Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Colonial Education and Neoliberalism

Throughout the United States, teachers unions are currently renegotiating their contracts due to the budget shortfalls on the local and state level caused by the global crisis of capitalism. Although teachers are often blamed for the failures of public education, the problems can be traced to the origins of the American education system. For example, in the September 2003 edition of Harpers magazine, educational historian John Taylor Gatto writes that the American education system was modeled on the Prussian system.

Prussian education was designed to socialize its population to submit and not question the authority of Prussian military and political leadership. After learning about the Prussian system in the early 19th century, Horace Mann, the father of American education, traveled to Prussia and would later base America education on the Prussian model. The current negotiations of teachers unions contracts are extremely significant for recipients of colonial education such as Africans in the U.S.

The current capitalist generated crisis is the result of economic changes since the 1970s. At that time, capitalism entered a new phase called global capitalism or “globalization.” One feature of this new phase is neoliberal economics. Dr. George Wright identifies the five characteristics of neoliberalism as 1) deregulation, 2) reducing the public sector, 3) cutting taxes for the wealthy, 4) privatizing public services, and 5) smashing unions. These changes have greatly benefited organizations such as the U.S. Business Roundtable (BR).

Founded in 1972, the BR is composed of the CEOs of the largest corporations in the US. In 1989, the BR dedicated their entire annual meeting to public education. Similar to northern industrialist in the late 19th century who saw the US economy transitioning from an agrarian to an industrial economy, the BR foresaw the current transition from an industrial to an service based economy. Therefore, they united with policy makers, think tanks and non-profits to reorient public education toward standardized tests which culminated in the No Child Left Behind Act. Standardized tests and charters are now hallmarks of public education in the U.S.

President Obama has made charter schools a central part of his education policy. To help his cause, he hired Arne Duncan the former CEO (yes, not superintendent but C-E-O) of Chicago public schools, as Secretary of Education. Charter schools receive public funding but are privately operated. Charters amount to the privatization of public education that allows hedge funds, private equity firms, and financiers to profit from investing in charter schools.

As part of the economic stimulus, the Obama administration instituted a program called “Race to the Top.” The program allocates $4.3 billion to eligible cities and states. One criteria for eligibility is the removal of caps on the number of charter schools in the state. Former Congressman Newt Gingrich, Arne Duncan, and comprador elite Al Sharpton have teamed up to ‘reform’ (i.e. privatize) public education in NYC. New York Daily News reporter Jaun Gonzalez writes that for their assistance with the ‘reforms‘, Al Sharpton and the National Action Network received $500,000 from a Connecticut based hedge fund called Plainfield Asset Management, where the former chancellor of NYC schools is the managing director.

In Washington D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty has tapped, Teacher for America alumnus, Michelle Rhee to renegotiate the teachers contract. Since entering her post as chancellor, Rhee has had a contentious relationship with teachers unions. In 2009, she laid off 266 teachers in the DCPS ostensibly because of budget shortfalls. It was later discovered that, in fact, there was a budget surplus of $34 million.

In addition, to finance the new pay increases for teachers under the new contract, Rhee raised $64.5 million from private foundations (Broad, Walton, Robertson and Arnold). She is currently under investigation by the Office of Campaign Finance for stipulating that the leadership of the school district must not change or the donations will be discontinued.

Ultimately, the above information demonstrates that the education of African children must be in the hands of Africans themselves. During the Black Power Movement two important movements occurred concerning African education: 1) the creation of the Council of Independent Black Institutions and 2) community control of school movement. Both offer exemplar models for African education. The education of our children is central to the success of our movement for national liberation and self determination.

Brill, Steven. “The Teacher’s Unions Last Stand” New York Times May 17, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/magazine/23Race-t.html.

Emery, Kathy. (2002).The Business Roundtable and Systemic Reform: How Corporate-Engineered High-Stakes Testing Has Eliminated Community Participation in Developing Educational Goals and Policies. UC Davis, PhD Dissertation.

Gabriel, Trip & Medina, Jennifer. “Charter Schools New Cheerleaders: Financiers.” New York Times May 9, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/nyregion/10charter.html?pagewanted=1.

Gatto, John Taylor. “Against School:How public education cripplesour kids, and why.” Harpers September 2003.

Gonzalez, Jaun. “Rev. Al Sharpton's $500G link to education reform.” New York Daily News March 31 2009. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/04/01/2009-04-01_rev_al_sharptons_500g_link_to_education_.html.

Turque, Bill. “D.C. Agency to Probe Rhee‘s Critics Complain Over Ethics of School Funds Clause.” Washington Post June 8, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/07/AR2010060703046.html.

Turque, Bill. “Rhee’s Budget Surplus Revelation Angers Teacher’s Unions” Washinton Post April 14, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/04/13/AR2010041302834.html?sid=ST2010041303665.

Wright, George. “Neoliberalism and the Assault on Public Education: A Brief History.” The Advocate May 2010.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Failure of negro Leadership

The New York Times printed a revealing article on February 13, 2010 titled “In Black Caucus, A Fund-Raising Powerhouse.” The article discusses the large donations the Congressional Black Caucus receives from corporations, foundations, and wealthy individuals. Moreover, it demonstrates the ongoing intergenerational failure of negro leadership in the United States.

i assert there are three crucial periods in African leadership: 1) the emergence of a ‘free’ northern based leadership in the early 19th century 2) the white appointment of Booker T. Washington as the leader of African America in the late 19th century and 3) the cooptation and incorporation of negro politicians in the post-Black Power era. This essay uses a theoretical framework of domestic colonialism. According to this theory, within a colonized nation, such as Africans in the United States, a portion of the indigenous colonized population is recruited to collaborate with the imperial power.

At the turn 19th century, a free primarily middle class northern African leadership emerged in the United States. At the same time, a new debate among African leaders developed concerning the identity and direction of the African community in the U.S. Unlike previous periods of the movement which advanced militant resistance such as maroons, insurrections, and emigration these leaders began to appeal to the liberal values of the U.S. founding documents and moral uplift. Dr. Leslie Alexander who examines this issue in her new book, African or American?, recently stated on Jazz and Justice radio:

“Black leadership in the 1830s and 1840s embraced a particular political strategy known as moral uplift…which states the way for Black people to gain freedom justice equality citizenship etc. is to present to white society the best possible face of the Black community to convince white people of their humanity and worthiness.”

A few decades later, Booker T. Washington echoed these statements preaching a doctrine of political passivity, moral uplift, and industrial education. Schools who taught industrial education such as Tuskegee Institute were funded by the leading Northern industrialists such as the Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt for the explicit purpose of producing a conservative negro leadership class.

By the late 1960s and 1970s, African leadership in the U.S. boldly moved in the direction of Black Nationalism, Pan Africanism, and Socialism. Unfortunately, due to their uncompromising stance several visionary leaders were assassinated, imprisoned, and forced into exile by the F.B.I.‘s COINTELPRO. During this same period, philanthropic foundations such as the Ford Foundation under the leadership of McGeorge Bundy financed a moderate to conservative negro leadership.

Today, the result are negro leaders such as President Barack Obama and Mayor Adrian Fenty in Washington D.C. Obama received $745 million in campaign financing, more than any other candidate for U.S. President in history. Although he is virtually silent in response to state terrorism against Africans (ex: police brutality), Obama is vocal in the defense of racist Zionist Israel who murders known pacifists delivering aid to poor, colonized people in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Fenty who raised $3.9 million as of March for his upcoming mayoral race, breaking his own campaign donation record, promotes privatization of schools (charters) and homeless shelters in the U.S. capitol. Privatization has been shown to assist elites, who financed his campaign, to accumulate more capital.

The utter failure of negro leadership in the U.S. not only affects political leadership but also African America’s most revered civil rights organizations. Although the NAACP was primarily started by white liberal jews and, at one point, was used to watch “negro dissidents“ by the U.S. government during World War I, it is known more for its numerous civil rights victories.

Today they collaborate with companies such as Wells Fargo who target Africans in the U.S. for unaffordable home loans thereby causing one of the single biggest loses of wealth in the African community’s history due to home foreclosures. For example, although the NAACP initially sued the lending company for targeting African borrowers, they later dropped the lawsuit and named Wells Fargo a lead sponsor for their 101st national convention in July of this year. For this and other reasons, in 1920 Harlem radical Hubert Harrison referred to the organization as the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People.

Several scholars such as Jacob Caruthers, Cedric Robinson, and Sterling Stuckey have discussed the intergenerational failure of negro leaders. However, the U.N.I.A. in the 1920s and the Black Power Movement were periods when Africans had an ideologically and financially independent leadership. In the 21st century the African Freedom Movement must adopt three principles espoused by the esteemed African freedom fighter Ella Baker: 1) working class leadership 2) youth leadership and 3) participatory democracy. These three principles can help us to overcome our current crisis of negro leadership and move in the direction of national liberation and self determination.

Alexander, Leslie. (2008) African or American: Black Identity and Activism in New York City, 1784-1861. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Allen, Robert. (1992) Black Awakening in Capitalist America. Trenton, NJ: African World Press.

Lipton Eric & Lichtblau, Eric. “In Black Caucus, a Fund-Raising Powerhouse.” New York Times. Febryary 13, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/us/politics/14cbc.html

Ransby, Barbara. (2005) Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Robinson, Cedric. (1997) Black Movements in America. New York: Routledge.

Stewart, Nikita. “D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty surpasses 2006 fundraising record.” Friday March 12, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/us/politics/14cbc.html

Stuckey, Sterling. (1987) Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the Foundations of Black America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watkins, William. (2001) The White Architects of Black Education: Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954. New York: Teachers College Press.