Monday, January 21, 2019

Why The Los Angeles Teachers' Strike Is Important To All Of Us

Teachers for the Los Angeles Unified School System are on strike. They were offered a paltry cost of living increase, and that was annoying, but that’s only a small part of the reasons for the strike.

Teachers are standing up for the general disintegration of the entire primary and secondary education system that they are part of. Class sizes are way out of hand, with over forty students being the norm; individual schools do not have a nurse on the premises, they must share one school nurse among many schools; the same is true for school psychologists, share one among a group of schools; taxpayer money is being diverted to private “charter” schools, which lowers the already diminishing budgets for the existing public schools. The teachers have ringside seats for all of these shocking developments, and they have decided to stand up and be counted. They deserve all of our support in this effort.

Charter Schools

Charter schools have only been around for twenty-five years or so. The idea is to publicly fund a local school that is then given broad latitude to run its own affairs. The hope is that such schools will thus be free to innovate new and more efficient methods of educating students. There will be no tuition charged, because the schools are publicly funded. This is the idea as it is described in the sales literature anyway.

In reality, charter schools are most often associated with large education corporations. They are run as profit centers, whether the corporations are nominally for profit or non-profit. They receive money from the state based upon the number of students, and they economize by leasing space in government buildings and hiring non-union teachers at lower than union wages. There are numerous real estate opportunities for the corporations to profit. The salaries of the executives at the school and the corporate levels can be shockingly large. 

Charter schools are expected to justify their existence by achieving better educational results than the local public schools. The fiction is that all students in the district have the freedom to choose which school to attend, but this is not quite true. Usually, the charter schools enhance their achievement statistics by cherry picking the better students from the district and washing out low-performing students, sending them back to the public schools.

Charter schools are a barely disguised excuse to move tax-payer money to private corporations and rich individuals. This is all part of an effort to degrade the American public education system that started way back in the late 1960s.

President Richard Nixon

Ah, the 1960s! The cars were fast, the girls were pretty, the music was terrific, and love was all around! Right? The actual 1960s were a lot more complicated than that.

The civil rights movement had been percolating since the late 1940s, but it didn’t really fill up its sails with wind until the early 1960s. For the record, this was a long overdue good thing, and it should have been obvious to all of us white devils that our patient and longsuffering black brothers and sisters had every right, legally, morally, in every conceivable way, to receive the full value of their rights and privileges as full blooded, natural born American citizens. A lot of the white devils didn’t see it quite that way.

Those diametrically opposed to giving black Americans any kind of break at all included, but were not limited to, self-identified conservatives, Republicans in general, Richard M. Nixon in particular, most Democrats, most self-identified liberals, and most of the average white devils in the street.

Political dissent in the form of protests against the Vietnam War had also reached critical levels as seen by Nixon and pretty much all of the above list of anti-black running dogs. Nixon and his gang of criminal associates came up with several very effective ways of isolating blacks and dissidents and neutralizing them as threats to the status quo. It all worked out well for the Nixon Gang.

The idea was to identify the undesired groups and demonize them; break up their power centers and get as many of them off the streets as possible; and render both groups incapable of organizing any trouble in the future. It was all surprisingly simple.

Blacks were identified with heroin, and hippies were identified with marijuana.  All college students and dissidents were identified as hippies. It was shouted from all of the rooftops that both substances were rampant in America and would destroy the entire country if allowed. Drugs, a vast laundry list of drugs, were criminalized to a degree that had never been seen before. After 1970, drug laws all over the country were made exponentially more severe. Punishments were like from outer space, they were numbers of years that exceeded sentences for violent crimes. One joint could get a college student seven years; ten grams of weed (one third of one ounce) became possession with intent to distribute, carrying a sentence of twenty years. Things like that. It was even worse for heroin. This was the beginning of the mass-incarceration that has by now made America the most imprisoned nation in the history of the world.

Yes, we have Tricky Dick to thank for all of that.

The Destruction of Education

It was decided by Nixon and the rest of the aforementioned idiots that education was primarily to blame for political dissent and anti-war protests. They became convinced that all of those hippies and draft dodgers had been radicalized by commie professors on various university campuses. So higher education itself became the enemy of the state.

This started a process where there have been fewer and fewer tenured professors and more and more gig-economy lecturers. Obtaining a university education has become more and more difficult for children of parents of limited means. Laws have been passed at all levels to make it harder for young Americans to get a good education. (Bankruptcy laws, and others.)
By now, access to a quality university education is a lost dream for a wide demographic of American students, and for many of those to make it through on borrowed funds the future is a dark vision of debt-slavery.  

What about primary and secondary education? They were gradually drawn into what became a war on education in general.

First came the standardized tests. As part of the anti-union fever of the Reagan years, it was suggested that virtually all schools and all teachers were underperforming. This was blamed on teachers’ unions. The solution offered was the implementation of a battery of standardized tests to measure the performance of one school against other schools, and one teacher against all other teachers. Money would be taken from “underperforming schools,” and diverted to “high-performing schools.” Quite intentionally, the underperforming schools were populated by minority children for whom English was often a second language that had not yet been mastered. Also intentionally, the high-performing schools were in prosperous white neighborhoods. Permission was sought to fire the union teachers struggling in already financially stressed underperforming schools.

Then came the charter schools, further enhancing the education of students from prosperous, white backgrounds and further degrading the education of students that may be from various minority or troubled backgrounds. The charter schools also divert huge sums of money to executives who may not even be education professionals and corporations and their shareholders. They also add to the creation of a larger class of non-union teachers, weakening the solidarity of teachers and reducing the power of teachers’ unions.

Our Allies in Los Angeles

This is the battle that the L.A.U.S.D. teachers are fighting. They are fighting it for all of us. They are struggling on behalf of the entire education system at the primary and secondary levels in every one of the United States.

Keep the money in the public schools; charter schools are tools of the devil; keep class sizes manageable, so that teachers can do their jobs properly and students don’t get lost in the fog towards the back of the room; put a nurse in every school. (I’ll let greater minds than mine grapple with the question of the need for school psychologists.) Listen to the teachers! They are professionals, and they are closer than anyone else to the problems.

Don’t listen to weird dilatants like Betsy DeVos or Bill Gates, who have agendas that vary from religious theocracy to unfathomable evil. There are many people involved in these discussions that believe that the population of America has gotten so large that it would be best to maintain a considerable portion of it in ignorance. Three hundred and thirty million people, and there are those whose boots shake at the idea of that many well informed voters.

It is worth remembering that the main purpose of the public school system from its inception through the middle of the 20th Century was to take an extremely diverse student body and homogenize them into typical American citizens. The curriculum was standardized over the length and breadth of this country to turn students from every cultural background into American citizens who spoke the same cultural language and were prepared to work, and if necessary, fight, together for common cause.

Put me on record as believing that that public school system was a good idea.

P.S. I’m a union backer, too.  

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