Sunday, January 20, 2008

Back Door Capitalism

Capitalism is such an insidious bacteria, it seems to find any and every crack to seep its way into public space. Education is no exception. Smaller Learning Community grants are given to public schools across the U.S. The grants promise schools to answer the problem of students slipping through cracks when isolated within anonymous, large school populations by creating "smaller learning communities." What progressive couldn't get on board with that, right? As one of the SLC Grant Coordinators I was excited by the possibilities of this grant to address prejudice, violence, isolation, suicide, etc. In fact, I'm still somewhat positive that these things can be accomplished, but not by outside private entities whose primary motivation is ultimately profit!

Many of the private consultants that attend the SLC Grant conferences (like the one I attended in Florida this weekend) are armed with canned answers, books, workshops, private consultations, PowerPoints, handouts, brochures, etc. Perhaps, not too surprising, they were also once educators themselves. (Warning: the following is one big tongue in cheek!). Now, however, they have found more "profitable" ways to help educate our children. Their ways are always "more efficient," "more logical," and always "common sense." They're above the fray and have broken free from the fetters of bureaucratic public education to discover more streamline models that are obviously much more sensible and realistic approaches to education.

In reality, these former educators couldn't handle the growing list of duties and unrealistic demands placed on teachers, nor the never-ending prescriptive policies (such as NCLB) that go unfunded. So they quite their jobs to get rich saving education. Shouldn't these former educators be admired for recognizing the limits of public education and seeking to solve problems with efficient, steam-line private monies. After all, the free market will redress any level of corruption and profiteering, right? Or should they be recognized as opportunistic vultures whose most intelligent assessments were acknowledging that they'd never get ahead on the front lines of education? Did they figure out that instead they'd be smarter to exploit a very vulnerable and desperate institution? (A vulnerability and desperation that are predicated on under-funding, and the cultural devaluing of education as a social priority).

(A quick pre-emptive for Wiser) The amount of work a teacher does is utterly under-appreciated! Enough said!

What I observed this past week was nothing short of criminal. Former educators costing our school district more than $12,000 to fly a delegation of eight educators (principal, counselors and teachers) to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We dutifully helped our flailing economy (and capitalism's inside group) by paying for flights, meals, hotels, transportation, and then the big whammy: a conference of private entities shilling their less-than-professional books, tapes, DVDs, overheads, and flimsy science that would rescue our sorry schools. Interestingly, the money came from our SLC grant. Our grant is a $5 million grant (spread among several high schools in the area) that our government feels can best be spent on contracting with outside private companies. Ahhh, the perfect asymmetrical relationship contracting the public to the private (stage one in which Milton Friedman gets his oats!); just as the private companies likes it: no accountability, no audits, no transparency.

In reality, this kind of profit looping is all too common in the modern capitalist system. Can the Patriots be stopped? Can criminal profiteering? The Revolution Will Not Be Funded!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Business as Unusual

One fine example of democracy in the workplace that I recently witnessed firsthand was off Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland, CA. ARIZMENDI is a bakery cooperative that was inspired by an earlier bakery in California, the CHEESEBOARD, that wanted to experiment with democratic decision-making and horizontal management. Though foreign to most in this country the longevity of these experiments says something about their viability.

A couple of years ago, Troutsky introduced me to a delicious beer, FULLSAIL, that is made in a worker-owned factory. Reading the labels and packaging is often entertaining itself. The workers sound very pleased with their work situation as well.

The viability of employee-owned, democratic workplaces seems less a novelty these days than one might think. The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives has a substantial list of such places.