Archives for category: Citizenship

A federal appeals court overturned a landmark ruling that affirmed the right to an education. Education is necessary for full citizenship, so voters can be fully informed. However the appeals court did not agree.

In April, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a landmark decision in the Detroit literacy case, Gary B. v. Whitmer, holding that there is a “fundamental right to a basic minimum education” under the U.S. Constitution. The two-to-one decision of the three-judge panel defined the right in terms of “access to literacy.”

However, in May, the full complement of 6th Circuit judges moved to review the case “en banc”, and eradicated the decision of the three judge panel. In the meantime, the Plaintiffs had settled the case with Governor Whitmer, the main defendant. Accordingly, they informed the Court of the settlement and said that the case was now moot and should be dismissed. Certain other defendants and the legislative leaders sought to continue the case, but earlier this week, the Sixth Circuit issued a ruling that accepted the plaintiffs’ position and dismissed the case. The net effect of the complicated history of the Gary B appeal is that although two U.S. Court of Appeals judges issued a landmark ruling holding for the first time that there is a limited right to education under the U.S. Constitution, that decision is now a legal nullity. However, as Mark Rosenbaum, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, put it, “The decision was vacated but the words will never disappear.”

The Washington Post published a statement endorsed by 89 individuals who served in the U.S. Department of Defense.


President Trump continues to use inflammatory language as many Americans protest the unlawful death of George Floyd and the unjust treatment of black Americans by our justice system. As the protests have grown, so has the intensity of the president’s rhetoric. He has gone so far as to make a shocking promise: to send active-duty members of the U.S. military to “dominate” protesters in cities throughout the country — with or without the consent of local mayors or state governors.


On Monday, the president previewed his approach on the streets of Washington. He had 1,600 troops from around the country transported to the D.C. area, and placed them on alert, as an unnamed Pentagon official put it, “to ensure faster employment if necessary.” As part of the show of force that Trump demanded, military helicopters made low-level passes over peaceful protesters — a military tactic sometimes used to disperse enemy combatants — scattering debris and broken glass among the crowd. He also had a force, including members of the National Guard and federal officers, that used flash-bang grenades, pepper spray and, according to eyewitness accounts, rubber bullets to drive lawful protesters, as well as members of the media and clergy, away from the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church. All so he could hold a politically motivated photo op there with members of his team, including, inappropriately, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


Looting and violence are unacceptable acts, and perpetrators should be arrested and duly tried under the law. But as Monday’s actions near the White House demonstrated, those committing such acts are largely on the margins of the vast majority of predominantly peaceful protests. While several past presidents have called on our armed services to provide additional aid to law enforcement in times of national crisis — among them Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson — these presidents used the military to protect the rights of Americans, not to violate them.


As former leaders in the Defense Department — civilian and military, Republican, Democrat and independent — we all took an oath upon assuming office “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as did the president and all members of the military, a fact that Gen. Milley pointed out in a recent memorandum to members of the armed forces. We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.


President Trump has given governors a stark choice: either end the protests that continue to demand equal justice under our laws, or expect that he will send active-duty military units into their states. While the Insurrection Act gives the president the legal authority to do so, this authority has been invoked only in the most extreme conditions when state or local authorities were overwhelmed and were unable to safeguard the rule of law. Historically, as Secretary Esper has pointed out, it has rightly been seen as a tool of last resort.


Beyond being unnecessary, using our military to quell protests across the country would also be unwise. This is not the mission our armed forces signed up for: They signed up to fight our nation’s enemies and to secure — not infringe upon — the rights and freedoms of their fellow Americans. In addition, putting our servicemen and women in the middle of politically charged domestic unrest risks undermining the apolitical nature of the military that is so essential to our democracy. It also risks diminishing Americans’ trust in our military — and thus America’s security — for years to come.


As defense leaders who share a deep commitment to the Constitution, to freedom and justice for all Americans, and to the extraordinary men and women who volunteer to serve and protect our nation, we call on the president to immediately end his plans to send active-duty military personnel into cities as agents of law enforcement, or to employ them or any another military or police forces in ways that undermine the constitutional rights of Americans. The members of our military are always ready to serve in our nation’s defense. But they must never be used to violate the rights of those they are sworn to protect.


Leon E. Panetta, former defense secretary


Chuck Hagel, former defense secretary


Ashton B. Carter, former defense secretary


William S. Cohen, former defense secretary


Sasha Baker, former deputy chief of staff to the defense secretary


Donna Barbisch, retired major general in the U.S. Army


Jeremy Bash, chief of staff to the defense secretary
Jeffrey P. Bialos, former deputy under secretary of defense for industrial affairs


Susanna V. Blume, former deputy chief of staff to the deputy defense secretary


Ian Brzezinski, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Europe and NATO


Gabe Camarillo, former assistant secretary of the Air Force


Kurt M. Campbell, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Asia and the Pacific


Michael Carpenter, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia


Rebecca Bill Chavez, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Western hemisphere affairs
Derek Chollet, former assistant defense secretary for international security affairs


Dan Christman, retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army and former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff


James Clapper, former under secretary of defense for intelligence and director of national intelligence


Eliot A. Cohen, former member of planning staff for the defense department and former member of the Defense Policy Board


Erin Conaton, former under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness


John Conger, former principal deputy under secretary of defense


Peter S. Cooke, retired major general of the U.S. Army Reserve


Richard Danzig, former secretary of the U.S. Navy


Janine Davidson, former under secretary of the U.S. Navy


Robert L. Deitz, former general counsel at the National Security Agency


Abraham M. Denmark, former deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia


Michael B. Donley, former secretary of the U.S. Air Force


John W. Douglass, retired brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy


Raymond F. DuBois, former acting under secretary of the U.S. Army


Eric Edelman, former under secretary of defense for policy


Eric Fanning, former secretary of the U.S. Army


Evelyn N. Farkas, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia


Michèle A. Flournoy, former under secretary of defense for policy


Nelson M. Ford, former under secretary of the U.S. Army
Alice Friend, former principal director for African affairs in the office of the under defense secretary for policy


John A. Gans Jr., former speechwriter for the defense secretary


Sherri Goodman, former deputy under secretary of defense for environmental security


André Gudger, former deputy assistant defense secretary for manufacturing and industrial base policy


Robert Hale, former under secretary of defense and Defense Department comptroller


Michael V. Hayden, retired general in the U.S. Air Force and former director of the National Security Agency and CIA


Mark Hertling, retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army and former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe


Kathleen H. Hicks, former principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy


Deborah Lee James, former secretary of the U.S. Air Force


John P. Jumper, retired general of the U.S. Air Force and former chief of staff of the Air Force


Colin H. Kahl, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Middle East policy


Mara E. Karlin, former deputy assistant defense secretary for strategy and force development


Frank Kendall, former under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics


Susan Koch, former deputy assistant defense secretary for threat-reduction policy


Ken Krieg, former under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics


J. William Leonard, former deputy assistant defense secretary for security and information operations


Steven J. Lepper, retired major general of the U.S. Air Force


George Little, former Pentagon press secretary


William J. Lynn III, former deputy defense secretary


Ray Mabus, former secretary of the U.S. Navy and former governor of Mississippi


Kelly Magsamen, former principal deputy assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs


Carlos E. Martinez, retired brigadier general of the U.S. Air Force Reserve


Michael McCord, former under secretary of defense and Defense Department comptroller


Chris Mellon, former deputy assistant defense secretary for intelligence


James N. Miller, former under secretary of defense for policy


Edward T. Morehouse Jr., former principal deputy assistant defense secretary and former acting assistant defense secretary for operational energy plans and programs


Jamie Morin, former director of cost assessment and program evaluation at the Defense Department and former acting under secretary of the U.S. Air Force


Jennifer M. O’Connor, former general counsel of the Defense Department


Sean O’Keefe, former secretary of the U.S. Navy


Dave Oliver, former principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics


Robert B. Pirie, former under secretary of the U.S. Navy
John Plumb, former acting deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy


Eric Rosenbach, former assistant defense secretary for homeland defense and global security


Deborah Rosenblum, former acting deputy assistant defense secretary for counternarcotics


Todd Rosenblum, acting assistant defense secretary for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs


Tommy Ross, former deputy assistant defense secretary for security cooperation


Henry J. Schweiter, former deputy assistant defense secretary


David B. Shear, former assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs


Amy E. Searight, former deputy assistant defense secretary for South and Southeast Asia


Vikram J. Singh, former deputy assistant defense secretary for South and Southeast Asia


Julianne Smith, former deputy national security adviser to the vice president and former principal director for Europe and NATO policy


Paula Thornhill, retired brigadier general of the Air Force and former principal director for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs


Jim Townsend, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Europe and NATO policy


Sandy Vershbow, former assistant defense secretary for international security affairs


Michael Vickers, former under secretary of defense for intelligence


Celeste Wallander, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia


Andrew Weber, former assistant defense secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs


William F. Wechsler, former deputy assistant defense secretary for special operations and combating terrorism


Doug Wilson, former assistant defense secretary for public affairs


Anne A. Witkowsky, former deputy assistant defense secretary for stability and humanitarian affairs


Douglas Wise, former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency


Daniel P. Woodward, retired brigadier general of the U.S. Air Force
Margaret H. Woodward, retired major general of the U.S. Air Force


Carl Woog, former deputy assistant to the defense secretary for communications


Robert O. Work, former deputy defense secretary


Dov S. Zakheim, former under secretary of defense and Defense Department comptroller

Michael Hynes is the superintendent of schools in the Port Washington school district on Long Island in New York. He is one of the most creative, innovative, and unconventional thinkers in education today. His new book was just published, offering advice to school leaders and, frankly, to everyone, about what is most important in life.

Mike Hynes is my candidate for the next State Commissioner of Education in New York. He has fresh ideas, deep experience, and values the well-being of children more than test scores.

In this brief essay, he outlines what schools should do after the pandemic.

He writes:

Now is the time for our school leaders to generate a new compelling philosophy of education and an innovative architecture for a just and humane school system. We must refocus our energy on a foundation built on a sense of purpose, forging relationships and maximizing the potential and talents of all children. Let’s take advantage of the possibility that our nation’s attention can shift 180 degrees, from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff.

It is our collective responsibility to foster engaging and meaningful environments when educating our children in the new era of a post pandemic education. As the great philosopher John Dewey stated over one hundred years ago, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The first sentence in the 2018 World Bank Group’s Flagship Report- Learning: To Realize Education’s Promise states, “Schooling is not the same as learning.” I couldn’t agree more. The report continues to speak about that as a society, we must learn to realize education’s promise.

Now is this the time to revolutionize this antiquated system built on old structures and ideologies. I recommend we change the purpose of schooling to the following core values:

· Emphasize well-being. Make child and teacher well-being a top priority in all schools, as engines of learning and system efficiency.

· Upgrade testing and other assessments. Stop the standardized testing of children in grades 3-8, and “opt-up” to higher-quality assessments by classroom teachers. Eliminate the ranking and sorting of children based on standardized testing. Train students in self-assessment, and require only one comprehensive testing period to graduate from high school.

· Invest resources fairly. Fund schools equitably on the basis of need. Provide small class sizes.

· Boost learning through physical activity. Give children multiple outdoor free-play recess breaks throughout the school day to boost their well-being and performance. We observed schools in Finland that give children four 15-minute free-play breaks a day.

· Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.

· Make homework efficient. Reduce the homework load in elementary and middle schools to no more than 30 minutes per night, and make it responsibility-based rather than stress-based.

· Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.

· Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.

In short, if we learn anything at all from this pandemic, we should clearly recognize that we need our teachers more than ever before. It’s imperative that schools focus on a balanced approach to education, one that embraces physical, emotional, cognitive and social growth. We have an enormous amount of work to do, but our children deserve nothing less.

If you agree, please send his essay to every school board member you know and to anyone else who is interested in finding a new way to educate our children, one that develops their well-being and joy in learning, instead of subjecting them to an endless and useless series of standardized tests.

The Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, issued this statement on the landmark decision in Michigan that students in Detroit have a fundamental right to education to prepare for citizenship.


In a landmark decision issued yesterday in the Gary B. v. Whitmer case, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held there is a “fundamental right to a basic minimum education” under the U.S. Constitution. The two-to-one decision of the three-judge panel defined the right in terms of “access to literacy.”

Students in very low performing schools in Detroit brought the case. They claim that—due to the absence of qualified teachers, crumbling facilities, and insufficient materials— the conditions in their schools are so bad students leave school virtually illiterate. As the decision states, “Plaintiffs sit in classrooms where not even the pretense of education takes place, in schools that are functionally incapable of delivering access to literacy.” Because of this, these students attend “schools in name only, characterized by slum-like conditions and lacking the most basic educational opportunities that children elsewhere in Michigan and throughout the nation take for granted.”

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that had dismissed the case. The court held there is a “fundamental right to a basic minimum education” that provides access to literacy as a matter of “substantive due process” under the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a fundamental right for substantive due process must be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit discussed in detail the history of education in the United States, especially at the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court also relied on the precedent of the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that single-sex marriage was a fundamental right as a matter of substantive due process.

This is the first time a court has asserted a federal right to education. In 1973, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that education is not “a fundamental interest” entitled to strict scrutiny analysis under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (although the Court emphasized in the same decision that “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments,” as it had previously held in Brown v. Board of Education). Even though the Texas system of educational finance provided the plaintiff students only half the per-capita funding that students in a neighboring, more affluent district received, the Supreme Court deemed this a “rational” state policy because it promoted local control of education.

In the nearly 50 years since Rodriguez, a number of cases have sought to distinguish and limit the scope of that ruling, but none has succeeded prior to this major pronouncement from the Sixth Circuit.

The Gary B. case has been remanded to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Michigan for a trial and further proceedings. Governor Whitmer and the other defendants have not yet indicated whether they intend to appeal the Sixth Circuit’s ruling.

For procedural reasons, the Sixth Circuit did not decide the claims plaintiffs had raised under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That issue may be decided by the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island where a decision is currently pending in Cook v. Raimondo, another case seeking to establish a right to education under the U.S. Constitution. The main argument asserted by the Cook plaintiffs is that, in the Rodriguez decision, the Supreme Court left open the question of whether there is a right to the “quantum of education” students need to exercise “meaningfully” important constitutional rights like the right to vote, to serve on a jury, to exercise free speech, and to participate in political activities.

Michael A. Rebell, executive director of the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College and lead attorney for the plaintiffs in Cook v. Raimondo, said:

We applaud the outcome of the Gary B. case, which may bring important relief to students in Detroit. Nevertheless we are concerned about the narrow scope of the right to education as defined by the Sixth Circuit opinion. We are
hopeful that Judge Smith in Rhode Island will declare that under the equal protection clause, or other constitutional provisions, students have a fundamental right to a more robust and and meaningful education—one that provides the
knowledge, skills, experiences, values, and civic integration necessary to prepare them to function effectively as civic participants in a democratic society.

The Center for Educational Equity | centerforeducationalequity.org

In a major decision affecting students in Detroit, a federal appeals court overruled a lower court decision and concluded that students have a fundamental right to literacy. The dissenting judge, appointed by Trump, ruled that there is no such right. The case began in 2016, when Rick Snyder was governor.

The Detroit News reported:

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Detroit students have a fundamental but limited right to basic minimum education and have standing to sue the state for alleged violations of that right.

In a 2-1 ruling, the panel warned that the right to education “is narrow in scope” to include access to skills deemed “essential for the basic exercise of other fundamental rights and liberties, most importantly participation in our political system.”

“This amounts to an education sufficient to provide access to a foundational level of literacy — the degree of comprehension needed for participation in our democracy,” according to the majority opinion.

But the appeals panel ruled the students failed to make adequate arguments about equal protection and compulsory attendance at schools that are “schools in name only.”

Detroit U.S. District Court Judge Stephen J. Murphy III originally dismissed the students’ claimof a fundamental right to a basic minimum education, which the divided panel reversed. He is a President George W. Bush appointee.

“Plaintiffs contend that access to literacy, as opposed to other educational achievements, is a gateway milestone, one that unlocks the basic exercise of other fundamental rights, including the possibility of political participation,” according to the majority opinion by Judges Eric Clay, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, and Jane Stranch, an appointee of former President Barack Obama.

Judge Eric Murphy, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote the dissent.

“While the Supreme Court has repeatedly discussed this issue, it has never decided it, and the question of whether such a right exists remains open today,” Clay wrote in the majority opinion. “After employing the reasoning of these Supreme Court cases and applying the Court’s substantive due process framework, we recognize that the Constitution provides a fundamental right to a basic minimum education.”

“In short, without the literacy provided by a basic minimum education, it is impossible to participate in our democracy,” the opinion says.

‘Thrilling historic victory’

Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the Detroit students, called the decision Thursday “a thrilling historic victory for the community of Detroit that has carried on the struggle for educational justice for decades….”

“It affirms in these troubled times why our judicial system exists,” Rosenbaum said in a statement. “Every Michigander who loves children should cheer this decision.”

Literacy and education are inherent to participation in the state’s political system and are viewed as the “great equalizer,” the two judges wrote.

“It may never be that each child born in this country has the same opportunity for success in life, without regard to the circumstances of her birth,” Clay wrote. “But even so, the Constitution cannot permit those circumstances to foreclose all opportunity and deny a child literacy without regard to her potential.”

See also, the account of the decision in the Detroit Free Press.

Johann Neem is the author of Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America, in which he describes the creation of public education between the American Revolution and the Civil War and recognizes public schools as an essential building block of a robust democracy.

Neem’s family came to America from India when he was a. Dry young child. They settled in California and lived in a diverse, multiethnic America. He went to public schools, to college, to graduate school, and eventually became a historian of education.

He lived what was then considered the American Dream. But now he fears it is disappearing for reasons he explain in this essay.

He begins:

I arrived—as we all do—in the midst of history. I was not yet three, and my parents had migrated to San Francisco from Mumbai to start a new life. They had been sponsored by my dad’s sister, whose husband, an engineer, had come over to work for Bechtel. We were, in other words, part of the first wave of immigrants to crash into a changing America in the wake of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Our arrival—among those of the numbers of Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans who came to the country—was largely unexpected. It was not what most Americans had anticipated when the law was passed during the civil rights era. But it was what brought me here, to a new country.

Mine was an American childhood. We were middle class and lived on a cul-de-sac whose residents were diverse in many of the usual American ways. There were Japanese-Americans and Catholics and Protestants. There were people without college degrees, and others with graduate degrees. There were Republicans and Democrats. There were immigrants from Germany, and of course we were from India. But most of us kids went to public school together, and our parents would take turns carpooling us. Gathering on the court, we rode bikes, played football on our muddy lawn (I was never much good at sports), and pretended to be motorcycle officers Ponch and Jon from the TV series CHiPs. Together, we made up games and celebrated birthdays. We grew up knowing about our differences but caring about what we shared. What bound us together was America, although I’m not sure I would have been able to say that. Perhaps I didn’t have to.

I imagined that I could become anybody. I had no awareness then that this belief was the result of more than two centuries of activism on the part of African Americans, feminists, and their allies to earn equality within the American nation-state. It was California. The American Dream was alive. Of course, that dream had been deferred for so many Americans for too long. But after 1965, it was hoped, those obstacles would be behind us. Immigrants would be welcome. African Americans would be equal. And despite the thus-far unsuccessful effort to enact the Equal Rights Amendment, I grew up in a world that took for granted that women too could be whomever they wanted to be.

There was a kind of amnesia. Maybe that’s not the right word. We were new. So maybe it was that I just didn’t know the history, and my parents had experienced a different history. Whatever it was, America was, for us, a blank slate. But it was not fully blank. It had rituals and traditions for us to learn, such as giving gifts and spending time with family and friends on Christmas or having barbecues on the Fourth of July. We gathered with neighbors to hunt Easter eggs. It had norms, like saying “thank you” for any kind of service, a sign of the respect each American owed fellow Americans for their contributions to society. It had a creed, too—that the United States promised all people a better, freer, more prosperous life…

I lived in a world where we could all be American, not because of our cultural differences but because of what we could share. This shared culture—this sense of being a people—is a precondition to sustaining the universal ideals of American democracy. We like to pretend that principles are enough, but abstract ideas are thin gruel for flesh-and-blood human beings. We are not disembodied reasoners. We belong to groups. We have emotions. Culture connects us to our country and to one another. But that culture depends on shared rituals and experiences. Today, we are so afraid of offense that we risk privatizing the very culture we once could share together…

As I studied American history, I came to appreciate the struggles so many Americans had undertaken, often in the face of brutal violence, to create the California my parents and I had entered in 1976. As a professor, I want my students to know of these struggles, of the wrenching realities of slavery and Jim Crow, of the violence unleashed against labor unions, of why a human being could be beaten and left tied to a fence to die for being gay. These stories have to be told if we are to confront the truth about our past, which continues to shape the way many Americans experience the present.

But some felt threatened by these new stories. They worried that they represented the end of America because they dethroned many idols. Jefferson did look different from the perspective of an enslaved person or a Native American than he did from that of a white farmer in western New York State or Virginia. The culture wars reflected Americans’ disagreements over which perspectives mattered most, and how to fit them together into a coherent story about ourselves as a people…

I am outside two worlds—both defined by race. On the left, race seems to be everywhere, as something to celebrate but also to divide. On the right, whiteness represents a reracialized vision of America that denies black voters access to the polls, engages in race-baiting that targets immigrants of color, and insults people of non-Christian faiths. It authorizes a president who suggests that we should deal with the problem of illegal border crossings by shooting migrants in the legs.20 I see myself distorted through both sets of eyes. But neither defines me. I don’t want to be white. I am proud of my Indian heritage. I am an American.

This sense of who I am makes immigrants like me carriers of an American Dream that is being lost. I still believe in the Dream. Most white Americans are not white nationalists, and, because I work on a college campus, I hope that I exaggerate the divisive features of multiculturalism and whiteness studies. Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area at a particular moment in its history, I know from experience that diversity does not necessarily lead to fragmentation. Living in a diverse society depends on tolerance and mutual respect, and, I learned, both a willingness to share and to participate in American culture.

I don’t do justice to this thoughtful and provocative essay by citing disconnected excerpts. Neem analyzes the tensions created by too much pressure from the academic left, focused on identity politics, and the counter-response from conservative and radicalized whites, who assert their white identity and proclaim their grievances, with the encouragement of a president who loves divisiveness.

Read it.

This is one of the best articles I have ever read in Education Week. It is not an opinion piece. It is a news article by veteran journalist Stephen Sawchuk.

He begins:

This was the week that American schools across the country closed their doors.

It was the week that our public schools—often dismissed as mediocre, inequitable, or bureaucratic—showed just how much they mean to American society by their very absence.

The unprecedented shutdown public and private schools in dozens of states last week has illuminated one easily forgotten truism about schools: They are an absolute necessity for the functioning of civic culture, and even more fundamentally than that, daily life.

Schools are the centers of communities. They provide indispensible student-welfare services, like free meals, health care, and even dentistry. They care for children while parents work. And all those services do much to check the effects of America’s economically stratified systems of employment and health care on young students.

These insights came into focus last week as the nation’s governors, in the absence of a coherent message from federal officials, took charge and shuttered tens of thousands of American schools, affecting tens of millions of students, in an effort to curb the menacing spread of the new coronavirus,or COVID-19.

Education historians and researchers struggled to come up with a historical precedent to this brave new school-less world. The only certainty, they said, is that the long-term impacts for students will be severe, and most likely long lasting.

Student learning will suffer in general—and longstanding gaps in performance between advantaged and vulnerable students will widen, they predicted, a combination both of weakened instruction and the other social consequences of the pandemic.

With tax revenues in free fall, schools and other public services will suffer when they eventually re-open.

With annual testing wiped away, at least for this year, accountability hawks are weeping, but teachers and students can dream of schools that prioritize teaching, not testing.

Parents are finding out how difficult it is to teach, even when they are in charge of only one, two, or three children. They marvel that teachers can do what they do with classes of 25 or 30 children. And they long for a resumption of school. Students miss their friends, their teachers, their teams, the rhythm of daily life in school.

For a few brief weeks, maybe longer, Americans have been reminded of the importance of their community’s public schools and their professional teachers.

Alan Singer posts here a brilliant speech that he delivered about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. the civil rights movement, and Dr. King’s continuing legacy today. He reminds us that the issues that Dr. King addressed are still unresolved: racism, poverty, war, violence. He points out that when Dr.King was assassinated, he was helping low-wage sanitation workers in Memphis to organize a union to improve their wages, working conditions, and lives. The next time you hear a billionaire or right-winger claim that school choice is “the civil rights issue of our time,” ask him or her (or yourself) whether they are also fighting as Dr. King did to end racism, poverty, war, and violence.

Speaking recently at the Uniondale, New York, public library, Singer said (and this is an excerpt),

The traditional myth about the Civil Rights Movement, the one that is taught in schools and promoted by politicians and the national media, is that Rosa Parks sat down, Martin Luther King stood up, and somehow the whole world changed. But the real story is that the Civil Rights Movement was a mass democratic movement to expand human equality and guarantee citizenship rights for Black Americans. It was definitely not a smooth climb to progress. Between roughly 1955 and 1968 it had peaks that enervated people and valleys that were demoralizing. Part of the genius of Dr. King was his ability to help people “keep on keeping on” when hope for the future seemed its bleakest.

While some individual activists clearly stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, it involved hundreds of thousands of people, including many White people, who could not abide the U.S. history of racial oppression dating back to slavery days. It is worth noting that a disproportionate number of whites involved in the Civil Rights movement were Jews, many with ties to Long Island. In the 1960s, the Great Neck Committee for Human Rights sponsored an anti-discrimination pledge signed by over 1,000 people who promised not to discriminate against any racial or ethnic groups if they rented or sold their homes. They also picketed local landlords accused of racial bias. The Human Rights Committee and Great Neck synagogues hosted Dr. King as a speaker and raised funds for his campaigns on multiple occasions.

King and Parks played crucial and symbolic roles in the Civil Rights Movement, but so did Thurgood Marshall, Myles Horton, Fanny Lou Hammer, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Walther Reuther, Medger Evers, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson, as well as activists who were critics of racial integration and non-violent civil disobedience such as Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers.

The stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King have been sanitized to rob them of their radicalism and power. Rosa Parks was not a little old lady who sat down in the White only section of a bus because she was tired. She was only 42 when she refused to change her seat and made history. In addition, Parks was a trained organizer, a graduate of the Highlander School where she studied civil disobedience and social movements, and a leader of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP. Rosa Parks made a conscious choice to break an unjust law in order to provoke a response and promote a movement for social change. 

Martin Luther King challenged the war in Vietnam, U.S. imperialism, and laws that victimized working people and the poor, not just racial discrimination. When he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, he was helping organize a sanitation workers union. If Dr. King had not be assassinated, but had lived to become an old radical activist who constantly questioned American policy, I suspect he would never have become so venerated. It is better for a country to have heroes who are dead, because they cannot make embarrassing statements opposing continuing injustice and unnecessary wars.

The African American Civil Rights Movement probably ended with the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968 and the abandonment of Great Society social programs by the Democratic Party, but social inequality continues. What kind of country is it when young Black men are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than in college, inner city youth unemployment at the best of times hovers in the high double-digits, and children who already have internet access at home are the ones most likely to have it in school? What kind of country is it when families seeking refuge from war, crime, and climate disruption are barred entry to the United States or put in holding pens at the border? These are among the reasons I am recruiting everyone to a movement for social justice. These are the things that would have infuriated Martin Luther King.

I promised I would share excerpts from four of Dr. King’s speeches. Everyone has the phrases and speeches that they remember best. Most Americans are familiar with the 1963 “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and the 1968 “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis just before he died. These are four other speeches that still resonate with me the most today.

The first speech I reference is one for local Uniondale, Long Island, and Hofstra pride. In 1965, Dr. King was honored and spoke at the Hofstra University graduation. It was less than one year after he received the Nobel Peace Prize and three years before his assassination. In the speech Dr. King argued “mankind’s survival is dependent on man’s ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty and war” and that the “solution of these problems is . . . dependent upon man squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony.” I have no doubt that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, demands for gun control, climate activism, and calls for the impeachment of Donald Trump. 

In his Hofstra speech, Dr. King told graduates, families, and faculty, “we have built machines that think, and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. We have built gigantic bridges to span the seas, and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies . . . We have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains . . . Yet in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, something basic is missing. That is a sort of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish. But we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

Read the rest of this powerful speech by Professor Singer about Dr. King’s relevance for us today.

 

 

 

Jan Resseger is a profound thinker and a clear writer. I love reading what she writes. Jan is one of the Resistance leaders in my new book SLAYING GOLIATH: THE PASSIONATE RESISTANCE TO PRIVATIZATION AND THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

In this post, she explains to Democratic candidates why they should not waffle in their support for public schools.

Her explanation is a rallying cry for educators and parents. Print it out and pin it on the bulletin board next to your computer or tape it to your filing cabinet. Read it over and think about it.

She writes:

Here are my seven reasons for believing Democrats running for President ought to express strong support for public schools and opposition to charter schools:

First:   The scale of the provision of K-12 education across our nation can best be achieved by the systemic, public provision of schools.  Rewarding social entrepreneurship in the startup of one charter school at a time cannot possibly serve the needs of the mass of our children and adolescents. In a new, September 2019 enrollment summary, the National Center for Education Statistics reports: “Between around 2000 and 2016, traditional public school, public charter school, and homeschool enrollment increased, while private school enrollment decreased… Traditional public school enrollment increased to 47.3 million (1 percent increase), charter school enrollment grew to 3.0 million students (from 0.4 million), and the number of homeschooled students nearly doubled to 1.7 million. Private school enrollment fell 4 percent, to 5.8 million students.”

Second:   Public schools are our society’s most important civic institution. Public schools are not perfect, but they are the optimal way for our very complex society to balance the needs of each particular child and family with a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children. Because public schools are responsible to the public, it is possible through elected school boards, open meetings, transparent record keeping and redress through the courts to ensure that traditional public schools provide access for all children. While our society has not fully realized justice for every child in the public schools, it is by striving systemically to improve access and opportunity in the public schools that we have the best chance of securing the rights of all children.

Third:   Charter schools are parasites sucking essential dollars from the public school districts where they are located. The political economist Gordon Lafer explains that the expansion of charter schools cannot possibly be revenue neutral for the host school district losing students to charter schools: “To the casual observer, it may not be obvious why charter schools should create any net costs at all for their home districts. To grasp why they do, it is necessary to understand the structural differences between the challenge of operating a single school—or even a local chain of schools—and that of a district-wide system operating tens or hundreds of schools and charged with the legal responsibility to serve all students in the community.  When a new charter school opens, it typically fills its classrooms by drawing students away from existing schools in the district…  If, for instance, a given school loses five percent of its student body—and that loss is spread across multiple grade levels, the school may be unable to lay off even a single teacher… Plus, the costs of maintaining school buildings cannot be reduced…. Unless the enrollment falloff is so steep as to force school closures, the expense of heating and cooling schools, running cafeterias, maintaining digital and wireless technologies, and paving parking lots—all of this is unchanged by modest declines in enrollment. In addition, both individual schools and school districts bear significant administrative responsibilities that cannot be cut in response to falling enrollment. These include planning bus routes and operating transportation systems; developing and auditing budgets; managing teacher training and employee benefits; applying for grants and certifying compliance with federal and state regulations; and the everyday work of principals, librarians and guidance counselors.” “If a school district anywhere in the country—in the absence of charter schools—announced that it wanted to create a second system-within-a-system, with a new set of schools whose number, size, specialization, budget, and geographic locations would not be coordinated with the existing school system, we would regard this as the poster child of government inefficiency and a waste of tax dollars. But this is indeed how the charter school system functions.”

Fourth:   While some predicted the expansion of charter schools would improve academic achievement on a broad scale, children in traditional public schools and charter schools perform about the same.  According to the new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, “Academic Performance: In 2017, at grades 4 and 8, no measurable differences in average reading and mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were observed between students in traditional public and public charter schools.”

Fifth:   Opposing for-profit charter schools misses the point.  In most states, charter schools themselves must be nonprofits, but the nonprofit boards of directors of these schools may hire a for-profit management company to operate the school. Two of the most notorious examples of the ripoffs of tax dollars in nonprofit (managed-for-profit) charter schools were in my state, Ohio. The late David Brennan, the father of Ohio charter schools, set up sweeps contracts with the nonprofit schools managed by his for-profit White Hat Management Company.  The boards of these schools—frequently people with ties to Brennan and his operations—turned over to White Hat Management more than 90 percent of the dollars awarded by the state to the nonprofit charters. These were secret deals. Neither the public nor the members of the nonprofit charter school boards of directors could know how the money was spent; nor did they know how much profit Brennan’s for-profit raked off the top. Then there was Bill Lager, the founder of Ohio’s infamous Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow—technically a nonprofit.  All management of the online charter school and the design and provision of its curriculum were turned over to Lager’s privately owned, for-profit companies—Altair Management and IQ Innovations. ECOT was shut down in 2018 for charging the state for thousands of students who were not really enrolled. The state of Ohio is still in court trying to recover even a tiny percentage of Lager’s lavish profits.

Sixth:   Malfeasance, corruption, and poor performance plague charter schools across the states. Because charter schools were established by state law across the 45 states where charters operate, and because much of the state charter school enabling legislation featured innovation and experimentation and neglected oversight, the scandals fill local newspapers. The Network for Public Education tracks the myriad examples of outrageous fraud and mismanagement by charter schools.  Because neoliberal ideologues and the entrepreneurs in the for-profit charter management companies regularly donate generously to the political coffers of state legislators—the very people responsible for passing laws to regulate this out-of-control sector, adequate oversight has proven impossible.

Seventh:   The federal Charter Schools Program should be shut down immediately. Here is a brief review of the Network for Public Education’s findings in last spring’s Asleep at the Wheel report.  A series of federal administrations—Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have treated the federal Charter Schools Program (part of the Office of Innovation and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education) as a kind of venture capital fund created and administered to stimulate social entrepreneurship—by individuals or big nonprofits or huge for-profits—as a substitute for public operation of the public schools. Since the program’s inception in 1994, the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) has awarded $4 billion in federal tax dollars to start up or expand charter schools across 44 states and the District of Columbia, and has provided some of the funding for 40 percent of all the charter schools across the country. The CSP has lacked oversight since the beginning, and during the Obama and Trump administrations—when the Department of Education’s own Office of Inspector General released a series of scathing critiques of the program—grants have been made based on the application alone with little attempt by officials in the Department of Education to verify the information provided by applicants. The Network for Public Education found that the CSP has spent over a $1 billion on schools that never opened or were opened and subsequently shut down: “The CSP’s own analysis from 2006-2014 of its direct and state pass-through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.”

Last June in The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner defined the political philosophy known as neoliberalism and showed how this kind of thinking has driven privatization across many sectors previously operated, for the public good, by government: “Since the late 1970s. we’ve had a grand experiment to test the claim that free markets really do work best… (I)n the 1970s, libertarian economic theory got another turn at bat…  Neoliberalism’s premise is that free markets can regulate themselves; that government is inherently incompetent, captive to special interests, and an intrusion on the efficiency of the market; that in distributive terms, market outcomes are basically deserved; and that redistribution creates perverse incentives by punishing the economy’s winners and rewarding its losers. So government should get out of the market’s way.”

For three decades, neoliberalism has reigned in education policy. The introduction of the neoliberal ideal of competition—supposedly to drive school improvement—through vouchers for private school tuition and in the expansion of charter schools has become acceptable to members of both political parties.

The late political philosopher Benjamin Barber explains elegantly and precisely what is wrong with neoliberal thinking in general. I think his words apply directly to what has been happening as charter schools have been expanded to more and more states. The candidates running for President who prefer to waffle on the advisability of school privatization via charter schools ought to consider Barber’s analysis:

“Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck.  Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all.  Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

 

This is one of the best of Jan Resseger’s many brilliant posts.

In it, she quotes a surprising source, who explains the importance, centrality, and  necessity of public schools as anchors of their communities.

As you may have guessed, I am a huge admirer of this insightful, wise woman.

Please print this out, email it, tweet it, put it on Facebook, share it with your friends.

I never quote a post in full. I want you to go to the source and add page views to the author. This is an exception because I can’t find a word to cut.

She writes:

The 2019-2020 school year is now underway, and in an ironic twist, in a business journal, the academic dean of the college of education at the for-profit University of Phoenix has penned a beautiful reflection on the meaning of public education. Dean Pam Roggeman understands the meaning for families and for communities of their public schools.

Roggeman writes: “This early fall, I’d like to honor the millions of parents who…  send their kids to school for the first time. Critics, possibly a bit removed from their neighborhood public schools, at times try to paint public education as a nameless, faceless bureaucratic institution that is riddled with faults. And like many other institutions, our public schools do have flaws. However, those of us rooted in our communities, with or without school-age kids, do not see our schools as faceless institutions. Rather, we associate our schools with our child’s talented teacher, or the principal greeting kids at the door, or the coach waiting for kids to be picked up after practice, or the mom who became this fall’s crossing guard, or the front office staff who commiserate with us as we deliver the forgotten lunch, and… also with the friendly bus-driver who will not move that bus until every child is safely seated. We rely on and embrace our neighborhood public schools as a community enterprise on which we deeply depend.”

Roggeman defines the reason public schools are one of our society’s best opportunities for establishing systemic justice for children: public schools are required by law to serve the needs and protect the rights of all children: “(T)here is one thing that our American public schools do better than any other schools in the country or even in the world: our public schools commit to addressing the needs of every single child. Our public schools are open to ALL children, without prejudice or pause. Our schools attempt to educate EVERYBODY. American students are students who are gifted, students with disabilities, students who need advanced placement, students who have experienced trauma, students who are learning English, students who are hungry, affluent students, students who live in poverty, students who are anxious, and students who are curious.”

Reading Roggeman’s reflection on public education as an essential civic institution caused me to dig out a Resolution for the Common Good, passed by the 25th General Synod of the United Church of Christ more than a decade ago, when I was working in the justice ministries of that mainline Protestant denomination. The resolution was passed unanimously in 2005, in the midst of a decade when an ethos of individualism was accelerating.

The values defined in the introduction to the resolution mesh with Roggeman’s consideration of public schools as the essence of community: “The Twenty-fifth General Synod calls upon all settings of the United Church of Christ to uphold the common good as a foundational ideal in the United States, rejects the notion that government is more unwieldy or inefficient than other democratic institutions, and reaffirms the obligation of citizens to share through taxes the financial responsibility for public services that benefit all citizens, especially those who are vulnerable, to work for more equitable public institutions, and to support regulations that protect society and the environment.”

The introduction of the resolution continues: “A just and good society balances individualism with the needs of the community. In the past quarter century our society has lost this ethical balance. Our nation has moved too far in the direction of promoting individual self interest at the expense of community responsibility. The result has been an abandonment of the common good. While some may suggest that the sum total of individual choices will automatically constitute the common good, there is no evidence that choices based on self interest will protect the vulnerable or provide the safeguards and services needed by the whole population. While as a matter of justice and morality we strive always to expand the individual rights guaranteed by our government for those who have lacked rights, we also affirm our commitment to vibrant communities and recognize the importance of government for providing public services on behalf of the community… The church must speak today about the public space where political processes are the way that we organize our common life, allocate our resources, and tackle our shared problems. Politics is about the values we honor, the dollars we allocate, and the process we follow so that we can live together with some measure of justice, order and peace.”

Recognizing “significant on-going efforts to privatize education, health care, and natural resources, and to reduce revenues collected through taxes as a strategy for reducing dependency on government services,” the delegates resolved “that the United Church of Christ in all its settings will work to make our culture reflect the following values:

  • that societies and nations are judged by the way they care for their most vulnerable citizens;
  • that government policy and services are central to serving the common good;
  • that the sum total of individual choices in any private marketplace does not necessarily constitute the public good;
  • that paying taxes for government services is a civic responsibility of individuals and businesses;
  • that the tax code should be progressive, with the heaviest burden on those with the greatest financial means; (and)
  • that the integrity of creation and the health and sustainability of ecological systems is the necessary foundation for the well-being of all people and all living things for all time.”

Since that resolution passed in 2005, we have watched an explosion of economic inequality, the defunding and privatization of public institutions including K-12 public education, the defunding of social programs; the growth of privatized and unregulated charter schools, the abuse of power by those who have been amassing the profits, and the abandonment of policies to protect the environment.

A just and good society balances the rights of the individual with the needs of the community. I believe that the majority of Americans embrace these values.  I wonder how we have allowed our society stray so far.