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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