Pawns of Industrialists and Financiers: Anti-Democracy Movement Gripping Education?

Cloaking Inequity is back! I am now stateside from a hiatus to attend meetings at the Brazilian Senate in Brasilia. I am addicted to pão de queijo. A few photos from the signing of a new collaborative agreement Brazil and the University of Texas at Austin.

Speaking of the Senate… As young children, Americans are inculcated with an admiration of democracy— a “manifest destiny” to see democratic systems spread throughout the world. However, observing recent educational policy, it appears democracy is a good idea, except when it isn’t.

I started thinking about the anti-democratic forces invading public policy when I read an editorial published in a Michigan newspaper that argued that the power to elect U.S. Senators should given back to politicians in state legislatures— as originally stipulated in the Constitution.

This movement away from a direct democracy is in my view anti-democratic and worrisome. Why? A bit of history from the U.S. Senate Website. As you are probably well aware, the U.S. has not always directly elected Senators:

Voters have elected their senators in the privacy of the voting booth since 1913. The framers of the Constitution, however, did not intend senators to be elected in this way, and included in Article I, section 3, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.” The election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention established the precedent for state selection. The framers believed that in electing senators, state legislatures would cement their tie with the national government, which would increase the chances for ratifying the Constitution. They also expected that senators elected by state legislatures would be able to concentrate on the business at hand without pressure from the populace.

However, the election of Senators by politicians in the state legislatures got out of hand:

This process seemed to work well until the mid-1850s. At that time, growing hostilities in various states resulted in vacant Senate seats. In Indiana, for example, the conflict between Democrats in the southern half of the state and the emerging Republican party in the northern half prevented the election of any candidate, thereby leaving the Senate seat vacant for two years. This marked the beginning of many contentious battles in state legislatures, as the struggle to elect senators reflected the increasing tensions over slavery and states’ rights which led to the Civil War.

Intimidation and bribery marked some of the states’ selection of senators. Nine bribery cases were brought before the Senate between 1866 and 1906. In addition, forty-five deadlocks occurred in twenty states between 1891 and 1905, resulting in numerous delays in seating senators. In 1899, problems in electing a senator in Delaware were so acute that the state legislature did not send a senator to Washington for four years.

Muckraker journalist (The bloggers of the time) pushed for direct democracy for the election of U.S. Senators in late 19th century.

After the turn of the century, momentum for reform grew rapidly. William Randolph Hearst expanded his publishing empire with Cosmopolitan, and championed the cause of direct election with muckraking articles and strong advocacy of reform. Hearst hired a veteran reporter, David Graham Phillips, who wrote scathing pieces on senators, portraying them as pawns of industrialists and financiers. The pieces became a series titled “The Treason of the Senate,” which appeared in several monthly issues of the magazine in 1906. These articles galvanized the public into maintaining pressure on the Senate for reform.

As the pressure built, the Senate and then the House advanced the 17th Amendment. The states ratified and the 17th Amendment for direct election of U.S. Senators was added to the Consitution in 1913.

So what does all this have to do with educational policy? As we have moved away from direct democracy is history repeating itself? Are “pawns of industrialists and financiers” gripping education? I have noticed that there are movements on several fronts away from direct democracy. A few examples:

A mayorally appointed school boards in Chicago that are keen on closing schools, especially those in minority communities, and then sending those same students to low-performing schools after closing their community school. Notably, The head of UNO charters, Juan Rangel, was co-chair of Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral campaign in 2011. Illinois has had to cut off money due to “conflicts of interest.” Guess who is moving in as Rahm closes schools? There is no need wonder why the schools are closing in Chicago… pawns of industrialists and financiers…

Cookie-cutter ALEC legislation spread across the nation seeking to take chartering of school out of the hands of local officials and place it in the hands of a politically appointed charter board. Why would hedge fund managers and other neoliberals like to see chartering taken out of the hands of governmental officials and local communities and handed over to politically appointed board? See Why do hedge funds ADORE charters? and Why do hedge funds ADORE charters? Pt. II: 39%+ Return…pawns of industrialists and financiers…

Aggie Rick Perry trying take down UT-Austin by appointing despotic regents to transform the university from a Cadillac to a Yugo. See The Teat: Neoliberals, students first or padding adults’ pockets and Meta: Education on the cheap?… pawns of industrialists and financiers…

There is no such thing as an “independent” politically appointed board. They serve at the leisure of the politician that placed them there…

Direct democracy works. Austin is a good example of what happens to a school board members when they sign a secretive and sweetheart deal with a charter management organization despite extensive community opposition. They are held accountable by the public and they are voted out. See From Friend to Foe: Austin 1, IDEA 0

Which brings me to Community-Based Accountability, a new idea for accountability that empowers local communities. There are now competing proposal for a revision of NCLB on the table. But that is the problem isn’t it? Its a revision that still leaves control in the hands of a select few politicians— not the communities in which schools reside. Some people have voice opposition to Community-Based Accountability because they believe would reduced “standards” or it could be co-opted by the powerful and monied similar to parent trigger. As I was googling Community-Based Accountability, I found this powerful statement by Dr. Deb Meier (see her recent discussion about democracy as utopian) about democracy and Community-Based Accountability:

Why–given history–would you imagine that local people are MORE likely to experiment on their children than the state and federal government.   Shall we turn parenting over to the Federal government also?  What amazing lack of faith we have in the idea of democracy–even when it comes to “raising” our children.

We can have the best of both.  Honest, no-stakes assessments that INFORM parents and the public, sampled interviews and follow-up studies for the same purpose, and regulations pertaining to civil rights, health and safety and equity.   It’s not pie-inthe-sky at all!   It’s the path taken by most private schools, for example, as well as – historically – both parochial and public schools.  We might note an eerie correlations between the advent of mass testing and standardization and public dissatisfaction with schooling.  We’ve abandoned the public’ness of public education.  I do not joke.

Perhaps we need an Education Spring for our democracy. The first to be toppled should be Arne Duncan. Then…

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Twitter: @ProfessorJVH


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  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    The Educational Industrial Complex:
    In the 1950s President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America about the “Military Industrial Complex” and the quote is now well known and famous. My modest proposal is that we borrow his concept and rename it, “The Educational Industrial Complex” as industrial computer manufacturing complexes, Microsoft and so forth, look to model public education after their needs in the name of “accountability” by using NCLB, Common Core and AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) schemes that keep the power in these new industrialists “pockets.”


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    K.K. You suggested that, “The focus of an activist movement to maintain public education in America must include a clear mapping of just how the private taking, financialization and corporatization, of public assets (public schools being one of the largest and certainly one of the most, if not THE most, important for the future welfare, equity, and freedoms—diminished as they currently are—for the people) is being carried out and get to the source of its funding.” Well, the source is the gradual change in laws in various states that allow various types of privatized entities to displace “public education” as we have known it in most states since Horace Mann. Some conservatives justify the change because of the so called “monopoly” (they claim) exists by a so called “socialist system” and therefore a need for a “market based” system. It happenes that Texas, California and Florida have some of the most liberal laws thus allowing even “for profit” eduation companies to participate – see K-12 education started by Wm. Bennett (first U.S. Sec. of Eduation) for one example. Then of course there is the Bush family that has profited with $millions if not $billions starting with their initiatives in Florida and Texas. Are those targets enough – some sources you might think about? I could go on and name many, many more!


    • Dr. Thornburg, right you are!! I have checked those names, agencies, on my list of sources noting that someone else has interest in those very same names. My list is extensive. It’s taken some time to compile. Cheers!


  • We need to move the conversation forward. There is nothing new in all the words I have read so far in the blog article nor the response / comment Dr. Thornburg put out there. The focus of an activist movement to maintain public education in America must include a clear mapping of just how the private taking, financialization and corporatization, of public assets (public schools being one of the largest and certainly one of the most, if not THE most, important for the future welfare, equity, and freedoms—diminished as they currently are—for the people) is being carried out and get to the source of its funding. Big Banks and the elitist overclass who own them, the private Federal Reserve club of billionaires for accessing low or no interest leverage, while providing no policy to include access to lift all boats.

    We are closing in on a fait ‘d acompli by the Power Elite for complete capture of all public assets and devolving the greatest part of America, the middle and working classes. As Chirs Hedges warns: Rise Up, or Die. It’s great to banter with fellow academicians, knock around vaunted ideals, attend meetings whose resounding rhetoric becomes a shadowy memory without having moved anything forward. Yes, Deb Meier is right, we had that which are now seeking. Why are people considering this taking by private money, with government approval and support, surprising? Isn’t it the American way of “free enterprise?” Or is is due to a “closed market” system of capitalism that externalizes the costs of private equity earnings at the expense of our homes (the mortgage crisis), our pensions (Peabody /Freedom, State Teachers’ Pension Funds throughout the U.S.), any semblance of equality in opportunity. As we continue to preach to the choir, we continue to lose ground as the vulture capitalism of profiteering charter schools, condemnation of lands and building, fixed capital (public schools) and the abandonment of our communities, our children continues.

    Time to take it up a few notches, get some targets in our sites and move beyond all the talking and letter writing and useless small-victory district skirmishes, and take out the source of or loss of democracy in America as well as the EU, the crushing affects of the new austerity forced upon people for the sake of soaring bank profits. A re-alignment of purpose must include expanding our vision and conjoining with others who, while not involved in the fight for public schools, are fighting to save their own freedoms, jobs, pensions, healthcare. Those things that the sound of liberty and justice prevailed within our constitution. A document which now appears under attack by the overclass which will ensure an evanescence of law to a super-fiction of freedom. A freedom if you can afford it.


  • Monty J. Thornburg, Ph.D.

    Rough Rider
    Yes, Dr. Vasques H. “We’ve abandoned the public’ness of public education.” And, is not a joke! On previous cloaking inequity blogs I’ve attempted to express the same sentiment in a variety of ways. I found your appeal to T.R., where is he when we need him? An, Interesting historical comparison! This weekend in Coulterville, CA where I teach at a “small necessary high school” we enjoyed the John Muir festival and part of the ceremony was a play called “The Tramp (John Muir) and the Rough Rider (T.R.). “
    T.R. stayed in Coulterville at a hotel, still in use, before riding on into Yosemite with Muir to discuss the environment and the controversies between “conservation” and “preservation” … which led to the nation’s and world’s national part reserve programs.
    That historical dialogue between Muir and T.R. was about the creation of Yosemite – but, equally important it was about the industrialists and financiers who T.R. dealt with. Muir, on the other hand started the Sierra Club! In my area of the world, some love the Sierra Club and what it stands for and others hate it! Why? One thing about T.R., was, he did “listen” to the “Tramp” … are, the educational industrialists and financiers really listening?
    You mentioned a “new idea for accountability that empowers local communities.” And, you went on to discuss that, “the problem is that with so called “accountability” control is still left “in the hands of a select few politicians— not the communities in which schools reside.”
    From my point of view there are two political issues of scale that the environmental movement might give some guidance here. (1) On the one hand, we need local communities to really have a voice democratically, but, they seem not to have the clout needed to deal with the agendas of industrialists and financiers. (2) On the other hand, large political organizations that might align with local communities, the “traditional system” e.g., teacher unions, school board associations, administrator/school leadership associations, public school parent associations; are caught up in short term battles year to year over diminishing resources.
    It seems that we do need a countervailing voice to take on the new education industrialists and financiers as the Sierra Club has done with environmental issues.
    This issue of “diminishing resources” at the local level for public schools has been steadily increasing in my opinion as the industrialists and financiers through the new “privatized” conceptualization of education– (vouchers and charter schools) gain acceptance. The new laws that have been passed by many state legislatures (thanks to ALEC) have created laws that tie the hands of “traditional school people” in public schools- school boards, superintendents, local schools. I witnessed this happen in my CA county where a state-wide “charter school organization” was able to run rough shod over a local school board and tremendously exacerbate the financial stress of the district, initially caused by the “great recession.”
    As this process continues to bleed resources from the “traditional system” the parents are led to believe they have more choice. In reality, parents are left with a confusing network of choices that are sometimes better and sometimes worse, and in total offer fewer educational resources all around. From a policy perspective the process is about turning education into market basket! Research seems to indicate that this “market basket” approach is re-segregating American society racially and between those already with advantages and against those less fortunate with fewer opportunities! Where’s the social justice in education? Also, this at the expense of taxpayers and, additionally though the mantra of “accountability” enriches huge corporate interests- the” industrialists and financiers” as you’ve identified. Yes, we need a T.R., to make the message clear for the public. Or, in this post-modern information age, perhaps blogs such as this will get the message out to the public and voters?


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