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When it Comes to Education, Democrats Hate Democracy

Late last month, Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came out swinging against elected school boards:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that mayors should take control of big-city school districts where academic performance is suffering.

Duncan said mayoral control provides the strong leadership and stability needed to overhaul urban schools.
He acknowledged Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso, asking how many superintendents the city had in the past 10 years. The answer was seven.

"And you wonder why school systems are struggling," Duncan said. "What business would run that way?"

After the forum, Duncan told The Associated Press that urban schools need someone who is accountable to voters and driving all of a city's resources behind children.

"Part of the reason urban education has struggled historically is you haven't had that leadership from the top," he said.

Arne Duncan Renaissance 2010In a sense, I can understand his motivation: as head of Chicago Public Schools, he was a direct recipient of abrogated school board power. The democratic, decentralized, and much-lauded Local School Council system in Chicago (which was created in the late 80s through tireless grassroots community organizing against the very bureaucracy Duncan would end up running) was systematically gutted and ignored under his tenure. It also isn't surprising that his main line of attack is that institutions of learning and governance aren't run enough like businesses. Duncan's Renaissance 2010 program was written and handed to him by the big business players in Chicago and elsewhere.

Now the Center for American Progress, through its panoply of blogs, is pushing the idea with some help with Mayor Bloomberg. Both CAP's Wonk Room and Matthew Yglesias blogs talked up the idea that really, having fewer elected officials means more democracy. Tom Vander Ark at the Huffington Post called what little democratic control we have over our schools to be a "strange historical remnant." Yglesias took the idea and ran with it, all the way to its monarchical end:

I think this is part of a larger issue about getting democracy right in the United States. There was an assumption, at one time, that you could make government more democratic and accountable by, in essence, multiplying the number of elected officials.

In retrospect, I think this was based on flawed logic and faulty assumptions that forgot to account for the fact that people have a limited amount of time they’re realistically going to spend monitoring public officials.
I think part of the answer is that states should probably adopt unicameral legislatures and consider cutting down on the number of independently elected statewide officials. But cutting down on the quantity and influence of hyper-local electeds and putting responsibility in the hands of visible figures like the mayor and city council is crucial.

Apparently Bloomberg did an interview for ThinkProgress, part of which featured him extoling the virtues of dictatorial control over schools, teachers, and students, with the help of bogus, cooked numbers:

My favorite part is near the end, when he says: “...you could literally end democracy as we know it here in this country… without an educated public. And when you have these school boards that are fundamentally controlled by special interests, the truth of the matter is that students come last, if at all.” Fewer elected officials = more democracy! It all makes perfect sense now!

Thankfully, regular readers largely countered and ridiculed such a position:

The flipside of Matt’s point is that when a single local elected executive is responsible for EVERYTHING, it’s pretty hard to hold him or her accountable for any specific thing. If you like what Bloomberg’s doing with, say, public safety and housing but don’t like his education policies, how do you hold him accountable? You can’t cast half a vote. On the other hand, a school board subject to being voted out of office can be held accountable.

And one of the commenters actually mentions what progressive reform of our school systems would look like:

The other kind of reform that is possible is to empower parents and teachers, but in order to do that you don’t need to gather power into the office of the mayor- you need to distribute power into the neighborhoods, families, and classrooms.

Another tip-off is the exaggerated concern about the “special interests”. Matt isn’t talking here about the textbook publishers and computer sellers- a mayor who doesn’t know anything about education isn’t going to tangle with those “experts”. And he isn’t talking about the real estate industry that wants to keep school taxes low- no mayor is going to try to trim the horns of the real estate barons.

No, when Matt is talking about “special interests” he’s referring to teachers and parents. Transfer the powers of the school board to the mayor’s office and those “special interests” will have just as much influence as the rest of us in an election- which is to say, none.

Authoritarian, bureaucratic schools are a bipartisan affair in politics - which means it's going to take a lot more than mere elections to reclaim our country's educational systems.

New School Occupation Redux: Summaries and Analysis

The New School Free Press has a nice timeline of events up, as does NYC Indymedia; the ever-reactionary NYULocal has a few photos from the short-lived occupation, as well as a piece prodding the NYU Administration to expel the NYU students involved. The New York Post interviews New School President Bob Kerrey, who idiotically laid out the terms of his own resignation:

This is the second student protest to unseat Kerrey in five months, but the former Senator from Nebraska said he is resolved to keep his seat, "unless the quality of my life deteriorates."

Below is a good short essay by New School student Dave Shukla that places the latest occupation in the larger struggle to reclaim the New School. When he writes "imagine what we could do," that's exactly what he wants us to do.

What Are You For?
by Dave Shukla

Yet another occupation. The entire center of campus around Fifth Avenue cordoned off by NYPD. Videos of cops beating up students on YouTube. What next?

Let’s be clear. It is a mistake to fixate solely on Kerrey. Among the pressures on the New School over the past eight years, he is simply a vector. He has position, mass, velocity, and direction. The question is, which?

Since December, there have been grudging concessions. Under scrutiny by the Trustees, the administration has been forced to act on some basic concerns – student space, a functioning student senate, tuition and financial aid relief, graduate student work compensation, socially responsible investment. While the administration expends great effort in trying to constrain student input or decision-making, these reforms nonetheless provide an entering wedge into shifting the structure of power in the university. Along with changes in the Faculty Senate, Deans’ Council, and especially the Provost’s Office, there is momentum that belies the argument that “nothing can fundamentally change until Kerrey is gone”.

This latest student action on Good Friday forces some difficult questions: How much closer are we to Kerrey’s resignation or removal? How much closer are we to rewriting his job description, or that of Murtha, Millard, Moskowitz, Gartner, Adams, Reimer or any of the rest of the administration that actually design and run the current business model of the university? How much closer is the New School to replacing these people, and repairing the damage they have done to the New School over the past eight years? How effective has student organizing and activism been over the past four months? Are we living our values, and is doing so yielding tangible results? What are we learning from?

Imagine that Kerrey is on his way out. Imagine that Murtha, Millard, all the rest are on their way out too. With them, the intense corporatization of the New School over the past eight years is at an end, and socially responsible financial practices provide us with long-term stability. Imagine what we could do.

Do you want a say in what student space is created in the new building at 65 Fifth Ave, or do you want another mess like the 16th St. building? Do you want a Starbucks on campus, or do you want work-study jobs to run a food co-op that serves healthy low-priced food? Do you want some of the most expensive dorms in the city, or do you want the costs cut in half by creating cooperative student housing? Do you want more tuition relief and financial aid? Do you want student representatives on the Board of Trustees? Do you want them to have the voting power that forces them to be taken seriously when fighting for student concerns? Is all of this news to you? If so, would you want a newspaper that was funded and staffed sufficiently to come out every week and cover every division?

In short, we all know what we are against. But what are we for?

New School Students Re-Occupy 65 5th Ave

Reports started flooding in early this morning, as a large group of New School students occupied and locked down the campus building at 65 5th Avenue. This action has seemingly come out of the blue, and it's hard to nail down a lot of specifics about what's going on. Whereas just the cafeteria in the building was taken last December, this occupation is aiming to control the entire building. The occupying students aren't affiliating themselves with either rival New School radical student group (Radical Student Union and New School in Exile), but I think it's safe to say there's a ton of overlap.

Cops are on the scene, and there are conflicting reports as to whether they've gotten inside the building at this point. The occupiers have a blog going:


There's also a FAQ, and a communique that was read by megaphone from on the roof, which from the text of it makes me think the occupation is primarily grad school students.

Keep an eye on NYC Indymedia too.

From NY1:

UPDATE: The occupiers are reporting both teargas released inside and four supporters arrested outside. I'm hearing that New School President Bob Kerrey told the NYPD they could do whatever they deemed necessary in removing the occupiers.

UPDATE: Aaaaand, it's over. All the remaining occupiers (19 in all) have been arrested and taken to the 6th Precinct. A call for people to rally there has been put out. Via a CBS affiliate.

NYU College Republicans and Democrats Lecture TBNYU on How to Create Radical Change

HURR DURRIn a move reminiscent of The Wall Street Journal criticizing David Graeber's anarchist credentials, the electoral and reformist student groups at NYU did their best at hand-wringing and concern trolling, through a press release (of course sent out after they knew how everything would turn out).

NYU Students and Administration Members,

Though “Take Back NYU!” (TBNYU) has raised legitimate concerns regarding the conduct of the NYU administration, we, the undersigned believe that these concerns should be expressed in a more constructive manner within the avenues that NYU has established for student advocacy.

Many NYU students support budget disclosure, financial aid reform, greater sensitivity to student concerns, and increased openness and transparency. However, we believe that:

1) TBNYU’s tactics are confrontational and disrespectful in a manner that alienates sympathetic students and prevents the university from constructive and respectful engagement.

2) TBNYU’s demands are too disjointed. Broader student support can only be achieved if demands are coherent and focused.

3) TBNYU’s conduct is not appropriate to the gravity of the situation and does not encourage the thoughtful discourse necessary.

We urge that the NYU administration not dismiss the concerns of TBNYU and continue to pursue an amicable end to the situation. Should they be raised in a more constructive and appropriate manner, whether by TBNYU or any other student group at NYU, we hope the administration will not close the door to future discussion on the issues.

We, the undersigned:
NYU Students Organizing for America
Students of Color and Allies
Think Torch
NYU College Democrats
NYU College Republicans
Political Union & Review at New York University

"Golly gosh! Can't we win a better university without ruffling any feathers? What if we just kept asking nicely urging NYU to open its books and for the Administration to cede power to democratic structures?"

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, TBNYU activists and allies can easily determine the mental status of their fair weather friends.

NYU Occupation - The Aftermath

(2/23/09 - Thanks to beet for the updates!)

From what I'm being told:

  • all the NYU students who were caught were suspended by the University.
  • Non-NYU students were simply released released after having their names, addresses, and photos taken (possible NYU charges against them in the near future).
  • All of those who were nabbed that have campus housing have been evicted as of now.
  • We still don't know what happened to the one student - Alex Deschamps - who was arrested last night. People are looking into it. Alex Deschamps is out and he's okay.
  • The Kimmel Center is re-opened for student use (so the idiots can get their quesadillas now).

Final statement by Take Back NYU!:

At around 2pm today, members of Take Back NYU! left the Kimmel Center for University Life, ending a 40 hour+ occupation. Their action made national and international news, and showcased the real power of the new student movement sweeping the globe.

No doubt NYU will begin attempting disciplinary action, but no suspensions, expulsions or arrests can contain what began in the last two days. This fight will carry on in the hands of the dozens of people who made it inside, and the hundreds more who came out to support the occupation. NYU showed its irrational need to defend secrecy and its exclusive hold on power, and that alone will drive this movement forward.

For everyone showing support: the real lesson here is that you can act and you can make a difference. Take the lessons from the occupation on to your own struggle, and begin to act yourself. Onward.

NYU Occupation - occupiers allowed to stay the night

Word from is that NYU Administration is "allowing" the occupiers to stay the night. I say "allowing" because at this point NYU isn't in a position to allow or disallow anything - hundreds of students both in and outside the building are the ones in control right now.

NYU - Winning the Occupation, Losing the Messaging?

After an exciting and eventful night, the NYU occupation continues into the morning. Negotiations are expected to take place all morning and likely into the afternoon.

NYU has cut off internet and power to the students. There is a call out for a massive support rally at Noon; media vans are there and we should show them what solidarity looks like!

Speaking of media, it's high time that we supporters of Take Back NYU! make our presence known - we've practically lost the messaging war when it comes to online media. While yes, it's "only" blogs, and the comment threads of newspaper articles, that's where a lot of our age group gets its information and arrives at opinions from.

The first comment on a New York Times' article on the occupation?

NYU should call in the NYPD. throw in some tear gas, clear them out, then send them to rikers for a week or two to think about it. these spoiled kids are preventing hard working people from earning a living by occupying portions of the school. it is also a fire hazard and against the law. no sympathy can be shown.

You're going to get violent, right-wing psychos nomatter what you post online, but it's a tragedy (and really fucking demoralizing) if they're the only voices we see.

NYULocal is a good example - they've got some of the most comprehensive covering of what's going on at the occupation, but the writers and their commenters are just dripping with contempt and hostility for the occupiers. Variations on "love it or leave it" and the inaccurate and hyperbolic "these are only rich kids whose parents pay their tuition" abound (as an aside, I love how it's only in these scenarios that right wingers magically obtain some kind of class analysis).

Now one of their writers is questioning whether or not a student Senator (Caitlin Boehne) should be participating in the occupation -- are they kidding?? The real outrage is that only one of them is! And of course, irony of ironies, they wrap their objection and petition for her recall in democratic language, and that she's "misrepresentative of the CAS [College of Arts and Sciences] Student Body". Elected students should first and foremost be willing to stand up for their fellow students in the face of the Administration. Caitlin’s doing exactly that.

The left has always had problems getting a fair hearing in the press - but thankfully on the internet we can help level the playing field.

People are always asking what they can do to help, even though they're hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away.

  1. Write, email and call the NYU Administration (this will help).
  2. Get online and publicly show your support for the NYU students - and correct the misinformation that's being spread about the occupation.

NYU Admins Arrest Negotiators, Police Assault and Arrest Students

This will probably go down as the most incompetent and cretinous negotiation team a University administration has ever fielded. I just got this press release:

NYU Students Shut Down Building In Protest;
Administration shuts off internet, power, restroom access, refuses to negotiate and initiates police raid.

NYU Occupation - Four left

It looks like things have wound down - there are only four students left on the balcony - the rest have been arrested or forced to leave. This is probably your best bet for the latest: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=nyu

There's currently a support rally going on on the street below - from what I gather, the best we could be aiming for at this point is amnesty for the remaining holdouts. The NYU Administrators have issued the following press release:

NYU - The LATEST - 1:31AM

The tension inside the occupied NYU building has spilled out onto the streets in the form of literal street combat - cops have rolled in en masse at around 1:15AM (the deadline NYU Admin set for everyone to leave was 1AM). It's now 1:30AM, so far there's only been one arrest (of a student trying to climb a streetsign) - but apparently there's been copious amounts of teargas used. The street and intersection are so full of people, the cop cars can't get anywhere close.

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