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Charter Schools : Good, Bad, and Extremely Ugly

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by Mustafa Howard

History and Free Education in the U.S.

“If Virtue & Knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslav’d. This will be their great Security.”

Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, February 12, 1779

“The scientific method,” Thomas Henry Huxley once wrote, “is nothing but the normal working of the human mind.” That is to say, when the mind is working; that is to say further, when it is engaged in correcting its mistakes.

Taking this point of view, we may conclude that science is not physics, biology, or chemistry–is not even a “subject”–but a moral imperative drawn from a larger narrative whose purpose is to give perspective, balance, and humility to learning.
― Neil PostmanThe End of Education

Few working-class people would argue against the virtues of education and the assistance it lends to improving ones life.  Many, like Postman and others, who have examined the history and format of education, readily see that it has usually been a sought-after tool of the state and the factory.  Those who pass through the years of education and succeed anyway will actually gain the ability to think critically and seek a life for themselves that has meaning.  The rest are merely better prepared for vocation.

Among America’s founders were those who valued education as an opportunity for self-improvement, and others who valued it as the opportunity for creating a “well-ordered” public.  It has always been an arena for the tug-of-war between varied interests.  Concerned parents have to look after their child’s education, and share their concerns and viewpoints with other parents as well.

Introducing the U.S. Chamber Attack on Education

Banking regulations implemented by FDR, the strengthening of labor unions throughout the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, the advancement of Johnson’s Great Society, the Civil Rights Movement, formation of the EPA, and the anti-war protests during Vietnam created a “need” for organized resistance by American business.  Future SCOTUS judge Lewis Powell wrote a memo to a friend in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which included the words:

“The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism[of the system] come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.”

The Lewis Powell Memo began the mass organization of big business for the purpose of dominating America’s political, informational, and educational entities.  Although there are now many organizations involved in corporatizing our public schools, the US Chamber remains a major power.  Over the last 40 years, they have successfully implemented efforts to dominate school boards, own “accreditation” agencies, white-wash textbooks and college curriculum, destroy tenured professorship, implement atrocious “standards” based procedures, and turn America’s primary schools and universities into centers of profits and propaganda, rather than centers of learning.

History of the American Legislative Exchange Council

1973 then saw the beginnings of 3 major organizations, all united by the authoritarian worldviews of one man:  Paul Weyrich.  Weyrich was instrumental in putting together The Heritage Foundation (for right-wing Jews or “neoconservatives” ), The “Moral” Majority ( of Jerry Falwell infamy), and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council).  The MM has dispersed into a thousand other radical right religious organizations around the country, but the other 2 organizations continue to grow in power and dominance over Republican, and therefore, American politics.  So powerful have they become, in fact, that the “Democratic” Party now is really just another face for the One Party we actually have:  the Greed Party.

ALEC serves as a clearinghouse for getting big-business interests passed through congressional sessions at the federal and state level.  At their annual meetings, they join corporate lawyers with politicians to “exchange” (basically dictate) their pre-written “model” legislation, which the well-paid-for politician then returns with to pass through his/her congress.  Ronald Reagan, the Bush’s, Rick Perry, John Boehner,  Jan Brewer, William Bennett, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Scott Walker, and our sweethearts Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and even Margaret Thatcher are all ALEC good-buddies.  Since 1980, if it has a big red stamped on it, you can bet they’ve been paid for by ALEC corporations, and are pushing ALEC policies.

What do ALEC policies include:

  1. Union Busting [ “Right to Work” (for less) ] – going on since the 70’s
  2. Prison Expansion and Privatization – remember the “tough on crime” and “3 strikes” initiatives?  That was ALEC speaking.  Why?  Because ALEC includes 2 prison corporations and bail-bonding associations in their roster of members.
  3. Tort “Reform” – the initiative to set a cap on lawsuit awards for negligence and malpractice by doctors, hospitals, and business owners
  4. Voter Registration/ ID Requirements – this increases the likelihood that minority members will be left out of elections.
  5. Redistricting – the constant map-jacking of Republicans, to re-draw the districts to increase the likelihood of Republican wins, and Republican majorities
  6. Gun Rights – ALEC includes several firearm manufacturers, and Wal-Mart, which is the nation’s leading firearm retailer.  Open-carry makes for free advertising.
  7. Climate-change Denial and Obliteration of Environmental Protections
  8. TaxCut, TaxCut, TAXCUT – Bush was elected to the POTUS office on the promise he made to the “have-mores” to cut taxes.  He helped turn a projected $4.6 Trillion surplus into a $17 Trillion deficit by robbing the poor to feed the rich.
  9. And FINALLY – Privatizing the Public School System.  What better way to ensure the future prosperity of America’s corporations than to turn Public Schools into Corporate-owned Schools, turn Tax-payer revenues into Corporate Profits, and completely control the entire process of indoctrinating, training, and sorting the dog-meat children of the working class !?!  What a beautiful plan.

Charter Schools – Convergence of Right Wing Interests ( corporate interest, church, the Tea Party, and the Koch Bros. )

The Charter School and voucher programs have been pushed-for under the Reagan and Bush Governorships and Presidencies.  It opens the door for faith-based ownership of schools, which is not necessarily a drawback.  What is obviously a drawback is that funding is being diverted from public to charter schools and private schools, weakening the public school system.

The Tea Party is the wealth-generated voting wing of the ALEC agenda.  They are indoctrinated by reactionary pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Glenn Beck.  Their “platform” is basically whatever ALEC dictates.  Their fascist and racist savagery is blatant.  Their mentality is obviously and frighteningly similar to the Nazis.  They receive financial backing from right-wing criminals like Charles and David Koch.

The Koch heathens inherited a fortune from their father, Fred Koch.  Their business practices have earned them over 50,000 charges of fraud and other crimes, for which they’ve received several wrist-slaps, but no jail time.  Their irresponsible way of managing the pipelines they own has cost lives, including two teenagers from Texas.  Together, they comprise the world’s 6th richest person, they hate the environment, and they love the Tea Party – they created it.

Republicans Funded Everything but Education

After the Bush economy collapse, the Second Great Depression that was never admitted as such, the net fiscal loss of over $21 Trillion to the U.S. government alone, and the election of a Democratic President, it was finally time to talk “fiscal responsibility” on Capitol Hill.  ALEC’s version of fiscal responsibility means to never raise revenues by raising taxes, never cut defense or intelligence spending, and do whatever else you want.  The axe of austerity fell hardest on America’s youth in the form of massive cuts to education and medicaid.

Schools across the country are seeing record-setting student/teacher ratios, program cuts, and cuts for funding in teaching materials and supplies.  Texas alone has laid-off tens of thousands of teachers and closed hundreds of schools.  Meanwhile, the granting of privately-held school charters, the number of students in those schools, and the waiting-list to receive a charter have all skyrocketed.  Go figure – IT’S ENGINEERED THAT WAY, STUPID !

Texas Education Rankings in the Nation

18 years of Bush/Perry leadership in Texas, and the ALEC agenda to destroy public schools, have driven Texas schools to the very bottom of the rankings, LITERALLY:  Texas ranks dead last in diploma percentiles, and 49th in per-student spending.  What do we rank well in?  #1 IN HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUTS !

All this discussion of the effects of the post-Powell-memo hasn’t gone into the effect on universities.  What’s obvious there is that the transition to business-dominated education has made secondary education costs rise higher than everything except tobacco over the last 40 years.  Universities have become more administration-heavy, and political favor-pulling has much to do with executive positions and salaries.  But all this isn’t the subject of today’s rant.

The Question for Muslims

The demand of Islam to protect our children by offering them any environmental improvement has prompted many Muslims to seek private and charter schools as an alternative that some deem essential.  The choice would depend on many factors, so none can dictate or judge the decisions of others.  However, the demolishing of our public education system is something that should be resisted as well.  What’s a charter school today will eventually end-up as a corporate school tomorrow.  In the coming decades, we’ll see well-to-do Microsoft High-schools sitting atop lush green hills situated in the choicest neighborhoods, while the neighborhood across the tracks will host the Sam’s Club High-school for Future Cannon Fodder.  It’s a frightful outlook, but not difficult to imagine, especially after seeing what’s happened with privatized prisons.  Imagine a PERMANENT and UNBREAKABLE GLASS CEILING between the poor and the wealthy !

Further Reading

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – by the late Neil Postman

The Lewis Powell Memorandum


American Legislative Exchange Council Agenda



To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party (explains the roots of the Tea Party)

Follow the Money: How George W. Bush and the Texas Republicans Hog-Tied America

How Income Inequality Contributes To A Growing Education Gap That Is Jeopardizing Our Middle Class


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