Dear Friends and Co-workers,

Today is the phony Labor Day, put in place by Grover Cleveland after he ordered the murder of Pullman strikers and the jailing of Eugene Debs. The real Labor Day is Mayday.

Tomorrow, the demagogue, Obama, urges kids to go to school, "if not for yourself, for your country." It's an endless stream of pap, wrapped in the nationalism he hopes will mask the war of the rich on the poor where he serves as a general. "...don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down."

Time Magazine today titled their analysis of his speech, "A Capitalist Homage." That's true.

We have more holidays coming. September 11 may rachet up the national hysteria as, for only a few good reasons, the public is reacting against what Obama calls, "the necessary war," in Afghanistan. Even the Wall Street Journal betrayed him on that one. Even now, not many Americans understand that the Taliban is not Al Queda. And there is no anti-war movement, in ruins due to the mis-leadership of groups like UFPJ, which want to keep class struggle an in-group secret.

Then, September 17, Constitution Day, thanks to ex-Klansman Robert Byrd, who sneaked that into a bill in 2005. What Patriot Act? What secret prisons? What torture? What police spies inside resister groups? What terror bombing around the world and coups in Latin America?

Of course, good teachers can work against all of that, even inside NCLB's wraps. The Constitution, after all, came into being because of a revolution.

Nominations for the Rouge Forum Steering Committee are complete. Each nominee is being contacted.

As we have repeatedly said in the Rouge Forum: People will fight back as they will have to fight back to live. There are indications of that in academia. The AAUP endorsed a one day strike in the University of California system.

* The AAUP (American Association of University Professors) has endorsed this call for collective action:

* UPTE, representing over 10,000 University Professional and Technical Employees, will strike on 9/24 in solidarity with faculty:

Oakland University in suburban Detroit is on strike now.

As the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq hear of evaporating popular support in the US (no matter that it is hardly rooted in a full rethinking of imperialism), they'll start avoiding being the last person killed for the wavering Empire. Here is the last in a video series:
Rethinking Afghanistan Video Series:

The note below was sent to a discussion list of people around the US who are continuing the struggle to figure out why things are happening in school and what to do about it. Much of it comes from our Fresno meeting last month. Comments came back asking for more suggestions on what to do, so I added some at the end. all the best, r
It's Capital vs Education

Kozol is against NCLB, but he has no analysis of why it came into being and, because of that, he has no good suggestions for what to do about it. 

Clearly, those who helped lead the cheer-leading for Obama made a serious analytical mistake. Why keep making it? The notion of democratic (or Democratic) action like lobbying has nearly become a religious fetish.

Yes, part of our task is to reason with people, but we do not own the press or the corporate media. We cannot out bribe the lobbyists. We do not control the Federal Reserve. The corporate media have their agenda, from the LA Times to the NY Times and all in between, and it is largely support of these key things going on in school:

            *the regimentation of curricula to build witless nationalism (and abolish, or regulate, history),
            *high stakes and anti-working class exams which not only limit knowledge but sort kids under a false guise of science,
            *militarization in poor areas and what will likely be some form of national service in richer areas,
            *merit pay, and,
            *as a second tier issue, privatization (making that a first tier issue is not merely wrong---it is the result of differences in the ruling             class--it leads to defending public schooling which is not public, but segregated, and in many areas like Detroit, is simply             indefensible).

Restoring hope is part of the agenda, but it is false hope. The future is war, inequality, unemployment, horrible options for youth and it will not change without a mass social movement for equality. War means work; why many people enlist and proof that our choice is community or barbarism. In this sense, we need to rescue education from the ruling classes.

All of these interconnected attacks on life and reason have already happened, all over the western world.
Merely opposing any one of these factors, like merit pay, but not the rest just reinforces the entire project. As we see, NEA now dishonestly speaks out about merit pay, but NEA backed the regimented curricula and high stakes exams, sharply attacked people like Susan Ohanian who spoke against them, and dumped the students who suffered most from them.

Why are these things going on in schools now, with such intensity?

The education agenda is a war agenda. It is an agenda designed to create mindless workers for a nation which can promise nothing but bad jobs, no jobs, or the military. In brief, US schools are missions for capitalism and most teachers its missionaries (so far).

Schools are now the centripetal organizing point of North American life (and in much of the world). The various wings of the US ruling class recognized that after the uprisings of the Vietnam era and began to move to regain control of education. NCLB threw all that into hyper-speed. It was, and is, a completely bi-partisan project, Democrats and Republicans united.

NCLB is not going to be lobbied or voted out of existence, no more than the rich are going to be relieved of their wealth by either method.

That is because of our social context, the promise of perpetual war and intensified racial segregation, both coupled with a collapsed de-industrialized economy that promised consumerism, but can no longer consume.

Within that context, the government, all of it, is now little more than an executive committee and armed weapon of the rich. Obama, as Wayne Ross and I argued months before the election, is a demagogue and a personification of that executive committee. To treat the government as a potential ally is a serious analytical and, more importantly, practical mistake.

Lobbying and appealing to legislatures is a bit like going to church. The most important aspect of that is that it deepens the alienation that already overwhelms people; teaches them that someone else, in the case of elected officials someone who is most likely an enemy, is going to solve their problems. And, in our present environment, it won't work. That's doubly wrong.

NEA has people lobby because it keeps them busy and away from organizing direct action on the job which would make NEA bosses irrelevant. NEA/CTA spent some $20 million on trying to place a regressive tax measure on the ballot this year, and last year NEA spent untold millions electing Obama, then lauded him and Arne Duncan at their Representative Assembly.
While writing letters to the editor takes little time and will do little harm, it remains that we have no control over the corporate press and should, instead, build our own media. Susan Ohanian's web site, Substance News, and the Rouge Forum News in the US have all tried to do that, with varying success.

Teachers are the most highly organized people in the US. And they are next in the line of attack on the US working class: merit pay. But the key attack is on kids. Many teachers have, and will continue to, accept the bribe to abuse children through NCLB, and many of them will be more than willing to follow the logic and go for merit pay. These people are simply of no account until they change their minds and behavior. It is the people who fight back, who could well be a small minority at the outset, who matter.

The two school  unions are the largest unions in the US, the National Education Association the largest by far. The unions supported the drive to NCLB every step of the way, to the extent of taking out full page ads in the New York Times demanding it, in conjunction with the Chambers of Commerce, the Broad Foundation, the Business Roundtable and other allies of the union leadership. The teacher union leaders are themselves incredibly privileged people, making well over $400,000 a year (not much in comparison to many CEO's but still incredible wealth).

The last thing these union leaders want is a truly class conscious base of school workers because, on one hand, they would have nothing to sell to the employers, and on the other hand, a class conscious mass of teachers would never collaborate in the creation of leaders like the current union leadership. There is no big difference between the teacher union leadership, and the leadership of the entire AFL-CIO, except to say that the American Federation of Teachers leadership leads the most reactionary sections of the AFL-CIO.

Both teacher union leaderships are products of, and gain from, US imperialism, war, and they know it. That is the source of their remarkable salaries. US imperialism is also the source of some of the pay that is passed along to teachers, but the gulf between teacher pay, and union boss pay is notable, and while union boss pay is going up, teacher pay and benefits are under assault.

Both teacher union leaders promote the idea that has guided the AFL-CIO, for decades now; the idea of "New Unionism," that labor, government, and business must act together in the national interest. This, of course, abolishes the reason most people join unions, that is, that working people and their bosses have mostly contradiction in common. New Unionism turns the unions' leaders into mere arms of the bosses and their empire's wars.

There is no way to reform these unions, which do not unite people, but divide them, along lines of job, social class, industry, and even now, race and sex. Teacher unions do not, for example, typically welcome other school workers, nor are students and community people included as voting members in union meetings, because those people do not pay dues---the bottom line of capitalism. But students, community people, parents, and others, are absolutely vital to school worker power.

Surely we need to be in the unions, with about one toe, and nine toes out. Justice is going to require new forms of organization that unite people, can develop consistent strategy and tactics. To my knowledge, in the US, only the Rouge Forum has taken on that task, steadily, for more than a decade.

Winning, against NCLB, has to involve winning against capitalism, war, and segregation. It would be far better to lose in a struggle against NCLB, yet within that struggle create more and more people who understand what class struggle is and how to conduct it, than it would be to "win" a few minor reforms vs NCLB, and to fool people into thinking that is a victory. Besides, as the US declines as a power, its rulers, all of them, are going to be more and more desperate to enforce programs like NCLB, and most certainly less open to reasoning about it.

But even a serious reformer, as distinct from an anti-capitalist revolutionary, should recognize that teacher power does not lie at the ballot box, where one chooses which millionaire will oppress one the least over the next few years, nor in the courts, now fully stacked against the working class--as has ever been their purpose---but in the schools and the communities where teachers work. The geography of power should be very clear. The issue in school is: Who is organized to control the work place?

The crux of the matter, to win anything, and to sustain that victory, is to have a mass of people who have the understanding, willingness, and analytical curiosity to take action to control their work places, in this case the schools, to close them and open them at will. Absent that, nothing that is won can be kept, as we can see from the dozens of union contracts that employers have simply re-opened, mid-term, demanding concessions.

Only the abolition of NCLB should be on the table, even for reformers. There is no way to "fund" NCLB and make it anything but a rotten, racist, anti-working class project designed to pump up witless patriotism. It can no more be reformed than slavery itself.

Yes, research against the NCLB is important, as is constructing reason in any context. That research, demonstrating the anti-working class nature of NCLB, the goals of its sponsors, its impact on students and teachers, its role as a material attack on the livelihoods of school workers, is done. More research is never wrong, but much of current research and calls for action disconnect that study from the social context that created the NCLB, to pretend that school reform is possible without social and economic reform.

This is to do extraordinarily disjointed work, what might be called "un-whole" within whole language. Capitalism in decay created the NCLB. That is the whole that arches over its particulars. NCLB is a servant of organized decay.

We need to connect reason (like research and letters) to power. That means organization and an organizational plan.

Grand strategy involves things like transcending the failed system of capital.

Strategy involves grasping the connections of war, inequality, and education, then recognizing that educators, parents and kids can shut down schools and open freedom schools to teach what cannot be taught in US schools: Why things really are as they are. Schools closed by that kind of civil strife, as with the current Oakland University strike, are vastly better than open schools running as "normal."

Of course, that means really connecting the struggles over the key issues in schools (above) today with the struggle for equality, and connecting schools to communities again, perhaps by door to door shoe leather work.

I am aware that even that is a ways off, but I'll bet we see some local teacher strikes against merit pay (alone, sad to say) and those strikes can be expanded to take on new tactics and strategies.

Tactics, which seemed to be our main focus in Fresno (and the core mistake of the anti war movement in the last 8 years, meaning there is no antiwar movement) cannot be divorced from strategy and grand strategy, although those discussion can be tedious and sometimes divisive.

Nevertheless, I thought the meeting came up with an idea to use one main outlet for test-resister communication. That's fine with me, whatever it may be.

The meeting also introduced people to each other, people who never met, which may be the way movements get built over time. It surely was one thing of many that helped make the American Revolution possible.

As Kathy Emery has repeatedly said, Maybe "we are getting ready to be ready." While that has not gone fast enough for me, I've learned there are limits to what anyone or any group can make happen before it is ready to happen.

However, even a few teachers (centripetally positioned in society) can make a terrific difference through direct action. We can see that in the not-so long ago Dover case against creationism and Intelligent Design when just six science teachers in Dover PA refused to teach ID, saying "Intelligent Design is not science." They outright refused. They had guts, faced death threats. Their case won (much easier to win that than to sue against the wars or merit pay as capitalism needs both science and an utterly un-scientific mass of people who believe in ID at the same time).

I suggested at the close of the meeting that we collect and burn test questions--a Fresno Tea Party. it's hard to get real copies of the test, but teachers could memorize some and collectively we could get all of them and then torch them in a public setting. I would be happy to volunteer to set the fire. That would lead to an explanation of why that was done, perhaps a demonstration on a school board meeting, hoping the idea spreads. Such demonstrations are not movements, but they can be part of movements.

I see our heroic Susan Harman got arrested a couple of days ago for protesting against the US use of torture under the color of law! I know she did not plan to get arrested, and did not do the what she is charged with, but it took considerable courage to go do what she did, and my heart is out to her. You Go Susan!

The Tea Party is only one of many suggestions people might have.

As always, I'll support anyone who does nearly anything to fight back these days, but some ideas are better than others. We need to find a way to work that out. The crux of the matter is to connect reason to power.

Good luck to us, every one.


Other things that might be done:
1. Fight inside the unions and in communities to be sure that no concessions are made, rather we want gains. We want lower class size at every level. We want more books in the libraries, and media specialists. We want a shorter work day, meaning hire more teachers. No cuts in counseling, bus drivers, or any other services. No deals.

We will take harsh measures against union leaders who capitulate or sell us out. $12.9 Trillion was given to the banksters who are giving themselves bonuses again. $700 billion has been spent on the wars, no generals took a pay cut. We want our stimulus, right in our pockets and in our classrooms. Now. (I await the day when UAW members seize Solidarity House and toss the top officials into the streets. They're the workers' closest, and most vulnerable, enemies.)

The unions have a duty to protect kids and our communities. If they refuse to do it, we will. We will demand and act on the notion that kids must be fed, in school and out. No cuts in food services, nursing, or related services. Rather, we demand the schools set up traveling services to go door to door offering kids books to read, health care and screening, and the playgrounds must be opened to communities at all hours, as must the schools.

2. We oppose and will take action against regimented curricula, high-stakes exams, militarization, and merit pay. We notify every child in school of their right to opt out of the exams and the military demands for their ID. We will assist them in filling out the material and set up off campus sites to do that if necessary. We will encourage test boycotts and try to set up freedom schools when testing season begins. We will heap scorn and ridicule on ROTC instructors and the administrators who back them.

3. We recognize there is a direct schools-to-war pipeline and we will move to dry it up, to find ways to get youth jobs or further schooling so they do not face the impossible choice of street gangs or the marines.

4. To that end, we will join others demanding a shorter work week for everyone who is employed, with no cut in pay.





At 07:05 PM 9/6/2009, wrote:
Susan, from the C-SPAN show today it seems that Kozol is strongly against NCLB. Have you tried to get him to speak out against it?


In a message dated 9/6/09 9:46:06 PM, writes:


I respectfully submit that arguing in the online letters section of newspapers, though fun,  is a very limited outlet for activism and that pretty quickly we need to move beyond that into other venues.

I've studied the online comments of local paper here.  A few hotheads post as many as 1,200 comments a month. Most people never look at that section.  Maybe the Fresno paper is different, but I suspect not. I'm just suggesting that it might be more productive to devote energies to ideas that will reach a more mainstream audience.

Susan Ohanian