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Re: Mass Babbitry proposal

August 4, 1999

I love Massachusetts.

"We're supposed to be the tough guys on this..." (Jack Rennie, Massachusetts
Business Alliance for Education).

We have to listen to this crap from a bunch of guys who've never had the
intelligence and management skills to handle a sixth grade classroom from
September through June, or the guts to walk the halls of the middle schools
and high schools of our cities for months and years without a string of
retainers and a couple of security apes trailing behind their high gloss

This is Babbitt with a tan, a couple of New Age one-liners, and a lifetime
membership at Bally's Total Fitness. If anyone still read enough books to
know what "Babbitt" meant, we'd be laughing them out of town.

These guys (and the handful of females among them) are OD-ing on their power
trips and multi-fruit muscle growth cocktails at the East Bank Club and
Gold's Gym. If you step back from their overblown egos, inflated rhetoric
(and very Freudian insecurities), you can smell the testosterone as easily as
if you were sitting in the back row of (what we used to call) an "art" movie
house somewhere near Pee Wee Herman. Why should the public schools be the
place where they prove they really started shaving when they were 12? Is it
simply because those of us who do public education have been too busy dealing
with real kids to notice what's been going on by people with too much money
and too much time on their hands?

There seems to be a national touring company of these guys. A couple of
months ago, these guys did a media stunt here in Chicago featuring Paul
Hastert, William Bennett, and Paul Vallas. They reminded me of the
out-of-towners who used to get in my taxi cab 30 years ago, when I worked the
night shift (young teachers always had to have those interesting second jobs,
from tables to cabs, remember?). These kinds of guys were always getting in
the cab looking for "some action" after a hard day selling Chia Pets, the
latest potato peeler, or something equally edifying at the Housewares
Convention. I had more respect for the bouncer and the girls at Nicky's MGM
Lounge in Cicero than I could ever work up for those out-of-town loudmouths.

They haven't changed, either, although now they've got Viagra.

The one thing that was clear after a few minutes of Hastert, Vallas and
Bennett (yes, Bennett's on this list of guys who don't know what they're
talking about but throw their macho around a lot) was their ignorance. If
knowledge (and not bluster) were measured, they were still down at the far
end of the dumbbell rack, puffing on the five pounders.

The three of them couldn't really answer any serious (and precise) questions
without a retinue of retainers with PR handouts and Power Point (or fancier)
overheads. They are products of the era of vapid overheads and simplistic

Their one-liners run out very quickly. One of the things we noted (not
completely to our surprise) was the sheer ignorance and bloated macho that
was in the air.

This all raises some questions about how to approach some of this stuff.

Laugh at 'em.

Stepping back, the best answer to a lot of their stuff is a round of giggles,
rising through a crescendo of guffaws and terminating in finale of thunderous
laughter. Some good old guerilla theater might be in order here, instead of
all of this respect we've been giving these ignoramuses.

It also might be a good idea to start challenging such statements as "The
whole business community is behind me on this..."

Most of the "business community" is too busy to give their stuff more than a
cursory glance, and the hustlers who are making their money speaking and
punditing on education on behalf of the "business community" would probably
be given a quick exit pass if the actual businesses in the "community" faced
any kind of pressure because of these bellowings. The consultant types who go
around speaking about "education" on behalf of "business" are the same as
their ilk everywhere. They are actually parasites of the business community
who've never had to hustle through a day of sales, engineering specs, or
manufacturing deadlines. Someone needs to begin calling their bluffs.

Even in this time of plenitude (plenitude if you bought Microsoft 12 years
ago, or Dell five years ago, or Apple eighteen months ago, or had the
foresight to have a millionaire for a father ? which might amount to the same
thing), things are rough for most people. That includes for most business
people who make or sell real things.

The result is that most businesses are very vulnerable to public pressure. If
it were to come out that the new Babbitry ("corporate totalitarianism") were,
say, sponsored by a corporation with a particularly vulnerable stock (and
some people to go to the annual directors meeting and ask about the
expenses), you'd see a quick reversal. What they mostly want to do is sell
those Chia Pets and roar around town the nights of those conventions. They
don't want it pointed out that they are raising "standards" in a way that is
putting down black and brown children and putting veteran teachers out on the
streets. Picket 'em for two days and watch the beads of sweat begin to form.

We really need to have a greater sense of humor and a little less reverence
for some of the dumb things that have been hopping around as the Millennium
approaches. Since we here in Chicago probably have as many real reasons as
anyone anywhere to be REALLY SERIOUS about these things, I hope we're in the
best position to offer the proposal that we laugh at these things, too.
Consequently, we're going to do our major fundraiser of the fall (the one to
help pay the lawyers who represent us in the $1.3 million Vallas lawsuit) at
Second City, the comedy club.

"We're supposed to be the tough guys..." Indeed.

I know 100 pound sixty year olds who proved their toughness by teaching for
30 years in places you couldn't walk through without wearing Depends. Don't
posture around me, young man!

Every time one of these guys wants to prove he's a man, steer him away from
the Education Challenge. Let's send him up for some sky diving without a
parachute or rock climbing without a rope.

It's time to rid education of their developmental problems, so we can deal
with the real problems of real kids in real schools in this all-too-real
nation of ours.

George Schmidt

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