The battle for a public education system in the USA

Well America will now have billionaire Republican campaigner for charter schools, Betsy De Vos, as the next Secretary for Education.

So the fact seems to be that for many on the conservative benches apparently it makes more sense and would be better if there wasn't a secretary of education at all..

So is this just going to be assault on public education ?

Well this sounds great to those who are keen to point out that if one reads the constitution there isn't any reference to education policy as an enumerated power of the federal government.

But for some American parents and certainly some teachers, this might just be the last straw:

And this goes back the argument in my previous post about Ben Carson. I touched on decentralisation as it appears as the common solution to all political problems in the USA, as it is generally proposed that it acts to limit and divide power to protect individual freedom and civil society. And this is seen as a good thing in general.

So how do Americans understand public education? How true is claim that the US constitution does not render public education as a competency of the federal government? See here:


As the link above shows, a good reason why there is no direct mention of public education in the Constitution is also because public education as we know it in America did not exist until the 1850's. At the time of the Constitution's adoption in 1787 the only "public" schools in existence were known as common schools, schools run by local communities.

The closest thing to federal involvement in education at the time was a requirement given for an adequate system of instruction to be in place for a territory to be admitted to the Union. This was known as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and the article in question went as such:

"Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Hence you have these regressive views held by many on the right in America, which like to suggest that a Federal Secretary of Education is a contradiction in itself:


However, they like to overlook that the path towards a non-discriminatory federal public education system in the United States has been achieved since then through the passing of numerous Supreme Court decisions and federal government laws that impact public education, providing greater equity for citizens.

And as this 2011 study points out this process has stalled to the point of the current deadlock based upon a historical disagreement upon the role that federal funding should play in public education:

"The importance of education for the common good has shifted from primarily local control to state and national control, with national attention from the Federal government and national organizations. Congress is currently embroiled in a debate and stalemate over the reauthorization of ESEA, the 2001 NCLB. Major issues include the purpose and role of the federal government in education, funding, and the extent to which the federal government should play a role in public education. Areas for national debate involve school choice, accountability, teacher quality, goals, standards and above all, funding."

.. and while it was written a while back it seems still broadly accurate:

See here: http://lwv.org/content/role-federal-government-public-education%C2%A0-historical-perspectives

And so alongside the shift towards a system of public education there has also been a strong focus on testing and standardisation, with a strong focus on the importance of 'lit-num' over all other kinds of knowledge:

So fact that Betsy De Vos is a proponent of charter schools is not a huge leap, as both Democrats and Republicans fall into this camp. And in fact it was the Republicans who originally put in place legislation to bring in the NCLB agenda further centralising education provision.

And in fact the current Democrat Secretary is also a strong proponent of charter schools and of the common core. What he and Betsy De Vos differ on presumably is introduction of the common core. Although even  support for the common core appears to depend for Betsy De Vos upon who she is speaking to. In fact until the day she was appointed US education secretary she appeared to support the common core agenda.

But here is some more information on Betsy De Vos:

So De Vos is mostly known as a champion of school choice. But beyond that differences between her vision and that of the Democrats remain to be articulated strongly.

However, the proposal that is on the horizon for education in the USA is a full scale return to decentralised education, with a stronger focus on redirecting funding. In short this would involve:

A $20 billion block grant to expand charter and private school options for low-income children. Earlier Trump announced in his campaign that this money would come from redirecting existing federal funds, and he would leave it up to states to decide whether the dollars would follow children to public, private, charter or magnet schools.

See here:

The Democrats reaction to this was to point out that it would “gut” nearly 30 percent of the federal education budget to fund private school vouchers, and “decimate public schools across America.”

For more details on that also see here:

I think to make the point a little sharper, this article puts it bluntly; "Trump’s proposals, if enacted as proposed, would end public education in the United States"

"The struggle educators face within the political process mirrors that of the system at large. Teachers are told they must pick the lesser of the two evils. But attacks on public schools have intensified in the last 20 years under Democrat and Republican presidents alike. Educators must be prepared to partake in mass mobilizations in cities throughout the United States. Teachers must show solidarity across state lines while building coalitions with students and parents. It is not just Republicans and Trump we are up against, it is also the Democrats and the whole capitalist system and its never-ending zeal for profits."

See here: https://www.liberationnews.org/trump-picks-right-wing-billionaire-secretary-education/

..but if you want to hear from someone who really knows about this, someone who has worked at the coalface of US education for some time and has written plenty about the common core and charter schools that I'd recommend looking at is Chad Sansing and his blog in the US:


Or otherwise try reading the counter dialogue from organisations in American that exist to protect public education, like the Horace Mann League:

Whatever happens it seems these will be harsh times for educators in the USA for the next 4 years.


Pyramids, the next US Secretary of Education and other crazy things..

It has been a while since I managed to get around to writing here. A long while...

The world has turned on its head, turning into a basket case in just a few weeks with the US election. And I am still trying to get my head around it. 
The best comment I have heard yet on the US election so far:

"Maybe the USA is not yet ready for a real democracy"

It was issued in a statement by the government of Iraq.
So what next? There are leaks out on who may be pulled in to form Trump's new team in government. Scarily one of the names on that list is in fact none other than Sarah Palin, the ex Governor of Alaska, 'Tea Party' campaigner and paid Fox news commentator..who has now launched the 'Sarah Palin News Network'.

Fittingly Palin as one of the only female appointees in the Trump's team. Straight conservative, an ex-beauty pageant winner, creationist, NRA life member, climate change sceptic, and pro-lifer who also supports capital punishment. But do not be fooled, she at least is actually a serious political force to reckon with and unlike many of the old white rich men in Trump's team, she is able to connect with people in the USA...But yeah, she is also crazy.

So then the only other non-white and non-male candidate is the guy pegged to be next Secretary of Education (or Health) - Ben Carson. What has he got to say for himself, particularly as an Afro American male?

Well I thought I'd have a look.
In an October 2015 interview, Carson stated: 
"I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do. It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding on that basis." 
This controversial suggestion was criticized by various commentators, who questioned its constitutionality and practicality.
Carson also asserted that the AP U.S. History overemphasizes wrongdoing (such as slavery, Japanese internment, and atrocities against American Indians) by the United States, saying:
 "I think most people, when they finish that course, they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS."
In February 2015, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Carson said:
 "I've found that homeschoolers do the best, private schoolers next best, charter schoolers next best, and public schoolers worst." 
On that basis, he advocated school choice. Carson is also critic of the Common Core State Standards.
Oh yes, and he does not believe in evolution either..and he has some interesting theories about a bunch of stuff, like the Pyramids:
Ben Carson also has his own website: https://www.bencarson.com/issues/education/
The thing is that Carson was never a straight Republican per se, before he joined the mission to 'Make Merica Grate Again' officially in 2014. Basically he is conservative independent but kind of stuck in the age of the Pyramids..
However, Ben Carson's philanthropic education foundation appears to be a serious intervention. It does run a scholarship program and funds reading rooms in schools. Since 1996, the fund has distributed more than 7,300 scholarships, it has installed 138 reading rooms in low-income schools. Scholarship recipients are rewarded for academic achievement between grade 4-11, and students receive a $1000 cash scholarship. As the website makes clear: 
'Each school is eligible to nominate one student to compete for a Carson Scholarship. Carson Scholars must have a minimum 3.75 GPA. Scholarships are awarded solely on the basis of academic achievement and humanitarian qualities – without regard to financial need or ethnicity'
Pity about the lack of regard for equity in the targeting of the beneficiaries..but then it matters a lot less when you are leveraging that philanthropy for political goals, doesn't it?

I mean what if said beneficiaries already have the money to pay for a college education? Doesn't that just tend to benefit those who are able to use their comparative advantage, good parents and networks to develop the disposition to become 'humanitarians'. Basically won't those with such kinds of backgrounds tend to get to reach for the carrot earlier and with greater ease?
And how does Ben make money? Well now basically the more speeches he gives and more books he sells, the more money he raises for the foundation and for himself. But then large corporations who wish to donate money give the rest. In short, the foundation gave Carson an opening to mind-meld with corporate America.
Ben Carson in effect gets paid to put his face on issues for the Republican party. He endorses, basically getting paid to say the politically ultra-right things outlined in those proposals for education listed above, and he is not in the least disturbed by saying these crazy things. He is as cool with them as he is with his Pyramids. In short the trade off seems pretty explicit, he was pulled in by the GOP who saw how he could be leveraged, or as he puts it:
"I need to do what is best for my family and my country,". "If somebody dislikes me for that, that's okay with me."
Yep - and I think by 'family' he means for his house in Florida, his wife and kids etc... Which for many other people would be better translated as 'best for my pocket'. So frankly Ben you are a very convenient ally for the GOP. Ben's dilemma seems like a fairly broken compensatory refrain now in US politics, as altruistic as it may sound if you are even fooled bor a second..No just believe me, he is fighting for 'family (pocket) and country (GOP)' with bible and rifle. 
This probably has not been an easy ride for Ben Carson, being basically the only black GOP candidate in a vehemently white conservative party. But it doesn't seem like a bad financial deal either on the flip side. In financial disclosure forms, Carson and his wife reported income of between $8.9 million and $27 million from January 2014 to May 3, 2015, when he announced his presidential campaign. Over that period, Carson received over $4 million from 141 paid speeches; between $1.1 million and $6 million in book royalties; between $200,000 to $2 million as a contributor to the Washington Times and Fox News. (wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Carson)
He is also paid to sit on the boards of companies. So between $2 million and $10 million as a member of the boards of Kellogg Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. However, he resigned from Costco's board in mid-2015, after serving on it for more than 16 years. Carson also was Chairman of the Baltimore-based biotechnology company Vaccinogen from August 2014 until the announcement of his US presidential bid in May 2015. Carson had previously served on Vaccinogen's Medical Advisory Board.
So the question I wondered at the end of this is what in fact does Ben Carson think he is doing?
Having come from a fairly poor family apparently himself, how do you reconcile slowly selling out in this totally existential way?
He is either doing exactly what some unscrupulous highly paid surgeons and doctors appear to do particularly in the USA, by endorsing drug companies and 'selling their respectable face' at the highest premium - so just selling his credentials and support network of voters (via the foundation) to the GOP conservative lobbying machine rather than to a big pharma company.
Or Ben Carson really is going to stand by his comments above and has a radical agenda for education in the USA.

Or maybe neither is really true - or at least each is conveniently true until it isn't. In fact possibly Ben possibly lives in some kind of halfway state in which both realities have to remain conveniently true to a point..

I would like to think that somewhere out there in the void is a windswept camel standing thoughtfully, wondering deeply about space in four dimensions, while trying to resolve such philosophical questions. 
Either way, I think Ben Carson will be just fine, he moved from his house in Maryland with 48 acres of land to West palm Beach, Florida. It is not, for all that I know built in a three dimensional triangular way.

But I think it is better put by a far more talented inhabitant of that place, who as he wandered alongside the beautiful seashore wrote in 'The Idea of Order at Key West':

 It was her voice that made   
The sky acutest at its vanishing.   
She measured to the hour its solitude.   
She was the single artificer of the world 
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,   
Whatever self it had, became the self 
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,   
As we beheld her striding there alone, 
Knew that there never was a world for her   
Except the one she sang and, singing, made. 

(Wallace Stevens)