Glen Ford discusses the origins of the corporate assault on public education, and the role of black political leaders

A few weeks ago, in post about the complete dismantling of public education as we know it in Philadelphia, I quoted a publication called the Black Agenda Report. The article that I’d excerpted, as you may recall, dealt primarily with the curious silence of black civil rights leaders. Here, for those of you who might have missed it, is that excerpt again.

…The black political class is utterly silent and deeply complicit. Even local pols and notables who lament the injustice of local austerity avoid mentioning the ongoing wars and bailouts which make these things “necessary.” A string of black mayors have overseen the decimation of Philly schools. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and other traditional “civil rights leaders” can always be counted on to rise up indignant when some racist clown makes an inappropriate remark about the pretty black First Lady and her children.

But they won’t grab the mic for ordinary black children. They won’t start and won’t engage the public in a conversation about saving public education. It’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care very much about their funding, which comes from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, from Wal-mart and the Walton Family Foundation, from the corporations that run charter charter schools and produce standardized tests.

To name just one payment to one figure, Rev. Al Sharpton took a half million dollar “loan” from charter school advocates in New York City, after which he went on tour with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of standardized testing, charter schools and educational privatization. Bill Gates delivered the keynote speech at the latest gathering of the National Urban League. And the nation’s two big teachers’ unions, NEA and AFT have already endorsed Barack Obama’s re-election, and will funnel him gobs of union dues as campaign contributions, despite his corporate-inspired “Race To The Top” program which awards federal education funds in proportion to how many teachers are fired and replaced by inexperienced temps, how many schools are shut down, and how many charter schools exempt from meaningful public oversight are established and granted public funds…

The reason that I mention this is that someone just sent me a link to a YouTube video in which Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, goes even further on the subject, suggesting that conservative think tanks, like Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation, have been working since the mid-1990s to cultivate a cadre of young, black, Democratic leaders, who, while outwardly appearing progressive, promote the wedge issue of school privatization. Their goal, he contends, is clear. They want to destabilize the Democratic base, which has historically fought for worker rights, increased workplace safety, environmental protection and any number of other causes that negatively impact the corporate bottom line. And, they’ve identified school privatization as the holy grail of wedge issues. As Ford points out, the privatization of public schools not only further enriches corporate America, but it also breaks unions, which have historically formed the base of the progressive movement. And, perhaps most importantly, the end result is that poor, overwhelmingly-Democratic populations are less educated… Here, with much more, is Ford.

So, what do you think? Is this the stuff of conspiracy theories, or does Ford have a point? Is school privatization, as he suggests, an astroturf issue, created in a conservative think tank, in order to drive a wedge between African Americas, who legitimately feel as though public schools aren’t meeting the needs of their families, and their historic allies in the teachers union? And, is Ford right when he portrays Newark Mayor, Cory Booker, as a black Manchurian candidate?

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  1. dragon
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    On Cory Booker
    from Steve Kornacki at Salon:
    It’s easy to forget, but before the world met Barack Obama in 2004, many believed that the first black president would be Booker. Armed with Stanford, Yale and Oxford degrees and all of the invaluable personal connections he forged at those institutions, he set out in the mid-1990s to craft a uniquely appealing political biography, swearing off lucrative job offers to move to Newark’s Central Ward and take up residence in public housing. Within a few years, he won a seat on the City Council, where he showed an early and consistent knack for self-generated publicity, most notably with a ten-day hunger strike in the summer of 1999.

    And for those not willing to watch the whole Glen Ford video:

    Booker’s anointment as a prince in the Hard Right pantheon is based on his support of public vouchers for private schools. This “movement,” the creation of right-wing paymasters like the Bradley Foundation, of Milwaukee, and the Walton Family Foundation, Bentonville, Arkansas, hopes to drive a wedge between urban Blacks and the teachers unions. Without amicable relations between these two Democratic pillars, the Party, as we know it, is finished.

    Cory Booker meets future Chris Christie education secretary Bret Schundler.

    Booker’s pal Schundler knows his way around that kind of money. He used a big chunk of a $500,000 Walton Foundation gift to his Scholarships for Jersey City Children non-profit to pay for advertisements featuring himself, during an election campaign. Walton’s executives didn’t object. Apparently, what’s good for their candidate is good for the kids.
    After establishing their non-profit, the two Republicans and Booker went on a pilgrimage to Milwaukee, Mecca for school “choice” money, where the Bradley Foundation was concocting its newest invention: the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).
    Naturally, Schundler couldn’t join. But Booker became a member of the board.


    The Manhattan Institute, home of a repulsive roster of right-wing writers and speakers, and recipient of $250,000 in Bradley money in 2000, invited Booker to one of its power lunches, where he effortlessly dropped Right-speak code words.
    “The old paradigm,” he told the troglodytes, “was an entitlement program, in which large big city mayors controlled race-based machines.
    “What that was really about was capturing big entitlements from the state and federal government and divvying them up among their cronies or among the people within their organizations to protect and preserve their organizations. It was about distributing wealth.”
    In just two sentences, Booker managed to stimulate the Right’s erogenous zones by mentioning three of the phrases they most love to hate: “race-based,” “entitlements,” and “distributing wealth.” This guy is good, very good. He speaks two distinct languages – one to the people he wants to elect him mayor of Newark, the other to the financially endowed, whose mission in life is to resist redistribution of wealth to race-based groups that think the poor could use some entitlements.

  2. night watch
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    I want to say that this fellow is being paranoid, but I suspect that he’s 100% right. Our opponents are smarter than we are, more strategic, and more focused on the long term. They’ve been laying the ground work for decades and it’s paying off.

  3. Greg Pratt
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    What Ford outlines is how to organize with gobs of money (“astroturf” movements).

    What we need is to be aware that the other side will fight with their money and political nepotism. Some on our side might try this tack as well. But….our side has no money (relative to our opponents)!

    Who are they? School privatization advocates (the mission of which is to make more money by “educating”)
    Who are we? Public school advocates (the mission of which is to teach the children who appear before them)

    We are going to have to organize the old-fashioned way.

    We keep talking to people, sharing and experiencing. And they will come along.

  4. Edward
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I’m about half way through and I feel like crawling back into bed and pulling the covers up over my head. I know this video should motivate me to fight back, but instead it just makes me want to give up.

  5. j
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Don’t worry, Arne Duncan will fix everything.

  6. Kristin
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink


  7. anonymous
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I thought that public education was sacrosanct. Our nation, I thought, was built on the notion that an educated populace was in our best interest, and that our union was stronger when people had the opportunity to raise themselves up, through hard work and education, to join the middle class. The fact that anyone would seek to undermine that, in my opinion, is treasonous.

  8. misoma
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    It would seem that Booker and company have got the “get paid” part down, but not so much the “do good” part. They need to call Rha Goddess for another session.

  9. EOS
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink


    What part of our foundational document, the Constitution, talks about public funded education? What part requires a cabinet level Department of Education? Where do you get this idea of a sancrosact public education? Thin air?

  10. Tom
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    EOS: I want to hear what you prefer. Of course, the Constitution doesn’t include a lot of things. So what? You think that’s good enough to protect poor people from unaccountable private tyranny? Or maybe unaccountable private tyranny is perfectly natural to you.

  11. EOS
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    No. No. What’s your point?

  12. John Galt
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Poor kids can learn more working in a mine for a year than they can going through 12 years of “government” school.

  13. Knox
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I was watching Fox News earlier today and they were comparing and contrasting Obama and Romney on education. They were focusing on Obama’s decision to fight a voucher program in Washington, DC. They were saying that, by doing this, he was perpetuating the segregation of the public school system, and ensuring that poor black students couldn’t advance. “He’s keeping these students from vouchers that would allow them to access private schools.” They don’t mention that the vouchers would cover a fraction of what a decent private education would cost. They also didn’t mention that the amounts of these vouchers would be less than is expended per child in the public school system. I don’t see how you compete against that. The facts are on our site, but how do you fight back when the other side is saying that Obama is trying to keep poor people from private schools? It’s not something that you can respond to with a single sentence.

  14. Posted May 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    The only thing that I would say is sort of paranoid sounding is this:
    “…despite his corporate-inspired “Race To The Top” program which awards federal education funds in proportion to how many teachers are fired and replaced by inexperienced temps, how many schools are shut down, and how many charter schools exempt from meaningful public oversight are established and granted public funds.”

    I agree that charters tend to be exempt from meaningful public oversight but I’m not sure I agree with the thing about firing teachers and replacing them with inexperienced temps. He is likely talking about Teach for America? I have read about Race to the Top but I’m certainly no expert in it, but it really doesn’t call for teacher firing/replacement/mandate to open charter schools?

    Does it???

    Fuck it, I’m going back to translating Jive.

  15. Greg Pratt
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    No it doesn’t explicitly call for it. However, it creates an environment where school districts implement austerity measures.

    Obama/Duncan et al. famously applauded the firing of Central Falls Rhode Island teachers:

    While this “Race to the Top” program is still in place, Arne and Barry have been very deliberately tacking away from direct messaging on firing teachers.

    RE: EOS and strict construction: in the immortal words of Putney Swope, “I never chase foul balls.”

  16. Posted May 25, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Greg, thanks. By not explicitly saying it, of course, they can be all, “It’s an unintended consequence…oops! Didn’t mean for it to happen!” Or not…I guess they could also just shrug and laugh and laugh and laugh as they use $100 bills to light up cigars with their charter school buddies.

  17. jean Henry
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    My republican brother in law has been keen on charter schools and vouchers since the early Engler days. I will say that it is clear that he truly believes they are a solution to public schools systems that are non-functional. He lives in Baltimore. Served on a foundation that raised money for the schools. I will also say he’s wrong. That the problem is more deeply structural and private schools gut communities– part of a legacy of splitting up community cohesiveness in poor areas (by deems and reps). Still, there’s no easy fix. I see no evidence that the unions have one. I don;t see them advocating for the kids. The truth is that most B’more public schools sucked (and teachers still under paid) back when there was lots of money flowing to them. They were corrupt and financially dysfunctional. There is no longer lots of money flowing to them. They are still corrupt and financially dysfunctional. My brother in law believes that competition raises the bar for all students. It hasn’t worked out that way but at least some kids have options they didn’t before. (And some of them are good.)In giving them options, we essentially pull the plug on community schools. But hell I wouldn’t want my kid to go to those schools. Maybe if private schools were banned, all schools would improve. California once had the best public school system in the country. They gutted it by putting a freeze on property taxes. Now all the privileged send their kids to private schools– spending the same money they would have on prop taxes. This, in the Bay Area too— chock full of liberals. I don;t have answers. I have some guesses. And I’m willing to listen to all suggestions without making assumptions about intent.

    I don;t think teachers are adequately compensated. I also think they need regular 360 degree anonymous performance evaluations conducted by outside entities. And I think tenure needs to go away. Who the hell else gets that? I’d also like to see school’s state and federal allocations established way earlier. The current system is a lot of work. They need to LEAN the whole system. Its wonky. And everybody is resentful and inconsiderate of the other parties. I’d really like those kids that are being warehoused to walk out in unison. A nationwide protest demanding to be seen. Because they are a political football. And they deserve our attention. If the unions want to be part of the solution, great. But, in order to do that they are going to need to get creative. They are not sacrosanct anymore in my book. They just look like another power structure to me. Maybe if the kids were given their own union— advocates with negotiating capacity. We need to move forward. Everything on the table. And talk to the enemy. Republicans get some stuff right. To ‘other’ them with conspiracy theories etc just further exacerbates the problem. They don;t want to tank poor people. That’s absurd. They just don;t see their own privilege. (Like plenty of liberals) It seems obvious to me that their economic philosophy would support the idea of privatizing schools as a legitimate solution. Hell, sometimes it works— just not usually for poor folk.

    Ok, diatribe over. One last thing though RE Booker. A dude at the BALLE conference who was marketing a community purchasing card had worked 7 years for the guy. He said, “He gets a lot done. And that means he lies. Through his teeth. All effective politicians lie. Period.” Ouch. Guess there ain’t no such thing as a superman.

    Lord knows there aren’t any easy answers, and we are doing a truly shitty job of taking take of this nations children.

  18. Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I hope you are coming to the Beer with Bloggers, Jean! (If you are local, of course :)).

    I agree with you that charters rip apart communities. I used to teach in a sweet old (1917) school in SW Detroit. It’s going to be closed this year and there will, for the first time in 95 years, not be a public school in the neighborhood. As far as I know, most of the kids in the neighborhood did go to the school (there was a small Arabic charter school, and some of the Arabic parents sent their kids there, but it wasn’t a huge amount). Now these same parents have a community group saying they won’t send their kids (north/east/west, sorry forget the direction) of Michigan Avenue to the new school. The Hispanic parents also have a community group and they are pissed that the school is leaving their largely Hispanic neighborhood. Kids who used to walk to school now have to be bused and a beautiful, three story building will sit empty and likely end up on a “ruin porn” site in a few years.

    Me, I blame charter schools mainly because I really have issue with them but also because we had private schools back in “my day” (late 70s/80s) and the local schools were still thriving. NO ONE wanted to go to private school and so that was a great threat by our parents (my parent threatened some private school somewhere, forget which one, and I was absolutely terrified and stopped mouthing off…at least for that year).

    I also agree with your union comments, but with some reservations. I am not a fan of tenure, so long as it goes away on the college level as well. See here is my issue…we love to take from K-12 teachers but rarely speak on the college level. I had some of the worst teachers I have ever had at the college level and some flaunted their tenure like they were at an orgy waving around their schlongs. At my ISD, we do have tenure, but no “bumping rights”, so I as a newly hired teacher could replace someone with 25 years of experience if I am a better fit for the job. (Note though that tenure is a state issue, not a union one). Unions DO protect kids in that they mandate smaller class sizes (or caseloads, in my case), guarantee classroom teachers planning periods and lunch breaks (which my charter school friend does not always get and I’ve seen her pain) and provides for things that may seem silly, but take sick days…I get pink eye every year without fail. I like knowing that I can take my two days without worry of reprisal. This, I believe, is ultimately better for the kids because a TeacherPatti who feels safe is a happy and more productive TeacherPatti. (If you think I am talking crazy–which I often do–I’m really not. When I worked in the legal field, I got really sick and was threatened with termination if I didn’t return to work immediately, which I did. It was awful and I was so demoralized that I ended up bursting into tears in the office of the probate court clerk. Yeah I know, real awesome.)

    I didn’t know that about California and that makes me sad. The same thing is happening in Detroit. The parents who can, shuttle their kids elsewhere. This takes away money from DPS and DPS falls further in the hole. The charters either don’t do what the parents want or they kick the kid out or they close or whatever and the kid ends up bouncing around from school to school.

    Anyway, now I need to stop my diatribe and get my ass to the farmers’ market! I really hope to see you on Thursday (and everyone else :))

  19. BP
    Posted September 29, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    This deserves a lot more attention.

  20. Gabriel
    Posted January 25, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you for giving this subject the attention that it deserves. One more reason that we absolutely have to get money out of politics. The future of our nation depends on it.

  21. Posted January 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink


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