Why Obama Is Only A Failed Centrist President

January 7, 2013

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Photo portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson [our last transformational President] in the Oval Office, leaning on a chair, March 10, 1964. (Arnold Newman, White House Press Office via Wikipedia). In public domain.

I don’t say what I have to say about President Barack Obama lightly. But in light of the recent “fiscal cliff deal”  and the negotiations process that preceded it, I’ve now become convinced that Obama will be seen as a pretty good president. Period. Obama hasn’t been a unique president, despite his race or relatively humble beginnings. Obama is hardly a great president, either. Nor will Obama be a transformational president. If anything, Obama falls right in line with every American president since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

Photo of living presidents with then President-Elect Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 7, 2009. (http://npr.org).

The fact is, Obama is a centrist president, beholden to the military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex, Wall Street and corporate interests, just like Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 before him. That Obama is Black and intellectual in his approach matters little in terms of actual policies or in the path that he and his administration have taken toward incremental policies and half-baked compromises. Based on some of Obama’s policies, I could even make the argument that the President is a borderline neo-conservative, although I don’t think you can generalize this argument to every policy.

This has been an argument I’ve made in my US History courses over the past couple of years. When I’ve raised the idea that Nixon was a liberal Republican, that President Bill Clinton was a neo-con (see the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and TANF welfare reform in 1996 as but two examples), and that Obama is hardly a liberal at all, my students have collectively gasped. How dare I say that Nixon was more liberal than Clinton, that Obama is somewhere between a centrist and a neo-con!

But then I’ve worked with them through discussion to talk about the major domestic and foreign policy agendas of the past seven presidents in comparison to our current president. On so many issues, from the US relationship with Israel to the War on Drugs, from welfare reform to financial deregulation, from a re-escalation of the Vietnam War to the surge in Afghanistan, there hasn’t been a nanometer of space of difference in executive branch decision-making. Whether the people in these positions of power have been Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, or Obama and Hillary Clinton.

So I’ve had my students work through parts of Obama’s agenda. The surge and gradual drawing down of US military forces in Afghanistan, in which part of their role is nation-building. “How is that any different from Bush 43?,” I’ve asked. The historic Affordable Care Act, a so-called universal health care bill that fails to cover 20 million Americans and works through complex networks of government subsidies and private insurers, a neo-con plan that failed as an alternative to single-payer under Clinton in 1994. “How is this really a liberal or progressive idea?,” I’ve asked. The continuing War on Drugs, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the highest rates of deportation of undocumented immigrants ever. “But yeah, Obama’s a liberal!,” I’ve said sarcastically in concluding this discussion with my students.

Some folks, like the reformed neo-con Bruce Bartlett, have compared the Democratic Party of recent years to the liberal Republicans of yesteryear. Bartlett, though, has stopped short of calling Democrats centrist neo-cons, which is in fact a much more apt description. Bartlett also stopped short in time, as he argued that the tipping point for the Democratic Party’s movement from left-of-center to right-of-center began with President Clinton in the 1990s. But that’s incorrect. The tipping point began when the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition of labor unions and blue-collar Whites, Southern whites, Catholics and Blacks fell apart as part of a backlash against President Lyndon Johnson’s support of the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty in the late-1960s.

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the  Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Photo of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library dedication, Simi Valley, CA, November 4, 1991. (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times).

Most Americans, though, don’t have the knowledge or luxury of taking a long view of history and their lives in attempting to put Obama in context. The media’s constant coverage of every trumped-up, imagined or real crisis hardly helps matters, either. They assume on behalf of the public the idea that there are two equal and opposite sides to every issue and every argument, which means most journalists failed geometry in high school. As a result, most Americans believe that Obama’s a liberal because the media consistently makes the false claim that all Democrats are liberals and that a Black guy with a Harvard law degree who used to be a community organizer must be a liberal.

How is a budget cutting agenda that puts Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare on the table as entitlements (and not a paid-for weak social safety net) a liberal idea or policy agenda? How is coming out reluctantly in favor of gay marriage some great progressive stance, comparable to President Kennedy’s speech in favor of civil rights in 1963? How is consistently giving into oligarchic conservatives by pushing hard for a meager tax increase on the most privileged members of our nation — the people who benefited the most from 40 years of policies that have greatly increased the gap between rich and poor — part of a liberal strategy? It isn’t and they aren’t.

Obama being three steps to Congress’ left on gay marriage and a tax increase is an incredibly weak counterargument to the fact that he’s a centrist. And a failed one at that, as his centrism has been based on garnering bipartisan support of weak legislation in terms of socioeconomic appropriations and strong legislation in terms of defense and Big Brother-esque laws. Obama has pushed climate change, long-term unemployment and underemployment, social mobility and real education reform either off his presidential agenda or into the hands of the private sector.

Thank you, but no, Obama’s a centrist, not a liberal. If you want to see a liberal policymaker in action, the nearest place to go these days is Ottawa, not Washington.

Oligarchy: The Future Is Now

June 28, 2012

“History Repeats Itself: The Robber Barons of the Middle Ages and the Robber Barons of Today”, Puck, Samuel Ehrhardt (1889), June 28, 2012. (http://http://www.library.gsu.edu). In public domain.

Though many of us have been fighting this long war against neocon, reactionary, even fascist elements in American society over the course of the past four decades, it appears that, like the Fire Nation in the Avatar: The Last Airbender series (2004-08), that we’ve lost the war. I’m not predicting that Romney will beat Obama in November. But this election will be closer than it ought to be, thanks mostly to the SuperPAC maelstrom stirred up by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (2010) and our own get-rich-quick apathy with politics and responsibility in this country.

More importantly, though, is the reality that this election, even with an Obama win, is merely a chink in the armor that is our American oligarchy, now firmly established. With so much in regulations, social welfare, education, unionization, and other protections for the ordinary American rolled back, it’ll take at least a generation to undo the damage done since the Nixon years to our society, economy and environment. With so much wrong, though, it may well be too late to make course corrections without significant consequences for our nation and for the world.

That only in the past couple of years folks who weren’t staunch progressive or true leftist liberals have come to realize that the neocon endgame was a powerful plutocracy is testimony to the long, successful war of identity politics, wedge issues and other distractions that they have fought since ’68. The funny thing is, though, that for most of American history, our government has been a representative democratic oligarchy, especially for the poor or those whom are of color. How can you explain the history of slavery, even the half-century it took for non-landowning White males to get the right to vote?

“The ‘Brains'” Boss Tweed, by Thomas Nast (1871), June 28, 2012. (Vizu via Wikipedia). In public domain.

There have only been brief periods in American history in which the federal government has been responsive to the ordinary American citizen, a protector of the rights of the many and the minority over the rights of rich individuals and powerful economic interests. One of them came as a result of the Great Depression, the start of a nearly forty-year run where our government, despite its flaws and lies, frequently erred on the side of ordinary citizens. People can talk about the Clinton years being an oasis in the middle of a neocon desert, but between the vast expansion of credit, the tearing down of Glass-Steagall, NAFTA and other corporation-friendly policies, we now know that much of what occurred in the ’90s was a mirage.

What is different now — but not so different from the turn of the twentieth century — is the brazenness with which the rich and powerful flaunt their control over our lives. It’s as if they’ve drugged us, tied us down, and occasionally even tortured us, expecting no response or retaliation. And the media has played its role in this, too. From Kim Kardashian to the Real Housewives of RichLandUSA, and from American Idol to Mad Men to Dancing With The Stars. The rest of us just live vicariously through the oligarchy, or become raging and jealous while laughing at the folly of the rich in the process.

Even the wars we fight and the Supreme Court decisions made are steeped in oligarchy and the privileges of the rich and the corporate. That’s why we spent a decade in Iraq, billions on a military fighter we don’t need (F-22), and think that decisions that treat corporations as people and lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans are good for the country.

That’s why today’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act of 2010 — otherwise known as Obamacare — matters little in the larger scheme. Of course it matters that millions of Americans have access to healthcare. But even before the Supreme Court decision, the best most un- and under-insured Americans could hope for is a system in which they pay less for crappy health insurance. And health insurance isn’t same as healthcare, folks. Either way, the real winners long-term are private health insurance providers, and not ordinary Americans or the Obama Administration.

It is an unfortunate reality that over the past forty-five years, every aspect of government in this country has been infused with oligarchy. It takes tremendous and unyielding pressure for even a city government like New York (e.g., Rockefeller Laws, stop-and-frisk policy, decriminalization of marijuana) to bend to the demands of its own citizenry. Even then, protests, sit-in and petitions don’t always work (see Occupy Wall Street and the fifteen million protestors before the Second Gulf War as examples).

Mitt Romney Bain Capital “money shot,” October 13, 2011. (http://theatlantic.com via Boston Globe).

So, what to do? I haven’t given up hope, but I can’t spend the days I have left — whether it be moments or decades — waiting for the worm to turn. Next best thing is to hope that my son will drink of my wisdom and learn to fight against this kind of ruling class when he is old enough to do so.

Education Incorporated

October 13, 2011

Capitalist Education Factory, November 1, 2010. (Source/http://communiststudents.org.uk).

A generation ago, most of us in education worried about a federal government takeover of America’s 15,000 school districts with mandated standards. Wow, that prediction was way off, wasn’t it? (Oh, wait, the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001, created a new era of national standards for accountability, not to mention high-stakes testing).

President George W. Bush signs into law the No Child Left Behind Act, Hamilton HS, Hamilton, Ohio, January 8, 2002. (http://www.whitehouse.gov). In public domain.

Now, we worry with good reason, as corporate interests inject themselves into education reform at every level. This has brought an imbalance to the education reform conversation that hasn’t existed since the days of Andrew Carnegie and the height of immigration of swarthy peoples from Southern and Eastern Europe. Now, as it was a century ago, it was the inclusion-vs.-exclusion debate. Whether to provide the best possible education for all comers, or sort and kick out as many “dull-minded” “undesirables” (both literally from 1911 to describe the learning disabled, immigrants and Black migrants) in K-12 schools as possible.

But this debate today — if we can really call it that — includes higher education. Of course, we know better than to call the millions of potential students who need some sort of post-high school training and education “morons” (also a 1911 term used by White psychologists who assumed anyone not WASP didn’t have the mental capacity to make use of a high school education). Yet we do attempt to sort these students and potential students into categories, like “adult learners,” “non-traditional students,” even “Edupunks,” a term

Anya Kamenetz, author of Edupunks Guide, at University of South Dakota, August 27, 2010. (http://www.usd.edu). In public domain.

coined by author Anya Kamenetz.

None of this has eliminated a common refrain in our field. That a four-year degree “isn’t for everyone,” as Kamenetz said to me after I asked her a tough question regarding the accessibility of her ideas for a Do-It-Yourself-university (DIYu) process of pursuing a college degree. It was a conference hosted by the Center for American Progress, but paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Her idea, while helpful to 18-30 year-olds who are tech-savvy and with enough income to make this piecemeal education process work, was unhelpful to low-income students, and students of color over the age of thirty. And Kamenetz’s response was the typical exclusionary one.

Apparently, in our current economic climate, a full-time job isn’t for everyone either. Still, despite this reality, the Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation for Education, and the Hewlett Foundation have all adopted similar models of thought around K-12 and higher education reform that have legitimized the work of people like Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee (Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, respectively) and institutions like University of Phoenix and Kaplan University. Models which draw heavily from corporate paradigms for success, including the punishment of failure. But they haven’t led millions of us to jobs in the new economy.

I recently attended a meeting hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, in which authors presented a series of papers on K-12 education reform. Supposedly with cutting-edge ideas. Like one presented by MacArthur Foundation “genius” (emphasis on the quotation marks) Award winner Roland Fryer on providing student incentives linked to immediate and long-term educational goals for those most at risk of

Professor Roland Fryer, Harvard University Department of Economics, September 2011. (http://economics.harvard.edu).

dropping out of school, like low-income boys of color. Examples of paying fifth graders in Houston and New York $2 for every book they read or for completing their homework wasn’t so much cutting-edge as it was unremarkable. Incentives are fine, if you can pay for them or show how they nurture a passion for learning beyond the goal of completing individual tasks. This, of course, the “genius” couldn’t show.

The ridiculous assumption that Fryer made, arguing that because money in K-12 education had doubled since 1970, that funding wasn’t the issue, would’ve made me laugh as a high school senior. When you account for inflation, K-12 funding has declined, and not by a small amount, since the 1970s, and by the way, the millennial generation has created a new demand for schools, as the number of new schools or schools in need of renovations adds to this doubling in four decades. Fryer’s exclusion of data that a first-year graduate student wouldn’t have missed made me realize that most people in the field are so desperate for ideas that anything that sounds new must be good or cutting-edge. Especially if it’s funded by the Gates Foundation.

It’s not just the Gates Foundation, per se. It’s the idea that since things aren’t working for millions of students and undereducated workers, a model that concentrates on teacher effectiveness and treating students as customers — whether in fifth grade or in college — is the best way to go. This attitude has become so pervasive among well-funded education reformers that the idea of increasing funding for schools, or of making schools from pre-K on focus on all students in need of college/workforce readiness is about as welcome as Michael Moore at a Koch Brothers fundraiser.

Early college high schools and single-track, college-prep K-12 school districts, two of the great secrets of K-12 and higher education reform, remain such because these are difficult to bring to scale, and require more upfront investment than most philanthropists and businesses are willing to make. Not to mention, these represent the hard work of real reform, but ones that won’t make people like Kamenetz, Fryer, Kopp and Rhee stars. But by all means, let’s continue to fund every hair-brained idea as if tweaking our education system will yield results like a nuclear fusion plant on steroids.

When Politicians Say, “The American People…”

August 15, 2011

Elephant, as image of Republican Party, bowing to their "American people," the CEOs of Goldman Sachs ans Exxon Mobil, August 13, 2011. (Source/Donald Earl Collins)

Wall Street banker poses on his new rug, February 3, 2009. (Source/JD Crowe, Alabama Press Register). Qualifies as fair use under US copyright laws, as cartoon is of low resolution and is used for illustrative purposes only.

We should all roll our eyes, pick up a snowball we’ve stashed in our freezers since the middle of February, and hit the politician in his forehead whenever we hear one of them start a statement with, “The American people.” Because as many of us have realized for years, they’re not talking about us. As we discovered with the Supreme Court decision about corporate and foreign contributions to campaigns last year, corporations and the wealthy define whom most of our leaders think of when they’re saying “The American people.” Especially since Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil and NBC Comcast collectively count as “American people.”

When Speaker John Boehner says, “The American people don’t want us to raise taxes,” as he did on June 24 during the debt ceiling-blackmail meetings, who is he talking about? Not me. And not most Americans, I’d assume. But, in Boehner’s mind and actual life experience, “most Americans” are people whose last concern is “job creation” or “economic growth.” In fact, they’re the ones who want “government off our backs,” who seem to think “entitlement reform” is good for the country, because it saves them money for another yacht.

Because of people like Boehner, it’s hard to believe President Obama when he claims that eighty percent of “American people want higher taxes” on the wealthy. Why? Not because Obama might not be telling the truth via multiple polls. It’s more because his actions of capitulation let the rest of us know who’s really in charge – lobbyists and wealthy people who are as patriotic as Judas was loyal to Jesus. And corporations who as people might be as evil as Stalin and Pol Pot put together.

My question is, does the Comcast Center in Philadelphia now get the right to vote under the 14th

Comcast Center, tallest building in Philadelphia (58 stories), and physical representation of an American person, January 3, 2011. (Source/Smallbones/Wikipedia Commons).

Amendment, as well as the right to pay federal income tax, as under the 16th Amendment? Really, what is the end game here? Do we each have to incorporate ourselves in order for a politician or some leader beholden to the wealthy notices the rest of us?

No, the end game is a pre-New Deal America. One where the majority of us work the way our grandparents and great-grandparents did in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. Where there wasn’t anything close to a guarantee of social mobility. Where the average person’s income was $1,500 a year ($15,000 a year in today’s dollars). With no unemployment insurance, retirement, health care system or insurance. Without unions, or government regulation curtailing corporate monopolies or excess, environmental damage or employee abuse.

Ultimately, the wealthy and the greedy corporations want to beat 300 million people here into subservience and submission. They want to do what they as people accuse the federal government of doing — controlling every aspect of our lives. Including every breathe we take. And make no mistake. The Supreme Court, most of the Congress, many a state and local politician and leader, maybe even the President himself, represents the interests of those “American people.” We may have to move to a more progressive nation for our interests as human beings to be fully represented. Because even as foreigners, we’ll be better off in the UK or China than here.

Boehner Shares Stage With David Koch At Wall Street Club, May 9, 2011. (Source/AP/ThinkProgress.org).

The Ultimate Satan Sandwich

August 3, 2011

Titan in natural color, Cassini spacecraft, April 16, 2005. (Source/http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA06230) - In public domain.

With the passage of the debt ceiling/budget cuts deal that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) called a “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich” on Monday, it became clear that conservative politicians are only patriotic when they can make money off of misery. We know that the conservative/reactionary/Tea Party agenda is to ensure that the legacy of the New Deal and liberal America is as charred as the dinosaurs were 65 million years ago. And with it, our futures and the future of kids like my eight-year-old son.

But how will we get to a future with no future, you ask? How will this capitulation — oops, I mean compromise — between President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lead us into the event horizon of a black hole? It will be because the reactionary Republicans and the diffident Democrats will make one big effort to save the US and world economy, to create jobs and wealth. All while breaking treaties, threatening world peace and destroying the environment in the process.

Forget about “drill, baby, drill” and the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) issue. Think bigger. Think fictitiously big. Think Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. It’s not only the second largest moon in the solar system (after Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede), and double the size of Earth’s moon. It’s the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere, about ten times as dense as our own. It also has a huge reservoir of organic molecules and hydrocarbons in its atmosphere, and liquid methane and ethane all over its surface, at least as verified via the Cassini spacecraft and its unmanned fly-bys since 2004. Some scientists believe that there’s enough liquid methane and other hydrocarbons under and on the surface and in the atmosphere to power the current world economy for the next fifty million years.

Land of liquid methane lakes, as radar mapped with false color mosaic, North Polar Region, Titan, October 11, 2007. (Source/ http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/?IDNumber=PIA10008) - In public domain.

Because many of our fearless conservative leaders don’t believe in global warming/climate change — but do believe in making money — they would see the recent discovery of the stuff on Titan not as a place to explore the possibility of life. Instead, it would be a grand opportunity to solve the world’s energy crisis. Of course, they’d have to admit that there is such a thing as peak oil, and then have ample evidence that the world has reached peak production to boot.

So, say it’s 2014, and everyone from OPEC to the UN to Exxon Mobil has reported that we’ve reached the outer edge of peak oil. If the neo-con/Tea Party types are still in control of the House of Representatives, or worse, in control of the Senate and the White House, there wouldn’t even be a debate. They’d put together a bill to push through a $100 billion package for NASA to work with Exxon Mobil, Shell and Halliburton in sending a team of scientists, petrochemical engineers and drillers to figure out how to pump Titan’s frigid air and hydrocarbon lakes into massive tanks to return to Earth for our consumption. The companies would have to match the $100 billion package dollar for dollar, which they would do, of course.

If Obama’s in his second term with a divided government, though there would be more protests from environmental groups, climatologists, and grassroots organizations than even with a President Mitt Romney, it wouldn’t matter. With the promise of as many as five million new jobs in three years, and 150,000 jobs to support the Titan “Oil” Pumping mission within the first six months, the majority of anxious Americans would endorse this plan.

Obama would talk about “honoring America’s commitments” to space as exploration. He’d complain about the need to protect the Earth from even more disastrous and accelerated climate change, not to mention the wasting of financial and scientific resources that could leave Titan a moon-sized example of an EPA Superfund site if the mission somehow set the moon’s atmosphere on fire. Obama would even bring up green alternatives for using the Sun and solar system to supply the world’s energy needs. Then he’d fold like a warped desk of cards.

This would violate the Outer Space Treaty, signed by the United States, the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in 1967, and by half of the countries of the world in the forty-four years since. Not only are we not suppose to have nuclear weapons in space, the more immediate intent of the treaty, but we’re also prohibited from claiming any part of outer space as an individual nation, as they are the “common heritage of mankind.” The act to drain Titan as a petrochemical resource unilaterally would break the treaty, and leave other space-faring nations into a new and potentially dangerous space race.

So, whether Obama or a semi-fictitious Republican president, the world would compromise with the US government, allowing this cockamamie scheme to move forward without the threat of war if they could receive a twenty-five percent share in whatever hydrocarbons are recovered from Titan. In exchange, a new treaty is signed promising a thirty percent reduction in fossil fuel consumption by 2040, made up for by a twenty percent increase in green energy over the same quarter-century.

McDonald's McGriddle breakfast sandwich, the ultimate Satan sandwich, at 420 calories, September 27, 2006. (Source/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/u-suke/253343509/Yusuke Kawasaki). In public domain under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

All a great idea. The ultimate Satan sandwich, because if such a mission to Titan succeeds, the new Kyoto Accords wouldn’t mean a damn thing. We’ll be burning methane until we all have to buy oxygen tanks in order to breathe.

Though this is a fictitious scenario, it’s based on a reality that has been unfolding in our country for decades. The unfortunate truth is, between the lustful servants of money and corporations and capitulating national leadership, this Satan-sandwich-story is more of a possibility than us seeing a human being walk on Mars. At least in my lifetime.

Bad Conversations and Education Reform

November 2, 2010

Improving Degree Completion for 21st Century Students, Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, November 2, 2010, Screen Shot. Donald Earl Collins

I’ve been thinking about the fields in which I’ve worked and sort-have-worked in over the past fourteen years, and I’ve drawn one simple conclusion. For all of the talk of education reform, the talk about reform itself is in need of a reformation. I’m tired of the contrast between the experts in the field — who pay little attention to the cutting-edge trends, research and activism in K-16 education — and the everyday folks. They refuse to do anything except complain about teachers, as if education is as simple as organizing a file cabinet.  The who, what and what for’s regarding education reform has stifled what should be an engaging conversation, one that’s essential in the consideration of America’s twenty-first century ills.

Who’s part of this conversation remains something of an atrocity. Almost all of the experts in education reform — whether on a scholarly panel or in the documentary Waiting for Superman — tend to be Whites (more male than female) over the age of fifty. With more than one in three students in public schools of color — and with tens of thousands of teachers and administrators of color in this school districts — it’s hard to believe that all the experts are White, and most of those are middle-aged to elderly males. Their vision, at best, is a liberalized twentieth-century vision of K-12 and postsecondary education. Most of their proposed solutions — smaller class sizes, more homework, small schools, higher certification standards — will not in any way fundamentally reform K-16 education.

When combined with what’s considered important in education reform these days, it becomes painfully

A Nation At Risk (1983) Book Cover, November 2, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

obvious that the conversations we have on education reform are predetermined ones based on certain interests and short-sighted economic considerations. Most of the money in education reform — whether from the federal government, private foundations or corporate interests — is earmarked for things related to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). No one living in this century would deny the importance of STEM fields to a post-industrial economy. But not to the exclusion of everything else. Science folk and scribes alike still need to know how to write well, to think critically, to act ethically, to extend themselves beyond government and corporate interests.

Thomas Friedman — at least as he wrote in The World Is Flat (2005) — Bill Gates, the Obama Administration are all correct in that STEM fields will provide living wages and supply jobs at a rate over the next generation to replace the easy jobs of the by-gone era of industrial jobs straight out of high school. Yet none of them fully appreciates the connection between education reform, community development, corporate irresponsibility, lobbyists and the swaying of government policies and the politics of race and class in all of this.

STEM fields without a real direction for providing livable communities for the poor and for low-income people of color. Education reform that doesn’t do more than make scientists out of artists. Ideas that don’t account for the long-term issues of climate change and energy and resource depletion. Education policies that contradict themselves in terms of funding and a lack of understanding of what education reform truly

Double the Numbers (2004) Book Cover, November 2, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

means. That’s what we have now, and have had since the 1940s.

In the end, all these ideas are about is tapping the same human resources. The dwindling middle class, folks who’ve managed a traditional education track, folks whose lives are stable enough to allow the resources necessary for higher and advanced education. This need to tweak — instead of overhaul — the educational status quo and then call it reform is what leads to bad conversations. This is why what little in the way of reform actually occurs, and why so few of our kids get the reform they truly deserve.


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