Badass Mark Naison and the Growing Conflict in American Education: A Book Review

One of the many carefully orchestrated myths of the corporate “reformers” who have hijacked American education this century is that opposition comes only from the Tea Party and from teachers union ‘dead enders.’ All right-thinking Americans, the myth goes, recognize that our public schools have failed and that education in the United States can only be saved by alternatives like vouchers and charter schools, by public schools staffed by temporary Teach for America instructors, and by imposition of “standards” by an elite that knows what employers need. Led today by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, billionaire Bill Gates, College Board head (and Common Core State Standards creator) David Coleman, and Students First organizer Michelle Rhee, this well-funded “reform” movement has been steamrolling over resistance for years, opponents often destroyed before they even know they are under attack.

A case in point is the recent experience of Bill de Blasio, new mayor of New York City. Diane Ravitch, the doyen of the anti-”reform” movement, notes his surrender to the charter-school movement and asks: “How did a privately managed school franchise that serves a tiny portion of New York’s students manage to hijack the education reforms of a new mayor with a huge popular mandate?” The answer, of course, is money. The money of the “reform” movement has, over the past decade or so, crushed all obstacles. Continue reading

Jersey Shore Meets the U of Chicago

I believe that the two most diametrically opposed cultures in the United States are Jersey Shore and the University of Chicago. So that makes all the more bizarre to learn about a conference in Hyde Park on Friday analyzing the MTV reality show, Jersey Shore. The conference program reveals over-the-top (and I’m sure very much self-aware) MLA-type titles that go on forever, saying nothing comprehensible (which is perhaps an appropriate metaphor for Jersey Shore), such as this paper: “Situating the Situation: Psychogeography, Mimetic Desire, and the Resurgent Indo-European Trifunctional Paradigm in Seaside.” As for “Platonic Justice and the Jersey Shore,” I’m not sure if Socrates says much to enlighten us about idiots doing crap. But my favorite paper title is: “Foucault’s Going to the Jersey Shore, Bitch!” Yes, I’m sure this kind of fun little conference will encounter a lot of ridicule and rage. My question is whether an academic analysis of pure idiocy really tells us anything. Of course, as the author of a book about Rush Limbaugh, some people might say I’m engaged in a similar activity. You can register to attend this free conference and find out.

Higher Education News Round-Up

Some good news: in a new survey of teenagers by the Knight Foundation, the percentage of high school students who believe “the First Amendment goes too far” in protecting the rights of citizens has dropped to a quarter (24 percent) in 2011 from nearly half (45 percent) in 2006. The more alarming news comes from the survey of high school teachers: “Most teachers also do not support free expression for students. Only 35 percent, for example, agree that ‘high school students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities.’”

Chandler Davis was honored at the University of Michigan last week, 57 years after he was fired for his involvement in the Communist Party. Davis refused to testify on First Amendment grounds and was found guilty of contempt of Congress, eventually going to jail in 1960. What’s most interesting about this story is that English professor Alan Wald was given a named professorship and allowed to choose the person he wanted it named for, picking Davis. There’s a great idea: have professorships named for people who deserve it instead of people who purchase it.

Last week, the University of Illinois withdrew a proposed revision to email policies after the AAUP and FIRE sent a joint letter raising First Amendment concerns.

One of the great bookstores ever, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore near the University of Chicago, is turning 50 years old and planning a move out of its claustrophobic basement store.