Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lucy, Charlie and the Football


Today's news: 

Standardized tests are a GO for the 2020 20201 school year. Nationwide. Period. USDOE has said they will not honor any state level requests to be waived. 

A Bit of Context

During the campaign, then candidate Joe Biden was asked a direct question: "... given that standardized testing is rooted in the history of racism and eugenics, if you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized testing in public schools". 

His answer was an immediate "yes". He went on to say "... you're preaching to the choir, kid, mmkay?" (you can see that whole exchange here). 


Today, he switched positions and announced standardized tests will not be cancelled this year. No way. No how.

Since the arrival of Common Core, the push against the use of standardized exams has included a wide variety of education stakeholders. Classroom teachers, parents, students, student advocacy groups have, in the past, all joined the struggle to push back. 

But make no mistake, from day one the education activists of the left were the folks who led that charge. And it was led against centrist Democrats like President Biden. I remember a time when some of those lefties walked hand in hand with suburban moms and dads all across Long Island and were welcomed to do so (many of those suburban moms and dads would later go on to vote for Trump and coin phrases like "socialist libtard" but back in the day, when forces were joined against standardized tests, the lefties were the ones who led the way. 

Neo holing the cookie

And Liberals have a long, combative relationship with the Democratic National Party. The basic formula of that angst exists within these two basic facts: 

1. The people who run that party are conservative leaning centrists. 

2. The ones who dream (and those who dare us to dream), yet lose the elections are liberals.

The Ol' Bait & Switch

For decades now, the centrists within our own party have approached elections in the following manner: The election begins by allowing our liberal star of the day to capture the attention and the imagination of America's voters. For the past two presidential elections, this has been Bernie Sanders. But before that, it was Howard Dean (2004). Before him, it was Paul Tsongas (1992)  and before him it was Gary Hart (1988). Even Ron Brown (1976) can be tossed into this category. You'll know them with any Wikipedia search. They're the ones who come in second during the primary season. The ones who were never offered the VP slot or any top level cabinet positions.

The algorithm continues. Eventually, the DNC finds a way to discredit the candidate as a presidential contender. This leaves voters with only choices of centrist Democrats. The majority of voters (not really knowing that they are about to vote against the things they had wanted in the first place) wind up voting for the centrist candidate  thinking they were voting for the big ideas. 

They weren't. 

By the end of the season (Spring), we all get stuck with a candidate (and sometime a president) who hates leftists ideas and people but uses them to his or her political advantage. He or she helps big corporations. He or she gives excuses to voters after having been elected. And their presidency is marked by what appears to be a stunning move to the center. It's not stunning. It was the idea the whole while. They simply worked a complex bait and switch in front of the whole nation.  

Trump knew this. That's why he tried to attract Bernie voters in 2016 and 2020. 

The facts are that we get stuck with presidents like Clinton and we get stuck with candidates like Kerry. We were happy to get stuck with Obama in 2009 but, seriously, no one really knew he was a centrist until 2009 when he bailed out banks and didn't arrest one CEO.  That's the way the DNC works. It has been that way since after the 1968 election (when a real liberal, Humphrey, lost).  Ever since, the DNC has run this bait and switch where we think we're buying a Buick, but we really drive off in a cheap Chevy. 

And, since Obama, we on the left have been super vigilant against this play. This cycle, we wanted student debt relief. We wanted legalized Marijuana (partly because it is so commonly used and partly because the Cannabis Prohibition laws have been used to commit true injustices). We wanted a livable minimum wage (not no $15 per hour. That's last decade's goals). And, yes, we wanted universal healthcare guaranteed by the government. Candidate Biden promised just about all of this. But so did candidate Obama and all of the other centrist candidates before them. So many lefitsts are, and have been, on the lookout for the ol' play, as it's called.

And it's been happening.  

First, it was student loan debt. After the election, Biden said "no way" to total student loan debt relief. Then it was 'no way' to 50,000 loan relief. He recently clarified that it's not going to be $50,000 worth of relief because "only Congress could do it" (there is no legislation asking Congress to do this). During this same week, the president also clarified his position on minimum wage by telling 50 governors on a conference call that it wasn't going to happen. See? The ol' switch. 

This game plays out with the standardized testing issue as well. Centrist Democrats want it (Centrist Democrats also want all teachers fired or working 20 hours a day for less than minimum wage). Standardized Testing  are an essential part to being a Centrist Democrat. Standardized Testing lay the ground work for convincing people to go to charters. They allow districts to fire teachers but keep terrible school leaders. 

Standardized Testing also pays for the centrists' education schemes. From charter schools to testing corporations, centrist Democrats own it all. They make money every time a teacher is fired, every time a teacher "needs improvement", every time a student engages in "school chioce" and every time a teacher needs a test, or a review book, or a review tablet or laptop.   In this manner, they reinforce the 40 year DNC myth that high grades in school can  change your life. Leftists just want safe happy schools where students can learn and also prepare for life. This is a centrists vision for education.  You decide whether you like the idea of accountability as an essential component. If you do, then you like tests. If you don't, then call your shrink, buddy, because you may be a liberal (and I'm so sorry!). 

Lucy and the Football

And this is why we use on the left use the allegory of Lucy and the football. It's a brilliant metaphor. And it is the only metaphor that fits this scenario. But, for decades now, good natured people (and defeated liberals who are desperate for at least some part of their agenda to become reality) have always listened to the DNC when they start. The discourse sounds something like this:

Lucy: Charlie Brown. Oh Charlie Brown!!

Charlie: (pauses to think) I can't believe it, she must think I'm the most stupid person alive.

Lucy: (places ball on the ground) Come on Charlie Brown!! I'll hold the ball and you kick it

Charlie: Hold on. You'll pull it away and I'll land flat on my back and kill myself.

Lucy: But, Charlie Brown, it's Thanksgiving. 

At this point in the depths of the liberal heart, we respond to the slight glimmer of hope being offered. We are such hopeful suckers, after all. And, even though we know the bastards did us dirty during primary season, we choose hope. "Maybe this time, they will make some of the things we have worked so hard for happen. Maybe now is the time we finally turn the corer here". So, being the hopeful suckers that we are, we engage in a harmless follow up questions hoping that we will things that will make us feel as though we have actually achieved something. 

Charlie: What's that got to do with anything?

Lucy: Well, one of the greatest traditions we have is the Thanksgiving Day football game. And the biggest, most important tradition of all is the kicking off of the football.

"Traditions?" we think. "Centrists like traditions?. Maybe we should listen for bit"

Charlie: (thinking. Doubting himself): Is that right?

Lucy: Absolutely! Come on Charlie Brown. It's a big honor for you.

That's usually where we bite the hook. "An honor!" we think. "Well, we are honorable people. We do care about honorable things. Maybe, just maybe ...". So, when we hear Joe Biden say "that's like preaching to the choir, okay?", we actually think "Hmm.... Okay".

Charlie: (turning to give himself room for the big kick. He walks with purpose. Being a thinker, he thinks out loud) Well, if it's that important, a person should never turn down a big honor. Maybe I should do it. Besides, she wouldn't try to trick me on a traditional holiday. (Convincing himself). This time I'm gonna kick that football to the moon!!!

This is the point we are then lulled into the believing. It's a fool's thought, to believe. But believing is also the starting point of great things. So we believe. 

To be clear: We do  need to figure out the academic damage! We do need to test in order to ascertain the extent of that damage! But all of that data is unreliable if collected during an enormously stressful period of time. In fact, it is terribly unreliable (they know this. They are probably hoping to get paid for a second round of tests next Fall). At the heart of the matter, we just don't want to stress our students or their families out any more than they already are. So, convinced that this is the time, we turn and we run for that football. And we run just as fast as we can because that's what liberals tend to do.

Lucy: (Looking determined, pulls football away just as Charlie Brown approaches his kick. No smile on her face. No fun to be had. Just a determined look to see if her play has worked again).

Charlie: (Lands right on his back)

So maybe a few journalists and bloggers whine and complain. But who cares!? The rest of the country isn't paying any attention to this at all. Some of us will complain. A few well-placed liberals in the education world will do what they can to limit the damage and, in a few weeks, this whole episode will have passed. It'll all be over. You know, like Neo and that cookie

Lucy: Isn't it peculiar, Charlie Brown, how some traditions just slowly fade away. 

Peculiar indeed. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Of Bloggers and Governors

Before there was Trump, there was Andrew Cuomo. 

Anyone who has follows the NYCEDU blogs in the past may be aware of local blogging legend Reality Based Educator and his/her blog 'Perdido Street School'.  Named after a popular (and very unique) SciFi novel named Perdido Street Station (wikipedia or explore its own wiki here), RBE's blog cast a daily critical lens on policies of the DOE championed by former mayor Bloomberg. It helped explain how those policies actually affected teachers and students. The posts were hard hitting, fact-based and always well researched. They were opinion pieces, but they were opinion pieces rooted in and committed to facts. They left readers feeling much better informed about what was really happening in NYC's public schools than any of us would otherwise would have been. Because of this, the blog became a part of the daily digest of many teachers across New York City. You can (and should) check it out here

In 2011 -nine years ago now- the worst guy in New York politics got himself elected governor. This politician scapegoated his enemies like no other had up until that point. Many of his enemies, in fact, had an almost uncanny way of encountering mysterious scandals before resigning their elected offices and or heading off to prison.  People today have forgotten names like Bruno or Silver  or Skelos. But back then these were the giants of Albany politics (if ever Albany politics had giants)  and their fate, much the same as governor Spitzer's before them, was determined through shock, scandal, disgrace, and eventual resignation. 

All these folks happened to be in Andrew Cuomo's path at the time their scandal broke the news cycle. His political tone and tenor commanded a sort of appalling attention that Albany had not experienced modern times.

He associated with charter schools, where he would scapegoat teachers, and with public schools, where he scapegoat charters. He would publicly scapegoat local elected officials and then, after having them replaced with people who were loyal to him, extolled the 'great work' that was (finally) being done and send them money to 'invest' in their economy (read about Buffalo Billion scandal here as an example.  But this process has played out all across the state since his election). This guy was the very epitome of dirty, hardball politics.  Today, they say it's "Andrew Cuomo's New York". But back then, before his enemies' names faded from memory, and the state became his own,  Cuomo's dominance in New York politics was not guaranteed. Like watching a summer storm moving in, we all watched as Andrew Cuomo slowly took over New York State politics. 

It was right around this time that RBE began writing exclusively about Cuomo -and (s)he wrote about this almost every day. Just as were the posts about education, RBE's pieces about Andrew Cuomo were extremely well-researched. (S)he demonstrated as strong of a command of the facts as anyone in the professional journalism world before or since. His/her style was to use publicly available news reports and then crossed reference them with other facts and details that only (s)he seemed to able to recall. (S)he was able to connect dots that might otherwise have fallen down any one of the dozens of memory holes New York readers must contend with every day. It came to a point where many of us would navigate to Perdido Street to learn about Cuomo in the same way we would  head over to Politico or the NYtimes to find out the news from Washington DC. It was that well informed. It was that reliable. It was that good. 

Every scandal, every misstep, every corrupt act (in fact any act emanating from Cuomo's Albany which might lead to -or even otherwise be associated with- a corrupt political act), were all covered in detail on Perdido Street School. If it happened, RBE wrote about it, summarized and analyzed it for us. Daily. This went on every single day for a long time. During a time when no one else in the state of New York was giving Cuomo's actions a true critical lens, Perdido Street School was a dependable resource of accurate information.  

During the mid 2010s, Cuomo began facing challenges from the left. It was around this same time that Donald Trump's presence on the national scene -which used the same scapegoating hardball, 24-hour politics style as the governor- absolutely eclipsed anything Andrew Cuomo had ever done. In what must have been a relief to Cuomo, our collective level of appall turned to the Donald and has remained there ever since. 

In 2017 RBE wrote his last post and stopped publishing. The light on Cuomo went dark (very, as matters turned out, dark. Between the lack of light on Cuomo and the rise of Trump, it was as though all of the posts, all of the muckraking and almost all of the scandal surrounding Cuomo just disappeared). There was little explanation and almost no warning just a quick 'this is my last post' kind of post and then he was gone (bloggers, man. bloggers). Shortly thereafter, many of us came to realize that Perdido Street had actually been the only source of accurate, usable information about the most dangerous politician in New York.  When the blog shut down there was nothing (or almost nothing). RBE never got to cover Cuomo's desperate attempt to inch toward the left, his feigning of legalizing marijuana, his almost complete political takeover of the massive MTA ('East Side Tunnel access needs ten more years of salary contracts? Fine. No problem. Just give me two train stations and Second Avenue Subway and we'll call it even'). 

Since that time, Andrew Cuomo has watched Donald Trump take his style of politics and use them to turned the whole world upside down. A fully eclipsed sun can only watch and react as this happens. And, for the rest of us, eclipses tend to work that way as well. One moment you're standing in the middle of warm bright summer day. The next you are draped in night catching only passing glances at the sun in the background.  And, during all that time, the sun can do almost anything it wants without anyone much noticing or caring. Take complete control of the government with emergency powers? Sure.  Screw up a vaccine roll out? No problem. Send our most vulnerable senior citizens into an environment where they will surely be exposed to the disease and become very ill or die? Yep. That too. Cover all of that up? Absolutely. 

Heck, that level of anonymity might even make someone bold enough to try to admit to the cover up in hopes of getting ahead of it.  Unfortunately for Cuomo, by the time that happened (and, recently, it did), the moon had passed out of view leaving all of our gaze to fall squarely back on the sun. 

Trump is now gone and every Democrat in America hates his style of politics. And those are, in fact, Cuomo's politics. This is why I have to say (and forgive me for making a cheap Bob Dillion reference), our collective ability to see again is why the wind is now (finally) beginning to howl as the riders are approaching. Something is coming fo Andrew Cuomo in the coming weeks. And it isn't good at all.! 

To this day, I am convinced that there is only one person in the US who could ave told that story; the story of Cuomo being out-Cuomoed and then having to pay the political price for developing this terrible political style to begin with.  If he had, the story may have sounded something like this:

"It has always been obvious to anyone paying attention that Cuomo is a mini-Trump. He has the same appetite for authoritarianism as the former president: during the pandemic he has drawn scrutiny for cancelling special elections, issuing executive orders and consolidating power. Like Trump he has nothing but disdain for his detractors, particularly if they happen to be more qualified than he is."

but it would have sounded like this every day. 

(special note: The Guardian is a British newspaper. To date, there are very few news sources in the US who have been willing to write about Cuomo in this way).  

And now, eleven years after his election, when all of his dishonesty, corruption and the "24-hour politics" style of our governor looks to be (finally) crashing down around him; now, right when it seems almost as though Cuomo's political epitaph is being written in real time, RBE's analysis and assessment on Perdido Street is very sorely missed. 

Watching Cuomo begin to implode just doesn't feel the same without that daily explainer. It's almost as if we're watching a movie without ever having seen the trailer (I mean, yeah, it's a good movie. But you don't quite know as much of what is happening as well as you would if you had  seen the trailer). 

Perhaps just a post script here, but I'd like add one more thought: There is a type of commentary that is missing from our political discussions, today.  It was a commentary that was rooted in facts and analysis and a general premise that, as politicians shouldn't ever be trusted, readers shouldn't ever be told what to think.  It was a commentary that could point to governmental corruption and draw a line from that corruption right down to the local employees who lose their jobs because of it. This sort of commentary served the purpose of connecting the dots so that the rest of us could better understand and, when attention turned to politics, it was this commentary that helped us to see how really bad politicians were causing further harm for individual people.  But it was a commentary that was not overtaken by its premises as is done today. 

When Jefferson wrote (to Lafayette), "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed....It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.", he surely had in mind politicians just like Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump. When he wrote of the need to keep the waters pure (clearly a reference to ensure the press did fall into corruption or into intimidation by others), I am convinced he would have used pieces from RBE's to demonstrate how that looked. There is nothing along the American landscape of the written word that approaches this level of truth. We are all, in fact, post-truth

Here on a more local level, Perdido Street School represented one of the last spaces where a reader could gain access to that level of facts and commentary that free peoples need in order to make informed decisions. And if you want to gain a sense of how all of that felt (and now would be a good time as there may not be a governor Cuomo by this time next year), look no further than RBE's incredible posts about Andrew Cuomo (you can start here).