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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Career College Cancer; Destroying Lives for Profit

Social Mobility, the ability to get a leg up and leverage a foothold on the ladder into vertical motion, is the holy grail for anybody who works with or lives in poverty.

For those that subsist on the ground floor, beneath the bottom rung of the American ladder, whether millionaires pay their fair share is less important than rent.

Today, Arne Duncan explained that post-secondary education is still the key to social mobility in this country. He told the American People that "Going to college, by far, is the best long-term investment any individual can make for their future."

Now, many of my students aren't even sure that they can (or even want to) finish high school. My classroom is filled with second-chancers who have already lost the ability to graduate in the traditional fashion, so when one of them comes around and decides that they want to go to college, it's a moment of celebration and it becomes our job to breathe energy into whatever has kindled the small flame inside.

But that's hard to do when college often means Everest, Devry, AI, or UEI.

A few days ago Laura, one of my students, came in to show me something. She was excited. She'd been researching colleges and had settled on one. She pulled out a brochure and my heart sank. She wants to go to UEI.

If you've not heard of it, you can use any one of the thousand other for-profit career-technical schools as a reference point. UEI specializes -- as many of them do -- in low-end certificated employment programs like "Criminal Justice" (TSA Screening, Gaming Observer, Security Guard) and Business Office Administration (secretarial school).

"What do you think?" she asked.

What do I think? I think that we need to be more specific when we talk about post-secondary education being the key to social mobility.

I think the same thing I think when any predator snags new prey. I think the same thing I do when anybody falls for a cheap line. I think the same thing I do when somebody I know tells me that they're reading Dianetics.

What do I think?

I think the for-profit post-secondary education industry is the single most horrible thing to happen to education and social mobility in this country in the last generation.

Education may be the key to social mobility, but education is not what the for-profit colleges offer.

Education cannot be done for a profit because education, the process of taking somebody who is knowledgeless and unskilled and transforming them into a skilled and knowledgeable contributor to society, is definitionally unprofitable. The people that require education require it because they do not yet have the capacity to earn. A For-Profit University cannot make money educating people, so therefore their mission is not fulfilled through education.

The for-profit nature of the institution's mission means that education is not an end product, but a means by which the institution can reap profit. And since their students are low-yield on that front, the school's chief focus is not on them. The institution's chief focus must be on the students'money-gathering properties.

Recently, the General Accounting Office investigated the for-profit university scams. They focused on 15 colleges and found that all 15 engaged in deceptive and misleading practices. Four of the fifteen engaged in outright fraud. Even Wall Street is souring on the for-profits because the model is truly unsustainable without rampant dishonesty.

Laura, just like most all of their other students, will have to take out loans and the school will do whatever it can to ensure that she receives them, including fraud, deceit, and trickery.

And what she will receive in return for her ability to gather money for her corporate master is a debt load and a useless degree that will trap her permanently in the underclass.

$10,000 in debt in order to earn $15 per hour.

$10,000 in debt to learn skills similar to the ones that we used to teach in public school vocational programs.

A poor girl will go $10,000 in debt in order to support corporate profit.

Fuck For-Profit Colleges.

That's what I think, but what do I say?

"I think it's good to be looking at college, Laura, but are you sure that this is the one you want?"

She is. She wants to do Dental Assistant.

I nod and suggest we look at the website. I pull it up and we begin to go through what she will need to do for her degree. It's an 8-month program.

I ask her whether this is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She shrugs. "I can get a job with this. I want money."

I open the link to the required regulatory information and show her the figures. I point out that only 37% of the students finish the course in 8 months and that even then 1 in 5 are unable to find a job. Another truth of the for-profit university world is that a graduate is more work and less money than a drop-out. A person that completes the program is reflected in the job-placement statistics and, frankly, there aren't that many jobs out there for dental assistants and even fewer for other programs. It's better for the university to have students go for an extended period of time, max out their loans, and drop out before completion. The college gets the same amount of money either way.

Then I show her that the median loan debt for her program would be nearly $10,000.

She looks at me, shocked. She reaches over and goes to the "FAQ" section and tries to open the link to "How long will it take me to complete my training program." The link is broken (this is a fairly common trick in the for-profit university world. None of the FAQ links for UEI work. At the Everest College site, the link for articulation agreements from their regulatory page fails to load, so there is nowhere on the site that explains that your credits cannot be transferred to any other institution should you decide to switch).

"What the fuck am I gonna do?" She asks, "I don't want to owe no $10,000"

So I opened the LA City College website and showed her that they offer an identical program, with actual college credit, for $2,772 plus books.

Our community colleges are overcrowded. They are trimming programs left and right, their campuses aren't clean and shiny, but they are the socialized alternative to the privatized, for-profit, trap and they do an amazing job for our young people.

We look at the program together, we look at the costs, the classes, the books (LACC's website doesn't require you to give contact information before you can review the programs, another way they are different from the for-profits. LACC won't call students 180 times to try and convince them to attend. They attract students by being good, they don't have to promote themselves through high-pressure sales tactics, glossy ads, and deceit.

By the time we're done, she's sold.

Socialism works when it comes to education. And even though Republicans are hell-bent on destroying public education so that their corporatist backers can reap more profit, they haven't closed them all yet, so that's where Laura will go instead.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

An Open Letter to the Greatest Thinker in the Republican Party (GTRP)

Dear Mr. Ex-Speaker:

On Friday, you sir, Mr. Newt Gingrich, cemented your reputation for being the Greatest Thinker in the Republican Party (GTRP). You beat out Rick Perry and Herman Cain by solving our crises in education, in character, and in youth unemployment all at once. Bravo.

Your new idea, which you expressed to Harvard students who were whining about income inequality: Get rid of child welfare and work laws and then fire all the school janitors and pay the kids to keep the place clean. Union jobs, you reminded us, are the reason that there are no employment opportunities for our poorest kids and truly successful people all start working really early in life.

Jobs build character, you intoned, before adding that our schools are failing so there's really no point in going, anyway.

It's refreshing and rare that we get to see a Republican Thinker like you yearn quite so openly for the good times that Dickens wrote so gushingly about. You're right, Newt. If Oliver Twist had gotten a G@ddamned job, he wouldn't have had to ask for seconds because he could have purchased his own freaking gruel.

Newt, you're pretty much a dick, but you're not alone in thinking that poor kids don't work. Most people who don't ever spend time in poor neighborhoods believe that high unemployment means nobody is working.

It's bullshit, but it's easy to see why somebody would believe that if they didn't know any poor people. Even those of us who think we understand what it's like can't really.

Newt, poor kids work harder and more than most kids. It's just that they don't get to call themselves employed.

I realize you might not believe me because I am not a Great Republican Thinker like you, but here are some examples of what I mean:

Robert used to sell candy at the airport. When he was eight, they would picked him and other kids up in a van and take them out to LAX where they were assigned a terminal. They were told it didn't matter what they told people -- it only mattered that they sold the candy. They got to keep half of their take. Robert, having a preternatural gift of gab, still talks about bringing home a hundred dollars a day.

Since then, he's worked as a security guard, at the Fox Hills Mall, and in three different internships (one paid, two unpaid).

Hector works construction for his uncle. Whenever his uncle gets a job, we don't see Hector for days because the family needs money.

Edgar works with his dad who fixes cars. They don't have a shop; they work on the street and go to people's homes who can't afford a tow.

I've already written about Serena and her job at a local grocery store.

Adrian does tattoos. He's good and I'll probably go to him for one, but I told him I won't before he graduates.

Kendall's a DJ who supports his mom.

Julio works at his cousin's warehouse.

Cristobal just got a job at WalMart, but it's temporary and in the middle of the day so he's struggling to find time for school.

Grace works at the Watts Childcare Center. She's nineteen and only needs one class before she's done, but because of her job, she can only be with us for an hour a day. She's half-way done with Geometry A, but it's going to take her a while to finish.

You see, Newt, poor kids in school work all the time, but they're still unemployed. All that EBT and WIC and Welfare stuff that keeps poor people dependent doesn't buy our poverty-level royalty Cadillacs anymore. They need to work to eat and have clothes and a place to live because South LA is still LA and it's fucking expensive to live here.

It's not that they don't want regular jobs. I've signed reference lines on hundreds of applications for SubWay and Carl's Jr., for McDonalds and Forever 21, for Regal Cinemas and Baskin Robbins, but I've never once gotten a call.

Kids who are still in school aren't versatile enough to be attractive to employers when times are bad. They can't be made to work more than a certain number of hours per day and they are constantly asking to arrange their schedules around their studies.

Real jobs tend to be taken by drop-outs who can work whenever the boss wants them to. A kid who's trying to stay in school is going to be SOL on the traditional jobs front.

So, Newt. Instead of taking away their parent's jobs so that the kids can do it for a tenth the price, why don't we instead fix the system so that those Americans who struggle the most don't have to choose between dropping out of school for $8.55/hour and staying in school while their families starve on the hope that someday they'll be able to support everybody.

That would really build character.


Constantine Singer
GTRP in Training

Friday, November 18, 2011

Watch this video!

This video eloquently and elegantly makes much of the same points I was making in Marvin Does Time and in "As Long As It's Black".


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Marvin Does Time: Why a Kid Chooses Jail Over School

Marvin, who I've written about earlier, is back in jail. He was part of a chainsnatch robbery and even though he didn't snatch the chain himself he was there and he was on probation so he's back inside. He could be released back to probation if he were willing to go back on house arrest and attend school, but he says he'd rather stay in jail. His incarceration saddens and frustrates me both personally and professionally.

Mainly, I'm frustrated because he has chosen to stay in jail rather than be put on house arrest because he would be forced to return to school.

This isn't because he comes from a bad family. He doesn't. His mom and dad are good parents and hardworking people. They are supportive, intelligent, and both understand the value of -- and are willing to support -- his education.

It is more related to the fact that he doesn't come from a bad family and the dissonance between his reality and his personal narrative is painful. Each of us has a dominant narrative into which we incorporate the events and interactions of our daily existence and Marvin's narrative is founded in badassery. He wants to be hard. He wants to be a thug and it is easier to align himself with his story in lock-up than it is in a classroom.

But it's not just that. There are dozens of kids that fall away from our school each year and many of them don't have a thug narrative and aren't involved in gangs and crime. For many of them their narratives are victim-based or built around self-loathing. But in all cases our schools have played a huge roll in creating the circumstances that make dropping out seem like a valid and reasonable choice.

We tell kids that school is vital. We tell them that getting a high school diploma is the most important thing that they can do. We beg, we scold, we yell and we cheer all in an effort to squeeze another graduate out of the tube. Our national emphasis is on graduation. High school is the only time in any of our lives when entire institutions are willing to bend over backwards in order to ensure our success. High school students are rewarded for attendance and for academic achievement. There are even movements afoot to pay students money to attend and succeed.

But at the same time, we treat them like criminals.

The article on Common Dreams today regarding the 'School to Prison Pipeline' starts like this:

Metal detectors. Teams of drug-sniffing dogs. Armed guards and riot police. Forbiddingly high walls topped with barbed wire.

Such descriptions befit a prison or perhaps a high-security checkpoint in a war zone. But in the U.S., these scenes of surveillance and control are most visible in public schools, where in some areas, education is becoming increasingly synonymous with incarceration.

That article concerns itself with the aggressive policing and policy enforcement by schools and school police which has the potentiality to destroy students. It's a real issue, but the problem is both older and more institutional than that:

Our schools manufacture alienation.

I've written about this in more detail before, but it is important to remember that our schools were designed in part with the advice and consult of Andrew Carnegie and other Gilded Age industrialists in order to tailor the educational product to the needs of the product's consumer. Since most public education products would be working in an industrial setting, it made sense to acculturate them to factory life in their adolescence so that they would be able to make the jump from pupil to cog with little added training.

Factories needed workers who responded to bells.

Factories needed workers who were capable of basic math and literacy.

Factories needed workers who were able to follow directions.

Factories needed workers who did not question authority.

Factories needed workers who did not attempt to think beyond the requirements of their duties.

Factories needed workers who were conditioned to repetitive simple tasks.

So schools tailored their factories to produce factory workers. They even designed the schools to resemble the factories in which their products would labor later in life.

But there are no more factories and the institutions, pathways and methodologies we have spent a century creating, that we cling to because this is how we've always done it, are now anachronistic and ridiculous. For the last thirty years, our schools have been home to a massive self-defeating hypocrisy where we are using a factory model in an attempt to create knowledge workers.

We tell our kids to think for themselves because the modern workforce needs critical thinking, but we punish them for doing so when their analyses don't match the conclusions required by the tests.

We encourage kids to be individuals, but reward conformity and punish dissent within the massive institutional system that is public education.

We want kids to be self-regulating, but still demand absolute obedience to tardy-bells.

We implore kids to express themselves, but we still don't allow them to question authority.

We rhapsodize about creativity, but we don't allow kids to apply it to our curriculum which is forged in steel.

Our aspirations are digital, but our actions are still industrial and for children who grow up in neighborhoods like Marvin's, where they are told over and over again that school is their only way out, confusion and frustration feed their often destructive narratives. Confusion and frustration are a short straight path to alienation.

And for Marvin and other kids like him, alienation means being more comfortable behind bars than in class.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Danger of Pretty Talk: Why Greece Should Default

A while back I was offered the golden opportunity to invest in a Sushi Bar in Hollywood. There were celebrities involved and for a mere $15,000, I would buy my way in to a rock-solid investment that would pay me back in both cash and prestige. Most of us have been in the situation at some point or another. A wealthier friend offers us an opportunity to do something that richer people do and lays out a panoply of reasons why we should join them. They can be very convincing.

Each times this happens to me, I go through the same internal struggle where the rational part of me understands that I'd have to be an idiot to participate while another, stronger, part of me, a part of me that has had a controlling interest in my psyche since pre-school, says: "The cool kids want you to be like them!"

What I consistently fail to realize in these situations is that, really, I'm not that cool and if they want me to join them, it's often because they need me for something. This is always true when they offer to lend me the money, explaining that I can pay them back afterwards.

I've lost a lot of money that way. Then again, I'm Greek, so maybe I'll chalk it up to national character.

In essence, this is the story that everybody's calling the "Greek Debt Crisis" and it isn't the first time the Greeks have been talked into poor financial decisions -- it's been happening for thousands of years ever since Pericles convinced the Athenians to spend the war treasury rebuilding the Parthenon. There's something in our cultural subconscious that allows us Greeks to lose all sight of rationality when somebody talks pretty.

And it always seems to end with the crumbling of a Greek government.

But this time the poor decision to join the Euro has also been used to bundle a whole batch of annoying Northern European stereotypes of their more swarthy Mediterranean neighbors into one big tangle of cuphineous allegations and accusations.

First of all, it's not a Greek Debt Crisis. In reality, it's a German, French, and American Bank Crisis. The reality, which bears no resemblance to the media coverage, is that the Billions of Euros that are being "given" to Greece are not going to go to Greece. They are going to go to Duetchebank and other institutions who lent the Greek Government money. Calling it the Greek Debt Crisis is akin to saying that the TARP was used to bail out homeowners. In our dreams, maybe, but completely not related to reality.

And just as the right wing in our country keeps pointing frantically at brown people who bought houses and tanked the economy, the establishment economists and politicians of Europe are all pointing at the lazy, ouzo-swilling, tax-avoiding, tavli-playing, coffee-slurping Greeks and saying, "Just look at them! If they won't work hard like a good German, then they don't deserve our help."

Ok, the ouzo and coffee and tavli are all pretty much true but who can blame the Greeks for that? They had 5000 years to develop good booze, good games, and good times.

But the Greeks are also the 2nd hardest working country in the world behind South Korea. The average Greek puts in 2,052 hours of work each year, which makes them a good 250 hours per year more industrious (or overworked) than us here in the USA.

Part of the issue is that since the Euro, it takes more than one job to make ends meet. Prices have tripled for the average Greek in the last 10 years and the Greeks tend to have more than one job to compensate. It isn't uncommon for the average Greek to have two or three jobs that, together, add up to more than 40 hours per week.

And as far as taxes are concerned? Sure, the Greeks hate taxes more than most, but until they joined the EU there wasn't a problem. Seriously. The Greek economy plugged along just fine between 1974 and 1999 even with almost half of the Greek citizenry secreting their stashes of Drachmas into off-shore companies and Swiss bank accounts. The Greek Ministry of Finance and the Greek tax rates were built to accommodate the fact that they were dealing with Greeks.

In short, Greeks had no problem being Greeks until the Great White North made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

"C'mon, Greece, you're European and you invented democracy," the cool kids said, "We know you don't have the economy or the currency situation or the infrastructure to be able to be successful in the Euro-zone, but we'll lend you the money until you get there -- it won't be any fun without you!"

Greece had been one of the original 10 members of the EEC, the European Economic Community, which was the free-trade zone that predated the transition to the EU. Unlike Sweden or England, who joined the EU without adopting the Euro, Greece was not able to do so. Greece's option was either to not join the EU (which would have been an embarrassing admission of 2nd-class status) or to join the EU and adopt the Euro. So they entered and adopted the Euro.

But Greece's main source of income has always been tourism and one of the things that a tourist country relies on is being affordable enough for people to go there. When we went in 1999, we could afford to go for 5 weeks and the average hotel room cost $30 per night. When we went in 2007, we could only afford to stay for 10 days and the average hotel room cost $120 per night. Food, transportation, and entertainment all rose commensurately.

It was hard on tourism, but it was even harder on the average Greek who suddenly became more interested in holding on to their meager wages rather than coughing up to pay taxes.

And since Greece did not control its own currency anymore, they couldn't revalue it to save themselves.

And so here we are and this time instead of a Parthenon which will stand for the ages as the economy and government collapse, the Greeks have a few more highways, set prices in restaurants, and a crapload of cheaply built vacation homes that very few Greeks can afford to buy (before the EU, only citizens could buy property, but with the EU, Northerners turned the Greek islands into Europe's Florida) to show for it.

So what now?

If you're an average Greek, the answer's pretty simple: default. Leave the Euro. Take the hit and then take control of your currency. Sure, there won't be any borrowing for a long time, but there will be tourism, autonomy, and Greek goods sold in the stores instead of Belgian ones.

And there won't be four straight stages of imposed pro-bank and anti-worker austerity.

Much like in our own country, arguing that average people need to suffer to save banks from their own poor decisions is a loser's position. Arguing that the wealthy shouldn't lose because the system they created has bit them in the balls shouldn't get much sympathy.

If a friend offers to lend you $5.00 with interest so you can pay them back the $5.00 you owe them, they aren't a friend.

And default won't be a permanent scar on the face of Greece. Argentina shows us that investors will return -- money goes where there is money to be made.

I took a bath on that restaurant, but I recovered and was better off as soon as I got out from under it and the same will be true for the Greeks.

Bring back the Drachma:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Occupying Veteran's Day -- article link

A very good article from the Nation on the growing number of veterans involved in OWS.

Gingrich/Cain 2012

The New CBS Republican Primary Poll is out.

Who-the-fuck-knows has the lead, followed closely by Not-Him. Ask-Me-Later took the Show position.

As far as candidates with names, my money is now on Newt Gingrich who is rising as the latest Not-Mitt Candidate and his strength lies in the fact that nobody thought highly of him in the first place, so he can't be tripped up by morals charges.

My Call:

Gingrich/Cain 2012

"Changing Wives, Changing Stories, Changing America!"

Some articles that illustrate the big picture on sexual harassment in our country

In my search for articles that are willing to broach the big-picture issues involved, I found only one.

Kevin Powell's piece at BET is worth reading.

But one should also read this piece by Aaron Perlut from Forbes where the big picture was missed entirely so that we don't begin to think that we are somehow near a breakthrough in our understanding of gender, power, and sexual aggression.

More on this later.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One Big Union: My Grandfather and the 99%

This is my grandfather:

From Nick Syracopoulos

He was foul-mouthed, direct and unapologetic and he could be embarrassing if you were concerned with what other people thought. He was a political product of the aftermath of the last gilded age and his worldview was forged by the disastrous mess that the anti-immigrant, anti-worker, pro-business, laissez-faire and isolationist forces had created. He was a proud socialist and supporter of the working class. He was also a lawyer and believer in the good that government can do.

But he was quickly disabused of any notion that our government as it was then constituted was a friend or ally of the working people. He was fired from the nacent Federal Bureau of Investigation in the early 1930's for his attempts to unionize the Bureau's agents. In 1948, while he was working for the Social Security Administration, his loyalty to the United States' government was found to be questionable and he was blacklisted.

As a lawyer in private practice he took on clients who had no money, fighting to help those who had nothing have a chance against the system. He was paid in rugs, in chicken, in labor, and in love.

He was and will always be the face my personal aspirations. He was a man who lived his words and beliefs regardless of the cost and he was a man who waited decades for people to again recognize what he saw as the great truth of the capitalist system:  It is exploitative.

He died in the first year of the Bush administration and only months after 9-11, so he was saved from seeing some of the most egregious of our national transgressions, but he also was denied an opportunity to see the birth of a movement that I believe he would see as our great national reawakening.

When I look at OWS, it is hard not to see it through his eyes.

When I watch the news and attend the occupation here in Los Angeles, I know he would have been one of the first to point out that the problems we address are not new.  He would remind us that wealth inequality and exploitation are not simply byproducts of a capitalist system, but the machinery itself. He would point us not to Keynes who was no friend of the worker,  but to an earlier economist who's most famous work is not taught to American children but whose understanding of our current situation seems more adept than most any that is being discussed in modern times.

He would have argued that the movement must frame the dialectic (one of his favorite words along with horseshit) and he would have pointed to Marx as a place to start:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles....

...In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie [1%] and Proletariat [99%].
But just as older generations must keep their own counsel as their youngers discover what has already been known for generations,  he would have kept quiet about what he would see as the desperate need for a plan. I think he would have enjoyed the initial catharsis of the OSW movment, possibly even spending a day or two in Cascade Park with Occupy Akron.  He would have enjoyed the class unity that comes with being a part of the 99%. He would have seen hope for the future in the mass upswell of receptionists and steel-workers, teachers and lawyers, the unemployed, the unemployable, the underemployed and the occasional employers, the gardeners, the middle managers, the cubicle droids and the baristas all coming together to loudly proclaim that enough is enough.

He would have kept quiet for a while, but eventually he would get frustrated with the lack of a plan.  He would have waited for a break in the conversation at the big round table that overfilled his dining room on Delia Avenue while we younger people nattered and flapped about "The Movement" and its raw beauty and how it will change the country. He would have listened as we denounced corporate greed and corporate personhood.  He would have patiently waited as we praised our leaderlessness and our democracy.

He would have waited for a break in the conversation and he would have said:

"And then what?"

And because of him, it's hard for me not to ask the same question.   What next?  After gathering and occupying and marching, what will we do?

There is a statement of grievance, and attention has been brought to these issues.  The national spotlight has finally focused on the growing plight of the middle class and the continuing plight of the underclasses in our society, but what now?  How will we go about ensuring that these grievances are remediated so that this country and this world can go about the business of having governments that are willing to do the business of upholding our social contract?

Campaign finance reform, publicly funded elections, the end of corporate personhood, the creation of opportunity, and the creation and enforcement of regulations designed to protect the 99% from the 1% will not simply happen.  Our current system has been designed to protect itself against these very changes.

An occupation is by its very nature a passive display of frustration.  Whether it be a Woolworth's counter or a public park, the main purpose of an occupation is to draw the spotlight and the spotlight has now been drawn.

The problem has been identified.  We have settled on a solution.  What, then, is the program of action to get us from problem to solution?

How can we create change in system that we no longer control?

Again, we have been here before.  We are not the first generation in this country to confront a system weighted heavily against us.  We are not the first generation to live in a society where the gulf between the haves and the have nots has yawned large enough to swallow our country.  We are not the first generation to be told that the poor should be cared for by almsmen and churches, not the state.  We are not the first generation to confront the stark reality that corporate greed is not tempered by an expectation of fair play alone.   We are not the first generation to face a nativist and isolationist upswell that threatened the lives and livelihoods of our hardworking immigrants.  We are not the first generation to wonder aloud whether the American Century had already passed off the scene.  

Our last visit to the wall was not in our lifetimes, but it was in the lifetime of our grandparents and great-grandparents and it would be prudent for us to take a cue from the work of the generations that created the middle class in this country as we puzzle out how to go about saving it.

When Eugene V. Debs (another of my grandfather's heroes and also now one of mine) wrote this unattributed article on page 291 of The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen's Magazine in 1890, he had already outlined the foundation for what would become the Industrial Workers of the World.  
The real question to be propounded is, “What can workingmen do for themselves?” The answer is ready. They can do all things required, if they are independent, self-respecting, self-reliant men. Workingmen can organize. Workingmen can combine, federate, unify, cooperate, harmonize, act in concert. This done, workingmen could control governmental affairs. They could elect honest men to office. They could make wise constitutions, enact just laws, and repeal vicious laws. By acting together they could overthrow monopolies and trusts. They could squeeze the water out of stocks, and decree that dividends shall be declared only upon cash investments. They could make the cornering of food products of the country a crime, and send the scoundrels guilty of the crime to the penitentiary. Such things are not vagaries. They are not Utopian dreams. They are practical. They are honest, they are things of good report.

Workingmen are in the majority. They have the most votes. In this God favored land, where the ballot is all powerful, peaceful revolutions can be achieved. Wrongs can be crushed — sent to their native hell, and the right can be enthroned by workingmen acting together, pulling together.
His idea was simple.  The working class has always had more in common with each other than they have with the producing class.  The divisions that plagued the working class served only to make it easier for the producing classes to maintain control.  He argued that what was needed was an international union, consisting of all working men and women, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or national origin.  He argued that as long as we looked for the differences between ourselves, we would not be able to see that we were all contributing to our own exploitation.  He envisioned an international union that would be able to set fair terms for work worldwide, not simply in America and not simply in certain industries.

It failed, of course.  Wobblies were persecuted and killed and the movement fell apart completely.

But maybe it's time to try again.

One Big Union that would allow us to exert the political power to create the change.  A union of people regardless of income, origin, education, class, religion, creed, or citizenship.  One Big Union that would collect each of our tiny voices and broadcast them together across the national stage.  One Big Union that understood that if any of us bear too much of the burden, all of us will fall.

I know that if my grandfather were here today,  this would be his answer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Open Response to Drs. Biggs and Richwine at the Heritage Foundation

Dear Drs. Richwine and Biggs:

I read the Heritage Foundation Report on Teaching this morning. I found it because it was referenced at Daily Kos and I read it through over lunch.

It had me thinking all day about my chosen profession.

Your facts weren't necessarily wrong, and your conclusions were predictable. You don't like the idea of public education -- you see it as a government intrusion into a marketplace that should be dominated by private industry -- and so it's really no surprise when you extend your distaste to us who do the dirty demon work of socializing and educating America's youth.

So yes. Yes we are compensated well in excess of our private school counterparts. Yes we generally scored more poorly on the SATs than our private sector counterparts. Yes we still have pensions and job security.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

But. But But But.

But I have mentored a lawyer and a transplant surgeon who were making mid-career switches. neither lasted a year in a job that I do with pleasure. Those coming from better-compensated fields are much less likely to stay.

But I have watched private school teacher after private school teacher earn their credentials so they could come join us in the pay-haven of public schools only to turn around and go back to where there's toilet paper, working copiers, student loads under 100, and students they weren't afraid of.

But, just like all front-line civil servants, we are exposed to the capricious and sometimes vindictive wishes of the populous. We have our job security because without it, we could not be effective.

But I did well on my SATs because I had parents who weren't willing to let me do poorly. They paid for special intensive classes. My 1340 was as much the result of money as it was the result of brains. Were yours so different?

And a special but for those of us who willingly work in places like Watts:

But without us, our country may never be able to recover from the damage that's been done by years of social and political neglect.

As we are seeing on the national and international scale right now with the Occupy Movement, the social contract that bind a people and their government has frayed in the middle class.

But there isn't an Occupy Watts because in Watts and neighborhoods and communities like it around the country, the social contract has already snapped. It was ripped asunder generations ago in a massive display of frustration and instead of being renewed, it was replaced with a simple detente.

For most of the rest of us, this detente has been easy to mistake for renewal, but it is not.

But the students I see everyday don't make that mistake. The children of the detente are not raised in a world where government provides safety and ensures the ability of its citizens to exercise the rights endowed to them by their creator. The children of the detente are raised to see authority with a skepticism that many of the middle class have only learned to adopt later in life and with a cynicism that is heartbreaking.

In the detente, social services are often viewed as entitlements instead of a leg up because in the detente, there is no easy foothold.

In the detente there is no Officer Friendly.

In the detente, the assumption is that teachers and social workers hate their jobs.

In the detente, nobody chooses to be a lifer.

But if we are ever to renew the contract with the urban poor, it is going to be the teachers, police, and social workers that do it. It certainly won't be politicians or Ph.Ds.

And unless the contract is renewed, the libertarian/conservative dream world where opportunity is a choice for all will never come to fruition.

With this in mind, I ask that you, Drs. Richwine and Biggs, reflect for a moment. If we are dumb and overpaid, then we should not be entrusted with the daily diplomacy necessary for renegotiating a broken social contract between a betrayed people and the government they believe has betrayed them.

Maybe you, good Doctors, and your friends at Heritage should be the ones who must always keep in mind that every negative interaction you have during the course of your day while you attempt to do good is a concrete confirmation of hopelessness.

Maybe you should be the ones to inspire change in bad habits that were years in the making. Our students are often a bundled soft core of fear and hurt wrapped in a cage of steel and covered with a soft, thin, skin, and I must warn you that you need to be careful on your approach because piercing skin means hitting steel.

But maybe you would be better suited to unbuckle the taught steel that has been forged inside our students by crime, poverty, hopelessness and the deep belief that nobody cares about them.

Maybe you will be willing to take the time to dismantle the metal-hard shields through long-term, honest, earnest, relationships.

Maybe you would better suited to the burden of knowing that if you make a promise, if you create an opening into the hurt underneath, that you had better be there to see it through or you will have destroyed an opportunity to heal a child and the country in which you both live.

Maybe you would be a better representative of the state than me and my colleagues who are dumb.

Maybe you know a better way to convince a child that the American Promise hasn't been broken.

But unless you are willing to unleash the power of your naturally high SAT scores to help us, you should probably shut the fuck up.