Category Archives: Public Schools

Persistent Fraudulent Enrollment in Charter Schools

While privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have long engaged in a broad range of fraudulent student enrollment practices, yet another avalanche of news reports on such dishonest practices has recently appeared.

There seems to be no end to astonishing news in the unregulated and segregated charter school sector. Controversy, scandal, and charter schools have been fellow-travelers for more than 25 years.

Virtual charter schools, perhaps the most unsuccessful and unethical of all types of charter schools, have a long-standing tradition of enrolling “ghost students” (students that do not exist) in order to embezzle millions of public dollars. This, of course, is always accompanied by Enron-style accounting in an attempt to conceal such damaging financial malfeasance.

The latest debacle in the troubled charter school sector is the massive virtual Epic Charter School Network which operates mainly in Oklahoma. It has made headlines everywhere for enrolling “ghost students” and for engaging in other crimes and unethical behavior for a long time.

In related news, two scandal-ridden online charter schools in Indiana were also recently exposed and criticized for engaging in some of the same crimes as Epic and other cyber charter schools. Together, these virtual schools inflated their enrollments by thousands of students to pilfer enormous sums of public funds.

Sadly, many other examples of inflated enrollments and other scandalous practices in nonprofit and for-profit charter schools could be cited. Corruption plagues the entire charter school sector.

Keeping in mind that the final and highest stage of capitalism ensures greater parasitism, crime, corruption, and violence across society and many sectors, the public should expect a further intensification of fraud, corruption, and controversy from all types of charter schools in the coming months and years.

Whether they are nonprofit or for-profit, virtual or brick-and-mortar, as privatized and marketized arrangements charter schools engender more corruption in education and society. Privatization, as a general rule, is synonymous with corruption and inferior service.

“More regulation” and “better oversight” will not solve the problems plaguing the charter school sector. Charter schools are deregulated schools by definition; they are a main expression of neoliberal education arrangements. Further, the charter school sector is full of wealthy, arrogant, and defensive advocates who will not tolerate any individual or organization that attempts to stop their assault on public education, society, the economy, and the national interest. Charter school owners-operators are determined to seize as much public funds and public property as possible.

But this does not mean resistance is pointless or that the rich and their cheerleaders cannot be defeated. It means the public must develop new and creative ways to deprive the rich of their power to deprive the public of its claims and interests.

It can be done.

No public funds or public property must go to privately-operated charter schools. All public funds and public property must remain in the hands of the public. This is especially true given the fact that charter schools are not public schools, as many court cases in different jurisdictions have ruled over the years.

Charter School Advocates Reject Analysis

Advocates of privately-operated charter schools that siphon billions of dollars a year from public schools have been a little more defensive and restive than usual in recent months.

This is to be expected given the growing number of mainstream and academic reports exposing their long-standing problems, as well as the fact that more people are seeing charter schools for what they really are.

There is a growing unstoppable social consciousness that charter schools are not just over-hyped phenomena which regularly over-promise and frequently under-deliver, but that they are fundamentally pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as “innovations” that “empower parents,” “promote choice,” and “save minority kids.”

The pious claims, platitudes, and grandstanding of charter school advocates are becoming more worn-out, hackneyed, and tired. They mean less with each passing week. Charter school advocates think that blindly repeating the same knee-jerk assertions and one-liners over and over again is the same thing as analysis and discussion. They believe that people develop convictions in a healthy and organic way by being bombarded by clichés, buzzwords, and counterfeit solutions.

Charter school supporters and promoters have always favored disinformation and irrationalism over analysis, discussion, and coherence. They have always feared that too much discussion, especially deep discussion and analysis, would expose them too much and undermine their antisocial agenda. They do not want people to think too hard and too much about what is really going on.

It is not a coincidence that in various cities charter school advocates are striving more desperately to organize more charter school “discussions” to combat the swelling irreversible social consciousness developing about major problems in the charter school sector. Of course, such “discussions” are often sponsored by pro-business organizations (e.g., chambers of commerce) and typically led by panels made up entirely, or almost entirely, of people who unequivocally support charter schools and repeat myths and banalities about them.

Some of the key topics and issues charter school advocates are unable and unwilling to analyze seriously include the following.

Blind Embrace of High-Stakes Tests

Charter school promoters never address, let alone analyze, the role, nature, meaning, and significance of expensive, curriculum-narrowing, anxiety-producing, punitive, high-stakes standardized tests produced by a handful of for-profit corporations. They are fixated on comparing and ranking schools, teachers, and students, as if this has anything to do with learning. Charter school advocates are obsessed with “win-lose” tests and feel comfortable raising no concerns about them. They automatically and erroneously assume that such tests are educationally sound, meaningful, and useful. They are too hidebound and anti-intellectual to even know what it means when someone points out that assessments today are based on psychometric pseudo-science.

Charter school promoters habitually accept the social Darwinist and Skinnerian ideologies underpinning these hazardous tests that fetishize competition and quantification, while debasing learning. But how useful and meaningful are “results” that come from assessments that are top-down and philosophically and scientifically flawed? Are civilizations built on timed, multiple-choice, memorization tests produced by large corporations? The bankruptcy of the tests charter school advocates support is also evident in the fact that there are many ways to improve test scores without improving learning. Test performance and genuine learning and growth are not synonymous. In fact, a greater focus on high-stakes standardized tests means less meaningful learning and growth. Obviously, charter school promoters have no use for such critical considerations. All they know is that high-hazard standardized tests are antidemocratic political instruments to be used for destructive neoliberal purposes.

Profound Differences Between Public and Private

Charter school supporters mindlessly repeat the disinformation that charter schools are public schools to create a pretext for seizing vast sums of public money and to conceal their inherently privatized character. They believe that a school becomes public just because it is called public or just because it receives public money. If they were openly and honestly treated as the privatized arrangements that they really are, then it would be obvious to all that charter schools have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds and assets. For this reason, charter school supporters self-servingly blur the profound distinction between public and private. They even go so far as to cynically urge the public to “move past discussions about whether charter schools are public or not.” They do not want anyone concluding that the private aim to profit from providing education will never fulfil the right to education.

Major Differences Between Choice and Rights

Another way charter school supporters avoid analysis and promote incoherence and confusion, is by manipulating the use and meaning of the word “choice” to suit their narrow needs. No one is opposed to choice as such. Everyone recognizes that, generally speaking, people should have the freedom and autonomy to select something from a list of alternatives. The key problem is that charter school advocates use choice in the narrow consumerist free market sense of the word because they view education as a commodity and see parents and students as consumers, not humans or citizens. They look at a social responsibility like education largely from the profit-oriented perspective of business and entrepreneurship. The two meanings of choice are different, however, and should not be mixed up.

It should also be recalled that charter schools usually choose parents and students, not the other way around. Unlike public schools, charter schools turn away many parents and students. Charter school advocates proudly embrace “free market” dogma. They see no problems with the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” They are unable and unwilling to see that education is a basic human right and social responsibility that government is duty-bound to guarantee. Charter school supporters do not comprehend that parents in a modern advanced society should not have to shop for a school the way they shop for peanut butter. And they think it is normal and positive for hundreds of schools to close every year.

Why and How Public Schools Have Been Purposely Mandated to Fail by the Neoliberal State So As to Privatize Them

The last thing charter school advocates want is for people to investigate and analyze why so many public schools have been actively set up to fail by the neoliberal state. Charter school advocates have been deliberately repeating the self-serving narrative that public schools are failing in order to “argue” that students should enroll in charter schools, even though thousands of charter schools across the country perform poorly and are plagued by widespread fraud and corruption. Charter school advocates offer no analysis or discussion at all about how and why these schools have been set-up to fail by the same neoliberals behind charter schools and privatization. “Starve It-Demonize It-Privatize It” has been the mantra of privatizers and neoliberals for decades. The basic formula goes like this: first, cut funding for schools every year. Bleed them dry. Set them up to fail. Then demonize, attack, scapegoat, and discredit them relentlessly for months, even years, so as to set the stage for privatization as a “solution.” In this connection, charter school advocates also want to avoid any serious discussion on the enormous role of poverty, segregation, and over-testing in ensuring failure and chaos in America’s public schools, especially its urban school systems, which are the ones most heavily targeted by charter school supporters. Charter school boosters are adamantly opposed to any solution of these problems. But, as everyone can see, far from solving a single social, economic, or educational problem, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have made everything worse.

Charter school promoters are opposed to admitting to, analyzing, and openly discussing numerous other persistent problems in the charter school sector. They quickly become defensive when confronted with these persistent unresolved problems:

  1. High student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.
  2. Widespread poor academic performance.
  3. Many charter school closures per year.
  4. High student suspension and expulsion rates.
  5. Unethical admissions practices.
  6. Extensive fraud, corruption, and racketeering.
  7. Increased segregation and stiff opposition to unions.

Many other stubborn problems could be listed. The point is that the crisis-prone charter school sector is causing great damage to public schools, the economy, society, and the national interest.

Instead of confronting issues, problems, and topics in an intellectually honest and rigorous manner, in a way that raises the level of discussion and thinking, charter school advocates prefer to keep things superficial and on the plane of platitudes, grandstanding, and anachronistic ideologies. There is no deep-dive into anything except how to profit off kids and the public.

Will Mississippi Supreme Court Allow Privately-Operated Charter Schools to Keep Seizing Public Funds from Public Schools?

A high-level court case is currently underway in Mississippi to decide if privately-operated charter schools can keep siphoning local property taxes from public schools.

Presently, Mississippi’s charter school law unconstitutionally diverts millions of dollars in local property tax money (ad valorem taxes) away from local public school districts to privately-operated charter schools.

Defenders of public schools and the public interest rightly note that privately-operated charter schools are harming public schools by draining money away from them and that opening more charter schools will only make things worse. They say that if privately-run charter schools are going to operate in Mississippi, they should find another source of funding.

Charter schools are not public schools in the proper sense of the word, therefore they have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds. Privately-operated charter schools differ legally, philosophically, organizationally, and operationally from public schools. To treat both types of schools as public and entitled to public funds is erroneous, misleading, and dishonest.

In Mississippi and other states, only public schools under local control by publicly elected individuals can receive local tax dollars raised by residents of the district. Charter schools are run by unelected bodies that are not answerable to the community. Charter schools do not operate under a local school district and are not under the control of the residents of public school districts, which means residents have no say over the charter schools that are siphoning their money. It is a form of taxation without representation.

Putting aside the poor academic performance of thousands of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools across the country, why should the public tax dollars of residents go to charter schools that are privately-governed, do not follow many public laws, and are not accountable to the community? Why should local property tax dollars go to schools exempt from local supervision? Why should a school district be required to share its maintenance tax levy with other school districts, let alone privately-operated charter schools?

In Mississippi, privately-operated charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, and local boards of education. Low accountability and scant transparency have plagued the segregated and deunionized charter school sector for more than 27 years.

It is also important to stress that local public funds, as well as state and federal public funds, belong to schools, not students per se. The public funding of public schools is an issue that goes well beyond individual students. Public funds do not simply fund isolated free-floating individual students; they fund schools, their infrastructure, their employees, their programs, their future, the community, and more. Individual students are not the only ones benefiting from local property taxes.

Charter school advocates in Mississippi are trying desperately to arbitrarily change the meaning of many words to maintain their illegitimate ability to siphon millions of public dollars every year from public schools. They are eager to change the legal definition, identity, and relations that have long shaped and governed public schools in America. This may be one of the most under-reported and unexamined coups of the public by wealthy private interests in a while.

Mississippi passed its charter school law in 2013 and currently has only a handful of privately-operated charter schools.

Mississippi Supreme Court justices are expected to issue a ruling in the three-year-old case “in due course.” Given the current neoliberal context, more courts are abandoning the public interest and ruling on the basis of neoliberal ideology. Thus, there is a good chance that the Mississippi Supreme court will rule to allow millions of public dollars to keep flowing to privately-operated charter schools.

Household Income, or Higher Planes of Consciousness?*

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909

The hubris, the lack of ground truthing, the faux academic natures, the overlord mentality, the star chamber blathering, and the oh so tight with capitalism persuasions of elites like Nick Hanauer, Founder of the public-policy incubator Civic Ventures, billionaire, Charter School aficionado, and one of those not-so-rare money grubbers who has so much to say about how we, the 80 percent, should live our lives in their strangling economic hell.

Allen, Gates, Bezos, Buffet, Walton, Nick, and on and on, the number of elites who are lecturing governors, policy makers, citizens, and business opportunists on what we, their poor trickled down subjects, should do to survive in their sacrifice zones of hellish capitalism.

Here’s Nick’s piece in that faux magazine, The Atlantic — Better Schools Won’t Fix America  — “Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first.”

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

— Nick Hanauer

It goes downhill from there, which one would expect as the magazine gives this fellow broadsheet exposure as he lumbers along in an attempt to revamp his earlier theses about how education is the salvation for our society, our economy (sic) and in bringing people out of poverty.

You see, these billionaires play with words and ideas, and he comes off as all anti-trickle down, pro-bridging the gap in this New Gilded Age.

He sounds like a duck, quacks like a quack, though. No mention of taking capitalism down to its knees, at least. No mention of a decent single payer health care bill, no mention of a social security system paid for through the rich and not-so-rich paying above their $120,000 cap on wages that currently sets as the gold (rust) standard for taking out SS on wages. No discussion of ending the war economy, stopping rich entrepreneurs from moving technology from its current state of extinction event after extinction event into the isolation bunkers we put nuclear energy’s waste stream.

Like all good capitalists, Nick’s invested in making money from the “middle class” as it’s forced into a frantic hamster wheel services-goods-consumer-unnecessary-and-polluting-junk society which is a race to the bottom, for sure. Ramping up riderless cars, 200 mph exclusive trains, drone-delivered crap, and I am sure people-killing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning devices — that’s their MOS. Starbucks on Mars. Netflix on the Moon. That’s their wet dreams.

Here’s his many times repeated foundation tooted throughout his piece:

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

Whenever I talk with my wealthy friends about the dangers of rising economic inequality, those who don’t stare down at their shoes invariably push back with something about the woeful state of our public schools. This belief is so entrenched among the philanthropic elite that of America’s 50 largest family foundations—a clique that manages $144 billion in tax-exempt charitable assets—40 declare education as a key issue. Only one mentions anything about the plight of working people, economic inequality, or wages. And because the richest Americans are so politically powerful, the consequences of their beliefs go far beyond philanthropy.

A major theme in the educationist narrative involves the “skills gap”—the notion that decades of wage stagnation are largely a consequence of workers not having the education and skills to fill new high-wage jobs. If we improve our public schools, the thinking goes, and we increase the percentage of students attaining higher levels of education, particularly in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—the skills gap will shrink, wages will rise, and income inequality will fall.

Oh, god, so all my decades teaching in so many venues, even now, PK12, are worthless since I am a journeyman, ground truther, not in some academic elite group of book writers, or in the know with these elites who are the rich and the famous and the leeches who will spin multi-billions of our hard-earned money to play with educational curriculum.

Fact is, the jobs are pure crap, the unemployment rate is higher than the economists and their followers say, the type of jobs we have in the USA are asinine and foolishly tied to hyper consumption and hyper eating and hyper entertaining and hyper disposable (not) income based.

Old Nick goes on and on about how we need to bring people out of poverty and to pay more for those Walmart and Burger King jobs. He talks about the big job growth in low-wage jobs (low wage because we do not value bedpan cleaners, home health care workers, people that pick up the trash, do the social work, aid the teachers, teach, and do the work of paving roads, building day care centers, staffing day care centers, and on and on).

Our infrastructure in the USA is D- from the civil and other engineering societies’ POVs. We have people paying 250K dollars to be a doctor or veterinarian. We have student loan debt in the $1.5 trillion category. We have students who are homeless, part-time faculty who sleep in their cars (houseless) and millions upon millions of people with degrees from college making squat. Nick thinks the schools are great, that we are turning out highly educated folk from the colleges yet, however, we have so many jobs now that demand zero college but can’t be filled to assist the billionaires making more billions.

You know, warehouse jobs, food processing, delivery, etc. A true capitalist like Nick would never ever say we need BETTER schools, PK12, where the youth get real history on the crimes of the wealthy, the crimes of capitalism, the crimes of their own country. Never give young people ways to monkey wrench the oppressive systems that capitalism naturally invents and props up and hires militaries for to keep workers down and the rich up.

Our schools are crap, and the Chromebooks and standardized curriculum and the flat earth people around the South who hold sway on what is taught and what is read, well, we are an embarrassment. The students are losing their IQs every five years, and what is done in schools is an assault of the senses, antithetical to learning, and contrary to what we need to be teaching and having youth embrace so they can have the tools and collective wisdom and force to take Mr. Nick’s billions and take his messed up ideas and put themselves in the driver’s seat.

This addictive screen society, and the meaningless content delivered on line, and the anorexic history, and the childish stuff even in college, all of that, and more, demonstrate a true skills gap.  We need a moratorium on student debt, a jubilee, and we need major moratoriums on the power of capital and their Gilded Age masters.

He’s shocked that over the past 40 years there has been such a huge gap in the wealth of middle class people and the rich. Hmm, nothing about millions in investments making exponentially more than what most Americans consider big bucks with a few thousand in the bank. Interest rates down in the toilet for the investor class. Fee after fine after levy after penalty after tax after toll after add-on after compounded interest rate, sure, try that on $50 k a year. The cost of insurance on the vehicles, all that money stolen buying a house with more scum scoopers in the Real Estate Mafia, all those municipal and county and state government agencies adding more and more onto fees to pay for the business of democracy.

Because guys like Nick sound like a liberal, sound like a benefactor of the middle class, well, they get play in the Mainstream Mass Suicide Media like a rag such as the Atlantic. But get under the skin of this guy’s article and we find a plastic world of not-very-original ideas that are so divorced from what it takes to be a teacher and a staff and a student and a parent and a citizen of the public school system.

The teachers do not cross pollinate, and to be honest, so teachers never co-teach or cover a variety of subjects as a team. I’d say 70 percent of the people I teach with should not be teachers, though that might be hard to ferret out since I believe all PK12 education should be hands on, experiential, tied to community projects, with tons of book reading, outdoor gardening, real science in the fields and heavens, raising animals, doing arts and crafts that sell to the community, building, thinking entering the community as parachutists for day care, elderly care, animal care, park care.

School should be the end all for a community, and with national health care, a decent chance at some income at 62, with safety nets built in for illness, accident, mental health breakdown, and with housing that is built by the community, and affordable beyond affordable, tied to public transportation, tied to community farms, community civics, community art and music and democracy schools, all wrapped up in a big fat bow of retooling people to think like a tribe but act like a 21st century survivor of climate catastrophe.

Imagine taking all the additives and chemicals and toxins out of food, water, air and activities of daily living for our youth, from inception to college, and we’d be saving trillions on health care and worker depression and crime and suicide.

Yes, taking technology away, sending it to the dustbin of the waste storage facilities of the nuclear age, the chemical age, the bio-toxin age.

Nick can never ever criticize the War Machine, the Fossil Energy Machine, the Pharma Machine, the AI Machine, the Legal Machine, the Real Estate Machine, the Retail Machine, the Prison Machine, the Health Care Machine, and the other Machines that keep capitalism going strong like those gas chambers we have so much read about tied to WWII.

The Age of Dumb has morphed into the Age of Stupid, into the Age of Distraction and morphed further into the Age of Passionless Existence . . .  and then into the Age of Screen . . . and then further into the Age of I Wanna Be a You Tuber Star to this juncture,  into the Age of Fascism.

Old Nick, I am sure, loves them all — Boeing, Whole Foods, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and a thousand other enterprises of the sick and famous.

Yes, we have a huge skills gap. The skills necessary to defend a community from toxins and Air B & B’s. A skills set to stop the cops murdering, and stop the school to prison pipeline. We lack the Pk12 skills to teach youth to question ALL authority, question ALL big businesses, question ALL governments, question ALL of the so-called Nicks of the world.

The entire systems created by the cancer of capitalism need to be scrapped, or chemo-therapied out of existence.

Here, John Steppling:

But…Mark Morford, a columnist for the S.F. Gate, talked to a high school teacher friend of his in Oakland….

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens’ decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words “agriculture,” or even “democracy.” Not a single student could do it. It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he’s taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph.

Mark Morford, S.F. Gate, 2018

So this is not about measuring intelligence. IQ tests are, as I say, biased in dozens of ways. But I don’t think you can find a high school or university teacher who would not agree with the general decline in reading and writing skills. And I have noted, personally, a horrifying decline in curiosity. I rarely ever have found students curious enough to go look things up for themselves. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this article. (I have written about the evolution of visual processing and the creation of an ideal observer, on my blog. Jonathan Crary and Jonathan Beller both have profound books out on subjects inextricably linked to media and cognitive development, or lack thereof). The point here is that this loss of curiosity and literacy is not the result of a single simple thing. Nor is it a moral argument about values or some shit that Bill Bennett might have come up with. It is about a system of hegemonic control that has encouraged a surplus populace to a life spent on screens, distracted and stupified. And how this is tied into western capital and its insistence on social control and domination.

Yes, John brings in the “heavyweights” with their tomes and bibliographies and data-driven theses about media and cognitive slippage; however, again, the ground truthers have it, know it, say it, but we never are brought to the table to illuminate the elite and the powerhouse writers and thinkers to give them a real sense of the problem and the causation and the deeper issues tied to mental health slippage, physical deterioration, learning disabilities increasing, lower and lower bars for ethics, family ties, mentoring, love and respectfulness.

The bottom line is too few people have too much money, too much power, too much authority, too much control, too much say, too much ability to shape and reshape our communities. And just because everyone is doing it — oh, damn, that could be one of a thousand things consumer citizens and consumer workers and consumer neighbors are doing, but the bottom line is that many would be doing things so differently if we had agency and no overlords dictating every waking, sleeping, working, recreating, fornicating, eating, shitting, dying second — doesn’t mean it’s right or even what we want.

If Nick could just walk away from the Atlantic. If the Atlantic would just begin real journalism and real ground truthers writing vigorously and profanely and profoundly, each and every issue.

* The Six Planes of Higher Consciousness

1. Transcendence
2. Serene Knowledge
3. Universal Abundance
4. Your Vast Self
5. Integration
6. Creative Mind

Your journey through the stages of the heart, as it grows from the dark state to the clean, has been described in Stages of Mental/Emotional Awakening. It’s very important to keep these stages of mental/emotional awakening in mind as reliable guideposts of your voyage. However, it’s also very important to know the following levels of awareness which you will likely experience as you come home to your higher consciousness and become enabled to live in it as a new person.

Signing off with John Taylor Gatto:

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don’t let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a preteen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there’s no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

Joe Biden Supports Privately-Operated Charter Schools

Joe Biden is one of about two dozen 2020 democratic candidates running for President of the United States. This is not his first presidential campaign.

Biden served under President Barack Obama as Vice President for eight years. Obama became well-known for many antisocial policies in many spheres, especially education, including the aggressive promotion of privately-operated charter schools that siphon enormous sums of money from over-tested, under-funded, and constantly-demonized public schools. Obama also supported the widely-rejected Race to the Top law, the much-hated Common Core, and the heavily-loathed No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In 2015, Obama replaced NCLB with a worse law: the Every Student Succeeds Act. The education record of Obama and Biden is terrible.

During a recent two-day swing through Texas, Biden said the following at an event with teachers: “I do not support any federal money … for for-profit charter schools — period. The bottom line is it siphons off money from public schools, which are already in enough trouble.”1

But with the exception of millionaires, billionaires, and their retinue, who isn’t opposed to for-profit K-12 schools? Such “schools” have always been poor quality, corrupt, and immoral; they were established mainly to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of young people.

It should be noted that for-profit charter schools actually make up a larger portion of the unstable and unaccountable charter school sector than many are reporting.

It is also important to appreciate that Biden, like Presidential democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, is not addressing the fact that nonprofit charter schools are just as destructive, if not more harmful, than for-profit charter schools. The “for-profit/nonprofit” dichotomy is largely a distinction without a difference. It does not mean that much. In various ways nonprofit charter schools often get away with more than for-profit schools. Nonprofit charter schools are engaged in many ways with for-profit entities and organizations. Wealthy private interests have had no trouble using the nonprofit status to enrich themselves.

Biden’s conscious refusal to oppose charter schools is most evident in his simple statement that, “There are some charter schools that work.”2

Clearly, Biden thinks there is a place in society for privately-operated charter schools.

This is all charter school promoters need to hear. This is music to the ears of charter school boosters. Charter school advocates can now rest easy knowing that Biden, like Obama and the vast majority of 2020 democratic presidential hopefuls, is no threat to charter schools.

Biden’s assertion that “There are some charter schools that work” is nothing more than another expression of the erroneous and confused idea that, somehow, charter schools really are, or can be, valid, legitimate, responsible, productive, and much-needed arrangements in society.

In reality, pay-the-rich schemes like privately-operated contract schools that parasitically drain socially-produced wealth from schools and society are the opposite of what society needs. Pay-the-rich schemes undermine the economy and the national interest as well.

Interestingly, Biden conveniently fails to mention charter schools on his official campaign website; he sidesteps the issue, thereby revealing again his implicit support for such deunionized and segregated schools rife with fraud and racketeering. At least Bernie Sanders’ official education platform mentions charter schools openly and frequently.

It is also worth pointing out that Joe Biden’s brother, Frank Biden, has been heavily involved in the charter school sector for years.3

At the end of the day, it does not matter that much if charter schools are for-profit or nonprofit: they are still privately-operated, deregulated, segregated, poorly-supervised, deunionized, low-transparency, scandal-ridden contract schools that drain much-needed funds from demonized public schools. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools also engage in extensive fraud, have high employee turnover rates, frequently perform poorly, and typically over-pay administrators.

Society can do well without charter schools.

  1. Svitek, P. Biden makes first Texas trip as a 2020 presidential candidate, pitching new education plan, 2019, May 28, The Texas Tribune.
  2. Klein, R.  Joe Biden criticizes charter schools for taking money from other public schools, May 29, 2019,  HuffPost.
  3. Mercedes Schneider’s Blog, “Frank Biden, his for-profit charter chain, Mavericks in education, and more“, April 28, 2019.

Finding Space Between Despair and Validation

There is nothing very remarkable about being immortal; with the exception of mankind, all creatures are immortal, for they know nothing of death. What is divine, terrible, and incomprehensible is to know oneself immortal.
— Borges, “The Immortal”, IV, in The Aleph (1949)

All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
— Jorge Luis Borges

I knew it would come at me sooner or later, that feeling of dread that I had steeled myself against . . . staving off that realization that the books are so cooked that every level of societal organization in the USA (elsewhere, too, as in the UK, take, for example, the excellent movie, I, Daniel Blake) is rotting from the inside-out, outside-in. I’ve kept that juggling inside my mental space for a long time, but the blood-brain barrier has been pretty much intact, cloistering away intellectual realization from emotional acceptance; i.e., vulnerability.  It’s this inoculation many of us in the middle of the muck — radical journalism, even more radical social services, and, for this article, beyond radical education —  have to succumb to and for which we have to continue to ramify our emotional ‘scapes with boosters to make it through a day or week or month of travails.

I have to insert a full disclaimer: I know I am not living in Guatemala, San Salvador, Bangladesh, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia or Palestine. Things — basic living conditions — are so-so grotesque in other countries where capitalism and despotic fascism have ensconced those places with the plague of Little Eichmann’s and narcissistic racists who do the bidding of the moneyed classes (sic). Millions of babies are dying of gut diseases a year because of shitty water systems or none at all . . . because of Capitalism; the plague of misogyny is destroying the futures of women and girls in places like Saudi Arabia or a thousand other nations . . .  because of religion; resources are continually being polluted, tainted or collapsing  . . . because of Western Culture’s rapacious appetites, all flowing out of the sewage drain that defines Capitalism. All of that to the 10th power in so-called “third world” societies compared to “our” dragging lives, and, mine, sure (since I maybe enlightened, but too I am pressed into the strata of the death system . . .  USA capitalism), so, sure, how can I complain. Anything the rest of the non-Western world has to go through daily overshadows even the hard times many of “our” people in “our” country face with this old time religion of corporate-government fascism.

Good stuff daily at Dissident Voice, as in:

It is strange to watch the sleepy drama of airports, in which a bourgeoisie and a working class effortlessly intermingle, both seemingly inured to the routines of capitalist life. Something soulless inhabits the pace of capitalist life. One observes it here in the deadened gaze of the wage workers, watching their lives tick away in [airport] terminal jobs; but also in the ceaseless arrivals and departures of businessmen charging off to another sales conference; and in the harried rush of families to make it on their annual holiday junket. One wonders if any of these classes, more the workers than the professional caste, might ever revolt against the system that keeps them ensnared in their drudgery.

— Jason Hirthler, “The Curious Malaise of the Middle Class

We’ll be getting to that soulless rendering of Capitalist lives soon. For now, I’m not talking about a complete blow-out of my emotions here, but I knew that through teaching, yet again, in a PK12 system out here on the Oregon Coast, as a hired gun substitute teacher, I’d open myself up to that sinking feeling not so much of despair, but validation that the entire country has been sold down the river with a super majority of its people colonized by the thinking, or lack thereof, created by the taker class, the destroyer species, so more victims by the thousands in their cribs are created for the elite to chew up every so much and completely every day.

Then millions daily in our public schools, chewed up and spit out. But still marks for a society of Mafiosi-PayPal-PayDay loan sharks that profit in pain, dissolution, human toil, poverty, struggle, economic hell, emotional insanity, and ethical dissuasion.

I knew going into this research project — to discover out how to wrap up my concept for a short book on The Good, Bad and Ugly of American Ed — it would be rough sailing on the edges of this strange continent since I am working in a rural county with high poverty rates, high parental drug use,  homelessness and consistent precarity in the economic realm, with parents working 12-hour gigs or four jobs to a family, and a class of people who have shuttered themselves with beach-combing, Pinot Gris-loving, tourist junkets to Mexico, la Provence in France and ski resorts and mud cleansing camps in Montana. Plus, it’s Oregon, on the coast, a very racist place/history of sundown laws (not to say New York City or Chicago or LA aren’t racist super max militarized black man/woman/Latinix hating police mafia), where the rare sane and giver tribes person is a diamond yet to be found.

Inoculation for me is that I might find personal fortitude from all my many years geriatrically speaking and many more experiences living on the planet dredging up all the detritus deposited in the process of bearing witness to the failure that is America —  the Prison Complex, America — the Warring Complex, America — the Enemy of All Good People Complex, America — the Vapidity Complex, America — the All Polluting Complex. One can still hold out hope for some semblance of solidarity from cohorts and like-minded individuals within my geographical region.

The truth is that while the national media, and the national news and national academics blather on and on about, sure, important issues such as USA Democrats and Republicans parsing out why locking up whistle blowers or jailing journalists like Assange is good/bad, or how the USA ended up bombing thousands of civilians in Raqqa, or, say, the story about Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez’s family suing the Border Patrol for $100 million after the Guatemalan was murdered by an agent last year on the Texas border, the work to be done at the local level, even within a fifth grade classroom, is monumental, almost impossible in this murderous carnival of capitalism gone rogue. Wave after wave of spasms after viewing or hearing any number of stories pumped out on the ticker-tape voyeurism that is Bing or Yahoo or Fox or CNN “news” (sic) feeds is interesting in an ironic way — as a student of journalism-media-public opinion trends.

But the toll on communities, on individual children, is so-so deep and grave and beyond the abilities of a Melinda Gates or Michelle Obama or Elon Musk to even begin to comprehend, let alone beyond their capabilities to just sit down and honorably and truthfully engage in healing, or dialogue.

Witnessing the absurdity that is American and Capitalistic exceptionalism, in real time, during work, while trying to accomplish  something worthy, like teaching youth six years to 18 years old, puts a heavy toll on some of us when we many times confront the injustice and insanity of it all, head on. It’s a toll tied to our personal activities of daily living in a colonized world, where, no kidding, someone like me (and I have very few friends or acquaintances who would agree with me on the following spot on quote half a century old, and counting) can’t remove what has become a default fine print disclaimer that should be plastered on anything coming out of America, and American-drenched marketing campaigns of the murderers who run Corporations, large and small:

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.

— Susan Sontag, Partisan Review, Vol. 34 No. 1 1967.

This is no flippant thing I’m expressing here, yet so many people have attacked this critique, Sontag’s, that is, and my ascribing it, so deeply, and they rebuff even considering it with so much contrarianism filled with paranoia, or that disease of white guilt, or exceptionalism, or something more, something really nefarious.

The bottom line, a fourth grade thinker like Trump and his coterie of asinine, ignorant, rich, degraded, full-on psychopathic followers, in and out of his administration, hate my students. These students who are 30 to a class. Students who have four or five bullies in each class. Students who have driveling principals who are afraid of their own shadows. Students who are 576 to one counselor on hand. Students who have Chromebooks and giant caterpillar math games in seventh grade. Students who are fed the entrails of fast food and the most dangerous food for lunch that it just makes a grown person cry. Students who are forced in classrooms with bachelor degreed teachers, mostly all with their hearts in the right place, but floundering under the weight of shitty wages and economies that take up more than half our income to just make rent.

Students with local beaches that have Memorial Day warnings of fecal matter in the tides. Students with clear cuts peppered all around them and the follow up aerial spraying of Agent Orange like derivatives to keep the invasives down. Students who have no parks to speak of, no museums, no trolley services to help them get from one beach to the next. Students who are forced to listen to military recruiters, and students bred in the faux patriotism that calls all boys and girls to seriously consider the all-volunteer military (economic draft, that is)  as a gateway to college, when the majority of youth see no end in sight in school.

We hate these kids, if one were to look at our education policies run by an Amway sales person, Betsy DeVos, and if we look at all the other cabinet level people, all those heads of our supposed government agencies for, by and because of the people, and listen to what they want in terms of tearing down every economic, environmental, educational, retirement, housing, health, energy, conservation, community development safety net, how in god’s name (sic) can any thinking adult believe that this administration or any of them really cares about the 80 percent of the country, the majority, our youth, our babies, our teens, our future?

Therein lies the catalyzing moment Friday that spurred me to write this angst-leveling piece — I again, after dozens of gigs, got from the horse’s mouth — the students — that the schools are bullying enterprises, where many in these classes call young girls and boys “fat jelly rolls, fatsos, stupid, sissies, retards, fags,” and alas, nothing is being done to rectify this. Nothing at the administration level, at the classroom level, at the parental level, at the assembly level, nothing.

And so one of these counselors, one in the school, just displayed so many levels of malpractice, stupidity, telling me, a substitute, that unless I heard the boys yelling these things, and even if the girls and boys that are the victims say that happened, are crying, are withdrawn, there is nothing he can do.

Then this ignoramous spewed some platitude about, “I told Mary to not let those boys take her power away . . . to not give them her power.” This is the state of retarded adult thinking, pure reckless operating procedures.

Then, students tell me to not be so worried that the class is going bonkers or is disruptive, or that student x and y are being not only idiots, but disrespectful of me, an elder, in some sense. That this goes on with the regular teacher, and that the students have complained about x and y bully, but to no avail.

I ask them how they even learn with all the disruptions, all the students x and y getting pulled from the classroom, or all the bells and breaks and idiotic things that supposedly have been built into the curriculum because the powers that be believe young minds can’t stick to a problem or a topic for more than 10 minutes, and anything beyond 10 minutes has to be programmed into some Chromebook moving cartoon or video game.

Teachers in middle schools who tell students, “go figure it out yourself,” when confronted with a math problem. Teachers who look like they just spent a day in Yemen under Saudi-USA bombardment after a day’s teaching.

This system for the most part is ruinous of human celebration, ruinous of honoring and stewarding young minds and bodies.

Alas, yes, fixing education is easy, but not under capitalism, not under the weight of the core curriculum or shackled by No Child Left Behind or through all the degrading junk that is shoveled down young people’s throats. Nothing in the classroom is mattering, and fixing the education system again, is what the book I am about to launch is all about.

I guess what triggered me was all the bullying, all the poor ass kids who must have demons for parents, because the amount of disrespect for teachers and peers and visitors is deafening. I am not saying all the youth are like that, or even half like those bullies, but if you get six out of 30 in a class who control the message, control the chemistry of the group dynamics, who are always vying for warped levels of attention and disruptive shenanigans, then the learning experiment begins to wither on the vine.

Add to that significant numbers of youth with behavioral plans and learning plans, youth with reading issues, with intellectual disabilities, or psychological disabilities. Youth with chronic illness. Youth from broken families. Youth with some family member in jail and with an addiction. Youth with no sense of community. Entire elementary schools, middle schools and high schools that hardly ever have anyone from the community come in to facilitate learning, let alone cadres of visiting local and regional experts in biology or other fields, or artists or just plain wise elders from tribes.

This in and of itself shows that Trump and all the suits and skirts backing him HATE America, and the way they are making America great again with untold numbers of more and more victims, beaten down by the forces of oppression and repression and suppression at earlier and earlier ages, that’s his MAGA, Trump’s army of deplorables.

Again, though, “the principal never does anything to these bullies . . . he just tells them that he will give them something if they stop bullying us . . . but they don’t stop . . . there are no consequences . . . and we just have to take it.”

Now, take that to the heart of your soul dear reading and really begin to think how we are going to get out of all the colluding and colliding messes we face in this destructive warring society when we are creating more and more causalities at younger and younger ages who will never ever be able to be part of the solution.

Truly, when the school administration knows/does diddle squat, and when some goofy counselor tells students that “getting upset about a bully is like your kryptonite . . .  letting the bullies bother you is handing them your power,” a grown man not only wants to cry, but he wants to smack that puke of a person from here to kingdom come.

Seriously.

I finish off after talking today to several people about the state of youth, the state of our schools, the state of our young people’s lack of critical thinking skills. So many civilians, or citizens, think they know what’s wrong with education, or what’s up with parents, or why millennials or those in this generation are broken. Yet, adults, so many of them, have zero tolerance for creativity, outside the box thinking, and investing in REAL education, REAL outdoor schools, REAL schools where youth are building solar panels, living in tepees, growing vegetables, planting permaculture gardens, raising chickens, collecting eggs, doing art, making instruments from which to make music, doing community film projects on the old timers, going to old folks homes and reading and performing, or bringing in homeless people to feed and clothe.

Real work, real learning, real systems thinking teaching.

Imagine hundreds or thousands of students working on drive-by photography shoots, telling neighborhood history projects, building wheelchair ramps for the handicapped, getting into real businesses and learning how to be entrepreneurs,  having bio-diesel bus trips to the state capitals weekly.

We know how to lead and follow, teach and learn, share and provide. But the systems of oppression in Capitalism make it virtually impossible to do any good with not only our young but our old, or those with disabilities, or those just out of prison, or those who are traumatized by the most brutal parents and neighborhoods.

Take the following to the bank. Yes, John wrote this decades ago, and, yes, he believed we could do wonders with schooling at home and within the communities. He did not anticipate the powers of Capitalism to generate more and more finely grained sacrifice zones at the census track level, regionally wide, entire states succumbing to an un-United States. He did not anticipate the dog-eat-dog nature of capitalism, nor did he really delve into the murderous powers that have harnessed all economic models and all business plans that the USA produces. Trillions spent on war, billions spent on propagandizing this rotten economic system, billions spent on policing and jailing, billions spent on entrapping more and more people into the madness of screens and phones and idle self-aggrandizement and narcissism.

Community schools, and schools inside the companies, and forcing bosses to give time off for workers to tend to the schools. Of course, we need to own our schools, and we need Pearson Publishing and the thousands of other leeches and bottom feeders in educational publishing and curriculum design and management and testing and computerization of learning and on-line madness to be sent to the dung heap.

I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers to care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.

Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important or worth finishing; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly.

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”

What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.

― John Taylor Gattoo, Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, February 1, 2002

“High-Quality” Charter Schools Versus “Low-Quality” Charter Schools

Charter school promoters want the public, especially poor, low-income, and vulnerable minority families who have long been exploited by the rich and their state, to believe that when it comes to nonprofit and for-profit charter schools the issue is really “high-quality” charter schools versus “low-quality” charter schools. We are told that we need more of the former and fewer of the latter.

Charter school advocates do not want anyone to believe that both the concept and the practice of charter schools are flawed and harm education, society, the economy, and the national interest. They do not want anyone asking why we have charter schools in the first place. Nor do they want people defending public schools. That bothers them. Charter schools are simply “here to stay.” Presumably, we are stuck with them and there is little we can do about them. We are to largely remain hapless victims of charter schools that increase each year.

Charter boosters want people to think that even though charter schools are plagued by endless problems and scandals, somehow their existence is legitimate, valid, and positive, and all that we have to do is make sure we are replicating “high-quality” charter schools while letting the so-called “free market” eliminate thousands of “low quality” charter schools. This will supposedly give rise to the “best of all worlds” for everyone. The fact that there are so many “low-quality” charter schools year after year is often casually glossed over or conveniently trivialized.

Both the rate and amount of failure in the charter school sector have been high for decades. There are thousands of low-quality charter schools out there. News reports on a broad range of unscrupulous and shocking activities in the charter school sector, which is tiny compared to the American public school system serving most youth, appear every few hours. A surreal atmosphere prevails in the charter school sector. The absence of a politics of social responsibility can be sharply felt.

All of this has necessarily left a bad taste in the mouths of many and tarnished the reputation of privately-operated schools that siphon billions of dollars each year from over-tested and under-funded public schools that are scapegoated, shamed, and demonized by the monopoly-controlled media every day.

Charter Schools take school funding from the bedrock of US public education.

Charter school promoters are very sensitive to criticism of charter schools and know that there are thousands of rotten charter schools across the nation, which is why they think they can fool the gullible by stressing the disinformation that what is really important and decisive is promoting “high-quality” charter schools and getting rid of “low-quality” charter schools.

The deliberate and concerted focus on the descriptor “high-quality” before the phrase “charter schools” is a sideshow designed to divert people’s attention away from the fact that there is no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of any charter schools in the United States (or anywhere else for that matter). Just because the rich have been able to impose thousands of these segregated and deunionized “schools” on society since the early 1990s does not mean they are legitimate, socially responsible, have to be tolerated, or cannot be phased out over time. Charter schools are mainly pay-the-rich schemes that parasitically drain socially-produced wealth from the economy, society, and education.

There is no compelling reason for society to support privately-operated contract schools that choose parents and students (not the other way around), drain public coffers, perpetuate high employee turnover rates, under-enroll students with disabilities, are mired in fraud and corruption, and regularly deliver poor results.

Other false or misleading dichotomies in the “Great Charter School Debate” include:

  1. regulated verses unregulated charter schools
  2. for-profit verses nonprofit charter schools
  3. independent verses CMO/EMO charter schools
  4. online verses face-to-face/in-person charter schools

Such dichotomies are dangerous and detrimental because they distort reality and undermine the ability of people to see charter schools for what they are. They produce a debased and counterfeit consciousness by focusing on form while covering up the internal content and essence of charter schools as privately-operated contract schools. These and other dichotomies prevent people from analyzing and discussing charter schools in a serious way and reaching warranted conclusions. More often than not, the pressure is to just resort to shooting from the hip, talking off the cuff, or casually spouting off one-liners and knee-jerk assertions about charter schools—all of which are anti-analysis and do nothing to advance social consciousness and the public interest.

The main issue is the “publicness/privateness” of charter schools. There is no such thing as a public charter school. Charter schools are nonprofit and for-profit organizations that differ in fundamental ways from public schools as we know them. Among other things, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are exempt from hundreds of public laws, rules, and regulations governing public schools. Moreover, unlike public schools, charter schools cannot levy taxes, usually lack unions, and are not governed by publicly elected and publicly accountable individuals. Many other profound differences could be listed.

Charter schools came into being nearly 30 years ago on the basis of usurping and pillaging public school systems that have been around for more than 150 years. They have always lacked most of the features of public schools and are mired in deeper controversy with each passing day.

Just as nonprofit and for-profit charter schools hurt education, society, the economy, and the national interest, so too do “high-quality” charter schools and “low-quality” charter schools.

The necessity today is for the development of a fully-funded, world-class, locally-governed system of public education available for free to anyone, at all times, in every neighborhood and every zip code. No one should be reduced to a consumer who fends-for-themselves like an animal and “shops” for a school that they may or may not get into and that may or may not be high quality. A society based on large-scale industrial production that has to meet the diverse needs of millions of people cannot leave a modern social responsibility like education to chance or the private choices of “rugged individuals” fending for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world.

No More Charter Schools in New York State

With a straight face, many millionaires, some media outlets, and Governor Andrew Cuomo are once again righteously demanding an increase in the number of privately-run but publicly-funded charter schools permitted in the State, specifically in New York City where these deregulated schools have run amuck. And again, instead of holding the neoliberal State accountable for over-testing students and not fully funding public schools, the media and charter school promoters are exploiting vulnerable low-income minority parents to “make a case” for their self-serving agenda to increase charter schools that close frequently.

The current State limit on these poorly-supervised schools is 460. New York City has reached its limit with 235 charter schools which collectively enroll 123,000 students. The rest of the State (“Upstate”) still has 99 charter school slots open. Some extra greedy charter school operators want a few of these “slots” shifted “Downstate” to New York City. Against the public will, the State raised the statewide charter school cap in 2007 and again in 2010.

This most recent big push by egocentric millionaires and their State for more non-transparent charter schools that siphon billions of dollars from under-funded, over-tested, over-surveilled, and constantly demonized public schools comes at a time when rejection and criticism of charter schools nationwide is becoming more mainstream and widespread. Today, few people exhibit a knee-jerk embrace of charter schools. People no longer blindly accept charter schools. Most instinctively do not trust them. And more than 95% of teacher education candidates want to teach in public schools, not charter schools. More people, especially public school boards and teachers and their unions, are beginning to really see and appreciate more deeply the many long-standing profound problems with charter schools. Naturally, they are joining with others to say no to charter schools and are calling on all to vigorously defend public schools which have served 90% of the nation’s youth for more than a century.

While charter schools have always made rich people even richer, they are plagued by racketeering and have high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates; they are notoriously unstable. Nonprofit and for-profit charter schools are also largely deunionized, increase segregation, avoid transparency, often perform poorly, and abuse words like “choice” to mislead vulnerable minority families. Hundreds of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close each year—sometimes with no warning—leaving thousands of families out in the cold and feeling violated and betrayed. Virtual charter schools, in particular, have an even more appalling track record in every area.

It is time for everyone to join the growing tide of opposition to the privatization of education and defend public education and the right of the people, not owners of capital and their media, to make all major decisions in education and society.

Chaos, Anarchy, and Violence in the Charter School Sector

Chaos, anarchy, and violence are inherent features of the free market.1 Instability, uncertainty, disequilibrium, unevenness, imbalance, volatility, turmoil, impulsiveness, alienation, greed, anxiety, jealousy, risk, irrational behavior, and “animal spirits” are fellow-travelers of advanced commodity production and exchange, especially in the final and highest stage of capitalism.

The free market abhors security, predictability, certainty, stability, and harmony—the very things modern humans need in today’s complex and evolving society. Hourly fluctuations and dislocations in the economy and society are considered good, desirable, and normal by free market fundamentalists. Such disruptions are not seen as a problem or something that belongs to a bygone era.

The “invisible leviathan” also guarantees winners and losers, hierarchies and inequalities, rewards and punishments. In addition, it constantly “innovates” more exotic and toxic forms of financial parasitism and decay that further enrich the top one percent while wreaking havoc in the productive sector and broader society.

The free market has been revealed time and again to be an anachronistic and damaging way of organizing society and the economy. It has failed millions for generations and simply does not meet the needs of the present or the future.

It is comical and tragic to hear and read the views of free market ideologues like former long-time chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, regarding how their free market worldview was shattered by the Wall Street-engineered economic collapse of 2008 that no one went to jail for—a fiasco that continues to stunt growth, degrade economies worldwide, and confuse economists and “leaders.” All major free market ideologues have long been members of the know-nothing club, which is why they have never been able to find a way to extricate the outmoded economic system from recurring crises that always leave millions unemployed, underemployed, impoverished, indebted, miserable, and insecure. No “policy,” “regulation,” or “reform” has stopped the tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Few laws, if any, have actually empowered those who produce society’s wealth.

Free market ideology and categories have long distorted social consciousness, and now, once again, both stand discredited and lack any explanatory power. The main role of free market ideology is to apologize for the status quo which privileges a tiny elite and marginalizes the majority. People are supposed to believe that the free market is supernatural and stands above society, the human factor, and social consciousness. The free market is allegedly a mystery that does not lend itself to comprehension and control.

Charter school supporters and promoters have long gone out of their way to parade their free market loyalties, commitments, and credentials. Their perception and cognition are objectively conditioned by a capital-centered outlook, not a human-centered perspective. Consequently, they are unable and unwilling to cognize and understand that the free market is precisely what is wreaking havoc in education, society, and the economy.

Charter school supporters and promoters come undone every time someone exposes the basic truth that charter schools exist mainly to enrich a handful of individuals who self-servingly claim to “value choice” and “care about the kids.” Charter school boosters would rather have people believe that the free market magically (invisibly) gives rise to the best of all worlds for “the kids” and that nothing sinister or nefarious is ever going on.

It is worth noting here that none of the highest-performing nations in the world have charter schools. And in late 2017, the government of New Zealand launched an organized effort to rollback its relatively new charter school program because it is harmful and ineffective. Many in New Zealand oppose school privatization and do not want schools treated as commodities that enrich a handful of wealthy individuals at the expense of “the kids.” In the U.S., six states still have no laws enabling the creation of charter schools. Charter schools remain largely a U.S. phenomenon. No other nation comes close.

The idea of “here-one-day-gone-the-next” is one of many that appears natural and normal—even healthy—to those influenced by free market ideology. Charter school supporters and promoters claim that under-performing charter schools (and there are many of them) should not only be closed (in the name of “accountability”), but that they should be “closed ruthlessly” so as to quickly enable another “entrepreneur” to scramble in and launch a new, more “innovate” and more “successful” charter school to serve “consumers”—the same way one shoe store quickly replaces another out-of-business shoe store at the mall. Schools, in this antisocial view, are nothing more than commodities; they are a business, just like any other business preoccupied with maximizing profit as fast as possible.

For privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers,” education as an organized collective social responsibility and basic right free of the corrosive effects of competition is an alien idea.

It is no accident that more than 1,000 charter schools have closed over the last five years. The free market, as noted earlier, is inherently unstable and destructive—the opposite of what modern humans need. Well over 3,500 charter schools have closed in 28 years. Currently, about 200-250 nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close each year, leaving thousands of families feeling stressed, angry, and violated. This is stunning in its own right, but it is extra striking given that there are currently only 7,000 charter schools across the country. Charter schools have always had a high rate of failure and closure; they have never been the panacea that its advocates have regularly claimed they are. Closely related problems like endless scandals, low transparency, persistently high student turnover rates, and underpaid, overworked, deunionized teachers across the charter school sector are topics for another article.

This relentless normalized churn, wrecking, and upheaval in the deregulated, non-transparent, deunionized, poorly supervised, segregated charter school sector is deemed acceptable, even a virtue, because this is how the free market “works”—through chaos, anarchy, and violence. It is “natural,” in other words, that schools, which are meant to be a large-scale socially-organized human responsibility, should close and open like any store at the mall.

And the free market is great because it supposedly works so well in other spheres of life. Regular economic booms and busts, many recessions and depressions, and the endless failures and crimes of thousands of corporations are apparently not part of the normal daily functioning of the free market and should be ignored.

The wrecking activity and callousness in the charter school sector are so severe that it is not uncommon for nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, even ones that have been around for years, to close abruptly and with little or no advance notice to parents, leaving them shocked, appalled, and betrayed. So much for “empowering parents” and giving them “better alternatives.” Besides being rife with fraud, racketeering, and waste, charter schools have been disempowering parents every year of their existence. And they have kept thousands of others on a never-ending roller-coaster of hope and despair in other ways. In New Orleans, parents do not even have the option of sending their child to a public school because all schools in that city of 400,000 residents are now charter schools. “Choice” becomes a form of coercion in this context.

It is no surprise that unprecedented public school and charter school teacher strikes that have been sweeping the nation for many months have consciously and deliberately targeted charter schools. People are openly rejecting privatized education arrangements that annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s youth. Equally unsurprising is the large number of parents, students, women, activists, and workers from other sectors who have stood shoulder to shoulder with striking teachers to affirm their rights and to oppose the fleecing of public schools by wealthy private interests. People are increasingly combatting loud and incessant charter school disinformation. They do not want millionaires, billionaires, and their retinue to decide and control educational affairs. People want to control their own institutions without the influence of extremely wealthy cartels and monopolies who act in the narrowest, most retrogressive, and most self-serving fashion.

A modern society based on mass industrial production must provide its members with world-class, fully-funded, locally-controlled public schools open to all, at all times. No one should have to worry about receiving a great education in a society drowning in an overabundance of wealth and resources.

Education is a right and should never be based on geography, competition, consumerism, performance, the ability to pay, or the narrow aims of major owners of capital. As a basic human social responsibility, education cannot be left to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the free market. It can and must be organized in a collective responsible manner to meet the needs of individuals, the economy, society, and life.

If charter schools wish to exist, so be it. But they must never receive any kind or any amount of public property, wealth, funds, resources, facilities, assets, or authority. They have no legitimate claim to public property.

By definition, public property belongs only to the public and no one else.

Public and private are antonyms. They do not mean the same thing and should not be mixed up. Charter schools are not public schools, no matter how often privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers” ignorantly, belligerently, and self-servingly claim they are. Something does not become public just because someone calls it public over and over again. Nor does something become public just because it receives public funds or is allegedly “tuition-free.” Being public requires much more.

Legally, politically, economically, and educationally charter schools differ fundamentally from public schools that have been around for more than 150 years. Deliberately misequating antonyms like “public” and “private” is itself a long-standing feature of the irrationalism, chaos, and wrecking within the Wild West charter school sector.

The very idea of public schools and charter schools competing for funds and students is one that people 50 years from now will find obscene, backward, and bizarre. Many already recognize how irrational and detrimental this is. They reject the commodification of education and the view that parents and students are mainly consumers and shoppers who may or may not “get into” a “good school.”

There is a pro-social alternative to this outmoded irrational state of affairs. It begins with consciously and repeatedly rejecting the current antisocial direction and working with others to reorganize society on a human-centered pro-social basis, free of the influence of owners of capital.

This means intentionally discarding a capital-centered outlook and taking responsibility for investigating society, the economy, and education. It means engaging in a conscious act of finding out so that one does not end up being a hapless victim of disinformation all the time. Such inquiry has to be serious, disciplined, deep, and uninterrupted. It cannot end.

Patient and focused study and analysis are needed to cut through the thick fog created by an anachronistic capital-centered outlook. Skim reading and digitally-induced literacy styles are useless here. They will not contribute to coherence and enlightenment. Shooting from the hip or talking off the cuff also fail to develop consciousness. Quick and clever one-liners or blind repetition of isolated facts are also unhelpful. None of these approaches will shed light on what is going on. None of these approaches help people to reject the false solutions put forward by the rich, their politicians, their cheerleaders, and their media.

With the massive never-ending onslaught of disinformation coming from those with class privilege and power, a conscious life-long commitment to questioning and investigating phenomena so as to avoid confusion and serve human-centered interests is an urgent necessity. The natural instinct to reject anything that comes from the rich needs to evolve into a full-fledged well-fortified social consciousness that further unleashes the human factor to usher in changes that favor the general interests of society.

  1. The “free market” has long been monopolized by large corporations, monopolies,  and oligopolies; it has been far from “free” for more than 150 years. Markets are rigged in endless ways. “Pure competition” has largely been a fantasy. Furthermore, college economics courses routinely present the capitalist “free market” in its most abstract and prettified form, divorced from its harsh realities.

Charter Schools Just Bad Policy?

It is no secret that charter schools coast to coast are rife with fraud, waste, corruption, and racketeering. This is closely related to the fact that charter schools annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s youth, thereby undermining the ability of public schools to educate millions of poor and low-income minority students.

Thousands of investigative reports, news articles,  blogs, and scholarly books and articles have over-documented this relentless assault on public education, the economy, society, and the national interest by charter schools. No other sector or institution comes close to the financial malfeasance plaguing nonprofit and for-profit charter schools.

Charter schools are also riddled with many other well-documented problems, including very high teacher, student, and principal turnover rates; poor academic performance on a broad scale; union-busting; limited transparency; a tendency to increase segregation; and a long-running propensity to cherry-pick students, to name just a few other problems.

Oftentimes, however, it is argued that “bad charter schools” are essentially the result of “bad policy.” And since “bad policy” is what allows so many charter schools to be so rotten, the implication is that if policy were just better, more intelligent, more thoughtful, more humane, more technically sound, more enlightened, more rational, better crafted, and less bad, then charter schools would be great and all would be well. Such a view also uncritically presumes that the existence of charter schools is legitimate to begin with and that there is nothing inherently problematic about charter schools: we just need “good charter schools” that are the result of “good policy” made by “good people.”

The core problem with this ahistorical view that renders “good” as a meaningless universal abstraction, is that it does not recognize that “bad policy” is conscious and deliberate class policy—class war, to be precise.

Policy is never neutral or apolitical. Policy-making never takes place outside class relations. Policy is seldom produced by people without political and economic interests.

“Bad policies” represent, embody, and promote the narrow political and economic interests of major owners of capital. The rich are constantly crafting and imposing policies that serve them well but violate the public interest. The rich are not going to establish policies that undermine their narrow interests. Policy today is not human-centered and pro-social because the working class and people remain politically marginalized and disempowered in society; they do not decide the affairs of society or control the economy.

Charter schools, also known as contract schools, were conceived by the rich and their representatives before 1980 and were brought into being by the rich in the early 1990s. There has never been anything grass-roots or progressive about charter schools. Charter schools did not start out as humble, benign, accountable, transparent, empowering, teacher-centered, ethical “laboratories of innovation” that somehow unpredictably went bad years later—as many writers on the left, right, and center would have us believe. Charter schools had a problematic start from the very beginning. From the public’s perspective, charter schools were “bad policy” from the get-go.

The main undiscussed idea behind charter schools was to seize as much public funds and property from public schools in order to avert the inescapable law of the falling rate of profit under capitalism. In the context of a continually failing economy and discredited political system, charter schools would become pay-the-rich schemes by legally and politically depriving existing public schools of the “exclusive” right and authority to operate schools, specifically by making it possible to outsource education to private operators. This is how public education became deregulated, privatized, and marketized in the neoliberal period—and all under the banner of high ideals (e.g., “serving the kids,” “valuing choice,” “closing the achievement gap,” “empowering parents”).

For the rich, charter schools have always been “good policy” because they have successfully funneled tens of billions of public dollars to wealthy private interests determined to counter the inevitable law of the falling rate of profit.

But since policies that preserve and strengthen the dominance of wealthy private interests and their outdated system will never solve any problems or benefit the public, the working class and people have to collectively find creative ways to negate capital-centered thinking and assert their interests, demands, and needs. A good expression of this has been numerous teacher strikes that target charter schools and defend public education. It is not an accident that the last 12 months have seen an unprecedented number of public school teachers and charter school teachers go on strike to defend the right to education. People are fed up with the wrecking activity of charter schools and do not want a wild west scenario in an institution meant to consciously and thoughtfully plan for the education of the youth.

The fight to defend public education and oppose school privatization led by the rich is more than a matter of policy: it is a major front of class war.