During Alex Johnston's Minneapolis Foundation ConnCan talk in June he told the foundation's assembled grant recipients that poverty and educational achievement gaps cannot be solved without destroying teachers' unions. In perhaps the most honest comment in his attack, Johnston admitted that this assertion was also his most controversial.
In this mean, slanderous, and illogical construct, teachers, the overwhelming majority of whom are dedicated professionals who work hard every day against sometimes high obstacles to educate every child who comes into their classrooms, are so powerful and self-interested that they instead cause the problems they are dedicated to overcome. It is indeed shameful that funders such as the Minneapolis Foundation, which spends tens of millions of tax-exempt dollars every year, should join in this political attack.
Anyone with half a brain understands that what the Minneapolis Foundation is peddling is unadulterated bullshit. If anything important to the over-class in this country really depended on every child getting a solid education, or reducing the educational gap between rich and middle class whites and the rest of us, you can be sure there would be no talk of destroying teachers' unions.
The seldom-spoken truth is that John Edwards was right - there are two Americas. And the ones who are being left behind resemble nothing so much as the poor schlubs in Kurt Vonnegut's prescient book Player Piano. While poverty and unemployment reach levels not seen since the great depression, the banksters and flim-flammers like those who run the Minneapolis Foundation live like kings. Meanwhile in the affluent suburbs of the Twin Cities families are already living in their cars in mall parking lots, or pitching tents in what's left of exurban woods. One in four children in the U.S. now live in poverty. Forty million Americans are dependent on food stamps just to survive. Only a fool, or a liar like Alex Johnston would argue that public school teachers' unions are responsible for those sad realities.
In such a bifurcated society the overlords need misdirection campaigns that at once give the appearance of caring for the less fortunate while simultaneously feeding the downward spiral of the left-behinds. That is the real value of campaigns like those for charter schools and Teach for America.
How else to explain the nonsense peddled by Alex Johnston that public school teachers' unions are responsible for poverty and racial gaps? Even people who today call themselves "progressives" embrace this nonsense: "Research shows that the classroom teacher is the single, biggest school-based factor in a student's academic success." Notice the caveat, "school-based," which allows the writer to ignore the underlying reasons for achievement gaps. Such statements blaming teachers, routine in our media, are not only outright lies disproved by social-scientific research, they are actually self-refuting: Unless so-called "bad teachers" were congregated in schools teaching to the poor and racial minorities, which almost no one is claiming, failure in schools would be evenly distributed among all schools. But that is not the case.
If the concern is racial and economic gaps in educational attainment, those gaps are de-facto caused by pre-existing factors. Yet the canard not only persists, it has become conventional wisdom, even among otherwise smart people who call themselves liberals. Why? One reason is that agitating against public school teachers has become a sure-fire route to receiving philanthropic and corporate riches. Hating on public school teachers and their unions has become professionalized, a way to receive tax-exempt funding for millions of Americans who might otherwise be jobless or have to find productive ways to earn a living.
Funders like the Walton Family Foundation, created from Wal-Mart money, now determine which schools get money. And rest assured that none of it goes to regular public schools with unionized teachers. These charter schools - and the people who run them- feel no shame in taking money from a company that has decimated the middle class and local business through predatory practices throughout the country. We now live in a post-shame society where liberals feel free to eat their own.
Dark clouds are flying over America today, and they've been gathering steam for 40 years. Even people who care and are aware of the problems are hard pressed to do anything about it: Our economy is now structured in important ways that ensure a further decline. Do you shop at Target or Best Buy, or buy products sold by 3M? You're now indirectly funding the Republican Party. Do you like watching the Vikings or Twins on TV? You're now helping pay Glenn Beck's salary. Do you buy plywood, paper towels, diapers, ink jet paper, heating oil, or gasoline? Chances are you're subsidizing the Koch brothers, who own Georgia Pacific and Koch Industries. Do you shop at Wal-Mart? If so you're undermining public schools. The list goes on. Constant streams of consumer money now goes to political campaigns that impoverish many Americans. In order to avoid subsidizing Republicans a person would have to turn into some kind of disconnected hermit.
Where do we go from here? I honestly wish I knew. One thing I do know is that places like the Minneapolis Foundation do no good when they fund ostensibly liberal organizations with one hand while punching us in the face with the other one.
* * * * * * *UPDATE: This morning the Star Tribune has an interesting story about MN Forward, the group funded by Target, Best Buy, and 3M, among others, formed to lobby for the rich and corporate. It demonstrates the level of mendacity these corporate "good citizens" are willing to sink to. In a new ad the group claims Democrat Mark Dayton will raises the taxes in Minnesota "per family" $2,300, when in reality, he will only raises taxes on the rich, and the number itself is wrong, even as an average. The number is derived by taking the total increase in taxes, to the rich, and dividing it by the number of households in the state, even though the overwhelming majority of those households will see NO tax increase. For Target, Best Buy and 3M, apparently lying is now de rigueur.