U.S.A.–Bought and Paid for

Over 300,000 people are unable to drink or bathe in water contaminated by a chemical spill by a company whose spokesperson does not want to answer for their crime against nature and the people.

Politicians, many of whom are funded by wealthy corporations, make decisions that negatively affect thousands of people who are poor, under-educated, unemployed, and minorities or considered outside the norm, yet are re-elected by pandering to emotional causes such as abortion or gun control.

Massive political lobbies, wealthy individuals, and wealthy corporations control politics at all levels so that they continue to get wealthier while most Americans get poorer and become trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

The United States of America has changed from the Land of Opportunity to the Land of Greed and Plutocracy. We are no longer governed under the principles of being governed of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have allowed our country to be governed by the wealthy for the wealthy and to hell with anyone who is not lucky enough to make it to the top 1% in wealth. Face it, America is bought and paid for by these wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interest groups. We have allowed this to happen through being brainwashed into thinking that big business cares about the well-being of our nation.

We have been duped into believing that paying the lowest price is always the best way to go. It is the best way to go, for the corporate executives that know those cheap products we consume will need to be replaced shortly because they are of cheap quality. These corporations have moved the jobs out of our country to save money rather than keep them here and help our economy by creating jobs. What they are creating is more wealth for the executives since they continue to lay-off workers and/or move more jobs overseas. They fight against unions claiming they cost jobs because they exist to make working conditions better for the worker rather than the executive. They fight against affordable healthcare because they may lose some profit when they care for their employees needs by spending a little extra on insurance for them. They want fewer regulations claiming it will save or create jobs, yet refuse to admit that fewer regulations means causing environmental and human disasters that will kill people, some in time and others more immediately.

We shop at stores that are filled with junk at affordable prices that we do not need because they have undercut the local shops and sent them out of business. We are made to believe that these store care since they donate a pittance to the local schools or churches. However, we fail to see how much their executives make on the backs of their workers through low wages, no benefits, and fewer hours.

We dine on fast food because we are indoctrinated into it as children as the chain restaurants show cartoon characters who lead us into the world of low quality, calorie and chemically laden foods that are killing us physically, but our wallets still have some cash and we needed to do nothing to get the food but pull through the drive through or order it over our phones and computers. We refuse to see that the cheap food comes at a cost to our health and the ability of people to make a decent living, as the wages in these jobs are low as well as the skills needed to perform them.

We have sat by idly as we have elected people who care more about their next campaign than the people who elect them, except when it comes around to election time. Then, they drag out sound bites paid for by wealthy donors to scare us into believing our rights will be infringed if we elect those “liberals”. Ironically, it is those politicians who are sucking the lifeblood out of our country and our democracy as they pander to the chemical companies who now are in the business of selling genetically enhanced seeds to our farmers and to the oil companies who find new ways of polluting our natural resources rather than clean ways to provide energy that will save both lives and money.

It is time for people who truly care about America to stand up and say enough is enough!

It is time for real Americans to perform an election-driven revolution and unseat the greedy from office and put people into elected positions who will perform the will of the people with openness and honesty. People who will create laws that benefit all rather than the few. Politicians who will raise taxes on those who can afford to pay more and lessen the tax burden on those who cannot. Politicians who are statesmen rather than puppets. Politicians who will do more than promise a better America.

It is time for real Americans to stop patronizing the big box stores and shop locally at stores owned and ran by their neighbors instead of the distant corporations.

It is time for real Americans to realize that value means more than price. Paying a little more for a quality product is worth it in the long run. Putting fellow Americans to work is better than allowing corporations to move their business overseas.

It is time for real Americans to stand up, realize, and demand healthcare for all so that more people can work and contribute to the economy rather than suffer from illnesses and have to work simply to pay their medical bills.

It is time for real Americans to demand regulations on corporations that will protect the welfare of the people and the environment. We only have one earth and

It is time for real Americans to demand that our schools teach usable knowledge rather than teach so that students can pass a test. Bring back vocational courses so that those who want to work in a trade have the ability to learn that trade. With this comes the creation of jobs here for these students after they graduate rather than allowing corporations to move those jobs elsewhere.

Charter Schools: The Walmarts of Education

The American educational system is in a crisis. If one listens to the pundits and some of the politicians, he or she hears how American students are failing, teacher unions are keeping bad teachers in the classroom, and classrooms around the country are overcrowded and in schools that are dangerous. The solution some are proposing are privatizing our public schools and creating charter schools in their place. Many hear the term ‘charter school’ and think they know what they are and believe the rhetoric that these are the saviors of education. What is not said, though, is far more sinister and far less educational than the public realizes. Charter schools are businesses run using taxpayer dollars. Their business is to indoctrinate students into learning a set and many times rote set of skills that do not encourage much in the way of creativity or thought. It is education in a box. Another way to think of it is to see charter schools as the WalMarts of education—lower costs, cheaper output. There are many reasons why they are this way, but I will touch on only a few.

First, let us start by naming the primary corporations that run charter schools in the United States. Charter Schools USA and Academica are two of the largest players in the area. Other major charter school management companies are EdisonLearning, Mosaica, Achievement First, and Aspire Public Schools. It needs to be noted that these are companies who are accountable to an extent to school boards, but not to the same extent as public schools are held accountable. They are free to select students based on applications and even lotteries to determine which students may attend school at their managed operations. Public schools do not have the option, as they are required to accept any student zoned for their particular school. Essentially, charter schools are private schools using taxpayer dollars to run them, but can use that money with little say from the taxpayers on how they are run. Again, they are an educational business rather than a school.

The following is taken from a document produced by a group called The Philanthropy Roundtable entitled, “Investing in Charter Schools. A Guide For Donors.” It defines a charter school as the following:

• is a public school funded with public money.
• is tuition-free for all students.
• is non-sectarian, non-religious, and may not discriminate in student admissions.
• is chosen by families.
• is semi-autonomous, operating under its own charter—hence the name—and thus exempt from many of the regulations and collective bargaining agreements under which traditional district schools operate.
• is free to be a unique school designed to meet the needs of the students it intends to serve.
• is required to meet the same graduation standards as other schools.
• is responsible for improving student achievement and adhering to its charter contract, or face closure.
• receives discounted funding (in most, but not all, states), thus making it partially reliant on philanthropic support.
• can be a stand-alone school or part of a network of charter schools.
• can be nonprofit or for-profit (page 11).

Now, while most of this sounds good, note that charter schools are “exempt from many of the regulations and collective bargaining agreements under which traditional district schools operate.” That means that teachers and staff who work there are not allowed in many cases to negotiate their contracts, their working hours or conditions, or other benefits that traditional educators have. This would also include protections from termination without just cause. Therefore, if the administrator comes in and does not like a particular worker, then they can be fired on the spot with no recourse as would occur in the majority of the jobs, especially in states with “Right-to-Work” laws. It would also include situations where students may not be moving along at the pace required by the standards, which could be caused by the fact that children are individuals who learn at different rates and different styles or their socioeconomic conditions, where the teacher would be held at fault for the student not making learning gains and thus subject to disciplinary actions including dismissal.

This document goes on to call for a priority in “Priming the Human Capital Pipeline” in the form of encouraging more people to teach and lead their charter schools. The exact words they use are that donor are an important source in “supporting the development of a well-primed pipeline of talented human capital for charter schools and helping fund the development of innovative technologies that can decrease the dependence of the sector on finding ever more sources of talent” (21). In plainer English, it is up to those donors to bring people in from wherever they can find them to teach and lead students without relying on colleges and universities to educate their “talented human capital” (21). Teachers and administrators are no longer people, but “talented human capital” (21). Sounds like a business rather than a school, doesn’t it?

It does not stop there as they go on to call those who start up charter schools “education entrepreneurs” (24). Even some of the charter schools are praised for having created a “brand” (25) by which they are known. They make a comparison between industry and charter schools by stating that “consumers come to know a brand and what it signifies…Brands have proven very useful in the marketplace….Charter Management Organizations (CMOs” are the ‘brands’ of the charter sector, with quality control and cost efficiencies” (29). One further aspect they state in this document concerns the differences between these CMOs and their counterparts called EMOs or education management organizations. CMOs are non-profit while EMOs are for profit. One particularly damning piece of evidence states:

…it is important to note that many education reformers believe that EMOs hold real potential for revolutionizing public education. If investors in EMOs are able to deliver consistent student achievement and create a profitable investment vehicle, they will have discovered a highly attractive and sustainable model for charter schools specifically and public education generally. (30).

Did you catch what was said as well as what was not said in that statement? These people believe that education needs to be a business with investors and profits. The goal of the charter movement is to see public education be corporate operated and run. There is no mention of students learning aside from their wanting the delivery of “consistent student achievement”. Consistent does not mean improvement. It does not mean creativity. It means a steady keeping of the status quo. It means having the same results over time. If only 55 percent of the students pass on a consistent basis, then they succeed. Consistency not progress is the key for them.

So, just how do charter schools measure student success? One of the largest donors to the charter school movement is The Walton Family Foundation, founded by the family of Walmart founder Sam Walton. The director of the foundation’s K-12 education reform, Jim Blew, stated in this document that the foundation is

very straightforward with our grantees that we expect them to dramatically increase student achievement, as measured by standardized tests in math and reading. We understand that there are other ways of measuring quality—attendance rates, graduation rates, etc.—and we want to hear about those, too. But, at the end of the day, we want to know that grantees are actually raising student achievement. (79)

Student achievement is not based on anything but how well students score on a standardized test. That is it. They are not deemed successful if they create something new. They are not deemed successful if they finally master something they worked on. They achieve if they can pass a test. World-class bubble fillers are the key to America’s success according to this supporter of charter schools. If a student can fill-in the correct answer, regardless of whether they actually understand why it is the correct answer, then they have learned. Learned what, you may ask. Well, how to fill in the correct answer because that is all that is needed to succeed in life. That is all that is needed to make America great again in the world. Well, at least really good at working in a Walmart where all that is needed is to follow the rules and do what management tells you to do.

Charter schools are not good for the education of our students. They are standardized test mills. As long as students can pass the test, they are okay. If the student cannot, well, they can currently be tossed back into the public schools. How long that will last is yet to be determined by policy makers and the donors to them. That is unless you who are reading this find the idea of having your child treated like an assembly line worker and their teacher treated like human capital as appalling as many other people do. If that is the case, it is time for you to take a stand as a parent or as a teacher against this movement to privatize our public educational system. Our children are not all the same; therefore, we cannot allow them to be taught or expected to learn the same way.

Here are some ways to combat this growing trend of charter schools and even reliance on high stakes standardized testing. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a small start.

1. Get active in your local schools. Go to school board meetings. Volunteer in classrooms and/or the school office. It does not matter if you have kids there or not so long as you pass a criminal background check and care about the future of our country.
2. Stay informed. Do not rely on the media outlets to tell you everything you hear about our public schools or even charter schools.
3. Attend local public school events. Cheer on the sports teams. Cheer on the non-sports related groups and organizations as well.
4. If you are a parent, find ways to opt out of standardized testing.
5. Look into how the state tests are organized. Speak out if they only cover items that are rote memorization based. Multiple-choice tests do not measure thought, only if the right answers were memorized.
6. If you are a parent, demand more essay tests or tests that allow your child to choose an answer and defend it with logical reasoning skills.
7. Support your teachers. They work far more than what many believe they do. They do not have summers off as they spend that time planning as they do nights and weekends during the school year.
8. Teachers, defend your rights to teach. Abide by your negotiated contract, but if need be, do no more than that if you are not being heard.
9. Administrators, especially those of you who once taught in a classroom, go back into the classroom. Plan a period every day of the year to keep teaching. If you keep teaching, then you stay in touch with the changes that are happening on the front lines. And do not try to teach just the select students, branch out your roster to include all levels of student abilities.
10. Political leaders, listen to the teachers who teach in your district. They are on the front lines every day. They are experienced professionals who know their job, their subjects and their students. Remember that standardized tests are snapshots rather than the big picture of what is happening in our schools.

If you would like to read the entire document referenced in this essay, please use the following address:

Click to access Investing_in_Charter_Schools__A_Guide_for_Donors.pdf

Time to Take America Back for All People

I follow a number of blogs and Facebook posts mostly to stay informed and out of curiosity. One in particular has had my attention for a great deal of time and deals with my hometown in Ohio. It was a great place to grow up. As a child, my peers and I were free to run around and be kids. Many of my classmates hoped to attain positions in the local factories or at least be able to continue to live there and have happy and productive lives. It was a good town with a great deal of pride in its history, schools, and citizenry.
However, it was also like many other Midwestern towns and tried to rely on that hope too much to sustain it once the factories began laying off workers and subsequently either going out of business or moving out-of-town, and sometimes, even the country as a whole. The leaders of the time did not know what hit them. They hoped there would be a bounce back. Later, they hoped to become a bedroom community for the closest big city that is about 35 miles away. The last part happened, but the leaders were not prepared for the ramifications of that happening either. They were not prepared for the bad elements of the big city to come to town. By bad element, I mean the drugs, crime, and even absentee landlords who purchased many houses and chose to keep them at the bare minimum of standards of living and even rent to the criminal element that came from the big city.
Now, my hometown is a shadow of what it once was. Parts of town that once had hope are now falling under disrepair and the scourge of crime. Citizens are feeling less safe in neighborhoods that once were very safe. The drug rate is climbing even faster than the unemployment rate. The rate of high school students graduating has dropped drastically. Like many towns of the Midwest, it is falling apart and many of the people are feeling hopeless. I visited the town a couple of weeks ago and witnessed it firsthand. I saw people walking around looking dejected. I saw businesses that once flourished now sitting boarded up. I saw a town that looked tired from its buildings to its people. It saddened me deeply then and continues to do so even as I write this essay.
On one of the Facebook posts, I heard someone lament that no one seems to care and they do not feel heard by the politicians who are in power. Someone else asked that person if he or she attends council meetings. They said they did not, but did not feel it would matter. That is the sound of defeat. That is the sound of despair. That is the sound of defeat. That is not the sound that should ever come from any human being. Hemingway once wrote, “But man is not made for defeat…A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” It is time for people to realize that quote is true. A person can be destroyed, but as long as there is breath in a person’s body, they should never allow themselves to be defeated!
So how does someone combat the chance of being defeated? It takes work. It takes courage. It takes the will that is inherent in humanity to stand up and fight those who would defeat him or her. It takes a few things that I wish to point out in greater detail. I will call these things, the plan to take America back for the people.
First, people have to find the courage to stand up and be heard at all levels of government. We live in a nation that elects its officials to office for set terms. Many states offer even ways to recall their elected officials if those officials do not represent the will of the people. Citizens need to exercise that right. Now, recall who I said need to stand up, citizens. These are not corporations. These are not special interest groups. These are not the wealthy alone. These are the people who live in the towns, cities, villages, and big cities of our nation. Each person needs to become active in the government for which they form the basis. While many elect people to serve them for a number of reasons, they also need to monitor what those people are doing while in office. Yes, this takes work. Yes, this takes time and time is a precious commodity. It also takes the willingness to research the positions the candidates take before they are elected as well as what they do once elected. It takes siphoning through what the media says to find the truth of the matter. Politicians say anything to get elected, but once they are in office, they are doing more of what their large donors want them to do rather than what is actually good for all of the people they represent.
A part of this is attending council and commissioner meetings and making yourself heard. Show up enough and they will have to listen. Keep talking. Write letters to the editors of local newspapers or articles on blogs. Talk to your friends and the people you meet regardless of where you are. Be the squeaky wheel for change when something upsets you. Organize others of like mind and protest, have letter-writing campaigns, call the elected officials, and email them. Make your voice be heard. If they are not doing their job and representing all their constituents, vote them out. Find or be the candidate that takes their job from them. Do whatever it takes to make your voice heard.
Want more jobs in your community? This is where it starts. Pester your elected officials about what they are doing to bring jobs to the area. If they are not doing enough, then find out why and work to get businesses to your community. If you are a local businessperson, then work with others to get good paying jobs to come to the area. You hold even more influence that is political because you have a business there. If you have an idea for a business that would be needed in your community, then consider starting it. There is plenty of help there to get you started if you just ask.
Another way to get more jobs in your community is to frequent community based businesses rather than the large box stores. One of the worst stores to enter into a town is Wal-Mart. They are notorious for coming in and under pricing their competition while saying they are there to help the communities they are in. Take a good look at their practices. Take a good and informed look at how they treat their employees, how much they pay them, if they offer them any real benefits. They are not in your town to help anyone but their bottom line. I could go on, but that is for another time.
My point is that local businesses are there to help the community where they make their profits. They are owned by your neighbor or at least someone who lives in the same area as you live. They have a stake in the city and area where they do business. If they fail, then it is due to not offering service or a product that is needed. If they succeed, they expand and hire more people from the area. It is simple economics. Smart customers will pay a little extra for better service. If the locally owned business wants to stay afloat, they can by offering what the customer wants in a manner that makes that customer feel welcomed and treated fairly regardless of the price. However, they can only do that if the community buys from them rather than the large, corporate stores.
Tired of crime in your community? Take to the streets to fight it. Form neighborhood watch committees. Get involved with the police or other law enforcement to kick the criminals out or make their lives so miserable that they leave on their own. Years ago, when I was growing up, the criminals in my hometown, especially the drug dealers, left because the law enforcement was so strict and determined to keep them from setting up shop that they left or went to jail or prison. That has to happen again. Are there bad cops? Yes, that happens, but even they are subject to the law and cannot be there for long once they are found out. It takes a citizenry to help the good cops, which outnumber the bad, to rid a town of the criminal element once it gets a foothold.
Want better schools? Then be part of the solution. Get active in your local schools by volunteering at them. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child who needs a strong adult role model. Many children need some help or just need someone to reinforce what their parents are doing right. Demand more for your students even if your kids have grown up and moved away. We all know the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, but few actually realize the work that calls for. When I was growing up, the adults in my neighborhood were in our business all the time. They told our parents if we misbehaved and even scolded us themselves on occasion.
Teachers need your support now more than ever as well. They face many demands that are not sound educationally, but have been pushed on the public as being good (for example, mandated, high stakes testing). Stop vilifying them or teachers unions as the enemy. They are not the enemy. The overwhelming majority of teachers want the best for their students. There are those who do not, but they leave teaching pretty fast when they realize that parents are not going to stand for their lack of concern for the students. In addition, many teachers unions also try to weed out the bad rather than keep them, regardless of what the media says. Again, rather than complain, volunteer in the schools to see what is happening rather than just heard about it.
Tired of run down homes in your community? Then do what you can to either spruce them up or get council to tear them down. Abandoned homes help contribute to crime and vermin. If you have a neighbor who needs help fixing their home, then help them or find someone who can. Many churches have youth groups or men’s groups that would love to help fix up their communities. If you know someone who owns property and his or her tenants are behaving in a criminal manner, then let the property owner and law enforcement know. If you are renting from a property owner who keeps your rental in a state that is just a little better than the minimum, then talk with them first to see if they are willing to let you help them keep it up for a small reduction in your rent. If not and they will not improve the living conditions, and then find another place to live or just keep on the landlord. You could also contact the health department and let them know if it truly is an unsafe property.
This list is not exhaustive, but it is a start. If people do not start to act on their behalf and the behalf of their neighbors and friends, then America is destined to continue its downward spiral to being run by the wealthy through politicians who only seek to keep getting elected and catering to the whims of their wealthy donors. If we want to truly take America back from special interests, then we need to be willing to work to take it back rather than sit idly by and let others make the decisions for us.
America is not a corporation. America is its people. America is not a particular political ideology. America is its people. America is not its government. American government is its people. We cannot allow ourselves to be what Lincoln feared when he quoted scripture and said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We are becoming that unless we stand up and take America back by focusing on ourselves as Americans first rather than allowing all those things we label ourselves as to divide us. We can only do so by working together and standing up for each other.

Standardized testing is NOT the answer

I have been thinking a great deal about education in our country lately. Much of this comes from my own experience teaching at both the middle school and high school levels, although even my experience teaching at the community college level lends itself to some of this as it is there that the results of the K-12 education comes to light. Simply put, high-stakes, standardized testing is not the answer to the problems facing education. I am not saying that standardized testing is not a valuable tool, just that it is being used in the inappropriate manner. It was never meant to be used to prevent students from graduating, nor was it meant to be used to evaluate the ability of the teacher to do their job. It was meant to be used with student grades from their classes to help teachers plan and meet the academic needs of their students for the coming year. For example, a second grade student would take a standardized test in the Spring of their second grade year. When the results arrived, their current teacher would evaluate it in conjunction with the grades the student was earning in the class to determine if the student was on track with the curriculum. That information would then be sent to the teacher the student would have for their third grade year for their use in planning the curriculum for the following year.

All of this sounds pretty logical, right?

However, certain groups started thinking that standardized tests measured the overall student achievement aside from grades. Those groups then convinced politicians that standardized tests could be used instead of teacher assessments and observations to determine if students were learning. This somehow snowballed into believing that all students could learn at the same level if certain pedagogical methods were used. What this fails to take into account is that students are not the same, that is to say that they are not clones of the ideal student. Like every other human being, our students are individuals and their differences in genetics, socioeconomic backgrounds, nutrition, and meeting of other basic needs will affect their ability and motivation to learn. While the threat of being retained in a grade if they fail to pass a standardized test may work to motivate some students to learn, it will not work for all students. Based on my observations in the classroom, many students who have failed a number of times on standardized tests simply give up trying to pass them at all. When faced with the threat of not graduating, they simply stop caring and are either aged out of the educational system or quit on their own. This is a travesty in our educational system. No student is incapable of learning. They just need the right approach to learning in order to learn.

The right approach to learning is complicated to explain. In essence, it is that each student needs to be taught in a way that fits their way of learning the material. In addition to this, students need to be challenged in their learning without being intimidated by what they are learning. An example of this comes from my own experience in the classroom. I want to preface this with the caveat that it is not intended to work in every classroom because every class, even of matched ability students, does not function the same. I even needed to change the approach of what was taught to fit the needs of the class as a whole as well as each student as an individual.

I taught Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition as well as an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) English III class. What I did, though, was teach the same material to both classes. I can hear the gasps from the pedagogical gurus already. How dare I take college-level work and try to teach it to “special education” students? I counter with how dare I not challenge all of my students?!? What I did was present the material to the ESE class in such a way that never told them they were learning at the college-level. More simply put, I did not tell them they were working on material that was meant for those students who were supposedly smarter than they were. I also gave them the safety net of more time to grasp the material and spent more time, in some cases, explaining the material to them more than I did with the students in the AP class. A funny thing happened, the ESE students mastered the material faster than the AP students. In some cases, the ESE students exceeded the AP students in effort and mastery of the material. It was only at the end of the year that I told the ESE students that they learned the same thing that was taught in the AP class. The look of pride on their faces, some of whom had not been proud of what they accomplished in school for years, was priceless. For many of these students, it served as their motivation to work through their senior year and graduate. Many of them also went off to college after graduation, a feat that they never thought was possible when they started their junior year with me.

Now, I will admit there was another component that these students and I had that some teachers either refuse to do or do not have the ability to master. We had a rapport with one another. I set certain ground rules with them when the year started and they followed them. I shared my thoughts and feelings with them and they with me. If a student was having a bad day, they agreed to talk about it rather than act out in my class. If they acted out, we talked about it after class. I did not, or at least tried not, to take on the role of dictator in the classroom, but rather a mentor and teacher for my students. Did I connect with all of them? No. There will always be personality conflicts between people and there were just some students who did not care or wanted to do what they thought was cool rather than learn. They were not ready to learn for a myriad of reasons and were unwilling to confront those reasons in order to prepare themselves for learning.

This leads to a related key in the education of our students, especially at the middle and high school levels. They need to learn not just the material, but about who they are in this world. Students at these levels are trying to find out who they are outside of being their parent’s child. Teachers need to help them with that as well as teach them the subject material. If you can connect the two, then so much the better. Many of our students have parents who either over-direct their lives, try to be their child’s best friend, or are absent from their lives. As teachers, we have the ability to be the authority figure they need, but also the mentor they need to navigate life. It is an awesome responsibility for teachers and some just cannot meet it.

I am not saying we need to be parents to our students, but mentors. There is a difference. We cannot push our personal, moral, or political agendas on them. What we can do is give them the freedom to express their opinions in a safe environment and help them think through why they have those opinions while exposing them to opinions opposite theirs and helping them to understand and respect why others believe differently than they.

But more about that later, I have written enough for today. Peace to all.