Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Monday, May 21, 2012

Classic Eli Broad: "Never let a crisis go to waste"

Katrina aftermath
"Never let a serious crisis go to waste." -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Nov. 2008.

In a recent Edweek piece by a similar title, billionaire power-philanthropist Eli Broad resurrects this quote made infamous by Chicago's now autocratic mayor. It's become an operational phrase for "getting things done" by skirting the public will and abandoning democratic decision-making. For Broad and other disaster capitalists, as Naomi Klein calls them, it's all about taking advantage of real disasters, like Hurricane Katrina. Or if a crisis doesn't exist -- manufacture it.

The manufactured "crisis" to which Broad refers is the fact that U.S. students, taken as a whole, don't test as high on the NAEP as students from several other countries. Writes Broad:
American students today rank 31st in the world in mathematics and 23rd in science. If the academic rankings of our most precious resource—our young people—reflected the rankings of our Olympic athletes, it would be a source of major national embarrassment.
From this statement alone, you can see that being rich and knowing anything about testing and international  assessment rankings don't necessarily go hand in hand. For one thing, national averages on standardized test scores are just that -- averages. If you would take the scores from our wealthiest schools, they would rank right up there with the world's best. Likewise, our poorest, resource-starved urban and rural schools would rank among those of the world's least developed nations.

Secondly, Olympic athletes aren't an average representation of our generally overweight and slow-moving populus. God help us in the Olympic games if they were. It is a funny thought, though. I'd like to see a Billionaires' Race to the Top event in the London Olympics, where Broad and Bill Gates would race up a hill against the world's richest man, Carlos Slim of Mexico (or even against the most interesting man in the world --you know, the guy in the beer commercials). But I digress.

"Preservation of human dignity"
Broad may not know this, but the Olympic games, like public education, weren't originally intended as an arena for competition between nations, or for one country to embarrass another, but rather as a showcase for individual athletes from around the world. Eli Broad would do well to study the Olympic Charter which talks about Olympism as "a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education." The stated goal of the Olympics is "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

Wow! Wouldn't that make for a great vision statement for public education?

By comparing public education with the Olympics against the backdrop of "national embarrassment," Broad debases both. Rahm's old crisis quote brings to mind a similar statement from free-market guru Milton Friedman. In the aftermath of Katrina, Friedman called the deadly storm, "not a disaster but an opportunity" to fire every public school teacher in New Orleans and to replace public schools with private school vouchers.

Broad would concur with his ideological mentor Friedman. Never let a good hurricane or global economic disaster go by without seizing the opportunity to crush unions, privatize public space and make a few bucks for yourself along the way.

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