Back in high school I had a professor who asked our class what we all thought was a simple question: “What is culture?” I had answered this question correctly a number of times before on various tests. You could even look it up in the index of the world studies book we were using. Yup, there it was in graphic black and white: “Culture - a way of life.” So you can imagine our surprise when we offered up this definitive answer in unison only to become the target of our professor’s scorn. Apparently we were all participating in something called “regurgitation,” and she quite forcefully demanded that we do something else instead - think. Well this didn’t sit well with many of our school’s best and brightest. Hell, we wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to be in this class if we hadn’t gotten that answer correct on all those tests I mentioned before. I'll never forget the silence in the class, the conditioned inability to respond to her question in depth. What the hell did she want from us? This is the single professor I admire most from my years in the public school system. When I invited her down to the art room toward the end of the term, to see the artwork I was working on all those 30 days in a row that I had skipped her class, she was honored her feedback was that important to me.
In the mid 90’s, while I was working in on-air graphics at VH1, I witnessed a major shift in the music industry:
away from talented artists who had creative control over their music,
toward generic musical acts that could be more easily manipulated to
match market trends. Creating their own “artists” from scratch gave the
record companies ultimate control over the product - no debate, no
compromise, pure profit. All through the Bush (W.) years my political advisor and I would make
jokes about the Friday afternoon press dumps, simultaneously launched from multiple sources within the administration and rarely
ever in agreement. By Monday they would know which story had polled best
and run with it, relying on the few people who actually kept up with
such things to forget who originally said what. It’s a kind of consumer
marketing campaign. Testing the waters, seeing what the consumers will
accept and what they will reject, researching ways to get them to accept
(and even support) an agenda that is not in their best interest. When I
see Paul Ryan being rolled out as the standard bearer for the
Republican Party, from relative obscurity, charged with championing a
budget plan that seems all but DOA; I can't help but think of a certain
young Illinois State Senator bursting onto the political scene at the 2004 Democratic
National Convention. When Kerry conceded the presidency that year, Obama
was all over the airwaves explaining away yet another stolen election,
with a new democratic narrative connecting the loss to “moral values.” Who was this fucking guy I thought? Why was he
lending his support to the Karl Rove strategy playbook? Prior to the
election, I had a lengthy discussion with a friend over dinner about how
the same-sex ballot measures engineered by Karl (“Bush’s Brain”) Rove were NOT really intended to
increase turnout at the polls, but rather to be used retroactively as
validation of yet another stolen election “victory.” Post election
studies showed that voter turnout was no higher in states with ballot
measures than in those without. Though I sincerely hope we don’t have to
go through another stolen election this year, I think it’s important to
keep in mind how our two party system uses these opportune election
moments to roll out “next year’s model.” The more obvious spectacle is
often just a cover for the machinations that are going on behind the
Watching the teachers in Chicago take to the streets I immediately thought of the Wisconsin uprising. Reading a few articles on the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike I saw some bits about how the teachers were seeking higher compensation even though they were the highest paid in the country, how compensation was by law the only issue that they were allowed to strike over, how if the strike were allowed to go on that the parents might turn against the teachers due to the inconvenience of having to find something to do with their children. I was unfamiliar with the specifics of the strike itself, but all of this sounded like spin to me. I knew that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; a Democrat, former Obama Administration Chief of Staff, had presided over the crackdown on Occupy Chicago (touched on this in my last post). I knew that his coming out against the Chicago Teacher's Union (CTU) was not something new. I knew that Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was the former Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). And I knew that all three; Obama, Duncan, and Rahm are proponents of education reform programs that include privatization of public schools and teacher/student evaluation through standardized testing. So I went to the CTU website and read a press release titled CPS Fails To Negotiate Fair Contract To Prevent First Strike In 25 Years. In it I found a bunch of information I hadn’t seen in the articles I’d read, most importantly this: “Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of
the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly
30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years.
This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new
evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is
no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are
too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students
perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence,
homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.” I was seeing a familiar pattern here, a political party running a controlled experiment to see what they can get away with through a combination of scripted narrative and sleight of hand. Wisconsin was the chosen test subject for the Republican attack on collective bargaining rights, but the model would be replicated in Republican run states all over the country. Their objective? To completely remove the ability of the opposition to mobilize on their own behalf, insuring that any future Republican legislation could be enacted with no opposition whatsoever. This is of course nothing short of an attack on democracy itself, with the Republican narrative casting democracy as an inconvenience in the face of economic crisis. Walker, Rove, the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch and their whole cabal don’t seem to have any reservations about using actual people as lab rats (and as a vegan I don't use this term lightly) in their little poli-sci experiment.
When CTU refused to end the Chicago teacher’s strike, Rahm Emanuel released a statement claiming the strike was “illegal on two grounds – it is over issues that are deemed by state law to be
non-strikable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children.” Further, he claimed that the strike was one of “choice,” and suggested that the children were being “played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union.” The state law that Rahm mentions in the statement? That’s SB7, legislation requiring an increase in CTU’s threshold to strike from a simple majority to 75% of its membership. What he is referencing specifically, though the law seems to have different interpretations, is a restriction of CTU’s right to strike to issues of economics only (wages, benefits, etc.). Emanuel lobbied for the passage of this legislation and unlike Wisconsin, where the Democratic legislators left the state in
order to stop Walker’s plan to crush collective bargaining, the
Illinois Democratic (majority) state assembly and governor voted FOR this “reform” legislation to restrict the CTU. The legislation passed almost unanimously (House 112-1 / Senate 54-0) in May of last year. As in Wisconsin, this is a set-up, a trap, a manipulation of circumstances in order to force the opponent to play the role that has been scripted for them. In Wisconsin the public unions were cast as lucky beneficiaries of a free ride
at the taxpayers’ expense. In Chicago the union, and by association its membership, are cast as law breakers and a danger to children. Yup, that’s right your child’s teacher is a dangerous criminal - thanks Rahm.
These may sound like different strategies, but they actually issue from the same source - economics. The 1% austerity model involves engineering an economic crisis and then attacking those most impacted by it for not being willing to sacrifice even more than what has already been stolen from them. Proponents of “education reform,” push the idea that more education, more vocational training, more personal responsibility, will lift our poor and disenfranchised citizens out of poverty and ensure personal success and success for the country. But if the 1% create the crisis that causes your misery, and then cynically offer you a path out of misery working to make a profit for them, isn’t this just a modern take on indentured servitude? Of course, you’ll have to go into debt (if they decide you qualify for an education loan) to acquire the level of “educational excellence” that is required to qualify for one of those “good jobs.” We have laws against child labor in this country, but no law against transforming our public education system into a private system of vocational training to make sure that our youth will be able to get those “good jobs.” Prioritizing education as a competition, a “Race to the Top,” an “escape from poverty,” de-emphasizes the importance of creative and critical thinking that is essential to our advancement as individuals and as a society. Our public education system can be so much more than a system of indoctrination to prepare our youth for a life of servitude. Yes Rahm, this is a strike of “choice,” a choice not to allow ourselves and our children to be used as lab rats, pawns, or servants in this bi-partisan 1% consumer marketing campaign.
Two weeks ago a Wisconsin judge ruled Walker’s anti-union law “unconstitutional.” Last week a judge ruled the mass arrests of Occupy Chicago demonstrators “unconstitutional.” The successful Chicago Teacher’s Union strike is inspiring educators, parents & students to stand in solidarity throughout the country, to look beyond the austerity narrative that they are being sold. We need not wait for the president to put on his comfortable shoes and join us on the picket line. Together we can revitalize our system of public education, infusing it with the creativity, the curiosity, and the critical thought to see past the 1% script and write a narrative of our own choosing.
While writing this post I came across an article with a similar theme (and a damn near identical title) by Joseph A. Palermo as well as another great article on the CTU strike by Matt Reichel.