Detroit and "School Reform"
- Subject: Detroit and "School Reform"
- From: "George N. Schmidt" <Csubstance@AOL.COM>
- Date: Sat, 4 Sep 1999 06:13:56 EDT
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
September 4, 1999
The information that is beginning to arrive to this list about the Detroit
strike should help to show how complex the issues are when democracy
intervenes on a massive scale to challenge a centralized tyranny. I hope it
will also enable us to clarify some of our terms and stop falling into the
Orwellean trap of using our enemies' terms to define our thinking and action.
"School Reform" now belongs to the other side. "School Reform" is the program
most of us have been opposing here. Look closely at the actual social content
of the term today and we may be able to see more clearly what is going on.
(After all, this is not the first time in this century when "good" words and
ideas were turned into "bad" realities at the hands of slick social
demagogues and manipulators).
Rich Gibson's daily updates are invaluable, and other sources of information
will also have to be developed if we are going to be able to provide proper
support for the strikers -- and for the teachers among them who most share
the values espoused by the most active people on this list. Rich's September
3 summary is wondrous in its ability to highlight many of the complexities of
the situation right now, especially the vicious ("McCarthyist") way in which
the local and national leadership of the American Federation of Teachers (and
Detroit Federation of Teachers) are trying to factionalize their own
struggle, rather than broaden its base.
The same factional thing is happening across the country. The leaders of the
American Federation of Teachers intend to strangle the Detroit movement
through their clever "support" for it.
In Chicago, where Chicago-style "School Reform" absolutely requires the
dictatorial and mendacious leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, there is
an attempt to control and stifle information about the Detroit strike by the
leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union. Union leaders can't just go out and
sabotage a union strike. They have to undermine it or they lose their
credentials. That is clearly what has begun here as we demand support for
Detroit's strikers. I hope that others will let us know facts.
On Wednesday night, we (i.e., the opposition members within the Chicago
Teachers Union) easily got a motion in support of the Detroit strike through
Chicago's union's 800-member House of Delegates. But CTU president Tom Reece
shut off debate, calling the motion, getting an unanimous vote, and then
stopping any further discussion.
At the same time, one of the American Federation of Teachers national
representatives helped suppress literature being offered to members of
various unions at the local meeting here of the Coalition of Labor Union
Women. This should come as no surprise to anyone, since the American
Federation of Teachers, through the Chicago Teachers Union (Local 2, AFT,
AFL-CIO) has been one of the main props in keeping the lies of the Chicago
"School Reform Miracle" afloat nationwide.
I hope that we can manage to sort out these facts and continue to provide
moral and other support to the people who have moved Detroit -- with such
awesome speed -- out of the throes of Chicago-style "school reform." But
let's remember that this monster is not going to go away just because it
suffered a defeat in Detroit. After George W. Bush issued his first education
paper Wednesday, the leading Democratic candidate rushed to the place which
will provide the centerpiece for his competing educational platform --
These are high stakes not matter which context we place them in.
The bipartisan success of corporate "school reform" and the national thrust
for standardized tests and punitive "accountability" (for both students and
school staffs) has been successful so far because it has been centralized,
well funded, cleverly crafted (in terms of its public relations), co-optive
(i.e., it purchases many potential critics), and, when all else fails,
viciously punitive. Next week I enter the sixth month since the Chicago
school board suspended me without pay from my teaching job for publishing a
newspaper, and last week another 40 (or more) veteran tenured teachers were
fired from their jobs here because they were "reconstituted" under this
so-called "School Reform". And next week, we will publish the story of a
veteran teacher, 56 years old, who committed suicide this summer when "School
Reform" took away his job...
So, on the one hand, we have wealthy, powerful, organized, slick, and nasty.
By contrast, the two main groups of victims of these activities, students and
teachers, have been either unorganized and leaderless (in the case of
students) or misled (in the case of teachers whose unions, both NEA and AFT,
support standardized testing, despite the consequences for the members of
During the past year, as students (both through parent organizing and in
their own organizations and in their own voices) and teachers (now, most
dramatically through the Detroit strike) organize against the
"Standardistos", we need to remember here that the process will not be pure,
and that purist might find much of it disconcerting.
Rich Gibson's September 3 update is wonderful in its comprehensiveness and
insight. We need this information. But I would urge people to continue trying
to get all of the information in context. I doubt that many people on this
list have ever been involved in a major strike, let alone one that attracts
daily political and media attention. In the crucible of such struggles, many
positive things have been born, but never without great pain.
"School Reform" has now been clearly shown to be the vehicle for corporate,
racist, and antidemocratic takeovers of large (and mostly minority) urban
school districts. In that context, standardized tests of the kind we've
critiqued here are part of the propaganda machine that makes the
victimization of both urban (i.e., mostly poor) students and their teachers
plausible in the eyes of ignorance (especially the suburbs which try to view
the cities through their White Blindspots). Because success on standardized
tests is more likely the more affluent you are, the more affluent can be more
easily manipulated into supporting "School Reform" of the Detroit, Chicago
and Cleveland varieties.
These issues are incredibly important. I began writing this to beg that
people aren't blinded by single-issue dynamics. The challenge to standardized
testing abuses will succeed as part of a broader movement for democratic
public school systems, equity, and social justice once our blindspots are
cleared and we can see how much of the manipulation has been most easily done
because of the underlying racism of the statistical bases for judging
"success" or decrying "failure."
On a very fundamental level, "Good Kid/Bad Kid" has been played out across
the United States, with urban school systems (especially Chicago, Detroit,
and Cleveland so far) being forced to play "Bad Kid" after standardized tests
and their propagandists establish how we divide the "good" from the "bad."
There is much to do today and in the next weeks. Thank you.
5132 W. Berteau
Chicago, IL 60641
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