Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Top Posts for 2014: Wall Street, Education, Charts and Fighting

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1. Wall Street and the School House Part I: The Culture of Smartness

This was the first of three posts exploring the connections between Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, and so-called “education reform.” I have Alexis Goldstein to thank for pushing to to stop talking about this idea and just do it.

[T]his sort of smartness infuses the movement for corporate education reform.  It can be seen in the pattern of seeking to provide maximum power to a few executives over public education, displacing the authority of schools boards, unions and the constituencies these represent: parents and teachers, and more broadly, citizens.  This can mean mayoral control over schools, or top school administrators (some, like in Chicago, now labeled CEOs), or state appointed boards like Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission. The idea that a single strong authority can “fix” schools by overriding the concerns of other stakeholders is so commonplace it was the theme of the movie Waiting for Superman, which focused on reform darling / authoritarian and DC Chancellor Michele Rhee.  Rhee made a name for herself through her confrontational style in relation to teachers and parents, famously taking a film crew along with her to fire a teacher. Significant experience teaching or administering schools is not required to wield this sort of unchecked power.

2. The Donald Sterling Supremacism No One’s Talking About

This was a guest post from Jesse Myerson. I’m surprised I was able to edge him out for the top spot.

Ownership puts ugly pressures on a person; the ideologies of those whose line of business is exploiting others become easily susceptible to supremacist doctrines. At least we have the solace of knowing that this particular sexist, racist, capital-supremacist will no longer own the Clippers (though there is yet no word on whether a lifetime ban from real estate ownership is similarly forthcoming). Still, it wouldn’t hurt to consider the alternative to ownership and exploitation: sharing. As a team shares a victory, as a healthy romance shares the responsibilities, so can an economy share its wealth with the people who have been violently separated from it for centuries.

3. Exploitation, Hard Work and Motivation: Wall Street and the School House Part II

This was the second piece in the series on Wall Street and education. People who work doing things that matter are often attacked for not working hard enough, including by people who get great rewards from capital income (i.e. not working).

Reformers have often engaged in attacks on public school teachers insisting that—as a class—they do not work hard, they are overpaid, and that “tenure,” meaning due process, allows lazy and unethical teachers to remain in their jobs forever leaving administrators with no recourse.  These claims are made all the more strongly if those teachers are protected by a union. Teachers are lambasted for having summers off, for resisting increases in their hours (generally without any increase in pay).  Traditionally teaching has been seen as a profession, which entails having a voice in how schools are run, a certain level of control over what is taught and how, and requiring significant training and an apprenticeship.  Reformers have sought to challenge these notions, by placing power in the hands of “supermen” and introducing inexperienced and untrained but ‘smart’ TFA recruits to replace experienced teachers.

4. This One Chart Shows Everything That’s Wrong With Liberal Politics

My most click baity title ever. Makes some important points about how politics works and what liberals get wrong about that. Also objecting to what liberals get wrong about conservatives. There is no redistribution, only distribution.

Let’s leave aside the fact that federal dollars do materialize out of thin air. Transferring money from the rich to the poor is precisely what conservatives don’t want to do. Normally this complaint is about “redistribution” but the reality is that conservatives (especially elite conservatives) are opposed to any distributions that don’t transfer money upward. They support policies that make the poor more insecure, more miserable, and they oppose those that prevent the rich from having more wealth and power. They will pay the costs when it comes to these goals. As I’ve said before, ‘big government’ is any action that enforces the law against the rich or provides protections to the poor while ‘small government’ is any and all protections and benefits for the rich or punishments for the poor. This is the conservative project, not spending less federal dollars as a matter of principle.

5. Every inch won should lead us to demand more

This is probably my favorite, if I may be so self-indulgent. More rousing than the normal fare here, but also part of my project on rethinking our models of politics and how to act if we want significant change.

People love the idea of winning without a fight. You see that in the hope of many Democrats that the Republicans will be so extreme that voters will reject them without Democrats having to take a stand on anything. You see it in their insistence that demographic changes will lead to the demise of the Republican Party, despite the fact that those demographics are malleable and a product of politics. You see it when people offer charts and stats alone as if bare facts ever convinced anyone of anything, or their efforts to argue in favor of (mildly) liberal ends from conservative starting points. You see it in the efforts to avoid taking stances that conservatives will oppose (as if they won’t move to oppose what ever previously reasonable position liberals take.) You see it in the simultaneous claim that the ACA is a great success and a frustration its opponents are still pushing back.

I love the idea of winning a fight. I love it because our opponents are wrong and deserve to be beaten. I love it because winning begets winning. I love it because, as Frederick Douglass taught us, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” I love it because we have so, so far to go to begin to approximate our ideals. I love it because I love it.

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Written by David Kaib

December 18, 2014 at 9:35 am

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