|Albuquerque kindergarten teacher Linnea Montoya burns her state issued "evaluation." (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal photo)|
Albuquerque public school teachers were out in front of the uptown administration building Thursday burning their official “evaluations” issued by New Mexico as part of Republican governor Susana Martinez’ education reforms.
Although the young woman pictured setting alight her evaluation form, and many with her, hadn’t been born when Americans were burning their draft cards in the 1960s to protest the Vietnam War and the Anti War Movement was bringing about an almost 180 degree shift in public opinion about that war, I don't believe the similarity is exactly coincidental, but for sure, though, a massive turnaround in thinking is also what’s needed now, as most all of us have bought the idea that somebody should be evaluating teachers.
The idea of teacher evaluation, and the education reform movement it’s a part of, came about, if you'll recall, when Americans suddenly realized their education system was severely lacking. Remember that moment?
We’re talking about the education system, of course, that I and millions of other Americans came up under, that despite its dire need of reform was somehow sufficient to propel the United States into being the number one country in the world, whose well educated and highly skilled working class had achieved the highest standard of living in history. An education system that produced the technology, the research, the math and physics, the educated citizenry that put men on the moon, put a color TV in every house, raised life expectancy to unheard of levels, ushered in the computer age. And was suddenly in need of reform?
No one was complaining about teachers or passing laws to have state governments evaluate them, or require students to take standardized tests, while the US was rising to its supreme position in the world, so how did the education system that was one of the keys to the US achieving its envied number one position in the world come to be in dire need of reform?
The answer is that it didn’t. You've been bamboozled, folks. You’ve bought into pure bs. There was nothing wrong with our teachers or our education system, which was already fully set up to train teachers and correct any deficiencies in them, and it’s ridiculous to think that it could have produced the results it did otherwise.
Remember that “education reform” is a conservative project, that many Democrats have simply bought into, and is part of the conservative thrust in this nation that’s been ongoing since Ronald Reagan.
Before it set in, before our education system was suddenly and mysteriously found in need of reform, and our teachers found to be greatly lacking in skills, the ruling class was paying about 35 percent of the bill for government, which includes education, the safety net, infrastructure, military and so on. That share is now down to 10 percent.
What happened was that a great political transformation occurred. It didn't originate with Reagan but he was its salesman and he began to fully implement it, and its essence is that rich people, and the corporate CEOs and political class who represent their interests, came up with a way to change the political discourse, a package of ways actually that’s a story in and of itself. Academics usually refer to the process as Neoliberalism, and if you use the search box to the right you’ll come up with some posts in which I’ve explained more fully what it is.
Under it, what was wrong with education, and what needed to be changed, was that teachers were unionized, had good benefits and job security, and this was cutting into profits, and what was wrong was that access to a good education — which was essentially available to anyone who desired one — was one of the great economic levelers any working class had ever managed to have implemented. The problem was that the ruling class was having to send a tidy share of its profits off to the government to help pay for all of it.
This is where politicians like Susana Martinez come in, whose centerpiece has been her “education reform” and who has been criticized for not having an economic plan during a time when New Mexico was sinking to the bottom in the western region by almost all measures. She has an economic plan alright, but it simply calls for lowering taxes on corporations even further, and nothing else. Taken together those two things make her a perfect practitioner of Neoliberalism. Likewise with Albuquerque's Republican mayor Marion Berry who dwaddles and flits about congratulating himself over insignificant cosmetic changes while quality of life measures in the city erode. The idea is to do nothing to impede corporate profit and obstruct anyone or anything that might.
The ruling class, of course, is probably the greatest beneficiary of all the thinking skills and professional training the American workforce acquires in primary schools and colleges, as it is of the publicly funded research conducted at colleges and the technologies developed there. But the profits they were making by the late 1970s just weren’t enough for them and they made the decision that it would be better for them if the US had a less well educated, and more importantly lower paid, workforce, and so coinciding with the attacks on public education were the attacks on unions, the existence of which had had the effect of raising wages and benefits across the entire workforce. That attack was initiated by Ronald Reagan with his attack on, and eventual destruction of, PATCO, the air traffic controllers union.
By way of the attacks on public education the ruling class and their representatives in business and politics have made great inroads into ending public education as we once knew it — by attacking teachers, by getting us to believe they are somehow deficient, and that we need all these mostly under-performing charter schools run mostly by for profit companies that undermine the public school system, most of which don't hire unionized teachers, coincidentally. And not least by shifting most of the burden for college onto the students themselves.
If you noticed the placards some of those Albuquerque teachers were holding, some of them get this larger picture, but in their public statements they don't emphasize the broader economic, i.e. class based, dimensions of their problem, and don’t talk about the context in which their evaluations have been imposed, and it's easy to see why. The public won’t make any sense of it. They have no idea. We’ve been bamboozled, folks.
The public, we, have all bought into most of the central tenets of Neoliberal propaganda, that schools needed reform, that corporations will go someplace else if we don't give them another tax break, that giving free money to rich people somehow creates jobs, and that "there's just no money" to fund government, health care, schools, scholarships, grants, affordable tuition and all the rest of it.
Democrats have become like the teachers. If, like Bernie Sanders, they do talk about it, they’re written off in the media as some kind of cooks or outliers. The rest have all made a devil's bargain with the ruling class — they accept the basic arguments of Reaganomics and won’t refute them— and have taken the quick and easy way to public office, and this includes all of New Mexico's elected officials. None use the podium they've been given to inform and educate the public about the political transformation that's taken place in the US, if they're even aware of it themselves. True, within the constraints they find themselves in now, which are of their own making, some occasionally do some outstanding things, but they’re all just wasting their time, and our money, as our education system becomes eroded, and we continue down this path we’re on of permanent economic stagnation, this near zero growth that results when a people can no longer afford to be the kind of consumers who were once the engines of the 4 and 5 percent per year growth rates we saw between World War II and the 1970s when Reaganomics began.
Meanwhile we argue about teacher evaluations. Are they good evaluations? Are they bad ones? How do we get those bad teachers out of there, because that's surely what's holding up the economy, right? Wrong. We have for a long time had a tremendous public education system in this country but we’re letting it be torn apart by letting teachers be blamed for problems that never existed, but which of course do exist now.
It’s a problem the political class is no position to do anything about, and you can’t point to a single sign that shows they are. As I say, they're just wasting their time and our money, even those with good intentions, until there's a more aware, more engaged public that's become consciously aware of the propaganda it's being fed by politicians, corporations and the media.
Only mass movement from below can change things, a mass uprising brought about by a thorough shift in the thinking and public discourse of the people, as happened during Vietnam. This has always been the case. No significant transformation is ever achieved without it. The politicians might be the ones in the signing ceremony photos, but mass movements, like the Civil Rights and Women’s movements of the 1960s and the Labor Movement of the early 20th century, had risen and done their agitating and their transformative work long before those pictures were snapped.
There are always things bubbling, people meeting and talking, organizing, most of it outside the narrow focus of the corporate media, and there are always some promising developments. Right now they are among young Black people in the US and the ones who were in on Occupy, and among people involved in some collective economic endeavors in places like Spain and Brazil, where news ways of organizing are being worked out in which the organizations themselves reflect the kind of change that has to be brought about structurally in the larger culture. Something, or a combination of some things, will eventually take hold, grab peoples’ imaginations on a large scale, and take off.
Meanwhile, though, we’re in for a rough ride, a lot more disappointment, and a lot more disillusionment with our so called leaders. But it was nice to see the teachers out there setting something on fire.