Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Will Public Education Be Militarized?

January 18, 2009
Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Will Public Education Be Militarized?

In two days, we enter a new Bush and Cheney-less era, though we’ll be living with their nightmarish legacy forever and a day. In response to change, all of us have to adapt — TomDispatch included. This site certainly won’t lose its focus on the world out there, the ongoing militarization of our country, the way we continue to garrison the planet, or the new military and civilian team of custodians and bureaucrats of empire just now being put in place to manage our ongoing wars. This coming week and next, for instance, the site will turn to the nightmare in Gaza, well covered indeed by the political blogosphere, while considering what, in the new Obama era, the future may hold in the Middle East; but TomDispatch will also (as today) aim to expand its domestic focus, while keeping a steady eye upon the economic devastation now roiling our country and planet. (By the way, on some Saturdays, including the next one, I’ll be having a surprise or two for TD readers, so keep your eyes peeled.)

Just as the Bush administration is handing off a host of foreign policy debacles to Barack Obama (including seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), a woefully mismanaged economic bailout, and possibly a second Great Depression, so the outgoing president is leaving the new administration with a public education mess. There’s the much maligned and underfunded No Child Left Behind Act which is up for reauthorization this year. The cost of going to college is also rapidly spiraling out of control, as evidenced in a recent report in which every state except California received an “F” for college affordability. And at the same time, student loans are drying up as lenders, fearing economic disaster, scale back their programs.

With this in mind, the stakes are high for the incoming Secretary of Education and Obama pal Arne Duncan, who was received with striking warmth during his Senate confirmation hearings this week. As Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) put it, “Mr. Duncan, there is no question that schools across America can benefit from the same kind of fresh thinking that you brought to Chicago public schools. As you know very well, perhaps our greatest educational challenge is to improve the performance of urban and rural public schools serving high-poverty communities.”

Today, Andy Kroll skips the “applause” and the “warm reception.” Instead, he puts Duncan’s “fresh thinking” in Chicago under the microscope. The results may surprise. (To catch a TomDispatch audio interview with Kroll on the new Secretary of Education, click here.) Tom

The Duncan Doctrine
The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education
By Andy Kroll

On December 16th, a friendship forged nearly two decades ago on the hardwood of the basketball court culminated in a press conference at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school located on the west side of Chicago. In a glowing introduction to the media, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools system (CPS), as his nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. “When it comes to school reform,” the President-elect said, “Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners. For Arne, school reform isn’t just a theory in a book — it’s the cause of his life. And the results aren’t just about test scores or statistics, but about whether our children are developing the skills they need to compete with any worker in the world for any job.”

Though the announcement came amidst a deluge of other Obama nominations — he had unveiled key members of his energy and environment teams the day before and would add his picks for the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior the next day — Duncan’s selection was eagerly anticipated, and garnered mostly favorable reactions in education circles and in the media. He was described as the compromise candidate between powerful teachers’ unions and the advocates of charter schools and merit pay. He was also regularly hailed as a “reformer,” fearless when it came to challenging the educational status quo and more than willing to shake up hidebound, moribund public school systems.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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