Daniel Kwet is a Connecticut educator on the front lines of the effort to provide Connecticut’s urban children with the education they deserve. In a school system under-funded by both the State of Connecticut and the local community, Daniel Kwet and his colleagues are not only fighting for children but provide a powerful inspiration for the rest of us who are advocating on behalf of students, parents, teachers and our public schools;
What Arnie Duncan’s Resignation Really Implies (Guest Post by Daniel Kwet)
Recently, Arne Duncan announced that he will resign as United States Secretary of Education. His tenure has been controversial. The National Education Association had recently asked for his resignation and its board cheered when he stepped down. Understanding these events and their significance should help us better understand what is happening in the ongoing fight for public education. It should also help us to understand the obstacles our unions and all people interested in the future of public education are facing.
While I am no fan of Arne Duncan, I think his resignation needs to be situated in the broader landscape of our political system. We are currently entering an election cycle. When Barack Obama ran for office in almost 8 years ago, he ran with Linda Darling-Hammond as his educational advisor, one of the most progressive possible choices he could have made. Upon election, Obama made a clear shift in appointing Duncan. Duncan had been “CEO” of Chicago schools and pushed a corporate agenda, so no one could have had any delusions about who he was. He proceeded to help push through the Race To the Top, the Bush administration’s educational policy on steroids.
The Democratic Party is thoroughly saturated with pro-corporate education deformers. At every level, national, state, and local, Democratic deformers have been pushing charter schools and restructuring our school policies to adopt a corporate mentality, stripping the public sphere of its emphasis on common good through high stakes standardized testing and through grants that are funded by the super-rich, especially Gates, Waltons, and Eli Broad. Many urban districts are strapped for cash, leaving them in a weakened position to turn down outside programs when there is a strong enough financial incentive.
As we enter another election cycle, there will be an attempt to make Hillary Clinton look like a saint. The NEA has officially endorsed Hillary and highlighted her “achievements” in a front page editorial. Environment plays a large role in shaping the child’s education. As educators, we should be aware that her husband ripped apart welfare with the Orwellian titled Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, passed through the anti-labor North American Free Trade Agreement that sent good paying jobs to sweatshops overseas, greatly increased the amount of people (mostly black and Latino) in our prison systems (though now we’re supposed to believe it was a mistake). Perhaps most egregiously, he pushed the Democrats further into the hands of its corporate wing, the Democratic Leadership Council in so-called “Third Way” politics, helping to pave the way for what we are dealing with now. It is also worth noting that Hillary Clinton has served on the board of Walmart.
At this point, Arne Duncan was a political liability for Hillary to gain the support of teachers. The NEA needs to have real demands and not simply clap for public relation moves. Below are some simple things should be a base line of support for any candidate:
Will you guarantee that if elected, you will appoint a pro-teacher, pro-union secretary of education? Who would you consider viable candidates for that position?
Will you denounce charter schools and do everything in your power to get rid of them?
Will you oppose the corporate restructuring of our schools and do everything in your power to get them adequate funding so they can more easily refuse grants that don’t align with our actual needs?
Will you refuse campaign donations from the Gates Foundation, the Waltons, the Broad Foundation, and similar foundations and their front groups?
Furthermore, the NEA has a lot to account for when it writes editorials that omit the clear flaws of the candidates. This is a pedagogy of deceit, and we should be opposed to it, as it misinforms our members so the NEA can continue a game of begging the Democrats to dismantle public education with kiddy gloves on and friendly faces while it puts the rank and file to sleep. We should learn from the victories in Chicago and Seattle that nothing is gained if nothing is demanded. If we fail to learn, we will be in the same place in 2017 as we were in 2009.