Dumb and Dumber

Let me offend you once again fellow educators!

The attached article by Timothy Egan tells me noting that I did not already know.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/opinion/the-dumbed-down-democracy.html?src=me) For the past 28 years as a bad teacher educator I have been teaching and talking and writing about the problem of thoughtlessness and ignorance and its consequences for a society that had the opportunity to become a truly democratic one.  It takes smart people to participate in the decision making process that is at the heart of a democracy.  And the problem has relatively little to do with the capacity of people, the whole of the general public, to be smart enough for democracy.

 

What it does have to do with are the institutions that teach people to be dumb, dumb enough to be taken in by bullshit, the bullshit that drives capitalism in its present form and the bullshit that one has to accept in order to be a good member of whatever church it is to which he or she belongs.  And too, the bullshit of nationalism (‘I love America but I couldn’t begin to tell you what it means to be an American of the kind the writers of Declaration of Independence were hoping would emerge to carry out the plan’), made bullshit when one does not know for what the nation should stand, for what it actually does stand at a given moment in time, and what a citizen of the nation is obligated to do when for what it stands has little to do with what it actually is.

 

At this point I need to say that I believe that it is really all education’s fault.  When the society turns away from intellectualism and follows those who celebrate the common dumbness (“I love the uneducated”) and scorn those who work hard to understand what is really going on in the world and what it means, those who pursue truth as a vocation or avocation, the only force in the society that can do much of anything to turn things around is the educational system.

 

Tragically, in the United States of America, the educational system does not serve the cause of helping the American public to be smart.  The reason for this is that it does not, has not for a long time, existed to serve the cause of informed citizenship.  It has, for a long time served religion better than the development of critical minds.  It has for a long time served the cause of blind nationalism, its curriculum scraped clean of truth in order to insure that the reason for wars and poverty and blight are never discussed honestly.  Honesty would turn up lies, yes, but worse, patterns of deceit that not only turn truth upside down, but the public upside down on its head via television, movies, and other forms of entertainment that provide the people with most of what they know.  And the schools do hardly anything at all to provide an antidote to the poison.

 

Poison!  A very strong word, I know, but it is poison that causes people to ignore what is real and accept what is not as real because whatever it is they are being served makes for fun and a soothing kind of ignorance that they have been led to believe is what the good life is really about.  Schools, colleges and universities included, help the process of intellectual decay and they do this because they need the money and the big money is in that hands of those who are the deceivers, those who benefit from an ignorant and not too thoughtful public.

 

I have said all this many times before and not many have listened.  I quit a university job because the university and the college in which I worked, a college of education consistently asked, demanded that I get along better with those who count, those in power, those who donate to make up for what the state does not contribute to the project of education.  I was to get along better with people who run the state, too, teach to their agenda and never use what my own studies led me to understand to be their illegitimate approach to education.

 

Even when their ridiculous tests of student achievement would come back showing that students weren’t learning what officials demanded students learn, the changes made to improve things were always for dumbing down and hardly ever for amping up, for making school the place where people go to grow their intellects, to become smart enough to understand what life in a democratic nation should offer them and how to go about doing what is necessary to make sure that the system operates in such a manner that all get what human beings need and deserve.

 

But students who wanted to argue that reality TV were not be criticized, nor those who spend a good part of their lives watching it.  If it was their desire to pay more attention to to football games than the news of the world, they had a right to choose such for themselves and, when the works of intellectual astute human beings were assigned to be read and students complained that the ideas were too hard for them to understand, I was expected to find was to accommodate their special needs.  I was expected to respect their opinions the words were stupid and boring as good excuses for not reading the stupid stuff and I was asked to find ways to make sure that my teaching was receptive to the realities of the modern day student.

 

I was teaching teachers, English teachers.  I wanted to teach my students how to teach others to become astute readers of the world.  I wanted them to grow as intellectuals, knowledgable people who could determine what should stand as good knowledge and what should be dismissed as bullshit.  I wanted them to know what it meant to know and how to go about coming to knowledge through a rigorous critical thinking process.  I wanted them to be able to teach for citizenship, for effective citizenship and Coke and Pokeman were winning out, understood to be the real things, the rest crap that a few in the society wanted others to believe had value when it really did not, that is, if one wanted to be successful.

 

Success defined by those who had made it in a society that had become crass and stupid but crass and stupid for a purpose, to serve an economy that thrived when people purchased things, not because they needed them or because they were truly good things to have, but because of the bullshit they were being fed by corporations and their merchandizers, the advertising agencies, the military and its bolsters, the schools and their owners, those same corporate entities that fed them reality TV, anti-intellectualism, authority in celebrity, and then Donald Trump.

 

My own example!  But consider it in relation to what Timothy has to say:

 

 

 

 

Honesty is hard to appreciate

I write sometimes to criticize Hillary Clinton and I do so because I want to get closer to the truth of things that matter, to honest appraisal of who the people who want to lead are.  This is intended as a counterweight to the tendency of some to render blind support to the candidates they wish to see elected, facets of these candidates’ histories intentionally ignored for fear that their people might be damaged by revelations.  Every time I hear a campaign spokesperson explaining away flawed judgement or bad action to shield a candidate from criticism, and every time I hear a supporter tell me that judgements and actions that are bad are irrelevant to who their candidate really is, my mind goes to a place where things spin angrily for the distortions of reality that those people want me to take for truth.

 

I do not at all like Donald Trump.  I do not want him to become president.  I find it hard to believe that he is a viable candidate.  I think it impossible that enough people would like him to get him nominated by a major political party in the United States of America.  I find most of what he says to have little truth value and I take offense at much for which he stands.  I never know if he really thinks what he says he thinks or if he knows what what he says he thinks means.  I do not trust him to know what is real and what effect on reality his proposals would have.  Taken at face value, what he says is often idiotic, nasty, and destructive, truly un-American if one considers American to be what is Constitutional.

 

I do twitch a good twitch when criticism of Hillary Clinton is made by those against her to score political points and, worse, to get Donald Trump elected.  But the worse problem occurs when there is some truth is what these people are saying and there is damage done when those coming to her defense use lies and half-truths to defend her.  When she speaks Bernie Sanders’ speak I am suspicious.  When she refuses to make public certain utterances made behind the closed doors of Wall Street Boardrooms, I am suspicious and when there are suspicions of acts unethical—Clinton foundations and State Department interminglings, for example—I am suspicious.  And when the spokespeople dismiss the charges that are spoken by opposition or made known in the press without offering plausible explanation for dismissal, I am suspicious.

 

I think that my suspicions are not all that relevant to the history about to be made.  I will keep myself informed and do what I can to get at the truth of matters no matter how badly the truth may upset me.  But I won’t allow what I know to be truth and lies now get in the way of my voting for the democratic candidate because bad as she may be—and there is much about her runs counter to my values—I prize fairness and have disdain for the unfair advantage; I prize honest dealings with the countries of the world and their people; I detest exploitation of another for one’s own gain; I believe that all should have access to the institutions that create knowledge and wisdom and that none should get more than another simply because he or she was born into a particular family or lived in a particular region or neighborhood; and I believe that those who cheat should have nothing until they have proven that they have changed their evil ways…

 

I think that the political system, yes, as it has come to be through an insidious kind of corruption that only money can buy, needs to be fixed and I cannot help but believe that Hillary and many other “liberals” have taken advantage of this undemocratic system to make their way to the top, their achievement reflected in whose company they are allowed to share—Hillary and Bill at Donald’s place!—and at what tables they are allowed to sit—Corporate boards such as Walmarts!!!—and wield power no ordinary can garner.

 

So, vote for Hillary friends, please do.  But know her past and hold her to her promises for a future and make sure she works to bring back democracy even if it means upsetting the asshole capitalists who have used their money to destroy what is best about America.

Guilt by Association? Of Course!

Worse? Of course even if it is the campaign manager and not the candidate.  Who one choses as colleagues, partners, friends, accomplices does say something about a person.  So, the ramifications of this story are many for it involves not only sleazy business dealings but business that affected the life of a nation and the lives of all the people who live there.  Guilt by association?  Absolutely.

Loyal to a Candidate? Loyal to the Truth?

Without a doubt in my mind I understand Donald Trump to be unfit for any public office.  One does not have to collect new evidence of this though Trump engages regularly in acts that support disqualification.  Simply put, he is not a very thoughtful person.  He cannot engage with complexity or detect nuisance.  What understanding of the world he does have he uses for nefarious purposes, his business dealing that are his claim to fame are not very helpful to the world beyond his own constricted world—his towers and his family, the family part probably a pretense anyway, for show to put some tenderness on mean spirit.  If he is in anyway representative of who we are as a nation, then we, as a nation, need to search deeply to find out how we got to be so rotten.

 

I will vote against him and that will be the nature of my vote, a vote against and not for a candidate.  The only competition this time around is only good because she is better and not because she is really good, at least in terms of being the kind of person who I can have confidence in to do what is right and necessary to make things better in a country where democracy has been co-opted by an economy that allows a very few to accumulate very much and then use it to buy off the political system that should be the people’s.

 

The election began with hope, not the Obama kind of hope that was hope for stability rather than change, stability that would keep in place the rules that have allowed predatory capitalism to have its way with a public too often too ill-informed to understand what is happening and why what is happening to members is happening.  That people have not gotten any smarter since the current president took office, that the schools that should prepare a people for self-governance, the essence of a viable democracy, have not improved—have gotten worse in ever so many ways—signifies continued rot.  The current best candidate, though supported by some of my favorite educators, some of my favorite people in government and the agencies that do serve the people—Planned Parenthood and the NAACP, for example—are advocates for Ms. Clinton.  I am too, because she is the best available now, but I with a great amount of trepidation; too many others with too much glee, too much because she is as much a part of the problem as she is of the cure.

 

I do not want to repeat what has already been said (but not so well heard) about telling dealings and relationships that put Ms. Clinton too close to the very people and institutions that are destroying democracy to favor the desires of plutocrats.  She has even been known to be on friendly terms with her asshole of an opponent and an ally of the Walmart family (I believe she served on that company’s board of directors).  And most know about those speeches to the wealthy and their corporations that earned her more money in an hour than the average teacher can earn four years.

 

But what is really troubling to me something other than what Hillary Clinton does and what she says and how what she says reflects what she actually does.  It is how libel so many of those who identify as liberals and progressive are willing to ignore that bad stuff that does make Hillary Clinton look bad because there is a good possibility that she had done bad, acted in ways that I would think would be heavily criticized by true liberals and real progressives.

 

An example of the behavior was the subject of a recent Democracy Now segment, a link to the piece provided below.  I know that liberals and progressives do not—for good reason—subscribe often to the way the Wall Street Journal tells it.  But there is good reason, I think, to believe that Wall Street Journal writers sometimes do damned good research and use it to make points that deserve to be given consideration.  The author interviewed has won the Pulitzer Prize and, as the interview shows, he is a knowledgeable and thoughtful person.  His reporting is worth the attention of those trying to get to the truth of matters and to ignore what he reports out of loyalty to a particular candidate for office because what he has to say places her in a negative light would mark disloyalty to the truth.

 

http://www.democracynow.org/2016/8/12/did_companies_countries_buy_state_dept

Cynicism intolerable

 

This will likely be ignored by those who should care, but how else to go about making for a world in which sensible people respond sensibly to the events of the world surrounding them?

How cynical can those running a school district be?

The statement that follows is in response to a settlement made by the Washoe County School District in regard to a suit brought by parents of students with disabilities claiming that their children suffered abuse at the hands of a special education teacher employed by the District.

When approached, neither the District superintendent or the head of the District Board of Trustees would respond.  The District issued the statement printed below:

 

“In a district release about the settlement, Chief General Counsel for the school district Neil Rombardo said, ‘This is part of our continuing commitment to ensuring that our school environments are safe and respectful at all times, for all students. We feel that settlement will help support that commitment, while limiting District exposure.’”

As is the District’s regular reaction to bad things going on in its schools, it spokespeople assure constituents that the bad was of the past and that everything possible is being done to make things better.  The problem is that the bad has been going on for quite a long time and the promise of fixes only come when the bad is so bad that its revelation makes the District look really bad.

It does seem that this District cares a hell of a lot more about appearances than actually providing good education in a safe environment for all of its students.  This has been the case for a long, long time and, it seems, the “new” administration will carry on the bad practices of the past.  There needs to be a change of more than appearance.  The Board needs to get down to the real work of ridding the District of what is bad, ineffectual, and plain dangerous to students.  Cosmetic “change” is exactly that, on the surface.  This conveniently hides what is just below where policies and actions are of real consequence and harmful to the human beings who are affected by our local educational system.

 

 

Cynicism!

Here are some choice quotes from the RGJ article mentioned in the preceding post.  The campaign guru mentioned in the last paragraphs helped to do in the margins tax push, hired by some of the very same people she is now working for to get this sales tax through.  There is no change of heart here; the hearts are still cold and all business.  The kids count for little and, I will bet, they will inevitably get even less than they get now when there is no money to pay for the educators who will be needed to teach all of the kids who need to be taught.  Schools will be told that they will have to do with what is available and what will be available will not be nearly enough.

 

Watch out Washoe County, you are about to be screwed again.  Might be a good idea to bone up on the history of this place and what has traditionally happened to the community when growth comes.

RGJ Quotes from “School Funding Battle Heats Up,” Reno Gazette-Journal, August 7, 2016.

“The funding is one indicator (of support), but every business group, community group and elected official is on the same page,” said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. “The community gets it. We need this tax increase.”

 

The campaign is further focusing its resources on voters in neighborhoods with overcrowded and dilapidated schools, like McQueen, Washoe’s most overcrowded high school. The school was built for 1,300 students but had nearly 1,800 students last year, relying on 14 portable classrooms.

 

“I don’t even know what our community would do without this (tax increase),” she says [teacher working on campaign]

.

Her conviction is shared by The Chamber, representing 2,000 Reno and Sparks businesses, and EDAWN, leading the charge.

“Historically, The Chamber is not for increasing taxes. We’re a business organization,” said Executive Director Len Stevens. “But everything points to the fact this needs to get done. This has to happen.”

The Chamber created the Save Our Schools political action committee and oversees all fundraising into the PAC.

Stevens lists the frightening facts that district officials have been hammering home for the last two years.

About 20 percent of Washoe schools are significantly over capacity.

One-third of Washoe County schools have gone more than three decades since their construction or a major renovation.

[These conditions have existed for how many years?]

“You have to respect the idea that education relates to quality of life in any community,” Stevens said.

Businesses are worried about something else, as well. Their bottom lines, [Fred] Lokken [TMCC Professor} said.

From casinos to The Chamber, campaign contributors are throwing their weight behind the tax increase for a shared reason. They’re depending on Washoe’s growth, Lokken said.

“And they don’t want schools to keep that growth from happening,” even if it means a record high sales tax and “burying the hatchet” with the district, [Fred] Lokken [TMCC] said

The Save Our Schools campaign hired accomplished campaign fundraiser Nikki Bailey-Lundahl to drum up the dollars. She did the same thing in 2014 for the statewide margins tax initiative. If voter approved, the measure would have instituted a two percent margin tax on Nevada businesses making more than $1 million a year. Revenue from the tax would have been allocated to public schools.

But Bailey stood on the other side in that campaign, raising $5.7 million to defeat the margins tax, which is what happened. She’s now fundraising for a tax increase benefiting public schools.

 

Bullshitted for a good cause: Funding schools in Washoe County, NV

I have to take to the air to air out these grievances, to point to the people who continue to ruin this community by not giving a rat’s ass about the quality of like the many can live here so that they, the few, can have ever more.  Today in the local newspaper ran a story concerning the big push, the well-funded effort to win “for the schools” a raise in the sales tax to fix the long broken campuses and build new ones to accommodate the new growth, new growth in a community in which those who already live here suffer from not enough.  I have been monitoring for a couple of months the new positive attitude that agencies such as the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and the Chamber of Commerce have been pushing, a hollow campaign based on half-truths and even some lies.  While it is almost impossible to find where EDAWN found the numbers it is publishing to show that Washoe County Schools are already in relatively good shape—except, apparently, for the buildings in which instruction takes place.  Test scores according to the charts being circulated by spokespeople for those with clout in the region, are rather good, students doing at or above average on such examinations as the ACT and the SAT.  And, as the RGJ article reports, graduation rates are at an all-time high.  Miracle of miracles!  Not too long ago, even in statistics that were about Washoe

 

County only (we are always reminded that WCSD is better than the rest of the state, that the state statistics are problematic for our region only because they make us look bad when we are really good.  Not more than seven or eight years ago, WCSD schools were plastered with posters advertising our World Class School District, a claim debunked when real numbers were counted and were allowed to reflect the fact that graduation rates were low and dropout rates were high, that good numbers of students by their senior year in high school could not pass the state proficiency tests, and that considerable numbers of those graduating with WSCD diplomas were in need of remediation in mathematics and English when they found their way into colleges.

 

There was a turn around and it happened during the tenure of two business minded superintendents, Heath Morrison and Pedro Martinez, both graduates of the Broad Academy, an organization that prepares business people (not educators) to assume leadership positions in public schools.  The leaders of our community (of course it can—and will—be said that those are not the leaders who are leaders now) praised these men until they couldn’t anymore, one resigning to be fired from his new job months after he took it—with great fanfare and good publicity here for his “move up.”   Weren’t we lucky to have had the help of such a masterful man!  Despite nothing much really changing in District classrooms (a few more kids in them because of budget cuts and money spent on chasing down truants), graduation rates rose and things seemed to be getting rosy when they weren’t really.  The current superintendent took over a district what suddenly seemed in crisis and, amazingly, within no time at all problems were being resolved in ways that no one could explain and, as the time came to begin the push for money for buildings, all was not only on the mend but the mend was far along advanced.  Wow!

 

As I said, when I was on Facebook regularly, I was receiving notes from all of the players in the region, from council people and school board members, from county commission members and concerned citizens asking me to get onboard and give praise to the better than Las Vegas schools being managed by a new team that, to me, somehow seemed to be left over from the old team whose leader had been booted at great expense.  The new leader was a part of that team!  But she was not really a part of that team, some tried to make me believe, but I couldn’t believe because, while that new leader knew how to preach a good sermon, had some charisma and some charm—considerably more than the departed—I couldn’t get a sense of what she was going to do better and she and those surrounding her, including her good friend, the chair of the Board of Trustees—weren’t letting on to what they were planning.  They were going to make things great again but what “great” was going to mean and how great was to be achieved, they would not let on.  And the schools and its management were regularly, still, being chastised by those who wanted a better show.

 

And that is what so many of those involved in the project discussed in the newspaper today are after, a good show, a good showing of effort to give the schools a good look by reducing the overcrowding that exists today and taking the temporary buildings off of campuses where they have been in use for so many years as to seem to be permanent fixtures.  Whole generations of students know of no other campus than the campus that has for classrooms modified cargo trailers.

 

That those trailers have been around for so long, that broken classrooms have not been fixed, some broken for many, many years, that now is the right time for a fix when it wasn’t before, raises a number of questions about the motives of those who are arguing so vehemently for a raise in taxes, in sales taxes now.

 

The article in the RGJ is really, if read properly, about cynicism of a profound type, about child neglect, and about the kind of greed that allows some to consistently allow schools and other agencies that exist to help people to disintegrate right in front of their eyes.  Damned!  How many years did students pile into classrooms a Hug to have their voices and their teachers’ drown out by a cheap heating and cooling system that produced more noise than comfort?  How many years has it been now that classrooms have been crowded?  How many years now have students been relegated to basements under gymnasiums (as at Wooster High School)?

 

And why the concern now?  Because there is potential for growth and those who will profit most from it now believe that that growth is dependent on a better looking schools.  The same people that for years have been encouraging citizens to vote against school funding measures–and the article makes it clear that these are people heading the finding fight—and who never ever come through with the kind of money needed to pay teachers well enough so that the ranks are filled with people who are truly highly competent educators.  The Chamber of Commerce, EDAWN, the business community—these groups have been against every tax ever proposed and they have made sure that schools and other help agencies never ever can receive what they need to do a decent job.

 

These people haven’t given a damn about the human toll of underfunding, always arguing that what is good for business is good for all.  But this equation is as bogus as they come and so is the measure that will help them get the schools they need to sell real estate or increase clientele.  These people will fight for a new regressive tax that will cost everyone equally no matter how unequal distribution of wealth might be, this inequality due in large part to the wages they pay to those who work for them, their partners and their friends.

 

They want a raise in the sales tax so that the burden is shared but the greatest share of what growth will produce will not go to the many who work the jobs that business provides in this region.  The growth agenda is about bringing in people and there is nothing of consequence being done to insure that those already here, those who will pay the sales tax that will pay for the brick work on the schools, will in anyway be rewarded.  In fact, as Sheila Leslie pointed out in an article published a few weeks ago in the Reno News and Review, the rank and file members of the community will be hurt, not helped.  The vitriol of the rebuttal written by an official of EDAWN tells me that she touched the nerve nerve, the nerve of those who are now for new taxes, who have consistently throughout the years put business before children, profits before citizen welfare, their own desires above everything else, these good citizens of the community who have controlled forever what happens and does not in the community, these people who should be voted out of the community so that a real community can come into being.

 

That said, the school buildings do need to be fixed and more built.  These terribly rotten people have made it so that the only way to get something for the schools—and something, by the way, far too little since it does not raise a cent toward raising the salaries of terribly underpaid educational professionals—is to raise money through a regressive sales tax.  The money is badly needed and kids will suffer as growth takes places and the school population grows with it.  Those who will benefit most from the conditions that will bring new population growth, of course, have received gracious and grand tax incentives to come our way and none of these new players have promised anything at all like good new good paying jobs for those who already live here and are being asked to pay for the kind of infrastructure improvements that growth will necessitate.

 

Sucker!  And desperate suckers at that.