Corporatizing the Kids

“In Chicago … we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices: one of them (Barack Obama), a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, (and) …. small-scale solutions to social problems….”

–Adolph Reed Jr. , 1996

Mr. Obama continues installations in his class war cabinet. It now features an Iowa governor wedded to the disastrous food-to-fuel ethanol scam as Secretary Of Agriculture, and a basketball buddy / lawyer / Chi-town education “CEO” practiced in the merciless predations of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as Secretary of Education.

The AP reports that fellow pragmatist Dick Cheney has praised earlier picks on the so-called “national security” front as “a pretty good team.” Obama’s choices in other areas continue the Bush/Clinton/Bush traditions and likely deepen their death-grip on the fatigued remnants of this faltering empire.

While the increasingly reality-slammed Obama fan club twitches, right-wingers revel as a continuing, even steroidal status-quo hulks more clearly into view. Weekly Standard alum David Brooks smoothly stated his preference for Arne Duncan as Education Secretary on December 5th. In Brooks’ view, “reform” of public education means undermining collective bargaining through something called “merit pay.” This double-speak oxymoron is closely related to others like, “free trade,” “military intelligence,” “jumbo shrimp,” “life after death,” “nondairy creamer,” “congressional ethics,” “commercial art,” “civil war,” “conservative think tank,” “boneless ribs,” “devout atheist,” “marijuana initiative,” “non-stop flight,” “paid volunteer,” and (my fave) “compassionate conservative.”

Brooks also pronounced private “charter schools” and “tough accountability standards” to be the perfect Kool-aid for the pre-literate offspring of our post-literate society. He names the dark forces opposing the right’s cherished regression agenda: “(T)he teachers’ unions and the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class size and superficial reforms.” When it comes to education, health care, or other human rights we often hear that problems can’t be solved by “throwing money at them.”

Congress seems to think differently about the problems faced by the Pentagon, or credit default swapper A.I.G. But, I digress — perhaps.

“Many of the reformist hopes,” Brooks told New York Times readers, “now hang on Obama’s friend, Arne Duncan. In Chicago, he’s a successful reformer who has produced impressive results…. He has the political skills necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No Child Left Behind reauthorization…”

Deploying post-partisan piffle, Mr. Obama characterized his new education czar as “not beholden to any one ideology … he’s worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality,” (whatever that means).

Duncan supports NCLB with its repugnant ideological devotion to rote memorization, teacher de-skilling / regimentation, “a psychometric blitzkrieg of metastasizing testing”, and fiscal sanction. Educator Jim Horn notes that, “If Obama is committed to moving backwards to a time when the most that public schooling could do was to ‘rake a few geniuses from the rubbish,’ as Jefferson would have it then the stupidifying corporatization of public education is just the ticket — and … Arne … is entirely capable of leading the charge.” (Schools Matter)

Journalist/author Greg Palast quickly pointed out (”Obama Slam-Duncans Education,” 12/16/08) that back in Illinois, “State Senator Obama was one of the only local Chicago officials who refused to send his kids to Duncan’s public schools. The Obamas sent Sasha and Malia to the Laboratory School, where Duncan’s methods are derided as dangerously ludicrous.”

Palast, who devoted part of his instructive 2006 Armed Madhouse to NCLB, describes its workings : “At the heart of the program is testing. And more testing. Testing instead of teaching. When tests go badly, the solution is to push the low-test-score kids to drop out of school. If the triage isn’t enough, then attack their teachers.”

“Here’s,” he continues, “how Duncan operates this program in Chicago at Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto. Teachers there work with kids from homeless shelters from an economically devastated neighborhood. Believe it or not, the kids don’t get high test scores. So Chicago fired the teachers, every one of them. Then they brought in new teachers and fired THEM too when, surprise! test scores still didn’t rise.”

When Mr. Obama beamed a message to the July 13, 2008 American Federation of Teachers convention, his remarks were promptly unpacked by teacher/author Susan Ohanian; “Barack Obama’s Education Platform ASSERTS: The single most important factor in determining a child’s achievement is… ‘You teachers’ … NOT parent income.”

The US educational system has, since working class kids gained entry in the early 20th century, functioned largely as a sorting mechanism, where children were indoctrinated, trained in docility, but sometimes, through the work of motivated teachers, exposed to a world of ideas, and perhaps the subversive minefield of independent thought.

The Business Roundtable and other class-conscious campaign funders who pay-to-play have long sought (as Ohanian painstakingly documents) to eliminate any vestige of critical thinking and democratic potential from public schooling. NCLB is their battle plan.

By demeaning teachers, privatizing public functions, and branding students and their parents as slack-jawed “consumers” they hope to create generations of dispirited drones, broken and willing to glumly take their assigned positions on the down escalator of Wal-America, or risk a mercenary’s death in her Foreign Legions.

To this task Obama has now assigned his hoop-buddy. While the New and Old Money crowd send their loin-fruit off to well-funded enclaves like Phillips Academy, the Laboratory School, or Sidwell Friends, “Slam” Duncan will move to rescue the discredited NCLB and take his toxic and bipartisan Chicago class war school demolition campaign nationwide.

Our new Obamian CEO-schoolmaster is really strict. And sadly for us and our guileless children, he doesn’t believe in social promotion.

RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at:





Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: