Dear Ed Reformer of Color: Will you take the red pill or the blue pill?

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A Broad Latino collaborator recently responded to my critique of billionaire reformers and their corroborators of color. In the piece Billionaires co-opt minority groups into campaign for education reform I posited that civil rights advocates and billionaires have different goals for school “reform” (equity versus profit, respectively).
Dr. Monty J. Thornburg’s (the top commenter on Cloaking Inequity— to date he has commented on 136 posts!) response to the billionaire post was:

There’s both a “direct” influence from the billionaires themselves and an equally, and more insidious and “indirect” effect that has grown using the language of “reform” that’s too often found in the board, and administrative meeting rooms of public schools.

This language and “attitude” too often blocks or “silences” honest “critique” with respect to the vision, mission and goals of public schools and their relationship to the larger society.

The direct financial assistance of mega foundations to influence state charter school associations for example, such as here in CA, has effectively silenced even the most ardent supporters of minority rights and public schools when it comes to examining the role of using tax dollars for privatized educational schemes.

The question that comes to mind is do civil rights advocates believe that they have been bamboozled? I recently asked a Broad collaborator if she was interested in taking the blue pill or the red pill. A summary of our Facebook conversation follows. She asked to by anonymous because she related:

For many years, I have actually not talked publicly about my work in education because I want to write about it instead. I want to contextualize my experience and share it when I’m ready. I’m not quite ready right now.

After promising her that I would post her comments anonymously and not put her on blast, she agreed that I could publish her comments so that folks could see her reasons for collaborating with Broad and corroborating the “reformers” narrative. Without further ado:

  • FaceBook Friend: Clearly, there is vast disagreement in our community about this. I have worked closely with the Eli Broad Foundation and Bill Gates Foundation and led efforts for educational justice in low-income communities of color in Los Angeles to make sure that our kids have a fighting chance. As a Latina who survived public schools in LA, I know first hand how the policies and the key stakeholders have put their interests before the interests of our children and our families. We can’t be blinded by this type of rhetoric and assume that the systems that allow our kids to fail for GENERATIONS, the same systems that blame our kids and their parents- are going to be the same systems that are going to fight for educational equity and reform. Those systems need to be challenged and held accountable. When people who have the means do it, it becomes a corporate take-over. If I had the money they do, I would do the same damn thing. We must hold all of these systems accountable. And I know that there are 18 high schools in Los Angeles, funded by these funders, that I helped open that are proving that children of color, who live in poverty, are NOT the problem with public schools. This rhetoric has to be checked… and is checked by hundreds of children who I have seen graduate prepared for college, from East LA, Watts, South Central and other Black and Brown communities because Eli Broad and BIll Gates shared our vision of educational justice for all. And the parents spoke… they have enrolled in the better public school choice. And I would do the same damn thing, again and again.

 Julian Vasquez Heilig Speaking of status quo in school reform… Check out:

Julian Vasquez Heilig Also, here is more on Broad:
Julian Vasquez Heilig Neoliberals don’t share my vision for school reform.
  • Facebook Friend: I know Broad. For me its not theoretical, its practical. And I have seen his investments in our communities- I HAVE HELPED SHAPE THOSE investments. I don’t care what others define his as.. neoliberal, liberal, republican, democrat, post… whatever. Are kids in Watts learning and being prepared for college? Is there a college-prep curriculum policy in LAUSD now- even though UTLA opposed providing college access to all students? Yes Is there an elevated Discussion about school reform in LA because of the resources they have invested? Yes. Its practical for me. Its not theoretical. Public School Choice is incredibly important for poor people. Middle Class and Upper class families have choice: its called Private schools.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHEoAII9304

Julian Vasquez Heilig False consciousness. We just fundamentally disagree that a corporate takeover of education is appropriate or efficacious.

  • Facebook Friend: Okay. lol

 Julian Vasquez Heilig For more information on billionaires’ intent listen to this radio piece:

  • Facebook Friend: I don’t see this as a corporate takeover. Its stakeholders who are not bought and paid for by traditional educational stakeholders- influencing change, increasing accountability and transparency, using their money to support parent choice for poor and middle income families, and its about creating competition.
Julian Vasquez Heilig You may not see it as a corporate takeover, but you need to pay more attention to what ALEC, Broad, Bradley and the other billionaires are actually after. Chile is a prime example of how a market functions. There is plenty of information out there. Broaden your perspective. I am aware of your arguments. In fact, they are on TV almost everyday. I am suggesting that you to check out the counter-narrative.
  • Facebook Friend: Hundreds of students who I have worked with and are now in college would very easily articulate what the schools have meant in practical terms for their lives. The educational establishment disregards these investments and relegates them as corporate” This rhetoric has gone unchecked by our community for far too long.
 Julian Vasquez Heilig The issue is the many not the few. Check out Cloaking Inequity’s discussions about market-based reforms. Please be aware of the data and research that controvert the billionaires’ approach. Now its up to you to be curious. Will you take the red pill or blue pill?

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First, remember, this was a brief Facebook conversation. Please read Billionaires co-opt minority groups into campaign for education reform and the prior posts (or as many as possible) on the impact of market-based reforms on student of color that were written previously on Cloaking Inequity. That is the blue pill to which I am referring (Voucher here and Charters here). Second, the question I hope she will ponder… Who will get what they want from the billionaires pouring millions into school “reform” to lessen democratic control and force privatization? Paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr., the “captains of industry” have not led “economic and social” reform, they instead had to be “overcome.” Using an approach taught to me by Professor Ray McDermott when I was a graduate student at Stanford, I am going to re-apply one of Dr. King’s famous quotes:
You can’t talk about solving the [education] problem of [students of color] without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry…. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong… There must be a better distribution of wealth [for schools]

For those of you that remember this scene from The Matrix… my message today to the “reformers”:

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Are you noticing a Laurence Fishburne theme here?

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Categories: Latina/os

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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5 Comments on “Dear Ed Reformer of Color: Will you take the red pill or the blue pill?”

  1. Geoff Rips
    March 10, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    Interesting to see the convergence of the interests of the ruling class in John Arnold, former Enron trader and major campaigner to reduce public pension funds.(http://www.salon.com/2013/10/07/enron_billionaire_expands_craven_plot_to_abuse_workers/ ). His foundation, meanwhile pours hundreds of thousands into charters and such charter machines as the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

  2. March 11, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    The only proof corporate education reformers can give for their policies are anecdotal, such as this apologist, or self-referenced studies which are set up to bring predetermined results. Those of us fighting this corporate mentality must not fall for this method. We must look at what the corporate ed reforms will mean for society as a whole and communities of color in particular. At the moment, Newark, New Jersey must be watched closely because the corporate privatization in urban communities is very advanced there.

    In Philadelphia we have a new head of the School Reform Commission which has run the School District for 12 years. William Green is a former Democratic City Councilman. On his first day in office, he said,

    ***
    “He (Green in position papers) envisioned a “recovery school district” model (similar to what’s now in place in Louisiana) that, in effect, would create two distinct landscapes of public education in Philadelphia.

    One landscape would include the District’s well-performing schools, and the other would comprise the district’s “failing” schools.

    The former would be managed by a local school board appointed by the mayor; the latter would be managed by an intensive turnaround team overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.”

    http://tinyurl.com/k9g6bty

    ***
    It is clear what he means by “well-performing schools” is charters by his statement about the New Orleans Recovery School District. (The level of knowledge about the true situation in New Orleans is stunning, but then look at the link to see who his education advisor is.)

    This is the “vision”, to return to segregation based on family income.

  3. inspireteaching001123
    March 16, 2014 at 1:07 am #

    Chile is the main example of how market-based reforms do not support education for democracy, but rather an education to support a plutocracy (status quo). It’s interesting that ALEC, Broad, Bradley, Gates, (Bush & Obama’s education legislation) and more claim to support education for the most neediest when this is actually the exact education reform originally implemented by the dictator of Chile—Pinochet in the 1980s under the guidance of U.S. economist Milton Friedman. Why would a dictator implement a type of education that did anything but support his dictatorship? For us, this dictatorship is the status quo of Gates, Broad, etc.

    Then it was Friedman who wrote an op-ed in the Wall-street Journal shortly after Hurricane Katrina, saying that New Orleans should now institute the same reforms he recommended to Chile. I’ll leave you with something from Cristian Cabalin’s (2013) study conducted on media and education in Chile:

    Neoliberalism is a systematic political and economic project of restoration of ruling class power, where inequalities between social groups are intensified, promoting the accumulation of capital and exploitation on new and global scales [Harvey, 2007]. Neoliberalism ‘is reconfiguring relationships between governing and the governed, power and knowledge, and sovereignty and territoriality’ (Ong, 2006, p. 3). This process is not a natural order; it is a political and economic construction to debilitate the role of the state in society, increasing the presence of the private sector and damaging social justice (McCarthy, 2011).

  4. inspireteaching001123
    March 16, 2014 at 1:34 am #

    Reblogged this on Inspire Teaching.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Red or Blue Pill?: Broad Latino Collaborator Responds to Co-opt Post (Fishburne theme) | Educational Policy Information - March 10, 2014

    […] Julian Vasquez Heilig A Broad Latino collaborator recently responded to my critique of billionaire reformers and their […]

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