Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System l Chris Hedges

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

April 1, 2013

Photo illustration by PZS based on an image byLin Pernille Photography

By Chris Hedges

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

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The World As It Is: 


Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress

A collection of Truthdig Columns
by Chris Hedges

Keep up with Chris Hedges’ latest columns, interviews, tour dates and more at www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges.

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10 Things Everyone Should Know by Now About Black Women l Clutch Magazine

10 Things Every Non-Black Person Should Know (By Now) About Black Women

10 Things Nerver SayWe’re more than a decade into the 21st century. I’d hoped– in vain– that some basic understandings of how non-Black people should interact with Black people could be something I could take for granted. But no. Somehow there are “those people” who remain entirely clueless, so much so that they will call a 9-year old the c-word, or paint a white model bronze-Black, or not even, as so-called, journalists, bother to learn the pronunciation of an Oscar nominee’s name. This is unacceptable.

Recently, I read the comments section of a post on Clutch where a male reader was baffled as how to initiate a conversation with Black women and asked for some rules. Several helpful women obliged. In the same spirit of combating ignorance, I offer rules for non-Black people to  engage Black women without causing offense. If you can manage NOT to do the following, you can probably come across as a decent human being.

Humbly, I submit a basic list, my Rules of Engagement, and ask you NOT to do the following (and encourage Black women to add to the list in the comments):

1. Talk Bad About (Black) Kids
It seems ridiculous that this has to be said, much less lead the list. I’d assumed everyone knew better, but apparently not. (And you know what “they say” about assuming.) Look here, dissing kids – all kids, of all races, creeds, and color is UNACCEPTABLE. You want to talk greasy about your own kids? Eh… still unacceptable. Kids are off-limits. Period.

2. Touch Our Hair
I know our hair– braided, permed, natural, whatever– is pretty great. We treat it like art because we can and well, it is.  However, it is never, ever, EVER okay to touch the hair of a random Black woman you’ve just encountered or even the familiar Black woman who you share the cubicle with. The world is not your personal petting zoo. Black people are, well, people. DO NOT TOUCH US (without permission).

3. Mispronounce Our Names/ Rename Us
Look, all Black folk don’t have multi-hypenate names. We have Janes, Marys and Beths too. And somehow our single syllabic sisters learn how to pronounce names like La’Taquisha, Marquaysa, Taiwanas, etc. You know what our secret is? Lean closer.

WE ASK.

I’m a four syllable girl with an uncommon name (in the States.) I know it’s a challenge to pronounce and I am never offended by anyone asking, “how do I pronounce your name?” However, I am offended when you, a stranger, butchers it without care or tries to nickname me like we’re friends. Take the time to learn my name and maybe, I’ll offer my nickname to help you out.

4. Paint Yourselves  Black/ Bronze
I know it’s Halloween or for my Jewish folk, Purim. I get you’re dressing up, but Black skin is not a costume. If you want to try out “ghetto” for Halloween, go right ahead. There are plenty of so-called “ghetto” white people. Wanna be a rapper? Great! Bubba Sparxxx’s, wherever he is, wants you to remember him.  A basketball player? How creative of you! Just be a white one, or if you just have to go Black, get a jersey with the Black guy’s name and number so everyone knows who you are. (This means you NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind.) There’s no need to go all bronze or Blackface for that. Oh, and while we’re at it, leave off the afro/dread wigs. (I know, I know, some  Black people wear other people’s hair so that seems hypocritical, but just trust me, no, the wigs just come across offensive— unless of course it’s a Jew ‘fro, which we totally give a pass to.)

5. Paint Others Black/Bronze
Do you know how hard it is for a working Black model? Of course not, because you would have to hire one to interact with her and learn what it’s like. Let me fill you in: it’s hard. And you, editor, are not making it any easier on Black models or your make-up artists by hiring white women and spraying them bronze/brown/Black. Leave the white person white or just hire a Black model already, and make it easier on everyone.

6. Try to Hook Up A SBW With the One Other Black Person You Know
Hook ups are always tricky, and I know your heart is in the right place here, but um, stop it. Just like, just how you wouldn’t introduce White Rebecca to a guy just because he too is also White, you shouldn’t try to hook up Black Regina with a guy just because he’s Black. If Regina is single and looking, introduce her to someone who she shares an interest with and you have a reasonable expectation she might click with. If he’s Black, great. If he’s not, that’s still great.

7. Drop the N-Word
Celebrities keep doing this sh** like it’s okay. Because “they”– that means you, Lisa Lampanelli – think it’s okay, you need to know that there’s no trickle down theory on this one. It doesn’t matter if it ends in “-er” or “a”, or you hear your Black friends or even your favorite rapper say it. It’s just not for you. When the lyrics in a song get to the n-word, go silent. When you’re retelling a story where someone dropped an n-bomb, just say “n-bomb” to be safe. Understand that by actually using the n-word, you not only are likely to offend every Black person in hearing distance, you will also be perceived as a racist and you may get confronted and/or physically harmed. The N-word is a fighting word. And while I, like many Black people, don’t condone violence, this is an instance where I understand.

8. Diss Michelle Obama
You got Jackie O and Princess Diana. We get the First Lady (and Oprah). You don’t like her? Think her arms are too bare? Her bum too large? She shouldn’t be dancing on Jimmy Fallon or presenting at the Oscars? Great. You’re entitled to your opinion… but tell someone else.

9. Change to the Local Hip-Hop Station When A Black Person Gets in the Car
My white friends never did this, which is how I ended up with the Oasis, Green Day, Jewel, Alanis Morissette obsession. This one is really for my cab drivers who are usually not white. I actually don’t mind AM news, and I like oldies, and rock, and jazz, and even some country.  What I actually don’t like is most commercial hip-hop. I’ll take talk radio, lyric-less music or a plucked guitar over shout outs to “hos” at Spelman, wanting “hos” as birthday presents, or a “man” lamenting his inability to avoid “ratchet p****”.

10. Auto-Assume the Other Black Woman Shopping Must Work There
Every woman is not a salesgirl. Every Black woman is not a salesgirl. Say it with me: EVERY BLACK WOMAN IS NOT A SALESGIRL. More often than not, salesgirls or salespersons or whatever PC term is  used now, are not wearing purses and coats on the sales floor. Salesgirls often have a name tag  or a uniform and often they come right up and ask “Can I help you?” Those are salesgirls. The Black girl/woman with the coat and big-ass purse, who’s holding up the dress in front of herself in the mirror or searching the rack for her size? She’s a shopper just like you and is in no way is obligated to tell you where the [whatever you’re looking for] department is. If you ask her and you get a curt, “I don’t work here” as a response? Yes, she’s being rude because you’ve been ignorant.

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life”. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk.

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