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Blood In Their Eyes School ‘Reformers’ Launch Their Final Assault

In Education, Education advocacy, School reform on Monday, 1 April 2013 at 10:15

Blood In Their Eyes School ‘Reformers’ Launch Their Final Assault

By: John Thompson

 The essence of market-driven school “reform” is captured in the wry humor of the classic movie Patton. As “Old Blood and Guts” Patton gave his standard exhortations, a battle-hardened GI responded, “Yeah, his guts, our blood.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his “brass-knuckled” edu-philanthropist backers, and the true-believers in accountability-driven “reform” may still believe they are battling teachers in order to, someday, produce greater good for more students. But, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend how they could hold on to such an illusion. More likely, test-driven corporate reformers are still enthralled in the beauty of their original theories, and they blame educators for spoiling their vision. Now, blood-in-their-eye “reformers” seem obsessed with punishing teachers who they blame for scuttling their designs for schools ruled by Big Data.

Test-driven “reform” began as a hard-nosed antithesis to traditional educators who sounded too much like bleeding heart liberals. Corporate reformers couldn’t be bothered with generations of social science into what it really takes for schools to overcome intense concentrations of generational poverty and trauma.

Having no knowledge of urban realities, the “Billionaires Boys Club” bought into the macho sound bites of “wonks” who might have spent two or three years in the classroom during their early 20s. These fervent idealists were convinced that veteran educators, and their “excuses,” were the problem. If unionized teachers had “high expectations!,” the cure for poverty could be found within the four walls of the classroom. All that was necessary was a heroic commitment to “whatever it takes!”

Even better, bubble-in “reform” provided an opportunity to repeatedly use tough-minded words such as, “accountability!” and “outcomes!” Corporate reformers funded public relations campaigns that characterized teachers as Madonnas or whores. They promoted documentaries that profiled dedicated young crusaders defeating poverty in the classroom while battling their union bosses, who supposedly protected their slug-like colleagues. Replace burned-out veterans with the Freedom Riders of the 21st century, and poor children of color would be saved.

The righteousness of “reformers'” ends justified their mendacious means. Across the nation, charter schools were set up for success, meaning that more of the most traumatized and difficult-to-educate students were crammed into neighborhood schools. Some “reformers” must have worried about the harm that the greater concentrations of extreme poverty were doing to schools. Others (such as in New York City) seemed to have no qualms turning traditional public schools into dumping grounds, in order to contrast the success of their choice schools with the failures of their unionized enemies. The most vulnerable students, sadly, became collateral damage in the battle against collective bargaining. Once “disruptive innovation” destroyed the “status quo,” it was assumed, “transformative” change would liberate all children of color.

Rahm Emanuel’s closing of 54 schools, like similar corporate “reforms” in Washington D.C. Philadelphia and elsewhere, will fail for the same reasons. They are based on theories that make sense to elites who have never held the hands or watched the fearful eyes of children traversing rival gang territory. They have never comforted kids who had just witnessed the murder of a passerby who ventured into the wrong turf. They have never taught a class where family members of students one side of the classroom have killed family members of kids on the other side. And, after the inevitable brawls, they have never held a student bruised too badly to be recognized by her own teacher.

When comparing “reformers” to General Patton, I must emphasize, I am not comparing teachers to soldiers in combat. When I say that the gutsiness of corporate schemes are paid for with blood, I mean the blood of our children. I have fretted over plenty of unconscious students, sometimes worrying that the kid was not breathing and I have been covered with plenty of their blood, but rarely have I witnessed cases of educators in danger.

The threat to the health of adults is mostly rooted in the stress of our jobs. I’ve never seen a teacher being stomped long after being knocked unconscious; it is the sound of those thuds on teenagers that affects teachers.

“Reformers” consciously added the stress of high-stakes testing to teachers in order to defeat us. But, the anxiety that non-stop testing has imposed on adults cannot rival the humiliation that it pours on our students.

I suspect that Emanuel and his allies see these closures as the last chance for a knockout blow. For nearly a decade, the true believers in accountability thought that they had the teaching profession on the ropes. But, even inside their bubble, it is now clear that teachers are fighting back. If market-driven “reformers” don’t put us away quickly, their exquisite vision for data-driven schooling will unravel. So, across the nation, the mass closings of traditional public schools are their last assault on an education system which did not appreciate their theories.

I suspect that these “reformers,” secure in their ignorance of urban realities, still believe that their opponents are to blame. Had educators welcomed enough rookies willing to gut it out and to “put children first,” the short term pain they dumped on neighborhood schools would have produced transformational gain.

It is hard to believe, however, that Emanuel and the other architects of the latest closures retain such illusions. These latter day Pattons may or may not see them as bulldozing the way towards privatization of our democracy’s schools.

Of course, sometimes we must close schools for economic reasons. There may even be times when closures are a valid way of helping students in failing schools. But, this upcoming battle only makes sense if it is motivated, in large part, by revenge against educators who they believe failed to recognize the power of their courageous battle plan.

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