Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, wrote the following essay for this blog:

“Democracy and Education: Waiting for Gatopia?

“John Dewey arrived at the University of Chicago in the middle of the Pullman strike. He wrote his wife, still in Ann Arbor, that he had met a young man on the train who supported the strike very passionately: “I only talked with him for 10 or 15 minutes but when I got through my nerves were more thrilled than they had been for years; I felt as if I had better resign my job teaching and follow him around until I got a life. One lost all sense of the right or wrong of things in admiration of the absolute, almost fanatic, sincerity and earnestness, and in admiration of the magnificent combination that was going on. Simply as an aesthetic matter, I don’t believe the world has seen but a few times such a spectacle of magnificent, widespread union of men about a common interest as this strike business.” (quoted in Westbrook, 87). This sense of “magnificent, widespread union” represented the definition of Democracy to Dewey; it was the very core of his writing, work, and public advocacy.

“Later, after he had moved to Columbia University in New York, he had a major disagreement with a very articulate student, Randolph Bourne, about the media pressure to get involved in WWI. Bourne argued then and later in an unfinished essay entitled, “War is the Health of the State” that states thrived on war because war consolidated the state’s power and allowed it to repress any kind of dissent. Dewey was an outspoken advocate of American entry into World War I, but began to question his support after seeing several of his colleagues at Columbia fired for their outspoken opposition to the War. These serious doubts turned into deep regret when he saw that the Espionage Act was used to repress freedoms of speech and press. Respectable citizens, including many thoughtful journalists and political leaders like Eugene V. Debs were routinely thrown into jail. His serious doubts began to trouble him more deeply as he witnessed the Federal response to the postwar Red Scare of 1919, when many American citizens were deported without constitutional due process. He was so disturbed by all of this that he helped found the American Civil Liberties Union that sought to protect due process and other constitutional rights. (Ryan, 154-99)

“From the early 1920’s forward, Dewey became a vocal and articulate public spokes person for Democracy in all American institutions. He founded and led an AFT local at Columbia and often spoke at labor and AFT functions. He believed with every cell of his body that American Schools had to be the incubator of American Democracy. As the shadow of fascism descended over Europe, he became a fellow traveller with the United Front to defend the world from an ideology that had nothing but for contempt for Democracy or any notion of an open society. For Dewey, education that allowed the organic evolution of free speech and the discussion and respect for all points of view in the classroom inoculated American students from the threat of fascism.

“If he were alive today, Professor Dewey would be shocked by what he would see. In part, Dewey’s whole philosophy of Education was developed to countervail the corrosive influence of capitalism on communities and the gross economic power of giant corporations. He sought to defend individual growth and creativity and nurture the sense of public responsibility that was under assault from the pulverizing individualism of the dominant ideology of big business backed Social Darwinism.

“Dewey’s vision is now a major target of major foundations that are funding the push to privatize American Education. Major Wall Street investors and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation, among others, are working together with the Obama Administration to destroy what is left of public education in this great country. Combined, these corporations control approximately 50 billion dollars in assests.

“I will not take the time here to unpack the strategic plan coordinated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and three people within the Department of Education who have turn their strategic plan into a public policy called “The Race to the Top.” You should read Diane Ravitch’s new book to get a clear picture of how this has all been done very legally with the help of the best lawyers that money can buy, millions of dollars thrown at the Harvard Education Department, and with tens of millions of dollars to hire the best Madison Ave. Advertising and PR firms and the best web designers (go to “PARCC” or “Common Core” online). What you need to know is that none of the people behind this plan have any respect for public schools or public school teachers.

“Like Anthony Cody, I have been insulted several times by Secretary Duncan’s Press Secretary and friends of our president who are not open to any imput from experienced teachers. Indeed, I was the subject of a veiled threat from Mr. Duncan’s Press Secretary that I describe here:

“In another case, a good friend of the President told me when I protested the Chicago School closings: “who do you think you are kidding, only 7 or 8 percent of those kids have a chance anyway.” Several weeks later when I raised the same subject again, he gave me the Democrats for Education Reform standard line that inner city schools failed because teachers have failed. He was not interested in hearing about poverty and resource starving of schools. I called him on this. The first quote sounded eerily like what Mr. Emanuel communicated to Chicago Teacher’s Union President, Karen Lewis, in a famously closed door, expletive filled meeting.

“What all friends of public teachers and public Education need to understand is that Mr. Duncan and the Obama administration listen to no one on this issue. What Republicans and Tea Party activists need to understand is that this is not about Government corruption, it is about the fact that when it comes to Education issues, we do not have a government. Governments must read and respond to petitions: our Education Department does not seek to communicate with any citizens except by tweeting inane idiocies about gadgets and enterprise. What we have is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsoring the overthrow of the public school system to bulldoze a path to sell billions of dollars of product. Other companies like Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill and Company, and Achieve, Inc. are just coming in behind the bulldozers.

“We must teach the rest of our society that democracy still matters in schools and everywhere else. The time for talking is over! We need to get into the streets and get arrested if necessary. Most importantly every one of us needs to call the same senator or congressman every day until NCLB and RTTT are dead, Arne Duncan does not have control over a penny, and all stimulus money that has yet to be distributed, is given by the Senate Appropriations Committee to the districts around the country that are the most underserved to rehire teachers and support staff. Not a penny should go to charter school construction, IT, administration, or hiring consultants from the Eli Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation, or McKinsey. Not a penny should go to Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill or any form of standardized testing. All state superintendents who took trips from any Education vendor should resign, and no state should hire an administrator or superintendent at any level who does not have proper accredited certification and ten years of exemplary classroom teaching.

“Now is the time to preserve the legacy of John Dewey and teach the rest of the country about Democracy in Education or wait like sheep for Gatopia to numb us all!”