Why Isn't Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News? Where Is the Black Political Class?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

If some racist made an inappropriate remark about the First Lady or her children our national "civil rights leaders" Obama fans all of them, would be all over that. But standing up for ordinary black children is something our leaders just don't do much any more.  When was the last time you heard Sharpton, Jealous or any of that tribe inveigh against school closings and the creeping privatization of our schools?  

Why Isn't Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News? Where Is the Black Political Class?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In what should be the biggest story of the week, the city of Philadelphia's school system announced Tuesday that it expects to close 40 public schools next year and 64 by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of current enrollment to charter schools, the streets or wherever, and put thousands of experienced, well qualified teachers, often grounded in the communities where they teach, on the street.

Ominously, the shredding of Philadelphia's public schools isn't even news outside Philly. This correspondent would never have known about it save for a friend's Facebook posting early this week. Corporate media in other cities don't mention massive school closings, whether in Chicago, Atlanta, NYC, or in this case Philadelphia, perhaps so people won't have given the issue much deep thought before the same crisis is manufactured in their town. Even inside Philadelphia the voices of actual parents, communities, students and teachers are shut out of most newspaper and broadcast accounts.

The black political class is utterly silent and deeply complicit. Even local pols and notables who lament the injustice of local austerity avoid mentioning the ongoing wars and bailouts which make these things “necessary.” A string of black mayors have overseen the decimation of Philly schools. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and other traditional “civil rights leaders” can always be counted on to rise up indignant when some racist clown makes an inappropriate remark about the pretty black First Lady and her children.

But they won't grab the mic for ordinary black children. They won't start and won't engage the public in a conversation about saving public education. It's not because they don't care. It's because they care very much about their funding, which comes from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, from Wal-mart and the Walton Family Foundation, from the corporations that run charter charter schools and produce standardized tests.

To name just one payment to one figure, Rev. Al Sharpton took a half million dollar “loan” from charter school advocates in New York City, after which he went on tour with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of standardized testing, charter schools and educational privatization. Bill Gates delivered the keynote speech at the latest gathering of the National Urban League. And the nation's two big teachers' unions, NEA and AFT have already endorsed Barack Obama's re-election, and will funnel him gobs of union dues as campaign contributions, despite his corporate-inspired “Race To The Top” program which awards federal education funds in proportion to how many teachers are fired and replaced by inexperienced temps, how many schools are shut down, and how many charter schools exempt from meaningful public oversight are established and granted public funds.

The fix has been in for a long time, and not just in Philadelphia. Philly's school problems are anything but unique. The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don't want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don't need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making “educational entrepreneurs” are the way to go. The business class can pocket the money which used to pay for teachers' and custodians' retirement and health benefits, for music and literature and gym classes, for sports and science labs and theater and all that other stuff that used to be wasted on public school children.

The national vision of ruling Democrats and Republicans and the elites who fund them is to starve, discredit, denounce and strangle public education. Philly and its children, parents, communities and teachers are only the latest victims of business-class school reform. And they won't be the last.

One of the recent CEO's of Philadelphia Public Schools was a guy from Chicago named Paul Vallas. Vallas's previous job was head of Chicago's Public Schools where his “innovations” included military charter schools and wholesale school closings to get around local laws that school parent councils veto power over the appointment of principals. Vallas was succeeded by Arne Duncan, now Secretary of Education, and arrived in Philly in 2002. As CEO of Philly schools he closed and privatized chunks of 40 schools, leaving town for post-Katrina New Orleans where he closed more than 100 public schools and fired every last teacher, custodian and staff person to create a business-friendly citywide charter school experiment. After his post-Katrina destruction of New Orleans public education, Vallas went to post-earthquake Haiti to commit heaven only knows what atrocity on the corpse of public education there.

So the carving up of Philadelphia public schools IS a national story. It's just one that corporate media won't tell. Not in Philly, not in LA, not in Kansas City or anywhere, for fear that ordinary people might try to write themselves into a leading role. Polls show that the American people don't want their schools privatized, and don't believe education should be run by business people like a business. People want to take the money we spend on wars and bailouts and use it on education. Telling the story might give people the notion that the ultimate power is in their hands, not of mayors and chambers of commerce or the so-called “CEOs” of school system. It's time that story was told, and more of us heard it.

Kwame Toure used to say that the thing to do is join an organization and pick a fight. If you can't find an organization you like, he said, start one and then pick a fight. It's that time in Philly, and in Los Angeles and New York and wherever you are. It's time to stand up for our children and grandchildren.

To find out more about the bipartisan war against education, check out http://dumpduncan.org, and sign the petition to dump Arne Duncan. Go to http://substancenews.net for news of the national struggle for education and democracy. Listen to Education Radio at http://www/education-radio.blogspot.com. Visit the blogs of Susan O'Hanion and Diane Ravtich online, and a hundred other similar places. See for yourself what real principals and teachers have to say about standardized testing. It's time to pick a fight, to join something, or start something.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and lives and works in Marietta GA. He is on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party and can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.


Feeding Frenzy

Perhaps someone should goad Zimmerman into shooting Arnie Duncan, Michele Rhee, Joel Klein, Mayor Bloomberg, and Bill and Melinda Gates.  I'll pay for the ammo.

Mayor Bloomberg and his stooges in the NYC DOE are closing two dozen more underperforming  schools.  What the hell is an underperforming school?  I always thought buildings were inanimate objects.  The correct term would be "underfunded public schools".

Teachers at these schools will have to reapply for their jobs.  Most of these teachers will be replaced by non-union scabs who are willing to work for less money and no benefits.  Only about 8% of charter school teachers are union members.

Mailboxes continue to disappear near me.  I now have to ride my bike to the post office to mail my letters.  I guess there were a lot of underperforming mailboxes sucking funds from the treasury of federal and local governments.

You didn't mention that librarians are also being attacked.  Underperforming librarians, of course.

I've quoted this passage from an article called "The Big Enchilada" by Jonathan Kozol before, but it merits a re-posting:

“Some years ago, a friend who works on Wall Street handed me a stock-market prospectus in which a group of analysts at an investment-banking firm known as Montgomery Securities~described the financial benefits to be derived from privatizing our public schools. "The education industry", according to these analysts, "represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control" that "have either voluntarily opened" or, they note in pointed terms, have "been forced" to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, "the education industry represents the largest market opportunity" since health-care services were privatized during the 1970s. Referring to private education companies as "EMOs" ("Education Management Organizations"), they note that college education also offers some "attractive investment returns" for corporations, but then come back to what they see as the much greater profits to be gained by moving into public elementary and secondary schools. "The larger developing opportunity is in the K-12 EMO market, led by private elementary school providers", which, they emphasize, "are well positioned to exploit potential political reforms such as school vouchers". From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, "the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada".



The Post Office is another appetizing morsel for the greedy scumbags of the rentier class.






Yesterday I received an email

Yesterday I received an email from a group of local people concerned about public education. The email conveyed that the Senate version of a state Education Omnibus Bill about to move through conference committee would allocate 1.5 million dollars to Teach for America (TFA). 

Today I received an email from my union, referring to the same education bill. The union is recommending that we contact legislators and urge them not to support the Senate version of the bill; however, n o w h e r e is there any mention of funding for TFA. The primary reason given for not supporting the bill is too little funding per student.

Exasperating when a union either doesn't know enough to speak accurately or fears its own members might not support a rally against privatization, the latter of which seems unlikely to me.

celebrating Arne Duncan?

Bruce thanks for our interview last week Thursday which I should post on my blog after I post about the recent City Paper article on the closing of Philly Public Schools.  I sent to your gmail the report about the travesty of Howard University having Arne Duncan give this year's commencement speech to the college graduates.  I think Howard should resist this.  -RF.   

Are these spammers from bots,

Are these spammers from bots, or real people who take the time to log in and post to one story at a time?