Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Fairy Tale of Fascism

I have struggled with this piece for a week.  I have struggled because my ability to be academic (provide research), follow the rules of word count (preferably 500), and rely on my expert knowledge (I took Political Science 101) to prove that fascism exists in the United States - ha - simply isn't going to happen.  I hear stories of fascism daily, yet no one calls it by name.  I don't need to prove it exists; yet, it seems as though I do.  Perhaps it simply needs an introduction.

Meet Fascism : “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.” 

What I do know, and rely on quite frequently, is the continued images of fairy tales I see within my life and the lives of others. If you have read my piece “Which is More Important, Wisconsin or Charlie Sheen?” you will see my fascination with fairy tales and real life – the two are inseparable.  Wisconsin is its own fairy tale, filled with conflict, heroes, villains, songs, rhymes and horrors, where we expect – and desperately hope - to see good conquer the evil of fascism.  I am still waiting for the ending and I am still cheering for the heroes in Wisconsin.

I believe that fairy tales allow us to cope, grapple and grasp the events that are occurring in the world. Bruno Bettelheim agrees. I have been observing our country mainly through written stories all year.  It is all I have access to because mainstream media offers me few visual images to further understand the reality of our country. 

Yet, the stories of  fascism abound.  I am going to share a few today and simply throw away my 500-word count, well-researched article.  I’ve defined fascism and the stories will speak for themselves.  The question that remains is the ending.  We have our setting and our characters, who are deeply immersed in the details of the conflict at hand.  We should be fearful of the villains and we should find our fortitude with grace, brilliance and passion, in order to fight what we see.  We should be strategic, smart, agile and eloquent as we move forward together.  We should ultimately regain our freedom as Americans.  I do not mean to downplay the seriousness of fascism in our country.  It is real.  It is alive.  And it is growing. 

If you are in the woods and the big bad wolf is tracking you, slowly, methodically, while you quietly gather herbs - now more quickly - as you hear the distant crack of dead tree limbs on the forest floor behind you, do not run, but slowly look back.  Regain your senses, determine your plan of action and wade across that creek ever so quietly and head home without leaving a scent.  Do not ignore, as this is why the big bad wolf currently grins.  Pay heed.  Return with the strength of your friends, family and community and send the big bad wolf packing.  I would like a happy ending and I would like to go home to America.

These fascist dictators exist in different forms: national standards, politicians, superintendents, chancellors, mayoral control, emergency financial managers, education corporate reformers, and laws used and abused, thanks to think tanks like ALEC.  Misuse of money has allowed fascism to grow by leaps and bounds in our country.

Here are a few stories I have heard in the last few months, which create images of fascism in our country. 

There is the fascist manager, also know as the Emergency Financial Manager. This character has ultimate power. Michigan Messenger states, “Those powers include the ability to nullify collective bargained agreements, imposition of new agreements for those bargaining units which will have effect for as much as five years after the EMF leaves office and the ability for the manager to dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities. The EMF would also have the power to eliminate any local ordinance or law he or she decides to eliminate.”   

Robert Bobb is the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit.  He says, ever so powerfully, “If you have the club, you don't have to use it, but you know the time when to use it."  Four cities in Michigan currently have Emergency Financial Managers.

There is Senator Summerville from Tennessee who has plans for education reform.  While standing on the Senate floor he spews venom into the air as he says, “We will bend public education to our awe, or break it all to pieces.

There is the professor in Wisconsin, William Cronon, who was able to reveal, quite successfully, how the G.O.P. and dictators, such as Walker, are able to write bill after bill after bill, using think tanks such as ALEC to support them in figuring out ways to decrease the power of the middle class and take away services for the needy and the poor.  These bills also keep us busy and often distracted, as we build our house with wood, only to see it get blown down.  We can no longer be distracted.  After Cronon revealed the inner workings of the G.O.P., the republicans held up their mighty sword and requested all of Cronon’s emails under the open record law.

Cronon says in regard to the open records request by Stephan Thompson of the Wisconsin Republican Party, “his open records request seems designed to give him what he hopes will be ammunition he can use to embarrass, undermine, and ultimately silence me.”

We have the common core standards, which were passed practically in the dead of night, while many Americans slept, blissful and unaware of the immense, all encompassing power that these standards could inflict upon our children and our country.  States were softly stroked and offered money, under Race to the Top, in return for accepting the standards, which many did.  Some states accepted the standards in hopes of receiving money, and were instead rejected, left penniless and caged with Hansel.  

Joanne Weiss states, “…the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.”  There is money to be made in the land of public education. Education corporate reformers are not here to save the day; they are here to gather gold. This is corporate fascism at its best, devouring the land of equal educational opportunity for all; widening the divide between the rich and the poor. This tale has no ending and the greed grows like The Fisherman and His Wife.

The parents of Seattle recently said something that caught my breath.  They have gathered together to oppose the hiring of 50 Teach for America recruits.  They want their children to be taught by experienced, certified teachers, not teachers with five weeks training who work for cheap.

The parents say, “These are our children. They can’t protect themselves from the whims of the extraordinarily wealthy. They depend on us for that.”  They end with,  “So, we are saying to Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the rest of the Billionaire Boys. You can’t have our children, and you’ve had just about enough of our money.”

You cannot have our children.  Yet, Rumpelstiltskin is still dancing around the fire.

The gold overflows within the TFA program.  The parents of Seattle are questioning what TFA does “with the hundreds of millions of dollars it collects from donors and taxpayers.”  They say, “We do know that not one cent of TFA money reaches the classroom in the form of equipment, supplies, programs, or projects for kids.”

There is the evil witch, Rhee, who sweeps the broom with such glee and says, “I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months, it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.”

We also have heroes and we must pay close attention to their strategies and their noble actions. We must follow their positive lead in order to defeat the fascism that is devouring our Democracy.

I will end with my favorite image of the Democrats in Wisconsin, who moved their desks out windows and onto the Capitol lawn because Dictator Walker illegally blocked access to the Capitol.  Promise me you will click on the link to see the picture of the Democratic Representative from Wisconsin leaning forward, ever so earnestly,  across his desk, as he speaks to a fellow American. The heavy wooden desk sits on the front lawn of the Capitol with the American flag on one side and the Wisconsin flag on the other. If you look in the top right hand corner of the picture you will see the sun, shining down, ever so brightly, on these heroes.  But please don’t smile, close the book and go to sleep, as tempting as it might be.  Please turn to your neighbors, your schools and your communities and get organized to create positive change in our country. And ask yourself, why wasn't this fairy tale shared on every TV channel in our country?

This story is far from over and we will all create the ending, whether we sit and ignore or whether we stand up and take positive action.  Fortitude is a characteristic needed to be a hero.  Fortitude is “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.”  Our voices have a right to be heard; this is America.

Advocates of America’s children are organizing the Save our Schools March this summer in Washington D.C., July 28-30; everyone is welcome – students, teachers, parents, community members – please come and stand with us to Save our Schools in D.C. or in your local community. 

The future of America’s children is in jeopardy, and we demand a happy ending.  With fortitude, we demand a Democracy. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Please Respond to Dept. of Ed. Press Secretary, Mr. Hamilton

This past week Anthony Cody at Living in Dialogue commented on Obama's off the cuff response to a student who asked if there could be a way to reduce the number of tests students took. 

Obama replied to the student with the following:

"... we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there's nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at.

Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn't a high-stakes test. It wasn't a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn't even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn't study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.

Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let's find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let's apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let's figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let's make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

Because there are other criteria: What's the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not."

It gets even better:

"So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in. They're not going to do as well if it's boring."

The press secretary of the Dept. of Ed. asked Anthony to issue a correction and stated that Anthony had misinterpreted Obama's statements.  Anthony Cody then sent some questions to the Dept. of Ed. for clarification.  Mr. Hamilton, press secretary of Dept. of Ed, has responded. 

I responded to Mr. Hamilton.  I would ask that everyone respond to Mr. Hamilton by going to Anthony's blog at Living in Dialogue. Let's push this discussion!!!

Here is my response to Mr. Hamilton: 

"No. They are not aligned. Why are they pursuing pre/post/interim, (please do not high-jack the term "formative" with the standardized testing regiment - teachers do formative testing every minute of the day.) yet Obama's daughters take a test in which they didn't even know they were going to take it ahead of time - this is a mismatch. Malia and Sasha's test did not sound at all like the Blueprint plan. Why are they pursuing additional testing while singing the praises of Finland where standardized testing does not exist? Where teachers actually create formative tests to determine needs and strengths of students?

Why are they increasing testing when it is crystal clear that it does not improve student achievement and especially considering that these funds could be used to shelter our almost 25% children living in poverty? (higher rate in data express/U.S. Dept of Ed - actually states 44.2 percent). Read my blog at pegwithpen.blogspot.com Mr. Duncan, Mr. Hamilton, and President Obama.

Why is New York investing in technology in order to have students take the standardized test - what is project based or portfolio based about that? Why are we not investing in nutrition, school nurses, and books (all of which raise test scores)? 1 in 5 children in an area of upper Manhattan are homeless. No. The policies are not aligned with Obama's remarks. They are not aligned with the needs of America's children. They are aligned with the beliefs of the corporate education reformers who know absolutely nothing about education."