EDUCATION POLITICS-I love performance art. Long ago I had the kick-ass opportunity of participating in a gigantic event, pre-cell-phone-era, with hundreds of dancers who took over the space in Philadelphia’s train station, working in 3D within all the different spaces suffused with different lighting and walkways and stained glass and the art deco fixtures – it was tremendous, a real spirit up-lifter for the whole community, so democratic and one-for-all and all-for one. Thousands of people left that public real-time art installation with our collective aesthetic backbones primed to beautify our civic lives. It was a communal win-win tour de force.
What a contrast with the Beaudry spectacle of last Tuesday where the collectivism was not communal but designed to eclipse, diminish, belittle and deny. That show was a tour de force as well, in real-time and involving ordinary every-day people, no denying that. But the force mustered emanated from one set of wealthy, exogenous manipulators, the force was harnessed not to elevate the status quo, but to quash the people.
My foray into education politics decodes today’s educational scene as a four-way boxing match between families in one corner, school-site teachers and administrators in another, educational theorists and policy-setters like the school board and centralized ‘Beaudry-level’ administrators in a third and the external forces of Education Reform via de-regulation in the last.
The spectacle we saw played out was denied any rules of engagement at all. Absent from the theatre outside were any families or school-site workers, and barred from the discussion inside was their true perspective. In announcing the completion of an inaptly termed “robust” conversation on continuing “to lift our youth from poverty”, John Deasy gave notice that the conversation behind closed doors and out of the public eye, not only omitted fully half of the battles’ participants, but more critically had shifted the terms of discussion.
Once upon a time the purpose of public education was to teach our young the tools and skills to become competent, productive citizens, or as my Apple dictionary defines it, to “give intellectual, moral and social instruction”. The effort has morphed to one of social manipulation by the forces of consumerism. The conversation no longer is to educate, but to manipulate, to “handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc), typically in a skillful manner”.
As a card-carrying member of the “families” quadrant, I want to know what happened to my school-site allies? Why was there no sea of red-shirted UTLA members present? Where was AALA, the administrator’s union? Does their absence from the performance outside suggest a collusion inside?
Direct communication from the “policy” quadrant, via the board’s vice-president Steve Zimmer in communication with KCRW’s Warren Olney, suggests that Tuesday’s critical personnel decision impacting the future direction of our public schools was given solely to the issue of altering the “messaging of the reform agenda”, the message that “recklessly” blames teachers for the “crisis in education”.
Neatly side-stepped is any discussion of “education” whatsoever, as the assertion of “crisis” persists, unrefined and unchallenged. Instead, focusing on the trope of “crisis” obliterates any chance of addressing the actual real issue at hand, the fallacious effort at ameliorating public “education” by removing its control from the public.
Even the briefest modicum of time spent with parents reveals that the number one issue on their minds is the unconscionable class size inside today’s schools. It belies every single disingenuous claim to concern regarding children’s education out there. Every. Single. One. Until children are placed in an atmosphere where there exists any possibility whatsoever of learning, every single thing discussed and negotiated is just so much noise.
That is the concern from the families quadrant. It is related to, but quite distinct from school-site workers’ issues. Zimmer noted the focus on issues of “teacher morale” and these are very important to families, tangentially. But they are not the issues of families; they are the issue of a different sector in this fight.
We, the taxpayers who elect those policy makers, and pay the salaries of the school-site workers and policy makers alike, have a different agenda. And it was not heard from at all in the performance evaluation of John Deasy. We are enduring a veritable flood of irrational performance metrics and other onerous diversions distracting from the loss of mission and purpose at our schools, the actual education of our children.
The true underlying agenda involves that fourth corporatizing quadrant, the reform agenda whose “messaging” so concerns boardmember Zimmer. But colluding with one sector at the expense of others, results in the market maven’s supremacy both outside and inside, at the expense of the most diverse, most politically precarious quadrant: Us.
In the media is trumpeted the flood of the propagandized, on cue with their “Reform” and focus-grouped “messages”, behind the closed doors is the focus on work place preoccupations while out front is announced the complete revolution of purpose with nary an eye-blink. Left completed unattended is we for whom all this effort was nominally constructed: the students and families of them, future taxpayers and citizens of an economy whose elite winners are cynically struggling to wrest economic control away from the altruistic educational effort of our post-WW II past.
We were not present, we were not represented in Tuesday’s negotiations. Our school’s top leader is a man with an agenda that is different from ours, he is driven by a morality different from schoolgoers’. And he is not wanted by the majority of his employees.
Clearly, this school district is vast in size. Perhaps its governance is insufficiently strong to protect its mere users from ulterior, outside influence, and the metamorphosis of its original mission.
(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com)
Vol 11 Issue 89
Pub: Nov 5, 2013