StudentsFirst Attacks Minnesota Teachers

/ 2 April 2012 / jennifer

Dan Burns, Minnesota Progressive Project, April 2, 2012 –

Last week I got two items in the mail from something called “StudentsFirst.” Here’s one side of one of them:

Don’t those young’ns look thrilled, to be learning (and, presumably, crushing standardized tests) the StudentsFirst way!

The purpose of the mailings, was to try to get me to encourage Governor Dayton to sign H.F. 1870, which would allegedly “reform” teacher tenure.  One even has a couple of postcards, that I could just detach and mail.  (To be fair, I also get mailings from places like the Sierra Club, with the same kind of clip-and-send advocacy items.)  I didn’t send them;  whether or not anybody else did,Dayton didn’t go for it.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he won’t sign legislation that would allow schools to lay off teachers based on factors other than seniority.The Democrat governor called the bill “more of a political ploy than a serious policy attempt” and said it was among several Republican initiatives introduced this year aimed at undermining teachers, public schools and unions.

“It’s just another round of onslaughts, all with the underlying premise that public schools are failing,” the governor said during a news conference at the Capitol.

Governor Dayton is spot-on, of course.  The real purpose of this legislation is to make it easier for districts to get rid of committed, experienced – and better-paid – teachers, and replace them with newbies that aren’t ready to do much but try to impart rote learning aimed at passing standardized tests.  Not coincidentally, those older teachers are also more likely to be politically engaged and closely involved with teachers unions.On the whole, the claim that the issues with public education can be dealt with by replacing “bad teachers” is absolutely idiotic.  (In twelve years of public school, in the 1960s and 70s, I don’t recall having had even one “bad” teacher.) What that claim is, is a made-to-order example of the conservative delusion that large, complex problems are amenable to simple, inexpensive solutions. And that there’s always an easy focus for blame.  “Blaming” is what weak people do to evade responsibility, so it’s inevitable that it’s so popular on the contemporary American political right.

It turns out that StudentsFirst is Michelle Rhee’s organization.  (Interestingly, her name doesn’t appear, on either mailing.) Here is all you need to know about Rhee’s career in public education.  The website has a “Donate” button, but nothing that I could find, about where the bulk of the money for fancy fliers and the like, is really coming from.  Rhee’s connection with another high-profile education deformer, Bill Gates, could certainly provide a clue.

Every politically engaged progressive has seen this before, too many times. Self-styled “reformers” want public schools to emphasize rote and dogma, rather than independent thinking grounded in a wide knowledge base and an expansive, tolerant, humane viewpoint.  Their efforts are well-funded, relentless, and in many cases, succeeding.

It needs to be noted that to the conservative “deformers,” it’s not “rote and dogma;” it’s “learning what’s important.”  In other words, it’s not consciously_about trying to produce a generation of conservative automatons, since producing such a generation is the only way that right-wing, neocon, market fundamentalist ideology can hope to survive, politically.  They sincerely believe that they’re doing what’s best for the kids, and for all of us.  _That’s the mindset that we’re up against.