It is not good that the American Federation of Teachers rushed to the gate and gave an early endorsement to Hillary Clinton, but it is good that doing so has caused ripples of panic and outrage among teachers and union observers throughout the country.
I have no particular feelings for Hillary Clinton. If she actually becomes president, I do not think she will say or do anything to rescue public education in the United States. But she would probably not murder it as quickly and violently as someone like Scott Walker, whose current rebranding as a “moderate” is a hideous joke.
And, I am not a member of the AFT, so I don’t feel personally upset that my member dues are being used to prematurely endorse a presidential candidate that I don’t believe in.
But I’m happy that teachers are upset. I am happy that they are pushing back and calling out their union leadership, and demanding that their voices be heard. Because this surge of “people power” is the only hopeful source for progress in education policy.
Public education is bleeding profusely in the United States, with deep gashes in some places, like Chicago and Philadelphia, and a 1,000 paper cuts in other places, like Minneapolis. One more education secretary like Arne Duncan and we could see our public school systems collapse into underfunded chaos, under the banner of School Choice week, of course.
Or we could all, as writer Chris Hedges declared, become Greeks now–abandoned by the powerful elites in charge of our public institutions. Lay it on us, Hedges:
Our politicians are corporate employees. And if you get dewy-eyed about the possibility of the U.S. having its first woman president, remember that it was Hillary Clinton’s husband who decimated manufacturing jobs with the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement and then went on to destroy welfare with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which halted federal cash aid programs and imposed time-limited, restrictive state block grants. Under President Bill Clinton, most welfare recipients—and 70 percent of those recipients were children—were dropped from the rolls. The prison-industrial complex exploded in size as its private corporations swallowed up surplus, unemployed labor, making $40,000 or more a year from each person held in a cage. The population of federal and state prisons combined rose by 673,000 under Clinton. He, along with Ronald Reagan, set the foundations for the Greecification of the United States.
The Greecification of public education in the United States did not start with Bill Clinton’s presidency, and it would certainly not end during a second Clinton spin in the White House.
The Clintons have cozied up to many of the big names in market-driven education reform, of course, including billionaire Eli Broad, described here, on the Schools Matter blog:
In 2000, Broad and his wife Edythe created the “philanthropy” The Broad Foundations. The “philanthropy” became a means for the Broads to bring their Horatio Alger myth to the arts and to education, having no background in either, and, along with other major “philanthropists” like the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, to begin the reshaping of public education in the United States to fit a neoliberal agenda in the interests of the financial oligarchy the 1% is trying to form in the United States.
And thus, a ringing and premature endorsement of Clinton is a further sign that we all must think like Greeks now. Who will save us? Not union leadership. Not presidents.
Marginalized, exploited, enslaved people have always known this; it is time the rest of us learn this too.
Resistance and change is happening in education throughout the United States and around the world right now, but it is not being led by the 1%. It never will be. And no presumed friend of the 99%, such as Bernie Sanders, is likely to get elected anytime soon, even though–or perhaps because–teachers and regular people really seem to like the guy.
Instead, we have the Opt Out movement. It is shaking foundations–like the Broad, the Gates, the Walton–from coast to coast by undercutting the profit motive (disguised as “accountability”) in education reform. Refuse the test, and you refuse to give for-profit gluttons like Pearson a reason to exist.
And then there are the waves of student activism, rolling on with little notice from most media outlets. From Philadelphia to Newark, the kids are leading the way, and directly challenging the utterly useless, opportunistic adults in charge.
Pressure applied to public education’s wounds, from the people on the streets and in the classrooms, is the only thing that will stop the bleeding.
No early AFT endorsement–however flawed and upsetting to some–will change that.