6.15.2016 In Depth Look


http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36397-thanks-for-your-service-but-don-t-tell-the-kids-about-it-we-need-them-to-enlist – Among the plethora of perspectives that pass through mediated portals about schools and schooling, universities and youth-services, a smattering of presentations that offer useful insight, important data, careful reasoning, beginning with a marvelous expose from TruthOut that reveals the double-standards and fraudulence that characterize so-called public schools’ relations with military recruiters, revelations that fit seamlessly with various recent reports about attempts to demilitarize campuses themselves, such as one piece  from Waging Nonviolence, another  item from L.A.Progressive, and a briefing   from Raw Story about a million and a half students whose schools have cops with guns but no guidance counselors in sight–a set of sketches about a particular aspect of secondary education that mesh well with a more political-economic group of portraits, one  Salon news analysis of the disastrous consequences generally of the ‘turn toward Charter choices,’ another update   from the same source that shows the particular failures of the touted privatization programs in Denver, a third examination  that shows how vulture funds are destroying schools in Puerto Rico, and a fourth  from Mashable that provides an overview of an undocumented valedictorian who has succeeded in spite of all obstacles and commands close attention in her videotaped commencement address; which reportage from high schools then leads naturally to pondering the pass of universities, for example in a brief from Naked Capitalism that shows the long-term negative effects of student-debt peonage, as well as in either another bit   from TruthOut that explains the recent surge in student indebtedness or a summary   from Mint Press News that juxtaposes financial institutions profitability with debt-emiseration among pupils, for example also in a pair  of profferals from In These Times  and Portside that, respectively, speak to the depredations of austerity in Illinois and Massachusetts, and for instance in an offering   from Quillette that makes a powerful point in a faux-libertarian context about hunger and homelessness as a campus problem that outweighs the all-too-presently-popular bugbear of ‘microaggression;’ a litany of trouble and response that dovetails in an important way with a recent investigation   from Jacobin into the problems and prospects of graduate student organizing under the rubric of the ‘House-of-Reuther’ at the United Autoworkers; the aggregate of which reporting and delineation leads naturally enough to a Pacific Standard opinion essay  that makes the overall point that ‘American greatness’ requires excellence in education, a perspective that serves as an invitation to the English ROAR collective to argue  tellingly that only organizing among students themselves can push back against a neoliberal agenda and monopoly-funded institutions that in the final analysis have their own itineraries that could care less what people, scrappy scribes and stalwart citizens alike, want and need: “I was one of the lucky ones — my recruiter never promised me I wouldn’t see combat, or that I could be stationed anywhere I wanted, or that I could get out of my contract any time if I didn’t like what I’d signed up for. He did promise I’d get to go to airborne school and jump out of planes, and that it would be added to my contract after basic training — a line that got some laughs from the drill sergeants when I told them about it — but that’s nothing compared to guaranteeing a soldier they’ll stay out of war.  Yet that was a common tactic, as others I met would tell me.

The deceptive claims made by my recruiter were part of my motivation to visit high schools in lower-income towns and help educate students about the particular ways they might be misled by the recruiters in their schools’ hallways.  These students in particular are heavily relied upon to feed the military all the ‘volunteers’ it needs — as many recruiters attest, it’s much easier to enlist young people who really need all the benefits the military offers them.  All services require recruiters to meet a monthly quota of new enlistees.  In order to meet their quotas, recruiters use all the resources at their disposal (to include an annual recruitment budget upward of $1 billion) to make the military look like the most attractive option available to high schoolers.  In schools where most students are unlikely to be able to afford college, the promise of ‘free’ tuition often does the trick.

When we enlist, we’re given the option of choosing how long we’d like our initial contract to be — usually three to five years.  This gives us the impression that after those three to five years are done, our contract will be completed.  But in the contract’s fine print, if we read it carefully and understand it (which most of us don’t), it specifies that every service member is obligated to serve the needs of the military for a minimum of eight years.  The three to five years we sign up for are the ‘active’ service years, and the rest of the eight are spent in the Inactive Ready Reserve, meaning that any time within those eight years, even if service members have been discharged, they can be called back to serve on active duty if needed.  Recruiters never seem to bring this up.

(After two tours in Baghdad, where I was ‘spinning’ the war and making myself sick, after sexual assault by my ‘military buddies,’ after being let loose with hardly a ‘fare thee well’), (b)y the time I finally got out of the military, six years after enlisting, I hardly had a clue which way was up.  To make matters worse, I’d only had three weeks to get all my out-processing done after getting back from Iraq, due to the stop-loss policy’s having extended my contract so long that it threatened to overlap with my accrued days of leave.  That meant less than a month after returning from Baghdad, I was entirely on my own, for the first time in my adult life.  It would be three years before my post-traumatic stress was diagnosed, but in the interim, its symptoms ruled my life.  I drove around the country alone and aimlessly, feeling isolated with my battle buddies few and far between, and drank excessively in an attempt to feel comfortable with my new civilian friends, who had no idea what was going on in Iraq.  Far from being proud of my military service, I felt ashamed of it — it had been my job to help make it look like we were winning the war, an act I felt was neither noble nor honorable, despite what my discharge paperwork said.

(I did go to college through my ‘benefits,’ but it was a bad deal, especially for Iraqis and others over there). To help myself heal from this moral injury and trauma, I committed to helping young people understand just what they were getting into when they joined the military for all those ‘free’ benefits — because I’d been one of the lucky ones, who made it home alive, with all my limbs and many of my faculties intact.  I felt I owed this service to those who didn’t have the same luck, who couldn’t come back and tell anyone about what they’d been through because they were dead or drunk or disabled or struggling to survive.  For those whose post-traumatic stress led to behavior that got them kicked out of the military rather than treated for their trauma; who ended up with dishonorable or bad-conduct discharges that led to the revocation of their benefits; who killed themselves rather than face a lifetime of pain and alienation, I was compelled to go to the youth and tell them what their recruiters never would — that the benefits of military service are never free.  We pay the price for the rest of our lives.

sniper war attack
The women from the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce(who ‘mistakenly’ let us table) couldn’t know that, though, and they didn’t want to know.  They stood over us with arms crossed as we packed up our table.  One of them repeatedly insisted that her husband had been in the military, and he’d been fine, and now her daughter had just enlisted.  ‘I hope she doesn’t get raped,’ I replied with too much anger, the indignant anger I’d been struggling to overcome for years, but which still surfaced when prodded by willful ignorance such as this.  It was clear they were uninterested in hearing anything ‘negative’ about the military, no matter how appreciative the students were of our efforts to bring them a few morsels of truth.  Their denial was deep and untouchable.  As we left the building, I looked back at the military recruiters standing at their tables in the front, and I saw them smirk.  They would meet their quota.  I felt the rage bubble up in my chest, and with it, the understanding that my work would never be done.  But I was one of the lucky ones.”—TruthOut

(Photo: London Palestine Action)
(Photo: London Palestine Action)

“The fight (to Disarm Portland State University) went into high-gear in 2013 when a report from the university’s Presidential Task Force on Campus Safety was published, outlining public safety issues on campus, along with recommendations on how to address them.  Even though the report listed violent person-to-person crimes as only a small fraction of campus crimes, the recommendations included bringing sworn police officers to campus that contract with the Oregon State Police and the Portland Police Bureau.  This would mean that beyond the non-sworn security officers, PSU would bring on fully-registered police officers who carry guns and have the right to arrest.  This was recommended despite the fact that PSU is in downtown Portland, where it already has direct access to both of the contracted police departments.  Not surprisingly, for many of the concerned students, the task force was comprised of many PSU staff, but only two student delegates.

The plan went ahead despite overwhelming opposition by two-thirds of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers members on campus, as well as opposition from numerous college departments, such as the Chicano Latino Studies and Black Studies departments. …In opposition, PSUSU and other campus activists disrupted Board of Trustee meetings by overwhelming the discussion session, forcing trustees to leave the building rather than confront the opposition.  Tying together issues like inflated administrative salaries and tuition increases to board decisions, students are calling for the long-term project of dissolving the board in favor of a decision making body that is more accountable to stakeholders.  The May 10 student eruption on campus came after the decision to use armed police was implemented.  Over 500 people began a roaming march and speak-out that brought together a diverse set of voices from the campus and surrounding community.

(Political candidates and community leaders spoke to our concerns).  ‘We need to de-criminalize poverty in this city,’ (Sarah) Iannarone added.  ‘We need to de-criminalize being black or brown in this city.’  PSUSU created the Disarm PSU campaign to maintain a broader look at equity and justice on campus with four key demands: disarming campus police, severing the contracts with the anti-union food service company Aramark, bringing all campus workers up to $15 per hour and lowering tuition costs by cutting the salaries of the highest paid administrative staff.

‘The students, at their core, want democracy in the university, and that’s not what we have right now with the Board of Trustees model,’ said PSUSU organizer Alyssa Pagan.  ‘When we say that we want the campus to not have armed security, the Board of Trustees heard that and didn’t take any action to move in accordance with that.  So there’s no system of accountability.’  With support mounting both around Portland’s progressive community to endorse the Disarm PSU campaign, as well as the growing campus movement towards alternative solutions to armed police officers, pressure is forming around the Board of Trustees to reverse its decision.  While the board has said that it allowed sufficient time for student and community feedback before reaching its decision, PSUSU activists say the board represents an unelected and unaccountable decision-making body that is not representative of the constituencies comprising the bulk of Portland State University.

(Organized student action has surged).  For the student union, this will be just a piece of a larger set of demands to reshape the college’s priorities in order to align with a more multi-racial, working-class base.  This means continuing to confront the Board of Trustees, which many organizers say is the central component that is driving many of the unpopular campus decisions.  ‘It’s so much more than just disarming campus security,’ Pagan said, regarding the growing student movement on the PSU campus.  ‘It’s about a small handful of people who are very wealthy and [who] are serving their business interests on the backs of students.'”—Waging Nonviolence

Baltimore Algebra Project
Baltimore Algebra Project

“(Initially, Charter Schools represented a potential reform movement to open schools up and involve communities; many teachers unionists and progressives supported them.  However), critics of today’s market-based charter movement say monied interests have turned those learning labs into models for capital capture in the Golden State and beyond–’the charter school gravy train,’ as Forbes describes it.  Charters are publicly funded but privately managed and, like most privately run businesses, the schools prefer to avoid transparency in their operations.  This often has brought negative publicity to the schools – last month the Los Angeles Daily News reported that the principal of El Camino Real Charter High School charged more than $100,000 in expenses to his school-issued credit card, many of them for personal use.

Billions of taxpayer dollars have flowed into expanding America’s privately-run charter school system over the past two decades, including $3.3 billion in federal funds alone, reports an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy.  California has the nation’s largest number of charter schools, with most of them located in Los Angeles County.  But in an age when words like ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’ dominate political discourse, the financial mechanics of charters receive less oversight and scrutiny than the average public school bake sale.

California public schools are required to follow the Ralph M. Brown Act that requires regular meetings with notices posted in advance, along with public testimony and the availability of agendas and minutes.  Open meetings guarantee the right of local parents, teachers and taxpayers to participate in discussions about policy, funding, disciplinary standards—all the heated issues that arise in local schools or that go before school boards.  But a group called the Charter Schools Development Center provides advice and wiggle room to attorneys representing charter schools on Brown Act requirements.  Charters are frequently run by a nonprofit whose board members are chosen and named by previous board members.  The CSDC’s Guide to the Brown Act pointedly raises the question of whether governing structures fit the profile of ‘local legislative bodies’ required to comply with the Brown Act and recommends charter school boards ‘cover their bases’ and follow at least the spirit, if not the precise requirements, of the Brown Act.

(Furthermore, due process procedure in expulsion) doesn’t apply to California charter schools, according to a 2013 state Court of Appeals ruling that holds charters can ‘dismiss’ a student without due process.  The ruling differentiates between expulsion and dismissal.  Following a dismissal, a student is then sent back to the public school system.  (The UCLA report that Daniel Losen co-authored found national suspension rates at charter schools were 16 percent higher than those of public schools.)  Charter schools depend on their reputations for teaching students who hit high test-score marks.  The practice known as ‘counseling out’ is used to winnow out difficult students, and extends beyond California—the New York Times has detailed incidents in a high-achieving charter school in Brooklyn.university college classroom education teach
(At least of equivalent concern), (c)harter decision-makers are not subject to the conflict-of-interest code.  Veteran educators and administrators interviewed by Capital & Main (which published a version of this article) have expressed deep concern about the disparities between transparency requirements for public schools and publicly funded charter schools.  Most California charters are run by educational management organizations (EMOs), which are described bythe National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado as ‘private entities [that] may not be subject to the same financial or other document/records disclosure laws that apply to state-operated entities and public officials.’

David Tokofsky, a former member of the LAUSD Board of Education who has also worked for a charter school operator, cautions that the push for charter schools has been framed in terms of ‘education reform,’ although the movement behind these schools, he says, is really one for deregulation of financial oversight and management.  ‘Deregulation was supposed to be about curriculum,’ Tokofsky says, allowing teachers and parents more freedom to craft education and programs to fit the students.  ‘It has become deregulation about every aspect of the school.  We know,’ he adds, ‘when deregulated banks fail; we know when deregulated airplane doors fail.  Do we know when deregulated schools are hurting your kids?'”—Salon

CC BY by leighblackall

“(Debt peonage is) actually baked into our culture.  The phrase ‘the man’, as in ‘fight the man’, referred originally to creditors.  ‘The man’ in the 19th century stood for ‘furnishing man’, the merchant that sold 19th century sharecroppers and Southern farmers their supplies for the year, usually on credit.  Farmers, often illiterate and certainly unable to understand the arrangements into which they were entering, were charged interest rates of 80-100 percent a year, with a lien places on their crops.  When approaching a furnishing agent, who could grant them credit for seeds, equipment, even food itself, a farmer would meekly look down nervously as his debts were marked down in a notebook.  At the end of a year, due to deflation and usury, farmers usually owed more than they started the year owing.  Their land was often forfeit, and eventually most of them became tenant farmers.

Today, we are in the midst of creating a second sharecropper society….Today, the debts do not involve liens against crops.  People in modern America carry student loans, credit card debt, and mortgages.  All of these are hard to pay back, often bringing with them impenetrable contracts and illegal fees.  Credit card debt is difficult to discharge in bankruptcy and a default on a home loan can leave you homeless.  A student loan debt is literally a claim against a life — you cannot discharge it in bankruptcy, and if you die, your parents are obligated to pay it.  If the banks have their way, mortgages and deficiency judgments will follow you around forever, as they do in Spain.

Creative Commons/DonkeyHotey.
Creative Commons/DonkeyHotey.

Young people and what only cynics might call ‘homeowners’ have no choice but to jump on the treadmill of debt, as debtcroppers.  The goal is not to have them pay off their debts, but to owe forever.  Whatever a debtcropper owes, a wealthy creditor owns.  And as a bonus, the heavier the debt burden of American citizenry, the less able we are able to organize and claim our democratic rights as citizens.  Debtcroppers don’t start companies and innovate, they don’t take chances, and they don’t claim their political rights.  Think about this when you hear the calls from ex-Morgan Stanley banker and current World Bank President Robert Zoellick and his nebulous mutterings pining for the gold standard.  Or when you hear Warren Buffett partner Charlie Munger talk about how the bailouts of the wealthy were patriotic, but we mustn’t bail out homeowners for fear of ‘moral hazard.’  Or when you hear Pete Peterson Foundation President and former Comptroller General David Walker yearn nostalgically for debtor’s prisons.

(As neoliberals hypocritically long for some ‘inflation’ that is choking students to death, as the precariate predominates and good jobs evaporate, student indebtedness likely exceeds one and a quarter trillion dollars.  In this context), ‘(w)hat line item is the largest asset in Uncle Sam’s financial accounts?’  Student Loans.  They’re a liability for students and former students, often for decades to come.  They crimp their spending behavior, delay home purchases, and trigger credit problems.  Even hopelessly indebted student-loan debtors cannot get their student loans discharged in bankruptcy.  But these loans are an asset to the other side.  Student loans have ballooned into the largest financial asset category on the balance sheet of the federal government, accounting for 45.7% of total federal financial assets, up from around 17% before the Great Recession, and up from about 9.5% in 2000

… .
What is lacking is market discipline — the threat that a large number of students (say, 50%) will simply refuse to buy this product unless prices come down.  Suddenly, universities would see their ‘revenues’ collapse.  They would have to compete based on the cost of tuition and fees.  They would have to become more efficient.  They would have to produce more with less to bring their costs down.  And if they fail to lower their prices enough, year after year, as is happening with TVs and smartphones, their customers would simply not buy.  But that discipline is not built into the system.  Instead, tuition and fees get inflated year after year without market resistance.  Sure, there are some student protests and the like.  And after the police-strength pepper spray dissipates, tuition and fees are raised again.”—Naked Capitalism

credit card debt money monopoly

“(T)he university has always been a thief, stealing people’s labor, time and energy.  We charge that the university-as-such is a criminal institution.  Along with the Edu-Factory Collective we understand the university today as a key institution of an emerging form of global, racial capitalism, one that is a laboratory for new forms of oppression and exploitation, rather than an innocent institution for the common good.money
From its pirating of Indigenous biomedical knowledge to the marginalization and containment of non-traditional inquiry, from the training of corporate kleptocrats to the cronyistic production of private patents, from the university’s role in gentrification and urban enclosures to the actions and implications of its investments and endowments, from the white-supremacist and eurocentric knowledge it exalts to its dark collaborations with the military-industrial complex, the university thrives on its thievery.

rect3336 space
So when we say the university-as-such is criminal, we mean criminal like the police: a force of racialized and class-based figures of authority, enforcement, and violence that guards, incarcerates, entraps, on the one hand, and on the other, punishes freedom, solidarity, and communal potential.  You may accuse us of losing faith in the university; it never had faith in us.  Long ago it transformed us, as it had others before us, into overwhelmed debtors, precarious adjuncts, and exploited service sector workers.  We were only the latest in a long line of its waste products.rect3336 space
You may accuse us of devaluing study, learning and research; far from it — we value them so greatly that we know they must be liberated from the structures of the university-as-such, which today already lie in ruins.  The university-as-such can be the occasion for the joys of study, of solidarity, of poetic play, of learning and honing our powers.  We refuse to relinquish these pleasures.  But we will insist that these are gifts we give one another, not tokens of the university’s affection for its subjects.  We dream of the thing to come after the university.

Therefore, when we say that we organize in the shadow of the university, we mean that we organize with those who have been used and abused by the university-as-such: students and workers of color who endure institutional racism while having their images used in the name of diversity; precariously employed adjunct faculty who must rely on social or communal assistance for survival; exploited graduate teaching fellows still urged to play the rigged academic game; custodial and food services staff who are treated as disposable in patriarchal and racist divisions of labor; so-called ‘dropouts’ who’ve been ejected from the university because they can’t stand its discipline; students and former students who will be haunted by debt for decades; and organizers who educate, study, and research outside and in spite of the university’s present configurations.”—ROAR