The titans of finance are always looking for new ways to make a quick buck off the suffering and sweat of regular people. They've destroyed the housing market, they've destroyed jobs, they've obliterated trillions of dollars in household wealth since the debacle of 2008. Now they're in Stage Two, which consists of sifting through the national ruins and salvaging the collateral damage. And lo and behold! There's some mighty distressed human capital and bargain basement real estate out there, ripe for the corporate picking. It's called the American public school system.
In the wealthiest country in the world, where nearly a quarter of all children are still deemed officially poor, the circling vultures are smelling the desperation and voraciously grabbing what they can, while they can. They're stealthy, they're sneaky, and they are counting on us not noticing or caring.
But thanks in large part to the Chicago teachers' strike, those of us who weren't paying enough attention are now getting a much-needed crash course in the war against public education. We've already heard more than we can stomach about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's quest to gut his city's public schools and transform them into charters in order to enrich his wealthy cronies. His divide-and-conquer crusade, pitting parents against unionized teachers, is not working. As of this writing, a settlement was reportedly near -- and the teachers are the ones with the smiles on their faces.
But that's just one battle, and the war still rages. Among the casualties is Barbara Madeloni, the director of Secondary Teacher Education at UMass, Amherst. Because she and her students balked at being used as guinea pigs in a multinational corporation's experimental teacher certification program, her contract has not been renewed for the next academic year. The fact that her college happens to be located in one of the most politically progressive areas of the country does not bode well. It is only because Dr. Madeloni is protected by a union that her employer couldn't fire her outright.
The professor and her students decided to opt out of participation in Pearson's Teacher Performance Field Test, which evaluates candidates based solely on a brief videotape and canned essay questions designed to discourage creative thinking. It lets a bunch of corporate suits sitting in expensive office space thousands of miles away make a ton of money by paying retired/laid-off teachers $75 a pop to decide the fate of an aspiring educator they've never even met.
After the New York Times ran a story about her protest last spring, Barbara Madeloni suddenly found herself out of a job. The corporate overlords and their accomplices in state government and higher public education were apparently not well-pleased that, in her words, she "saw something and said something."
My conviction that I had to resist and speak out has been growing with my increasing awareness of the danger we are in. I see what is happening in K-12 schools, the profound distortions of teaching and learning, the abuse that is testing and its impact on teachers, students, parents and administrators. I sit in meetings with people who have the power and protections to speak out and stop what is happening, and I listen as they make a choice to side with those in power, determine through a twisted rationality that ‘we need standards’ and ‘there has to be accountability’ and ‘our practices need to be data driven’ all while closing their eyes and ears to the evident human misery these measures are creating. My courage comes from my outrage and my fear. My fear for the future of the greater good is much stronger than my fear for losing my job. I also gain courage from the Education Radio Collective, whose members support me, inspire me and give me a place of safety. As well, the national connections in educator activism, both online and at Occupy DOE have helped me to know that I am part of something bigger, that I am not alone. In some ways, however, it doesn’t feel like courage. It just feels absolutely necessary.(Did I mention that Barbara Madeloni is also a Sardonicky reader/commenter?)
Alan Singer of Hofstra University has written a chilling overview of the Pearson conglomerate for The Huffington Post. Among other tidbits, we learn that Seif al-Islam, son of late Libyan dictator Muanmar Gaddafi, has a major financial stake in the company. The ill-gotten gains of one of the worst human rights abusers in modern history are helping subsidize an epidemic of what amounts to institutionalized child abuse. Because, let's be blunt: the "creative destruction" of public education, Rahm-style, Pearson-style, is indeed a form of child abuse. As the old public service TV commercial said, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." And the global financial cartel is laying waste to entire generations of young minds, all in the quest of the Almighty Dollar.
Why else do you suppose Rahm sends all three of his own children to a private school where they refuse to teach to the test, and where they have three libraries and seven art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700?
The underserved public school students of Chicago and other financially strapped cities, on the other hand, often don't even have a library. The elites can thereby pivot and blame the teachers for low reading scores! And when brave people like Barbara Madeloni speak out against the injustice, they're thrown to the curb. But they can never be silenced.
"The Chicago teachers know exactly what is up and who they are fighting" Dr. Madeloni emailed me yesterday. "And if they didn't, Obama's man Rahm told them so: these are Obama's Race to the Top policies that he using to try to strong arm the unions, make a land grab with schools closings, and complete the privatization of the public schools. This is a terribly important struggle and we need to be with them all of the way."
There's a petition up at Change.Org asking that UMass renew Dr. Madeloni's contract. You can sign it here.
|Postering at UMass.... "I have the most amazing students," says Dr. Madeloni|