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Rented Protesters in Chicago, Presidential Hypocrisy on School Reform

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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

What's three years of crusading against public schools and their teachers, three years of anti-democratic corporate school reform compared to a couple paragraphs in a presidential State of the Union address? It's base and blatant hypocrisy. If corporate media still practiced actual journalism, this might be an instructive comparison to lay before their readers. Should the Obama administration should follow its own advice about not demonizing teachers, and not relying on high-stakes testing? Or should we continue with the failed experiment of corporate school reform?

Rented Protesters in Chicago, Presidential Hypocrisy on School Reform

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

During his recent State of the Union address, President Obama made a particularly cynical reference to teachers and public education when he called for an end to the demonization of teachers, and teaching to standardized tests. The reference was cynical because these are the very hallmarks of the Obama administration's policies on public education. But since billionaires owners of corporate media are wholly on board, the contradiction between a few paragraphs in a speech and three years of actual policy went unmentioned in all the analyses of the the speech.

For three years Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been “demonizers in chief” toward the nation's public school teachers. Their so-called “Race To The Top” for public education awards funding to states and school districts on the basis of how many teachers' salaries are directly tied to test scores, how many qualified and experienced teachers are fired, how many public schools and whole districts are “turned around” to be run like businesses by business people rather than by educators, parents, and communities, like the best schools always have been run.

...hundreds of Chicago public school parents staged a two day occupation of City Hall and the mayor's office...”

As CEO of Chicago's Public Schools Arne Duncan, now Secretary of Education fired hundreds of qualified, experienced, mostly black teachers rooted in the communities they served, so they could be replaced by younger, cheaper, less qualified and mostly white recruits who could be expected to teach for a little while and move on. A US federal court found Duncan guilty of racial discrimination and ordered Chicago to come up with a plan to rehire the fired teachers.

When in December news of a new wave of 2012 school closings and attendant mass firings leaked out, hundreds of Chicago public school parents staged a two day occupation of City Hall and the mayor's office, something not seen in 25 years, but virtually whited out by local and national media. Chicago police eventually cleared City Hall, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, by closing down the washrooms and refusing to re-admit anyone who left. But the paper did not disclose why parents were encamped outside the mayor's office.

Also in December stories surfaced confirming longstanding rumors that Mayor Rahm Emanuel habitually used public and/or campaign funds to hire local black preachers and rented protesters by the busload to pack public meetings and exclude the real public, and to picket in favor of whatever City Hall and the Board of Education favored on a particular day.

Since then, and for the entire month of January, Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has dodged reporters and limited his press availability to avoid answering questions about the wave proposed school closings, and the use of rented preachers and protesters to thwart and make less visible the rising tide of opposition to corporate school reform. But despite the mayor's silence, the media's cooperation and the president's duplicity, the tide of opposition to corporate school reform continues to rise.

For more information on the national movement against corporate school reform, visit Substance News on the web at substancenews.net. For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and based in Marietta GA, where he is a principal in a technology and consulting firm and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party.

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