Month: September 2009

Right Wing Smear Machine Takes Down Van Jones

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Demagoguery is defined as  “…a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears and expectations of the public — typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist, populist or religious themes”. Today, with the resignation of Van Jones, we learned again why Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the rest of the demagogues of Fox News and talk radio are the real leaders of the Republican Party.

As George Bernard Shaw once pointed out, the most dangerous form of demagoguery occurs when the personal ambitions of politicians combine with the commercial interests of those who control the media:

But though there is no difference in this respect between the best demagogue and the worst, both of them having to present their cases equally in terms of melodrama, there is all the difference in the world between the statesman who is humbugging the people into allowing him to do the will of God, in whatever disguise it may come to him, and one who is humbugging them into furthering his personal ambition and the commercial interests of the plutocrats who own the newspapers and support him on reciprocal terms.

The prime demagogue in the Van Jones melodrama was Glenn Beck. Few Americans had heard of Van Jones, Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality, until Beck began his smear campaign. Think Progress explains why Beck chose Jones to attack:

On July 23rd, Glenn Beck began his crusade against Van Jones, calling him “a communist-anarchist radical.” He went on to rail against Jones approximately 20 times on Fox News in the past couple of months. Last Friday, Beck cited “former black nationalist, avowed communist Van Jones” as an example of “the true danger” of Obama’s “czars.” Prior to joining the administration, Jones had co-founded Color of Change, an organization that successfully convinced 57 advertisers to drop Beck’s program in just a matter of weeks after Beck called Obama a “racist.”

In recent days, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) called on Jones to resign, and Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) called for a congressional hearing to investigate him.

That’s correct. Beck went after Jones because Color of Change had helped convince advertisers to drop Beck’s program after Beck called the president a racist. Personal ambition, meet commercial interests.

Of course, the sad story of the attacks on Van Jones is not just about Glenn Beck and his advertisers. The Right saw Jones for what he is, an “uppity” progressive unwilling to compromise his principles. Unfortunately, the Obama administration refused to defend Jones, effectively sealing his fate. For more background of the Jones story, go here and here.

I wonder if Obama will realize that it is impossible to compromise with demagogues before it is too late.

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Vallivue Principal warns teachers against showing Obama’s speech

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I have heard from a number of teachers that the Principal of Vallivue High School, Richard Brulotte, sent an e-mail to all faculty telling them that they will not be allowed to show President Obama’s national address to students on the importance of taking responsibility for their success in school.

Even though previous Presidents, including Reagan and Bush, have delivered similar addresses, the right wing crazies see this as an attempt by President Obama to indoctrinate innocent high school students into his Godless, Communist ideology.

I am sure Brulotte got a few phone calls from patrons spewing the same sort of pathetic drivel spread by one Werner Strausser in the comments to this article in the Idaho Press Tribune.

According to Strausser, the President’s address must be “kept out of our classrooms” in order to

…prevent the preaching of Marxist-Communist-Socialist religions in general and in particular to prevent the seed of the “Obama Youth (Hitler Jugend)”from taking root.

Sociologists who study schooling make a distinction between the taught curriculum and the “hidden curriculum.”  For students, the “lessons” learned from the hidden curriculum are generally the more powerful. By folding to the pressure of a small minority of vocal patrons and refusing to allow students the opportunity to hear and discuss the President’s address, Brulotte makes a mockery of the values of free speech, critical thinking and civil discourse that are undoubtedly central themes in his  “taught” social studies curriculum. Instead, students are subjected to the hypocrisy of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Every time I hear another example of an administrator making a decision like Brulotte’s, I am reminded of an old, but still relevant, cartoon by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons.

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Jerry Brown vs Arne Duncan

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If you have been following the legislative circus in California, you might know that the Govinator has called a “special session” to consider enacting a package of education redesign measures—including scrapping a law blocking the state from linking student and teacher data—in hopes of guaranteeing that the state would be eligible for Ed Dept “Race to the Top” funds.

According to the draft criteria for the Race to the Top, states that have a data “firewall” on the books would be automatically disqualified from getting a portion of the $4.35 billion fund.

California Att. Gen Jerry Brown was asked to comment on the legality of the draft criteria and sent a response to Arne Duncan that is reproduced below.  In a few short paragraphs, Brown explains exactly what is wrong with the initiatives that have come from the Department of Education since the first implementation of NCLB under Bush and Spelling up to and including Duncan’s current agenda.

Re: Race to the Top Fund [Docket ID ED-2009-OESE-0006]

In view of the hundreds of comments that are being submitted, I am confining my own to just a few general observations.

1. The basic assumption of your draft regulations appears to be that top down, Washington driven standardization is best. This is a “one size fit all” approach that ignores the vast diversity of our federal system and the creativity inherent in local communities. What we have at stake are the impressionable minds of the children of America. You are not collecting data or devising standards for operating machines or establishing a credit score. You are funding teaching interventions or changes to the learning environment that promise to make public education better, i.e. greater mastery of what it takes to become an effective citizen and a productive member of society. In the draft you have circulated, I sense a pervasive technocratic bias and an uncritical faith in the power of social science.

2. Inherent in the command and control philosophy of your draft regulations is a belief that everyone agrees on what should be taught–to whom and when–and how the lowest performing schools can best be turned around. Yet, there are so many unknowns about what produces educational success that a little humility would be in order. A better way would be to state what educational outcomes children should reach and then permit state and local flexibility to figure out how to reach the desired outcomes. The current draft regulations conflate what must be done with entirely too much specification about how to do it.

3. Curriculum choices are not just technical and “evidence based” issues, but go to the heart of deeply held beliefs and understandings of what children should learn. California’s current curriculum standards have received high national rankings and there is no evidence that they need a radical overhaul.

4. Your draft also specifies very specific data elements that need to be included without sufficient justification for why all these data elements are essential or how they should be utilized.

5. You assume we know how to “turn around all the struggling low performing schools,” when the real answers may lie outside of school. As Oakland mayor, I directly confronted conditions that hindered education, and that were deeply rooted in the social and economic conditions of the community or were embedded in the particular attitudes and situations of the parents. There is insufficient recognition in the draft regulations that inside and outside of school strategies must be interactive and merged.

6. Most current state wide tests rely too much on closed end multiple choice answers and do not contain enough written and open ended responses that require students to synthesize, analyze and solve multi-dimensional problems and construct their own answers.

7. There are huge technical and conceptual problems that remain on how to assess the specific impact of individual teachers and principals on the scores of students on annual state tests. Test score increases and decreases can be caused by many factors in a specific year, and it is beyond the current state of the art to sort out what is the unique and independent influence of teachers and principals. Performance pay schemes for teachers based primarily on annual test scores in other states reveal more about how not to structure performance pay rather than show what are viable ways to restructure teacher compensation. Compensation should to be just one element of a broader approach to improving teacher effectiveness that includes initial recruitment and preparation to retention and professional development.

Having $4.3 billion to spend on education in this time of draconian cuts is a godsend. We in California look forward to joining with you in promoting a real love of learning and outstanding achievement in all our public schools.

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