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Obama’s Arne Duncan


I was just sent a link to a Rethinking Schools piece on Arne Duncan, Obama’s pick for Education Head. The article sent me scrambling for recent Znet articles in the same vein. Here’s Paul Street on Obama’s Education guy, Arne Duncan.

Duncan, who claims to "oppose war" in accord with a Quaker upbringing in the liberal Chicago university neighborhood of Hyde Park, has refused to heed teachers and parents who protest the militarization of public education (Sharkey 2008). Speaking of his Pentagon high schools after the briefly protested introduction of the "Rickover Naval Academy" in Chicago’s North Side Senn High (largely Latino), Duncan said that "These are positive learning environments. I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline" (quoted in Tareen 2007).

And here’s the same (corporate?) ‘Quaker’ quote in an article from the Rethinking Schools site

Militarizing Public Education

To justify Renaissance 2010, Duncan has been a strong proponent of school choice?including military schools. He was quoted in the Nov. 2, 2007, issue of USA Today saying: "These are positive learning environments. I love the sense of leadership. I love the sense of discipline."

According to the CPS website, Chicago has "the largest JROTC program in the country in number of cadets and total programs." CPS has five military high schools, more than any city in the nation, and 21 "middle school cadet corps" programs. The military high schools teach military history and have military-style discipline. Students wear military uniforms, do military drills, and participate in summer boot camps. The hierarchical authority structure mirrors the Army, Navy, and Marines, with new students ("cadets") under the command of senior students who work their way up and require obedience from those in "lower ranks." Like in the military itself, questioning, let alone challenging, authority is not looked upon kindly. In a city where barely 50 percent of entering high school students graduate (Swanson, 2008), and in a country involved in two wars, the option of military service tempts many, especially in a period of economic crisis. All but one of the military high schools are in African American communities, and all the middle school cadet programs are in overwhelmingly black or Latina/o schools. The rapid increase in these programs has occurred largely under Duncan’s watch, and CPS plans additional ones in the future.

And here’s a sign of the Obama cabinet’s devotion to democracy and what a hands-on kinda guy Duncan is.

In a democracy there must be opportunities to impact decision-making. CPS has refined sham hearings to a twisted art form. When schools are slated to close, CPS is supposed to hold public hearings (which Duncan never attended) so that a hearing officer and board members (who almost never attend) can engage the school community and listen to their rationale as to why the school should not be closed, or other alternatives should be explored. In virtually every case, parents, students, teachers, and community pour out their hearts. In many cases, they document how their school has been drastically underserved by CPS or that their school has consistently improved. Tears are shed out of fear for their children’s safety or the destruction of a family atmosphere in a school building; yet the CPS Board?on Duncan’s recommendation?consistently votes unanimously to close the school. This has prompted a revitalized effort by community members and organizations to remove the mayor’s authority to appoint the CEO and the school board and move towards an elected school board.

Here’s another Zarticle on Obama’s stance on education as a continuation of a process that further demoralize ‘under-served’ communities.

Obama’s education plan is based on the same rhetoric (fear mongering) and reasoning that produced the educationally disastrous NCLB. Indeed, Diane Ravitch, right-wing education policy analyst at New York University and Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan Administration recently opined, "that Obama has given President George W. Bush a third term in education policy and that Arne Duncan is the male version of Margaret Spellings [Education Secretary in Bush's second term]. Maybe he really is Margaret Spellings without the glasses and wearing very high heels. We all know that Secretary Spellings greeted Duncan’s appointment with glee. She wrote him an open letter in which she praised him as "a fellow reformer" who supports NCLB and anticipated that he would continue the work of the Bush administration."[10]

Like his predecessors, Obama misrepresents public education performance as a scare tactic and to open the door for the privatization. Gerald Bracey, a fellow at the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University, has cataloged recent errors in Obama’s claims about public schools.[11] Here are a few examples:…

I just thought I’d draw together two Z articles and a Rethinking Schools piece on Arne Duncan. he seems like one disappointing Quaker. My Quaker high shool experience with the Assemblies on Aparthied and Central America in the 80’s, the Service Project in a DC homeless shelter coordinated by Fellowship For Reconciliation helped me develop a more confident critical stance. It’s Probably part of what prepared me to think on Chomsky material, starting with Deterring Democracy. I finally felt like I wasn’t stupid for not being able to understand how Newsweek, USAToday and the New York Times had El Salvador’s Duarte as the democratic choice in spite of death squads. It’s school so you think Reading Comprehension and how these Authorities on the subject must be right and have everyone’s (your) best interests in mind – but it just doesn’t make sense. The Quakers were good for providing exposure to critical views of Apartheid, Iran Contra.

They had a Quaker Lady active in Central America in the same Assembly (twice weekly all school gathering) as a general, colonel – some military guy. During the question and answer section she got up and said ‘We just heard [or you just gave us - this was 20 years ago] a lot of mental masturbation….’ and probably went on to detail various horrors. She was an impressive Quaker. The school later had a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of saying ‘mental masturbation’ in that situation but she was right and it stuck with me for 20 years. The only other assembly of equal impact was a movie interviewing victims of Apartheid error beating and torture. It was hard to get up and go about your day after that, not that many people showed much nauseau afterward. Maybe they’d had more ‘screen time‘ I had.

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