Today, President-elect Barack Obama stuck it to you. He's chosen Arne Duncan as Secretary
of Education. Who? Duncan is most decidedly NOT an educator. He's a lawyer. But Duncan
has this extraordinary qualification: He's Obama's pick-up basketball buddy from Hyde Park. What's Duncan's connection to the President-elect? Duncan was once captain of Harvard's basketball team and still plays backyard round-ball with his Hyde Park neighbor Obama.
I can't make this up. Not that Duncan
hasn't mucked about in the educational system. Chicago Boss Richie Daley put this guy in charge of the horror show called
Chicago Public Schools where Duncan turned a bad system into a REALLY bad system. And Obama knows it. Indeed, although he plays round-ball with Duncan (who was captain
of the Harvard basketball team), State Senator Obama was one of the only local Chicago officials who refused to send his kids
to Duncan's public schools. (The Obamas sent Sasha and Malia to the Laboratory School,
where Duncan's methods are derided as dangerously ludicrous.)
So, if The One won't trust his kids to Duncan,
why is he handing Duncan ours?
The answer: Duncan is supported by a coterie
of teacher-union hating Republicans. The vocal cheerleader for the Duncan appointment
was David Brooks, the New York Times columnist; the REPUBLICAN columnist.
Hey, didn't those guys LOSE?
The problem with Duncan is not party affiliation.
The problem is education philosophy. And Duncan is a Bush baby through and through, a card-carrying supporter of the program best called,
"No Child's Behind Left." At the heart of the program is testing. And more
testing. Testing instead of teaching. When tests go badly, the solution is to push the low-test-score kids to drop out of
school. If triage isn't enough, then attack their teachers.
Here's how Duncan operates this Bush program
in Chicago at Collins High in the Lawndale
ghetto. Teachers there work with kids from homeless shelters from an economically devastated neighborhood. Believe it or not,
the kids don't get high test scores. So Chicago fired the teachers, every one
of them. Then they brought in new teachers and fired THEM too when, surprise!, test scores still didn't rise. The reward for a teacher volunteering for a tough neighborhood is to get harassed, blamed and fired. Now
THAT'S a brilliant program, Mr. Duncan. But Duncan's own failures have not gotten
HIM fired. As long as his 20-foot jump-shot holds, he's Mr. Secretary.
In no other cabinet department is the lack of expertise, lack of accomplishment, lack
of a degree in the field found acceptable but in Education. But what horrifies
me more than Duncan's lack of credentials is Obama's kowtowing to the right-wing
clique crusading against the teachers' union and progressive education. The ill philosophy behind the Bush-brand education
theories Duncan promotes, "Teach-to-the-Test," forces teachers to limit classroom
time to pounding in rote low-end skills, easily measured on standardized tests. The transparent purpose is to create a future
class of worker-drones. Add in some computer training and - voila! - millions of lower-income kids are trained on the cheap
to function, not think.
Analytical thinking skills, creative skills, questioning skills are left exclusively
to privileged little Bushes at Phillips Andover Academy
or privileged little Obamas at the Laboratory School. For the rest of America's
children, instead of hope, we'll have hoops.