Hey, you Liberal Democrats. You may have won the election, but you’re getting CREAMED in the transition.
Today, President-elect Barack Obama stuck it to you. He’s chosen Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education.
Duncan is most decidedly NOT an educator. But Duncan has this extraordinary qualification: He’s Obama’s pick-up basketball buddy from Hyde Park.
I can’t make this up.
Not that Duncan hasn’t mucked about in the educational system. Chicago Boss Richie Daley put this guy in charge of the horror show called Chicago Public Schools where Duncan turned a bad system into a REALLY bad system.
And Obama knows it. Indeed, although he plays roundball with Duncan (who was captain of the Harvard basketball team), State Senator Obama was one of the only local Chicago officials who refused to send his kids to Duncan’s public schools. (The Obamas sent Sasha and Malia to the Laboratory School, where Duncan’s methods are derided as dangerously ludicrous.)
So, if The One won’t trust his kids to Duncan, why is he handing Duncan ours?
The answer: Duncan is supported by a coterie of teacher-union hating Republicans. The vocal cheerleader for the Duncan appointment was David Brooks, the New York Times columnist; the REPUBLICAN columnist.
Hey, didn’t those guys LOSE?
The problem with Duncan is not party affiliation. The problem is education philosophy. And Duncan is a Bush baby through and through, a card-carrying supporter of the program best called, “No Child’s Behind Left.”
At the heart of the program is testing. And more testing. Testing instead of teaching. When tests go badly, the solution is to push the low-test-score kids to drop out of school. If triage isn’t enough, then attack their teachers.
Here’s how Duncan operates this Bush program in Chicago at Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto. Teachers there work with kids from homeless shelters from an economically devastated neighborhood. Believe it or not, the kids don’t get high test scores. So Chicago fired the teachers, every one of them. Then they brought in new teachers and fired THEM too when, surprise!, test scores still didn’t rise.
The reward for a teacher volunteering for a tough neighborhood is to get harassed, blamed and fired. Now THAT’S a brilliant program, Mr. Duncan. But Duncan’s own failures have not gotten HIM fired. As long as his 20-foot jumpshot holds, he’s Mr. Secretary.
In no other cabinet department is the lack of expertise, lack of accomplishment, lack of a degree in the field found acceptable but in Education.
But what horrifies me more than Duncan’s lack of credentials is Obama’s kowtowing to the right-wing clique crusading against the teachers’ union and progressive education. The ill philosophy behind the Bush-brand education theories Duncan promotes, “Teach-to-the-Test,” forces teachers to limit classroom time to pounding in rote low-end skills, easily measured on standardized tests. The transparent purpose is to create a future class of worker-drones. Add in some computer training and – voila! – millions of lower-income kids are trained on the cheap to function, not think.
Analytical thinking skills, creative skills, questioning skills are left exclusively to privileged little Bushes at Phillips Andover Academy or privileged little Obamas at the Laboratory School.
For the rest of America’s children, instead of hope, we’ll have hoops.
Greg Palast is the father of school-aged twins and the author of, “No Child’s Behind Left,” included in his New York Times bestseller, Armed Madhouse. Palast is a Nation Institute Puffin Foundation Fellow for investigative reporting.
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