Category Archives: Education

The Sessional Curse: Universities and the Casual Work Force

Universities have become bastions of sessional torment, feeding grounds for despair.  The term “sessional” is merely a euphemised way of describing an academic employee who has no ongoing employment other than what is offered, a person ever at the mercy of the subject or course coordinator of a department.  They are the toiling poor, the barrel scrapers, the trudged upon and demanded.

The problem here is loathsomely international.  In 2014, CBC News noted the increasing use of contracted sessionals in the university curriculum in Canada.  The case of Kimberley Ellis Hale was cited, an instructor in sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, who had essentially slaved for sixteen years on a precarious contract.  Despite those years of service, “she has no job security.  She still needs to apply to teach her courses every semester.  She gets none of the perks a full time professor gets”.

As with Canada, the United Kingdom’s tertiary education system sees approximately half of all academic staff employed on low-paid temporary contracts.  In the United States, half-time work characterises half of faculty staff while the majority do not fall within a “tenure track” category.  The doors to employment security are, for the most part, barred.

In Australia, as a consequence largely of shifts that took place in university education in the early 1990s, teaching and research institutions became servers of market goals and ideologies, overseen by a none-too-benevolent master in the form of the Commonwealth.  Casual academic staff are the “proletariat of the academic profession”, something akin to a tribe abandoned and lost.  “It seems,” reflect Jane Kenway and Diana Langmead rather ruefully, “that the triumph of economics over university education is now complete.”

Central to this is fragmentation and increased expectation: the former, focused on splitting management from workers and ongoing workers from casual employees; the latter, on converting the academic into a consultant, entrepreneur and wearer of all hats of incongruous size and meaning, all the while inflating workloads on diminishing returns.

Casual academic staff are, according to research done by Robyn Day, David Peetz and Glenda Strachan, “not integrated with the permanent academic labour market and that discipline is a key determinant of the level of ‘frustration’ of casual academic staff.”

With this environment comes a subservience peppered by anxiety.  Free thinking is feared and despised; grovelling and silence is rewarded, if only sporadically.  Colleagues compete for diminishing resources; the casual labour force fears the loss of favour and, to that end, remain consciously indifferent to university policy that might well undermine pedagogy and research.  Resistance and protest is, in some cases brutally, quelled.

Little wonder then, that university politburos and their over-remunerated consultancies insist on collective binges of wellness days, the psychobabble that substitutes decent policies for crank panaceas.  (We care for you by showing how we detest you.)  “Searching for wellness and well-being on most university websites,” write Brad Wright and Matthew Winslade in The Conversation, “will lead to a dedicated page detailing a wealth of independent strategies and programs focusing on specific areas of health, such as mental health or workplace safety.”

These grotesque exercises serve one purpose: to demonstrate the ongoing failings of a university system to either care for teaching and research staff and, in a grim spinoff, the students themselves.  Staff employed on a casual basis will emit levels of psychological distress so acute as to be contagious; the students, in turn, will react.

The university politburos are, however, on to this, appropriating such fairly meaningless concepts as the “healthy university“.  Issuing from the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges in Canada, such holistic approaches find ample room in conference proceedings but serve to remain stuck in a management, public relations void.  While the Okanagan Charter arising from the gathering was fed by the thoughts of health professionals, researchers, students and policy makers from 45 countries, local implementation remains within the purview of the management classes long lost to academic thought.

The dictates of finance and delivery are all powerful.  Quality can be left to hang.  While a tenured or ongoing employee at academic rank might well be given a set number of courses to teach, those same courses, and number, can be taught by a sessional staff member for a fraction of the price.

The academic sweatshop, in other words, burgeons with desperate members hoping for admission.  Managers and higher academics, noting this, see chances to mine the pool of labour, and boast accordingly of having lesser teaching loads to enable them to pursue fictional and, in most cases, the stodge that counts as research. (Evaluators, take note.)

The sessional curse also extends to undermining the broader university environment.  While fat cat managers gorge themselves upon increasing salaries to cut ribbons, imbibe, identify appropriate paperclips and fill rooms with their insipid and, in the end, irrelevant presences, the pay for the sessional academic remains fairly constant in its impecuniousness.

Hours are capped; students are not permitted, depending on the policy of the department, any attention beyond an hour in terms of marking and consultations. The learning process, in other words, is cut at its most vital point, discouraging the sessional from marking the paper in any way beyond the bare limit whilst depriving the student of the rigour necessary to benefit from that said education.

This age of education is marked by the struggling part-timer and the looting manager barricaded behind protocols of control and discipline (do not, academics are told, challenge the management line).  Any reconciling of these is impossible on current trajectories and requires an enthusiastic, collectively orchestrated coup d’état.

Main Charter School Myth Promoted By “Progressives”

People who call themselves “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” or “social justice advocates” are becoming increasingly critical of and rejecting charter schools. This is a positive development.

But quite a few “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives, and “social justice advocates” remain victims of several harmful myths about charter schools.

Perhaps the main charter school myth perpetuated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates” goes something like this: “charter schools are terrible for 50 reasons, but they had progressive, noble, democratic origins and were never meant to become the terrible arrangements that they have become.” In other words, charter schools started out as a positive grass-roots effort for school improvement but were hijacked somewhere along the way and turned into horrible things with endless problems that benefit mainly major owners of capital. Different owners of capital have, according to this view, usurped the charter school movement to serve their narrow profit-maximizing aims, thereby perverting and sabotaging the “true” intent and promise of charter schools. If only the self-serving wealthy saboteurs of the charter school movement were not part of the equation, if only they had not polluted an otherwise promising educational “experiment” and “innovation,” then charter schools could have delivered on their original progressive vision, promise, and hope—and so much controversy and criticism could have been avoided.

This fairy tale may, in fact, be one of the most nagging, dogmatic, and entrenched narratives repeated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates.” It refuses to die. It is impervious to logic, facts, and analysis, which speaks volumes.

In September 2018, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools produced an informative and useful report titled Confronting the Education Debt. The report underscores the many ways that the system is rigged to further enrich the wealthy few while also depriving schools and students of tens of billions of dollars in public funds and resources. It specifically highlights how privatization of public schools has harmed public schools and students. It recognizes that, “The movement to privatize public schools is a deliberate strategy to throw open the ‘education marketplace’ to private interests.” It also states that, “the privatization of schools has contributed to austerity conditions in traditional public schools.” No doubt, charter schools are making things worse for many poor, low-income, and minority students, inside and outside charter schools. To be sure, the phony austerity agenda of the financial oligarchy has been wreaking havoc in all sectors and institutions for forty years.

Unfortunately, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools openly and explicitly repeats the tired fiction that, “Charter schooling did not begin as a privatization strategy.” This is not a drive-by statement. It is not a casual or flippant assertion. As noted above, it is something many, if not most, “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” “social justice advocates” faithfully repeat.

Research and investigation have shown, however, that charter schooling started out precisely as a deliberate calculated top-down policy for school privatization. Charter schooling was never a grass-roots pro-public phenomenon. Its origins were never humble and never served the public interest. Charter schools were conceived and created by many individuals and organizations with large amounts of economic, political, cultural, and educational capital. Average, ordinary, everyday people were nowhere around at the inception of charter schools. This has been documented by myself and others,1 including by the architects of charter schools themselves.2

At the end of the day, however, none of this may really matter. This point may be moot. As endless nauseating news and scholarly reports show year after year, charter schools, which continue to multiply, are incapable of escaping scandals, crimes, and other unethical practices. They are imploding in many states.

As more students, parents, teachers, principals, school boards, teacher educators, and legislators become more aware and intolerant of the endless problems with charter schools, and as they begin to develop a broad, independent, and coherent outlook on the dangers of privatization, charter school supporters will become more irrational, defiant, and truculent. They have powerful financial incentives to oppose the public interest and expand charter schools with impunity. However, this does not mean they will prevail in the long-run. Wealthy private interests can be defeated.

  1. See Charter School Report Card (2016) by Shawgi Tell and The Untold History of Charter Schools (2017) by Rachel Cohen in Democracy Journal
  2. Junge, E. R. (2012). Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story. Minnesota: Beaver’s ond Press.

Main Charter School Myth Promoted By “Progressives”

People who call themselves “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” or “social justice advocates” are becoming increasingly critical of and rejecting charter schools. This is a positive development.

But quite a few “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives, and “social justice advocates” remain victims of several harmful myths about charter schools.

Perhaps the main charter school myth perpetuated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates” goes something like this: “charter schools are terrible for 50 reasons, but they had progressive, noble, democratic origins and were never meant to become the terrible arrangements that they have become.” In other words, charter schools started out as a positive grass-roots effort for school improvement but were hijacked somewhere along the way and turned into horrible things with endless problems that benefit mainly major owners of capital. Different owners of capital have, according to this view, usurped the charter school movement to serve their narrow profit-maximizing aims, thereby perverting and sabotaging the “true” intent and promise of charter schools. If only the self-serving wealthy saboteurs of the charter school movement were not part of the equation, if only they had not polluted an otherwise promising educational “experiment” and “innovation,” then charter schools could have delivered on their original progressive vision, promise, and hope—and so much controversy and criticism could have been avoided.

This fairy tale may, in fact, be one of the most nagging, dogmatic, and entrenched narratives repeated by “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” and “social justice advocates.” It refuses to die. It is impervious to logic, facts, and analysis, which speaks volumes.

In September 2018, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools produced an informative and useful report titled Confronting the Education Debt. The report underscores the many ways that the system is rigged to further enrich the wealthy few while also depriving schools and students of tens of billions of dollars in public funds and resources. It specifically highlights how privatization of public schools has harmed public schools and students. It recognizes that, “The movement to privatize public schools is a deliberate strategy to throw open the ‘education marketplace’ to private interests.” It also states that, “the privatization of schools has contributed to austerity conditions in traditional public schools.” No doubt, charter schools are making things worse for many poor, low-income, and minority students, inside and outside charter schools. To be sure, the phony austerity agenda of the financial oligarchy has been wreaking havoc in all sectors and institutions for forty years.

Unfortunately, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools openly and explicitly repeats the tired fiction that, “Charter schooling did not begin as a privatization strategy.” This is not a drive-by statement. It is not a casual or flippant assertion. As noted above, it is something many, if not most, “democrats,” “lefties,” “progressives,” “social justice advocates” faithfully repeat.

Research and investigation have shown, however, that charter schooling started out precisely as a deliberate calculated top-down policy for school privatization. Charter schooling was never a grass-roots pro-public phenomenon. Its origins were never humble and never served the public interest. Charter schools were conceived and created by many individuals and organizations with large amounts of economic, political, cultural, and educational capital. Average, ordinary, everyday people were nowhere around at the inception of charter schools. This has been documented by myself and others,1 including by the architects of charter schools themselves.2

At the end of the day, however, none of this may really matter. This point may be moot. As endless nauseating news and scholarly reports show year after year, charter schools, which continue to multiply, are incapable of escaping scandals, crimes, and other unethical practices. They are imploding in many states.

As more students, parents, teachers, principals, school boards, teacher educators, and legislators become more aware and intolerant of the endless problems with charter schools, and as they begin to develop a broad, independent, and coherent outlook on the dangers of privatization, charter school supporters will become more irrational, defiant, and truculent. They have powerful financial incentives to oppose the public interest and expand charter schools with impunity. However, this does not mean they will prevail in the long-run. Wealthy private interests can be defeated.

  1. See Charter School Report Card (2016) by Shawgi Tell and The Untold History of Charter Schools (2017) by Rachel Cohen in Democracy Journal
  2. Junge, E. R. (2012). Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story. Minnesota: Beaver’s ond Press.

Americans Are as Spacey as Ever

The white race – and I mean Israeli, Iberian, Slovak, Anglo-Saxon, Caucasian, and the lot of us – is crazy. We do not need Susan Sontag to declare the white race as cancer on the world to ramify the point, since it’s been more than 50 years since she declared:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. … The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

The zenith of this insanity, of course, encompasses the world leaders of all those European nations, the UK, Australia, that demented cabal in Tel Aviv, the amazing daft of Americanos, and the entire lot who works the wormhole of destruction and continuing hollowing out with that soft shoe power of money, might and ethos that states “we don’t need no stinking ethics . . . and we kill the world at will.”

I’m working daily with homeless veterans, and the reality of what it means to have Trump or Clinton or Bernie or any of them in the leeching single party of Demons-RepubliRats running the show is that it’s a prostitute’s game of the highest order: homeless with property debts, evictions, miles and miles of contracts to pay back worthless schooling (degrees), mental health not being treated, crimes invented and prosecuted against them, endless toil in lines of bureaucracy, the trauma of substance abuse and then sobriety, the end game of just wanting to get a cheap house to call home to fortify against the constant chatter of the money launderers and repo men.

Reality is Americans in large part are broken, man, and their progeny are a hop, skip and a jump from disability classification, as each new birth is a crap-shoot of this or that physiological, genetic and mental impingement. Debilitating and lifelong scarlet letters of Double D-B-C-E at birth stitched on their Triple X sleeveless Budweiser T-shirts.

Disabled/Debt-ridden, Broken/Blank-Bankrupted, and Crippled/Corrupted, Epigenetic/ER-prone, at birth, as the psychological torturers bring to us more and more hormone-disrupting, DNA-warping, mental-draining and spiritual-tapping goods and services that have shackled us to a system of obsolescence, delusion, propaganda, and penury. We are not a united nation of anything but belief in the cartoonish ideology we are Number One and Ever-Conquering, yet the Chinese-made bombs bursting in air, hormone-drenched spare ribs, and GMO/pesticide-infused high fructose corn syrup Everything Goes Better with CocaCola on that one static day, July 4, push us to believe the lies, the big lie and the impending extinction of our own history.

Pondering the universe of delusional thinking, I am only 61, yet I feel like Rip Van Winkle, or worse, living my last third of life (if I get that lucky) inside the slipstream of human depravity on every level – from the bowels of the belly of the beast, to the syphilitic thinking of the star chamber levelers with their billions, their bots, their vision of a world tied to their modified DNA strains, existing someplace floating on ten thousand tethered space stations, near the reflection of their apple of their Dystopian eye, Mars.

A world colluding with the masters of consumption, addiction to fossil fuels, chemicals, wars, brain-barrier hacking entertainment, and the concomitant insanity of carving away species after species, while polluting precious fresh water, razing coral reefs, over-harvesting oceans, and living lifestyles where the cracked calories of cooked HomoConsumpithectus’ food and the endless pitching withdrawals of HomoRetailopithectus’ proclivity to sex, drugs, gambling, shopping, stupidity will forever shape the death of Earth’s ecosystems as we have known them up close and personal and through the bio-paleo-chemical microscopic records we have set as marching orders for our scientists and ecologists who are inevitably ignored at every turn of the Point Zero One Percent’s gluttony and narcissism.

The dream and the hope are now a requiem, lost on the flow of sperm through the epididymis, as we further unlock the barriers to a healthy society: how even the lumbering, pigsty physiology of the progenitor sperm donator HomoConsumopithectus can express the further quickening of the zygote’s snowball’s chance in hell gestating into anything but a cancer-seeded, on-the-spectrum, continual chronic fatigue syndrome child.

The number of people on planet earth – not just in the Chronic Exceptional Diseased America – with chronic illness and dripping concentration and retrograde humanity – is huge, largely tied to the superstition of  fascist religion and unending exploitation of each square acre of god’s green earth. This new normal of fear-at-birth and flagging-constitutions whereby the human race is racing away from the solutions to the disease of the mind and the pollution of land-atmosphere-air-water is not only unholy and denuding of spirit, but exactly what the Captains of Industry and Masters of the Gigabytes and Algorithms desire.

Choices, man: flipping burgers or humping backpacks in the US Military; lifetime debt for meaningless college degrees or the drudgery of working two or three jobs in the service and precarious economy; dealing into the game of American Castes or isolating in a world of addiction, pollution and surveillance?

Choices turning Americans into spies and enemies, suckers and marks, a deployed army of tens of millions ball-and-chained to the disease of fearing a worthy death in order to overthrow the powers, the militaries, and the mad men and women crafting the biggest lies since a resurrection and second coming.

Oddly, working with homeless veterans battling meth, opioids, booze, PTSD, disabilities from military service, and a cart-load of criminal convictions, I still come out daily with a sense of purpose and confidence that one man, one woman, can do something revolutionary, even in this I-Spy Sicko World of Plastic Futures. It’s the forest, not the single tree, that is diseased. The unending stupidity of the collective, whereby we allow the mighty dollar to hold sway over everything – trillions spent on the military’s implements of welfare/warfare while our collective mouths rot; the millions upon millions of babies born with birth defects and learning disabilities because we can’t muster up a collective” Hell No We Aren’t Going to Take These” chemicals sprayed on and in everything.

A study in mice conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) suggests that a woman’s risk of anxiety and dysfunctional social behavior may depend on the experiences of her parents, particularly fathers, when they were young. The study, published online in Biological Psychiatry, suggests that stress caused by chronic social instability during youth contributes to epigenetic changes in sperm cells that can lead to psychiatric disorders in female offspring across multiple generations.

Obese male mice and normal weight female mice produce female pups that are overweight at birth through childhood, and have delayed development of their breast tissue as well as increased rates of breast cancer.

The findings, published online June 24 in Scientific Reports by Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers, come from one of the first animal studies to examine the impact of paternal obesity on future generations’ cancer risk.

The researchers say they’ve found evidence that obesity changes the microRNA (miRNA) signature—epigenetic regulators of gene expression—in both the dad’s sperm and the daughter’s breast tissue, suggesting that miRNAs may carry the epigenetic information from obese dads to their daughters.

We are looking at a globe that navel gazes at these cretins – Multimillionaire Obamas, Clintons, Bush, and the deadly misanthropic billionaires club of the Gates-Bezos-Trump-Adelson- et al, and the dirty dealings of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, Holly-Dirt and the like. The attention span is square on the Tweet or the argumentative average American who will question a thousand PhDs working on climate change with his or her community college education.

So, no matter how homogenized the elites’ churned-out mush is, for instance, proclaiming how the world is so much less violent now than fifty years ago (another troll, Stephen Pinker), the reality is the white race is bent on hobbling the rest of the world with the pollution, indentured servant status, and disease creation to feed the most violent time in history of constant structural violence, mass incarceration, mass delusion, mass toxin-creating, hyper-caste generating. We are here, in a process of withering away, slowly, as this Tinhorn Country pokes holes in any common fabric the world holds sacred.

Stephen Pinker is wrong about the World of Enlightened Peoples Is Less Violent, easily beaten down here by a splendid writer:

There is something repellently absurd in the notion that war is a vice of “backward” peoples. Destroying some of the most refined civilizations that have ever existed, the wars that ravaged south-east Asia in the second world war and the decades that followed were the work of colonial powers. One of the causes of the genocide in Rwanda was the segregation of the population by German and Belgian imperialism. Unending war in the Congo has been fueled by western demand for the country’s natural resources. If violence has dwindled in advanced societies, one reason may be that they have exported it.

Then again, the idea that violence is declining in the most highly developed countries is questionable. Judged by accepted standards, the United States is the most advanced society in the world. According to many estimates the US also has the highest rate of incarceration, some way ahead of China and Russia, for example. Around a quarter of all the world’s prisoners are held in American jails, many for exceptionally long periods. Black people are disproportionately represented, many prisoners are mentally ill and growing numbers are aged and infirm. Imprisonment in America involves continuous risk of assault by other prisoners. There is the threat of long periods spent in solitary confinement, sometimes (as in “supermax” facilities, where something like Bentham’s Panopticon has been constructed) for indefinite periods – a type of treatment that has been reasonably classified as torture. Cruel and unusual punishments involving flogging and mutilation may have been abolished in many countries, but, along with unprecedented levels of mass incarceration, the practice of torture seems to be integral to the functioning of the world’s most advanced state.

Funny stuff, that which precipitates my noggin: Was reading this writer’s (Karl Schroeder) take on what it means to Escape the Default Future When Writing Science Fiction:

There’s a term that futurists use: “the default future.” The default future is what we assume is going to happen, as a matter of obvious fact. Its assumptions are so deeply ingrained that we don’t even know they’re there. For instance, current popular culture typically imagines one of just three possible future Earths: an Orwellian dystopia, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or a space-faring urban hypercivilization.

But should we? Sharing the wealth among nine billion will be hard. In many nations, birth-rates are on the decline. Shouldn’t we encourage that trend?

Here’s a proposal: let’s get smaller. Imagine a future where the economy is increasingly automated and taps into the infinite resources of outer space; and where humanity shares a core of common goods such as Universal Basic Income, Universal Healthcare, and free education. These aren’t fantasies, they’re trends. Now add to this mix a naturally declining population that retains its genetic diversity. The formula for our future becomes: more and more wealth, divided among fewer and fewer people.

In material terms alone, the results are staggering. Imagine if your family owned Paris? Or was responsible for tending the Catskill Mountains? What does wealth mean when robotics, automation and AI mean that each person can have, not money or an income, but his or her own economy? When kids learn history by reenacting the Battle of the Somme with real robot armies? When you don’t watch movies, you have the entire story including sets, car chases and crowd scenes, played out for you by troops of android players?

And here we are, these elitists and thought experimenters, sticking their intellectual tongues out at us, the majority of us, 6 billion-plus, pontificating about a world that is less violent or one that can be depopulated for a cool million, or how better the world is with a point-zero-zero-one Percent controlling us with their flimflam ideas, their products, their tools of oppression, their war is peace simulated psycho-babble. We are subject to their whims, their marketing, and their disease-generating ideologies — arrogance, chauvinism, immorality, all things filtered through the American lens/ White Race’s Lens, that is.

So I come to the end of this screed, precipitated by the daily sin of living and working in America as my fellow Americans (sic) become more and more punch drunk crazy on their own self-admiration. But also catalyzed by some insipid article,

New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.

The premise is that Homo erectus failed to mine better materials to be more efficient (killers) and more widely spread-out hunters. Ironically, the fool’s errand is we as a society/ dominator civilization are absolutely lazy when it comes to our daftness around this collapsing planet, dying ecosystems and soon-to-be-extinct millions of species. Climate change and mitigating that existential crisis, which we have failed tremendously at, we have proven our Homo Sapiens ilk as both lazy and lazier than any Homo erectus that may have been eliminated by more warring and consumptive species, now,  HomoConsumpithectus.

Terms like least effort strategies and they did not have that sense of wonder we have come from this Australian anthropologist’s mouth in his dusting off of Homo erectus gathering sites.

The arrogance of this thinking, that they — Homo erectus — knew the better stone was there but decided against it because they felt they had enough adequate raw materials and decided against rarefied tool making. He goes on to say that the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, “who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances,” outstripped our progenitor clan Homo erectus as survivors.

Shipton (the Aussie) states this is a failure to progress technologically, and as their environment dried out into a desert, the Homo erectus species’ population’s demise was inevitable.

Ironic, really, now as we Homo/Retail/Consumo-Sapiens have worked so hard to rape the planet and chug out toxins and greenhouse gases that we are failing more than any other past species in our line to grapple with this greenhouse gas inevitability —

The study, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As for what to do to prevent a hothouse Earth, it’s easier said than done: Decarbonize the world economy, end deforestation, improve farming techniques and promote carbon-capture technologies, among other recommendations.

This can “only be achieved and maintained by a coordinated, deliberate effort by human societies to manage our relationship with the rest of the Earth system, recognizing that humanity is an integral, interacting component of the system,” according to the study. “Humanity is now facing the need for critical decisions and actions that could influence our future for centuries, if not millennia.”

This is August 2018, and yet, my slipstream life intersects daily sometimes dozens of times with the chauvinism of partial truths, counter-intuitive stasis, collective unknowing, and frequent mistruths.

I have new ways to teach and work with this blind thinking, but in one sense, I find the white race in America log-jammed, and even around sincere and fairly robustly interested folk, there are blind sides.

Imagine, we eat apples year round. Sometimes apples in the store are 14 months old, meaning we are tricked into eating foods out of season, out of our own bio-region. Apples are picked, then warehoused away in a place where oxygen is cut back to a low percentage, the temperature is just a touch above 32 degrees, and the skins sprayed on with fungicides. The problem is that these apples lose their antioxidant power quickly —  polyphenols.

The apple is a microcosm of the entire broken system of addiction to oil, embedded energy out the roof, bad choices, and what that Australian anthropologist might want to look at sociologically by seeing his own species, and his own brethren — science and technology —  as the perpetrators of humanity’s demise. But, oh, we are a busy-busy species, making those Homo erectus die-offs look like the ultimate slackers!

Education and the Mental Health Epidemic

Across the western world June is exam time; in Britain, written tests taken in halls of silence and tension have triggered a mini-epidemic of anxiety rooted conditions. Pupils have reported mental exhaustion, panic attacks, crying, nosebleeds, sleepless nights, hair loss and outbreaks of acne.

Over the past 25 years, depression and anxiety amongst teenagers in the UK has increased by 70%. This pattern is repeated across the developed world, and is the result of a cocktail of pressures, pressures that result in 10% of under 18-year-olds in America being dependent on mental health medication.

In parts of Asia things are just as bad or worse: the pressure to achieve high marks in exams in Hong Kong is driving some students to suicide: “71 students took their lives between 2013 and 2016,” reports The South China Morning Post. In Singapore, which produces children who excel in standardized tests, an 11-year-old jumped to his death from the 17th floor of an apartment building in 2016 because he was afraid to tell his parents his exam results. The inquest heard that the boy’s parents relentlessly pushed him to achieve at school: his mother would cane him for every mark he received under 70%. In 2015 a record 27 suicides were reported amongst children between 10 and 19, which was double the previous year’s total.

Suicide or attempted suicide is a raw scream revealing the internal agony a child is living with; pain that he/she feels suffocated by, and unable to openly acknowledge. In most cases children don’t kill themselves, they just become ill, some, chronically. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that neuropsychiatric conditions are the primary cause of disability in under 25-year-olds worldwide and says that globally between 10% and 20% “of children and adolescents experience mental disorders,” feeding what are often long-term conditions. Research shows that 75% of all mental health issues begin before a person reaches 18, with 50% taking root before age 15.

Engines of conformity

There are various interconnected reasons for this mental health epidemic; the burden to conform and the relentless pressure to succeed are primary causes and are present throughout institutionalized education. For many young people education has become a bi-word for competition and anxiety, school or university a place where uniformity is demanded and individuality denied: a hostile place in which pressure and stress dominate.

Despite the best efforts of teachers, many of whom are doing wonderful work, the goal of academic institutions in many countries has been reduced to passing exams and achieving good-to-high grades. This is anathema to what education ought to be. At the heart of education should be the aim of creating happy human beings free from fear. This requires establishing environments that allow an individual to discover innate talents, to explore him/herself and slowly, perhaps clumsily, give expression to that; a stimulating, nurturing space where mistakes can be made, failure allowed, independent thinking fostered and responsibility for society and the natural environment engendered.

Like all aspects of contemporary life, education has been tainted by the values of a particular approach to life, a materialistic methodology that fosters negative tendencies instead of feeding the good and liberating the spirit. Competition is encouraged instead of cooperation, placing people in opposition to one another, cultivating division instead of unity. Individual success is championed at the expense of group well-being and life is reduced to a battleground ruled by desire and the pursuit of pleasure.

The focus within this paradigm of misery is on material success and the accumulation of status and things. Hedonism is sold as the source of all happiness, feeding perpetual discontent. It is an extremely narrow approach to life that denies mystery and wonder, pours cynicism on the miraculous and attempts to crush self-investigation and silence opposition.

Whilst the majority of humanity suffer and struggle to live healthy fulfilling lives within this mode of living, there are those who, economically at least, profit handsomely. As a result, and failing to recognize that they too are trapped, they do everything to maintain it; they are the wealthy and powerful, the ‘ruling elite’. Money begets power and political influence under the pervading paradigm; such influence is used to shape (and draft) government policies that strengthen systems, which maintain the existing unhealthy order.

To uphold the status quo, freedom of thought and true individuality is curtailed, social conformity insisted upon. The major tools of conditioning are the media, which is commonly owned by corporations or controlled by governments, organized religion, and education. The policies of schools and colleges are set by central government, and, consistent with the pervasive ideology politicians ensure that conformity and competition are built into the working methodology.

Students are set in competition with one another, with established standards and with themselves, and are regularly forced to sit written examinations to evaluate how much they can remember or know, about any particular subject. Taking exams dictates the passage of a child’s education and establishes the benchmark against which young people are judged, and by extension often judge themselves. Using tests as a way of assessing a person’s ability and knowledge is archaic; sitting exams exerts colossal pressure, and although some may be able to cope and ‘do well’ the majority feel suffocated.

In Britain, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) relates that in 2016/17 Childline delivered “3,135 counseling sessions on exam stress – a rise of 11% over the past 2 years.” Children aged between 12 and 18 reported that exam stress was causing “depression and anxiety, panic attacks, low-self-esteem, self harming and suicidal thoughts.” This pattern is common in many developed and developing countries, where ideologically-driven corporate governments obsessed with trade, continue to pursue methods, that are, by design, detrimental to the well being of children.

Instead of policies rooted in competition, cooperation and sharing need to be encouraged in all aspects of education and standardized exams consigned to the past. The educational environment needs to be one in which children are encouraged to support each other, to share their own particular gifts with the group and build a sense of social responsibility. Many teachers naturally employ such inclusive methods, but working within divisive systems, which promote individual success, conformity and competition, their efforts are often frustrated.

An Alternative way

A more enlightened approach to education is found in Finland. Here, children don’t start school until they are seven, there is no streaming or selection in schools, so children of varying abilities work side by side, no homework is set, school holidays are long and there is only one standardized test, administered in the final year of high school. The result is happier children than in countries where testing, homework, selection and competition reign supreme. Not only are children happier (according to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world), they achieve higher academic marks than students in many other countries; according to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) organized annually by the OECD, Finland ranks fourth for reading and 5th for Math in the world; 93% of students graduate from High School, compared to 78% in Canada and 75% in America.

Teachers in Finland are well qualified – all have a Master’s Degree – and are highly valued. They are not dictated to by misguided politicians who come and go, but are trusted to do their job independently, and the country has a long-term approach to education policy, which “means plans remain in place for a significant amount of time, giving them a chance to work, ” says Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

An education system is part of a society’s overall approach to living. As well as being a happy place to live and having a relaxed attitude to education, Finland has some of the lowest levels of wealth and income inequality in the world and the highest level of community trust. In contrast, Britain, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong have some of the highest levels of inequality. The Finland education system is inseparable from the culture, which it serves. Saku Tuominen, director of the HundrEd project says that Finland has “a ‘socially cohesive’, equitable and efficient society, and it gets a consistently reliable school system to match.”

Systems of education built around the ideals of the market that use competition, selection and examinations are contributing to a collective atmosphere of division, injustice and anxiety. Such methodologies need to be fundamentally changed, replaced by creative environments in which children and young adults can simply be, without pressure to achieve or become anything in particular. In such an atmosphere, true intelligence, which is beyond the limitations of knowledge, can flower.

Education vs. The Passions that Rule Our Lives

I pulled two items a few days ago from my filing cabinets — call them “Thing 1” and “Thing 2.” They are separated by a span of 30 years. They are two dots directly connected by a long and more or less horizontal straight line. There is no arc. Thing 1 coming up after this.

My cabinets house a vast “diary of a mad optimist.” Yes, for the cynics, I am an optimist. Mad — at a lot of things for sure — but always hopeful. Being a realist too, I have been hopeful, if not expectant, that thinking, listening, and writing carefully to unpack and face, unfiltered by any lens, the implications of what we thought we “knew,” and then behaving accordingly, might give humanity not just a better chance of keeping themselves alive but justify the effort. I thought such things would make life more worth living than doing this.

After feeling pains in our eyes, we announce with “humanitarian” pride that we are bothered by “the optics,” the sight, mind you—of refugee children torn from their mother’s arms, screaming and crying, as they are held in chain-link cages and sent to Wisconsin while the mothers are deported to the hell they fled. The sight is what bothers us. The reality, if we can arrange to not see it, not so much—especially after we build that big, beautiful Wall to block the view. And because it sounds “deep” that “perception is more important than reality,” we believe it—and believe it “strongly” because it “worked” for a Barbie doll in stilettos—my god! She is rich! She won! And read her awesome book: The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Life and Work. My, what strength! By all appearances, no weakness there! A true winner, living the American Dream!

Whatever we can get ourselves to believe, and believe strongly, and say “with strength,” we believe we must therefore know—at least think we know—and can all the more easily get others to believe we know. When we speak with strength, those who believe perception trumps reality will surely feel we know, for winning their credulity is all that matters, for when we have their vote, and soon their money, we’ve got just about everything. And we can don a jacket that reads on the back for the world (not the wearer) to see: “I really don’t care. Do you?” Then, jet off to “see” in a show of concern the sufferings of little children.  But …

What if all my library cards amount to a Royal Flush, and trump, in reality, the Trump Card whose face value I assess in this essay as being worthy of a flush, bigly? What if, despite perception, the more important reality should be this: The principal occupation of 98% of the human brain is to frantically shop around (or rummage about) for a new pair of shades for the remaining 2% of it: blackout blinds for the feint-of-heart, the scared, the scarred, the scalawag, the xenophobe, the autocrat, and the comfortably ignorant bigot alike. With such a sunscreen to block all light on anything that may hurt the eyes outside the private temple of the Church of Self, one’s body can be gainfully employed, Duty-Free of taxing responsibility. No photos! No video! No fake journalists! CNN: you are the worst! The press is the Enemy of the People. Thus one can then do their job, any job, he or she would, in their shade, be “humbled, honored, and privileged” to execute: From managing a cigarette factory, speaking for a President, dismantling the EPA, scheduling trains to Auschwitz, or acting as head of ICE. If asked, “But is the job you are doing humane?” He or she may stutter … uh … and stutter more … uh … until they find the Romans 13 roller shade and their voice: “What kind of insulting question is that? I believe it’s the law. My job is to enforce the law, and, by God, if we are going to have a country, we need laws, I am going to enforce the laws. That is what I am going to do.”

Thus even Aristophanes knew how a sausage vender could rise to a Tyrant’s Everest on his own petards with the help of banners, hats, and the throngs who do not read books because propaganda and beer are more … exciting and relaxing for basking in the schadenfreude. The Greeks knew this: Beware the man who would sell you anything—from an AR-15 to Fentanyl, from steaks to vodka, from a degree from his own university to a MAGA hat made in China, from a condo —- to himself as a candidate to command the power of a military and economy unknown in the history of humanity. Who is this sausage vender? How would it be wrong to answer: A bankrupt casino mafia don in elf’s clothing and golf shoes, a man rich enough to buy a porn’s star’s body (while his wife gives birth to his son) and then believe he could buy her silence because he believes when you’re rich, you can do anything, even grab a country by the pussy. As the Greeks might say: A man who would sell you anything is a man who would do so because he has already sold out of everything worth having: his own soul.

Sometimes, in my heart-sick desperation, I fear that nearly half of America has bowed to the psychopath we have collectively created in our own image, needful to relieve ourselves of the burden of our own guilt, from the weight of our daily responsibility: to bear the pain or shame of the thoughtful brain, of “thinking what we do.” Because Knowledge entails the Responsibility its possession thrusts upon us, in our weakness and fear we have sought an out and forked over our brains and consciousness to the perception of a stronger and more brazen man’s Will to Power. Obviously he knows better what to do than I! We have bought the hook that a wealthy man is a “successful” man, that a successful man is a “smart man,” that a smart man is a wise man and is thus a “true leader” of people, and that such a man cannot be bought—nor already sold out. We believe that a man without shame has nothing to be ashamed of, and in his shameless presence find our refreshment. We have bought that hook because he has sold it to us—in the abject poverty of our critical intelligence.

The pursuit of knowledge is a too-difficult proposition, for as knowledge grows in complexity and relevance, so does its burden on our sleep and behavior. Faith instead will do, and by calling it “knowledge by faith” we turn the trick of unloading our brain to lighten our step, and thus we go … sailing. I am sorry to say that, among others, certainly the “evangelicals” (“knowing by faith” their “prosperity gospel”) have, in their bliss-born ignorance, rendered themselves blind to the implications of what they have done. They have bowed to a liar, a thief, a clown, and offered to him, this Golden Cow, the last shard of their souls as a burnt offering.

May I say I saw this was coming, knew this was coming, and have suffered every moment since a certain student’s essay was handed to me and the year it took me to unpack the blackened box of its ashen implications.

Let me close these opening remarks with this. Three minutes ago I was sent this message from a dear friend: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it.” (The Talmud)

To my friend: Yes, Laura. That is my work, my life. In that light, I stand until I cannot, and I will say and do what I must, as we each must find our place to make the big picture more bearable to look upon.

Thing #1:

These are my old notes on a fellow teacher’s assignment, a sample student essay, and my own written response after reading it.

*****

[Journal Entry: October 29, 1989]

A colleague of mine, when teaching his Writing 101 classes, has made a regular practice of having each of his students, college freshmen and sophomores, write an essay on the subject of “The Three Passions that Rule My Life.” The inspirational model of the assignment is Bertrand Russell’s prologue to his three-volume autobiography (the first volume of which was published in 1967):

What I Have Lived For

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and the unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy─ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness─that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I have sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upwards toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

The students of Writing 101 were to read these words, and with all due thought and consideration, pen their own. More than a year ago [ed. note: the winter of 1988], Julian showed me a few repre­sent­ative samples of these student essays (with their authors’ names appropriately and carefully inked out), suspecting that I might find their words of some interest. This is what one young male (in his early twenties) had to say:

The Easy Life

I want a successful life, a life of ease with only a few thorns, a life of leisure with little pain. In light of this I have created many more passions such as a search for education, a desire for wealth, and a need for health.

I seek an education to earn money with. An easy life starts with hard days at school. Some may get lucky and win the lottery while others may be happy living off low wages but I want the most money for my abilities. An education will not increase my intelli­gence but it will improve the chances of employment in a high paying position that is not only easy on the body but also challenging to the mind.

I desire wealth because it will buy me a better life. People often say money cannot buy happiness, but I will be happy when I have the money to buy everything I want. I can only be content in a big house full of spicy food and comfortable furnishings, a garage with a nice new car and expensive snow skis.

I need to be healthy to live a better life. I want to live long enough to enjoy the fruits of my labor. All the money in the world would do me no good if I were not vigorous enough to spend it. I want to be in good shape while spending my money, instead of spending it on an expensive sick bed or giving it away to some doctor who can spend it on something more gratifying.

Perhaps those of us who are not teachers, and not acquainted with the thoughts of contemporary college students, might read this as satire, black humor or clever jest, for the alternative is nearly impossible to believe. How is it possible for this human being to put into words the substance of his own soul and not cringe at the picture he has painted of himself? How can he not shudder at the cold vacuum at the heart of this narcissistic portrait of utter self-absorption? How can Russell’s words fall, without resonance, indeed, without effect, upon his ears?

How? Because not once in this student’s career has he been challenged, compelled to examine his own beliefs and values. Not once has he been asked to spell out the logical implications and presuppositions of his own words, least of all on the printed page. He has been allowed to grow and flourish (or merely get older), protected from perceiving the material, social, and ethical consequences of his own thoughts and behavior. He has been taught self-esteem, at the expense of self-consciousness. His beliefs and feelings have been “respected,” and have festered, unexamined, unanalyzed, uncriticized by teachers who have been trained to do everything except challenge him to open his mind to his fellow human beings and to the world that gave him birth and now sustains his life.

Pictured here, in this student’s essay, is a man, a child, no, a worm, whose first words are “I want,” and who then proceeds to equate a successful life, which he “wants,” with “a life of ease,” which he also wants, while remaining utterly incapable of seeing the contradiction. Here is a person whose first passion is the avoidance of pain. And whose pain? His own. He feels no other. Here is a human who seeks, above all, leisure for himself. He mentions no friends or family, perhaps because he has none, or perhaps because he takes them for granted and does not notice; nor does he mention the rest of humanity, perhaps because he doesn’t wish to draw attention to the reality that his leisure is a function of other people’s labor.

Being pragmatic, he seeks devices by which he might achieve his leisure. The first device he finds is money. He would consider himself “lucky” to win the lottery, but, being a realist, is aware that this is improbable. An education seems a better bet. An education for him is a tool with which he intends to “get money.” Other tools would do, but they could get him into trouble, if not jail, jeopardizing his dream of future leisure. And if education didn’t work as a tool to get money, it would not be relevant to any of his concerns, for learning about the world, past and present, outside the periphery of his own flesh, is merely his contingent instrument for acquiring the easy life.

In his view, the easy life begins unfortunately with hard days at school, empty days devoid of the excitement of finding profound answers to his questions, for he has no questions, least of all questions his school could ever answer, or even help to answer. Education will increase his chances of obtaining a high paying “position” (a job does not interest him). He believes this because this is what his parents and teachers have told him. They have told him that he must pay attention in school because what he is being taught might one day be of use to him. Thus he has learned that what is not of use to him is not worthy of his attention.

The position he seeks in life is not only easy on the body but challenging to the mind. Challenges to the mind, he has heard, are good things. Challenges to his body are things with which he is more familiar and finds them difficult, and now knows he does not want them. It does not occur to him to suspect that challenges to the mind might be equally difficult and therefore incompatible with the easy life he values most. This possibility would be a challenge to his mind, and no doubt he has failed, for that reason, to consider it.

Being a doctor is of no value, except insofar as it enables one to buy hard goods and real estate. The services of a doctor mean nothing, for if our young man should become ill and need them, he would have to “give money away” to him, “some doctor” who would take that money and spend it on something more grati­fying. This would be a bad thing, for giving money away and getting no self-gratification in return would be tantamount to an act of generosity. He wants his health, therefore, lest he be deprived of the pleasures of spending money, and be made jealous of doctors who would take his money, buy nice new cars, expensive snow skis, and houses full of spicy food.

But should he ever go to school to become a doctor himself, it would be, of course, to obtain the most money for his abilities, chief of which would be the ability to do anything for a buck, including performing the super-human task of enduring at least 10 years of medical training for an occupation he disdains as unworthy of being paid.

This man desires wealth because it will buy him a better life. Better lives, for this person, are on a par with commodi­ties purchased, rather than worlds constructed by our own human hands, minds, and hearts.

This man will be happy when he has the money to buy everything he wants. His wants and needs are fused as one in his mind. And money, instead of being a medium of exchange of value for value, is merely the incarnation, the material embodiment of the power by which he will have others produce what he will consume.

He can only be content in a big house, built by the labor of others who have accepted those challenges to the body which he has rejected, a house full of spicy foods─foods planted, cultivated, harvested, processed, cooked, and served by the efforts of others, spicy food to satiate his sensitive and discriminating Epicurean palate. It will be a house full of comfortable furnishings obtained by money, instead of work. In his house, he must have a garage with a nice new car and expensive snow skis. The car must be new, rather than functional and efficient, else the wrong message might be conveyed to the neighbors who he believes, perhaps rightly, share his aspir­ations. The skis must be “expensive,” else his peers will be unimpressed. His house will be full, full of everything─except other human beings. For here is the human being whose concern for future generations has utterly terminated with not merely his own, but himself.

Our student, an archetype of the late twentieth century, has written little, but implied much in the interstices of his words. Our student, it seems, has not yet discovered the mirror into which he could gaze upon the face of his own soul. Should the day arrive when he finds it, he shall hear, with Russell, the cries of pain of a soul in famine, reverberating in his heart, and we too shall suffer with him, and be sorry for him. Yet he lives, for now, making a mockery of what human life should be.

Semper Fidelis or Das Kapital Uber Alles: From Eisenhower to Trump!

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

— Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1935)

I don’t think so. I think that the – the hook for many of our supporters was the idea that this was an unusual messenger for an important environmental message. You know, people who support environmental issues are constantly trying to find a way to preach beyond the choir, to reach beyond their base of people who are already on board, and I think one of the things that’s very appealing about the film, but primarily Jerry as a messenger, is that you don’t expect this message to come from a career military person.

And through Jerry, you’re – we’ve been able to reach this audience of military folks who maybe wouldn’t be attuned to the environmental message about the effects of toxins on health and things like that. So I think there was a real appeal to many of those organizations from that perspective.

— Rachel Libert, co-producer of filmSemper Fi

I’m thinking harder and harder about the Continuing Criminal Enterprise that is the Corporate State. Thinking hard about the buffoonery, really, “regular” citizens, and members of the armed services, taking hook-line-and-sinker the foundational belief that it’s we the people, by the people, for the people, because of the people.

How wrong my old man was, 32 years combined Air Force and Army, believing he was upholding some decency, some safety nets for all, old folks homes, jobs for college grads and those without any training. Turning in his grave, absolutely, if he could now witness the evisceration of our post office, libraries, public schools, health care, roads and infrastructure. He fought for government oversight, EPA, FDA, and the rights of nature over the thuggery of madmen and Mafiosi and financial philanderers. He witnessed the abuse and fraud of the US Military Lobbying Corporate Ripoff complex, up close and personal. When he was in Korea, he had the utmost respect for Koreans, on both sides of the line. When he was in Vietnam, he had the utmost respect for the Vietnamese. He taught me the words of General Smedley Butler when I was 12. Now how fucked up is that, man. Living half a century on that graveyard of lies, propaganda and insufferable patriotism.

Daily, that American exceptionalist clarion call is pummeled and delegitimized by purveyors of Capitalism – rapacious, arbitrary, steeped in usury, couched in profits over all, cemented by the few elites and their soldiers – Little Eichmann’s – to define all human and non-human life as anything for the taking, consequences be damned. It’s a bought and sold and resell system, United States. Many times, it’s a rip-off after rip-off system of penalties and penury.

Think of Capitalism as, in spite of the people, against the people, forever exploiting the masses. Daily, I have seen this played out as a kid living on military bases around the world; or in just one of a hundred examples, as a student at the University of Arizona watching white purveyors of capital squash the sacred mountain, Mount Graham, in the name of telescopes and tens of thousands of profits per hour for anyone wanting to peer through the scopes. Sticking to the Sonora, I saw the developers in Tucson and then in Kino Bay, Guaymas, all there to push ecosystems toward extinction and to hobble the people – of, for, by, because – with centuries of collective debt and decades of individual fines, levies, taxes, penalties, tolls, externalities. This has been a Greek tragedy of monumental proportions, my 61 years of hard living, shaped by Marxist ideology and informed with communitarian reality.

Name a system or an issue, and then I quickly and easily jump to the cause and effect of the problem, and searching for intended and unintended consequences, and then comprehending shifting baselines, and then inevitably, realizing the tragedy of the commons tied to anything enshrined in consumer capitalism, and then, finally, acceding to the full context of how exponential growth and the limits of growth all come pounding like an aneurysm into my brain.

Call it death by a thousand rules, death by a thousand loopholes, death by a thousand fine print clauses, death by a thousand new chemicals polluting land, soil, air, water, flesh. Death by another thousand PT Barnum adages from dozens of financial-extracting arenas — “a sucker is born every minute,” all tributes to this casino-vulture-predatory capitalism which is insanity as we go to war for, because, despite it all.

Teacher-journalist-social worker-activist-unionist: Who the hell said I had any place in this society of “money takes/speaks/controls/shapes all,” or the Holly-dirt celebrity that is Weinstein or Rosanne Barr, the lot of them, and the unending perversion of big business-big media-big energy-big finance-big pharma-big arms manufacturing-big war as the new coded and DNA-embedded value system, the existential crisis (hog) of culture, civil society, the commons, community, and nature?

The men and women I work with now, after a cavalcade of careers under my belt, are wounded soldiers, sometimes wounded warriors, and many times wounded children – both the inner child and the literal children of soldiers. We’ve had one-day-old babies and 83-year-old veterans in this shelter. Every type of service, every type of discharge, every kind of military history. Some were never deployed overseas, some were but in support capacities, and others saw combat.

That is the microcosm of society reflected in this homeless shelter. I’ve written about it here and here and here. The prevailing winds of one or two strikes, then one or two bad debts, then one or two evictions, or one or two convictions, and, one or two co-occurring maladies, or one or two levels of trauma, and you are almost out; and mix that up with failed relationships, and capitalism and militarism, joined at the hip like a six-legged frog, and we have homelessness. Living in garages, in mini-vans, on couches, in tents, on floors, in wooden boxes, in abandoned buildings, in cemeteries, in cars.

For veterans, there is some level of dysfunctional help through the VA, the medical and dental system, the psych wards, and with housing vouchers and some debt relief. Thank a veteran for his or her service to the country, well, that’s a sloppy invocation of superficial respect.

The crumbs of the octopus that is capitalism wedded to war trickle down to some sectors of society – those who were diagnosed before 18 with some developmental-psychological-intellectual disability and veterans who served. I am talking about vets who didn’t go full-bore and retire after 20-plus years. These vets sometimes ended up in for four or five years, some a few months, and as is the case, here, the hierarchy of character and demographics kicks in, as veterans deployed to war and those who were wounded in war get a higher level of “benefits” than, say, someone who was in a few months or a year with no splashy combat rejoinder to his or her record.

We have vets in continuous, long bureaucratic lines working on their service connected disability claims, and, it’s sometimes a huge Sisyphus game of producing medical record after medical record going up against the hydra of the US government, Arms Service Committee pols, and the western medical system that was bound for failure after the striped barber pole days ended. The military does not help, denying injuries on the job, in combat or otherwise.

Tinnitus or loss of hearing, well, that’s usually a given after even a few months of service in the military. Knees, hips, feet, back problems. Anxiety, depression, skin issues. Kidney, teeth, TBI issues. PTSD and MST (military sexual trauma). The list is a ten-volume encyclopedia.

What I’ve found is most guys and gals are not wired for the obscene confusion, machismo and endless stupidity of repetition and humiliation of barking dehumanizing orders and tasks coming out of service to our country – all branches of the military make the Sanford Prison Experiment look like a walk in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

A Documentary About Cover-up, Collective Guilt, Toxins in the Water, Death

The precipitating factor behind a review of a 2011 documentary, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, directed and produced by Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon, is I am working with a former Marine client as his social worker. In a homeless shelter for veterans; that moniker – social worker — is a deep one, a cover-all assignment, with wide ranging responsibilities, some anticipated and others surprisingly serendipitous.

His case, age 63, former Marine, in at age 17 with parents’ permission, is complicated – as if the other cases are not. A lot of these cases involve young men and women, virtually boys and girls, getting out of Dodge. Some with a sense of patriotism, for sure, and a few with aspirations of turning the military into a career. But make no bones about it, these people many times got caught up in the rah-rah patriotism of the day, Apple Pie, Mom, Hot Dogs and Football. Some were in it for the macho badge, and others wanted to learn avionics, electronics, logistics and nursing, etc. Many were discharged because of physical injuries or some sort of mental strain, or many were rifted for the unjust downright downsizing.

I’ll call my man Larry, and he grew up on the Oregon Coast, ending up hitching up with the Marine Corps because he wanted out of bubble of the small town and wanted in with a band of brothers.

Today, he is still tall, but a bit hunched over. His face is frozen in a heavy screen of sadness and fear. Both hands he is attempting to calm, but Parkinsonian tremors have taken over; he can’t hold a tray of food and drink, and he has no signature left. He has bruises on his arms and shines from falling over, tripping. He repeats himself, and knows it, telling me his words are coming out slurred.

He spent two years in prison for what amounts to minor (in my mind) medical fraud with his company. Those two years, he tells me, were nirvana. “The prison guards told me they had never anyone say they were glad to be in prison. I told them this was the calmest and most level I had ever been, or for at least years.”

His life was one of overwork, overreach, clients all over the Pacific Northwest, gambling addiction, big money from his business, lot of toys and big home, and children who ended up spoiled and broken as adults. Larry’s juggling a hoarder wife whose mother is dying, a heroin-addicted daughter with a child, another daughter in an abusive relationship, and countless appointments now to the VA, psychologists, counselors, OT and PT professionals, and support groups.

Today, he is quickly slipping into miasma of Parkinson’s, with all the symptoms and negative cycles of someone with Parkinson’s hitting him daily. He barely got a diagnosis, as early on-set, a few months ago; in fact, he’s been living with the Parkinsonian-triggered suite of maladies for up to 12 years, he tells me. “I remember my clients telling me I was repeating myself. I really think the stupid decision to defraud the state for a few hundred dollars was triggered by Parkinson’s.”

He and I have talked to support groups, looked at the literature around Parkinson’s, watched TED Talk’s focusing on the disease, gone to Michael J. Fox’s web site, and just honed in on what his life will be like in a year, two years, and five.

Right now, his Parkinson’s is one of nine major maladies tied to service connected disabilities the VA is now processing. This ties into the movie – Semper Fi – because my client was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as part of the Marine Corps where learning the art of war was also combined with the silent spring of water contamination that eventually resulted in diseases that both affected the veterans but also their families, and civilians who used the water, as well as their offspring.

This is a three decades long exposure, 1957 – 1987, with an estimated 750,000 to 1,000,000 people who may been exposed to the cancer- and neurological disorder-causing chemicals. They consumed and bathed in tap water contaminated with “extremely high concentrations of toxic chemicals.”

The documentary follows three main protagonists fighting for their lives, the legacy of loved ones who were affected, and for the truth.

This is Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and according to the epidemiologists and scientists from the National Academy of Sciences, it is one of largest water contamination incidents in US history. We learn in the film the main carcinogens the people were exposed to — benzene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE), three known human carcinogens, in addition to perchloroethylene (PCE), a probable carcinogen.

The list of physical damage caused by exposure is long — Birth Defects, Leukemia, Neurological Damage, Bladder Cancer, Liver Damage, Ovarian Cancer, Breast Cancer, Lymphoma, Prostate Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Lung Cancer, Scleroderma, Kidney Damage, Miscarriage, Skin Disorders.

My guy Larry is afraid of watching the documentary, as he is now in a spiraling malaise and deep anxiety tied to the reality of what life with Parkinson’s is, and that maybe many of his life decisions, from infidelity in a marriage to spontaneous behavior like gambling addiction may have stemmed from the stripping of his neurological web by these solvents and fuels that were leaking into the water supply, a contamination known by the United States’ Marines.

Knowledge is power but it can be a leveling power, one that forces people to look at the totality of their lives as may be based on a stack of lies and false ideologies. The movie reveals to the audience that this is one of 130 military sites in the USA with contamination issues. Alas, as I’ve written about before, the US military is the largest polluter in the world, and other militaries have the same standards or lack thereof for storing fuel, solvents, cleaners and other chemicals utilized in the war machine of the West.

Three Lives Following the Chemical Trail, Lies and Deceit

The documentary looks at three lives intensely – a 24-year veteran of the Marines whose 9-year-old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, a man who was born on the base and raised there and then developed male breast cancer, and a female Marine who served years at the Camp and who throughout the film is going through chemo to fight her rare disease.

We see the gravestones at the military cemetery at Camp Lejeune and remarkable typographic evidence of strange deaths – babies buried after a day living, stillborn babies buried, families with two or three deceased individuals, the offspring of serving Marines buried in plots surrounded by others who prematurely died.

Jerry Ensminger, the former drill sergeant, pushes hard to attempt to understand how the Marines could have lied and covered up the years of contamination. He fights to understand how the chemical producers through their lobbyists could hold sway over the common sense duty of protecting the citizens of the United States who swore an oath to defend the US Constitution. In the end, Jerry Ensminger (Janey’s dad), Michael Partain (male breast cancer survivor), and Danita McCall (former Marine enlisted soldier) make for compelling film making, since the project went on for four years.

Here, Rachel, the co-producer, talks about Danita:

The woman who shook her head is a woman named Danita, who we also followed in the film. When we met Danita, she was actually healthy, but shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer that honestly had metastasized so much in her body that I don’t think they could even say what the organ of – you know, what organ it started in. And we began to – in addition to following Jerry and Tom and the others, we also followed Danita as she fought to stay alive, as well as fought to get this issue out.

She did not make it in the time that we were making the film. And neither my co-director or I had ever experienced that in a project we’d worked on, and it was really hard. But Danita felt very strongly that her story should be in the film, and she – even though there were times where she was not feeling so great when we were trying to film her, because she had chemo treatment and whatnot, she really rallied through.

The ultimate sacrifice fighting for your life because of chemical-toxin induced cancers are eating at your very soul while also going up against the PR and hellish propaganda systems that define America, define the powerful, the political, the lobbies, the Captains of Industry, in this case, the chemical purveyors who have been given carte blanc the right to kill entire neighborhoods and classes of people and non-people species because Capitalism is predicated on unfettered rights of any snake oil salesman or demon shyster to bilk, bust, and bill for all the disease they perpetrate. Is anyone with a sound mind going to believe that Agent Orange and PCBs were not already deemed harmful to human life before they were even sprayed on the innocents of Vietnam? Does anyone believe the polluted, lead-flecked water of Flint doesn’t kill brain cells? Off-gassing, Volitile Organic Compounds, plastics, solvents, flame retardants, pesticides, fungicides, diesel fumes, nitrous oxide, fluoride, well, the list goes on and on, and those demons will hide, obfuscate, and downright lie to keep the pennies from Capitalism’s Heaven falling into their fat, off-shore, tax-free bank accounts.

Here, Jerry, talking to C-SPAN:

When any family ever have a child, especially a child, that’s diagnosed with a long-term catastrophic illness, without exception — because I’ve talked to so many other families, when Janey was sic– the first thing after you have a chance to sit down after the shock of the diagnosis wears off is that nagging question: Why? Well, I was no exception.
And I looked into her mother’s family history, my family history, no other child had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

We are talking about over one thousand Freedom of Information requests to have Navy, Marines and other government agency files open for public viewing. The concept of we the people, by the people, for the people – public health, safety, welfare – has never really been a reality, but a myth. For filmmaker Rachel Libert, she too has been caught with wide open eyes around how rotten the systems in place are for supposedly cross-checking and protecting people’s lives:

It’s been eye-opening for me. I think the thing that was probably the most eye-opening – I don’t consider myself a naive person, but I – I actually believed that our regulatory agencies were doing their job and protecting us, bottom line, that things that were really, really harmful and known to be carcinogens wouldn’t really be in our environment, in our water and things. And in making this film, I realized that that system is very flawed and that we aren’t as protected, and that was a very difficult thing for me to accept.

I mean, I certainly didn’t go into it thinking, oh, the government’s perfect and there are no problems, but that was a big revelation.

Again, the film is a microcosm of the world I live in, the world I work in, and the world of a Marxist struggling to make sense of the psychology of power and the impact of that power on the common people. Yes, schooling has helped with the American mythology of greatness. Yes, the Madison Avenue shills have aided and abetted the stupidity of a collective. Yes, the genocidal roots of this country’s illegal origin continue to splay the DNA of Americans. Yes, the food is bad, the air contaminated, the medicines polluted and the human spirit malformed in the collective American household. Yes, those in power are perversions, open felons, war mongers and money grubbers.

But, when you see over the course of four years – these main “actors” in the documentary are not paid – the Don Quixotes flailing at windmills, just replace Camp Lejeune with Love Canal or Monfort slaughter house, or fence-line communities around Houston or the flaming waters of the Cuyahoga River. Just spend a few years studying the largest Superfund site, Hanford in southern Washington. Just spend time looking at the research on Glyphosate (Monsanto’s DNA-killing Round-up). Just delve into the research on EMFs and cancers, or cell phones and brain lesions. Again, this so-called exceptionalist country is a purveyor of lies, purveyor of mentally deranged uber patriotism, and without exception, eventually, anyone going up against the system will quickly hold to him or her self the belief we all have been snookered by the Titans of Industry and the Wolves of Wall Street.

Here, the good Marine, 24 years in, Semper Fi, now a farmer in North Carolina, wondering just what he was fighting for:

Well . . . one thing that they’ve done over the years is that they have obfuscated the facts so much, they have told so many half-truths and total lies, they’ve omitted a lot of information to the media, and now if they were to sit down with me face-to-face, I could show them with their own documents and counter what they’ve been saying, and they don’t want to do that.

I mean, I have been very, very cautious throughout this entire fight to speak truth. I’ve told Mike Partain, when he got involved in it, and everybody else that gets involved in this situation, don’t ever speculate. If you’re talking to the media, if you’re talking to Congress, never speculate. If you don’t have a document out of their own files to back up what you’re saying, keep your mouth shut.

And going back to Mike Partain, when Mike got involved in this back in 2007, Tom was starting to fall out of the hike. Tom’s in his 80s. And Mike was a godsend. I mean, Mike has a degree in history. And he has also got investigative skills, because he is an insurance adjuster. He couldn’t – he couldn’t pay to raise his family on high school teacher’s pay, history teacher’s pay, so he went and got a job as an investigator.

Admirable, the story telling and truth Sather qualities in this film, for sure. The audience gets up close and personal with Jerry and Mike and Danita, and the directors let the soldiers tell the story. We get the cold hard stare down of the military brass. Indeed, for the uninitiated this story is compelling.

But also on the outer edges of this piece are the obscenities of blind obedience to command. There are some ugly truths to being a Marine, of following orders, of sadomasochistic drill sergeants, the culture of rape, the outright racism, and all the attendant issues tied to military service.

This is the fiftieth year after the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. The two or three soldiers who stood down some of the killers and reported the crime were vilified. That bastion of war, Colin Powell, was a junior officer whose job was to hunt down any incriminating evidence against the soldiers who reported the murders. Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer for his reporting on My Lai. Yet, Colin Powell rose to power, ending up in another war criminal’s administration – Bush Junior. To think of all the illegal wars these soldiers have prepped for and gone to, one wonders if any soldier can believe anything around their sometimes teary-eyed salute the flag patriotism.

The USS Liberty, 51 years ago, and Israel murders 34 sailors, and wounds 171, yet deniability, no repercussions, and here we are, US DoD and US Military are the beckon call of Israel firsters running our government, and the blind allegiance to the apartheid and genocidal state 70 years after forced trail of tears for Palestine, and all those deniers now in positions of Fortune 500 power, and who decide the fate of the plebes, the foot soldiers of industry and military services.

Conversing with my veterans, so many are confused about aliens and Area 54 and reverse engineering from that Roswell kid from space; somehow a Trump is more palatable than an Obama than a Bush. How many times have I been spat upon and cursed when I fought against illegal wars, overt or proxy, in South America, Central America, the Middle East? How many times have I been yelled at for fighting against chemical plants or fighting for clean air, water, soil? How many times have I been called a Pinko Fag for fighting for spotted owls or gray wolves?

As an avowed revolutionary, Marxist, one who has been hobbled by the middling mush that is America, from acidified sea to oil slick sea, I can only say that George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain, respectively, say it correctly about this thing called “patriotism”:

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

— George Bernard Shaw

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

— Mark Twain

I’ve got a more horrific story to tell about Larry, my former Marine. Yes, he might get some more service connected disability money coming in for the toxic water exposure he attained in North Carolina while on the Marine Corps base for a few years.

He is now stagnant, fearful of uncontrollable tremors, fearful of not getting words out, fearful of falls, fearful of a life now full of attendants, and as we all are, fearful of ending up destitute (he is in a homeless shelter, readers), and alas, his one asset — his brain — is now fogged and riddled with the bullet holes of anxiety and paranoia.

Yet, his toxic waters story pales in comparison to what happened to him as a 17-year-old at boot camp in Dan Diego. A story so bizarre and troubling, that it’s one the military has dealt with since time immemorial, when the first militaries came about under those pressed into service rules of the rich needing bodies to fight their unholy skirmishes, battles and world wars.

That story and series of human penalties Larry encompasses will come soon, but for now, imagine, a country run by the likes of Obama, Bush, Clinton, Trump, et al. Imagine those swollen jowls and paunchy millionaire politicians. Imagine their lies, their sociopathic inbreeding. Imagine the tortures they foment at night. Imagine these people sending people to war, and imagine the entire lie that is America, the land of the free.

Hell, in my own neck of the woods, Portland, again, we are a third world country when it comes to we, for, by and because the people:

In one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the fight for clean water is taxing. From Salem, Oregon to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and from Flint, Michigan to the L’eau Est La Vie Camp in Louisiana, Americans are finding their access to clean water threatened.

Emma Fiala

Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

QUESTION: We have choices in other areas of life. Why not in schools?

RESPONSE: Choice and rights are not the same thing; they are distinct categories with different properties and should not be conflated.

Education is a right, not a privilege, opportunity, or choice. A right is essentially a need, something indispensable for the existence or development of something. Rights belong to humans by virtue of their very being and for no other reason whatsoever. Rights cannot be given or taken away. They cannot be waived, sold, transferred, or forfeited in any way. Nor are they earned, deserved, or based on “merit.” Rights are also not based on skin color, language, religion, nationality, or gender.

Choice refers to the simple act of selecting something from a list of alternatives. Under capitalism, choice means being a consumer who decides what goods or services to buy or sell. Choice in the capitalist “free market” sense rests on the idea that humans are mainly individualistic proprietors, consumers, and entrepreneurs, not humans or citizens. Among other things, choice and consumerism fetishize the “me” while citizenship and being human address the “we.” Choice and consumerism are part of the old antisocial outlook that views humans as reward-seeking “rugged individuals” who bravely fend for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world and owe nothing to anyone else. Risk and peril are built-in features of such a world.

Needs are essential and cannot be selected or unselected. They cannot be chosen, bought, sold, or forfeited. Like food and water, for example, education is not something one can choose to go without, especially in the twenty-first century. No education almost always means no future—in more ways than one. No human chooses to be hungry, homeless, unemployed, uninsured, and uneducated. Indeed, one can only be human when their need for food, shelter, clothing, education, work, and healthcare is satisfied in a way that is commensurate with the level of development of society. You may be able to choose what kind of breakfast cereal you subjectively prefer, but you cannot avoid food because it is a human need.

The right to fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to be consumers who shop for a school, cross their fingers, and hope it all works out. Modern education should not be a lottery or a gamble.

Modern society based on large-scale industrial production cannot leave education to chance and personal choice. A society based on fending for yourself, “survival of the fittest,” “might makes right,” “rugged individualism,” consumerism, and behaviorism needs to be replaced by a society fit for all—one that provides dignity, prosperity, peace, stability, and security for all. Society can move forward only if the accumulated knowledge of humanity is passed on to the next generation in a conscious, organized, and humane manner.

Conclusion

The choice today is not between privatized, marketized, and corporatized charter schools that operate on the basis of the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market,” verses under-funded, over-tested, constantly-demonized public schools deliberately mandated to fail by the neoliberal state. These are false and harmful choices. Neither serve education and society well.

It is no secret what is needed to ensure world-class schools in every community. Thousands exist already. Given the level of development of society and its productive forces, it is more than possible for a government truly accountable to the people to guarantee fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code. Our society does not lack the resources to ensure this. Scarcity is one of many self-serving and harmful capitalist myths that go unexamined every day.

Fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to shop for a school. Why should humans have to do this in 2018? It is absurd. The havoc wreaked on education and society by the so-called “free market” and charter schools can be avoided altogether and a big measure of security, reliability, and quality can be attained. It is far from impossible.

Progress cannot happen, however, by remaining silent, being passive, conciliating with the neoliberal agenda, relying on wishful thinking, resorting to careerism, being an opportunist, or hoping “someone else” will figure it out. These are not solutions. They just prolong and exacerbate the pain for everyone. Everyone must become activated in these increasingly dangerous times and play their role at their level. Reality is making itself felt more forcefully. Combating charter school disinformation and raising social consciousness is part of affirming the modern human personality and creating new arrangements that favor the people.

Where to begin? An important starting point for bringing about change that favors the people is by actively implementing the following conclusion: understanding requires an act of conscious participation by the individual, an act of finding out. The prevailing culture blocks serious disciplined investigation in endless ways and rejects scientific theory. Actively resisting this pressure and investigating the world is indispensable at this time. By simply resolving to start everything by investigating, by taking nothing for granted, by rejecting conditioned thinking, and by avoiding facile answers we can all take a big step forward together. This is not small potatoes. Such a disposition is priceless and requires continual cultivation. It is key to unleashing the human factor. The overwhelming disinformation, dogmatism, lies, illusions, and retrogression of the rich and their outdated system only increase anticonsciousness and block the path of progress to society.

Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

QUESTION: If a school is educating a child, whether it’s a private school or a charter school, doesn’t it deserve public dollars?

RESPONSE: Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms.

Public refers to the common good, everyone, the whole society. Public means inclusive and for all; non-rivalrous. Public also means not narrow or sectarian. Synonyms for public include: open and transparent. Private, on the other hand, refers to some, a few. Private means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. Synonyms for private include: restrictive, secret, closed, not transparent.

Public and private are not synonymous in any way. Mixing them up produces conceptual confusion and harmful policies, practices, and arrangements all the time. There is a reason that public schools and private schools operate differently and have different profiles and features.

Charter by definition means contract. Charter schools are contract schools. Contract is the quintessential market category. Contracts make markets possible. Significantly, contract law is private law, which deals with relations between private citizens, whereas public law deals with relations between the state and individuals. These points cannot be overstated. It is because of these legal realities that charter schools are inherently privatized, marketized, corporatized arrangements. It is precisely why charter schools lack most of the public features of public schools and the public sphere. It is for this reason that a charter school cannot be something other than a charter school, regardless of whether it is if for-profit or nonprofit, “good” verses “bad,” operated by “mom-and-pop” or a corporation. There is a reason that charter schools are deregulated, deunionized, practice selective enrollment, have high teacher and student turnover rates, are plagued by corruption, lack accountability, and enrich a handful of individuals. If an individual with “good intentions” thinks they are going to make “their” charter school great and different from all the other rotten ones—think again. Such an idea is based on no thinking and no analysis. It is based on wishful thinking alone.

Public funds, assets, buildings, facilities, resources, and authority belong only to the public and no one else. They are produced by the public and must be controlled by the public at all times, not someone else. This is why the fate of public funds, assets, and buildings must be decided upon by the public alone and are to be used strictly for public purposes. Public funds for public schools must not go to private interests.

Private and sectarian interests have no claim to public funds, assets, and buildings. Public wealth must never be handed over to the private sector, let alone in the name of “efficiency,” “choice,” “competition,” “innovation,” “accountability,” or “results.” These buzzwords have provided cover for much of the neoliberal destruction that has unfolded over the past 40 years. Privatization in its many forms ultimately harms the economy and the national interest.

Charter Schools: “Backpack Full of Cash”

Backpack Full of Cash is a 90-minute documentary about the negative consequences of the growing privatization of public schools in America. Produced several years ago, the film focuses mainly on the harmful impact of charter schools on public schools and America’s most vulnerable children. The film has been viewed by thousands of people in many different venues, and many continue to organize film screenings in their communities.

Among other things, the film makers have produced a useful 28-page discussion guide which includes questions and answers surrounding privatization and charter schools.

This three-part series tackles a few of these questions in greater detail.

QUESTION: We live in a capitalist country. Why not look to the free market for solutions?

RESPONSE: Labor is the only source of value. Profit equals unpaid labor. Capitalism is a transient economic system designed to maximize profit as fast as possible for major owners of capital. Production under capitalism takes place for the purpose of profitable exchange, not for meeting social needs. If something is not profitable, it will not be produced. And what is not produced, cannot be distributed. This is a very narrow aim for society and the reason why, even though society has an overabundance of wealth and resources, millions go without many basic needs being met. For example, there are thousands of homeless people in the U.S. even though there are thousands of vacant houses.

Far from ensuring that goods and services are produced and distributed in the most “efficient” manner, the capitalist “free market” ensures chaos, anarchy, volatility, and uncertainty. Risk, insecurity, and instability are inherent, not accidental, features of the “free market.” Economic slumps, recessions, booms, busts, depressions, and crises are the fellow-travelers of capitalism. This is how the so-called “invisible hand” operates. The “free market” produces carnage in business and society every day. A dog-eat-dog ethos prevails. Fortunes are made and lost overnight. “Winners” and “losers” abound. Greed, jealousy, rivalry, narcissism, individualism, and “getting ahead of others” are treated as normal, permanent, unavoidable, and healthy. These traits are supposedly part of “human nature,” rather than the direct expression of an impermanent economic system plagued by violent internal contradictions.

Why should collective human responsibilities like education rest on uncertainty, insecurity, instability, and chaos? Why should critical social responsibilities be based on the narrow profit motive? Modern humans need education (and healthcare, food, and shelter) on a reliable, sustainable, crisis-free basis. Subjecting basic needs to the blind destruction of the “free market” is irrational, irresponsible, and historically unwarranted. Schools should not be closing and opening every day, and in such an inhuman dog-eat-dog environment. The needs of students, educators, parents, the economy, and society cannot be met properly when the profit motive and the “law of the jungle” are the main modes of life.

The “free market” works only for a tiny ruling elite, and even then with great risks and insecurity. Education, like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare are social responsibilities which cannot be treated as commodities. Education is not a business. Nor can it be left to chance. Students, parents, and teachers are not consumers. Their identity, needs, and complexity cannot be reduced to buying and selling, winning and losing. Homo Sapiens are more than Homo Economicus.

The right to education in a modern society based on large-scale production cannot be guaranteed without conscious human planning. Economic “booms and busts” and the devastating ripples they regularly send through society and all of its institutions can be avoided. There is an alternative, one whose seeds lie in the present. It is both possible and necessary to set a new direction for society and the economy and to live in a human-centered way. No human or institution has to be the victim of blind anarchic “market forces” that always seem to perpetuate upheaval and anxiety while always benefitting the privileged few the most.