Archive for June, 2010

On Getting Back to Normal

Jun 16 2010 Published by under borderland,education,politics

I’m on vacation, busy with summer for a month already, spending time outside biking, hiking, and hacking away at the woods with a chainsaw. I got a pin for 25 years of service at our last day’s assembly, which made me stop and think just a bit. How could it be that I’ve stayed with it so long? How much longer?! I told one of the other teachers that I wasn’t sure how I felt about getting that pin. When I started this job, so long ago, at age 30, I’d never done anything full time for more than a year. My teacher friend said, “Well, it must mean it’s a pretty good job.” Yeah. It has been a good job. For the most part. It certainly beats wading knee deep through slimy fish on the back deck of a commercial fishing boat, pushing wheelbarrows full of muddy topsoil around the yards of fancy houses with big windows and views of the ocean, or sleeping under a pile of empty fruit bins because I didn’t have a car to sleep in, or money to stay somewhere besides the orchard where I was working. But I’m grateful for those experiences because I gained a lot of empathy for people who don’t have many choices in life other than to work hard and hope for a break now and then.

But getting reformed over and over again has it’s downside, too, and that is getting old. We spent our last work day discussing how we might schedule two more part-time teacher aides into our already disjointed elementary program next year to help us work on “tier two interventions,” which is some new garbage that requires us to “collaborate” to help kids designated “at risk,” based on phony data generated from some mickey mouse AimsWeb “probes.” Does anyone think this is how we can make a real difference in a kid’s life? If there is such a person, they were not in the room.

It is really interesting to me that President Obama can let BP take the lead in cleaning up the disaster in the Gulf, and yet teachers have got hedge fund managers, mayors, think tank policy wonks, billionaire vulture capitalists, and no real education experts, calling the shots on public school “reform,” with Arne Duncan as department head, whose teaching experience comes from volunteering at his mom’s after school program (He actually says this, as if it means something!) mouthing a bunch of nonsense about educating our way to a better economy and making education the civil rights issue of our generation. Well, no. The economy tanked because of a monumental failure of government to regulate the financial industry, and manufacturing long ago moved out of the country. And before we can talk about civil rights, we need to straighten out some things with health care, endless war, mass incarceration, racism and immigration, and state-sponsored torture.

At the president’s press conference yesterday, Obama said that the Gulf would eventually return to normal. Really. And, given what happened, it that a good thing? In his speech to the nation this evening, he told us:

One place we"™ve already begun to take action is at the agency in charge of regulating drilling and issuing permits, known as the Minerals Management Service. Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility — a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.

When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it"™s now clear that the problem there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow.

Not so fast, Mr. President, thanks to Tim Dickinson’s excellent article in Rolling Stone, we can see that, though Ken Salazar talked the talk, he didn’t really walk the reformer walk:

Though he criticized the actions of “a few rotten apples” at the agency, he left long-serving lackeys of the oil industry in charge. “The people that are ethically challenged are the career managers, the people who come up through the ranks,” says a marine biologist who left the agency over the way science was tampered with by top officials. “In order to get promoted at MMS, you better get invested in this pro-development oil culture.” One of the Bush-era managers whom Salazar left in place was John Goll, the agency’s director for Alaska. Shortly after, the Interior secretary announced a reorganization of MMS in the wake of the Gulf disaster, Goll called a staff meeting and served cake decorated with the words “Drill, baby, drill.”

Frank Rich and Tim Dickinson both cite figures that implicate BP in 760 citations for “egregious and willful” safety violations "“ those “committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health,” while the rest of the industry received only one or two. Rich adds, “No high-powered White House meetings or risk analyses were needed to discern how treacherous it was to trust BP this time. An intern could have figured it out.” And now, today, Jason Leopold reports that Alaska’s North Slope is in danger from BP’s corroding pipeline. This is not change we can believe in.

But this is. Severn Suzuki, age 12, addressing the Earth Summit in Rio Centro, Brazil, 1992:

All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions.

I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realize, neither do you! You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer. You don’t know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert.

If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!

And that was 18 years ago! I’m disgusted with all the talk about fixing things that aren’t really the problem. Nothing changes; all we get is more of the same. The irony of the “change candidate” promising a return to normal was too much for me.

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