Ted Nugent’s Commentary in the Washington Times, Revised

4 Aug

Good morning!  I woke up and read this gem of an op-ed by educational expert raging gun enthusiast and aging rocker, Ted Nugent.  I decided it needed some revising and a dose of reality. My additions are in underlined italics. Link to the original article: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jul/28/nea-master-of-disaster/

Ted Nugent, writing for the Washington Times:

If the disturbing documentary “Waiting for Superman” which was funded by some of America’s wealthiest supporters of the education privatization movement and created by a man who sent his children to private schooldidn’t convince you that a massive overhaul of the public education system by male hedge fund managers and a broom-wielding Michelle Rhee is necessary, maybe the massive cheating scandal erupting in the Atlanta public school system will, although with the kind of pressure put on schools by high-stakes testing fanaticism, the threat to label a school as “failing” and the fear of sanctions from loss of funding to school closing, resorting to cheating isn’t surprising.  Additionally, a longitudinal study of Texas test scores by Linda Darling-Hammond, former advisor to Obama, showed that many districts had been indirectly cheating by not testing special needs students and encouraging “at-risk” and ELL students to drop out.

First off, there is no argument that public education in Americas schools that serve high poverty, minority, and culturally/linguistically diverse populations is a complete and total disaster. Our children who attend schools where more than 75% of the children receive free and reduced lunch (a proxy for poverty) routinely score at the bottom of the barrel in math, science and geography, while more than 50 percent of other children drop out of high school in some of the poorest and most diverse districts.

It’s not that our poor, minority and English language learning children are dumb, but rather that they are tossed into schools that reproduce the deeply ingrained inequalities in American society by providing them with lower-quality educational opportunities–in high-poverty schools, students are more likely to have brand-new, ineffective, and/or uncredentialed teachers, fewer and more dated resources, and less access to the kind of teaching that fosters critical thinking and conceptual problem solving.  Consequently, the only way that we can ever “fix” the system is by addressing underlying inequalities that lead to poverty and stratified educational opportunities. Unfortunately, a large segment of America agrees with conservative deregulationists that the American school system is a dumb, antiquated system that is controlled by one of the largest and most powerful unions in the nation, the National Education Association(NEA).

Instead of using their bully pulpit to demand educational upgrades across the board–because, just like the idea of everyone having access to good healthcare, the notion of all children having access to quality educational experiences is absolutely preposterous, the NEA works hard to ensure that teachers get tenure, more sick days, pensions supported by taxpayers and more and more benefitswhich doesn’t quite make up for the fact that teachers get paid approximately 30% less than similarly-degreed professionals in other fields and the fundamental lack of respect afforded the teaching profession. The NEA couldn’t give a damn about children, and the test scores prove it–because of course, the NEA is responsible for creating tests that reflect middle class, white norms and so guarantees that a significant percentage of the population is set up for failure. Oh, and aren’t they also responsible for the government not providing funding to schools to ensure they have the same resources to ensure that students are prepared for the test?  Shame on the NEA.

Regardless the reasons for the cheating, but we’re sure it happened because high-stakes testing creates intense competition among schools and an atmosphere of fear, especially for high poverty schoolsalmost 200 teachers and administrators in the Atlanta public school system cheated by inflating the test scores of children taking the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. The cheaters probably were all NEA members, although I’m only saying that because unions make me froth at the mouth. They should all be fired immediately and have their teaching certificates burned because we need to blame the teachers rather than addressing the root of the problem–the fear, competition, and failure-labeling caused by making high-stakes testing the primary focus of schooling.  

Of course, Democrats will rally to the NEA’s aid, as the teachers union is their largest cash contributor, but not really, it’s the Service Employees National Union, but whatever, it’s a still a union. If the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful pro-gun organization that I appear in ads and make speeches for, though not a union, was found to be complicit in a gun-running operation for Mexican drug cartels instead of the brain-dead dimwits at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, you can bet President Obama would rain down fire on the NRA and demand their demise...because absolutely, one district cheating on a test that may not even be a valid representation of student learning is the equivalent of an American gun organization/lobby abetting murderous criminal activities for foreign drug operations.

But there are no such powerful or condemning words from the president, because his educational agenda is essentially NCLB the Sequel, or any other Democrat who benefits from NEA dollars. Their silence tells you where their allegiance is, to the same people I have an allegiance to, and it’s not to ensure our children get a solid education.

It’s more of the same Liberalism 101 curse.

The systematic cheating scandal in Atlanta will be swept under the rug by Democrats and the NEAnevermind all those national headlines it made, whereas many conservative scandals (like the Ohio 2004 presidential election lawsuit) never make it to the mainstream media. You won’t hear a word about it in the next couple weeks, just like you won’t hear about the inordinate amount of erasures found on tests in DC from the Rhee administration, because Rhee is the deregulationists’ darling. In fact, the story is already old news, even though it’s more hurtful than President Nixon’s Watergate scandal–cheating on a school test that measures rote basic skills is so much more dangerous than presidential espionage and government corruption.

If we truly cared about providing our children with a quality, world-class, proper education as we once did, we would start by busting up the NEA and then completely dismantling the public-education system, which, like the U.S. Postal Service and the penny, has outlived its usefulness.  Of course, doing so will cause the further exclusion and segregation of marginalized groups in the United States.

Instead of having our tax dollars confiscated and funneled to a union-controlled system that produces unclean, slovenly, fat dunces and dropouts, educating our children should be left up to the free market, which always chooses the middle class and affluent kids–the ones who can afford to be part of the free market–to benefit. Parents of middle and upper classes could then decide which school their child would attend. Bad Underperforming schools in our nation’s poorest areas, serving mainly children of color,  would close, and good ones, almost all of which happen to be located in middle class and affluent areas, would prosper. Middle class and affluent whites won’t put up with black and brown children, who speak other languages or “non-mainstream” English, in their schools, and people of lower socioeconomic means won’t be able to attend schools that cost more than allotted by their voucher program, ensuring they will still end up in schools with lower quality educational opportunities.  The country will become even more stratified and segregated, and poor children of color will lose what is left of their civil right to a free education.  Perfect.

Under the current system, bad teachers, bad administrators and bad schools continue producing children who are largely illiterate and unable to compete in an ever-changing, technical and global marketplace because they are being taught an increasingly narrow curriculum that reflects the rote, basic skills content of the standardized tests required by No Child Left Behind. Something must change, and it must change now.

Let’s use the Atlanta cheating scandal as the impetus to bust up the NEA. No organization, system or union that impacts the public should be rewarded for consistently producing dismal results.  Additionally, let’s bust up the legislative and executive branch of government–after all, they passed the sweeping reform that started the high-stakes-testing frenzy in the first place.  Oh, and because their results lately have been dismal too.

Our children deserve better, and parents should demand better, as long as they speak English and are part of “mainstream” society.

Hey dropout, pull up your pants. Because in white mainstream society, that doesn’t look neat, and I can’t validate any subordinated cultural norms–if I did, we’d be having a completely different conversation, because perhaps you wouldn’t be excluded from mainstream educational opportunities.

 

This is What Democracy Looks Like: The Save Our Schools Rally and March in Washington, D.C. 7/30/11

31 Jul


As I write, I can feel the dull sting of the sunburn on the back of my neck, the lone spot where I forgot to apply and re-apply sunblock during the Save our Schools rally and march in DC yesterday.  It was a blisteringly hot day, and I spent the majority of the warmest hours in direct sunlight on the National Mall, my sea-green “CHANGE AGENT” t-shirt becoming un-becomingly soaked in sweat and grime as the day wore on.  Yet the energy and excitement from the day still buzzes through my body, the sounds of the impassioned crowd chanting, “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” still ringing in my ears.

The event was attended by thousands of teachers, although I wish there had been more, and perhaps next year there will be.  Diane Ravitch declared it to be a “historic day,” the first time such a large-scale grassroots event had taken place to protest the status quo of US education.  Teachers and supporters came from all over the United States, with an especially remarkable turnout from Wisconsin.  At the ellipse, where the speeches were held, colorful signs dotted the crowd, condemning high-stakes testing, Arne Duncan, market-driven education, and teacher and union bashing; and pleading for full and equitable school funding, quality teacher education, and inclusion of the voices of parents, communities, and educators in educational policy.

The agenda for the rally and march called for an end to high stakes testing and evaluation for students, teachers, and schools; equitable funding for all schools; and localization of policy and curricular decisions.  And these points were certainly stressed throughout the day, not just in the printed words on protest signs, but in the powerful speeches of educational leaders who took the stage.  Linda Darling-Hammond said, “It is unacceptable that the major emphasis of educational reform in this country is bubbling in on scantron tests, the results of which will be used to rank and sort schools and teachers so that those at the bottom can be fired or closed, not so that we will invest resources needed to actually provide good education in these schools.”   Diane Ravitch cried, “Education is a RIGHT, not a RACE! Races have one or two winners and everyone else loses!” And Jonathan Kozol remarked, “Dr. King, my friends, did not say…’I have a dream that someday…we will have more efficient, test-driven and anxiety-ridden, separate but not equal schools!'”

However, the most powerful message of the day was not included explicitly in the agenda and was most succinctly put by Texas superintendent John Kuhn: “IT’S THE POVERTY, STUPID!”  Ravitch reiterated the point that the real issue that must be addressed is poverty, holding up as evidence the recently released scores of the PISA, the international student assessment: schools with less than ten percent free and reduced lunch had scores higher than Finland and South Korea, the countries often touted as having the best education systems in the world; however, our poorest category of schools spared being dead last by our neighbor to the south. Ravitch went on to suggest concrete solutions, such as pre-natal care for poor pregnant women, contending, “that alone would reduce learning disabilities by a third, at least.”  Others also called on our political leaders to address what Ravich termed the “shame of our nation,” the fact that we lead the industrialized world in poverty. Darling Hammond argued passionately that we must “…challenge the aggressive neglect of our children, with one out of four living in poverty–far more than any other industrialized nation,” and adding that successful countries “ensure their children have housing, health care, and food security.”

This feels like a movement.  We MUST carry the momentum of this incredible day forward.  As Debbie Meiers said, “This is a crisis of DEMOCRACY.”  Our future and the future of public schoolchildren is at stake, and to paraphrase Jonathan Kozol, nothing can be merely fixed–we must ABOLISH the system of fanatic accountability and work on the one thing that WILL raise achievement: alleviating poverty.  We must mobilize and stand together under a common vision to address the underlying inequalities that are accepted as commonplace in our society in order to achieve educational equity.  THIS IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS EDUCATORS.

If you are in the New Jersey area and want to get involved in local teacher activism to save public education and reduce educational inequalities, please email me at kate_strom@yahoo.com.  If not, find your local educational activism group at http://teacheractivistgroups.org or http://www.democraticeducation.org/. If there isn’t one near you–start one.

Links to speeches quoted here:

 

Diane Ravitch:

John Kuhn:

 

Linda Darling-Hammond

 

Jonathan Kozol: