Archive for September, 2008

Learning from Wall Street

Sep 21 2008 Published by under borderland,education,politics

I’ve learned a few things about education policy from Wall Street the past few days.

The first thing I see is that the “education establishment” has made a serious mistake in trying to defend and justify itself in the face of its many critics. When A Nation at Risk was published 25 years ago, we should have embraced its inflammatory message that, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” We’d have saved ourselves a lot of grief, and the nuisance of endless debate, if we’d been able to scare the crap out of everyone, like the finance people are doing now.

If education reform worked anything like the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan now on the table, we’d have seen government officials immediately call for implementing a plan that, as George Bush would argue, “matches the scope of the problem.” We’d see the debt ceiling raised, with hundreds of billions of dollars committed to resolving the crisis, and no demand for accountability.

The quick willingness of the Bush administration to commit public funds to the Wall Street bailout exposes the duplicity behind objections that the Broader, Bolder proposal for education reform is too expensive. The Broader, Bolder proposal recommends paying off the education debt [pdf] that accrues throughout the lives of disadvantaged people who need to make-do with inadequate housing, employment, and health care resources. Now, with public money committed to bailing out Failing Investment Houses, maybe we can generate some sympathy for the plight of actual poor people.

But who ever really believed that public education is so critically important that we should commit real money to it, and to other social service supports? All along, the “education crisis” has been manipulated as just so much hot air, a cheap all-purpose solution to major economic problems, effectively obscuring the neglect of our public infrastructure.

On the other hand, if a Wall Street bailout worked like education reform, we’d have a long drawn-out debate about the financial sector, accountability, and what we’ll count as real indicators of economic well-being. Even though there is not much time, now, for debate, Robert Reich has a proposal for some demands we should make immediately, before we write that $700 billion dollar check. This is his list:

  1. The government (i.e. taxpayers) gets an equity stake in every Wall Street financial company proportional to the amount of bad debt that company shoves onto the public.
  2. Wall Street executives and directors of Wall Street firms relinquish their current stock options and this year"™s other forms of compensation, and agree to future compensation linked to a rolling five-year average of firm profitability.
  3. All Wall Street executives immediately cease making campaign contributions to any candidate for public office in this election cycle or next, all Wall Street PACs be closed, and Wall Street lobbyists curtail their activities unless specifically asked for information by policymakers.
  4. Wall Street firms agree to comply with new regulations over disclosure, capital requirements, conflicts of interest, and market manipulation.
  5. Wall Street agrees to give bankruptcy judges the authority to modify the terms of primary mortgages, so homeowners have a fighting chance to keep their homes.

We need to get something back for this. The way it plays out will tell us a lot about whose interests the US Congress is really looking after. There’s nothing like a major screw-up to highlight the hypocrisy of people in power.

No matter what happens to the economy now, I’d really like to see the rhetoric about school reform move beyond the simple-minded bankrupt slogans that have been coming from charlatans in the business community, bent on tearing down the public sector.

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Anchorage Rallies Against Palin

Sep 13 2008 Published by under borderland

Hundreds of people in Anchorage turned out for an anti-Palin protest about two hours after she spoke there.

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The Memory Hole

Sep 13 2008 Published by under borderland,politics

It was bound to happen. This week, during a discussion with my class about September 11, I found out that their memory of the attack on the World Trade Center is pretty vague, and that the memory of it may be as “real” to them as World War II – something that happened a LONG time ago, and that only old people care about.

I know I don’t watch as much TV as most people, so I don’t know how much 9/11 coverage there was. The only thing I’d heard at all was a Democracy Now broadcast on the truck radio that featured StoryCorps interviews with relatives and friends of people who were killed in the attack. It brought back a lot of sad memories.

One of my students asked, “Why do we have to talk about this each year?”

I was stunned.

I asked the class, “How old were you in 2001?” Nobody was quite sure, so we worked it out, and I realized they weren’t in kindergarten yet. They were four years old, too young to remember it very well. I told them that we study history in order to make sense of the world we live in today, and that we’d return to the topic later, when we had more time. There was too much to talk about, and we needed to begin Math.

Throughout the day, I kept thinking about this. How can we understand Al-Qaeda? Osama bin Laden? airport security? the war on terrorism? Afghanistan? thePatriot Act provisions, or the war in Iraq, where some of my students’ parents are now deployed, without talking about September 11, 2001?

This is the world now. It all happened during the time these kids have been in school. It’s the only world they know, and it’s a mess. We need to start connecting the here and now with what came before, but the problem is that Facts in the political universe are just irrelevant “details,” used selectively, twisted, or even just made up. Truth goes down the memory hole when the McCain campaign simply smothers it with lies, and rewrites history.

It’s easy to see it happening here in Alaska, with just about everything our governor has said to the national media about her “executive” experience. Les Gara, former assistant Alaska Attorney General, and state legislator, says that the McCain campaign has (metaphorically, at least) brought Karl Rove to Alaska to interfere in the Palin “troopergate” investigation, playing politics-as-usual:

….Then McCain’s staff of outsiders came to town. And they began to launch personal attacks on people I respect. They started proving that the same old politics that have caused dissatisfaction with Washington-insiders these past eight years are going to be the bread and butter of the McCain campaign….As an Alaskan I’m not really angry at our governor for this mess. I do blame John McCain for the ugliness he’s brought to our state this week. His folks have come to my small state to attack my friends, and people I respect, for political gain.

I don’t entirely agree. Palin is as responsible as anyone for telling the truth. Her lies are as inexcusable as McCain’s.

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Teacher Narratives

Sep 10 2008 Published by under borderland,education,politics

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Ken Bernstein (aka teacherken at Daily Kos) who wanted to know if I’d be interested in contributing to a teacher blog published by the NY Times called Lesson Plans. My first piece is online now.

It’s a short-term group blog, which will feature “online personal narratives” from teachers writing about the first weeks of school this year, and should run for about 4 weeks. It’s a continuation of a similar project they did in 2006.

The editor tells me that he’s interested in my Alaska perspective, which is kind of funny since I’m not sure exactly what that is, seeing as how I only have the one I usually work with. Anyway I’ve been busy, lately, trying to figure out which threads to pull from my everyday experience at work that would bear any significance for both me, and the NY Times readers. In ordinary times, this would not be an easy thing to do – but then the Sarah Palin situation blows up in the national media, and now I’m preoccupied with politics, Alaska style.

The Times doesn’t want me using their blog to vent, so for any regular readers who haven’t given up on this erratic blog, it may be a while before I settle down. I was in another teacher’s room the other day unplugging the wireless laptop cart, and her student teacher asked me how I was – just, you know, normal conversation. Fine! I growled, and she cracked up, saying, “That’s the grumpiest “fine” I’ve ever heard. i laughed and told her she was just getting to know me.

If you follow my shared links, you’ll notice some progressive Alaska bloggers I’ve been reading lately.

My top 3 at the moment:
The Ester Republic,
Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis.

As for me, I’m still here, and over there, for a while.

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Absentee Governor

Sep 03 2008 Published by under borderland,politics

Still fixated on this Sarah Palin business. It’ll pass. Soon, I hope.

This was in the paper today:

PALIN INTERVIEW: In a phone interview with the Anchorage Daily News Saturday, Gov. Sarah Palin was asked if she is ready to become president, should the need arise.

"œI am … I am up to the task, of course. Of focusing on the challenges that face America, and I am very pleased with the situation that I am in, when, when you consider the situation now that Alaska will be in….of opening the eyes of the country to what it is that Alaska is all about and what Alaska has to offer.”

We’ve been trying to get rid of our natural gas for years. This is not a pun.

….Palin said that thanks to the wonders of technology, she"™ll remain on the job as governor while campaigning across the country and returning to Alaska when possible.

I wonder, then, how tough a job could it be?

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