Category Archives: Reform

Ayn Rand/Paul Ryan: lazy poor people and education reform

Speaking about poverty in a radio interview last week, Ayn Rand super-fan Paul Ryan blurted out this gem of a statement:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work.

Ryan’s critics pounced quickly on the Representative’s remarks, labeling them as insensitive, ignorant, and racially-charged; and though Ryan later called his statement an “inarticulate” representation of his point, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Ryan meant something other (or less offensive) than what he actually said.  To try to understand what Ryan was thinking when he made this comment, we need only look as far as the writings of his hero, Ayn Rand, who wrote extensively about poor people:

“Parasites, moochers, looters, brutes and thugs can be of no value to a human being–nor can he gain any benefit from living in a society geared to their needs, demands and protection, a society that treats him as a sacrificial animal and penalizes him for his virtues in order to reward them for their vices, which means: a society based on the ethics of altruism.”

Right.  Screw altruism!

But Rand also wrote extensively about America’s “disastrous” system of public education–another idea that Paul Ryan seems to embrace whole-heartedly.  Last July, I wrote about Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden as philosophical founders of lots of ed-reformy beliefs; the pair’s denunciations of the American education system—particularly the “disgracefully low level of education in America” that they observed in the 1960s—led them to conclude that education should be turned into a “profit-making private enterprise.” They decried the presence and function of unions, and instead advocated that free-market control of education would a panacea for many of society’s ills.

So let’s combine the ideas of poverty and education using Rand’s philosophies and Ryan’s current political platforms.  According to Paul Ryan, poverty plagues the inner cities because inner-city people (the “parasites” Rand referred to?) don’t know how to work hard. Obviously, if Ryan believes this, he’d extend this theory to explain why many inner-city students struggle academically. Right? After all, inner-city kids are part of the “generations” Ryan described.

And just what does Ryan believe is the best way to address the problems in our inner-city schools–which it seems he believes are populated with lazy poor people? The solution is…wait for it…to close neighborhood schools, open charters, fire experienced teachers, and bust unions. That’s logical, right?! (*Awkward pause*) Who cares! It’s the first step in turning education over to the free market. Ryan is so adamant about education reform that he even sided with Chicago’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel during the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike: “We will stand with education reform, we will champion bipartisan education reforms.” 

So if you’re like Paul Ryan and you believe that poor people are bringing our country down because they’re lazy, how can you take advantage of those poor people while simultaneously pretending to do something that’s in their best interest? Ask yourself this: What Would Ayn Rand Do??

In 1964, Rand and Branden published a collection of essays entitled The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, in which they explored the term central to their collection’s title.  From AynRand.org:

Selfishness — a virtue? Ayn Rand chose this book’s provocative title because she was on a mission to overcome centuries of demonization. “In popular usage,” Rand writes, “the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends . . . and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

So Ayn Rand says selfishness is neither good nor bad; it’s simply “concern with one’s own interest.”  It’s the “task of ethics” to answer questions about the moral implications of people’s selfishness on a case-by-case basis. And given that Rand spent so much time complaining about “government schools” and advocating for selfishness and individual interests, it’s interesting to think about the ways in which those ideas are interrelated–especially considering the current state of educational affairs in America. (I’m not sure when “ethics” is going to show up and start labeling people as “good selfish” or “bad selfish,” so I’ll just do it myself.)

It’s becoming increasingly clear that education reform depends—even thrives—on the concurrence of two different types of selfishness: parents’ selfishness, which manifests itself as concern for their children’s interests (most would argue that within reason, this type of selfishness is good, understandable, necessary, and justifiable)–and the $elfishness of reformers who place their own political, financial, or social gains above the interests of children (what I’d describe as “evil”—although the capitalistic Rand, Branden, and Ryan would likely disagree with me)–and at the very same time, pretend they really know and want what’s best for kids.

Ayn Rand’s been dead since 1982, but if she were around today, I bet she’d be super excited that Paul Ryan helped boost sales of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged about the reformy push to eradicate “government schools” (she wouldn’t like the Common Core, though, because national standards are a no-no). Rand would probably be even more excited to know that current education “reforms” are forcing people to abandon the idea of working toward the “common good” and adopt an every-man-for-himself (selfish!) philosophy. Here’s how reformers do it:

Step 1: Convince people that “government schools” are, indeed, failing.  Use PISA and other standardized test scores to claim American children are dumb; ignore the glaring correlations between income and scores, the effects of disaggregating scores, rates of child poverty in the United States, etc.  Then, pay corporations lots of money to create and score ridiculous tests to further “prove” American children are dumb. Make sure that everyone takes those tests (except your own kids, if they’re in an exclusive private school), and predetermine the percentage of kids you’d like to see fail.  Then, call the media. Oh, and don’t give “government schools” any money to defray the cost of these tests, so many schools will have to cut staff, programs, and basic supplies to afford to administer these tests.

Step 2: Get rich ($elfish?!) people to help you open up lots of new schools with new (literally–read: cheap) teachers, and force those new teachers to teach to the tests you created in Step 1. *A great way to get people to inve$t in a new school is to remind them about the New Markets Tax Credit Program, which essentially opened the door for people to make lots of money on charter schools.

Step 3: Once the “government schools” are skeletons (fewer teachers, huge classes, no counselors, no nurses, no arts/vocational programs, no extracurricular activities, etc.) that have been starved by all the unfunded mandates you say are good for kids, appeal to parents’ sense of (justified) selfishness by telling them that the new teachers are better than the old teachers and that the new schools are better than the “government schools,” which are “failing”–and that they need to get their kids into a new school immediately.

Step 4: Deny admission to or get rid of any kids who don’t help your stats. ASAP. This includes kids with behavioral and/or psychological issues, kids who have no advocates at home, and special needs students. (Take a page from Cami Anderson’s One Newark manual and make sure all the self-contained special education classes are in the neighborhood schools so they don’t mess up the charter schools’ test scores.) Send those kids back to the “government schools” (which, not surprisingly, Rand says will still be available to children whose parents are too “poor” or uninvolved in their kids’ lives to seek other educational opportunities).

Step 5: Cite your misleading and skewed test scores as evidence of your “success.” (Because test scores are the best measure of learning!) Then count your (high-powered and very wealthy) friends, count your ca$h, and give yourself a hug and a high five.  You’ve just contributed to social stratification in America. Ayn Rand would be super proud of you!

If you feel like there’s something missing in all this Randian thinking (concern for the community as a whole?  concern for other people’s children? concern for the collective well-being of the future of our society?), you’re very perceptive.  But just look at it like Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan would look at it: we can’t force poor, lazy people to care about themselves–but we can provide a way for other people to get away from those poor, lazy inner-city dwellers: it’s called education reform.

Adding a disclaimer, because someone’s going to email to say his child is doing well in a charter school: Yes, I get that there are people involved with charter schools who truly care about children.  I get that there are some charter schools that serve their students well.  I’ve said this many times before. My problem is with the charter school expansion movement, which on the whole is crippling public schools and ruining public education.

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Student substance abuse: bad news for teachers’ test score-based evaluations

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “illicit drug use among teenagers has continued at large rates, largely due to the popularity of marijuana.”  According to the Institute’s statistics,

Marijuana use by adolescents declined from the late 1990s until the mid-to-late 2000s, but has been on the increase since then. In 2012, 6.5 percent of 8th graders, 17.0 percent of 10th graders, and 22.9 percent of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month—an increase among 10th and 12th graders from 14.2 percent, and 18.8 percent in 2007. Daily use has also increased; 6.5 percent of 12th graders now use marijuana every day, compared to 5.1 percent in the 2007.

Well-documented are the effects marijuana has on the developing brain.  According to John Knight, MD, Senior Associate in Medicine and Associate in Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital Boston and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard University Medical School, the earlier a child starts smoking marijuana, the earlier “potential changes to brain structure and function” occur.

Further, Dr. Mona Potter, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at The Landing/Dual Diagnosis Adolescent Residential Treatment Unit at McLean Hospital in Boston, says:

“While there is conflicting information related to cannabis’ long-term neurocognitive effects, there is no debate that adolescence is a very vulnerable time to put extraneous substances into the brain. While some adolescents report being able to use marijuana without a major negative impact, they are not always aware of the deficits in learning and memory related to their use.”

But marijuana isn’t the only drugs to which teens have access.  One of the newest trends in adolescent drug abuse involves use of a drug teens refer to as “Molly,” a powder form of MDMA–a component of ecstasy.  Doctors and substance abuse counselors warn that use of this drug, which is highly addictive, is on the rise–particularly because it’s accessible: it’s cheaper than marijuana, and it’s becoming so commonplace that teens generally have no trouble getting their hands on it. Experts warn that it can cause “permanent and irreversible damage to [adolescents’] brains, hearts, kidneys, and other vital organs.”

And then there’s alcohol, which  has a similar–and well-documented–effect on an adolescent’s brain.  

Studies conducted over the last eight years by federally financed researchers in San Diego, for example, found that alcoholic teenagers performed poorly on tests of verbal and nonverbal memory, attention focusing and exercising spatial skills like those required to read a map or assemble a precut bookcase.

It’s no secret that teens have been experimenting with illegal substances for decades, but the movement to tie teachers’ evaluations to the test scores of their students is relatively new.  Which unfortunate teachers will be assigned the students who have recently fallen into depths of substance abuse–and who, by doing so, have literally altered their brain chemistry and affected their ability to focus and to learn–and to perform well on or care about a standardized test?  

What’s even more concerning is that in a time of rising concerns about teen substance abuse and decreased funding for public schools, after-school programs that might otherwise keep kids out of trouble and substance abuse counselors are being cut.

Where does substance abuse within the context of today’s educational system leave kids?  In a bad place with a decreasing number of resources for support.  And where does it leave teachers?  In an equally bad place: one in which they’re at the mercy of reformers, who refuse to consider the effects extraneous factors (drug abuse, poverty, home life) have on students’ standardized test performance.

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An Open Letter to WA State Representative Liz Pike

Dear Ms. Pike,

Your “open letter to public educators” is an extended contradiction and a wild display of ignorance.

So let me get this straight. You claim that you “encourage folks to choose a job they love,” yet you say you “chose to work a career in private sector business so that [you] could be one of those tax payers who funds [teachers’] salaries and benefits as a state employee in a local school district.”  Really?  That’s why you “chose” your career–to fund teachers’ salaries and benefits? How generous of you!  How would your boss feel about this statement (which, by the way, doesn’t even make sense), though?  And even if you hadn’t chosen to work in the private sector, wouldn’t you still be a taxpayer?  I’m just confused.

Then you say that if you could do it all over again, you’d choose to become a teacher “so that [you] too could enjoy summertime off with [your] children, spring break vacations, christmas break vacations, paid holidays, a generous pension and health insurance benefits.”  Really?  You’d become an educator not so you could inspire children and do your part to change our society for the better, but so you could have summers and holidays off? (By the way, the “C” in Christmas should be capitalized.) Anyway, I’m glad, for the sake of our children, that you chose the private sector. This statement alone shows your deep-seated resentment of teachers, the shallowness of your priorities, and the complete lack of understanding you have about what it takes to be a teacher.  You must be really unhappy with your career choice if you’d  go back in time and abandon it in favor of a job you clearly know nothing about and have no respect for.

You thank teachers for their service to schools, and then you deride the very public school system in which they work, saying it “continues to plummet when compared to worldwide education standards.” You bash the professional unions to which teachers belong, insisting that those unions “only care about the adults in the system.” You’re kidding, right? Please remember that unions are made up of teachers.  To suggest that teachers only care about themselves is an offensive generalization—a stereotype, even—that is just as offensive as calling all politicians corrupt.  (Does that offend you?)  Please, save the false praise you throw into this letter; it is disingenuous and insulting.

You suggest that teachers who are “dissatisfied” with their pay and benefits look elsewhere for employment so that “someone who is inspired to greatness can take their place in the classroom.”  Are you suggesting that a teacher who seeks fair pay for his work is somehow uninspired in his job?  How are the two connected?  Further, are you suggesting that private sector workers don’t seek pay increases, better benefits, or other things that are in their and their families’ best interest?

You hope that teachers will inspire their students to “reach their full intellectual potential and learn the value of true leadership in our community.”  If “true leadership in our community” is what you feel you demonstrate in your role as an elected official, perhaps you should begin by respecting public education, which is a cornerstone of our democratic society and the heart of our communities, instead of vilifying those who work so hard to improve it.

I very much agree that “our children deserve an exceptional and inspired teacher in every classroom.” But how can you expect exceptional and inspired teachers to enter the profession when people like you publicly—and viciously—criticize it?

I’m a proud teacher and a proud union member.  I’m passionate about the children and the subject matter I teach, and my colleagues, who are also proud teachers and union members, are equally passionate.  I’m disgusted by the ignorance your post exudes and the complete disregard you have for the institution of public education and the devoted teachers who do their jobs each day even when they’re faced with issues (like poverty, inequality, reformers who know nothing about education, and corporations that have a financial interest in our schools and their students) that threaten students’ ability to succeed.

Please stop painting teachers as being greedy and uninspired.  Instead, please help fix the problems facing public education in an effort to support those who work their hardest each and every day to improve it.

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Filed under Letters, Reform

Montessori charters or bras wired for cheating. Anyone?

I just read an article about efforts by China’s education ministry to prevent cheating on its college university entrance exam, which over 9 million students take to try to win one of just over 7 million spots in the country’s colleges.  Education officials, who seem to recognize that the pressure students feel to do well on such an important test invites cheating, imposed a ban on clothing with metal parts–including bras–to try to get a handle on “wireless cheating devices.”  For realsies.

While most students in the United States aren’t paraded through metal detectors before they sit for exams, many do feel the same sort of pressure to perform well on high-stakes tests that drives their Chinese counterparts to cheat with the help of a strategically-wired undergarment.

It’s no secret that even the highest-achieving students cheat. Take, for example, the “large-scale cheating” incident that was discovered at Harvard in 2012; it’s evidence that even Ivy-Leaguers, who some assume are models of academic integrity, resort to dishonest and immoral behavior when they feel enough pressure.  Likewise, administrators and teacher in Atlanta and Washington DC, under enormous pressure from reformers to raise test scores and with their jobs on the line, engaged in unethical behavior that called their morality into question.

Knowing that high-stakes testing–along with pressure from parents, administrators, reformers, or anyone else who has a vested interest in the results–opens the door for cheating, why are we forcing our students to test more and more each year?  Is it so we can catch public-school cheaters and hang them on the figurative gallows as evidence that public schools don’t work?

The biggest problem is that reformers like Michelle Rhee claim that if something isn’t measurable, it’s not worth learning. This belief is at the heart of her philosophy, which dictates that students should all be able to learn the same set of skills, and whether or not they actually learn these skills is a direct reflection on their teachers.  What’s worse is that people who have no understanding of public education agree with her.

But in this kind of testing culture, where the push seems to be to destroy public schools in favor of for-profit charters, a community in Connecticut is considering a Montessori charter school.  (What?!)  Yes, you heard that right: Montessori advocates, who do not believe in testing students AT ALL (ever), believe that their method “can trump poverty,” a key indicator in student achievement.

Isn’t this, like, a super-scary dilemma for a reformer? (If you are a reformer and you are reading this, do you feel sick?) What’s a reformer to do?  Ruin public schools (YESSSS!) in favor of a charter school (YESSSSSSS!) that doesn’t measure students by any type of test at all (NOOOOOOOOOO! WTF!)? What a conundrum!

YES, this is an isolated example of a community’s push to use taxpayer dollars for a very specialized (Montessori) school; but could it be an indicator that the idea of no testing AT ALL will become increasingly appealing as a result of the current high-stakes-testing climate?  Or maybe people just like that nobody cares what kind of bra one wears at a Montessori school.

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