Become the wolves, part 2: Public education must credibly prepare to primary Biden -- so it doesn't have to
The people of public education are the indispensable core of the modern Democratic coalition. Wield that power to bring the president along, survive the moment, and win the rebuilding.
Here is part 1 of my “Become the Wolves” series, titled: Florida, the state that puts "a nation at risk".
Today is part 2; and it comes with my usual political disclaimer as context:
I’m a No Party Affiliate. (At least I think I am. I bounce around sometimes depending on a specific election.) When pushed, I describe myself as an anti-prohibition, pro-14th Amendment, moral conservative — with morality defined by honest human observation rather than religion. But most people call me “liberal” or “progressive.” I don’t care what most people call me. Call me whatever you want. I voted for Joe Biden with reasonable enthusiasm.
I’m pretty pleased overall with early days of the Biden presidency. It’s better than I expected so far. But I’m also a public education voter and activist in a time of existential threat for public education. I do not invest emotionally in individual politicians anymore. I look for the power to deliver what I’d like to see delivered. Period.
This week provided a red line to any serious public education advocate or voter. It taught a brutal lesson about power and who the president considers to have it. Public education, as a powerful idea and political force, should answer not with anger — but with cold clarity.
A testing lie?
Biden was asked during the campaign point blank: “Will you commit to ending the use of standardized testing in schools?”
He answered, point blank: “Yes.”
And yet, Biden’s Department of Education this week ordered every state to resume Big Test. This move is nothing more than a education think tank and test company bailout, executed on the backs of your children and your teachers. No child will benefit from it because no child ever does.
COVID disruption just underscores the moral bankruptcy and insanity and absurdity that always exists in the mediocre American elite’s obsession with sorting children and locking them into life-crushing algorithmic justification for racial and ethnic castes.
You’ll have to decide if Biden was lying in that video. Perhaps some big anti-testing move is coming. If so, no one in the Biden administration was concerned enough by the optics or political fallout of the announcement to even try to soften or contextualize it.
That silence speaks loudly.
A unsentimental lesson in power
Concerning that silence, here are two pieces of background on how failed “liberal reform” Obama-era corporate education powers like John King’s EducationTrust are actually staffing the federal Department of Education — and how they likely made the decision to resume the corrupt, broken test machine.
See this story. And see this story. Biden’s actual pick for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, seems completely irrelevant, if he’s ever confirmed.
All of this strikes me clearly as a way of reminding the people of public education who runs them. It’s a way of telling the millions of people of public education this:
You don’t matter, politically. You can’t hurt me. You don’t worry me. I own you and take you for granted. Now take the useless tests and shut up for the benefit of the Ivy League eduwonks who are the failkids of the people who do matter. They need those “policy” jobs that produce nothing, but at least prevent them from sullying themselves with real kids in real classrooms.
You don’t have to get mad or emotional about this, if humane public education is important to you; but you do need to understand what it says about how power sees you.
I have learned one political lesson above all: if you can’t find a way to hurt power; power will treat you with indifference and dismiss your demands without acknowledgement that they even exist — yes, even the “good guys” will.
There is no Biden second term without public education’s blessing
Let’s be clear: the people of public education — as embodiment of a broad, deep public interest — have enormous power to hurt Joe Biden. We have enormous power to harm any Democratic president. We have almost unlimited power to do so.
Because public education, as an interest, sits at the core of the Democratic political coalition in the same way the feeling of armed power, as an interest, sits at the core of the shrinking Republican political coalition.
Now, to be clear, public education politics do not break down on the tired old meaningless left, right, center continuum. That’s why the Red State teacher revolts were so effective. Indeed, public education is a potent political tool to use in chipping away at the Republican coalition, as I documented in part 1 of this series.
Saddling Republicans with political responsibility for the failed Florida Model of education in the 2022 governor’s race is vital to ending the Florida Model’s influence nationwide.
But on the Democratic side, public education isn’t a tool or wedge; it’s the sine qua non of the coalition.
The coalition collapses without public education to hold it together. If public education revolted en masse because it is tired of Democrats in power reducing our children to numbers for money, well…
No consequences, no power
And yet, public education has been unwilling to use that political power because it fears the Republican alternative. By indulging that fear, it has delivered itself precisely the Republican alternative — dished out by Democratic presidents and wonks and groups like EducationTrust.
Betsy DeVos just swam in No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the full “liberal reform” ocean of capacity-killing bullshit.
The greatest comedy of Betsy DeVos’ term was watching “liberal reformers” struggle to articulate a case against her other than their own vanity and snobbery — and maybe the voucher sideshow. They agreed with her and continue to agree with her on the all-important basics: reduce kids to sortable numbers, punish the people committed to working with them, and then get paid. Also, unions bad. Kill them.
With the testing decision, Biden has now sent a clear early signal that he’s on board with the last 25 years of anti-human grift in American education — and utterly unconcerned that he will suffer any consequence for it.
It is open season everywhere on public education right now, union and non-union. And nobody’s coming to save us except ourselves. Thus, it’s a matter of survival to send Biden and Obama’s failed corporate “reformers” a clear signal back — now: public education is ready to primary the entire corporate “liberal” Eduwonk grifter class, with which there can be no peace, in the 2024 presidential election.
We like you, Joe. It’s nothing personal. But as long as you’re Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush, you’re going to have to defend that day after day, night after night in a primary campaign. In fact, because we agree on most of what you’re doing overall, we’ll just talk about education and the useless grift of Big Test and teacher shortages relentlessly, with nothing else to confuse it. It could even be friendly, except to Arne Duncan. Sounds good, don’t you think?
Clarity about the EducationTrust primary now gives Biden ample time to adjust. And I think he will, with the right persuasion.
The 2024 EdTrust primary is easy to make happen
A 2024 public education primary is not remotely an idle political threat. The capability more than exists.
The public education advocacy movement has both the organizational muscle (unions) and a ferocious, articulate non-union community that recognizes true, humane, egalitarian public education as the foundation of everything America aspires to be.
It is a lethal, national political juggernaut awaiting activation. It got rid of Scott Walker in Wisconsin and thus probably made Biden president. It beat a Trumpian Republican governor in Kentucky last year. Ask the Democratic campaign grifter class how well it did in challenging Mitch McConnell or Trump in the bluegrass state, by contrast. And, again, the Red State teacher revolts were the most potent, yet unharnessed, political force in America not owned by Trump-obsession in the last four years.
And that’s without any real national co-ordination or focus or Democratic support. That’s despite active opposition EdTrust and from the Obama-era Democratic corporate wing, which is allied with Jeb Bush’s Republican corporate wing.
Indeed, public education is the only massive, passionate American interest that lacks any meaningful, consistent national political representation. It victimizes itself with a bizarre self-negation and self-loathing. It seems to believe that if we just complain enough about how mistreated we all are, a magical judge will swoop down from on high to make it right. Public education absolves itself far too easily for its own destruction.
And that’s why you should not get mad at Biden or the EducationTrust or Arne Duncan or any of the other Big Test, “liberal reformer,” capacity-killing grifters. They are delivering on the interests that are important to them; we’re not.
They are using their corporate power and funding power and familiarity power to hurt you for money because they’re effective at doing that. This is despite their endless failures and wild unpopularity and disproportionate harm for the vulnerable of everything they do.
The leaders of the “good guys” are afraid to wield their actual power — which is not getting on MSNBC
So don’t yell at them; yell at Randi Weingarten and Fed Ingram, the public education organizational leaders. While EdTrust lackeys were delivering Big Test to the handful of people who make money from it, Randi Weingarten was doing MSNBC shows. After all, that is the modern definition of success for a Democratic party “leader.”
Yell at ourselves for allowing two political parties to pursue similarly destructive public education and human sorting policies, while pretending that only one of them really was — and that the other might not know what it was doing.
We’re told all the time how impossible it is to strike at the Florida level or national level. And I’m sure that’s true.
But it’s quite easy for the people of public education to go on political strike as the core of a Democratic political machine that rewards you with EducationTrust and Arne Duncan. An EdTrust primary is the equivalent of a national political strike. It’s time to pick a Democratic side.
Randi Weingarten could announce that political strike and save public education this afternoon — or at least commit Joe Biden to saving it — with one phone call. Tell Biden or Ron Klain:
I will be working with the other unions and the vast swathe of non-union public education advocates to primary you in 2024. We’re really primarying Arne Duncan and John King; but they’re not on the ballot. You are. And by empowering them, you left us with no other options.
We’re going to recruit somebody who is a lot younger than you, likely a person of color, and not a union member; we’re going to use our organizational muscle to get her or him on every state ballot; and we’re going to make you defend Betsy DeVos and reducing every American child to a test data algorithm over and over again on TV. I think Jamaal Bowman would be great; how about you?
Now if you bring us a giant anti-political testing, anti-No Child Left Behind, pivot to a Finland-not-Florida, launch Kamala Harris’ federal teacher salary engine bill, we can call that primary off quickly and happily and rally around you as the savior of public education.
But if you don’t bring us that, we’re going to bring it to you daily as you run for re-election. You decide. It’s nothing personal; it’s strictly business. You know quite well that Big Corporate Test has zero popular political constituency. And imagine a Democratic party coalition with an excited and activated education base for once, one that cuts into Republican hatred of Big Tech and testing. Will this be your wedge, or Trump’s wedge?
By doing this, Weingarten might sacrifice her invitations to MSNBC shows. Perhaps she might no longer be considered a Very Important Democrat. But her record as most important American union leader and Very Important Democrat coincides with the bipartisan destruction of the very thing she’s supposed to protect and grow for her members.
That’s just a fact.
Unlike education, in politics, the scoreboard does not lie about the experiences of supporters and constituents. Weingarten has a wide open chance to change that and reverse a legacy of abject failure.
You want Trump back? Keep doing Big Test
If public education primaried Biden and EdTrust on a pro-humanity, anti-Big Tech test education platform, the Republican Party would, most likely, become rabidly anti-test overnight everywhere but Florida. And it would certainly complicate things here.
The GOP has proven itself, shall we say, “intellectually flexible,” when it comes to pursuing power however it can. Trumpism will sell out Jebism in a second to get that wedge. Trump already beat Jeb to death politically with test-obsessed Common Core in the 2016 GOP primary. You think Matt Gaetz won’t use Big Corporate Test to shamelessly hammer Corporate Joe Biden?
If, for some reason, the GOP decided to double down on Big Corporate Test and make common cause with “corporate reform,” that’s a potent issue for Democrats to seize that eats into the Republican voter base. Hard to be pro Big Test, but against Big Tech.
The path to purging Test-and-Punish from American life is political because Test-and-Punish is a purely political choice — a moronic and destructive one. Ridding ourselves of it politically opens an opportunity to actually use that range of humane assessments we always hear about to help children develop. If they actually exist.
One can hear the whines of the Obama-world think tank eduwonks and liberal reformers:
“But you’ll give us Trump again if you attack our high stakes, cherished, algorithm-creation testing. And maybe cost us our jobs and Chardonnay conferences. How will we judge people who make less money than us to do a much harder job?”
To which I would say:
“Yeah, it’s possible. And bringing back Trump seems like an awfully big price to pay to keep forcing kids to take stupid tests designed to harm and sort them politically by class and race and disability so you can a have a job that makes you feel superior to a teacher suffering for $45K and working as a bartender on the side. That seems like awfully big price for hating teacher unions. Are they really so much worse than Trump?”
I know the Jonathan Chait edupundits and John King eduwonks of the world think so. What about you, Mr President? Pick a side.
I would also add this in talking to our illustrious Democratic elites:
“Trump is just going to insult and impoverish teachers and public schools. It’s you guys, the political and think tank elite, he intends to lock up or worse for revenge. You might consider that in mulling the merits of over-testing other people’s kids for no benefit at all. Maybe you need us more than you understand? Do you really want to find out? We don’t.”
God did not create the standardized test or empower its corrupt priesthood
Big Test is as much a political choice as $2000 checks. It's as much a political choice as invading Iraq or Welfare Reform.
The Supreme Being did not will the standardized test into existence as the sacrosanct foundation of human development, virtue, and convenient sorting. It is as subject to democratic oversight and skepticism as anything else. And yet…
It has intruded into 21st century American life as a strange, almost holy force of the divine. It is imposed by a self-appointed, disembodied priesthood of weirdly inexorable nonsense. And we sacrifice our kids to it because if we don’t…well, what, exactly, happens? Locusts? Excommunication from what’s left of the the middle class?
The brutalizing American model of education is not an inevitability; its sincere advocates — as opposed to open grifters like Richard Corcoran — are small and weak and emotionally fragile. They cannot take any criticism. There is no snowflake quite like the “liberal reformer.” Yet they have convinced Democratic presidents — and more importantly, they have convinced us — that we are smaller and weaker than they are. We are not.
The consent of the educated is a massive part of the consent of the governed. One could argue it’s the most important part — the fundamental development engine of self-government. Yet, we have surrendered human complexity and our definitions of well-being to the corrupt measures of a scan sheet. We have reduced ourselves and our kids to algorithms useful only to narrow, malicious, fragile power.
The path out of this madness runs through our own power — power that is just sitting there waiting for us to wield and seize ownership of our shared American future.
Make anyone argue against that in their next campaign.
Making it clear now that Biden should expect that from us in 2024 makes it highly unlikely that we will have to do it.