Archives for category: Rhee, Michelle

Long-time readers of this blog know that we have had a more or less steady procession of trolls who have inhabited these precincts. They lurk. They come and go. Some are grumpy. Some argue; some take a thread and take it off point. Some are annoying. I leave them alone so long as they live within the rules of the blog (no insulting your host because you are in my living room, no cursing, no conspiracy-mongering, a basic level of civility—and no monopolizing the comments section).

I have never asked others who blog what they do with their trolls. I just play it by ear. On severe; occasions, I have banned them when they broke the rules. Sometimes I put them in a queue to moderate their comments before they are posted to make sure they don’t continue their bad behavior. I give them a warning before there are consequences. But I am generally very tolerant.

It turns out that there are people who actually study troll behavior and offer advice about how to deal with them. The New York Times recently published an article on “the epidemic of facelessness.” This is a phenomenon new to our age, in which people communicate without having face-to-face contact. Much online interaction is between complete strangers. Online interactions can sometimes allow people–in their anonymity–to unleash a level of rage and hostility that they would never express in a face-to-face encounter. Some people have received death threats or rape threats online from total strangers, which happens to be criminal activity.

Stephen Marche writes:

What do we do with the trolls? It is one of the questions of the age. There are those who argue that we have a social responsibility to confront them. Mary Beard, the British historian, not only confronted a troll who sent her misogynistic messages, she befriended him and ended up writing him letters of reference. One young video game reviewer, Alanah Pearce, sent Facebook messages to the mothers of young boys who had sent her rape threats. These stories have the flavor of the heroic, a resistance to an assumed condition: giving face to the faceless.

The more established wisdom about trolls, at this point, is to disengage. Obviously, in many cases, actual crimes are being committed, crimes that demand confrontation, by victims and by law enforcement officials, but in everyday digital life engaging with the trolls “is like trying to drown a vampire with your own blood,” as the comedian Andy Richter put it. Ironically, the Anonymous collective, a pioneer of facelessness, has offered more or less the same advice.

Rule 14 of their “Rules of the Internet” is, “Do not argue with trolls — it means that they win.

Rule 19 is, “The more you hate it the stronger it gets.”

Ultimately, neither solution — confrontation or avoidance — satisfies. Even if confrontation were the correct strategy, those who are hounded by trolls do not have the time to confront them. To leave the faceless to their facelessness is also unacceptable — why should they own the digital space simply because of the anonymity of their cruelty?

There is a third way, distinct from confrontation or avoidance: compassion. The original trolls, Scandinavian monsters who haunted the Vikings, inhabited graveyards or mountains, which is why adventurers would always run into them on the road or at night. They were dull. They possessed monstrous force but only a dim sense of the reality of others. They were mystical nature-forces that lived in the distant, dark places between human habitations. The problem of contemporary trolls is a subset of a larger crisis, which is itself a consequence of the transformation of our modes of communication. Trolls breed under the shadows of the bridges we build.

In a world without faces, compassion is a practice that requires discipline, even imagination. Social media seems so easy; the whole point of its pleasure is its sense of casual familiarity. But we need a new art of conversation for the new conversations we are having — and the first rule of that art must be to remember that we are talking to human beings: “Never say anything online that you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face.” But also: “Don’t listen to what people wouldn’t say to your face.”

Given the national reach of the blog, I won’t be inviting any trolls for dinner. But there is an important point here: face-to-face contact tends to dissipate the rage that anonymity and facelessness promote. There is no way to make that happen, unfortunately. So we should just bear with one another, listen to those who join with us to argue every last point, be patient, be civil, and don’t jump to judgment.

In the previous post, I recounted the various health issues I dealt with this past year, but I left out one. A few months ago, I learned that I had cataracts in both eyes. I had to have them operated on, one month apart, this summer (as Bette Davis supposedly said, growing old is not for sissies.)

I called around in search of a highly respected eye surgeon. With some trepidation and much hilarity (cue the nervous laughter), I settled on Dr. Michelle Rhee of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. She seemed very professional and skilled when I met her.

The first surgery is over. My left eye is healing well. Thank you, Dr. Rhee.

One of life’s little ironies.

Mercedes Schneider has some questions for Campbell Brown. Brown, who once worked for CNN, is now the face of the “reform” movement, at least the teacher-bashing wing of it. She has created an organization that filed a lawsuit opposing teacher tenure in Néw York. Her ostensible motive is to get sexual predators out of the classroom.

Schneider reviews the teachers’ contract in question and wonders whether Brown knows that it was negotiated by Joel Klein. She also wonders why Brown has been silent on the same issues regarding a certain mayor of a certain city in California.

Schneider is perplexed by Brown’s selective indignation. She cites the case of a Department of Education hire (not a member of the teachers’ union) who confessed to multiple charges of statutory rape. Brown’s silence is deafening. She quotes from Patrick Walsh, a teacher-blogger in Néw York City.

Luke Brinker writes in Salon about “Michelle Rhee’s favorite wing nuts.” He says that StudentsFirst, flush with hedge fund cash, is spending freely on hard-right GOP candidates.

He writes:

“Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor and the longtime public face of the education “reform” movement, makes no secret of the fact that her nonprofit organization StudentsFirst backs Republican politicians. In 2012, the self-described Democrat’s group threw its support behind conservative candidates in state legislative races around the country, overlooking many GOPers’ extreme stances on issues like abortion and LGBT rights in its quest to elect candidates who subscribed to the group’s agenda of increasing the number of charter schools, weakening teachers’ unions and tenure protections, and reinforcing an approach to education that emphasizes high-stakes standardized testing. This year, Rhee is once again lending her organization’s financial might to a set of Republicans with hard-right views, as StudentsFirst aims to keep a Republican-led coalition in control of the New York state Senate.

“In its fight to keep the chamber in the GOP’s hands, StudentsFirst launched New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, a political action committee that quickly became the biggest spender on behalf of Republican Senate candidates. Among its most generous benefactors have been some of the hedge fund world’s boldface names; Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC and Julian Robertson, formerly of Tiger Management, each ponied up $1 million, Elliot Management’s Paul Singer donated $500,000, and Louis Bacon of Moore Capital Management has also contributed to the group.

“Flush with Wall Street cash, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany has lavished more than $1 million on ads for four right-wing state Senate candidates; the ads denounce higher taxes and public campaign financing and all but one cast New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a foe of the “reform” movement, in the role of left-wing bogeyman….”

How many times have you heard people like Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein (remember him?) and other so-called reformers say that poverty doesn’t matter, that poverty is an excuse for poor teaching?

I have always believed that poverty imposes tremendous burdens on students and their families: hunger, homelessness, lack of medical care, illness, etc.

The best evidence of the difference that poverty makes is SAT scores. The poorest kids have the lowest scores, the most affluent have the highest. The difference from bottom to top is nearly 400 points. To be exact, it is 398 points.

The Wall Street Journal suggests a new name for the SAT: the Student Affluence Test.

What does the SAT measure? Family income and family education.

Those with vast resources of their own probably think that poverty is a personal defect rather than the inevitable result of an inequitable tax system.

Politico.com reported that StudentsFirst chose a staunch advocate of charters, vouchers, and privatization to replace Michelle Rhee. (As usual, the word “reformer” is a synonym for privatization and hostility to teachers’ rights):

“STUDENTSFIRST PICKS NEW PRESIDENT: Longtime education reformer Jim Blew has been selected by the StudentsFirst Board of Directors to serve as the group’s new president, replacing former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Blew has served as an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation on a host of K-12 education reform issues and he has directed campaigns for the Alliance for School Choice and its predecessor, the American Education Reform Council. He steps in at an integral time for StudentsFirst – when news broke in mid-August that Rhee was stepping down, reform activists said [ http://politico.pro/1rt7Uh8%5D she was leaving a trail of disappointment and disillusionment in her wake. Four years ago, Rhee pledged to raise $1 billion to transform education worldwide. But StudentsFirst has been hobbled by a high turnover rate. And activists said Rhee failed to build critical coalitions, instead alienating activists who should have been her allies with strategies they found imperious, uncompromising and even illogical.”

Journalist Seth Sandronsky noted the progressive rhetoric of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson when he joined New York City Bill de Blasio at a national task force on turning cities into generators of opportunity.

““The purpose of cities is to lift up residents and build a community and economy that works for everyone,” said Mayor Johnson. “That means having a higher minimum wage, expanding the supply of affordable housing and ensuring every child has access to Pre-K.”

Sandronsky said it sounded good but is inconsistent with Mayor Johnson’s funding from the ultra-conservative Walton Family Foundation. The foundation gave the Mayor’s foundation $500,000 and gave $8 million to the Mayor’s wife, Michelle Rhee Johnson, for her anti-union organization StudentsFirst.

Walmart itself is hostile to unions and to raising the minimum wage. Sandronsky points out that every member of the Walton family is a billionaire while their workers get low wages.

Sandronsky concludes: “Mayors of US cities can better represent the 99% of their constituents by avoiding Mayor Johnson’s progressive words about raising the minimum wage while taking money from the Walton Family Foundation to undermine public education and union workers generally. Actions speak louder than words.”

G.F. Brandenburg writes here about what then-D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee in exchange for $64.5 million. She would have the power to fire any teacher anytime, and she would get great results. Brandenburg says Rhee and Henderson didn’t meet the goals he checked. Will they give the money back?

Brandenburg is researching all the promises. Here are some more of his findings. See here and here and here and here, and here.

There were 78 goals. Brandenburg is researching all of them. This is an ongoing series and there is more to come.

Mercedes Schneider reviews Michelle Rhee’s time in office as chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools. She concludes that Rhee was a failure. She wanted principals and teachers to be accountable to her while she was accountable to no one.

Schneider concludes that Amanda Ripley’s adulatory TIME cover story about Rhee as the person who would “fix” D.C. Schools and show the rest of the nation what to do was the basis of Rhee’s rise to national prominence. Schneider challenges both Rhee’s record and Ripley’s undeserved praise.

Schneider ends by challenging Ripley to write another story ifor TIME about how Rhee failed to accomplish her goals in D.C. and as CEO of StudentsFirst. Time for a correction. Will Ripley do it?

In 2011, soon after his election, Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott took Michelle Rhee on a tour to show off what Florida was doing in education. He took her to visit a charter school in Miami/Dade County, a middle school called Florida International Academy.

“We have to make sure our system does exactly what you are doing here at Florida International Academy,” Scott said.

Sad news. The elementary school attached to Florida International Academy was just starting. It shared the same campus and administration. There, things went from bad to worse.

“The elementary school earned an F in its first year. It improved to a D in 2012, but earned failing grades in 2013 and 2014.

“State law requires the closure of any charter school that receives consecutive Fs.”

The state is closing the elementary school. The middle school that Scott considers a model for the state earned a C.