Changing the Subject

Oct 30 2011

The war on education that was declared with the passage of No Child Left Behind has been a class war all along. Teachers assumed that the stupidity of trying to reach 100% proficiency by 2014 would eventually become obvious, and the law would change. But alas, even as the deadline draws near, we don’t see that happening. Instead, we see waivers being offered in exchange for toxic policy changes that include more rigorous testing and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. We are watching the life being sucked out of public schools by what amounts to a giant vampire squid, a reference taken from David Blacker who sees what’s happening to schools as a part of a larger neoliberal project aimed at privatizing everything:

What we are left with now is an all-out assault on anything in the system that might still have a little exchange value. Monster movie-like, we are now witnessing the full unleashing, to borrow Matt Taibbi’s famous image, of the neoliberal banking vampire squid, using its “blood funnel” to sniff out money in previously less accessible precincts such as schools, pensions, infrastructure, public health and safety — anywhere, really. All that is solid is liquefied and sucked up into the blood funnel, to be consumed by the megabanks, who perform no function whatever except a kind of super rent collection, a permanent life-destroying tax on all forms of human activity.

Blacker points out that the effort is framed as something that is positive, progressive, and natural. Given these benign qualities, who could object?

This process of redistribution upward — one-sided class warfare from above — operates of course in a vast scale and is hardly limited to education. It includes the sale of public lands and resources; persistent privatization schemes involving pensions and, ultimately, social security; health care; and even formerly sacrosanct public preserves such as prisons, the post office, and the military. This is the neoliberal period of capital in all its fetid glory: the ruthless marketization of everything existing — including itself, in the sense that the marketization is itself marketed as, among other things, “natural,” “fair,” “win-win,” “progress,” and other empty signifiers.

Frank Rich wrote a great column last week about the Class War that has been engaged by the #occupy movement. He criticizes the clueless establishment for not seeing it coming, and which seems either unwilling or unable to admit what it’s now looking at. He compares what’s happening now with an event that took place in 1932, when a throng of WWI veterans converged on Washington D.C. and set up camp seeking the passage of a bill for a bonus that had been promised them for their service in the war. They became known as the Bonus Army. As with the violence in Oakland, things did not go well with the Bonus Army, as MacArthur’s troops razed the encampment and killed innocent people.

You can read or listen to find out more about it. It is believed to have contributed to FDR’s victory in the presidential election that year.

Rachel Maddow notes that the #occupy movement has gone mainstream now. And Dahlia Lithwick eulogizes the demise of our uncomprehending corporate media that remains apparently ignorant to what is obvious to everyone else:

Mark your calendars: The corporate media died when it announced it was too sophisticated to understand simple declarative sentences. While the mainstream media expresses puzzlement and fear at these incomprehensible “protesters” with their oddly well-worded “signs,” the rest of us see our own concerns reflected back at us and understand perfectly. Turning off mindless programming might be the best thing that ever happens to this polity. Hey, occupiers: You’re the new news. And even better, by refusing to explain yourselves, you’re actually changing what’s reported as news. Because it takes a tremendous mental effort to refuse to see that the rich are getting richer in America while the rest of us are struggling. Maybe the days of explaining the patently obvious to the transparently compromised are finally behind us.

By refusing to take a ragtag, complicated, and leaderless movement seriously, the mainstream media has succeeded only in ensuring its own irrelevance. The rest of America has little trouble understanding that these are ragtag, complicated, and leaderless times. This may not make for great television, but any movement that acknowledges that fact deserves enormous credit.

I see that giant squid is on the menu. Where’s the ink?

2 responses so far

  1. Ok, I get the reference to the life being sucked out of schools by the NCLB squid-dude. In its purest form, I have no problem with standardized testing. It’s a gold mine of data mining… but is it being used to any of its potential? What about issuing standardized tests at the beginning of the school year, having them evaluated, and coming up with an individualized plan, call it a learning map, that is flexible within the confines of the curriculum. Kind of a Burger King of curriculum. Have it your way. Anybody, what are your ideas?

  2. Aside from the narrow view of education that would follow from “learning maps” based on standardized test results, if there were no negative policy consequences – no labels of failing schools or failing students – if they were used only for informational and planning purposes (as they were throughout the 80′s and 90′s) there might be some value in them. But not much. Most of what the tests show can be discerned in a few weeks of simple observation by the teacher.