schools, but linking that fight to a battle for a better world, against capitalism (p.86-92).
In a parallel essay on the legacy of the Chicago Teacher's Federation, Robert Lowe digs into history to explain the present and to seek grounded premonitions of the future. In a revealing piece which refuses to iconicize Margaret Haley, a lighthouse for many education activists, Lowe problematizes the history of her work, underlining the real potential conflicts of school worker unionism with the interests of children. Haley did lead the Chicago Teachers in a series of actions designed to force corporations to pay their share of the education budget. She also took the lead in denouncing the de-skilling of teachers, in 1904. But the Chicago Teacher Federation also promoted the interests of teachers whose qualifications were minimal; "it resisted higher educational qualifications for teaching staff" (p.82).
In this composition Lowe addresses children, not as an innocent or demagogic abstraction, but particularly the children who are born into a world which promised them democracy and meritocracy, but whose birthright does not include the property which makes the exercise of the myths possible. He suggests a kind of unionism in line with the intent if not the analysis of Peterson's ideas of social justice unionism, one that "responds to the claims of kids and particularly the claims of communities of color that have been poorly served by public schools" (p85).
As Transforming Teacher Unions demonstrates, there are, in brief, a complex of problems within teacher unionism: many teachers in the U.S. teach in wealthy communities, and identify with them. Other teachers, who work in urban areas, often live outside those areas and see themselves as missionaries, like Levin, doing a good deed. The very limited democracy within teacher unions, especially the AFT, makes them difficult, at best, to change. While teacher unions may well be the terrain where struggles about inequality and democracy are played out. Bob Peterson is right that in the long run the interests of most teachers is equivalent with the interests of the kids. But just which kids? As Bill Monroe from Detroit says, concerns about kids can be demagogic.
The very existence of Rethinking Schools, and the National Coalition of Education Activists with which it is an affiliate, demonstrates recognition for the need for organization outside the traditional structures of teacher unionism and educational reform. The groups have, in form, served as models of the potential unity of progressive school workers, kids, parents, and community people. But, as Lipman's discussion of the organization of a school restructuring which simply deepened alienation and inequality demonstrates, organization in the absence of a material analysis, or a commonality of material interests, can misfire. At issue, throughout this screed, is "Where is the hope in this?"
There is another reason to have hope about schools. The struggle for knowledge is built into the struggle, with nature and industry, for survival. Even in the worst of conditions, as in Grenada's prison, people join that wrangle because they must. This is a universal struggle, involving all of humanity. But when it is taken in its specificity today, as it must be, the universal need is stilted, retarded, by the needs of a social class which seeks to portray its interests as universal interests, its values, history, and methods of knowing as universal values. This class, born from inequality, division, greed and wealth, then moves to mask the roots of its supremacy and to solidify its power by obscuring, organizing the decay of, the struggle for knowledge. In schools, this is true in science, the assault on evolution and the processes of change; in social studies, the denial of the centripetal role of labor and industry in relation to nature; in economics, the reification of value into a commodity outside of and above the relationships of people. This will not long prevail. Philosophically and scientifically, hope can reasonably be found in the incessant struggle for what is true.
The binary approach, superficial materialism which must leap to utopian insistence on what ought to be as exemplified in most of the books under review, picks up the universality of the struggle for knowledge and fails to recognize its specificity, social class contradiction. Misusing philosophy, the binary approach is camouflaged religion. It finds harmony where there is disharmony, and in practice, by seeking to resolve the contradictions of capital with a pretense of universality, this objective idealism deepens disharmony by adopting practices which address capital piecemeal, without addressing the temporal totality of domination. The binary approach then reifies teaching, which dominance is more than willing to pose as in the interest of all humanity, as long as that education does not investigate or puncture the bases and consequences of domination. In other words, the attributes of all of humanity are transferred to an abstract child, who then represents the illusory proposition that good teaching is good for everyone. In practice, through standardized exams for example, real children are transformed into abstract ciphers who must acquiesce and perform on tests. These tests are so permeated with the standpoint of class rule that the tests themselves are proof that there is no abstract child, but particular children in specific social contexts. The tests alone are evidence of class strife, and the requirement of passage is proof alone that there is no abstract universal humanity. To accept the binary construct, which turns the process of reality inside out, addressing the class-bound regulation of the struggle for knowledge without addressing its birthplace in surplus value, is to finally adopt to establishing the regulations for alienated teaching.
Real hope cannot be manufactured out of the mists. Optimism, the affective side of marxism, is not discovered by divining the world dogmatically, not by collecting appearances and declaring hope within missionary work or philanthropy, but by a radical reconnaissance that understands the solidarity necessary for hope exists right now. What ought to be has its origins in what is. Nothing can come from nothing. The anecdote in Naked Children, "his need is bigger," is a stunning interpretation of the past; Babeuf's , "From each, according to their ability, to each according to their need", and a harbinger of a future in which working people can determine collectively the complex working out of solidarity. All the practical conditions for a just, democratic, and equitable world are in place today. What is necessary is a massive shift in consciousness, a good project for educators.
School workers who wish to defend science, rationalism, even academic freedom, are going to have to go well beyond piecemeal reform in the period ahead. The constant oscillation between a focus on the appearances of oppression which vaults to empty idealist calls for what should be must be transcended by an examination of the processes of social relationships as they develop, finding the seeds and tendencies of the new world within the old. Every teacher causes change in unique circumstances, but toward what end? Educators must answer for themselves questions like: What value do teachers and their students create? How is it that they might exert control over that value? What kind of student do you hope you will bequeath? How did you come to understand your circumstances, and how does that link to your pedagogy? What must people know to recognize the man behind the screen, and how should they come to know it?
With Meszaros, I believe that we now approach a period when attempts at capital's reform in the absence of an analysis of, and action upon, the inequities of a class society are not viable options. Humanist, constructivist and critical pedagogy which demonstrates the collective nature of the construction of knowledge, which locates truth in a mediation between the teacher and the student, needs to also admit the social context in which it exists, that is, in toto, the struggle between social and anti-social being which evolves from unequal property relationships (Meszaros, chapter 20). Whole language, now illegal in some areas, needs to meet Marx.
This will not happen by declaring it, but by uniting teaching and organizing for it. The traditional defense organizations of the working class, to which most teachers belong, no longer serve the interests of the class as a whole, but interests which fragment the class. Alternative examples already exist: The Whole Schooling Consortium principles which highlight the relationship of inclusion, democracy, equality, community, and pedagogy; Rethinking Schools notion of parent/student/educator/community unity; the study groups established by Whole Language practitioners long ago; the dedication of the Teacher Corps which drew on the commitment of educators to live in the communities where they taught, the true professionalism grounded in love for the kids, a solidarity exhibited in each of our texts, the anti-racism of the communist-led New York Teachers' Union. To critically adopt the forms of these oppositional groups is not to tack marx onto them, but to thoroughly reconsider their potentials in the light of their real context.
School reform movements from the top, like that in Detroit or Riverton, are not significantly different from the dogmatic sects still living in the graveyards of socialism which are for the class, but not of it, or the liberals in search of a good deed-often working in the same context. School reform in Detroit will fail because the new board members know nothing about schools in general and Detroit schools in particular, and seem unprepared to learn, because they work by issuing orders and not including the people involved, because contradictions of race and sex are far more profound than they are willing to address, but most of all because they have no plan whatsoever to deal with the rising racist inequality and the economic crisis which lies heart of the problems. Indeed, the board represents interests which rely on segregation, inequality, authoritarianism, and irrationalism. They are Them; a stubborn fact which Lipman and Perlstein understand.
So, what to do? What are the pathways to becoming a radical educational artist? Radical pedagogy must sometimes confront, sometimes circumvent or dodge the sources of alienation, surplus value, authoritarianism, irrationalism, with patience, wisdom, passion, which considers the importance of survival of change agents in relationship with the necessity for change. This goes to the ego-transcending construction of collaborative power, on one hand, in tension with personal and social ethics, tested by social criteria of integrity, on the other hand. This takes the grounded patience that does not mistake apparent acquiescence for stupidity, speechlessness, or submissiveness, but grasps that this story is told not only in outbreaks and revolutions, but in the interim silences, which like the silent spaces between the music of a symphony, are necessary for comprehending the notes. Stillness is not acceptance or approval. Waves of resistance come from oppressed people who have given change considerable thought. The struggle on the color line (inseparable from the struggle of class and sexuality) remains the struggle at the close of the century. Black workers and poor people have played centripetal roles in the progressive changes of the 20th Century, and are key to the future. To build a more democratic society, to confront tyranny, the white working class will need demonstrate real solidarity to earn the trust of Black workers-which for good reason has yet to be achieved. Following the work of Grace and James Boggs, this involves the creation of a community of people engaged in gaining and checking ideas and practices to discover what is true, a society of people who can be critical yet loving, which is at the same time prepared to critique and act on the reality of Them and US.
Teachers create momentous
value and surplus value. School workers and their students and communities,
all of whom are daily confronted with the social nature of constructing
ideas by creating value collectively, can act together to gain greater
control over what they create, and can challenge the foundations of capital
at the same time. In screed: justice demands organization. Pay attention
to the man behind the curtain.
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