Does The American Elite Want Real Public Education? Featuring: The Real News Network, George Carlin Has The Final Say and Closing Notes In Your Morning Café News Briefing.
OBAMA'S EDUCATION POLICY
First In A Three Part Series About Education Policy In The US Presidential Elections . Watch Full Multipart Education Policy In The US Presidential Elections
Mark Naison is a Professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, and the founder and principal investigator of the Bronx African-American History Project. He is the author of four books, and over one hundred articles on African American History, labor history, sports and popular culture. Professor Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., is one of the nation’s leading authorities on distressed neighborhoods and inner city development. A historian and urban planner, this internationally known scholar is a full professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University at Buffalo. He is coordinator of the Department’s Community Development and Urban Management Specialization and is the founding director of the University at Buffalo Center for Urban Studies (CENTER), a research, neighborhood planning and community development institute that focuses on the regeneration of distressed communities.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network.
I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
As part of our coverage of the presidential elections that will be taking place in November in the United States, we're going to be deconstructing some of the policy of the two leading candidates. Now let me qualify the word leading: they're leading because the United States has more or less a two-party system. It's very difficult for other parties to get into the game. There are in fact other parties and we have interviewed their leaders and we will do other pieces about other parties, but the reality is either a Democrat or a Republican is going to be in the White House in November, barring something apocalyptic. So we're going to spend some specific time focusing on their policy.
So today we're going to start with education. We're going to do three segments with a couple of our policy experts. We're going to deconstruct President Obama and his policies on education in part one, we'll be doing Mitt Romney in part two, and in part three of the little miniseries we'll be asking our policy experts what they think should be public policy when it comes to issues of education.
So without further ado, now joining us from the Bronx, New York: Mark Naison. Mark is a professor of African-American studies at Fordham University, founder and principal investigator of the Bronx African American History Project. He's the author of four books and over 100 articles on African-American history and labor history and more. And he joins us now from Bronx, New York. Thanks very much for joining us, Mark.
MARK NAISON, PROF. AFRICAN AND AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, FORDHAM UNIV.: Oh, it's great to be here.
JAY: And I've already cracked some jokes off-camera. I would have loved to have been at the meeting where you got the job as head of the department on African studies. At any rate, we can talk about that another day, 'cause now we're talking about education policy.
So now joining us from Buffalo, New York, is Henry Louis Taylor Jr. Henry's a professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, New York. He's also the director of the Center for Urban Studies. He's coauthor of the book Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis: African Americans in the Industrial City, 1900-1950. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.
HENRY LOUIS TAYLOR JR., DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR URBAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO: It's a pleasure to be here.
JAY: So, Henry, I'm going to start with you. So, you know, give us what your assessment is, going through sort of the main features of President Obama's policy on public education and what you think of it.
TAYLOR: I think Obama's policy can be characterized as a policy anchored by a big 800 pound gorilla and a couple of small midgets. The 800 pound gorilla is the Race to the Top Policy, which essentially oscillates around what we call high-stakes testing. And that's based on the idea in principle that the way in which you can evaluate standards, whether or not kids are reaching standards and whether or not you can determine the effectiveness of teachers and the effectiveness of schools, is through a process of high-stakes testing. And how kids perform on these tests, which are for the most part designed by states, or how they fare on those tests will determine whether or not the schools become what they call persistently low-achieving schools, or PLAs. And if they become PLAs, it means that their schools can be put on probation, undergo radical transformations and changes, or they can be forced to close.
At the same time, based on the performance on these tests, the quality of instruction at these schools will be determined, and that could impact in a very negative way. Teachers and/or principals can be eliminated. That's the heart of it.
JAY: Okay. Well, let's focus on that Race to the Top to start with, and then we can move on to some of the other issues. Mark, so what's your take on Race to the Top? I mean, I assume President Obama and his defenders would argue that it wasn't just the problem of education funding when he took office; it was some sense of accountability that kids were actually getting educated. And there's been so many complaints over the years that the kids are actually even graduating and can't read and write properly. And don't you need some objective assessment of what's going on? So what's wrong with Race to the Top, if you think there is anything, Mark?
NAISON: Race to the Top has succeeded in creating immense stress on teachers and administrators in high-poverty schools because getting the federal funding requires that schools whose students don't perform well on those tests have to be closed and replaced with a new school and 50 percent of its staff fired.
Now, what that means in practice in the Bronx is if student test scores are going to be the basis on which a teacher and a principal's career is determined, you are going to do nothing but teach to the test. You are going to eliminate trips. You're going to eliminate plays. You may even eliminate recess. You may spend your time in the after school program studying for tests instead of doing sports and the arts.
The result is that in the schools where you need kids to love school the most, you're making them sit still and study for tests all the time. And if you think this policy is going to produce equity, it will produce the opposite, because in a high-performing district, the schools will not fear being closed, because the test results will be good enough so they can still have the art, they can still have the music, and their kids will have an enriched curriculum.
JAY: Right. Okay. Henry, so—but the problem I assume President Obama was trying to solve is what I was saying, that you have kids going through school, even graduating high school, and often don't have even basic arithmetic and grammar and spelling and such skill set, so that maybe you don't have the school trips and the art and all this. But is it not the case that with this testing, at least you'll get kids graduating who have some basic functionality?
NAISON: No. The tests are simply to evaluate what has gone on inside of—your way of determining whether or not the kids have actually met the course standards. The larger problem is that most of the research that has been done on the relationship between schools and neighborhoods indicate that many of the problems and difficulties that you see getting manifested within the framework of schools are really problems and issues that have origins within the framework of the neighborhoods and the communities in which the kids live.
In these neighborhoods and communities, you've eliminated many of the early childhood enrichment programs. For example, Head Start has not received new funding that would allow you to expand that program in years. Many other enrichment programs in the early learning years are not there. In many instances, the kids who live in these neighborhoods don't have computers. They don't even have quiet places to study at home. And there are not library facilities and other things that could lead to enriched experiences at the neighborhood level. So to eliminate all of the causality in terms of the enrichment activities that occur outside of the school environment and focus in the school is a problem.
The second part of it is that in many public schools, just as they are in Buffalo, the conditions vary across the public school front. We have, for example, in Buffalo what we call criterion schools. In criterion schools, these schools have the capacity to set entrance standards that other schools don't. So we have some schools that we call dumping grounds where all kids have to go.
But the evaluation system treats each school the same. It treats the magnet schools, the criterion schools the same as the dumping schools, and it says that they're all operating on the same level. So the teachers are evaluated the same way, the principals are evaluated the same way, when the conditions are very different. That's like taking a professor at Harvard, looking at their students, then taking a professor at a small community college in Mississippi and looking at their students, and saying, well, these students are doing better at Harvard because they're getting better instructions and everything else, without looking at the differences in the schools. So that's one of the problems we see with the evaluation system.
JAY: Right. Mark.
NAISON: One of the problems is President Obama appointed as his secretary of education a person who never taught a day in his life. He called an education summit where not one teacher was invited. It was all foundation and corporation executives. And I think the policy is well intended in the way that you suggest. We need to give these
children basic skills.
But the result will—but you still have to work through teachers. And if you put teachers in low-performing districts under pressure to raise test scores, two things are going to happen. One is people will be under tremendous pressure to cheat on the results. Secondly, the best teachers will want to leave those schools and go to a school where there's less pressure.
So what is actually happening is that schools in poor neighborhoods are going to be made worse by these policies. You get a constricted curriculum. You lose your best teachers.
And this is a result of not bringing teachers into the conversation, because any teacher can tell you exactly what Henry did, that the vast majority of the forces shaping the fact that students are having trouble learning basic skills are not what's going on in the school; it's what's going on in the home and the neighborhood. In the Bronx, 20 percent of the children are being brought up by grandparents. Five to 10 percent are living in foster care. Large numbers of families are doubled and tripled up.
If you do not try to address conditions in the neighborhood and the schools together, what you're going to do is put such pressure on the school to do a job it can't do that you're going to make those schools worse. And that in my mind is what Race to the Top is doing. It's making schools in poor communities worse.
JAY: Yeah. Henry, in a lot of big cities—Chicago, Philadelphia, New York—it's happening in many cities—they're doing what they call turnaround schools, where they essentially kind of fire everybody and start again. I mean, isn't there a sense of frustration that nothing was fixing the schools? Is there any evidence that this turnaround schools is going to make a difference?
TAYLOR: No, I don't think it will. I mean, I really don't, because the problems that created the issues are not really being addressed, and that is, you've got to create powerful linkages between what's going on in the neighborhoods and the communities and the schools themselves.
Now, I want to make it very clear: I think evaluations are important. I think you've got to be able to make some determinations of whether or not kids are moving toward achieving the types of skills that you want them to do. I think you have to be able to make some evaluations of the effectiveness of teachers and the like.
But I think that you don't do that through this process of high-stakes testing. So saying that you're opposed to the process of high-stakes testing on the one hand, and saying that you have to develop a strong system of evaluation, monitoring, and tracking, and making sure that the kids master the skills that they need represent something else.
So, again, I think that you've got to look at both what's going on in the neighborhood and what's going on in the schools. And I'm familiar with a number of the turnaround programs. And the schools that we're working with in the city of Buffalo are both—all of them are involved, and I'm working with two elementary schools and two high schools, and they're all involved with some type of turnaround strategy and some type of turnaround program. And the thing that we—I believe will be necessary is that in addition to changing issues inside of the school, you've got to make changes in those neighborhoods and communities, create new levels of investments at those places, as well as strengthen the enrichment and academic support programs.
JAY: Okay. So is there anything in President Obama—Henry, just a quick take—anything in President Obama's education policies you liked?
TAYLOR: Absolutely. I think I said that it's characterized by an 800 pound gorilla and a couple of midgets. The midgets are the choice neighborhood initiatives and the promised neighborhood initiatives. I think those are two exciting programs that create the connection between schools and neighborhood reform that have enormous promise.
And in a certain odd sense of the word, these two initiatives have created grave diggers for Race to the Top. Now, these two gravediggers are very weak, very fragile, and very frail, but nonetheless they exist, and they create opportunities for neighborhoods and communities to work together to come up with some very innovative ways in which to alter the process of schooling and education.
JAY: Okay. We're going to get more into this in part three when we talk about the solutions you'd like to see. But before we do that, Mark, anything about President Obama's education policies you like?
NAISON: He actually does believe that public education should be preserved, which, given our next discussion, is a plus. And it should be said that the stimulus funding given in the beginning of the administration allowed many teachers to keep their jobs. I think that if a lifetime educator were appointed as secretary of education and if teachers were brought into the conversation at the federal level, I think the Obama administration education policy could be rescued along some of the lines that Henry suggested and along some of the lines that teachers themselves would suggest. I don't think it's a hopeless cause.
JAY: We'll get more into that in part three. So remember, the next part, which will be in a day or two—you'll see it soon—will be about Mitt Romney's education policies. Part three will be all focused on solutions outside of all the partisan rhetoric. So please join us for that on The Real News.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network.
I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And this is the second part of our serious evaluating the education policies of the two leading contenders for being president of the United States. This segment, as you may know if you watch part one, will be about Mitt Romney. And if you didn't watch part one, well, go watch part one. That's about President Obama and his record.
Now joining us to talk about Mitt Romney's proposed education policies, joining us first of all from Buffalo, is Henry Louis Taylor Jr. He's a professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, New York. He's a director at the Center for Urban Studies. He's coauthor of the book Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis: African Americans in the Industrial City, 1900-1950.
And joining us from the Bronx, New York: Mark Naison. Mark is a professor of African-American studies at Fordham University (I've already cracked a joke about that, so I won't do it again) and the founder and principal investigator of the Bronx African American History Project. He's the author of four books and lots of articles about African-American history, labor, sports and such, labor history, and sports and such. And he joins us from the Bronx. Thanks for joining us again, both of you.
MARK NAISON, PROF. AFRICAN AND AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, FORDHAM UNIV.: Great to be here.
JAY: So, Mark, starting with you, so give us a sort of basic sketch of what President Obama—I'm sorry, not President Obama. We did that—part one. Mitt Romney's education policy—sketch us out his main proposals and then what you think of them.
NAISON: There are proposals for higher education, which I'll get to later, but the proposals for public education involve taking existing funds which are given without conditions to the states and using them to encourage vouchers, charter schools, and the use of online learning technology, and also the use of federal incentives to actually have high-stakes tests be more important in determining whether you get funds, and also to have charter schools' and schools' turnaround policies continue.
Now, the interesting thing about the Romney philosophy is allegedly the Republican party is a party of small government. This policy involves more mandates and conditions attached to more federal funds than under President Obama. But all of this is used to put more resources in the hands of parents to make choices, which will then also involve religious schools, private schools, and online schools.
JAY: So what's wrong with that? I mean, Mitt Romney would probably argue that the government-run system's dysfunctional, so why not let the parents pick winning and losing schools and let schools kind of be run by a marketplace that parents get to run?
NAISON: Well, my argument is public education in the United States is not broken. Our social system is broken. If you look at—if you take out poverty as a factor, our public schools compare favorably with those—with almost any other nation in the world. It's our unconscionably high child poverty rates, it's our high rates of imprisonment, it's our astronomical rates of youth and minority unemployment which create a context where schools in poor neighborhoods are under intolerable pressure.
And by decentralizing education money, you're going to make the problem worse, because whenever you privatize in the United States, what you do is de-skill professionals and increase the wage gap between CEOs and workers.
So in communities which desperately are trying to hang on to their middle class, you destroy public education and privatize and you're going to end up with the black and Latino middle class further diminishing, with wages and work conditions for all teachers to diminish. And that produces not only bad consequences for those neighborhoods; it produces bad consequences in terms of consumer demand for the whole of society.
JAY: Henry, I mean, I've been in communities like, for example, New Orleans where some of the charter schools seem to be doing fairly well and the parents got more engaged in them. Doesn't Mitt Romney have some argument here that if you allow parents to more directly create, run schools—and Romney, of course, is saying Obama's big problem is he hasn't taken on the unions, and he would argue that if you break down the power of the unions, it would allow parents to create schools that are more to their liking. What's wrong with that?
HENRY LOUIS TAYLOR JR., DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR URBAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO: It's Santa Claus-ism, transforming myths into reality.
Let's get this thing straight. First of all, the idea and notion of school choice is nothing more than a tool that is designed to attack—a frontal attack on public school systems.
And let me explain what I mean. It's not just parental choice.
Let's get that straight right now, because all of the schools that they're talking about gaining access into will be criterion schools that are based upon your abilities to pass set tests and to meet other high standards inside of these schools.
So all you're talking about through school choice is a new, elaborate filtering system that will begin to create deeper class division inside of the neighborhoods, just as we see in cities like Buffalo.
So it also means that they will be taking away resources and placing them into special programs, scholarships that allow you to go to certain private schools, resources that allow folks to access charter schools, and attach the federal dollars to the individual, not to the schools.
This means that large numbers of kids that are trapped in these schools because they're not able to pass the qualifying examinations and the other standards are going to be left behind in even worse schools than they are today. And he's going to do that because it's cheaper.
If you look at Romney's analysis of the D.C. scholarship program, he makes it clear it costs us less money to provide scholarships to the higher achievers inside of these communities than it does to give money to schools to make the entire schools better. So that's the first level.
The second level is that Romney has an anti-union philosophy.
Now, Obama's policies may inadvertently impact unions, but he's not saying straight up, we want to get rid of unions. Romney's program says unions should go.
If the unions go, all of the protection that the teachers had then disappears, and the abilities to stop the screening process that creates a large contingency of schools that house kids that cannot pass the exams to get into the criterion schools, which will be the majority of African-Americans' and Latino's schools, is what will happen. And so you will actually weaken the public school system, intensify the problems inside of these neighborhoods, and create a larger pipeline between schools and prisons.
NAISON: How come no one in the Romney campaign mentions Milwaukee, which has had school choice for 20 years and has a 44 percent black male unemployment rate?
TAYLOR: With the Romney's choice piece, it's not just school choice. But it's the key element to that is that it's not real choice, because you have to pass examinations, you have to meet other standards in order to get into these schools. So when you take the resources away from schools and you give them to parents, you're creating—you're worsening the school system, you're not making it better, because you don't have real authentic and legitimate choices for everyone.
NAISON: Also, in New York City the charter schools which have had the highest performance and test scores exclude English-language learners, special needs students, and students who are deemed discipline problems. So those students then end up in the regular public schools, which are then condemned for having, you know, low scores on tests. There is no city in the country where charter schools and vouchers have led to an improvement in the education system as a whole.
And New Orleans is a special case, because so much of the black population ended up leaving after Katrina and didn't come back. Also, if we want to look at Louisiana as a case study for educational experimentation, it has the highest incarceration rate in the world, three times higher than Iran.
JAY: Now, when I listen to you both, gentlemen, I'm struck by—Mitt Romney's policies seem to be President Obama's, but on steroids. Or if you want to go the other way, President Obama looks like Romney lite.
TAYLOR: There are two different elements in there. One is that Obama does not embrace school choice as the centerpiece. Obama embraces improving all of the schools, especially the lowest-achieving schools. Romney's—so the school choice is his highest priority. That is the centerpiece of it all. The second piece is that Romney is anti-union. It's a cornerstone. Obama is not anti-union—even though his policies may be harmful to unions, it's not an anti-union policy.
JAY: 'Cause under the current regime, if you watch on The Real News, we've done quite a few stories, and many, many teachers losing their jobs, many schools going into this turnaround where they're firing large numbers of staff and principals. I mean, a lot of that Romney's talking about is already happening with President Obama in office.
NAISON: Yeah, but it would happen—it would also start to happen in higher education.
JAY: Well, before we jump to higher education—.
TAYLOR: There's a difference. And I agree with you 100 percent. And that's what I said: there's a difference in between—there are things that are occurring that are not as a part of that piece, but they're unintentional aspects of it, etc., etc., etc. If you embrace anti-unionism as a centerpiece, not only have you put it in terms of steroids, you haven't added the steroids to it, but you've robotized it, you've now got a cyborg that's running with it. So you're talking—.
JAY: So the difference may not be enormous, but the difference matters.
NAISON: The difference will be enormous. And I want to go back to something I said about what the difference between a non-unionized private or charter school is in terms of the administrative structure. You look at charter schools, their executive salaries are twice that of a school principal, and their staff salaries are lower, and there's huge turnover in the staff. This is what happens every time you privatize a public resource: CEO wages go way up, worker wages and security go down. And it's that process which has created the economic crisis we're in. There is not enough consumer demand in the society, because of wage compression. And this will intensify the very conditions that—above and beyond its consequences for education, it will intensify the conditions which created this economic crisis.
JAY: Okay. So we're going to go now to part three, and we're going to—in part three we're going to ask our guests to talk about what they'd like to see. How do we fix the public education system if both candidates—and depending on your point of view, one may be worse, enormously worse.
What—you make your own decision. At any rate, I don't think our guests are fully satisfied with either candidate's policy. So what would they like to see? So please join us for part three of this series on The Real News Network.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
This is part three of our three-part series examining the public education policy of President Obama and Mitt Romney. Part one was President Obama, two was Mitt Romney. If you haven't watched them, you might want to go back and see them first. At any rate, now we're going to ask our guests what they would like to see as education policy, 'cause they're not all that satisfied with either candidate.
So now joining us from the Bronx, New York, is Mark Naison. Mark is a professor of African-American studies at Fordham University, founder and principal investigator of the Bronx African American History Project. He's the author of a lot of books and a lot of articles about African-American history. And he joins us from the Bronx. Thanks for joining us, Mark.
MARK NAISON, PROF. AFRICAN AND AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, FORDHAM UNIV.: Great to be here.
JAY: Now joining us from Buffalo, New York, is Henry Louis Taylor Jr. He's a professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, New York. He's the director of the Center for Urban Studies. He's a coauthor of Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis: African-Americans in the Industrial City, 1900-1950. Thanks for joining us, Henry.
HENRY LOUIS TAYLOR JR., DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR URBAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO: It's a pleasure to be here.
JAY: So let's start off with a kind of big-picture question. It used to be there was all this talk about the need for America to compete in the world. It had to have the highest education standards. People needed to understand the way the world worked. There was at least talk, if not execution in reality (but to some extent, maybe), that people should know history, should have a connection with human culture.
It seems to me that this has changed, that the American elites actually don't think this anymore, that, you know, it may even be a product of digitization and how sophisticated production has become in the industrial sector, and that so many people are now in the service sector that you actually don't need such an educated population, that they may in fact prefer that people don't know much about history. I can talk to journalism classes at the masters level and I cannot believe how little history they know, never mind high school graduates, who barely know the history of their own city, never mind country or globe.
But maybe that's actually—the elites in this sense are okay with that, 'cause the other thing I'm always taken aback by when I talk to some kids that go to some of the top private schools, for example, in New York, I mean, they're so much better educated than I am. It blows me away how detailed their sense of history is, and they know Latin and this and that. This two-tier education system has probably never been so wide. And maybe that's okay with those that make such decisions. Henry?
TAYLOR: Actually, I think it is. Jeremy Rifkin wrote a few years ago a very significant book entitled when work disappears. And what his basic argument was and what a number of economists agree is that this new 21st-century economy simply will not employ the same number of people as the older economies. And then, when you think of the way in which the world economy is shifting and changing, there's a lot of evidence to that.
For example, in another ten to 15 years, among the top ten economies in the world, only the United States and Germany will be listed among those. That means that a wide variety of countries across the world will be sharing the world's finite resources.
So Rifkin poses the question in his book that one of the great challenges that we will face is how to find useful ways in which to put this surplus population to work. I think the United States has answered that question by creating a massive pool of folks that you send to prison and that are part of what I call the misery industries. These are industries that emerge and make money off of the misery and pain of others. For example, the prison-industrial complex produces billions of dollars each year, and that the kids in the ghettos, the kids in the barrios are the primary raw material for these industries.
So there's a reason that the rise of mass incarceration—and it occurs simultaneously with an intensification of neoliberalism.
If you look at the growth of the police industry, the court systems, the welfare systems, all of these industries are generated on the basis of the misery and pain of people. So black pain, Latin pain creates jobs and opportunities for a growing number of people. And as long as you have this two-tier system, you are actually producing the raw materials for this industry. So I think that perspective—powerful and true.
JAY: Mark, you know, when I talk to people that work at some of the auto manufacturing plants in Detroit, those that still do, and some—you meet some ordinary workers, and they know that specific job, they know—you know, even sometimes it can involve some computer programming, some special skill set, but they don't know much else. And, you know, if what they do is then just go home and watch TV and tune out, don't watch news, and don't know much about what's going on the world, well, that's okay, because they know how to go to work and do that specific thing.
So it's not just the issue of the service sector. It's almost manufacturing in general, that maybe the economy doesn't need people that have any sense of culture.
NAISON: Yeah, but it's not only that. If you educated the majority of people to a knowledge of history and a sense of the democratic traditions as they've evolved in this society, they might revolt against the levels of inequality that we currently have in this society. Look at Walmart. The CEO of Walmart makes $16,000 an hour while the entry-level worker makes $6.50 an hour.
We have 25 percent of the world's prisoners in the United States. The CEO-to-worker ratio is now 450 to 1, and there's no other industrialized country where it's over 100 to one. So it makes sense that Sidwell Friends or Horace Mann or Collegiate has an enriched curriculum, but the public schools are being deluged with more and more tests, which crowd out history.
I got involved in becoming an advocate for teachers when my research project was driven out of the Bronx schools by test prep. We did community history projects involving teachers, parents, community members in 13 Bronx schools and had the most incredible experience of everybody getting engaged and excited. But you can't do that for two months now because you've got to prepare for the tests.
JAY: Right. Right.
NAISON: And I think that—but let me just say one other thing. I am now getting invitations to talk about labor and African-American history from Occupy groups all over the Northeast, that when people are questioning economic inequality, they want to know history. But the obverse is true: if people know their history, they will then raise questions about economic inequality. And that's the last thing this elite wants.
JAY: Henry, is that not a big piece of this, that one of the things schools, but culture in general, is doing is [incompr.] lowering people's expectations? People don't expect much more out of life than what America's delivering right now. And a lot of that has to do with the school system, doesn't it?
TAYLOR: It has a lot to do the school system. But I want to go back to the earlier point that I'm making. The question is why. It's not that they just don't want you to know.
Right now we're dealing with a graduation rate in a number of places under 60 percent. These are the kids that graduate from high school. We know that these kids that do not graduate are doomed to a life on the economic margins. You can predict on the basis of these graduation rates the number of people that are going to be a part of the prison-industrial complex, the number of people who are going to end up in various aspects of these prison and these misery industries.
What I am saying specifically: it's not about just them not wanting you to know. It's profitable for you not to know, it's profitable for them to have segments of a society that are not functioning, because they have figured out how to generate profits on it.
And the fact that they're not teaching these higher-level intellectual skills has a lot more to do with the elite schools, because—and when I say the elite, I'm talking about the suburban schools, I'm talking about the high-performing public schools, because we're turning out kids who have technical skills but could not analyze and understand anything, in the sense that they have no levels of critical consciousness. And my own program at the University at Buffalo, in our planning and architectural schools, we have a requirement that anybody that gets into this program has to come out of college with around a 3.45. Yet, the students I'm seeing today with these higher GPAs have less consciousness in terms of understanding the realities around them than students that I saw ten years ago.
So you have these two things occurring: kids that are completely turned off by the educational process that end up in the misery industries on the one hand, and on the other hand, kids in these schools that do not have the consciousness and the understanding to produce a very different set of policies.
NAISON: Yeah. Let me put another situation with a slightly more optimistic slant. My students from Fordham are unable to get jobs in their field. One of my best students just took a job as a housekeeper with the Hampton Inn. They're dog walkers. They're bartenders. They're receptionists. And many of them have $60-$80,000 in debt. And it is this group that, you know, became fuel for the protest of the Occupy movement.
The society is failing on many different grounds. And I see a point now where young people who are graduating from college with a very questionable future are going to go to the neighborhoods and try to connect with some of the high school kids who are being geared to head straight to prison, as Henry was saying.
We now have a very interesting development in Brooklyn, in Bed-Stuy, called the Paul Robeson Freedom School. Paul Robeson High School was a school that was designated for turnaround and was closed over the protest of its students and teachers. And this summer they are organizing a freedom school in that community for young people who want to learn history, want to learn culture, want music and the arts and all the things that they're not going to get in this, you know, test-driven environment.
So I think there is hope of revolt against what is so obviously a constricted, narrow approach to educating young people in this country.
JAY: Yeah, we've been doing quite a few stories on this, and I've been quite taken with it myself, the number of parents and teachers and students marching together to save their schools and rebuild their schools in defense of public education. It's a genuine national movement, is it not, Henry?
TAYLOR: There are also other movements that are—Mark is talking about the protest movement. The protest movement is evolving, and I think that the protest movement is extremely, extremely important, because without that protest movement, other forms of reform will not happen. But there are other movements that are occurring within the framework of the schools, the university-assisted school movement led by Ira Harkavi, who's doing some fantastic work out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
And there are other places around the country. Here in the city of Buffalo, I think we're involved in some very exciting things, attempting to build pipelines that allow us to develop very, very strong in-school and after school programs, so that we can find ways to enrich the academic experience of these kids, give them early childhood training and learning, even in the midst of a high-stakes testing environment.
And this summer, my center, in partnership with the New York State, University at Buffalo Liberty Partnerships Program, launching our first academic summer camp on neighborhood development for middle school kids. And we'll be working with some 25 middle school kids, working around creating linkages, showing them the connection between writing, reading, research, problem solving, critical thinking, and neighborhood development, where they will be doing three major projects utilizing these skills that will be focused on improving conditions in their own neighborhoods.
So there are some exciting things that are going on on the educational front that are demonstrating that new approaches to pedagogy, new systems of evaluation—because we believe that things need to be evaluated, because we have to be able to determine if in fact we're making progress and if in fact we're moving toward the educational goals that we hope to achieve. So it's a kind of a—it's worst of times and the best of times. And we fight out of the madness of American public education to [incompr.]
JAY: Hang on, guys. We're kind of out of time for this segment. But we're going to do another segment—and I'm not sure if we're going to shoot it right away, guys, but we're going to do it soon—where we get into more specific proposals for public education, 'cause we kind of talked big picture in that segment. So I said this was a three-part series, and now I get—'cause I'm the host, I get to say it's a four-part series. So there will be another part, and we'll show it to you soon. And so please join us again soon on The Real News Network.