Friday, September 14, 2012

She Saw Something, She Said Something, She Got Her Walking Papers

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


James F Traynor said...

They're coming at us from all sides.

Will said...

"Living with integrity. Speaking truth to power." Seriously high praise for anyone, and certainly well-deserved, Barbara. Keep fighting the good fight! :)

Denis Neville said...

When Barbara Madeloni spoke of “what is happening in K-12 schools,” I was reminded of the NationsBanc Montgomery Securities prospectus, “The Big Enchilada – the K-12 market.”

And now they are coming to profit from our children… bullying our democratic legacy of public education…

There is a thriving education industry built on the belittlement of public schoolteachers.

“Teachers, and especially the teachers of young children, are not servants of the global corporations or drill sergeants for the state and should never be compelled to view themselves that way. I think they have a higher destiny than that. The best of teachers are not merely the technicians of proficiency; they are also ministers of innocence, practitioners of tender expectations. They stalwartly refuse to see their pupils as so many future economic units for a corporate society, little pint-sized deficits or assets for America’s economy, into whom they are expected to pump “added value,” as the pundits of the education policy arena now declaim. Teachers like these believe that every child who has been entrusted to their care comes into their classroom with inherent value to begin with.” – Jonathan Kozol

And now teacher education programs.

Education “reformists” complain that not enough weak teacher candidates are being eliminated.

The solution? The Pearson-Stanford experimental teacher certification program for national licensure.

“In New York, Pearson will be able to test a teacher’s worth from start to finish. The company currently administers the test students must pass to be admitted to a teaching program and is developing the testing system that will be used to calculate each teacher’s annual performance score.”

Pass the Pearson tests to become a successful teacher? Where and how does this capture the “magic and the incandescent chemistry” that forms between a truly gifted teacher and her or his children?

“[Few] of the business-driven specialists … seem to be acquainted closely with the lives of children and many would be dreadful teachers because they tend to be rather grim-natured people who do not have lovable or interesting personalities and, frankly, would not be much fun for kids to be with.” – Jonathan Kozol

“Someday, maybe, there will exist a well-informed, well considered and yet fervent public conviction that the most deadly of all possible sins is the mutilation of a child’s spirit; for such mutilation undercuts the life principle of trust, without which every human act, may it feel ever so good and seem ever so right is prone to perversion by destructive forms of conscientiousness.” - Erik Erikson

What this country needs is a profound respect for educators like Barbara Madeloni and her students, who are pursuing low-paying teaching careers (which receives little respect), and in whose hands we are placing the greatest asset of our nation: our children.

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” - Neil Postman

Kat said...

Thanks, Barbara for your resistance-- against the testing industry, privatized education, and our compromised higher education system.

falken751 said...

"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?

"all in the quest of the Almighty Dollar."

This is myy opinion, what do you think?

"Like Apple and google and all of the smartphone manufacturers.

"all in the quest of the Almighty Dollar."

One can see the wasted minds already, getting in line to be one of the first to purchase an I Phone #5. Everywhere one goes one can see people fingering a smartphone. Buying apps because they are not able to figure things out by themselves. They can't wait to get home to play a game on their desk top computer. Or to get the weather report while they are standing in a mall or some other useless information while they are at a sporting event. These are probably the same fools that are thinking about voting for Romney".

James F Traynor said...

An interesting article on Elizabeth Warren in the latest New Yorker. They really want to cut her off at the knees; her political views are definitely at odds with the Clintonistas who currently run the Democratic Party.

Elizabeth Adams said...

I see teachers as student advocates, much like nurses are patient advocates. They are the last line of defense, keeping their charges safe from potential harm, and, ideally, helping them help themselves.

As a nurse, I have worked in union and non-union facilities. It wasn't until I worked in a non-union facility that I ever feared for the safety of my patient or myself. It wasn't until I worked in a non-union facility that I was physically assaulted -- by a physician, no less. Had I been in a union facility, it wouldn't have happened, or he would have been suspended and subjected to behavioral training. It wasn't until I worked in a non-union facility that I saw nurses afraid to speak up for their patients, or frightening nurse:patient ratios.

"Managed care" (a privatization catch phrase that is quite an oxymoron in the health care field) has produced jobs for nurses such as "Case Manager", which is wrought with conflict of interest issues when one is a patient advocate first and foremost.

Teachers and nurses must be able to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves, without fear of punishment (job loss, demotion, etc.). This is what they are paid to do, and this is what their license and training require.

James F Traynor said...

'A Lonely Redemption': great article on Sandy Lewis in the NYT magazine section. Absolutely amazing that such a guy exists. And equally amazing that it's in the Gray Lady.

spreadoption said...

One way we privatize a college education these days: Dr. Pepper (the soft drink-maker, that is) awards $100,000 in tuition aid to some lucky kid - lucky, not necessarily academically talented - who wins at some silly, totally worthless stunt at half-time in a football game.

Meanwhile, our government cuts federal aid to college students nationwide, in order that we can cut taxes (even more!) for the very wealthy.

One kid wins something huge he/she may or may not deserve, while our nation's future is abandoned to muddle along on its own.

Bounty Paper Towels has launched a campaign to raise donations from people like you and me to help disabled veterans. Yeah, like that's gonna get the job done. The unstated reason, of course: because our politicians in Washington don't care enough to do it properly.

How do we expect a few individual private actions here and there to empower the common good?

I've taken to saying to almost everyone I meet, "It's worse than ya think." It doesn't get me far. It's either, "I'm for Romney because we need a businessman to fix what's wrong and keep us strong," or it's, "But Obama is such a good man and he's trying to do what's right for the people." No, he's not! But where to begin? This is going to take a lot of effort and a very long time.

I wish I could give up and become oblivious to it all. Become dumb and happy. Munch on a Philly cheese steak and watch some football on TV. I've tried. But I can't leave it alone, our public ignorance and government stupidity.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect: incompetent people tend to be highly self-confident about their competence. Republicans. Too often, though, competent people lack confidence in their competence. And all that contributes to the mess we're in.

The bad guys are in full control, after 40 years of whatever-it-takes, and as far as I can tell, it will take the good people decades or generations to get democracy back. If we ever can.

d12345 said...

Barbara is an inspiring presence. She needs all the support we can give her.

As I have said several times here....I share the general (here) abhorrence of most current trends. But I must question the idea that it used to be better in any significant way.

There was never an era of democracy. We can't get something back that we never had. We need to achieve it....but that is another story.

Before Barbara, there was the Rapp-Coudert committee which conducted a witch hunt in the NY public universities and resulted in dozens of great scholars and progressive activists being dismissed.

Morris Schappes, the great historian and founder of Jewish Currents went to jail.

Phil Foner, the editor of the writings of Frederick Douglass was dismissed.

My mother was called to appear before the committee, an event she spoke about many times.

It is a constant struggle. And the enemy has tremendous material resources.

But every time someone like Barbara resists, our world improves every so slightly.

Denis Neville said...

@ d12345 re: Rapp-Coudert committee

I had never heard of this shameful history. What an awful time that must have been for your mother.

In my searches to learn more I ran across two articles.

One by Carol Smith, “The Dress Rehearsal for McCarthyism,”

“Efforts by state legislators to curtail collective bargaining or destroy public-sector unions, abolish tenure, and decrease funding for education are spreading throughout the country. The scapegoating and vilification of unions and teachers, however, are not new. The current attacks have historical parallels when cries of “Communist subversion” were used in New York City to silence dissenting voices in academia and to weaken faculty and teacher unionism.”

Smith writes about the history of the CCNY teachers union, Morris Schappes, and the Rapp-Coudert Hearings. “It was the largest political purge of faculty on one campus in the history of the United States. City College lost many outstanding teachers, most of whom never worked in academia again.”

The other article is by Ronald Radosh, “A Campus Dress Rehearsal for McCarthyism?”

Radosh finds Smith’s article “most troubling.”

No wonder! The source of Radosh’s article is the right-wing Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

The enemy has tremendous material resources!

Smith concludes, “Public-sector workers, the last defense against this onslaught, are also under attack. We need to remember the New York Teachers Union and the College Teachers Union and their legacy of defending public education and the rights of organized labor. The struggle continues in our time.”

Her article was based on the Struggle for Free Speech at CCNY exhibit, which can be viewed at

As d12345 said, Barbara Madeloni needs all the support we can give her. And all those who struggle to achieve what we never had.

d12345 said...

Wow Denis, Great material.

Schappes was an extraordinary man. I knew him slightly in his later years.

He compiled and edited A Documentary History of the Jews in America....the first such book of its kind, I believe.

When he got out of prison, the doors of academic life were closed to him. He founded the magazine, Jewish Currents. At first it was closely linked to the Communist Party. But in the 50's he made a break and took an independent line...critical of both the US and the USSR.

Foner did not return to academic life for 25 years. He was finally hired by a historically Black college in Pennsylvania. His nephew, Eric, teaches at Columbia and is an important historian of the Reconstruction.

This was my parents' generation. I saw the injustice and cruelty which they endured. Murray Benedict, who went law school after serving in WWII, passed the Bar exam, only to be denied admittance to the bar, because of his political activities.

Another woman, close friend of my family, I knew her well, who was meeting her young son at the airport in the 50's. he got off the plane, just in time to see FBI agents swarm around his mother, take her away, soon to be imprisoned under the Smith Act.

This country (like most others!) has a rich history of oppression and injustice. We should be vigilant not to jump to the conclusion that the current era is the worst ever, if only to honor the courage and struggle of those who came before us.

Thanks again Denis, for the great material and for your presence here.

Neil Gillespie said...

Yes Karen, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, along with people’s lives pummeled by corporatist education policies. Ultimately we all suffer and pay a high price in terms of wasted human spirit and potential.

Dr. Madeloni, I signed your petition on Change.Org, hope that helps.

As for Rahm Emanuel's kids going to an elite prep school like the University of Chicago Lab School, I’d like to see all politician’s kids go to the public school where they hold office, then serve in the armed forces. It would help our leaders make better informed decisions about education, military, and foreign policy.

James F Traynor said...

One of the biggest enemies of CCNY, back in the bad good old days, was the Catholic Church (Cardinal Spellman in particular). I'm proud to say I'm an alumnus of that school and was a Catholic. All this is old stuff to me. The fight has been going on since before FDR. It never stops and it never will. Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to warn the country of the dangers of corporatism. Hell, it's been going on since democracy had it's beginnings in the ancient Greek City-States.

Pearl said...

It is painful to read the stories from some of you about the silencing and worse of citizens who spoke up about the injustices of the times many
decades back, especially when friends or relatives were involved. As a
victim of the worst excesses of the McCarthy years in the l940's my
husband's family and eventually ours as part of it (non guilt by association with non guilt) learned, along with many others, how poisonous and treacherous our country can become. It was an education for what was to come, leading into the current breakdown and destruction we are living through. Although not surprised, the extent of it is shocking and is the reason we finally were able to find our way to Canada when my husband was denied work in Academia in the U.S. when he refused to denounce his parents and was threatened with a rough road ahead by the FBI.

That is why I am now as active as possible via the computer to try and expose the truth of what the U.S. has become under the leadership of presidents, democrat and republican, who have allowed this state of affairs to flourish.
The flames now going on in the middle east are the result in great part by
U.S. policies and involvement in the affairs of those countries and as you
all know only too well, terrorism is alive and flourishing as a result.
Part of it is the "close" financial and political friendship with the
extremist leadership of Israel which we saw first hand many years ago during a few unhappy years we spent in that country before we came to Canada. It took a long while for friends and relatives to believe our observations as a result of our experiences in Israel and warnings of what was to come and it
created ill will with Jewish relatives and friends. They know better now.

Your comments on Karen's recent column, touched me deeply. But I admit I am pretty discouraged by the future for everyone seeing how things are evolving. I admire Howard Zinn's apparent optimism however.

"TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
-- Howard Zinn

Denis Neville said...

@ Pearl – It is hard not to be discouraged by how things seem to be evolving.

There is also another source of comfort and hope - Paulo Freire.

Donaldo Macedo, in his introduction to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, wrote:

“I found comfort in the immeasurable hope that Paulo represented for those of us who are committed to imagine a world, in his own words, that is less ugly, more beautiful, less discriminatory, more democratic, less dehumanizing, and more humane. In his work and in his life…he teaches us with his penetrating and unquiet mind the meaning of a profound commitment to fight social injustices in our struggle to recapture the loss of our dignity as human beings.”

In Paulo Freire’s own words:

“We need to say no to the neoliberal fatalism that we are witnessing at the end of this century, informed by the ethics of the market, an ethics in which a minority makes most profits against the lives of the majority. In other words, those who cannot compete, die. This is a perverse ethics that, in fact, lacks ethics. I insist on saying that I continue to be human . . . I would then remain the last educator in the world to say no: I do not accept . . . history as determinism. I embrace history as possibility [where] we can demystify the evil in this perverse fatalism that characterizes the neoliberal discourse in the end of this century.”

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” - Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

An excellent article by Henry Giroux on “Lessons to Be Learned From Paulo Freire as Education Is Being Taken Over by the Mega Rich,”

“His belief in a substantive democracy, as well as his deep and abiding faith in the ability of people to resist the weight of oppressive institutions and ideologies, was forged in a spirit of struggle tempered by both the grim realities of his own imprisonment and exile and the belief that education and hope are the conditions of social action and political change.”

barbara madeloni said...

Thank you all for your words of wisdom and support. The fear under which so many live is crushing what promise of democracy we might still hold. They need not take us all out, just a few now again to teach the lessons of fear.
Over here on the side of having been given my walking papers there is an incredible sense of freedom and solidarity. That is not to say that I don't struggle. I do. The vulnerability of the position and the assaults on character (the most recent rumor being spread is that I had my students design the posters seen in this blog during class time--they cannot imagine students with agency and voice) and the work to understand how to lead within this are all emotionally challenging. But the larger piece is that the solidarity within the organizing is so deeply joyful. You all have to try it if you have not. We are using my job issue as a catalyst for addressing the larger corporatization of public education, of the commons.
My new motto: fighting is winning--and, in this deeply dehumanizing system: to be human is radical.
with gratitude and in solidarity,
and sorry not to post here so much,
I follow the posts and threads, but most of my posting is education related these days.


Valerie said...

I am sorry to be coming to this thread so late, but I couldn't let the opportunity pass to say - thank you Barbara Madeloni for your courage and integrity. I salute you!

And thanks to the other commenters for the great quotes, particularly from Howard Zinn and Paulo Freire. When I read threads and comments like these, it encourages me to shrug off my feelings of despair and keep on fighting the good fight. It helps me to see that together we can accomplish small victories which might one day add up to big victories. It also shows me the importance of voicing our solidarity with leaders like Barbara and Pearl and her husband who are out there in front, receiving more than their fair share of the battering on behalf of those who are too powerless to have a voice.