Today, eleven Atlanta educators were convicted on racketeering charges for conspiring to cheat on mandatory standardized tests administered to their students over about a five year period. All face multi-year prison sentences. There will be two kneejerk reactions that will get a lot of corporate press, one that will get a little, one that will be mentioned rarely if at all, and a fundamental reason that will never be acknowledged.
Let’s start with the first two. What the Black Agenda Report calls the “black misleadership class” will bray that all of the convicted educators were black, that if they had been white, there would probably have been no convictions and definitely no prison time, and will do their best to reduce the issue to a strictly racial one. The thing is, they may well have a point about heavy-duty charges and prison sentences being levied against blacks and, if they’re smart enough to point it out, will compare the convictions to the mere financial slaps-on-the-wrist that college sports coaches and their employers received in the past for helping athletes cheat to meet academic requirements for staying on things like football teams.
The right wing response to that argument will be swift. Racism has nothing to do with it, they will bleat, cheating is cheating and should be punished harshly. Schools, especially public ones, and those lazy, worthless, selfish teachers must be held accountable. If the corporate press really plays it up, America’s Right-Winger in Chief, President Obama, will come down firmly on the side of the law, once again proving how wonderfully centrist, color-blind, and brilliant he is. Politicians like him will probably even find a way to tie in the convictions with upholding middle-class values or some such rot. Anyway, that “the law is the law” point will resonate with many Americans.
And under the radar, anti-black racists will whisper, “See? Those people think they can get away with anything just because they’re black, and cry ‘racism’ whenever they get caught.”
Finally, the teachers unions will decry yet another assault on public education, and they’ll definitely have a point. Whenever teachers bring up the real immediate reason behind all of this on any corporate talking head show, however, the subject will be quickly changed or it will suddenly be time for “We have to leave it there” and a commercial break.
That immediate reason is school funding based on standardized test scores, or the misnamed No Child Left Behind Act. At the trial, there was a lot of testimony that the superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, Beverly Hall, put immense pressure on teachers to make sure their students got high test scores, by any means necessary. Since she died of cancer before the trial, we’ll never know what her testimony would have been, but the allegations are almost certainly accurate.
In order to avoid cuts to government funding, public schools are scrambling to “teach to the test.” The problem is, the tests do little to reward critical thinking skills and actively discourage creativity(except, perhaps, creating new ways to cheat). Here comes the fundamental reason part.
Once upon a time, our capitalist ruling classes actually needed a large, educated work force in order for them to make profits. They don’t anymore. All they need now are a few well-educated technical, engineering, finance, marketing, and administrative types, and maybe a few pet scientists. What they definitely don’t need is a large class of people who are capable of analyzing and questioning how things like politics and economics are run, or people who can question and dissect the moral or “family” or “American” values to which they wish we would adhere for their own benefit and security.
They learned the lessons of the 1960’s and 1970’s well– if they allow teachers to teach young people how to critically think, those same young people just might turn around and critically think about them.
“Wouldn’t be prudent.” –George H.W. Bush
That is why standardized testing was made mandatory, that is why liberal arts education is being systematically destroyed, that is ultimately why Superintendent Hall put pressure on her teachers to cheat the test results.
That is also why we’ll never hear the real reason on CNN, Fox, or any other corporate media network, and rarely on PBS or NPR, which are now beholden to corporate sponsors.
Have a nice day, anyway.