Category Archives: Public Secondary Education

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.

The Art of Healing: Looking Back but Never Conceding Space

Radical — a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims.
• synonyms: revolutionary · progressive · reformer · revisionist · militant ·
• chemistry: a group of atoms behaving as a unit in a number of compounds.
See also free radical.
• the root or base form of a word.
• mathematics: a quantity forming or expressed as the root of another.

What does it mean to reclaim space? I know there are those who want to reclaim ancient wisdom, or reclaim the commons, reclaim ancestry, reclaim a sense of community, reclaim the city, and reclaim the rural. Reclamation projects abound in theory – water, air, soil, cultures.

Reclaiming is also restorative, as in restorative justice or restorative ecology. That total reclaiming is a type of stewardship, and if done with radical intent – at the root seeking change or foundational purpose – then there is a social justice component. Always. Social justice leads to the rights of nature. Eventually, we have a world where replanting trees is the radical (root) approach to starting back to a reset.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.

— Ancient Chinese proverb

That radical approach can be scaled up and spread throughout the communitarian space of humanity. Imagine, while China is full bore capitalist in some sense, but, 60,000 Chinese troops will be deployed to plant trees:

China has reportedly reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plant trees and increase the country’s forest coverage. The move is part of China’s plan to plant at least 32,400 square miles of trees by the end of 2018 to help tackle pollution.

In order to complete the reforestation, a large regiment from the People’s Liberation Army and some of the nation’s armed police force have been withdrawn from their posts on the northern border, The Independent reports.

The majority is to be dispatched to Hebei province encircling Beijing. This area is especially linked with the smog that plagues the country’s capital.

China is currently working to increase its forest coverage from 21 percent of its total landmass to 23 percent by 2020. By the end of this year, however, they hope to replant an area of forest that is roughly the size of Ireland!

This tree planting is such a metaphor of our times, in a world where all ecosystems are failing, all species are threatened, where earthquakes are caused by fracking, where climate chaos is scoffed at, where war is peace in the minds of Americans addicted to Grand Theft Auto.

This piece is on education, in that round about way my essays tend to flow. Yes, education is broken, and, yes, PK12 should be revamped – a Marshall Plan sort of revamping. And, yes, college and trade schools (are there any left?) should be reorganized and re-energized. Yes, this should be tax supported, one hundred percent, from levying and tolling the rockets Tesla’s Elon Musk shoots up, to taxing every box shipped out by Amazon – the tax being put on Bezos’ doorstep. We fully fund wars, US military, spooks, DoD, and every first-class trip made by Trump and cronies, the entire higher end government; i.e., cabinet level deceits, and, well, the reader gets it how a reappropriation of wealth and fraud and waste should take place to fund, err, communities.

But I was just on Yale 360, reading Carl Safina’s piece on how biologists – highly educated at elite schools, both state-funded and private – are going with the philosophy that extinction is part of evolution so saving species should not be a priority of conservationists. Here, more clearly, Safina:

In the early 20th century, a botanist named Robert F. Griggs discovered Katmai’s volcanic “Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.” In love with the area, he spearheaded efforts to preserve the region’s wonders and wildlife. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson established Katmai National Monument (now Katmai National Park and Preserve), protecting 1,700 square miles, thus ensuring a home for bear cubs born a century later, and making possible my indelible experience that day. As a legacy for Griggs’ proclivity to share his love of living things, George Washington University later established the Robert F. Griggs Chair in Biology.

That chair is now occupied by a young professor whose recent writing probably has Griggs spinning in his grave. He is R. Alexander Pyron. A few months ago, The Washington Post published a “Perspective” piece by Pyron that is an extreme example of a growing minority opinion in the conservation community, one that might be summarized as, “Humans are profoundly altering the planet, so let’s just make peace with the degradation of the natural world.”

Pyron’s essay – with lines such as, “The only reason we should conserve biodiversity is for ourselves, to create a stable future for human beings” and “[T]he impulse to conserve for conservation’s sake has taken on an unthinking, unsupported, unnecessary urgency” – left the impression that it was written in a conservative think tank, perhaps by one of the anti-regulatory zealots now filling posts throughout the Trump administration. Pyron’s sentiments weren’t merely oddly out of keeping with the legacy of the man whose name graces his job title. Much of what Pyron wrote is scientifically inaccurate. And where he stepped out of his field into ethics, what he wrote was conceptually confused.

Ahh, sometimes what I fight for – a more robust and tax-funded education system – gets derailed by the likes of a Pyron. I read his piece, but Carl Safina’s piece is humane, logical and way beyond the wise use and utilitarian attitude of today’s thinker.

I took the plunge and went on a college tour, with a young (19-year-old) woman who is all about science and math. The act of going back to a campus and visiting it as an outsider was both interesting and triggering for me.

So is Education Planting a Tree for Life, the Future?

Neoliberalism is one of the greatest threats to the future of progressive education in the United States. The goal of neoliberal education policies is not to improve education, but rather to increase the profits of private corporations. Profit-driven models for education directly contrast the goals of progressive educators. The goal of progressive education is to educate students to be productive participants in democratic culture and to engage actively in critical citizenship. Such goals are not supported by neoliberal educational policy mainstays such as teaching to the test and standardized testing. Because neoliberal education policy tends to be data-driven it works against the development of a student’s ability to think critically, thereby undermining the formative culture and values necessary for a democratic society. As long as the United States continues to view educational policy and practice through the lens of market-based values, there is little hope that progressive education, with its aim of educating students for critical citizenship and social and economic justice, will survive.

— This excerpt from the book Neoliberalism, Education, Terrorism: Contemporary Dialogues, by Paradigm Publishers, first appeared online at Truthout.

I was just at the land grant college, Oregon State University, in Corvallis. My step-daughter is planning to embark there as a transfer junior from her current Alma mater, Mount Hood Community College. The hopefulness and energy tied to venturing away from home – Estacada, population 3,000 – to a small college town on a campus of 24,383 – was dynamic and pure in a very innocent way. Ironically, the college boasts a total of 30,058 with 4,503 coming from an “e-campus” AKA on-line and another 1,172 students in Bend, Oregon.

The campus tour was all about amenities, and campus life. As I have written a thousand times, campuses are now looking like Club Meds or 24-Hour Fitness joints. The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg looks at the gutting of the teaching class from 1985 to 2005. It’s a book looking at all the crackpot departments and staffing decisions at these private and state colleges. Ironically, the past 13 years have seen faculty hit the 76 percent mark across the USA as deemed adjunct, AKA precarious or temporary or vulnerable or job-insecure. Much of that is attributed to the rise of programs and plethora of deans, departments, non-faculty positions, and the like tied to promoting the school, and it’s not a pretty thing. Just do an internet search of “PhDs on Food stamps” or “adjuncts living out of their cars” or “faculty and freeway fliers.”

The cost of education extends way beyond the $1.5 trillion student loan debt. But here, a small college, nothing big time, OSU Beavers, is a place to start the indebtedness. Goldman Sachs vampires love students going to college. Just for in-state fees, one year, going to OSU for those coming from outside the city but in the state is as follows: $26,341 to attend Oregon State University on a full-time basis. This fee is comprised of $10,797 for tuition (note that is 2017-18 — tuition increases are on the horizon for 2018-19!), $11,445 for room and board, $1,551 for books and supplies and $1,651 for other fees, $2,083 for miscellaneous things, and then there’s transportation. That’s 27% more expensive than the national average public four-year tuition. For out of state attendees, make that $29,457 a year for tuition, plus the other fees, adding up to over $45,000 for one year.

This is a crime, and no matter how many scholarships, grants and other decompensations my step-daughter might receive, the idea of putting this big of a tab (or some percentage of it, times four years) onto one’s debit card; i.e., student loan agreements, is appalling. In fact, my student relative wants not just a graduate degree, but a doctorate in physics.

Here, Alan Nasser, great economist and who is never quoted in the MSM:

No, it’s not possible for student debtors to escape financial devastation by declaring bankruptcy. This most fundamental of consumer protections would have been available to student debtors were it not for legislation explicitly designed to withhold a whole range of basic protections from student borrowers. I’m not talking only about bankruptcy protection, but also truth in lending requirements, statutes of limitations, refinancing rights and even state usury laws – Congress has rendered all these protections inapplicable to federally guaranteed student loans. The same legislation also gave collection agencies hitherto unimaginable powers, for example to garnish wages, tax returns, Social Security benefits and -believe it or not- Disability income. Twisting the knife, legislators made the suspension of state-issued professional licenses, termination of public employment and denial of security clearances legitimate measures to enable collection companies to wring financial blood from bankrupt student-loan borrowers. Student loan debt is the most punishable of all forms of debt – most of those draconian measures are unavailable to credit card companies. (Maybe I’m being too harsh. Sallie Mae recently announced that it will after all forgive a debt under either of two conditions: in case the borrower dies or becomes totally disabled.)

Bearing Witness Hurts But Works

It’s almost impossible for me to go anywhere, participate in anything, whether going out to eat, hitting a movie, driving, or taking this innocuous tour without seeing the faults of capitalism; i.e., the predatory, inefficient, shallow, extremely violent psychologically and structurally, this for-profit-at-all-costs world is. New buildings on campus (business college)? My question is why?

This is capitalism, full-bore, getting youth, a female going into STEM, no less, (science technology engineering mathematics), on the hamster wheel of predatory loans, expectations, and a world, or future (one decade out for her, maybe) that has in this casino capitalism tied to empire predicating her future employment opportunities for such a rarefied degree (she wants astrophysics, hinting at wanting to do research and be a professor, yet another pie in the sky).

The tour took us past the football stadium, named Reser Stadium, named after donors Al and Pat Reser, owners of Reser’s Fine Foods. For most of us in the Pacific Northwest, that’s Reser’s potato and macaroni salad fame ( the couple both graduated from Oregon State in 1960, and are major donors to the university and Beavers athletics).

The stadium has a capacity of 45,700 with plans for expansion. It’s always the football team, the season, the homecoming, the chance at a title now, is it not? In fact, the college president at OSU is also an NCAA big-wig.

The debate about exploited college athletes takes up a lot of space, and it is a corollary here tied to the OSU event, since this president is NCAA true and through, from Shaun King of The Intercept:

That very obvious dynamic undergirds a lawsuit filed by former NCAA athlete Lawrence “Poppy” Livers asserting that scholarship students who play sports are employees and deserve pay. The Livers case argues that student-athletes who get scholarships should at least be paid as work-study students for the time they put in.

What the NCAA did in response to the lawsuit is as vile as anything going on in sports right now. I had to see it for myself before I believed it. At the root of its legal argument, the NCAA is relying on one particular case for why NCAA athletes should not be paid. That case is Vanskike v. Peters.

Only there’s an important detail: Daniel Vanskike was a prisoner at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, and Howard Peters was the Director of the state Department of Corrections. In 1992, Vanskike and his attorneys argued that as a prisoner he should be paid a federal minimum wage for his work. The court, in its decision, cited the 13th Amendment and rejected the claim.

The 13th Amendment is commonly hailed as the law that finally ended slavery in America. But the amendment has an important carve-out: it kept involuntary service legal for those who have been convicted of a crime. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” the amendment says. It’s that phrase — “except as a punishment for crime” — which allows American prisons to force their inmates to do whatever work they want or need them to do.

And yet, how many employees of OSU are coaches, assistant coaches, and all the staff tied to running athletics, and managing games, tickets, sales, promos, etc.?

Edward John “Ed” Ray (born September 10, 1944) is an American economist who became the 19th president of Oregon State University on July 31, 2003. Prior to joining Oregon State, Ray was executive vice president and provost of Ohio State University for the previous six years. As president of OSU, Edward Ray earns a gross salary of $414,377 in 2010. He also serves as chairman of the NCAA’s Executive Committee.

At-Will, Part-Time, Precarious Nation in the Age of Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump-The-Next-King

Yet, as I have written so many times when I was an active faculty from 1983 to 2013 and adjunct union organizer for a stint in Seattle and Washington with SEIU, we are the backbone of education, and education and student outcomes pay the price for treating adjuncts as migrant workers. Here, a report from OSU through AAUP:

Non-tenure track faculty members at Oregon State University often are overworked and underpaid, and they deserve better treatment, officials of the American Association of University Professors chapter at OSU said Wednesday.

Some 68 percent of all OSU faculty members — from instructors to researchers to professional employees — are adjuncts. They work under fixed-term contracts, with none of the job security of tenured professors, and they often earn far less money, AAUP leaders said during a lunchtime presentation to discuss the findings of a campus-wide survey.

“Like much of the rest of the American economy, American universities have come to rely on a large pool of cheap migrant labor,” said philosophy professor Jose-Antonio Orosco, president of the Oregon State chapter of AAUP.

“OSU is not different from these national trends.”

The study, titled “We Power Orange” in reference to an OSU promotional slogan, was conducted last spring. Questionnaires went out to 2,771 non-tenure track faculty members, with 1,262 responding.

Top concerns varied somewhat among instructional, research and professional faculty, but in general the biggest issues were low pay, lack of job security and limited prospects for advancement.

My own battle at just one college1,2,3,4:

But the new normal is to have these huge pimping moments at these colleges, paying college presidents base salaries of half a million a year, as in OSU’s case, but worse is these pampered fools’ housing is paid for, so is a car, trips with families, and, most problematic, cash outs for insurance policies and severance pay in the millions.

Look at this:

1. Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University $1,554,058

2. William McRaven, Chancellor, University of Texas system $1,500,000

3. John Sharp, Chancellor, Texas A&M University system office, $1,280,438

4. W. Kent Fuchs, President, University of Florida, $1,102,862

5. Michael A. McRobbie, President Indiana University system $1,067,074

6. Eric J. Barron, President, Pennsylvania State University at University Park, $1,039,717

7. Michael V. Drake, President, Ohio State University, $1,034,574

8. Michael K. Young, President, Texas A&M at College Station, $1,000,000

9. Jean E. Robillard, Interim President, University of Iowa, $929,045

10. Raymond Watts, President, University of Alabama at Birmingham, $890,000

So, it goes without saying that walking on this campus, Oregon State University, “home of the beavers” (as opposed to the other big Oregon School, “The Ducks”) working as a social worker, with two master’s degrees, at $16 an hour to case manage homeless veterans, I want pikes and heads on those pikes. Proverbially, this entire country, from sleazy Chamber of Commerce corner to Sleazier FIRE (finance insurance real estate) corner, is run by scammers. I used to get the same hourly pay, more or less, as a college English teacher (hours put in grading and regrading drafts and final drafts of student essays and assignments).

The social services are screwed, education is screwed, and this upside-down world of Americans all teary eyed over the shallow prognostications of shallow and infantile thinkers (sic) which are basically entertainers with a big fat Propagandist Tapped Over Their Eyes is also one of the prime slights to any thinking human being.

Did you get that hourly rate above, being paid to me? Living in the Portland, Oregon area? Hmm? This is the best of the best, in terms of which non-profit I am working for. Big name brand.

For veterans who are aging, getting dementia, on the streets, PTSD and all those substance abuse issues.

Daily, I try to find something better, and in that sense, does that make sense, starting a job with a client base, and keeping one eye open for a higher paying job? Is that how the US of Israel works? We can never stay in one place because the pay is obscenely low and the rent and cost of living are obscenely high?

Linked In Is Clueless in Seattle, et al

I abhor social media as much as I despise mainstream media and faux left media. I just linked up with that bizarre thing called, Linked In, a business connection site, with the most despicable narratives, really, of the abusers in Capitalism – all this fawning over the CEOs, the Jeff Bezos types of the world. It’s a Whose Who of people thinking that connecting on this platform is more sophisticated than Facebook.

But it’s the same, or worse, and the people either self-censor or lock-step into the dungeon that is Capitalism. It’s about how to sell oneself, how to make money, how to get a raise, write a cover letter, add points to one’s business profile. Typically, it’s sort of the USA Today version of the Wall Street Journal with some Forbes Magazine thrown in, and how to be a successful manager for icing on the top of the drivel.

You write your profile, try and connect to your connections and other’s connections, for I do not know why, since my job profile is way outside any linear or even seasoned employee’s trajectory.

I see no connections that would help me get an in into the work I really excel at – writing, editing, radical urban planning, radical social work, teaching, organizational change.

In the end, though, I put up the Linked In as part of my unemployment insurance gig, working with a silly class on cognitive behavioral therapy – a class set up for people on food stamps or TANF, to try and get them in 12 sessions to change their thinking. Instead, the class was peopled by white males and females, all of whom had had jobs for years and then got sacked. The instructor said the grant for the course, “Rethinking Job Search,” was geared for chronically “dependent upon welfare folk.”

The course is as bad as it sounds, the teacher terrible and infantile, and the lack of true engagement typical of today’s poverty pimps and quasi-unemployment officers. This class I attended in order to teach the class, but that was an interview from hell, and I eventually stopped going. The push for me to stop attending was when all these white people started waxing Christ and God and the Good Book – really, they yammered on how getting closer to Christianity was what was helping them through unemployment and being sacked at an older age. No matter where you go in this country, it’s the Chronicles of Narnia over and over and over.

The final straw was when the instructor brought up some book written by some former female Facebook executive who faced the death of her bigwig husband, and our teacher said this book was a must read, truly inspirational:

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg was on vacation in Mexico in 2015 with her husband and friends when her husband, tech executive Dave Goldberg, passed away unexpectedly of a cardiac arrhythmia.

Sandberg, 47, was left as a single mother of her two children with Goldberg. She writes about recovering from the tragedy and working through the grief in her new book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.”

I tried to convey to the instructor that this millionaire (several times over) has zero relevance to someone like me, who has been precarious all his life, who has had at-will employment, 11th hour appointments, and who has seen his careers – newspaper journalism, teaching, social work and novel writing gutted by the very people this Sandberg and Goldberg represent. I also reminded her that I was also a social worker with employment specialist as a title helping recovery clients, re-entry clients, homeless clients, clients with physical disabilities and mental challenges and felony records get shitty jobs in shitty warehouses with two-hour one-way bus trips to work at ungodly hours.

This is the magical thinking of middling people, and Option B – finding joy – was really no option for my clients, but forced choices of poverty, food boxes, five to a room, tents in alleyways, rotting teeth, disease at age 50 were/are their only options. Clients with thousands and thousands of dollars owed to legal financial obligations (LFO’s), hospital bills for ER visits, bad credit because of bad policies. No “Finding Joy” in “Option B.”

Nope, I was not about to hear her tell me the crocodile tears of tech executives would inspire, but alas, that is middling America – rooting for the inured K9 dog, sending in money for its surgery, while denying a panhandler a quarter. A book, no less, on Oprah, I am sure, and loving by the M & B Obama clan, I am sure (Michelle gets over $30 million for her November 2018 “memoir“, titled Becoming, another book of inspiration for incarcerated folk).

Triggers Everywhere I Go

I’ll end where I began – OSU. First, I did stop by the Caesar Chavez Cultural Center (Centro Cultural César Chávez)  on campus, near the stadium and Welcome Center, and I talked with a few of the Latinx folk there. In a few minutes, I was being asked why I wasn’t teaching, and that they kept insisting OSU needed teachers like me. You see, this is a daily trigger for me – young people being taught by middlings, and the radicals like me, well, they never see real Marxists and socialists in their classes, as their faculty.

A few minutes explaining my own teaching narrative, my own life, my own perspectives, well, on one hand I felt honored and proud that the four Latinos/as thought of me as that person, that little Che in their moment on that campus. They wondered why I was not teaching anywhere.

Again, we need me’s on campuses throughout the land. Having a Cornel West is great, but in the end, he is still celebrity, limiting in his reach. Young people need older people to teach them how to revolt, rebel, hack the system and learn a narrative that is not in their lives. I teach writing and composition and literature, and they need strong role models and writers and people who have not got the golden ticket or brass ring.

We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success,” defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.

— Chris Hedges

I told one of the fellows about Jimmy Santiago Baca, that he’d make a great speaker at OSU, for Poetry Month, April. The fellow asked me where he should get his news, his information, so I listed a lot of alternative sites.

People say what distinguishes us from the animals is that we think. Well, then why the hell don’t we extend some compassion to those under tremendous duress? There’s this whole idea that you work really hard so you can deaden your soul to the universe and enjoy yourself only in ways the Sierra Club will let you. But what about enjoying yourself by getting into the whole melee of poverty and racism and violence and murder and drug addiction? Get in there, roll up your sleeves, and do something! Nobody does it.

— Jimmy Santiago Baca

Yes, a bit of ray of sunshine, the Cultural Center, and the Native American longhouse …. and the campus watch on Nazis and white supremacists coming to town.

Yet, on that campus, the supposed jewel of Oregon, the student newspaper is a joke, coming out once a week, and thin as toilet paper.

Young people have a lot to navigate now, and the conflicting messages like Pyron’s above are overwhelming. I did get to pick up the science magazine, Terra, and in that rag, of course, highlights/features of the science faculty at OSU:

1. Energy Matters looks at public policy around how citizens engage in energy issues
2. Bury It Deep looks at pumping carbon dioxide into underground capture sites
3. Reclaiming Native Space is about cultural identity for Native Americans and engaging in forgotten histories
4. Towing the Line is about 60 years of marine sciences new Newport on the Pacific
5. The Oregon Ocean Acid Test is about citizen scientists working to track water chemistry from Astoria to Gold Beach
6. The Giving Trees is about OSU forestry researchers helping restore forest in Haiti, Lebanon and other troubled spots

I’m a wonky kind of guy with marine biology in my veins and an holistic interest in the sciences tied to climate, ecosystems, energy and sustainability. Good stuff, this magazine, but yet, the underlying issue in all the pieces is the lack of funding, big time, for the projects, and the lack of public engagement, lack of political will and the writing in the rag is still a bit dumb-downed and hopeful. There is no mention of feedback loops, and there is no real discussion of how all these systems have been degraded not by accident but by the policies of capitalism, and corporations worldwide.

The irony is that the carbon sequestration piece on trapping CO2 will not solve climate change. The big irony is that the scientists working on trapping CO2 underground are the same scientists who helped the fossil fuel industry to extract black liquid from geological formations.

The fabric of this magazine is based on spin and media control and messaging, and making OSU look good, AND not giving the public who might pick up a copy of Terra or the students at the school too much of a dismal picture of our world. About giving hope.

Hmm, Option B, again? That hopey dopey thing, uh? Old piece from Derrick Jensen, Beyond Hope:

When you give up on hope, something even better happens than it not killing you, which is that in some sense it does kill you. You die. And there’s a wonderful thing about being dead, which is that they — those in power — cannot really touch you anymore. Not through promises, not through threats, not through violence itself. Once you’re dead in this way, you can still sing, you can still dance, you can still make love, you can still fight like hell — you can still live because you are still alive, more alive in fact than ever before. You come to realize that when hope died, the you who died with the hope was not you, but was the you who depended on those who exploit you, the you who believed that those who exploit you will somehow stop on their own, the you who believed in the mythologies propagated by those who exploit you in order to facilitate that exploitation. The socially constructed you died. The civilized you died. The manufactured, fabricated, stamped, molded you died. The victim died.

  1. Paul Haeder. Springtime in Amerika – Bump those Adjuncts Until They Hurt, Dissident Voice, March 26, 2014.
  2. American Faculty Association. Adjunct Faculty Dr. Keith Hoeller Files Unfair Labor Practice Complaint Against Green River College and Faculty Union (AFT/NEA), November 3, 2015.
  3. Paul Haeder. Wrapping the ‘Precarious’ and ‘At-will’ labels on 150 million USA Workers, Dissident Voice, January 26, 2014.
  4. AdjunctNation. Washington Pters Allege Union Corruption & Cover Up, Ask NEA President for Trusteeship, February 9, 2013. Note: A long one about Green River Community College where I was sacked for organizing students.

The Despotic Origins of U.S. Public Secondary Education

This article is part of a project that critically analyzes the historical and present day purposes of U.S. public education. Related articles focus on the history of Common Schools, the undemocratic nature of Local Control and the finacialization of education via Social Impact Bonds and Personalized Learning. The point of this project is to further expose the underlying social control function of U.S. public education and the interests it has consistently served over time, which cannot be extracted from the undemocratic nation-state it was designed – and continually redesigned – to preserve. 

*****

Stoking nationalism with fears of “Another Black Republic”

During the 1890s, as patriotic fervor was sweeping the nation, the flying of the nation’s flag on school grounds and within classrooms was normalized, whereupon students were required to pledge allegiance to the nation’s flag on a daily basis. This morning ritual was initiated by a signal from a teacher or principal, where students, in ordered ranks, started with their hands to their side, facing the flag. Another signal was given and every student was required to give the flag the military (Bellamy) salute – right hand lifted, palm downward, to align with the forehead and close to it; and repeating together, slowly: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereby all hands immediately drop to the side. Starting in the 1930’s and continuing to the present day, students are required to stand in the same obedient fashion, except with their right hand to their heart, as they recite the pledge of allegiance.

This ritual served to further align the social control function of the Common School movement with a more advanced stage of U.S. nationalism that served U.S. imperialist pursuits, tied to the nation’s white supremacist foundations. At the turn of the 20th century, capitalism’s proclivity for crisis was fomenting rebellion within the U.S. through massive labor strikes, struggles for universal suffrage and relief from poverty as a major depression gripped the nation due to overproduction. In response, the nation’s political and economic elite significantly expanded U.S. pursuits of overseas markets for American goods and investment capital. Long salivating over the commercial possibilities of Caribbean and Latin American markets and trade outposts, government and business focused their sights on Cuba. At the time Cubans were rebelling against Spanish rule, and the fact that a majority of the Cuban population was Black provided a convenient rationale for U.S. military intervention. These events required the intensification of the social control apparatus of U.S. nationalism – well oiled by its highly effective and profitable role in the conquest of North America – as a means to deflect attention towards an external “threat.”

In doing so, the Cleveland administration agitated white fears that a Cuban victory could lead to “the establishment of a white and a black republic.” In an 1896 article in The Saturday Review, a young rising star Englishman named Winston Churchill, whose mother was American, wrote: “A grave danger represents itself. Two-fifths of the insurgents in the field are negroes” who might “in the event of success, demand a predominant share in the government of the country . . . the result being, after years of fighting, another black republic.” That other Black republic was, of course, Haiti; of which the U.S. has relentlessly worked to destroy (initiated by Jefferson) since a Black slave rebellion established the nation in 1804. Churchill would go on to be known as one of the most racist U.K leaders of the 20th century, which was quite the feat. Always one to brutishly cut to the chase, the soon to be celebrated “war hero” and president, Theodore Roosevelt, wrote to a friend in 1897, “In strict confidence . . . I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.”

This racist and profit-driven war machine also resulted in the U.S acquisition and occupation of the Philippines, resulting in a protracted war against armed Filipino freedom fighters. By some estimates, over one million Filipinos died, along with the pillaging of the country’s natural resources. In 1902, president Theodore Roosevelt summarized the essence of the war against the Filipino people by claiming it, “involved not only the honor of the flag but the triumph of civilization over forces which stand for the black chaos of savagery and barbarism.”

In his 1909 book titled Changing Conceptions of Education, influential education historian and administrator, Ellwood P. Cubberley was explicit about how public education needed to be refashioned to meet capitalism’s domestic and international demands. He believed that the Spanish American War of 1898 served:

…to concentrate attention once more on the advantages of general education. It was “the man behind the gun” who won. The trained artisan is to be the private; the trained leader the captain; and an educated, sober, capable, and industrious people the base of supplies for the national armies of the future. Whether we like it or not we are beginning to see that we are pitted against the world in a gigantic battle of brains and skill, with the markets of the world, work for our people, and internal peace and contentment [social cohesion] as the prizes at stake.

Cubberley went on to note, “that the great battles of the world in the future are to be commercial rather than military or naval” and the “great educational lessons to be learned from a study of the educational political and industrial progress of the German Empire…are at last beginning to take root with us.” Cubberley thought it was critical for public education to be “adapted to the needs of the future rather than to the needs of the present or the past” and by doing so, an “industrial and vocational” education needed to be widely instituted “if we wish to continue to prosper as a nation.”

Prior to the Spanish-American War, the U.S. had already intervened militarily to establish or protect U.S. economic and political power in Argentina, Chile, Haiti, Hawaii, Nicaragua, Korean, Panamá, Samoa, Greece, Uruguay, Japan, Tripoli, Colombia, Mexico and Korea. These imperialist interventions were only a warm up for what would ensue over the next three decades, let alone the 20th century. In contrast to Ellwood P. Cubberley’s 1909 proclamations, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Bulter, characterized the nature of U.S. militarism in 1935 based on his personal involvement:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

Strengthening the Infrastructural Power of Ideology

By 1890, as public secondary education was slowly evolving as an alternative to private academies and seminaries and was being scrutinized, portrayed as too disorganized, pluralistic, inefficient and in need of being aligned with the new economy and emerging national interests. These rumblings were the beginnings of what many establishment historians, along with Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin, refer to as the “high school movement” within the “human capital century.” According to Goldin, this framing describes how a “set of republican institutions” established a “host of changes” that allowed “the United States to respond to the increased demand for skill…with a set of New World preconditions.” Following a nationalistic script, Goldin explains how “By the early 20th century the United States began to endow a large fraction of its youth with skills in formal, school-based, academic settings, using a system termed here the U.S. template. The United States achieved mass secondary (and later mass higher) education because of a set of virtues. The virtues enabled the supply-side institutions to respond to the demand-side shift.”

The “republican institutions” that were steering this virtuous agenda included federal and state officials, capitalists, scholars and religious-based charity organizations. These influential groups – as agents of the founders original cultural political and economic aspirations – were debating the social aim of secondary education as a means to buttress domestic instability due to mass inequality while simultaneously expanding U.S. hegemony internationally. For these purposes, new scientific reasoning was being attached to long held cultural scripts that justified systems of domination as means to rationalize new or improved instruments of social control. At the time social control theories were being applied to new scientific concepts of efficiency in support of white supremacy and class domination and rationalized through the “science” of Social Darwinism and eugenics.

These reform efforts to expand infrastructural power as a means to strengthen social cohesion were tied to what is known as the Progressive Era. According to education professor Ann Gibson Winfield, many of these Progressive Era reformers, “were consumed by a defensive strategy that called for the eradication of the socially inferior and the preservation of ‘old stock’ American values and genetic material.” Others, according to the Social Welfare History Project, were motivated by “democratic ideals and social justice” and “made themselves the arbiters of a ‘new’ America in which the origin story myths of the founding fathers (liberty, equality, justice) could find a place within the nation’s changing landscape.” Of course, the actual “ideals” of the founding fathers were already well in place and working quite efficiently.

A group of white male scholars and leading college presidents, who were focused on the social aims of education based on the ideals of “American Democracy,” began to meet in the early 1890s, taking a more custodial and opportunity-based stance on schooling. They believed that all (white) students – regardless of their class positions – should receive intellectually stimulating curriculum that equally prepares them for college and/or work. They articulated their position in 1893 as the National Education Association’s Committee on Secondary School Studies (Committee of Ten). Aiming to establish a standardized curriculum, the Committee of Ten recommended that all public high schools should follow a predetermined college preparatory, liberal arts curriculum that did not differentiate between students heading for college or work.

As education reformers made concerted efforts to design the twentieth century high school, so did big business, positioned to further consolidate power and influence in government and public opinion. Beginning in 1860, capitalists began to organize themselves nationally, and between 1890 and 1920, various commercial and trade associations flourished; and setting the agenda for secondary education was a major priority. One such group was the National Associations of Manufacturers (NAM), which formed in 1896 and was highly influential in shaping education policy with a focus on vocational secondary education based on the differentiated German system. NAM members were concerned that the efficient skills-based German model of schooling disadvantaged American manufactures in world markets.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, this was a period when the “need for a closer relationship between government and business” became more “obvious” since organized labor was presenting a clear and present threat to the progress of the nation. This concern led President Taft to recommend to Congress in 1911 that a centralized business organization be created to be “in touch with associations and chambers of commerce throughout the country and able to keep purely American interests in a closer touch with commercial affairs.” In 1912, Taft called “for a conference in Washington of commercial and trade organizations” which resulted in the establishment of the “Chamber of Commerce of the United States” whereby “Business had found its voice.”

Educators, businessmen, social workers, clergy, charity groups, large labor unions – most Progressive Era reformers were either beneficiaries or agents of, or skeptical participants in, the all encompassing free-market based Efficiency Movement, which considered all aspects of society to be riddled with waste and inefficiency. The “progressive” remedy required expertise within the fields of science, engineering, technology and the new social sciences to develop quantifiable methodologies and road maps that would guarantee a less wasteful and more cohesive, productive and predictable industrial society. For this to happen, government, business and civil society were largely aligned in a common nationalistic aim of designing a model capitalist “democracy.” Theirs was the founders “democracy,” yet now it would be more firmly anchored by a comprehensive public secondary education system.

In 1894 British writer and Social Darwinist Benjamin Kidd popularized the term social efficiency in his internationally celebrated publication Social Evolution. Kidd postulated that social efficiency entitles “superior” races to control the raw materials of the world because, “the last thing our civilization is likely to permanently tolerate is the wasting of the resources of the richest regions of the earth through the lack of the elementary qualities of social efficiency in the races possessing them.”

According to Jennifer Karns Alexander, the author of the 2008 The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control, the ideology of efficiency when applied to society was conceptualized from the merging of two prevailing schools of thought during the 19th century – Darwin’s theory of evolution and the theories of celebrated microeconomist Alfred Marshall. Speaking to this idea, technology historian Peter Sutton explains how their commonality was based on:

…the insight that within large-scale dynamic systems (ecological and economical respectively), measurable differences in individual efficiency could make the difference between success and failure over the long-term. In business, as in nature, success in the competition for limited resources was determined by the extent to which methods that minimized waste and maximized output could be perfected…these lines of thinking increasingly permeated a wide range of intellectual matters by mid-19th century, linking efficiency with ideas of social progress and commercial growth.

Alexander goes on to claim that for both Darwin and Marshall “efficiency meant increasing and sophisticated organization necessarily accompanied by sacrifice: the death and extinction of less-adapted and less-specialized organic beings and the loss of autonomy by those engaged in all but the most mentally demanding forms of labor.”

The rulers and beneficiaries of the industrialized society, who saw themselves as the most adapted and most specialized (hence genetically superior), believed that efficiency served a conservationist function of preserving the natural order of a hierarchical society and world. Of course, from the perspective of those at the bottom of this “food chain,” this conceptualization is antithetical to the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” a promise intended for the nation’s opulent. This notion of efficiency therefore authorizes the “less-adapted” and “less-specialized” human beings to be treated as disposable economic maximizers, whose only value is judged by their level of productivity as disciplined instruments within highly controlled profit seeking systems.

The instrument of social efficiency zeroed in on education while consensus was simultaneously building amongst the elite that, in the same vein as common schools, public secondary education should be established as a foundational institution for social control as a means to ensure adherence to the social aims of industrial capitalism. Drawing on Social Darwinism the social and scientific movement of eugenics quickly emerged within the new science of human genetics, providing the foundation for social efficiency in establishing science-based rationales for race and class hierarchies. Eugenicists advocated putting limitations on political participation based on race and class, arguing the U.S. ruling class was in grave danger of “committing racial suicide” resulting from the precipitous reproduction of the genetically inferior, combined with the steady decline in the birthrate of the genetically superior. To address this social crisis, eugenicists advocated for a range of prescriptions, including mandatory segregation, sterilization, immigration restriction, and legal prohibition of interracial marriage. Newly developed Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests soon became an instrument to reinforce the hegemony of eugenics and social efficiency, and over time became the basis for standardized tests generally, as a means to efficiently sort and rank students according to race, gender, class and ability.

U.S. sociologist, eugenicist and renowned social control theorist Edward Ross is recognized as conceptualizing social efficiency to serve as a means for social control. In his 1901 book titled Social Control, Ross was primarily concerned with how democratic societies can be structured to reinforce dominant social orders. With regard to education, Ross’s ideas centered on how the state, its schools, along with its disciplined agents (teachers), can serve as a far superior socializer (compared to genetically inferior parents) and the most powerful instrument of social control by instilling “the habit of obedience to an external law which are given by a good school discipline.”

Some social efficiency educators recognized mass public education’s potential as a remedy to the moral and social ills associated with new immigrants. In line with Horace Mann’s views, Ellwood P. Cubberley promoted public schooling’s role in civilizing the “illiterate” and “docile” immigrants flooding in from southern and eastern Europe who lacked “in self reliance and initiative” and did not “possess the Anglo Teutonic [German] conceptions of law, order, and government” and therefore diluted “our national stock” and corrupted “our civic life.” According to Cubberley, the aim was “to break up these groups or settlements, to assimilate and amalgamate these people as a part of our American race, and to implant in their children, so far as can be done, the Anglo Saxon conception of righteousness, law and order, and popular government, and to awaken in them a reverence for our democratic institutions and for those things in our national life which we as a people hold to be of abiding worth.” In Cubberley’s 1922 book titled A Brief History of Education (a widely used textbook in teacher education programs), one section was labeled “The Education of Defectives,” and another “The Education of Superiors.” In the latter section, Cubberley complained that:

All the work…relating to the work of defectives, delinquents, and children for some reason in need of special attention and care has been for those who represent the less capable and on the whole less useful members of society – the ones from whom society may expect the least.

Within this worldview, public education needed to be standardized and made more efficient. Instead of an academically grounded curriculum and student-centered instruction, public schooling was to serve a larger “social mission” with a curricular focus on practical vocational knowledge and future “life experiences.” Beginning in 1903, Frederick Winslow Taylor was rapidly gaining attention by industrialists with his Scientific Management model of industrial production, which went on to gain prominence within the social efficiency movement, when he published “Principles of Scientific Management” in 1911. Scientific Management rapidly replaced older, craft-based, manufacturing methods with what became the prevailing principles of large-scale industrial manufacturing within assembly-line factories.

The development of this model was partially in response to factory managers concerns about workers’ motivational problems, also called “soldiering,” which is when workers attempt to do a minimum amount of work in the longest amount of time. As a remedy, Taylor’s model (Taylorism) emphasized the standardization of work, through a division of labor, where factory managers constantly monitored and scientifically measured worker productivity. He suggested they do this by conducting time and motion studies on shop floors, monitoring workers with stopwatches and documenting their level of efficiency and productively at every step of production. Individual worker’s pay was then to be tied directly to output through piece-rate wages. Of course, this method was ultimately about maximizing profits through the application of soul crushing and body battering methods, which played a major role in the unionization of factories over the proceeding decades.

Educating the “worm eaten stock”

John Franklin Bobbitt, a leading curriculum scholar, ardent follower of Taylor and head of the Department of Education at the University of Chicago published “The Elimination of Waste in Education” in 1912. In it, Bobbitt likened schools to factories, referring to them as “plants,” claiming that each “plant” should be operated “according to recently developed principles of scientific management, so as to get a maximum of service from a school plant and teaching staff of minimum size.” Bobbitt’s contributions went well beyond the hierarchical and standardized physical organization of schools and their curriculum. His conceptualization of education for the future labor force was one of dehumanization and commodification. Bobbitt viewed students as “raw material” and schools as factories and classes as the assembly line that manufactured “a uniform, standardized product” designed with the singular intent of reproducing and maintaining existing social orders.

Teachers were disciplined factory workers who utilized the most efficient means to ensure that students (as raw material) were molded and sorted according to the narrow vocational standards, cultural scripts and mental dispositions that served private industry and other nationalistic aims. School administrators were the factory managers who monitored, directed and disciplined teachers – as assembly line workers – throughout the production process.

Bobbitt’s model of schooling was highly influential and shaped public education for decades to come, on many levels. His views, like many of his contemporaries, were also explicitly infused with the ideologies of white supremacy and class superiority propagated by eugenics. In his 1909 article titled “Practical Eugenics,” Bobbitt declared, “If a child is well-born” of Anglo-Saxon “stock” and is thus genetically superior, “he possesses high endowment potential” and is “protected from adverse influences…and abundantly responsive to the positive influences of education.” Bobbitt went on to explain:

…if, on the other hand, the child…springs from a worm-eaten stock, if the foundation plan of his being is distorted and confused in heredity before his unfolding begins, then the problem of healthy normal development is rendered insoluble before it is presented. Such a child is difficult to protect against adverse influences, and he remains to the end stupidly unresponsive to the delicate growth factors of education.

Bobbitt continued, in this piece, with a warning to his colleagues concerning the sinister processes that were unfolding in 20th century America. He went on to express distress about the decreasing birthrate of the Anglo-Saxon “stock” and how this would result in a “drying up of the highest, purest tributaries to the stream of heredity.” He proceeded to diagnose the problem as being the increasing birthrates and immigration of those who are not from the “strains of our imperial race,” which are causing a “rising flood in the muddy, undesirable streams” into society. Bobbitt also pondered the problems facing eugenics, which in his words is “the newly-arising science which seeks to improve the inborn qualities of our race” and while “it is easy to see the practical advantages to result from an application of its principles…it is not at all easy to see how it is to be done.” Apparently he found the solution to this “problem” when he published “Elimination of Waste in Education” two years later.

Expanding on the broader impacts of eugenics on U.S. education, Rethinking Schools noted in 2014:

The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.

In his book, Unequal by Design, Wayne Au writes:

It is important to recognize that the technology of standardized testing, beyond its role in I.Q. and eugenics, proved to be a pivotal technical, conceptual, and ideological apparatus in the ascendancy of the application of scientific management and models of capitalist production to education. Tests as a technological instrument enable education to operate in several ways. They determine universal norms and standards through which to classify, construct comparisons, mark deviance and sort human populations under the pretext of scientific objectivity. Through the establishment of universal objectivity, standardized tests also commodify those who are being measured by the tests, allowing for students to be viewed and treated as products. Commodification therefore permits learners to be categorized and sorted as ‘things’ and creating conditions for systems of production to be monitored, surveilled, and ultimately disciplined.

Standardized testing, with its foundational concepts of scientific objectivity and students as commodities, is designed to serve as a crucial apparatus in the maintenance of the American cultural myth of meritocracy, which posits that everyone has the chance to work hard and compete freely to attain educational, social and economic success.

Because of this fact, any historical examination of the establishment of universal public education must expose its social engineering aims through the intersection of scientific management and eugenics. It is hard to imagine how an institution with these designs – while constructed to serve the cultural, political and economic power structures of an inherently unequal, undemocratic and violently racist nation state – could ever be reformed to serve any emancipatory purpose.

The Institutionalization of Efficiency

David Snedden, a Columbia Teachers College professor and Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, was one of the most influential social efficiency leaders during the 1910’s and played a major role in propelling vocational education into all of the domains of power by the end of the decade. Snedden’s ideology of education is described by Emery Hyslop-Margison as being:

…a vocational training model that responded directly to the specific labor force needs identified by industry. Under his scheme, vocational education would be structured to direct non-academic students into required labor force roles for which they were deemed best suited. He argued that educators should simply accept the industrial social system and its accompanying class structure as an inevitable fact of life, and channel their energies toward ensuring its efficient operation. According to Snedden, the primary purpose of vocational education was meeting labor force needs and preparing students with assumed limited intellectual capacities for immediate employment in industry.

Two of Snedden’s major influences included Edward Ross (social control) and leading Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer. Snedden is best known for mentoring and launching the careers of key leaders in the social efficiency movement.

Between 1900 to 1917 over 30 bills were introduced in Congress in support of vocational education based on calls from agricultural and manufacturing trade associations for the federal government to provide aid to further vocational education in secondary schools. In 1903, Carroll D. Wright, a former Massachusetts Senator and the first U.S. Commissioner of Labor, was appointed to be a member of the Massachusetts Commission on Industrial and Technical Education (also known as the Douglas Commission). The Douglas Commission – named after then Massachusetts governor William Lewis Douglas (and owner of the world’s largest shoe manufacturer) enacted legislation in 1906 establishing Massachusetts industrial education, making it “the Grandfather of Vocational Education.” In 1908, the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton Massachusetts was the first Vocational Technical school to open in the country. At the request of industry and key social efficiency leaders, Massachusetts carved out a separate public vocational education system that, according to education historian Melvin Barlow, served as a model for “industry leaders and educators from other states of the nation.”

In 1907, Wright became the second president of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education (NSPIE), which was established in 1906 for the purpose of distributing federal funds to states “to assist in focusing public opinion in favor of an educational system that would give boys and girls who enter at an early age…an adequate preparation for industrial efficiency.” NSPIE was composed of prominent social efficiency educators, many industry trade organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as the National Education Association (NEA) and the Democratic Party. The American Federation of Labor was also on board since this was a period when its membership was composed of the more elite “skilled tradesmen.” NSPIE was the major player in the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act. In a 1909 article written by Carroll D. Wright about NSPIE, he shared some of their legislative strategies, some of which were first deployed in Massachusetts:

…the methods for propaganda must of necessity vary, and obviously they should be based on a full knowledge of local conditions. The board of managers therefore at the start adopted the plan of organizing in each state a nucleus of interest from which wise and effective activity might radiate. In accordance with this view, an effort was made to establish state committees in all states of the Union… And it is worthy of note that, although practically all invitations to serve on these committees were necessarily extended by letter, prominent men and women everywhere readily responded to the call… ready to preach the gospel of practical education for efficiency whenever the opportunity might arise.

David Snedden disciple Charles A. Prosser served as the Deputy Commissioner of Industrial Education in Massachusetts between 1910-1912, leaving this post to serve as the Secretary of the NSPIE until 1915. Prosser went on to be known as the father of vocational education in the U.S. and the author of the Smith-Hughes Act. Smith-Hughes is recognized as a milestone in federal intervention in establishing extensive vocational education in U.S. public secondary schools, for the purpose of preparing the 20th century workforce that industry demanded. It marked a major victory for the social efficiency movement in that it established a tracked and differentiated system of schooling for poor and working-class students who were “predestined” to not be worthy of a liberal arts education and postsecondary education. The timing of Smith-Hughes was not coincidental; it was enacted during a time of hyper nationalism that was fueling the nation’s first large-scale war of imperialism. Facets of the massive domestic propaganda machine during the “Great War” (World War I) focused on competing against the highly regarded and efficient German vocational education system. Many critics also charged that the U.S. public education system was still not delivering adequate job training during a period when technology was rapidly changing, further raising suspicion by some of its underlying social engineering purpose.

The practical nature of social efficiency’s approach to schooling made for a persuasive sell by its powerful and highly influential proponents, particularly by framing it as a means of social mobility. Many working people, immigrants and moderate unions supported the utility of having a legitimized and highly structured education system that is aligned with economic realities, providing relevant skills and greater opportunities for their children’s future. The public at large was also easily convinced that this model of education made good economic sense. Besieged by the era’s cult of efficiency, it was difficult to dispute the common sense cultural script that productivity enhancing discipline and skills, which promote economic stability, growth and an investment in human capital would provide a higher return on investment for industry (and therefore society) and dividends for individual investors (taxpayers).

Twenty-five years after the National Education Association released the Committee of Ten report with its emphasis on intellectual development of all white children, the NEA formed the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, chaired by another Snedden disciple, Clarence Kingsley. This Commission was tasked with forming the social efficiency doctrine for secondary education, resulting in a 1918 report titled “Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education.” In this report, the commission prescribed seven aims of secondary education: (1) Health, (2) Command of fundamental processes, (3) Worthy home membership, (4) Vocation, (5) Citizenship, (6) Worthy use of leisure, and (7) Ethical character. These standardized aims of schooling defined an ideological curriculum that efficiently shaped students to be disciplined and self regulating citizens according to the political, economic and military aims of more intensive forms of U.S. nationalism. As in the past, the social control instrument of nationalism was again fortifying U.S. imperialism, while suppressing growing leftist resistance domestically, which was gaining traction in electoral politics, labor unions and in massive opposition to “The Great War.”

Deviating from the practice of establishing separate vocational schools that were advocated by Snedden and others, “Cardinal Principles” recognized that segregating white students on a large scale into two separate school systems with two different curriculums based on social class would be politically indefensible. Instead of one system for vocational students as future producers and followers and another for liberal arts education students as future consumers and leaders, the report advocated for the establishment of vocationalized and tracked comprehensive high schools. The differentiated curriculum recommended by “Cardinal Principles” proposed to align coursework with the expected destinations of students based on social class. This became the template for public secondary education that would go on to predominate throughout the 20th century and is not only reflective of the evolution of social efficiency, but is also viewed as being highly influential in the entrenchment of standards-based education.

The “Cardinal Principles” designers’ break with the social efficiency tenet of segregated schools for working-class white students was not about adopting new worldviews, but was more about adhering to the empty promises of U.S. democracy and to accommodate a relatively influential opposition. Those being accommodated were those on the “rational left,” the liberal education reformers aligned with John Dewey who believed that democracy could coexist with American capitalism and white supremacy; and the politically moderate craft union movement associated with the American Federation of Labor. According to education professor David Labaree, “The way the Cardinal Principles report wove together the themes of social efficiency and democracy provided the rhetorical structure for this compromise” and “allowed the social efficiency strand of the progressive movement to have a lasting impact on goals and curricular organization of American education.” Similar to the social cohesion or “social unification” purpose of Horace Mann’s common schools, “Cardinal Principles” proposed comprehensive public high schools, where white middles-class students would mix and form common personal and social bonds with white working-class students, thus reducing envious tensions based on their family’s differing incomes and social agency. According to Herbert Kliebard the differentiated high school was designed “to reflect the needs of an industrial society through a differentiated curriculum” while also attending “to the significant differences in ability as well as the multifarious needs of an industrial democracy.”

Ultimately, this model of schooling served an important assimilation function in that it created an integrated common space in schools (yet with segregated coursework) as a means to have more “enlightened” students model American values and conduct for working-class students, particularly new immigrants. This environment also served to normalize – and cultivate acceptance of – the larger inequitable and socially stratified society. This socialization project was in line with a nationalistic script popularized during that time, which portrayed the U.S. as a wondrous “melting pot” where all nationalities, cultures, ethnicities and classes (from Europe) could come to America (as the land of opportunity) and live as one big socially cohesive white society.

With the understanding that secondary schools would be the site where differentiation would be most prominent, the Junior High School (and the Middle School) was created for the purpose of determining children’s capacities and to sort them accordingly before entering high school. As Kliebard goes on to explain:

There had, after all, been a whole new institution created, the junior high school, and with the influx of mental testing into the schools on a mass scale after World War I, that institution could devote itself to determining the true nature of the “raw material,” leaving the high school free to provide the differentiated curriculum that the social efficiency reformers so insistently demanded.

The original design and intent of primary and secondary public education provided the foundation for a model of schooling that would endure throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. Yet, struggles over curriculum at the federal, state and local levels were significant; often reflecting the influences of intellectual and cultural movements, struggles for political, economic and social protections and humanistic and holistic approaches to education. These influences were consistently undermined or reversed by anti-intellectual and imperious social efficiency interests that are embedded within the state-capitalist pact that is intrinsic to the founders’ cultural political economy. Thus, mass public education stayed the course of its original mission of preserving the inequitable, violent and undemocratic structures of white supremacy, settler-colonialism, capitalism and heteropatriarchy.