Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A voice for community and public education - Robert D. Skeels

"I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education." — Dr. Diane Ravitch (celebrated education professor and author)

Celebrated education professor and author Dr. Diane Ravitch appears here with Robert D. Skeels is a social justice writer, public education advocate, and immigrant rights activist.
After decades of being ignored by the corporate mainstream media, public education activists are beginning to get heard, here and there. The dominant narrative, of course, are the corporate voices that are pushing through austerity measures and privatization with a vengeance. However, just as the recent Johnathan Alter and Arne Duncan vicious attack article on Dr. Ravitch shows, the plutocrats and privatizers are starting to feel the heat.

In Los Angeles we have a tough series of battles ahead, but we've seen some minor victories. A moral, if not significant, victory came when LAUSD District 5 candidate Bennett Kayser narrowly edged out the corporate privatization camp's hand-picked successor Luis Sanchez in the May 17, 2011 runoff election. This despite Sanchez spending nearly ten times more per vote than Kayser, and having the backing of some of the wealthiest tycoons around. The plutocrat privatization putsch-makers Coalition for School Reform spend over a quarter million dollars trying to get Sanchez elected. This quote from KCET's Catherine Cloutier really puts things into context:

But the nearly $255,000 spent by the Coalition for School Reform to support Sanchez makes it one of the key players in this election, which is now just a day away. And among the coalition's biggest spenders is Phil Anschutz of the Anschutz Corporation, whose sister company AEG has plans before the city for a $350 million football stadium in Downtown Los Angeles (which could top $1 billion when factoring in interest repayment).

So, what links a major corporation with dreams of building an NFL stadium to a candidate for LAUSD school board? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

While the privatizers still hold a four to two (there's another equivocating vote that adds to seven), defeating the juggernaut mayor and his billionaire backers was somewhat of watershed moment in Los Angeles politics, where the privatization pushers and poverty pimps have had free reign for some time now. Kayser had broad based community support in addition to that of local teachers and their working class organization, United Teachers Los Angeles.

Typically the only voices heard during a critical runoff elections are those of the wealthy and powerful. That said, KPFK Pacifica Radio, well known for fairly progressive programming, featured a dissident voice to that of the corporate narrative — mine! The news feature can be heard in this post: Robert D. Skeels on KPFK Pacifica Radio, my introduction to the recording is reproduced here:

I was interviewed for this story by Ernesto Arce of KPFK News on the day of the LAUSD District 5 runoff election, Tuesday May 17, 2011. The voices of social justice and public school advocacy are beginning to be heard!

Mr. Arce told me that the interview was due to the uproar and interest my Echo Park Patch article The Importance of Tuesday's Runoff for LAUSD District 5 Board Seat caused. I was circulating a message that was missing from the corporate mainstream media.

Did I mention Echo Park Patch? I was asked to start blogging for them in May of this year because of my high profile as a community education activist. Now, instead of hearing only the voice of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation employees like Yolie Flores, there's a social justice voice in the equation.

Even more astonishing is when the Los Angeles Times' Teresa Watanabe interviewed me for an article she was writing on a wealthy and controversial corporate charter CEO. Watanabe is one of the few objective and honest reporters at Russ Stanton and Jim Newton's bastion of privatization propaganda, and to my surprise, she did quote me in the article. For a better take on the incident than that of the right-leaning Hutchinson that Watanabe quotes, instead see this Op-Ed by Erin Aubry Kaplan. Many social justice activists, my self included, would have assumed that hades would have become an arctic region long before the Times would begin quoting community members. Bravo to Teresa Watanabe for acknowledging that there's widespread grassroots opposition to corporate charters, and for letting our voices be heard.

There are a number of unprincipled opportunists that pose as progressives, but then proffer right wing policies. I wrote a polemic against just such an individual providing cover for the most reactionary aspects of corporate education reform and as a result was invited to start writing for the prestigious Schools Matter site alongside luminaries like Dr. James Horn, Dr. Stephen Krashen, Kenneth Libby et al. Although I don't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as them, it's nice to know that all my research and writing is being recognized. Plus it gives our local issues a wider platform, since Schools Matter is read worldwide. My first piece there challenged the validity of the NCTQ LAUSD report in terms of being a one hundred percent Gates Foundation product from start to finish.

What started this article today? Aside from a little shameless self promotion, which I'm never above, a woman wrote the following on my facebook page today.

Thank you for your contributions to education!! We are living in scary times.

I, like so many other public education activists, believe in the value of real public education. I believe in the tenets of social justice and the teachings of Paulo Freire. Our communities have long been victimized by decades of neoliberalism. I believe that our struggle strikes at the very heart of the most important issues of our age, to democracy and fairness. Our voices have been ignored by LAUSD while we've seen unlimited access granted to the lucrative charter voucher industry.

The fundraising window for 2013 school board candidates starts in September of 2011. I am very serious about running for school board because the voice of the community has been ignored for so very long. Every time a school is given away to a private charter corporation, we see a failure of democratic ideals. Every wealthy charter executive is living off money that should have been spent in classrooms. There's no room in public for plutocrats. I don't get paid for activism, never have. All of my activism, research, and writing have been a labor of love for my community and belief in the public commons.

I want to be a voice for my community. I want to represent District 2 of Los Angeles Unified District as member of the Board of Education. Please consider supporting me.



Kristine Gallagher said...

Love the quote by Ravitch. I don't think these reformers care if the kids aren't learning critical thinking skills because their kids are going to good private schools. It's just fine with them if the masses get a dumbed-down education and can't compete with their kids for leadership roles in the future.

Laura from New York said...

Thank you for writing this blog. The Buffalo(ny) public schools are a mess and as a result people are pushing for parent trigger laws to be passed in new york state.
We have astroturf education groups trying to convince parents that that a parent trigger law is the only answer to our districts problems. The Buffalo news ran a story and mentioned compton but made it seem like all the parents in compton are on board with the change. But thanks to blogs like yours I already knew they weren't telling the story right.
Voices like yours are heard across the country.