The Matthew Effect in American Education

(Another old post that never made it out, from August 2014)

What’s all this nonsense about American schools being designed for a “democratic society … united by our education system through common values, comprehensive curriculum … and free K-12 education for every child”? (Per
http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/17/edward-berger-on-the-tenets-of-education-in-a-democracy/ )

There are many who don’t believe a word of that stuff about equal rights or common values. From well before the American Revolution, it was illegal to teach slaves to read or write. Many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves and most states limited the vote to those who owned property. The US invaded Mexico so that white Texan slaveowners could keep their slaves. A large portion of the nation seceded from the union lest they be unable to further expand slavery into those new territories.

It took a bloody civil war to smash the idea and practice that some people were so inferior that all their labor could be stolen from them and they had no rights even to live as a family or go where they wished. Of course, after the Confederacy was smashed, the war criminals and traitors who led that treacherous rebellion were eventually allowed back into power in the South; corporations in the North were given free reign to profit from the merciless exploitation of “free” laborers from all corners of the globe, while Southern plantation and factory owners were permitted to re-enslave black workers through Jim Crow vagrancy laws. (Please see http://www.slaverybyanothername.com )

Our system is in a constant war between the forces of democracy and the forces of the power elite (or the Ruling Class, or “the 1%”) and those who agree with them.

This is true also in education.

Can anybody doubt that the children of the wealthiest have always received the very best educations, with the best instruction known in the arts, music, foreign languages, sports along with the best in the sciences, writing, math, literature and so on — for the purpose of allowing them to think for themselves? And that the poor and working classes are generally given an education designed to weed them out or to toe the line and be obedient workers, blindly pledging allegiance to a system that basically disenfranchises them?

The “Matthew Effect”, as you can read in Wikipedia, means quite simply, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” It comes from Matthew 25:29, and the KJV says “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.”

The nation’s billionaire education “reformers” are at it again. They claim that the best type of school for the poor and brown or black kids is one with a few temporary teachers and a lot of profitable computers, all in one room. Or a school where there is nothing but relentless force-feeding of math “facts” and “brief constructed responses” and SLANT in English. And kids who can’t handle this stultifying regime get bounced out back to the regular public schools.

While students at Choate, Chicago Lab School, Phillips Exeter, Sidwell Friends, and so on (where the 1% send their own kids) get the royal treatment.

It’s going to take a huge movement to stop this incredibly unequal treatment. Parents, teachers, students and ordinary citizens, please step up and be counted in that struggle!

Troubling Signs at the WTU

I saw a serious sign of what I think ails the Washington Teachers’ Union when I walked briefly over to the Franciscan Center at 14th and Quincy Streets, NE, not far from my house, where a combined general WTU membership meeting/reception/comedian entertainment/holiday party was taking place this evening.

I think that this sign explains, in part, why the percentage of teachers voting during both rounds of the recent WTU leadership was so low.

The problem?

I saw almost no young white or Asian or Hispanic teachers. And, to be frank, I didn’t even see very many young African-American teachers. Nor much in the way of older white, Asian, or Hispanic teachers, either.

After a not-very-careful look at the heads and faces, I got the feeling that if I had actually stuck around and sat down, the number of white teachers in attendance would have gone up by somewhere between 20% and 100%. (Do a little bit of mental math: if one person comes in, and that makes the number of people in group W increase by 100%, then how many people were in group W before that person arrived?)

I fear that this means that those in attendance at this meeting were not very representative of the rank-and-file teacher corps in DC Public Schools. Younger teachers, be they white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, don’t seem to be stepping up to take leadership roles in the WTU, at least not in Saunders’ slate, which I guess was probably more represented at this meeting (though I don’t know that for a certainty). Perhaps they don’t have the tradition of activism and militancy that a lot of future teachers acquired who grew up and attended college in the 1960’s and 1970s, during the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras? Do they feel that the WTU leadership is out of touch with what they need?

At a lot of DC public and charter schools that I visit, there aren’t very many older black teachers left at all. They have generally retired, and have been replaced by young teachers (and a good fraction of those are TFAers, many of whom have no intention at all of staying in education, and 89% of whom are gone after 3 years). They find, of course, that almost all of the vaunted ‘reforms’ and ‘accountability’ that Michelle Rhee and her acolytes have imposed, simply mean lots of additional demands to perform the impossible, with less and less support. And, once they fail to achieve the impossible, they are then blamed, and are labeled in the media as being part of the problem, just like the veteran teachers that they are replacing. So they burn out… but could really use a union that advocated sanity and didn’t sell out and beg for more whippings in exchange for possibly imaginary pay increases.

It’s clear to me that if the WTU is actually going to be able to represent teachers in a positive and forceful way, so that it can help lead public education away from the clutches of the billionaires who want to take it over, then it needs to start working on its own composition.

Unions in the past that have failed to do this, have generally lost.

Dividing and conquering is a useful tool for a tiny ruling class: look what the British Empire was able to do for a couple of centuries. But it doesn’t work if you are the working mass of the population. United we stand, divided we fall.

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