Swearing an Oath -- Part 2: The Kristallnacht of American Public Education

As the second possibility, suppose that before or during their gubernatorial campaigns, our governors came out with a full-throated endorsement of charter schools. Why would these sworn protectors-to-be of public education do something as provocative as this, unless to signal the charter school industry that a new age was dawning?

Charter schools would now have a friend in the statehouse where they could look forward to doing business together as public schools closed and charter schools opened in a new dispensation of school reform. And, of course, a healthy campaign contribution would not go unnoticed.

Their election to office would also signal the opening salvo across the bow of public education that Captain Charter School Himself was coming aboard, me Hearties, to shiver the timbers of public schools by scuttling their entire fleet. These new charter-friendly governors would usher in a dynasty of Jolly Roger freebooters, profiteers, and privatizers to loot the state treasury in recompense for "services rendered," with the hope of more "reciprocal favors" to come.

Given this unambiguous show of support for charters, how could our governors have the chutzpah to swear an oath to protect public schools, as this would pose a crisis of conscience, not to speak of a conflict of interest akin to setting a fox to guarding a hen house?

State legislators also deserve a dishonorable mention as the governors' enablers in granting charters to whoever applied to open a school. These politicians have never been known to deny a charter to even the most unworthy of applicants, especially when lobbyists come bearing gifts of hundred dollar bills stuffed in brown paper bags. Charters are Big Business in many a statehouse, as lawmakers line up by the dozens at the feeding trough.
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But perhaps I rash judge these honorable men, and so are they all, all honorable men, by doing them a rank injustice. Perhaps the political class in this country no longer takes seriously its oath of office. Perhaps this new breed dismisses an oath as a superannuated relic from a faraway past before the Age of Corporations with their public-be-damned and predatory practices that do more harm to America than any enemy abroad.

Perhaps they regard these oaths as political theater that must be endured as lending a fig leaf of legitimacy to sanctify the greed and corruption of these privatized times. This should be hardly surprising when governors, legislators, and even some Supreme Court justices debase their high office by protecting these corporations whose interests they serve.

However, this is by far not the end of this saga. Despite the thousands of public-school closings, none of these governors has offered one scintilla of proof to justify the need for these closures, as if closing them were reason enough.

We've seen them scapegoat, demonize, and vilify teachers, but insults and name-calling aren't evidence. These governors employ that old legal maxim that "when you don't have a case, just abuse your opponent!" But the question remains: where is the evidence to warrant these closures?
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Accusations aren't proof, and if America's once-proud tradition of investigative reporting weren't now dead, these unjustified closings would have been one of the most sensational news stories in modern times. "Governors Perjure Themselves That They'll Protect Public Schools." "Governors Conspire to Destroy Public Education." "Governors Refuse to Give Reasons for Public School Closures." Reporters would have shouted these headlines from the rooftops because, by failing to provide reasons for these closures, these governors themselves would have become the story! But this never happened, and thereby hangs a tale.

Any first-year journalism student knows that a vigilant press is democracy's lifeblood, and that the heart of a story is evidence. When you don't have evidence, you don't run the story. When the governors were attacking public-school teachers, why didn't journalists speak up and ask: "Governor, what's the evidence for these attacks? Where is the educational research that supports your claims?"

That would have done it. However, these simple questions were never asked. Instead, by merely reporting these claims without demanding their sources, the press lent these claims credibility. Were reporters that naïve to let themselves be used in this way and become the accomplices of a demagogue?

Where have all the journalists gone in this country? This is not even investigative journalism, but Journalism Ethics 101. Why were the mainstream media complicit in this political immorality play to which their silence implied their consent? Did their silence betoken objective reporting? Far from receiving equal time, teachers were given no time at all.

Why did they, with few exceptions like The Washington Post, fail to give the larger picture of what is happening in America today and its effects upon student learning? Why didn't the press address the many factors beyond teachers' control? Why didn't it present the teachers' side of the story? Why did they silently follow the party line that scapegoated, damned, and demonized teachers? (See here, here, here, here, and here.)

They should have recalled their Hans Christian Andersen from childhood days and his fairy tale, The Emperor's New Clothes, about a child who innocently blurts out the truth that everyone fears to utter. We are cursed with a press that obeys corporate dictates as Pravda did the Kremlin's in Soviet times.
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Beyond their contempt for the people and their refusal to be held accountable to them, these governors had other reasons why they failed to justify these public-school closures. There simply was no such evidence and, therefore, no basis whatever for closing these schools. Admitting this would have entailed re-opening them, rehiring their teachers, and ceasing to fund charters with taxpayer dollars since they could no longer maintain the fiction that charters were public schools in the first place. Finally, they would have to admit to deceiving and defrauding the public of billions of dollars, an admission they might be reluctant to make.

The irony, however, was that there did exist a large body of evidence - but it contradicted the governors' claims! It wasn't, as the governors said, "bad teaching" that caused low student scores, but student poverty and segregation. These two factors explained the low scores of schools that for decades have been underfunded, as governors played politics with them so that they would "fail" to justify closing and then replacing them with charters.
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However, there is yet another consideration that argues against these governors' credibility. If their claims are so incontestably true and unassailably righteous, why haven't they, or their surrogates, sought public support by debating the education historian, Diane Ravitch? Her latest book, The Reign of Error: the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, has delivered a withering critique of everything that has been happening to public education in recent years.

Whoever reads it will understand at once why the corporate media were so terrified by what she had written that they didn't dare give it the media coverage it so richly deserves. Nevertheless, it became a bestseller and a modern classic, the definitive text against educational "reform" that has never been answered. This may explain why even the educational "reformer" Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of Washington, D. C. public schools, backed out of a scheduled debate with Dr. Ravitch at Lehigh University.

The times cry out for answers, yet the bellowing silence of these wrecking-ball governors grows only louder and more curious day after day. This systematic destruction, expropriation, and looting of public schools by charters today is nothing less than the Kristallnacht of public education in America. The wonder of it all is that the very governors who have sworn an oath to protect these schools now eagerly seek and abet their destruction.
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The lights of democracy are steadily going out all over America as corporate wealth and power take control of our institutions. A nation that was once the inspiration of the world with its noble dream of the individual as the center of its political vision is being subverted by corporations and their state Gauleiters.

Corporations are now employing on our home population the same ruthless practices they engage in abroad by bribing officials to plunder host countries and their populations. We are seeing in America today the same ruthless imperatives that drive foreign policy all over the world -- but without our consent or even our knowledge.

Jefferson was right: "The merchant has no country." In a choice between profit and patriotism, the business class will sell out its country and countrymen every time, whether by destroying its economy, shipping jobs overseas, failing to pay trillions in taxes, or trashing the environment. Their fellow citizens are simply expendables on their corporate chessboards. They would sooner bring down the heavens than post a decrease in profits.
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The future of a nation is always its children, but the future of a democracy is always its public schools. If these schools can be said to teach children a bias, it would be this: that they should always love their country; that their country is not the particular party or administration that happens to be in office at any one time; that the government exists for its people, not the people for its government or corporations; that the people exist for themselves, and each human being for him or herself; that a democracy should always do the will of its people, not that of its governing class; that a democracy does not prey on its people, nor exploit, harass, or deceive them about what it is doing at home or abroad; that no one, no official, no institution or corporation, no matter how powerful, is, under any circumstances, above the law; that a free press exists to keep government honest; and that a press should not get chummy with government officials lest its sole purpose for existing be compromised.

These ideals have never been welcome by tyrannical governments. Nor have they ever been accepted by corporations. What better way to subvert these ideals than by destroying the schools that teach them? Now more than ever do we need public schools which teach that we are all in this together; that all of us are united in a common struggle to maintain the dignity of each human person; that the only thing that keeps us strong as a people and nation is a sense of human solidarity in rejecting every kind of intolerance and bigotry toward whoever or whatever is different.

During these times, especially, we cannot allow our schools to become Balkanized into hermetically-sealed, self-referential, and privatized enclaves that isolate, divide, and disunite us, instead of bringing us together in mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance.

We are wrong, however, in thinking that our present struggle is about the survival of our public schools alone. Much more is at stake. It is the very survival of our democracy against a new kind of enemy -- a Corporate Colossus that, in its pathological mania for limitless profits and power, is destroying our very nation and planet.

The older generation may be more aware about what is coming than the young because it has seen this before and knows where it could end. We will be gone, but it is our children and grandchildren who will have to live in that nightmare world that will come if we don't make a stand.

Edmund Burke's words still remain true: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Individuals, for the most part, are decent and moral. It is when they come together in institutions or corporations and make them their gods that they become monsters who, like Saturn, devour their young.