Thursday, September 22, 2011

The plight of public schools in Florida (from Joe Hopkins)

Joe Hopkins, a correspondent from Florida, has provided the following update on the plight of public schools in that state. SDS

The clock is ticking for Florida public schools

The clock is ticking down on Florida's Liberty County School District. Liberty School District has had their $9 million budget chopped by more than $3 million since the 2007-2008 school year.

The 1300 student liberty district has been labelled "failing" under George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB is the law that requires students to study for standardized tests in Math & Reading which reduces "learning activity" to institutionalized "operational activity"; programmed teaching - the result is that student creativity (real learning activity) is banished to the dustbin. "When learning is carried out at the level of operations, the child follows in the teacher's footsteps, very much like a puppet." [1]

Jack Jennings, former General Counsel for the House Education Committee said this is the worst environment for education funding since Ronald Reagan proposed abolishing the U.S. Department of Education in the 1980s.

Even Arne Duncan, current Education Secretary, says NCLB, which requires all students to pass standardized tests in Reading & Math encourages schools to dumb down their curriculum because it judges them on a rigid pass-fail system.

"Duncan estimates that about 80 per cent of schools - including those that are generally high-performing - are in danger of being labelled failing because of the system's rigidity." [2] Liberty School District is considered a high-quality district of Florida but NCLB seems designed to fail most public schools in the country to open up Public Education to market forces through management or ownership of schools by private, for-profit corporations. In the market, cost of production must be reduced in the extreme to be competitive (A profit must be made to stay in business.) - This leads to a good looking balance sheet . . . . and stupid kids. Pupils and students are transformed into market commodities that perform low-paying low-level chores in the workplace.

The dominant and monied class, with their long established business and political connexions, send their children off to elementary and secondary schools that have a student teacher ratio of 5:1 in their effort to reproduce themselves and maintain the conditions of the status quo.

There is, and has been, a class war going on in the United States since the U.S. Constitution was drafted. It was transported here from England. It's been going on for so long the class war has become concealed behind the veil of normalcy - it's hidden in plain sight. It's just the way things are to the dominated class of workers.

What Is To Be Done?

The corporate class has commandeered the Charter School Project to their advantage. The good idea behind Charter Schools at its inception was to allow concerned groups - teachers, communities, social organizations - to start their own schools with the boost of public funding. This aspect of Charter Schools has for the most part (to the general population) fallen from view and died out because of lack of attention and knowledge.

When groups of interested and dedicated people know something positive is possible that particular "something" becomes site and stake in the struggle. All world history is a chain of social struggles and it behooves us not to allow history to die from lack of participation.

Talk to each other about Charter Schools being in the hands of community organizers, in the hands of teachers themselves - with the added input and participation of the students themselves. Talk about organizing with an emphasis on the struggle against the Goliath and then organize.

Incite insight. It must be done. If we don't do it - who will? Organize - Organize - Organize!

[1] V.V. Repkin, Learning Activity, Journal of Russian & East European Psychology, (M.E. Sharpe, 2003), 18 (V.V. Repkin is Vice President of the International Association for Developmental Teaching).

[2] Bloomberg Businessweek, (July 11-July 17, 2011), 29.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reflections on the firing of a CEO

The press has given extensive coverage to the recent firing of Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo. To be precise, not to the firing as such -- a common enough event even for CEOs -- but to Ms. Bartz' open admission, in an e-mail to all Yahoo employees, that "I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's chairman of the board." This breach of etiquette earned her a rebuke from Jennifer Chatman, professor of corporate management at the University of California, Berkeley.

Another commentator, Alexander Chancellor (Guardian Weekly, 9.16.11), is more sympathetic. His protest too is not aimed at the firing itself, which for him is clearly no big deal ("I've been fired lots of times"), but at the "insult" of its delivery by phone rather than face to face.

Whether CEOs should be considered members of the working class is a moot point for socialists. Although they are employees and as such can be fired by their employers like any other employees, their high earnings (including business expenses, bonuses and stock options) enable them to accumulate enough wealth to climb out of the working class by reaching the point where they no longer NEED to find employment in order to satisfy their needs. Unless, I suppose, the extravagance of their lifestyle matches their earnings.

I suspect that the emphasis on HOW one is fired is a way of avoiding the main issue. Being fired is bound to feel humiliating, however politely it may be done. Especially for a high-level manager who identifies with the company and is used to being treated as a colleague in an enterprise of which he or she is part. Even if a CEO has saved enough not to have to worry about making ends meet for the rest of his or her life, the experience of being fired is a shock that dispels long-cultivated illusions and suddenly reveals the stark reality of the underlying power relationship. Like all the lesser employees that YOU have fired (on behalf of the boss), you too are no more than a dispensable tool in someone else's hand.

Surely at some level the CEO must have been fully aware all along that this is so. But it is not legitimate to object to being fired as such, as that would be tantamount to objecting to the employment relationship itself -- that is, to capitalism. It is an essential prerogative of the employer to hire and fire. So anger at the humiliation of being fired is diverted to side issues.

Socialists are opposed on principle to employment ("jobs") as an inherently oppressive and humiliating institution. We do not demand that the government create new jobs, nor do we proclaim that having a job is a right. We demand the right to a livelihood and the opportunity to do useful work for society without having to get a job. That is, without having to put ourselves in a situation that exposes us to the risk of some employer subjecting us to the humiliation of being fired.