Saturday, September 24, 2011

Schools Matter: John Deasy's Queen Antoinette moment: "let them eat ebooks"

First published on Schools Matter on September 24, 2011

"Right now, only higher-income readers can afford ebook readers and ebooks." — Dr. Stephen Krashen

Plutocratic priest of privatization LAUSD Superintendent John DeasyOn September 14, 2011 former Gates Foundation executive and Broad Superintendents Academy graduate John Deasy gave a much ballyhooed speech at Occidental College. While I may have time in the future to critique his mendacious stream of business-speak, which amounted to a clever corporate couching of school privatization in the language of "civil rights," it was his aloof response to an attendee's pertinent question on school libraries that deserves an immediate response. Here's a quote from an attendee who endured Deasy's verbal assault on public education:

"[O]ne of Rosemary's questions about his shutting school libraries got through. He said libraries would be irrelevant soon as books will move to electronic format. This was after he lamented about the plight of a homeless student living in a tent. I kid you not. I guess the kid in the tent will have to access books on the $800 I-Pad he can't afford."

A pointed and poignant question indeed to Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy, a man who deliberately gutted LAUSD's libraries in defiance of California's Assembly Bill 114, which was supposed to mandate the district spend its copious surplus funds on retaining the very personnel Deasy and company gleefully laid off. Laid off in a most ignominious fashion by the way, as Hector Tobar's The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians chronicled. Deasy's vapid and vacuous response to the library question sums up everything about corporate education reforms and shows why Deasy was hand selected to implement the neoliberal agenda in Los Angeles.

As disgusting as Deasy's quote about libraries being irrelevant was, it wasn't surprising considering his astonishing wealth and privilege. For wealthy white males like Deasy, poverty is something you see on television and it's easily solved by applying forms of the meritocracy myth via vile "no excuses" rhetoric and corporate privatization policies cloaked as promoting "high expectations." Deasy's own phrasing of the threadbare right-wing no excuses rhetoric reads as follows: "I actually believe that no other issue—circumstances of poverty, one parent, no parent, race, language proficiency, special need—none of that has a greater affect on the achievement gap than our belief about the ability of youth."

More to the point, Deasy's flippant remark that electronic format books would soon replace libraries has no grounding in reality. Such thinking and policies exacerbate the inequality of access to books in a way that is both classist and racist. A brief, but fact packed essay by Schools Matter's own Dr. Stephen Krashen entitled Kindelizaton: Are Books Obsolete? patently disproves everything Superintendent Deasy claims. Let's look at some of the important facts the essay presents.

Data shows that "ebooks appear to be capturing some of the paperback book market, but certainly not all of it, and not the hard cover or tradebook market. Thus far ebooks make up only a tiny percentage of total school library collections." [1] In other words, while ebooks are making inroads in the profitable popular paperbook sector, there hasn't been a great deal of investment in the more costly and lower volume textbook and hardcover sectors. As a consequence "ebooks only account for one-half of one percent of school library collections, and this is predicted to increase to only 7.8% in five years." [2]

It isn't just that ebooks aren't widespread enough to be considered a suitable replacement for school libraries. It's that access to ebooks is strictly class based:

The problem is the expense. Right now, only higher-income readers can afford ebook readers and ebooks. Kindles, for example, cost at least $100 each, and ebooks cost about $10, beyond the budget for those living in poverty. [3]

A table in Krashen's paper shows only four percent of people with household incomes under $30,000 owned ebook-readers, and that percentage remained constant for the nineteen months prior to publication of the paper. Krashen's conclusion is equally revealing:

The cost of ebook readers and ebooks makes them much less available to students from high-poverty families and under-funded school libraries. (Note that it is usually not possible to share ebooks.) Ebooks are allowing the print-rich to get even print-richer. [4]

It isn't surprising that people who get doctoral degrees from Cracker Jack boxes, or worse, purchase them from convicted criminals like Robert Felner in exchange for six figure grants, might be unaware of such research. More cynical readers might be tempted to suspect Deasy's deep ties to monopolistic software moguls like Bill Gates and technobabble charlatans like Tom Vander Ark as possible explanations for his intentional razing of school libraries in favor of profitable, but income exclusive, ebooks. Those things said, one would like to think the head of one of the largest school districts in the country would have a grasp of the basic fundamentals surrounding pedagogical issues and would be immune from pandering to his deep pocketed associates. Given the frightening lack of capacity of California's schools, outlined in UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access "The Train that is about to Hit," Deasy's notion of "let them eat ebooks" borders on criminal.

Research emphatically puts to lie Deasy's assertion that "libraries would be irrelevant soon as books will move to electronic format." In a state where the ratio of students to librarians is nearly 5,500 to 1 [5], Deasy's outright dismissal of the importance of libraries and books, combined with policies that exacerbate the problem, strongly convict him in his role in neoliberal dismantling of public education. Of course that's Deasy's capacity, he wasn't brought in by the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate to fix LAUSD, he was brought in to destroy it. Collectively we need to reject Deasy's false narrative and demand he spend our funds on libraries and classrooms, not he and his fellow administrators' lavish lifestyles! Collectively we need to fight the privatization of public education!


[1] Krashen, Stephen. 2011. Kindelizaton: Are Books Obsolete?. Books and Articles by Stephen D. Krashen. Accessed September 20, 2011.

[2-4] Ibid.

[5] This wonderful infographic from the UCLA IDEA article mentioned above illustrates what the plutocrat class has done to California's education system.

UCLA IDEA "The Train that is about to Hit"


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