The Education of the Secretary of Education

I was watching that train wreck that was Betsy DeVos on 60 Minutes and it struck me that not only is DeVos not bright but how her lack of curiosity (fitting for a Dept of Education head) is tied to and propelled by both her class status and to her deeply abiding and troubling allegiance to a broken, quasi-religious dogma.
Being born and then marrying into filthy rich status as a white person, she has never had to work a real day in her life and (like her boss) never gets told no. While she’s a philanthropist, she has no need to come in contact with the real world outside of superficial photo ops with black children. She can have her perch and live there comfortably unbothered by the effects of poverty, racism, ableism, or the messy masses.
The other point is her faithfulness to an ideology that can be be broken down into two words: Individual & Choice. DeVos has taken Margaret Thatcher’s catchphrase “There is no society, only individuals” and declared it her life verse, a suitable model to run the entire educational system upon. Doing such allows her to not take seriously nor really consider systemic injustice: whether that be sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, or classism, it doesn’t really matter because we’re all *just* people.
DeVos believes in the neoliberal maxim that the free market is the solution for each and every ailment. In this market framing, the consumer is allowed to make choices between various brands, types, sizes, smells, flavors. The more choices a consumer has, the more likely the consumer can make a better choice to fit their individualist and highly-unique branded lifestyle. It follows from this that the more choices one has, the more likely that person will make the right, fully-informed decision. Herein lies the importance of allowing Nazis to have a platform as it gives another choice for the citizen to accept or reject. It goes without saying that there is no actual solution proffered, just variations.
As if a choice between Frosted Flakes with Extra Fibre (TM) or Granola Raisin Bran can truly offer life. Its ridiculousness should be evident to anyone who isn’t a fanatic, but Free Marketism is a very profitable and dynamic fundamentalist religion with strong in-roads into Christianity. It’s pretty obvious that Betsy DeVos is a true believer in Christian Free Marketism.
Put these two factors together, this unearthed class status and strict dogma along with a general incuriosity of the world and how it works, and who needs data or findings? Who could possibly question this notion that school choice is always preferable to public schooling? Like when she called Historically Black Colleges & Universities “pioneers of school choice.” It’s so self-evidently obvious that there can be no questioning, right? Who needs to study whether it works, because it has to work. And who needs to study the issues and come prepared to an interview with, say, a nationally-televised news magazine or the entire senate chambers, when you have dogmatic soundbites to repeat. Soundbites such as:
  • “Empowering… to make choices” – Except that choices in and of themselves aren’t empowering. Why not “empowering… with resources, with money, with access, with direct connections to power”? Why is the only option to remove individual children “stuck” in “poor-performing” schools (or “bad schools”) rather than improve the actual school itself through funding and access to resources?
  • “We should be invested and funding in students, not in… institutions.” – What is it you think institutions are? If you honestly believe that institutions don’t serve individuals, please get the fuck out of the public life and certainly out of government.
  • “Government overreach.” – Being a neoliberal adherent and a Trumpist, it should be no surprise that one of DeVos’s principal jobs is to oversee deregulation. Somehow, protecting vulnerable students is seen as an error on the side of Big Government, rather than a truly positive aspect.
  • “All students [should] have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment.” – She repeats this mantra three times. And it works, except for black, trans, disabled, and sexual-assault survival students I guess? In a system where only white, straight, cis-male, wealthy students (and investors) count…

On another note, DeVos is often talked about as the most-hated member of Trump’s cabinet. And while she is bad (and I wouldn’t want to rule out misogyny as a factor in the degree of criticism against her), I have to wonder why this same light isn’t directed at the KKKeebler Klansman, Jeff Sessions, or the Captain Planet Villain in charge of the EPA, Scott Pruitt. Why her? And I think a large part is because she is directly opposing a largely mobilized sector of public employees and that she appears in public spaces much more frequently than her counterparts, so there are more opportunities for direct confrontation. But I don’t think that we should kid ourselves that DeVos isn’t a more intensely evil (if not less equipped) form of an enemy to public schools and the children and adults they serve than Chicago’s own Arne Duncan, her predecessor under Obama.

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Suppression, Revolution, and Commodification: On Baby Boomers and Millennials

The ongoing flame wars between Greedy Baby Boomers and Entitled Millennials is not only  tiring (its roots lay some 25 years ago when mainstream media dubbed us Gen X’ers “Slackers”), it lacks deeper analysis in need of some old fashioned dialectical materialism. Because the problem isn’t so much the people, but the conditions.

Let’s start with the coming-of-age of Boomers. The Post-War years brought along unheralded prosperity due in no small part to added productivity in the global economy (what with the US sitting out most of this war between Empires only to clean out on top at the tail end) and a large swath of the population missing. Semi-skilled labor, due to the work or threats of unionization, finally delivered living wages and a level of comfort unknown for the Working Class. Or, shall we say, the White Working Class, as Black and other non-White populations were denied entrance to many of the mechanizations of prosperity–such as drastically increased wages, accessible higher education, and the expansion of home ownership in the sprawling suburbs. The fact that the suburbs were sprawling and that home ownership there was so available was the work of a federal government once again expanding the terms of settler-colonialism through the mechanisms of the nation-state including reduced fuel prices and expanded interstate projects coupled with a new form of Homestead Act.

The benefits of the White Working Class mediated a distinction brought about by commerce and the bourgeois government that would lead to the creation of a large and placated White Middle Class to buffer against dispirited Working Class people. Higher social mobility through the GI Bill coupled with geometric mobility, allowing a large White Flight from the urban areas, where the new White Middle Class and industries were able to transport wealth gotten through wage theft of the working class Black and White people of the city. The same remnant working class people were stagnated in urban ghettos such as, in Chicago, Uptown or Bronzeville. Meanwhile, higher-paid White WC and Black Entrepreneurs moved to their own racially and class-segregated neighborhoods to act as yet another buffer. Because White Supremacist Capitalism thrives on buffers and interruptions. And so it’s important to note that any critique of the Baby Boomer generation as a whole is woefully inadequate, as it misses many of those purposefully left behind in this new ecology.

This social and capital mobilization was imprinted for the benefit of welcoming a White Baby Boom for the manufacturing and consumption of consumptive goods, the bread and butter of American capitalism. The rising Middle Class Baby Boomers were raised in this atmosphere, but globally and locally something else was happening: revolution was in the air. While many people give White hippies (the children of the rising White Middle Class in the US) credit for the burgeoning revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s, the reductionism is particularly nationalistic and racist. Revolutions against imperialist capitalism were happening throughout the under-developed world and were finally coming to a head in the 1950’s. Whether China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, or India and the entirety of the European colonized in Africa, people of color throughout the world were unshackling themselves from Western hegemony, often at great cost. The Washington, Belgian, and corporate influence could be felt at the peak of the bullet and bomb through Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Black America in the US South and Urban North. Other formerly-colonized began to rise up and stand their ground, including the Chicano and American Indian Movements while women (famously-but-not-solely White women in the US) were simultaneously struggling for social, economic, and sexual liberation (as all three are interconnected).

It was in this frame of the liberatory organizing of the Black and Brown proletariat that the occasional White ally would arise and, due to the power of Whiteness, would somehow amass a substantial amount of the credit. While not in the same vein as the FBI taking credit for dismantling lynching White Supremacist vigilante groups during the Civil Rights Movement, it’s clear that dues owed White allies such as the Weathermen during this time may be overrepresented.

Yet, the rise of radicalism in White Middle Class Baby Boomers was an effect of the times that were a-changing. Being White and affluent, they had more direct influence and it was harder to ignore these would-be class-and-race-traitors (in the most complimentary of tones). The way they would be silenced would be different from the silencing of Black and Brown radicals throughout the world and domestically. Key leaders of the Black civil rights, anti-war, and liberation movements were assassinated and the movements as a whole underwent severe repression on all fronts that the full lethal force of the federal and local police (and aiding vigilantes) and judicial system as well as economic depression, psychological and social warfare. It’s increasingly easy to argue that they had a hand in flooding our neighborhoods with illicit drugs and guns (while maintaining .the strict prison industry that severely punishes Black and Brown communities for obtaining or holding such).

The White Middle Class retreated back to the life they were raised to occupy, to take over the mechanizations of industry. To further expand the unsustainable economic growth they sought, they helped to usher in Ronald Reagan’s Neoliberal state (aka, the Final Stage of Capitalism).  They commodified public works and turned stable and previously accessible goods into get-rich schemes. They dismantled the welfare state, the collective organizing, and the infrastructure which had enabled their transition into the comfortable Middle Class. They also helped to dismantle Affirmative Action which had temporarily expanded a Black Middle Class.

So this exponential growth necessitated the dismantling of the means to that growth. Once the capitalist class established enough buffers and re-stole all the wealth they could (in a time of tremendous economic growth, the top ten percent came away with 99% of it, leaving the working and middle class with one percent) while exponentially increasing the cost of living.  The very stolen wealth has become its own buffer. And the Petty Bourgeois White Baby Boomers, who have already entered into a comfortable retirement, seem blissfully unaware that the next generation faces the void of the disparity between the standards of living of the Baby Boomer generation and the cost of living in the new millennium.

You see, a dialectical materialism will tell you that it’s not Boomers or Millennials you should be angry with, it’s Capitalism and Whiteness.

School Priorities: Protect the Assets

What I will say following is out of the deepest love and respect for the students, teachers, parents, and administration and staff of the Chicago Public Schools, as a former or current participant in all but the latter two categories.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is going to invest in CPS next year by an additional $80 million from City Hall. Did I say “invest”? I’m sorry, I mean, rather than restructuring the contract with the Chicago Police Department to remove its presence from within the schools and save the city 80,000,000 dollars a year, he’s going to put that money back into the School-to-Prison Pipeline, diverting it from other needed resources.

His plan has always been to take money earmarked for schools and children and give it to capitalists. He does this through expanding the privatization of schools (which doubles private investments within a seven year period); enforcing standardized tests (enriching the testing and curriculum industry while stunting student-driven pedagogy); expanding the hyper-localization of taxes that is known as TIF zones where half a billion dollars a year that should go to schools and parks is redirected to private investors and developers; and shutting down fifty schools in poor Black and Brown communities by ultimatum before selling off half of the properties apart from the input of the community.

Emanuel brought in a CEO for CPS, Forrest* Claypool, who knows so little about education that he needs a Chief Education Officer simply because his main skill–and the reason he was brought in–is dismantling unions. It’s instructive, in fact, that there is a CEO and similar positions heading the operations at the Chicago Public Schools. It says much about the corporation model that neoliberal school systems seek to emulate and where their heads are at. It’s not in the interest of the children. No, in this model, students are no less than points of profit, items to be consumed. Teachers are merely overpaid workers who must be crushed and brought to heel.

Rahm fired an award-winning and high-performing principal for challenging his agenda. Meanwhile, special education classes and students are left to the wind.

But at least they’ll still have police occupation in their supposed safe-haven. The same police that are woefully untrained in even basic developmental psychology. The same police who ride around wearing Trump MAGA hats.

But that’s what police are for, no? To protect private property. The neoliberalization of public schooling is derived from the commodification of students. Students are assets and police in the schools are making sure the assets don’t step out of line. That’s for the bourgeoisie to do.

 


*Yes, that first name is apt.

 

The Heresy of a White Supremacist Capitalist God in the heart of White Evangelicalism

Franklin Graham is a heretic.

I’m in the middle of writing a book on the connections between Evangelicalism and economic politics – whether that be Neoliberalism or more recently neofascism – and as such, I’m getting even more familiar with the central characters who loom large in the scope. Guys like D.L. Moody, Bill Bright and of course Billy Graham. As I’ve argued before, I don’t think that Billy’s son/apple Franklin falls far from the tree. If anything, Franklin is a grotesque caricature of his father; maybe the Id to Billy’s Ego. Where Billy cared about respectability and closeness to power, Franklin sees himself as the personification of power and thus dumps all pretext to respectability. He amasses power through politicizing his charities and evangelist stage – both of which he received through the work of being his father’s son (notice the gender. Not daughter).

This may come as a shock to many who follow the second-generation celebrity evangelist on Facebook. He is the figurehead of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, one of the largest and most respected Evangelical organizations in the world, as well as the charity Samaritan’s Purse, after all – two organizations with deep pasts, deeper connections, and even deeper pocketbooks in American Christianity. His father led many souls, as they say, to Christ through his campaigns (crudely called “Crusades” in the early years). And his Facebook feed, while often controversial, is full of seemingly innocuous statements pressing his readers into choosing heaven today while they still have a chance – as if they weren’t already converts. Even such seemingly easy political targets such as the Jill Stein-led voter recount and the death of Fidel Castro are often used for such pretext.

For wit:

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a statement that caught my eye. He said, “Comrade Castro will live forever.” That is true. All of us have a soul that is going to live forever in one of two places—Heaven or Hell. What we do here on earth determines where we will spend eternity. The only way to Heaven is by accepting God’s plan for our salvation—believing in His Son Jesus Christ and following Him as Lord. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Do you know where you will spend eternity?

This incredibly awkward transition was his father’s special formula: Look for relevant news articles having to do with life and death, redirect and turn it into a soul-winning question. This would be awkward in less capable hands than Billy’s. Make no mistake, Franklin is tremendously less capable than Billy. What’s almost remarkable here is that Graham doesn’t seem to use this opportunity to further his Partisan Hyper-Capitalist White Supremacy Churchianity Yawn.

This time.

Except that he had already talked extensively about the Evils of Castro in ways that seemingly celebrated his death, that exaggerated the hatred of Castro and erase the material positive he’s done, and that incompetently confuse Castro’s policies with those of liberal American politicians—not just self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders, but also Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, and most surprisingly, Hillary Clinton. None of these choices have ever called for radical redistribution of wealth or for workers to seize the means of production, but truth doesn’t stop Franky anyway.

Fidel Castro has died at age 90. Loved by few, hated by millions, his communist revolution deposed a dictator, but ushered in a socialist police state that drove the entire Cuban nation into complete poverty and oppression. And to think that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Keith Ellison and others wanted socialism as a model for our country today! And why didn’t they win? God—that’s why. The church prayed and came out by the millions and voted. Praise God! And may we all as free Americans give Him glory, great things He has done! This is why it is so important to vote. There’s another election in just two years—Christians need to stay involved and run for office at every level. The socialists are regrouping in great number right now, and they will come back strong, organized, and more determined than ever. This battle isn’t over.

Graham thanks God, the power of prayer, and most importantly White Evangelicals for delivering a White Supremacist White House.

Notice the pattern, though. First Graham has an emotional and irrational outburst about a group of people (Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters) or policy (socialism, liberalism, American military exceptionalism) or even defending himself from charges (ie, xenophobia). Then he alternates with blanket calls to heavenly matters, such as prayers or altar calls reminding people about eternity.

For the Religious Right, talking about heaven and hell and the goodness of God is more than a distraction. It is a totem for all that is good. To talk about heaven and how to get there distinguishes a person as Good, and thus his political and social tastes as Good. Franklin Graham should be trusted because he talks so much about heaven and God; how could he be devious or deceptive?

Additionally, this disembodied heavenly talk is also a placemat for justice. If and when there is injustice for the racial/sexual/gender/economic minority[i], it is nothing compared to the glories of heaven and the tortures of hell. Here, heaven is robbed of embodied meaning and replaced with a hollow hope, specifically vocalized in order to maintain status and stability.

This is how they are heretical. Jesus was explicit about earthly matters of justice in an age and region of imperial and military oppression, colonization, and exploitation. Jesus followed the prophets’ lead in calling on the government to apply justice, to feed, to care for the widows and the fatherless, to welcome the stranger.

The literal products, progenies, and beneficiaries of White Evangelicalism – Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. – are men who believe that God is not only a white American  capitalist, but the Most Capitalist of Capitalists. The most American of Americans. The Most Xenophobe of Xenophobes. The Most White of Whites.

God is a neo-nazi, a fascist, a white supremacist who values property over people and runs a charity collecting worthless trinkets to entice poor people into his version of an unjust, decrepit heaven.

Franklin Graham is the incarnational image of his own God. Franklin sees capitalism, whiteness, and American Christian culture as intrinsically good and worthy to be praised and spread. He uses his charity and pulpit to extol his praises upon it. Praise Whiteness now, for when you die, you will come face to face with Whiteness and what will you have said about it and its son, White Jesus, Capitalist of Heaven and Earth?

Graham’s gospel is bad news for the outcasts Jesus surrounded himself with.

I cannot see the Jesus of the Gospels being enthralled or even making sense of Franklin Graham’s picture of him. Of course, all Christians somewhat make Jesus in their own image—but any image of Jesus that doesn’t start with him hanging out with misfits and oddballs and ends with him criminalized and literally hanging with the wretched of the earth and the rebellious (before a bodily resurrection) is missing key elements.

If Jesus assembled his disciples today in America, I imagine he’d include a black trans teenager, an undocumented Latinx mother, and a repentant financier or credit agent who gave away his ill-gotten wealth. Trump would refuse to give away all that he owned and be turned away. I see Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr, and their colleagues colluding with the state to retain and expand their power by planting evidence on Jesus and betraying him to Death Row.

How did the Son of Humans die? He was too beautiful and brave for the political religious order.

 

 

[i] Not numerically, but in terms of power differentials

Luke, Caged: The Joy of Black Love and the Agony of Police Reform

luke-cage-daredevil

Lemme start this spoiler-filled review/hotpiece with the following caveat: I love superhero shows in general. Marvel/Netflix’s Luke Cage was good in most respects. While some reviewers worry about the conservative nature of Cage, you have to take into account that Power Man was no more going after “black-on-black” crime than Daredevil goes after “white-on-white” crime. By nature, superhero stories are inherently conservative in that they focus on the power of a select group of people fighting evil people (who tend to be poor, at least on the street level), rather than fighting evil structures, and rather than focusing the liberation and radical empowerment of the many. In this vein, LC is not any more so conservative than Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man, and in many ways, much less so.

A few other thoughts I had while watching the series.

One, in the Black Lives Matter Age, there is a lot of talk about Black Death, particularly among fellow non-Black folks, but there is not so much talk about Black Life and what that means. The Harlem of Luke Cage, however, is unapologetically Black. It is breathing in the blues, jazz, hip-hop, sports-talk, trash-talk, barbershops, and shared history of Black people in Harlem and throughout the US. The show breathes love of Black people, Black business, Black culture, Black minds, Black ingenuity, Black sex (despite the awful coffee jokes). Black love. These are not just bodies in the street, but lived lives.

Add to the mix that the blackness experience is not singular here. Early on, we have three different perspectives for what it means to love Black Harlem in a White Supremacist Capitalist world: Cottonmouth’s with money, his cousin Councilwoman Mariah’s with political power, and Pop the Barber’s with interpersonal relationships (later we also hear from good-but-suspicious cop Misty Knight about protecting from bullies using the law, but, well…). Unlike later villain Diamondback, none of these characters is cartoonish in their perspectives. They all have redeeming qualities not only with their personalities, but also with their perspectives. They’re all trying with what they know and how they exceed.

Two, after the police conduct a racialized stop-and-frisk brutalization of Harlem youth culminating in one of them being beaten in an interrogation room, I felt abjectly cheated. There was no justice for Lonnie Wilson – who we mutedly met in the first scenes – despite his face being torn up and bloodied by the police. And while that one cop – a bad seed – was put on leave pending an investigation, the commanders and supervisors who ran and sanctioned this operation and who left this child alone in the hands of this violent man in a tight room were free to run about their day, making justifications for their racism.

Three, under the direction of Councilwoman Mariah Dillard at a rally in her nightclub, the BLM protests are completely undone. No, contrary to White imagination, they do not turn violent – at least in the sense of destroying property. Instead, politician-cum-underworld master “Black Mariah” turns their rage against the police force into one of empowering the police with even more deadly weapons. She reminds her audience that the real threat is not the police but Cage, whom in a bit of J. Jonah Jameson-inspired blurb she calls a superpowered “menace.” Councilwoman/gun-runner Dillard appeases the conscience of racist police by reassuring listeners that the police were merely shook up themselves because they too were afraid of LC. If only they had better weapons, the reasoning explicitly goes, they would leave us good people alone.

But that’s not how the police referred to the “blacks and Hispanics” of Harlem. “The good people in Harlem have no problem with me. Just the assholes.” But the police weren’t even shaking down known troublemakers (which should have been questioned anyway). Apparently, being a young black or brown male in Harlem makes you an asshole, worthy of being hurt. Blackness means not only should you be feared, but that you should fear.

By nature, superhero stories suspend disbelief. But only so far. We can never trust the physics put before us, but we want to follow the psychics – the characters’ believability – of these stories. We need to believe that these are human beings – that they are us in a world where Einstein and Newton are tossed out the window. The fact that these protesters sided with Mariah in arming rather than disarming the police was not just poor writing – it was a punch to the gut. Are people really this dumb? Can we bend realism that far?

Can a group protesting police brutality against black people really go to demanding that the police be given more resources for their victimization? And then I remembered that’s how most politicians are spinning the Black Lives Matter movement now – whether they support Blue Lives Matter laws or they tell protesters that they need to vote, not boo. Hell, compare what the neoliberal wing of the wider BLM movement did with Campaign Zero with the much more roots-deep Movement for Black Lives.