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The dominators try to present themselves as saviors of the women and men they dehumanize and divide. This messianism, however, cannot conceal their true intent: to save themselves.’ —Paulo Friere in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Progressive Educational Policies

Progressive Educational Policies LA's Democrats Should Embrace—Joshua Leibner

As LAUSD searches for a new Superintendent, there has been a call not to “politicize” the process by people who mysteriously or calculatingly believe that the job itself isn’t political.

Well let’s disabuse everyone of that notion right now.

There is nothing in human experience more political than Education. Whatever education you and I received over the course of our lives was part and parcel with a larger political/cultural/racial philosophy that shaped who we all are. Whatever “schools” our children go to are also part of a larger system that most certainly is not neutral.

A person’s belief in WHAT education is and HOW it is “managed” tells us a great deal about that individual.

Former LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy’s pedagogy and methodology was extremely political and his backers like Eli Broad, The United Way, the Chamber of Commerce are all very well-versed in power politics. These players seek to put in place a profit-driven political agenda in Los Angeles in regards to education. Their notion of education where charters ”compete” with the true public school system, a demonized and neutered teacher’s union, a notion of “accountability” through testing and haphazard teacher evaluations and a rigid curriculum is the exact opposite of what Progressive Education looks like.

Democrats have used their (rather timid) liberalism on social issues to keep their core members appeased while their top earners have embraced Neo-liberal economic policies that keep them rich and comfortable.

There is an obvious split in the Democratic Party over the issue of Education Reform that in past years would have been described as Republican versus Democrat. Determined as the current presidential candidates are to avoid it, this is a debate about what actually constitutes Democratic education policy has to happen and it is very telling who supports what. At the top of the chain is President Obama who through his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (and now John King) has embraced much of George Bush’s education ideas. Self-described Democrats like Michelle Rhee and John Deasy also follow this script.

It is helpful to understand how the political parties are realigning themselves. The Old Guard moneyed-Republican establishment are far more liberal than the less well-off Fox News supporters on social issues like gay rights, women’s contraception and most of the moral/cultural war agenda—but they have had to embrace those boogeyman issues as a way of appeasing their base. Money and corporate freedom are paramount to the guys who historically have run the Party.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have used their (rather timid) liberalism on social issues to keep their core members appeased while their top earners have embraced Neo-liberal economic policies that keep them rich and comfortable. Claiming the traditional mantle of Champions of Public Education, these DINOS (“Democrats in Name Only”) shun truly public education. The primary supporters of Ed Reform in the Democrats are 1%ers whose own children are not subjected to the Reforms they would place on urban working class children.

The New York Times ran an Op Ed by Thomas B. Edsall earlier this month with the headline: How Did the Democrats Become Favorites of the Rich?

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The areas where mainstream Republican “values” intersects with the Neo-liberal Democrats are financial policies and Education policies. It is because the Education Reform Democrats (and Republicans) always use Civil Rights language as justification for their motives, that a true honest debate on classism and racism in Education Reform has been successfully evaded. That debate is long overdue and needs to inform any discussion of which vision of education the Democratic Party should embrace.

If you believe John Deasy and The LA Times, it’s America’s billionaires that are the vanguard of Progressive Education policy. This is the Democratic Party that Eli Broad is now the face of. This is a party that is dominated by Big Money corporate titans of the Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Rich organizations like Democrats for Education Reform argue that they speak for Democrats on Education, when in actuality, they represent the capitulation to right wing education ideology.

Last week, Eli Broad appointed Paul Pastorek to oversee his and Deasy’s plan to enroll 50% of Los Angeles public school children in charter schools. Pastorek was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s favorite guy and oversaw the implementation of the all-charter New Orleans Recovery District. He later went on to be a part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Education Advisory Board. Pastorek is emblematic of the type of pedagogy and ideology that Broad represents and his appointment to lead the Charter School charge speaks volumes about WHO is Progressive and who isn’t.

The LA Times editorial board (whose views on education are indistinguishable from those of The Wall Street Journal) has enthusiastically endorsed Broad’s and Deasy’s vision without ever considering the broader societal implications what that implementation would really mean to our city. Like the rah rah support of many to invade Iraq, the newspaper’s cavalier portrait of the utopia that awaits our communities when Broad’s vision becomes reality is confounding in its irresponsibility.

In fact, School Board representatives Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez (and their supporters Deasy and Broad) would weep with evangelical joy if a Republican like Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal or Carly Fiorina implemented their education agenda on America. With the exception of vouchers, these Republicans match Democrat power players like Broad, Deasy and Rodriguez’s big-money backers The California Charter School Association’s vision of what urban public schools need to “succeed.”

Every LAUSD school board election is now entangled in the stakes of VERY big money and politics. Those of us who want the new LAUSD Superintendent to represent politics in the best sense—the collective responsibility to educate ALL children fairly and well—are anxious to debate the true politics of others who seek to profit off the public trust, without public accountability.

It is crucially important that Progressives fight hard for the pedagogy they believe in and call out Democrats who support the mainstream Republican education agenda.

There should be a debate of what kind of education ALL children should receive--not just those whose lives are fortunate enough to exempt themselves from the Reforms advocated for other people’s children.

The Education Political lines are now pretty clearly drawn.

So What and Who represents the Democrats?

I’m as anxious as you to find out.

Joshua Leibner