Monday, April 15, 2013

Curiously, George Will Joins Demolition Crew

Curiously, George Will, the renowned political columnist, joined the demolition crew hastily trying to tear down Wisconsin’s public school system.

Over the past two years, Wisconsinites have become accustomed to outsiders trying to raze our public school system proudly built by generations of Wisconsin taxpayers, parents, students, and educators--conservatives and liberals alike.

Will joins the ranks of corporate associations (like ALEC), plutocrats (like the Koch Brothers), right wing think tanks (like Heartland Institute), and clandestine groups (like the pamphleteers in my hometown) defacing Wisconsin’s public schools.

This wrecking ball approach to public school reform is typical of those working in concert to tear down public education. Their pseudo-reforming of public schools involves destroying everything (with no regard for existing value) in public education. The demo crews claim to be reforming public education, but actually seek to raze it and rebuild with publicly-subsidized, privately-run schools.

Will’s recent op-ed attempts to bring a sledgehammer to Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) for allegedly indoctrinating students in “consciousness-raising” about racism, recycling, and reproduction. Instead, Will practices sloppy journalism and relies on the unprofessional research of Education Action Group (EAG)--yet another right wing anti-public education group--in formulating his critique.

EAG guises itself as a real news agency, but in actuality is an anti-public education organization funded by right wing operatives (like Will’s Bradley Foundation) and works often with other Tea Party-type organizations (such as Breitbart and MacIver Institute). EAG's head demolition man and Will’s lead source in his op-ed is Kyle Olson--a free market apologist who makes his living trying to obliterate public education. Olson and his demo crew believe they are simply doing Christ's work in tearing down public education. EAG's mission is best summed up by this Olson quote:

I would like to think that, yes, Jesus would destroy the public education temple and save the children from despair and a hopeless future. And he would smash a temple that has been perverted to meet the needs of the administrators, teachers, school board members, unions, bureaucrats and contractors.

When not recasting the usually loving and social justice-minded Jesus as the ultimate, public school-kicking demolition man, Olson moonlights as education man on Fox & Friends, despite having no professional training or experience as a teacher man. Olson's charade as a professional journalist was long ago exposed as a hoax.

Will’s latest work simply regurgitates Olson’s apparently unverified accusation that Wisconsin’s DPI (through a VISTA-run program) encouraged public schools to distribute white privilege wristbands. I am just a hack blogger, but simply following one of Olson’s own links, I found this statement exonerating DPI of EAG’s indoctrination allegations. A basic Google search also brought me to a publicly and clearly-stated DPI explanation: DPI official has asked, requested, or encouraged any school district, educator, or student to wear any wristband, and none of our VISTA volunteers have had any children put on any wristbands. To be clear, no Wisconsin students were given white wristbands.

One has to wonder, did Olson, EAG staff, Curious George Will, or his newspaper follow standard journalism practice and contact DPI before reporting on this? My inquiry to the Washington Post (Ticket #15067-89185) a week ago to see if Will or the Washington Post verified Olson’s allegations has gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, I am sure the loving and Christian-minded EAG staffers are already fast at work finding a way to wreck me. This is what they do. Regrettably, I know EAG’s demolition tactics on public education all too well. During the recent efforts to recall Wisconsin Gov. Walker, my own kids’ school district and others around Wisconsin were targets of some of EAG’s anti-public education antics. Apparently having razed enough public schools in their home base of Michigan, the EAG demo crew migrated to Wisconsin to raze school districts, like my kids' school district, already weakened by Gov. Walker's education cuts.

One of EAG’s Wisconsin wrecking tools was a propaganda “report” on Gov. Walker’s Act 10 (which severely limits the rights of teachers’ unions to collectively bargain) that included an attack on Janesville teachers. Of course, real reporting involving a radical and divisive initiative, like Act 10, would normally include interviews from all parties impacted and a counter balancing of GOP praise for Gov. Walker’s agenda with an accounting of schools struggling with Walker’s cuts and divisive policies. 

Instead, the GOP-partisan EAG produced a one-sided bash on Wisconsin public school teachers, their unions, and collective bargaining. Quotes from Walker cheerleaders abound in the anti-public school publication taunting educators and praising Walker’s saving grace and new command over Wisconsin public teachers' pay, working conditions, and benefits. Expectedly, not a mention is found in the "report" of the real problems plaguing Wisconsin's public school finances--like rising inequity, mounting student poverty, runaway costs in the healthcare industry, and loss of revenues from the 2008 housing crash.

Not surprisingly, the EAG work of fiction was right in line with the free market-obsessed Heartland Institute’s “Operation Angry Badger" covertly designed to "document the shortcomings of public schools in Wisconsin." Demolition duty is dirty work.

Now we get to formally add the nationally syndicated George Will to the dirty gang of Wisconsin public school traducers. Will crabs about the rising costs of public education, perpetuates the myth of “rotten” public education, and follows Olson's false lead in claiming indoctrination of students. Just like EAG, Will’s claims of an overpriced public education system ignore larger socioeconomic ills dragging down public school finances--like the mounting expenses in servicing increasing numbers of needy students. Will’s accusations of indoctrination are only a hop and a skip away from EAG-similar propaganda like this flyer, which was recently and anonymously distributed by clandestine groups in my community.

My critique of Will’s attack on DPI is not to state that Wisconsin’s DPI is above reproach. I have publicly challenged DPI on a couple matters (like working with Walker and producing flawed school report cards). My criticisms, however, are designed to improve DPI policies and public education in Wisconsin. In contrast, EAG staff are commissioned crusaders out to "destroy the public education temple."

Will’s scapegoating of Wisconsin's DPI is so far from the eight ball and not helpful to public educators, like myself, working hard everyday to service our nation's neediest kids. If Will sincerely wants to reduce the number of support staff in public education, then he should support socioeconomic programs that reduce the inequity in this country. If Will sincerely wants to improve the almighty science, math, and reading test scores, then he should support broader and bolder solutions that reduce the crippling effects of student poverty. If Will sincerely wants to advise on public education policies he should study how reducing student poverty reforms public schools more than any in-school or out-of-school factor. 

And, above all, if Will sincerely wants to build better public schools, he should ditch destruction crews, like EAG, and join those of us trying to construct better schools for our kids and students.

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