Anti-bullying curricula are the rage these days. But as teachers endeavor to build a culture of civility among young people in school, the official history curriculum they are provided often celebrates, or at least excuses, bullying among nations. Well, at least when the United States is the bully.
A good example is the U.S. invasion of Grenada—Operation Urgent Fury, as it was called by the Reagan administration—launched exactly 30 years ago this week, on Oct. 25, 1983. Grenada made an unlikely target of U.S. military might. Its main product was not oil but nutmeg. Its naval fleet consisted of about 10 fishing trawlers. Grenada’s population of 110,000 was smaller than Peoria, Illinois. At the time of the invasion, there was not a single stoplight in the entire country. So what put Grenada in the crosshairs of the Reagan administration?
In 1979, the socialist New Jewel Movement had overthrown the corrupt and unpopular dictator Eric Gairy in an almost bloodless coup. For years, Gairy ruled through fear. His secret police, the “Mongoose Gang,” had been supplied by the U.S.-backed Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The revolution launched by the New Jewel Movement—the “Revo,” as it was affectionately dubbed—was immensely popular. By 1982, when I first visited the island, a literacy campaign was under way, new schools had been built, and unemployed youth in the countryside benefited from new agricultural cooperatives. Grenada welcomed Cuban aid: teachers, health professionals, and construction workers on the new international airport who aimed to replace the antiquated and dangerous airstrip up in the mountains. In just four years, unemployment was cut from 49 percent to 14 percent. Instead of advertising cigarettes and booze, colorful billboards throughout the island promoted education: “Each One Teach One,” “If You Know, Teach; If You Don’t, Learn,” and “Education Is Production, Too.”
On a steamy August night, with hundreds of other Grenadians I squeezed into a high school auditorium in Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, to watch musical and theater performances from throughout the Caribbean—Dominica, Barbados, and St. Vincent. Each group closed its act with a short speech on how inspiring they found the changes in Grenada. With shouts and smiles they pledged to return to their islands and spread the word about the Grenadian Revo. This West Indian cultural evening exemplified Grenada’s real “threat”—not a launchpad for invasion, but a socialist-inspired revolution with a reggae beat that sparked imaginations throughout the Caribbean. To use Noam Chomsky’s expression, Grenada was the threat of a good example.
The United States responded to developments in Grenada with hostility. In August 1981, more than two years before the actual U.S. invasion—in naval maneuvers called “Ocean Venture 81”—the United States staged a mock invasion of Grenada on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Code-named “Amber and the Amberdines,” the supposedly fictitious eastern Caribbean country of Amber was accused of being a pawn of Country Red to “export terrorism to a number of Caribbean countries.” A Ranger battalion based in Fort Lewis, Washington, was airlifted to Vieques. Paratroopers landed in mountainous areas of the island and were backed by air attacks and the amphibious landing of thousands of marines. The obvious similarity between “Amber and the Amberdines” and Grenada and the Grenadines was a not-so-veiled threat. President Reagan claimed that Grenada’s construction of the international airport was a ruse for “Soviet-Cuban militarization”—this despite enthusiastic support for the airport from such un-radical entities as Grenada’s Chamber of Commerce, the Grenada Hotel Association, and the Employers’ Federation.
Then came October 1983. In the space of a few days, the leadership of the New Jewel Movement imploded. Grenada’s hugely popular prime minister, Maurice Bishop, was arrested by a faction of his own government and then executed along with many of his close associates. In massive demonstrations following Bishop’s arrest, the Grenadian army fired into the crowds. Shortly after, a military government was formed and announced a 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfew. This violence was the culmination of sectarian infighting whose origins are still murky—a flammable concoction of ambition, ideological rigidity, and leadership isolation, made more volatile by the ever-present threat of U.S. intervention.
In the midst of these traumatic events the United States launched its invasion—sending 7,600 troops into the tiny island—mostly from the United States, but with some from Jamaica and other Caribbean nations. An equivalent force invading the United States would total more than 20 million soldiers. Ronald Reagan defended the invasion, saying Grenada “was a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy. We got there just in time.” He also claimed that the invasion was intended to rescue the 800 U.S. medical students on the island, even though the medical school’s chancellor denounced the invasion and said it posed a greater risk to students than the turmoil then wracking the island.
By a vote of 108 to 9, the United Nations General Assembly condemned the invasion as a “flagrant violation of international law.”
But that’s not how the Grenada invasion is remembered in today’s history curriculum. Mostly, it’s not remembered at all. A stack of U.S. and world history textbooks includes no mention of Grenada. Pearson/Prentice Hall’s United States History embeds its treatment of the invasion in a chapter on “The End of the Cold War,” which could have been written by a Reagan speechwriter. The chapter opens with a Reagan quote, framing the Cold War as a “struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” A chapter subhead shouts “Reagan Challenges Communism.” By the time students encounter the Grenada invasion, they have been drenched in Cold War rationales. Here is the entire section on Grenada:
In 1983, Reagan acted to counter another perceived threat in the Western Hemisphere. Members of a radical leftist movement, with some help from Cuba, had violently ousted the Grenadian prime minister. On October 25, 1983, U.S. troops invaded Grenada to prevent the island nation from becoming a communist outpost and to protect the lives of American medical students. Even though the legal grounds for this invasion proved questionable, most Americans approved of Reagan’s decision.
Passages like this in the corporate-sponsored curriculum normalize imperialism. This is not education, it’s stenography—texts offer students the U.S. justification for a military invasion of a sovereign nation without raising a single critical question. United States History presents nothing to support its assertions—there is not a shred of evidence, for example, that Cubans had anything to do with the overthrow and murder of Maurice Bishop—nor does the passage report any dissent, with the exception of the tepid “legal grounds for this invasion proved questionable.” The subtext here is that if U.S. policymakers “perceive” something to be a threat to “our” interests, then military action is legitimate. Especially if “most Americans approve.” As another widely used textbook, Holt McDougal’s The Americans, finishes its paragraph on Grenada: “Eighteen American soldiers died in the attack, but Reagan declared that the U.S. invasion had been necessary to defend U.S. security.” End of story.
In their obsequious approach to the invasion of Grenada, the corporate textbook writers follow the lead of the corporate media who did the original reporting on the invasion. As the operation began, the members of the media complained about their exclusion from the action. But as Glen Ford, author of The Big Lie: Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion, said, once they were allowed to accompany U.S. troops, “they performed as if they were spokespersons for the U.S. military.” According to Ford, “There was not the slightest trace of independence whatsoever.”One correspondent called it “a lovely little war.”
To report on the U.S. occupation, I returned to Grenada 10 months after the invasion. Driving from the airport to St. George’s, the first thing I noticed was that the popular education billboards had been chopped down. And it wasn’t only these symbols of the Revo that had been eliminated. The U.S.-installed interim government had abolished the agency to aid cooperatives; eliminated the Centre for Popular Education, the literacy program; shuttered a government-owned agro-industries plant; and returned land from farmers’ cooperatives to absentee owners.
Unless teachers “teach outside the textbook,” as the Zinn Education Project urges, students will learn none of this—about Grenada or about anything else that might call into question the U.S. authority to impose its will wherever and whenever it wishes. The specifics of the Grenada invasion are unique, but when students are encouraged to ask critical questions, they can recognize that intervention in Grenada is part of a pattern that includes Vietnam, Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Iraq, and so many others. Each instance is promoted with only slightly different justifications. When President Obama recently wanted to attack Syria, he read from the same script as his predecessors: “My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security.” No. If students knew our history, they would know this is not true. If students knew our history, they would be more skeptical whenU.S. leaders decide that they have the right to determine how people in other countries should live.
Roger’s note: If you have not been following the attempts to privatize and, in effect, destroy public education in the United States, Diane Ravitch is a prominent and respected educator who has taken a 180 degree turn from a supporter to its major critic. Backed by mega corporations such as Microsoft and spearheaded by Obama’s basketball playmate and Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, the initiative involves making a fetish of standardized testing, the increased funding of elite charter schools, the marginalization of children from non-white and lower economic families, and a drastic reduction of dependence upon the skills, talents, and experience of teachers. The comments posted after the article fill in some of the details of how this works in practice. If genuine public education is to survive in the U.S., then serious resistance to this typical capitalistic attempt to make money at the expense of children, is essential.
In 2007 when Diane Ravitch descended from her 20,000-foot view of the education reform landscape to examine what was going on at ground level, she did not like what she saw: children suffering nose-bleeds and vomiting from test anxiety, school personnel and parents humiliated by test results designed to satisfy the failure quotas imposed by cynical and self-serving corporate privateers and political ideologues; educators being blamed for the effects of poverty that no amount of good teaching could fix alone; untrained beginners replacing education professionals in schools that needed the most caring and experienced teachers; schools that had functioned as community centers of identity and activity being closed; a pathological fixation of quantifiable data that had displaced attention to the human needs of growing children; an educational governance structure increasingly controlled by autocratic and arrogant billionaires; and an incredibly shrinking and brittle collection of desiccated facts having replaced the curriculum for the lower caste of segregated untouchable children incarcerated in more and more urban corporate reform schools.
Seeing all this, Ravitch did what was unthinkable among the delusional and arrogant group of efficiency-worshipping zealots with whom she had spent much time during the prior twenty years: she admitted the entire antiquated system of back to basics on steroids 1) was not improving teaching and learning, 2) was not closing the achievement gaps, 3) was not making public schools stronger, and 4) was not being held accountable for the previous decades of more of the same failed policies built upon the same racist and classist standardized testing foundation, made harder still with each subsequent repackaged iteration.
What makes Diane Ravitch even more unique is that she did not sit behind a screen to offer her insider testimony on these issues to the court of public opinion and then go into an educational witness protection program but, rather, she made the continuing public condemnation of the Billionaire Boys Club her raison d’être, even as the plutocrats’ high-testosterone testocrats have challenged her unassailable facts and as the academic mercenaries from the corporate think tanks have resorted to pretzel logic in attempts to refute her wisdom. Since 2010 when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch has been on a non-stop one-woman road show, crisscrossing the country, speaking to the growing and rumbling army of educators of the nation’s PS Hope.
In her new book, Ravitch has brought a megaphone to the long-ignored message that resistance, indeed, is not futile but, rather, resistance is demanded and that resistance will prevail.
Somehow she has found time between her face-to-face engagements and her online presence as both tweeter and blogger, to write a new book with a cover title in two inch orange Day-Glo letters: Reign of Error. Unlike with Death and Life, which Ravitch shopped to numerous publishers before landing with Basic Books, this time New York’s premier publishing house, Knopf, was eager to snap up Reign or Error, along with generous provisions for promotion, advertising, and touring.
The new book picks up where the last one left off, this time mixing sharp punctures of the ‘Corporate Education’ gas bags with lists of positive strategies that are sure to rankle the proto-fascist sensibilities of the corporate Borg’s swarm of propagandists, e.g., the Wall Street Journal. In this new volume, in fact, Ravitch has brought a megaphone to the long-ignored message that resistance, indeed, is not futile but, rather, resistance is demanded and that resistance will prevail. Her logic to reaching that conclusion is as simple and clear as her deliberate prose, and the directness of her indignant optimism bespeaks an historian who is enjoying her moment and looking forward to a future that she is determined to make livable and learnable for her grandchildren, and ours.
The first half of Reign of Error takes up for discussion a series of reformist claims that are repeated so often by the post-partisan CorpEd think tanks that they would have to be accurate if repetition were sole criterion for establishing truth. Reformist bromides are refuted with clear statements from evidence-based reality that are accompanied with enough documented examples to send any self-serving edupreneur scrambling back to his corporate teaching manual in hopes of salvaging some semblance of pedagogical respectability.
The second half of the book is comprised of Ravitch’s Top Ten educational policy interventions that may, once taken seriously by Washington, again restore sanity to an education policy world gone wild with what Harold Rugg called an “orgy of tabulation,” whose corrupting and abusive practices have spread into kindergarten and pre-K. Each point is discussed with clarity, determination, and evidence that Ravitch has been listening to the most important professionals not included in policy discussions—teachers.
It took a long time for Dr. Ravitch to break clear of the corporatist influence that has controlled the increasingly antiquarian version of education reform since the coming of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Whether her conversion in 2007 resulted from the gentle persuasion of researchers like Richard Rothstein or from the fierce prodding of researcher-advocates like Gerald Bracey and Susan Ohanian, Diane has made up for lost time since regaining her sight after being struck blind on the road out of DC. Whatever happens over the next ten or twenty years in education policy, her place is secure, just after six years of battle, as the single individual who most influenced the eventual outcome if parents and teachers and students continue to heed the call for the restoration and renewal of public schools free of high stakes tests for all children who choose a high quality and free education. Ravitch has brought the word—now it is time to act.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter @ the Chalkface and has published widely on issues related to education reform and social justice in education. With co-author, Denise Wilburn, his new book, The Mismeasure of Education, was published in July 2013.
The most serious blow to education delivered by corporate reformers is the discouragement of intelligent, sensitive young people, a hopelessness that keeps them from choosing teaching as a career. Intelligent people do not want the likes of Bill Gates and Arne Duncan telling them what they should be doing in their classrooms. They want the freedom to structure time and space as they see fit–so their students not only learn the stuff but are entranced by it.
How odd that capitalist reformers will not apply the rules of capitalism to education: successful ventures require the expenditure of resources, the recruitment of good people, and the creation of a non-threatening, nurturing atmosphere in which work can be conducted. The damage inflicted on education by corporate reformers will last a generation or more–until the confidence of the young is restored and teaching is regarded as an honorable profession once more.
Agree. If the billionaires think their policies are so terrific, why don’t they use their money to set up a chain of PRIVATE schools which do not take public tax dollars. But, oh no, they want to set up charter schools and a voucher system which do suck up tax dollars at the expense of the REAL public schools. Their real goal is to destroy the real public schools, to privatize the school system, make bundles of cash for charter chains and testing firms and, as a side “benefit,” to destroy, liquidate and eliminate teacher unions. Tenure, seniority, defined benefit pensions will all be jettisoned.
The good news is that the American public is onto the game now, and resistance is breaking out in every section of the country. In a shameless plug for our new book, I urge all teachers who are undergoing the quackery of evaluations based on value-added modeling to buy or ask your library to buy The Mismeasure of Education, which provides a history of this scheme (which has been underway in Tennessee for 20 years), along with a extensive summary of the research that teachers and lawyers will find very useful in seeking redress from a system that can be counted on to give false results in 25 percent of cases.
Indeed. They’re not interested in setting up schools of any kind; they want to destroy the system of public education and replace it with something that will make money for them. They want to create another extractive industry – your kids as ore.
They also make money already of the suppliers of food, where the kids get garbage to eat and the profits go to food merchants. Interesting parallel – garbage food and garbage education.
You may not know this, but when this “create-a-crisis” version of education was imposed on school boards, one of the new improvements was the assignment of an ID number to every child so that his/her (spending) habits could be tracked in order to target marketing strategies. Not quite yet implanting a chip, but getting there.
Your points are spot on, I think. It would seem that the Gates Foundation, which owns Duncan’s ED, has the same destructive system in mind for teaching as the geniuses at Microsoft have used to kill creativity there. This article from Forbes you might find interesting:
1. Stealing technology (from BASIC, MS-DOS, Windows and on and on)
2. Introduction of copy rights on software. In, engaging in plagiarism, Bill Gates managed to equate his intellectual achievements with those of Shakespeare and Leo Tolstoy. The irony is that Shakespeare never held copy-rights, while Leo Tolstoy finally gave up his.
The study of Microsoft helps to understand the cultural settings in this country as well as studies of drop of water help to understand ocean. Obsession with money that help to reduce multidimensional Life into set of one-dimensional men explain everything, starting from education and ending with nursing homes and funeral business. But I would agree with term ‘Rein of Error’.
For class that reduced artisans into assembly line cogs and then moved those cogs to other side of the Planet, it is only logical to reduced teachers and pupils into the same cogs. To think that lonely crusade may change anything is to forget that any society is nothing but very big system moving according its own intrinsic algorithms. Education is anathema to ‘Everyone for himself’ core ideology.
Our system is as self-destructive as train wreck abandoned by well trained engineers. Both Hitler’s and Stalin’s gifts to America had run its course.
In short, false hopes and false promises are the most destructive to our mental health, especially now when we need it most.
If we want young people to be able to teach we need to do away with part-time, low pay, no benefit adjunct positions. It is getting so that no one dare go into an education debt that no future salary in teaching will compensate for.
Sorry–voted down instead of “reply”. We all need to say “no”–no, we won’t teach a class for a few bucks an hour, we who worked hard to earn a Masters or better. It’s time to stop volunteering. Stop giving stuff away, our time, our skills, our ability to deliver a good lecture, our talent for sizing up an audience and adjusting our performance thereby. If someone asks me to give a speech to their group about local history, I ask them how much they pay. Charity is for the rich–not that most of them give more than a small fraction of their wealth away–not for the rest of us. I want cool, hard cash.
I would point out that the term “corporate reformers” is too kind and really blurs the issue. These people are disaster capitalists who now lick their cops for public schools the way vultures seek out road kill.
Schools do need reform, but no one will talk about the giant elephant in the room — perpetual war. The US spends most of its tax dollars killing poor children overseas, so it has little left to educate children at home.
And it needs uneducated children to fill the ranks of professional killers.
I listen to my school board members all the time, all of them somewhere on the spectrum of people who identify as “liberals.” But not one of them will speak out against war. Not one of them will call Obama a war criminal (but I would bet most of them called W a war criminal only a few years ago).
Good schools need lots of different avenues for children. What about music and art? Most schools don’t teach them because they want to prepare people for jobs, prepare them to become doctors and lawyers.
But 300 hundred years from now, will people go to museums to look at legal briefs or to concert halls to hear doctors lecture?
Adiantum, I don’t disagree the connection may be hard to make to those not well informed, except that (1) in many schools the day starts with “I pledge allegiance to THE FLAG…”, (2) in others recruiters are given free reign to recruit the vulnerable to military service, (3) state and local taxation is not fundamentally detached from federal govt nor do states and localities not obtain billions from it (for example consider the National Defense Education Act and the National Defense Student Loan program, and (4) the huge number of teachers conned into supporting war-POTUS Obama and Dem elites owing to his duplicitous lip-service paid to public education while supporting corporatization and privatization everywhere you look and doing nothing to support their precedent battle in Wisconsin.
Applause for Diane Ravitch, first for the truth of her research and thesis, and second for her courage in electing open defiance of the corporatist predators despite consequence to herself. Applause also for Jim Horn, for his leadership and amplification of voices of both genders making a critical difference. JIM, it happens that at the time Bush was elected and orchestrated this “accountability and corporate testing hoax”, I was Vice Pres Strat Dev for the USA’s leading (by far) free source of information and resources for teachers and other educators, and “masterminded” an awarded contract to build NEA’s new portal. I’ll find a way to get my contact info to you for purpose of telling a first-person story of fraud perpetrated by the Bush transition team for Education, for which Houston’s “reformer” was the trojan horse.
In the meantime let me also say that what anti-privatization people seem to be inadequately aware of is this: For-profit corporatists like Gates see public ed as a market as lucrative as MIC and healthcare. Their core strategy is to deliver “master teacher” cookie-cutter instruction via internet and proprietary hosted networks employing the internet. Dramatic reduction in spending on teachers, etc. They already have a big and growing share of post-secondary and continuing adult ed. Secondary share is growing but limited to internet connection services, PCs, laptops, handhelds and peripherals. They plan to privatize K-12 in stages. PreK last.
Add in his support for massive vaccine programs AND gen-tech “food” (along the lines of Monsanto), and his “machine” bona fides become clear. The guy views human beings as biological computers devoid of heart, soul or spirit. He’s a very dangerous being.
I greatly admire Diane Ravitch for having the honesty to publicly revise her opinions. Even when she was ensconced with conservatives, she was pushing for enriched curricula. She was never a buffoon. Now she sees that her genuine concern for children and education cannot be fulfilled under the “first starve, then condemn, then privatize” model.
I agree. To me, Diane’s principles and intelligence are unquestioned, and her persistence and work ethic are amazing for anyone, any age. Unfortunately, I think her late conversion speaks to the power of ideology to influence the position from which one views a scene. Her intentions were always good, I argue, but then we know what the road to hell is paved with. Her position as high up on the policy chain during the 90s did not offer her reason to see at the ground level, especially when her position was linked with certain non-negotiable preconceptions, i. e., ideological commitments shared by Bush I and Clinton as well. I believe, too, that she is very loyal, and that it was hard for her to admit that some of her Hoover Institute friends could be acting out of bad faith. To me, her current defense with Randi Weingarten, who sits on the left side of the corporate jet, offers an example of this, even as Weingarten’s loyalty is more with the billionaires that made her, than with the teachers that Diane Ravitch most cares about.
These so called educational reformers think all kids are a jar you poor information into and when asked they can hand it
back, they do not consider all jars are not the same some are even damaged or broken just like kids.
give all parties with a stake a fair say in all decision making.
with this procedural democracy in which students, teachers, parents, taxpayers, and administrators participate, transparency, empowerment, responsibility and accountability will come.
the process itself will educate and train everyone involved as the members of a broader democratic society.
without radical change in the way the members of the society think about what kind of society they want to live in, there will be no real change in the way education is conceived of, school is organized and run, students are taught, teachers are respected, parents are involved, and society is sustained.
my alma mater localized and democratized their school three decades ago (not perfect but substantially) and the difference it has made so far is mind-blowing. everyone is committed, hard-working, proud, satisfied, as everyone owns the result.
Last week, good ole North Carolina, whose wacko right-wing majority has been some busy passing laws that hurt women, minorities, the poor and the environment, got a nice jump on National Banned Books Week by banning of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which Ellison described in his speech accepting the National Book Award as “a return to the mood of personal moral responsibility for democracy.” Ellison’s classic about American racism, about being “a man of substance, of flesh and bone,” who is not seen because he’s black, was evidently banned after one parent complained it was “not so innocent…filthier….too much for teenagers”; school board members agreed it was “a hard read” that “didn’t (have) any literary value.” Banning books is a time-tested, spirit-deadening tradition in fearful communities; there were 464 challenges to books reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, with The Bluest Eye and Persopolis perhaps the most recently banned. In the past, almost half of what are widely viewed as the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been banned or challenged, including The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple, 1984, Ulysses, Sophie’s Choice, Rabbit Run, Slaughterhouse-Five, A Farewell to Arms, and An American Tragedy, which it is.
“I am an invisible man…No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
The University of Oregon’s ‘Football Performance Center,’ which was paid for by Nike founder (and U of O alum) Phil Knight. (Photo by Wolfram Burner via Flickr)
The “University of Nike” sounds like an institution straight out of a dystopian novel. But that moniker has actually been embraced by the University of Oregon, where Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight is one of the school’s most important donors. A gleaming new football center, complete with a locker room requiring biometric thumbprints to enter, isn’t the only sign of the corporation’s influence on campus: During negotiations with the school’s faculty union over its first-ever contract, critics say that the university pulled out some fancy footwork meant to preserve the patronage of Nike and other major donors, including provisions that would have narrowed protections for faculty who speak out against university policies. But an ultimate victory this week by the union, which faculty voted to form last year, helped beat back these measures and uphold the academic freedoms that are increasingly endangered by campuses’ corporate ties.
Unionization rates among U.S. faculty members are traditionally lower than those of their counterparts in other countries, and faculty at private colleges and universities are barred from collective bargaining entirely. But the tussle at the University of Oregon demonstrated that dwellers of the Ivory Tower are also workers under attack—and that their ability to take collective action is essential to the future of higher education.
During the past week, several proposals advanced by the Oregon administration have alarmed campus free-speech advocates and captured national attention. Colleen Flaherty reported at Inside Higher Education on the attempt to insert a “civility” clause into a section of the contract on “faculty responsibilities,” a measure that the watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE) says is often abused on campuses in order to “punish unpopular viewpoints.” Even after this proposal was withdrawn last week, City University of New York Professor Corey Robin, who blogs about the politics of higher education, noted that the administration’s insistence on its right to monitor faculty e-mails and even review non-work e-mails “to the extent that they address work-related subjects” represented a “draconian assault on faculty autonomy and privacy.”
Another proposal to limit the ability of faculty members to consult for outside organizations when the Provost deemed it “contrary to the university’s best interests” drew particular concerns that the administration might kow-tow to corporate donors eager to silence their academic critics. Given that Oregon’s Board of Trustees includes “CEOs from the state’s timber and construction industries, the wife of the CEO of Microsoft, and a retired executive from Nike,” wrote Robin, “it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a professor is forbidden by the provost from consulting with an organization critical of Nike’s labor policies or Microsoft’s market practices.”
But at a bargaining session on Wednesday, the administration backed off these measures, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that also includes average salary increases of 11.75% over the two-year agreement. United Academics (UA), which is comprised of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, also won new contract protections for contingent faculty. Full details of the agreement have not yet been released, but Susan Anderson, a German professor and member of the bargaining committee, tells In These Times that it includes “robust protections” for free speech, including language referring to the First Amendment. The union will vote on whether to ratify the contract on October 8.
In a statement released yesterday by the university, U of O President Michael Gottfredson said that he also welcomed the agreement: “Our students benefit from the talents of professors who share their knowledge and passion for research and scholarship every day and this first contract reflects a fiscally responsible agreement that rewards excellence and invests in our faculty—strengthening the University of Oregon for all of our community.”
The administration’s shift is a particularly significant one because its initial proposal eschewed a union demand to guarantee the right to free speech outside the classroom, including where this concerns debate about institutional policies. Instead, Flaherty notes, the university’s proposal “decouples academic freedom and free speech, addressing them separately. Academic freedom is ‘necessary to teaching and research,’ it says, with no mention of the role of academics in speaking out if not related directly to teaching and research.”
The ability of faculty members to criticize university policies was a key tenet of academic freedom when the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) codified the concept in 1940. But the free-speech rights of university faculty have fallen into murky territory since 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that public employees were not entitled to these rights for speech “pursuant to their official duties.” The Supreme Court did not address whether this ruling applied to professors at public universities, leaving the question in a legal limbo. Advocates are hopeful that a decision earlier this month from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco—which ruled that a controversial proposal circulated by a former Washington State University Professor David Demers to overhaul the school’s communications department should have constituted protected speech—will form the basis for more robust protections in the future.
But apart from legal uncertainty, academic freedom faces another threat: the growing reliance of universities on corporate patronage. To make up for stunning shortfalls in state funding, public universities have both hiked tuition and courted investment by private donors. “When universities are dependent on the money of private donors, administrators may feel pressure to enact policies that jeopardize the status of the university as a place of free inquiry,” says Anderson. Oregon has already seen this kind of influence wielded—the university reportedly terminated its involvement in the anti-sweatshop Workers’ Rights Consortium following pressure from Nike’s Knight.
According to Joe Lowndes, an associate professor of political science and member of the union’s organizing committee, the contract fight at the University of Oregon “has shown that a unionized faculty can, among other things, act to safeguard academic freedom—a freedom we have learned not to take for granted within the changing structure of American higher education.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.
St. Joseph County Public Library, for example, which only had one copy of Zinn’s People’s History just weeks ago, has now upped the number to 19 due to patrons’ interest, but even that wasn’t enough. They’re all checked out now, and there are 10 people on a waiting list.
At Indiana University South Bend, the book isn’t even on any required reading list for the fall 2013 semester, but all the available copies are currently checked out, the Tribune continues.
The surge in interest in the book hasn’t been limited to Indiana either.
The Zinn Education Project, which promotes and supports teaching a people’s history (upper and lower case) in middle and high school classrooms, has also received a surge of interest in its teaching materials since Daniels’ censorship attempts were exposed.
“Thanks to the exposure generated by former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ attempt to ban Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States from Indiana schools and teacher education programs, the Zinn Education Project has been flooded with visitors looking for people’s history teaching materials,” Bill Bigelow, Zinn Education Project co-director, told Common Dreams via email.
“Teachers and parents have told us that they are redoubling their commitment to teach people’s history in the face of the proposed censorship. We invite other governors to attempt to ban Zinn’s works—it helps introduce A People’s History of the United States to huge new audiences,” Bigelow added.
In one 2009 email revealed by AP between Daniels and a top state education official, Daniels wrote:
This terrible anti-American finally passed away. The obits and commentaries mentioned that his book “A People’s History of the United States” is “the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.” It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.
Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before any more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?
Janet Napolitano became the new president of the University of California Thursday over objections of student protesters. Six students were removed by campus police from the Board of Regents meeting where Napolitano’s appointment was confirmed.
The former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security will be the first woman president of the 10-campus UC system and will earn $570,000 per year in her new position. Shortly after Napolitano’s compensation was read at the public meeting, a UC student stepped forward from the audience and started the chant, “Education, not deportation!” Campus police escorted four other students out shortly after when they refused to leave the room.
About 60 students, parents, faculty and staff representing UC Merced, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and other campuses protested outside the meeting to show their disappointment with Napolitano’s nomination.
As Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano oversaw a record number of deportations under the Obama administration, about 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year.
Undocumented student protesters said they were concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.
“She’s separated a lot of families,” said Wei Lee, an undocumented graduate of UC Santa Cruz, who noted that the UC system is home to many undocumented students. “We cannot allow someone like Janet Napolitano with her background and her experience to run this fine education system.”
Lee, who is ethnically Chinese and was born and raised in Brazil, fell out of immigration status after being denied political asylum. He said that without the advocacy of his friends and community, he and his family would have been deported. Today, he is a part of the student group ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) and says that the current immigration system “does not reflect American values.”
San Francisco State University student Akiko Aspillaga held a pink sign that read, “This feminist opposes Napolitano’s appointment.”
“For somebody who justifies the war, who militarizes not just our borders but our communities and separates our families… if those are her values, we don’t want her to be the lead of our education system,” said Aspillaga.
Lotus Yee Fong, whose son has two UC degrees, expressed concern over Napolitano’s credentials: “She is not an educator.”
Protesters also criticized the timing of the appointment. Napolitano was nominated only a week before the public meeting, which they said left them little time to organize.
“It’s more or less a political coup,” said UC Santa Cruz student Daniel Shubat, shaking his head. “They did it during the summer. It’s underhanded and we don’t have a say.”
Supporters are quick to point out that Napolitano has also been criticized by Republicans who accuse her of being too soft on immigration enforcement.
Roger’s note: ‘Ellsberg’s central conclusion about the United States in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”’ This is as true with the US military adventures today as it was then. Something many if not most so-called liberals and progressives (not to mention the mainstream media) cannot get through their heads.
In the Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, Daniel Ellsberg, who secretly copied and then released the Pentagon Papers, offers a catalog of presidential lying about the U.S. role in Vietnam: Truman lied. Eisenhower lied. Kennedy lied. Johnson “lied and lied and lied.” Nixon lied.
Ellsberg concludes: “The American public was lied to month by month by each of these five administrations. As I say, it’s a tribute to the American public that their leaders perceived that they had to be lied to; it’s no tribute to us that it was so easy to fool the public.”
(Painting by Robert Shetterly, American’s Who Tell the Truth series)
The Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg exposed were not military secrets. They were historical secrets—a history of U.S. intervention and deceit that Ellsberg believed, if widely known, would undermine the U.S. pretexts in defense of the war’s prosecution. Like this one that President Kennedy offered in 1961: “For the last decade we have been helping the South Vietnamese to maintain their independence.” No. This was a lie. The U.S. government’s Pentagon Papers history of the war revealed how the United States had sided with the French in retaking its colony after World War II, ultimately paying for some 80 percent of the French reconquest. By the U.S. government’s own account, from Truman on, Vietnamese self-determination was never an aim of U.S. foreign policy.
In June of 1971, Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities at Post Office Square in Boston. Forty-two years later, few of the historical secrets that Ellsberg revealed— especially those that focus on the immediate post-World War II origins of U.S. involvement in Vietnam—appear in the school curriculum.
Corporate textbook writers seem to work from the same list of must-include events and individuals. Thus, all the new U.S. history textbooks on my shelf mention the Pentagon Papers. But none grapples with the actual import of the Pentagon Papers. None quotes Ellsberg or the historical documents themselves, and none captures Ellsberg’s central conclusion about the United States in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”
Textbooks resist telling students that the U.S. government consistently lied about the war, preferring more genteel language. Prentice Hall’s America: History of Our Nation includes only one line describing the content of the Pentagon Papers: “They traced the steps by which the United States had committed itself to the Vietnam War and showed that government officials had concealed actions and often misled Americans about their motives.” The textbook offers no examples.
Teaching students a deeper, more complete history of the American War—as it is known in Vietnam—is not just a matter of accuracy, it’s about life and death. On the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States, spoke bluntly about what it means when we fail to confront the facts of our past wars: “If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives.”
The “we” in Zinn’s quote refers especially to the young people who will be convinced or tricked or manipulated—or lied—into fighting those wars, even if it is only “fighting” by guiding remote assassination drones from bases in a Nevada desert.
For almost 30 years, I taught high school U.S. history. I began my Vietnam unit with a little-remembered event that happened on Sept. 2, 1945. I showed students a video clip from the first episode of PBS’s Vietnam: A Television History, in which Dr. Tran Duy Hung, a medical doctor and a leader of the resistance to French colonialism, recounts the massive end-of-war celebration with more than 400,000 people jammed into Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. Japan had surrendered. The seemingly endless foreign occupation of Vietnam—Chinese, then French, then Japanese—was over.
Dr. Hung remembers: “I can say that the most moving moment was when President Ho Chi Minh climbed the steps, and the national anthem was sung. It was the first time that the national anthem of Vietnam was sung in an official ceremony. Uncle Ho then read the Declaration of Independence, which was a short document. As he was reading, Uncle Ho stopped and asked, ‘Compatriots, can you hear me?’ This simple question went into the hearts of everyone there. After a moment of silence, they all shouted, ‘Yes, we hear you!’ And I can say that we did not just shout with our mouths, but with all our hearts.” Dr. Hung recalls that, moments later, a small plane began circling and then swooped down over the crowd. When people recognized the U.S. stars and stripes on the plane, they cheered, imagining that its presence signaled an endorsement for Vietnamese independence. “It added to the atmosphere of jubilation at the meeting,” said Dr. Hung.
I want my students to recognize the hugeness of this historical could-have-been. One of the “secrets” Ellsberg risked his freedom to expose was that the United States had a stark choice in the fall of 1945: support the independence of a unified Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh, which had spearheaded the anti-fascist resistance during World War II; or support the French as they sought to reimpose colonial rule.
Think about all the suffering that might have been avoided had the U.S. government taken advantage of this opportunity. Howard Zinn quotes from the Pentagon Papers in A People’s History of the United States:
Ho [Chi Minh] had built the Viet Minh into the only Vietnam-wide political organization capable of effective resistance to either the Japanese or the French. He was the only Vietnamese wartime leader with a national following, and he assured himself wider fealty among the Vietnamese people when in AugustSeptember 1945, he overthrew the Japanese . . . established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and staged receptions for incoming allied occupation forces. . . . For a few weeks in September 1945, Vietnam was—for the first and only time in its modern history—free of foreign domination, and united from north to south under Ho Chi Minh. . . .
In class, I brought this historical choice point to life with my students through a role play, in which some students portrayed members of the Viet Minh and others represented French business/government leaders arguing before “President Truman” about the future of Vietnam. (A fuller description and materials for the activity can be found at the Zinn Education Project website.) The role play depicted a make-believe gathering, of course, because the United States never included any Vietnamese in its deliberations on the future of Vietnam. Nonetheless, the lesson offers students a vivid picture of what was at stake at this key juncture.
In this and other activities, I want my students to see that history is not just a jumble of dead facts lying on a page. History is the product of human choice—albeit in conditions that we may not choose. Tragically, the United States consistently chose to side with elites in Vietnam, first French, then Vietnamese, as our government sought to suppress self-determination—perhaps most egregiously in 1954, when the United States conspired to stonewall promised elections and to prop up the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.
Forty-two years ago this month, Daniel Ellsberg allowed himself to be taken into custody, with no clear outcome in sight. A reporter asked Ellsberg whether he was concerned about the possibility of going to prison. Ellsberg replied: “Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?”
No one expects that kind of integrity from textbook corporations. But educators needn’t confine ourselves to the version of history peddled by giant outfits like Pearson and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt. Right now, every high school student is learning either to accept or to question the premises that lead our country to wage war around the world. As Howard Zinn suggested, if students don’t know their history, then they are “ready meat” for those who will supply the carving knives of war. Fortunately, more and more teachers around the country recognize the importance of teaching outside the textbook, of joining heroes like Dan Ellsberg to ask questions, to challenge official stories.
Following abysmal failure of Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind,’ teachers say Obama’s education policy follows same flawed thinking
by Chicago Teachers
(Note from the Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss: A coalition of teachers from public and private schools — including the school that Education Secretary Arne Duncan attended as a child and where President Obama’s daughters were enrolled before they moved to Washington — are releasing an open letter to Duncan expressing concerns about department policies that they say promote the overuse of standardized tests. Among the signees are teachers from the Ariel Community Academy, a public school that was founded by a team of people that included Duncan.)
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (AP file)
Dear Mr. Duncan,
As primary, secondary, and university educators who are passionate about the importance of a liberal arts education in building and maintaining a democratic society, we are very concerned with the impact of standardized testing on humanities curricula. The widespread trend of teaching to the test is undermining primary and secondary education. Social studies, history, the fine arts, the study of literatures and languages, drama and music; these and other subjects not assessed in the standardized tests of “No Child Left Behind” are subjects that are themselves being left behind as administrators pressure teachers to raise narrowly conceived test scores in a few core areas.
We seek to build respect for the democratic process, critical thinking skills, writing skills, and understanding that is not accurately measured in multiple-choice tests. (see the Fair Test website for a review of the literature: http://www.fairtest.org/k-12/high%20stakes). While we see the Common Core Curriculum as a step in the right direction, we steadfastly reject attempts pushed by testing companies to devise standardized assessments to measure progress in reading, writing, and speaking. Nor do we believe that computer programs currently being developed by major assessment corporations, or any form of outsourcing of essay assessments, are viable solutions.
Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.
Instead of relying on standardized tests, we believe that the best way to pursue higher standards in reading, writing, and speaking skills is to develop standardized and widely accepted rubrics for assessment and allow teachers to assess their students with these rubrics.
We are very concerned with the extent to which current educational policies have embraced what John Dewey would call “instrumental rationality” in seeking solutions that can be statistically measured. We are currently seeing a national backlash against such measurements from parents, teachers, and administrators. These statistical measures merely confirm the very real social gaps between the haves and the have-nots in American education. (For a review of the literature see http://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/reardon%20whither%20opportunity%20-%20chapter%205.pdf).
University administrators have known for some time that high SAT scores correlate closely with socioeconomic class. Students who do well on them may succeed more frequently in college than those who do not, but this correlation may be telling us more about the test than about the students. Secondary teachers often see students who are terrific at taking tests, but who choose to avoid tasks requiring difficult thinking.
University educators want students who can write, research, and think: students who are open minded, passionate, and curious. These qualities are snuffed out under the drive for high scores on standardized multiple-choice tests under “No Child Left Behind.”
Secondary educators want to prepare students for the challenges that they will face at colleges and universities. This is difficult to do when an overemphasis on discrete item standardized testing prevents them from engaging their students in the meaningful work that best prepares them for the next level.
We know that your office is bombarded with lobbyists from major testing companies, textbook companies, and big donors with big money who seek to shape education reform. State Boards of Education are faced with similar pressures. We feel strongly that big money is far too invested in the current debate, and we are concerned that their influence is determining much of what passes for “reform.” Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.
We invite further discussion at your convenience. A delegation from among the signees below will be happy to meet you for hoops and a discussion.
New Trier High School: Lindsey Arado Mike Baeb Kerry Brennan Ian Duell David Hjelmgren Tim Kajfez Tom Kucharski Debbie Johnson Todd Maxman Dean Pinos John O’Connor Alex Zilka
Northern Illinois University: Jerome D. Bowers, History Dept.
University of Illinois-Chicago: Robert Johnston, History Dept.
Concord Review: Will Fitzhugh, Editor and Publisher
The Report Card: William Korach, Editor and Publisher
University of Chicago Laboratory Schools: Luicija Ambrosini Allen Ambrosini Suzanne Baum Charles Branham Wayne Brasler Brad Brickner David Derbes Steve Granzyk Lee Gustafson Paul Horton Chris Janus Bob Kass Mark Krewatch Andrea Martonffy Lisa Miller Rachel Nielsen Diane Puklin, Emeritus Susan Shapiro Kelly Storm Brian Wildeman
Ariel Community Academy Allie Griffin Shirley Knox Jake Sklarsky Willis Niederfrank
Duncan (and Obama) will likely be more intrigued by your invitation to shoot baskets than a thoughtful discussion about removing corporate interests in the “reform” of our education system. The Manufactured Crisis (Berliner and Biddle, 1995) was an early warning about the influences threatening American education at that time, and we are seeing how its thesis is playing out in the administration’s misguided current education policies. It is essential to return the task of designing our system of education to educators.
Roger’s note: What is at issue here is not only the question of publicly funding the idiotic notion of creationism, but the very substance of public education. Public education (advocated by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto) is a sine qua non of democracy. The massive effort by the extreme right to privatize public education, aided and abetted by Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is aimed at replacing what is left of democracy in the United States with theocratic tinged militarized corporatism.
Part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.
By Zack Kopplin
According to so-called education reform advocates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Excellence in Education, school vouchers, which allow parents to direct state money to private schools of their choice, are essential because “families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.” From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to Newark, N.J.’s Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, these programs are backed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they enjoy the support of powerful interest groups such as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the American Federation for Children.
Voucher programs have been established in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and they are spreading as Texas and Tennessee attempt to create ones of their own. As the use of vouchers has expanded across the country in recent years, new questions have arisen that extend beyond concerns about their appropriateness and legality. We’ve pushed standards, testing and accountability for public schools, so why shouldn’t private institutions receiving vouchers have to meet those same requirements? Should private institutions be allowed to ignore state science standards and teach their students creationism while receiving taxpayer money? Does learning about biblical creation, rather than evolution, really help to meet students’ needs?
I first investigated the relationship between creationism and voucher programs after reading an AlterNet article in June about Eternity Christian Academy in Louisiana. Now removed from the state’s voucher program, the school was using the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum to teach students that the mythical Loch Ness Monster existed and somehow disproved evolution. As I looked further into Louisiana’s program, I found that there wasn’t just one school but at least 20 private ones getting vouchers and thus receiving millions of taxpayer dollars. After reviewing my research, New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill wrote that “vouchers have turned out to be the answer to a creationist’s prayer.”
This isn’t just a Louisiana problem. It seems clear that the U.S. is facing a national creationism epidemic. In an exposé I wrote posted by MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, I identified hundreds of additional voucher schools in nine states and the District of Columbia using dozens of different creationist curriculums. These schools are receiving tens of millions of dollars, and maybe even hundreds of millions, to teach religious beliefs in violation of state science standards. With 164 such campuses, Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students With Disabilities Program contained the highest concentration of creationist voucher schools I was able to uncover. Indiana, which has been marketed as the “gold standard” for voucher accountability, has at least 37 such schools teaching creationism. A couple of its campuses proudly advertise that their students are taken to the Creation Museum on field trips. So far, I’ve discovered 311 creationist voucher schools across the country.
Those 311 schools are not the only taxpayer funded institutions teaching creationism. There are likely hundreds more. Although many are difficult to find, either because they don’t have websites or don’t advertise their creationist curriculum, lots of voucher schools fit the profile of creationist campuses that are already known. On top of this, two states, Arizona and Mississippi, have voucher programs but don’t release the names of participating schools. Officials with the Arizona Department of Education confirmed to me that every private school in the state is eligible to participate in the program, and since I’ve identified private creationist schools there that could be involved, there is little doubt that Arizona is funding some of them. I believe it’s a safe bet that every school voucher program in the country is financing creationism.
These campuses would be shut if they were subject to the same standards as public institutions. The courts have shot down the teaching of creationism and intelligent design with public money over and over again, so why are we letting taxpayer funded private voucher schools teach them? The scientists and educators who devised both state science standards and the national common core standards knew creationism was pseudo-science that would not help American students get the education they need to succeed in a global, 21st century economy. That’s why we don’t teach creationism in public schools. Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard-earned dollars are enabling the mis-education of private school students.
Aside from not meeting these basic academic standards, many voucher schools suffer from other significant problems. Louisiana bloggers have exposed profiteering prophets who sought to capitalize on taxpayer funding for private schools. The Miami New Times reports that voucher schools in Florida are being run by administrators who “include criminals convicted of cocaine dealing, kidnapping, witness tampering, and burglary.” A school in Louisiana’s program was slated to receive millions of dollars from vouchers but lacked the facilities needed to house new students.
Proponents of vouchers argue that diverting money from public to private schools will help students learn by increasing inter-campus competition. But when voucher programs contain institutions that teach creationism instead of science, it’s easy to see that damage is being done to students whose futures are jeopardized by poor education.
Although a judge recently ruled that the way Louisiana funds its school voucher program is unconstitutional, it continues to operate as the state appeals the decision. Similarly, the voucher program in Colorado has been halted by a court injunction. But given the aggressive activity of taxpayer funded voucher programs across the country, we need to fight to make sure that no additional ones are created. And we need to stop politicians in states such as Indiana and Wisconsin from following through on plans to expand already existing programs. Today’s students and our nation’s future demand it.
Zack Kopplin is a science education advocate and winner of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in Education and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin Award.
Roger’s note: Here is a conspiracy theory “you can believe in.” Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, are complicit with those whose objective is to destroy democratic public education in the United States. Schools whose students do well on standardized tests will be the recipients of greater funding, while those who score low will lose out. And guess whose white upper middle class children, well-fed and beneficiaries of economic and emotional security, will ace the tests and receive the benefits.
Teachers in Seattle schools refuse to administer ‘specious’ standardized tests. Will others follow their lead?
- Jon Queally, staff writer
Opponents of the nation’s relentless push for standardized testing in public schools have new champions in Seattle this week as teachers at one high school and now another have refused to issue such exams to their students, calling them a waste of “time and money” amid “dwindling school resources.”
The entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School (with only three abstentions) voted to support a boycott against administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) this week or ever again. Garfield is the largest of thirteen high schools in the Seattle Public School (SPS) system.
In a press release, Kris McBride, Garfield’s academic dean and testing coordinator, said the test “produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources” during the weeks the test is administered.
On Friday, teachers at Ballard High School said they would join the boycott as well. National support for the teachers was also growing online, as a petition circulated and a facebook page for the teachers materialized.
Following some fear that the Garfield teachers could face disciplinary action, well-known education policy expert Diane Ravitch was among those using social media to garner additional support for their cause on Saturday:
In an interview with Seattle’s KUOW Radio, Ravitch said, “This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the entire staff of a school has said ‘no, we will not do this. It’s not good for the students, and it’s a waste of time and money.’”
A letter issued by the Garfield teachers said they would all “respectfully decline to give the MAP test” to any of their students this year.
“I’m teaching by example. If I don’t step up now, who will?” –Mario Shauvette, Garfield High math teacher
“We have had different levels of experiences with MAP in our varied careers, have read about it, and discussed it with our colleagues,” they said. “After this thorough review, we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again.”
The Christian Science Monitor recounts the teachers’ press event in dramatic fashion:
Forty-five minutes after school let out Thursday afternoon, 19 teachers… at Seattle’s Garfield High School worked their way to the front of an already-crowded classroom, then turned, leaned their backs against the wall of whiteboards, and fired the first salvo of open defiance against high-stakes standardized testing in America’s public schools.
To a room full of TV cameras, reporters, students, and colleagues, the teachers announced their refusal to administer a standardized test that ninth-graders across the district are mandated to take in the first part of January. Known as the MAP test – for Measures of Academic Progress – it is intended to evaluate student progress and skill in reading and math.
First one teacher, then another, and then more stepped forward to charge that the test wastes time, money, and dwindling school resources.
“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” McBride told the crowded room. “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.”History teacher Jesse Hagopian discusses Garfield High School teachers’ decision to refuse to the give the MAP test to their students during a press conference in Seattle on Thursday. (Photo by Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
In addition to the detrimental impact on students, teachers also pushed back against the test as a way to evaluate teacher performance.
“To use this (MAP) as a tool to evaluate our teaching makes no sense,” said Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher at Garfield High. “They’re setting us up for failure. And Garfield High School is not a failure. We’re the home of (former students) Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Lee and Quincy Jones.”
Hagopian told Common Dreams that Garfield has a proud tradition of teaching to the “whole student” and that its faculty came together because they understand that test results do no adequately tell the story of who students are or will go on to be. “No one cares how Jimi Hendrix scored on a high school math test,” he said. “And no one should.”
“We really think our teachers are making the right decision,” said Garfield student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry. “I know when I took the test, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class – and we have great classes here at Garfield. I know students who just go through the motions when taking the test, just did it as quickly as possible so they could do something more useful with their time.”
Asked if teachers were worried about what lessons students might take away from their defiant boycott chairman of the math department Mario Shauvette, stepped forward and said: “I’m teaching by example. If I don’t step up now, who will? I’m taking charge of what I do here.”
For his part, Wayne Au, former Garfield student and now assistant professor of education at the University of Washington, says teachers at his alma mater are offering their students—and others involved in the fight against corporate school reform—many valuable lessons.
Writing at ReThinking Schools, where he is assistant editor, Au explains:
At the most basic level, the national corporate school reform agenda requires teachers’ compliance. So regardless of individual motives, when a group of teachers collectively and publicly says NO, that represents a fundamental challenge to those pushing that elite agenda. The growing support for Garfield teachers’ resistance to the MAP test is a testament to just how much the collective action of teachers at one school means to the rest of the world.
Having all of the teachers at a school decide to support a boycott of a high-stakes, standardized test is a rare and beautiful thing, one that hasn’t happened since some Chicago teachers did it over a decade ago. That is powerful and inspirational stuff, and as far as I’m concerned, because we don’t yet know the district’s response, the teachers at Garfield are showing a level courage and heroism that I love and admire.
When nearby Ballard High School joined the boycott, teachers there cited numerous and various reasons for aligning with their colleagues at Garfield.
The test—teachers at Ballard said in a letter explaining their decision—has “been re-purposed by district administration to form part of a teacher’s evaluation, which is contrary to the purposes it was designed for, as stated by its purveyor, making it part of junk science.”
The Ballard High teachers, who spoke as one unit, said they were in full agreement with and would stand in support of those at Garfield. “Specifically,” they said, “the MAP test program throughout Seattle Public Schools ought to be shut down immediately. It has been and continues to be an embarrassing mistake. Continuing it even another day, let alone another month or year or decade, will not turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.”
As Reuterspoints out: “The revolt… comes at a time of fierce political battles over teacher evaluations that has played out in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles.” And continues:
The MAP test that has become a point of contention at Garfield is given at schools around the country but is not required by Washington state.
Unlike the tests required by the state, which are the High School Proficiency Exam and the End-of-Course exams, it has no bearing on students’ grades or their ability to graduate.
Education journalist Valerie Strauss, writing at her Answer Sheet blog, adds:
The boycotts are part of a growing grass-roots revolt against the excessive use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states. The high-stakes testing era began a decade under No Child Left Behind, and critics say that the exams are being inappropriately used and don’t measure a big part of what students learn.
Parents have started to opt out of having their children take the exams; school boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems; thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests; superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. It has been building momentum in the last year, since Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, said publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.