Tag Archives: policies

I Hope This Is Hyperbole…

Generally, when partisans of one sort or another pursue policies that are likely to have negative side-effects, those side effects are unintended. (Hence the term “unintended consequences.”) A recent report generated by The Institute for New Economic Thinking–a source with which I am unfamiliar, and for which I cannot vouch–asserts that the attack on teachers (about which I recently blogged) is part of a deliberate effort to “Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude.”

At least three people forwarded the paper to me. It references research by Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, and Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT.  It describes a movement that is said to have begun in the wake of Citizens United, a “highly coordinated campaign” to destroy unions, cut taxes for the wealthy, and cut public services for everyone else.

Lafer pored over the activities of business lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – funded by giant corporations including Walmart, Amazon.com, and Bank of America—that produces “model legislation” in areas its conservative members use to promote privatization. He studied the Koch network, a constellation of groups affiliated with billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. (Koch Industries is the country’s second-largest private company with business including crude oil supply and refining and chemical production). Again and again, he found that corporate-backed lobbyists were able to subvert the clear preferences of the public and their elected representatives in both parties. Of all the areas these lobbyists were able to influence, the policy campaign that netted the most laws passed, featured the most big players, and boasted the most effective organizations was public education. For these U.S. corporations, undermining the public school system was the Holy Grail.

The obvious question is: why? These organizations and businesses need an educated workforce; why would they intentionally subvert education? I understand–and mostly agree with– the argument that their preferred policies would have that effect, but why would that be the motivation?

While Lafer acknowledges that there are legitimate debates among people with different ideological positions or pedagogical views, he thinks big corporations are actually more worried about something far more pragmatic: how to protect themselves from the masses as they engineer rising economic inequality.

As Lafer sees it, we are headed for a new system in which the children of the wealthy will be “taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids.” The rest of America’s children will be trapped in large classes with a narrow curriculum taught by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits…

In other words, dismantling the public schools is all about control.

The linked article develops these themes, and readers who want to explore them more fully are welcome to click through and do so.

I know that even paranoids have enemies, but this argument strains credulity. I don’t quarrel with the assertion that many of these “reforms” are wrongheaded and detrimental to the national interest. (Vouchers, for example, are supported mainly by people who think they can make a profit and religious zealots who want public money to support their parochial schools.) The unwillingness of so many “haves” to pay the taxes that support the social and physical infrastructure that enabled their good fortune is selfish and despicable, but the policies they are pursing can be debated–and their dangers exposed–on their own (dubious) merits.

The problem is, if the gap between the rich and the rest isn’t reduced soon, we are likely to see more overheated accusations along these lines–along with more class-and-race-based animosity.

We’re entering the social danger zone.

 

“Embracing” Mike Pence

Indiana’s political version of musical chairs has now resolved itself into a ballot that offers Hoosiers some unanticipated choices.

Who would have predicted a re-entry of Evan Bayh into Hoosier electoral politics? Who would have imagined Mike Pence on the Trump Train? And who, exactly, is Eric Holcomb, our sudden candidate for Governor?

Holcomb, who spent something like three months as Pence’s chosen Lieutenant Governor, after the departure of Sue Ellspermann (the only woman and arguably only competent member of the Administration) has emerged as our new and improbable candidate for Governor. As part of his introduction to the Hoosier electorate, Holcomb has told media outlets that he intends to “embrace” Mike Pence’s record. Holcomb has also been quoted as saying that he is “quite proud” of Pence’s tenure, and “proud of where the state is now.”

Holcomb has thus tied himself firmly to a record that many of us predicted would elect John Gregg in November.

I can’t help wondering just how completely Holcomb really “embraces” the particulars of Pence’s record. Does Holcomb share Pence’s “culture war” goals, for example? If so, which ones?

No sane candidate is likely to promote passage of another RFRA, given the civic and economic damage caused by that unforced error, but what about adding “four words and a comma” to Indiana’s civil rights law, and protecting LGBTQ Hoosiers from being discriminated against simply because of who they are? Governor Pence adamantly opposed civil rights protections for Indiana’s gay citizens. Does Holcomb “embrace” that opposition?

And which of Governor Pence’s approaches to pre-school funding does Holcomb “embrace”—his original decision to decline an 80 million dollar grant that would have created a statewide preschool program, or the U-turn he took on that issue this year, when his original decision turned out to be politically damaging?

Speaking of education, if Glenda Ritz is re-elected as Superintendent of Public Instruction, is Holcomb prepared to let her do her job, or will he “embrace” Pence’s constant efforts to strip her of authority over the state’s educational policies? Will he “embrace” and continue Pence’s practice of diverting funds from Indiana’s public schools in order to finance the nation’s most extensive voucher program–a program that largely benefits religious schools—even though a recent Brookings Institution study confirmed that voucher students’ reading and math scores were significantly lower than the scores of similar students who remained in public schools?

Does candidate Holcomb “embrace” Pence’s continuing war on Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights? Did he support the bill the Governor so eagerly signed—subsequently struck down by a federal court—that, among other indignities, required women to conduct funerals for their aborted or miscarried fetuses?

Does Holcomb “embrace” and plan to continue Pence’s efforts to keep organizations like Catholic Charities and Exodus from resettling Syrian refugees in Indiana? Is he “proud” of this mean-spirited retreat from “Hoosier Hospitality”?

What about Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure? Is Holcomb “proud” of the condition of Indiana’s roads and bridges? And what about economic development? Is Holcomb “proud” that the majority of new jobs Pence brags about pay less than a living wage?

I can’t wait to hear just how far Holcomb’s “embrace” extends.