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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mark Naison: School Reform Demonized Teachers, Then Parents

FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 2013

In NY State, Those Who Once Attacked Teachers Have Parents in Their Crosshairs


Perhaps the most famous quote describing how most people looked the way during the rise of Nazism is the following

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

This statement has a chilling applicability to the top down, billionaire funded “School Reform” movement, especially in New York State. The movement began by demonizing teachers, blaming them for the failure of our public schools to prepare children for a global economy, and reduce racial disparities in educational achievement. In New York State, this campaign led to the Governor ramming through legislation requiring that teachers be rated on the basis of student test scores and removed if they had unsatisfactory ratings. Many principals and teachers warned that this legislation would result in a vast increase in testing in the state's public schools, and the institutionalization of "teaching to the test." Most parents in the state ignored these warnings, thinking that they were self serving and that greater "teacher accountability" would be in the interests of their children and families.

However, as this legislation began to be implemented, many parents began to discover that what teachers and principals warned about was occurring with breakneck speed. More and more, children were coming home bored and angry, telling parents they hated school because all that was going on was "test preparation," and that the activities they enjoyed most- art, music, recess, gym- were being cut to make room for it. Some were having anxiety attacks on the eve of the tests. Some had to be put under a doctor's care.

Small groups of parents in the state began organizing to protest what was happening. They discovered there was a national movement to "opt out" children from high stakes tests, and decided to create a version of this in New York State that could help their children. They approached school authorities and asked that their children be exempted from state ELA and Math exams.

The response to them, from New York State Education officials, was immediate and vicious. They were, and still are, told that Opting Out is illegal. Not only were they threatened with legal action by the State, their CHILDREN were threatened with everything from participation in extracurricular activities, access to special needs services, placement in magnet programs, even promotion to the next grade! These individual threats were coupled with an attack on the parental Opt Out movement in the media, describing it as a threat to the great progress the state has made in creating a great education for all children

The viciousness of the State's retaliation to parents and children who choose to "Opt Out" should be a warning that something profoundly undemocratic and destructive is happening in New York's public education system, and that the only way to do anything about it is for all stakeholders- principals, teachers, parents, students- to organize to dismantle the Test Machine being shoved down their throat

School Reform in New York State has become the smokescreen under which powerful interests, seeking profit or political gain, have launched one of the most far reaching attacks on popular democracy in recent memory. It is time to fight back before it is too late

Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan: Kissinger and Manning

WikiLeaks’ New Release: The Kissinger Cables and Bradley Manning

By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan
WikiLeaks has released a new trove of documents, more than 1.7 million U.S. State Department cables dating from 1973-1976, which they have dubbed “The Kissinger Cables,” after Henry Kissinger, who in those years served as secretary of state and assistant to the president for national security affairs.

One cable includes a transcribed conversation where Kissinger displays remarkable candor: “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”
While the illegal and the unconstitutional may be a laughing matter for Kissinger, who turns 90 next month, it is deadly serious for Pvt. Bradley Manning. After close to three years in prison, at least eight months of which in conditions described by U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Ernesto Mendez as “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” Manning recently addressed the court at Fort Meade: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
These words of Manning’s were released anonymously, in the form of an audio recording made clandestinely, that we broadcast on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. This was Bradley Manning, in his own voice, in his own words, explaining his actions.
He testified about the helicopter gunship video that he released to WikiLeaks, which was later made public under the title “Collateral Murder.” In stark, grainy black-and-white, it shows the gunship kill 12 men in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, with audio of the helicopter crew mocking the victims, celebrating the senseless murder of the people below, two of whom were employees of the Reuters news agency.
Manning said: “The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”
Reuters had sought the video through a Freedom of Information request, but had been denied. So Manning delivered the video, along with hundreds of thousands of other classified electronic documents, through the anonymous, secure online submission procedure developed by WikiLeaks. Manning made the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, and changed the world.

The WikiLeaks team gathered at a rented house in Reykjavik, Iceland, to prepare the video for public release. Among those working was Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament. She told me: “When I saw the video in February 2010, I was profoundly moved. I was moved to tears, like many people that watch it. But at the same time, I understood its significance and how it might be able to change our world and make it better.”

Jonsdottir co-founded the Icelandic Pirate Party, a genuine political party springing up in many, mostly European countries. A lifelong activist, she calls herself a “pixel pirate.”

The “Collateral Murder” video created a firestorm of press attention when it was first released. One of the soldiers on the ground was Ethan McCord, who rushed to the scene of the slaughter and helped save two children who had been injured in the attack. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He recently penned a letter of support for Bradley Manning, writing: “The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. Covering up this incident is a matter deserving of criminal inquiry. Whoever revealed it is an American hero in my book.”
In the three years since “Collateral Murder” was released in April 2010, WikiLeaks has come under tremendous pressure. Manning faces life in prison or possibly even the death penalty. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spent a year and a half under house arrest in Britain, until he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has remained since June 2012, fighting extradition to Sweden. He fears Sweden could then extradite him to the United States, where a secret grand jury may have already issued a sealed indictment against him. Private details from Jonsdottir’s Twitter and four other online accounts have been handed over to U.S. authorities.

WikiLeaks’ latest release, which includes documents already declassified but very difficult to search and obtain, is a testament to the ongoing need for WikiLeaks and similar groups. The revealed documents have sparked controversies around the world, even though they relate to the 1970s. If we had a uniform standard of justice, Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger would be the one on trial, and Bradley Manning would win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.
© 2013 Amy Goodman