fresh voices from the front lines of change







One of the most popular shows on TV currently centers on a high school chemistry teacher whose cancer diagnosis and lack of adequate health insurance vault him into a life of crime in the drug trade.

The series takes to an extreme the personal human drama of the main character's predicament – a situation not unlike what millions of Americans experience. But given the way classroom teachers in America are routinely disrespected and dehumanized, it's a wonder that multitudes of them aren't also "breaking bad" and openly defying social decorum and traditional rules to make their grievances heard.

The latest indignity leveled at public school teachers came from NBC and its seasonal "back to school" Education Nation extravaganza that kicks off next week. Rather than an opportunity to make pominent the voices of teachers who do the tough work of educating the nation's children every day, Education Nation foists onto us some of the worst actors who've committed egregious offenses to children and young people.

Miseducation Nation

Education Nation purports to be "a thoughtful, well-informed dialogue with policymakers, thought-leaders, educators, parents and the public, in pursuit of the shared goal of providing every American with an opportunity to achieve the best education in the world."

So who are these "well-informed … thought-leaders" who Education Nation will grace us with?

A scan of the guest list for Education Nation reveals a dearth of practicing classroom teachers – only two at this author's most recent viewing.

Further, Education Nation completely shuns prominent education luminaries such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Jonathan Kozol, Debra Meier, and Diane Ravitch (more about her exclusion later).

Instead, the "experts" Education Nation preferred for its line up tend to be people who are about as far away from the day-to-day reality of the classroom as one can get – including a host of politicians, corporate and foundation leaders, and higher-ed administrators.

One can perhaps forgive the inclusion of Goldie Hawn and M. Night Shyamalan. They are "big names," and they have "education products" to hawk. Ratings matter, of course.

But the inclusion of Goldman-Sachs chairman Lloyd Blankfein raises insult to travesty. While many of Education Nation's guest panelists have troubling track records on education – particularly Joel Klein – none of them rises to the level of the direct harm that Blankfein has meted out to the nation's youngest citizens.

Lloyd Blankfein, Perpetrator of Child Impoverishment

Blankfein started screwing over school children from his position as chairman of one of the world's largest investment firms. In presiding over a culture of corruption that helped fuel the nation's slide into the Great Recession, Blankfein has had a special role in the widespread harming of America's youngest citizens.

The wild speculation promoted by Blankfein and his Wall St. cohorts helped propel millions more children into the ranks of the impoverished. An article from Reuters looked at data from a recent study by the Anne E. Casey foundation and found, "2.4 million more children slipped into poverty from 2005 to 2010."

Another study linked the effects of recession-propelled poverty to "poor child health status" that may have lifelong health implications for children," a "dramatic increase in the number of households classified as 'food insecure,'" and "unprecedented rates" of home foreclosures that result in disrupted home lives and risk of homelessness.

David Berliner – a real education expert unlikely to be on Education Nation's roster – has studied the effects of poverty and economic inequality on school children for years. Berliner has found that the excessive economic inequality that Blankfein and his friends on Wall St. have been the beneficiaries of leads to higher prevalence of mental health problems in children, higher rates of teen pregnancy, increased drug use and criminality, higher rates of dropping out of school, and lower rates of academic achievement.

Rather than helping to rescue poor children from the consequences of poverty, Blankfein and his friends sought to protect their banking and investment firms from the consequences of their financial shenanigans by requesting and receiving a bailout from the taxpayers. Then they rewarded themselves with huge bonuses – $21 million to Blankfein alone.

And Education Nation considers this person someone interested in " providing every American with an opportunity to achieve the best education in the world"?

Lloyd Blankfein, Cheerleader For  Sequestration

If Blankfein's central role in the Great Recession wasn't a disqualifier for being on Education Nation, his cheerleading for the recent across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, should have pushed him off the party list.

When the severe budget cuts imposed by sequester, what my colleague Robert Borosage called "mindless," were being considered, Blankfein played a key role in pushing them toward their eventual passage.

As a collaborator in the Wall St.-created campaign called Fix the Debt, Blankfein lectured Americans on "lowering their expectations" and accepting "shared sacrifice" of the across-the-board cuts.

The results were devastating to schoolchildren.

As ThinkProgress noted, the cuts resulting from sequestration have meant schools opened this year to "larger class sizes, less staff, and fewer upgrades to things like computers or textbooks.

Especially hard hit were schools "near military bases and Native American reservations … special education, programs for English language learners, [and] low-income students" – perhaps as many as 1.2 million disadvantaged students, according to an estimate from the White House.

Cuts to Head Start, the federal program that gives the nation's poorest kids a leg up with early childhood education that readies them for kindergarten, were especially damaging. According to a report in USA Today, Blankfen's marketing effort for sequestration resulted in the largest cuts to Head Start in the program's history, resulting in 57,000 children being denied a place.

The cuts Blankfein championed for the good of the nation also resulted in massive cuts to programs in special education meant to help students who struggle the most. Reductions to federal outlays for special education closed resource rooms where children get help with math, reading, writing and organizational skills. Chopping back federal spending for special education cut the numbers of speech, occupational and physical therapists, social workers, and school psychologists in our schools. And in "many general education classrooms that had two teachers – one for the whole class and one specifically to support students with special needs – the special education teacher has been eliminated."

Not On Education Nation's A List

In all fairness, Education Nation did not completely exclude people who know a thing or two about education. The inclusion of David Kirp is particularly noteworthy. And American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten can certainly speak capably for her constituency.

But while Education Nation's producers made a place for the likes of Lloyd Blankfein, they snubbed prominent experts such as Diane Ravitch.

Ravitch, whose new book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools is currently Amazon's number one seller in the public policy arena, was "invited" to sit in the audience of Education Nation while charlatans like Blankfein are paraded across the nation. She understandably turned them down.

When a wave of emails from Ravitch's multitude of fans swamped the Education Nation in-boxes, the program producers reconsidered and asked Ravitch to be on a panel about testing.

Her reply: "I said no. I want to talk about the theme of the conference, not about testing. I want to talk about the massive misinformation about the condition of U.S. education. I want to talk about the attacks on teachers and public education. I also hate to be the last one to be invited to a party, as an afterthought. I know who was on the A list. I was not one of them."

NBC's decision to put Lloyd Blankfein on Education Nation's A list while shunning classroom teachers and the people who speak for them is unforgivable. It would be completely understandable if teachers chose to "break bad" and crash this party.

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