NCLB will Fail in the Same Ways the Oil Invasion Failed But People Will Lose Until We Get Beyond Capitalism
The point in Iraq, and the Caspian Sea region near Afghanistan, is oil--won by any means necessary. The broader point is the US invasion of the world, in the midst of an international war of the rich on the poor.
The point in US schools, and schools throughout the world, is social control-- won by any means necessary. The US cares nothing about democratic rule in Iraq, nor does its rulers care a whit about how education for voluntary servitude is won in the schools. However, in each case, elites are aware of the importance of their domination. Perhaps unlike Iraqis, many school workers have only a limited understanding of why they are being set upon. The former may see a Crusade for oil as simply a Crusade, but most Iraqis surely see the relationship; while teachers may see only the harsh regimentation of their work without considering the social goals of those who profit from ignorance and segregation.
Some critics of the sham school reforms, and the Oil Wars, treat the related crises as if they were initiated by myths, lies. The US did not manufacture a myth of weapons of mass destruction, which did exist in Iraq---creations of the US. The mythical part was when the WMD's were in Iraq (during the US-supported war on Iran, for example) and who provided the information and technology (the US). The US did not manufacture a myth of rotten underfunded urban, suburban, and rural schools where children are taught lies using methods that make the struggle for truth, and curiosity, alien to children as early as the second grade. Those schools were created by the social processes of capitalism triumphant, in its most powerful base (Berliner, Manufactured Crisis, 1996).
Class and racial separation at apartheid levels, seen as normalcy, typifies most schooling in the US. Overcoming the promise of perpetual war, and the organized decay of education, will require a struggle to go past capitalism, to community, in the midst of serious civil strife.
However, US elites will spend what it takes, including the lives of thousands, to control the oil fields, and the schools. The point is not merely profits (though the point is surely profits) but social control. Power, not just money, as rulers know, is key to mastery. The war in Iraq can be won by a privatized, or nationalized, or internationalized, military, as long as the oil flows through Haliburton-and imperialist rivals are backed off. The war on knowledge in schools can be won by a privatized education system, or a nationally centralized one, under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The only consistency behind the rhetoric is the relationship of profiteering and control.
Over a long time, the scenario may look like this: The US ruling class wins a quick invasion, loses the people, wins the raw materials, markets, cheap labor and some opportunistic locals who dictate for awhile; the US loses the mass resistance as people in the occupied territories rise up (supported by competing imperial powers with their own designs), but the people still lose to hierarchy, authoritarianism, and exploitation; then the people get it and win--or the world wars come again: barbarism. It may look like that in Iraq, and it may look like that within the US, in the schools, invaded by the NCLB.
The No Child Left Behind Act uses the same unseeing strategic planning and hubris that now sinks the US in its military escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the pronouncements of war and victory, like the promises of educational equality through curricula regimentation, segregation, and testing, seem powerful at the outset, as they encounter the realities of daily life, it turns hollow--if we could ignore the massive suffering that both already cause.
US troops can never be friends to the people whose resources they steal, nor will school administrators be able to get past the contradictory relationships they necessarily have with kids and educators. US troops are already placed in positions where they see everyone as enemies. They massacre Iraqi police established by the US, and strafe hospitals (NY Times 9/15/03). The next logical move is to try to exterminate everybody, a plan that failed in Vietnam.
Administrators, and many teachers, already see their students as the problem, and at least in the case of Houston's massive fraud, described below, the problem was solved by getting rid of the kids. In each instance, the appearances of tactical invincibility crash into the reality of strategic weakness.
War gamers all over the world are howling at the US failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. In response to the criminal acts of a fundamentalist billionaire who attacked the symbols of US banking, military, and political power, and whose attack swept beyond symbolism to tipping over the fragile US consumer economy; American political leaders invaded the world. In bi-partisan spirit, they declared perpetual pre-emptive-openly imperialist-- war. They simultaneously seized oil fields for companies they own. Democrats and Republicans united to gouge the public to pay for, not just the pre-planned imperial adventure, but the elimination of civil liberties Americans believed they once had--in the name of national security, and the liquidation of what social safety net remained, in the name of national defense.
While US techno-might may have swept across the mountains of Afghanistan, where the "Great Game," between Britain and Russia played out for 150 years, and across the deserts of Iraq, established from the betrayed promises of Lawrence of Arabia and the whims of Winston Churchill, the US has not been able to control the peace, to win over the people, or to even sustain the morale of its own troops. They quickly began to complain about the heat, the cold, the absence of bottled water, un-friendlies who they were told would be friendly; troops who started to demand to go home within four weeks of their deployment (London Telegraph 9/14/03 ;Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game, 1994).
Other than the fear of death, the lure of money, and the glitter of technology, the US leadership has nothing to offer anyone anymore. The ideology of democracy and hope, versus the authoritarian boogeyman in the USSR, sham though it may have been, is gone.
There is, some, resistance. More than three million people in the US demonstrated against the war, before it began. Trust in politicians sank with the rising, if really minimal, US war dead, much more rapidly than in Vietnam. More than one hundred local city governments formally opted their citizens out of the Patriot Act, as librarians moved to shred daily records of books checked out, before the FBI arrived. John Ashcroft, the fundamentalist Attorney General who lost a Missouri election to a dead man, spoke only to military and police groups as he toured the US, defending the Patriot Act, while outside thousands of people held signs: "Fascist!"
Resistance rooted in a celebration of pluralism, however, is resistance doomed to a bounded potency.
While there may be a few similarities to the Russian debacle in Afghanistan in the 1980's, or the US fleeing Vietnam in 1975, what is remarkable about the US failures in Afghanistan (where the US only controls Kabul) and Iraq is the weakness of the US' enemy. Usama Bin Laden, Al Queda, and Sadam Hussein's Baathists, are hardly Ho Chi Minh and General Giap, or even the CIA-backed Mujahadeen. The Vietnamese had a modern ideology that could appeal to masses of people (a mix of nationalism over socialism), vital military and civil aid from the USSR and China, experienced leadership steeped in decades of guerilla war as fish in the sea of people. The Afghan mujahadeen had a direct supply line to the hardware and expertise of the CIA, the riches of the US puppet government in Saudi Arabia, a supportive nearby state in Pakistan, a medieval yet popular fundamentalist ideology, and Afghan tribal leadership accustomed to resisting centuries of invasions. With these powerful pillars, the Vietnamese and mujahadeen were able to show the invaders that nothing is as it appears to be to those who are always outsiders, whose interests can never be friendly to the locals (BBC News 5/16/03 Al Quedas Origins and Links).
The Taliban, bin Laden, Al Queda, Hussein, have little of this. Hussein was a tyrant, hardly the popular leader like Ho Chi Minh. Bin Laden is a billionaire. His view of sending others to get blown up while he remains behind and plans, will wear thin. The Taliban was a suicidal fundamentalist government eager to alienate half its populace (women), momentarily in charge of the devastation of Afghanistan, a nation not as barbarous as it was portrayed, but devastated and open to barbaric rule by the US and Russia in their cold war (Taliban, Rashid, 2000).
Al Queda, a criminal terrorist group, is not a state. As Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker complained in the past, their vicious acts were treated, not as the crimes they were, but acts of war--not because this kind of retribution would stop Al Queda, but because a war would lead directly to the Caucasus and Iraqi oil fields. Indeed, the Iraq anti-terror invasion is such a stretcher that no serious commentators believe it anymore.
Now, the US populace is told they must stay the course, because to reverse it would be disastrous for foreign policy. George Bush, in full retreat, begs the United Nations for troops, under US leadership-after telling the UN in April that they were irrelevant. With not a single reliable ally, Bush wants UN troops, but not their masters' eyes on the oil fields. A bold declaration of victory staged by the famously AWOL Bush's handlers, on an aircraft carrier, like Dukakis peeping out of a tank on the campaign trail, becomes a call for cooperation from allies who no longer exist. Nevertheless, it appears the US citizenry enjoys its yellow alerts, as much as a good blue-light special, and they applaud by the hundreds of thousands the nationalist spectacles at their football extravaganzas.
Everywhere, the big competing war-gamers chuckle at the US, as they themselves inch closer and closer to the oil and gas resources, nature's fuels of light, heat, and warfare--and they inch closer to World War III, which may have already begun. The little war gamers, in North Korea for example, also feel empowered, having learned the bottom line lesson: Get a nuke.
US strategic weakness is not rooted in the power of its enemies, but within its own society. Individualist opportunism blows back on the potential collective power of rulers. In Iraq, for example, the typical tour of duty for a US civilian "expert," is one month. They go to Iraq, boost the resume, and leave; a new trainee shows up, starting the one month learning curve from the beginning. Military commanders, whose learning curve seems steeper still, remain surprised that the local people keep fooling them, day after day, and that their ex-pat puppet government is unpopular, and unreliable--won't stay bribed (National Public Radio, 9/23/03).
The US is frail in every key element of warfare: in its ideological impotency, bad military judgment, its over-stretched supply lines, its collapsed manufacturing base and teetering economy, its fickle populace steeped in the petty greed of consumerism, obese from watching spectacles, unable to field and sustain even a reliable volunteer army-whose families, after all, are on food stamps. Even so the imperial gaze, and the bombs that sustain it, will not soon be defeated. But the mass of people in the US will-until a choice is made to live another way.
People in the US will see their wages gutted, again, their taxes raised, jobs sped up and eliminated, medical benefits and what remains of the social safety net demolished. Home insurance costs already doubled in some states. The war budget leaped to at least $500 billion in the last few weeks, as Bush demanded $87 billion more. The national deficit is projected to soon top $2.6 trillion, from a surplus of about $5.6 trillion just 3 years ago. That will come from somewhere, and given the tax system, it will not come from the rich. It will either lead to an outburst of inflation, or the direct impoverishment of the working poor. 2.7 million people lost jobs in the last three years. Those who arrived in 2001 with no base of capital are already near ruins (NY Times, 9/14/03 p1).
In part because of de-industrialization, and in part because of the racketeer nature of US industrial unions, schools will be central in all of this, battle grounds where institutional demands to tamp down the hopes and curiosity of children will run into at least a few parents, kids, and teachers, who think otherwise--and plenty of NCLB supporters who believe they can make careers by tailing the temporarily powerful. School administrators may serve as a model for US experts in Iraq. Like morning glories, they come and go, shifting with the wind, pumping their individualized hustles and vitae, only ensuring that the organized decay of civil society continues. The disastrous mess that NCLB will cause matters no more to the powerful than US soldiers strafing Iraqi hospitals for hours. Democracy in Iraq? Equitable schools? Shemocracy and Shemequity. At issue is this: Just where will the soldiers for the coming oil wars come from, if not from the schools?
For example, this transparent debacle: Houston lied. As the Houston school model demonstrates, dozens of school administrators, classroom educators, and clerks were complicit in enforcing and covering up the school force-out rate which made the spurious claims of Education Director Rod Paige of a "Houston Miracle" possible. One way to boost test scores is to dispose of those who produce low scores. While rumors whirled around teacher chat-boards on-line, one whistle-blower made the difference. One. He reported that the Houston force-out rate was about ten times the rate reported throughout the district. Did the Houston debacle-miracle blow up? Not hardly. It passed across the front pages, then sank under John Ritter obits. Today the whistleblower sits in an office, counting paper clips, administratively isolated, while the local union says nothing (Houston Chronicle 9/13/03). And body counts from Iraq only count US bodies.
Yesterday's facts and research mean nothing to those who rut after cheap labor, raw materials, resources, markets, and social control. Just as the reporting data of socio-economic status was ripped out of national student test score reportage, so is it easy for the Bush administration to declare that they never said a word to link Sadam Hussein and September 11 (New York Times, 9-16 and 17-03). The only sensibility in their statements is in the rut itself.
Uday and Qusay, Husseins sons, were blown to pieces with an hours' long barrage of heavy-tank fire, in a Waco-esque scene, making sure they could not testify to anything significant. Perhaps that will be a metaphor for the first courageous superintendent who spills the beans about the racism and class warfare built into the NCLB. Test results will surely be fabricated, in ingenious ways, everywhere, just as the certainty of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Al-Queda ties became the possibility of weapons of mass destruction, and then, the desire for a democratic regime.
Should the US briefly win in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the NCLB rule; what will the victory produce? There are lessons in history. Over time, the winners will grow ever more distant from the masses of people. US invasion leaders will relax, entice the locals to their lavish games and parties, while the local working people will be enslaved and their oil and natural gas fields robbed. The mullahs and priests might enjoy a boost in collections. The permanent occupation will further ruin the local economy and erode the culture, as troops' dollars compete for purchases, and women. The people, often led by disgusted sectors of the local puppet government, will resist, and over time they will rise up.
Similar action may take place in schools. With NCLB, teachers will be more and more alienated from their kids, and each other. Some teachers in wealthy districts might actually do well, while teachers in poor and working class districts will suffer. Merit pay connected to test scores will buttress this. Even the most conservative citizens may be offended by the loss of local, and parental, control the NCLB represents--not allowing parents to opt children out of exams, for example. Some will raise hell and home school. Suits will be filed, to trail up to the stacked Rehnquist Court (Alfie Kohn, Education Week, Punished by Rewards, September 20 2003) .
NCLB, after all, was passed by the same bi-partisan congressional majority that lept into the oil war. In some cases, the same companies, like McGraw-Hill, not only profited from the tax shift that ruined the schools they now say they will correct, but the also profit from their ties to the political leaders (Bush), and they will be writing the textbooks in Iraq. NCLB and the oil invasions flow right into one another.
NCLB is so underfunded, as the military is spread so thin, that it will only work in the sense it will, at minimal cost, capture what children come to know, and how they come to know it. It will deepen the segregation of school children by class and race, setting them up to be easily pitted against one another, on tests and in life--using science to prove that some are superior to others, as science propels the one-eyed drones viewing the battlefields (unable to see bin Laden). The rest is just details to the powerful. 60% of the kids in Chicago attend schools defined as failures by NCLB, and they have the right to transfer--to where? NCLB will drive children out of school, and into the military. Whose success is that? Or whose failure? Without social and economic reform, this counterfeit reform will fail--but only on the face of it. As long as the oil flows, and imperialism is seen as the children's friend, the internal crises matter only a little so long as they sign up to fight their enemy's enemies(Vernon Ehlers testimony on NCLB, May 15 2002).
Fundamental educational shifts have already occurred. Students (as early as third grade) see themselves as future consumers, not workers. They know that school is a lie, and lying to their teachers on exam is a life necessity. At the same time, another degradation: education seen as for employment, not citizenship or ethical life. Employment schooling is seen as training, not enlightenment. Training is linked to delusional ideas about everyone moving up in the economy, based on their meritorious behavior, and institutional demands for certificates. The economy itself is seen as "ours," not, "theirs." Student teachers are positioned to demand to know how to proctor endless exams, not to wonder where the exams come from; liberal studies professors in universities insist on learning how to maintain numbers for their programs, by aligning curricula with tests, rather than insisting on their academic freedom to profess.
On the whole, cowardice, opportunism, racism, hysteria, and ignorance propel the school worker force, and the invaders of the resource wars. This is the hidden curriculum of the administrative manual, and the unnoted norm for most educators, reduced to being unwitting missionaries for capitalism. Resisters exist, from the outright refusal of a dozen Chicago teachers who overturned the use of the CASE test, to the many networks of teacher resistance online--and to those few Marines who refused to go to Iraq (Fairtest, Kohn, California-Resisters, Chicago Substance, Rouge Forum News).
Some courageous teachers will take conscious action, and matter. This is especially true of teachers positioned in the poorest sectors of society, particularly black and immigrant communities, where the educators can use their skills to listen, to discover the wisdom usually inherent in people at the shortest end of the stick. But resisters are now few in number, unorganized, with no guiding strategy.
As the oil fields will, for some time, remain in US hands, the curricula in the US will remain in the hands of those who need the ignorance required by the fog of war. So will the tests. If this is to be tested in life, resistance of all kinds, from teaching sensitively despite the Big Tests, to home visits, to personal friendship, on to test boycotts, and freedom schooling, must deepen.
What changes this? On the one hand, daily life changes it. Workers typically hate their jobs and have two lives, one at work and another at home. Their struggles for time, wages, benefits, freedom, and creativity, are incessant, and opposed to their employers, everywhere in the world. Neighborliness smashes into the mantra of capitalism: Take care of yourself. Sexuality as a matter of pleasure contradicts the dictates of the fundamentalists who hate their bodies.
Daily life, however, just reproduces the ensnared problems of daily life. What changes this, on the other hand, is a vision of what might be, and action based on what is. Care, love, is the link in the chain that offers a way to see ideas which have not yet been lived. Care, personal integrity tied to close personal friendships, offers the base for courage. In intense times, people define themselves for life. Care is also ground for locating oneself in the social pyramid. Care is especially compelling to school workers, whose products are not Pintos-but usually hopeful kids who may not be natural-born lie-detectors, but who have a sense of: That's not fair!.
This, in turn, requires organization and the discipline-against opportunism-- that it takes to overcome and go beyond a ruthless, organized, opposition that personifies the relentless struggle for profits and exploitation: capitalism (Perlman, Reproduction of Everyday Life, on line).
Rich Gibson, San Diego State University
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES