This is not a burden they asked for, or even want, but, today, the voters of Newark go to the polls to decide the possible future of both public education and democracy as we now know them both to be. The race has become bigger than a contest between Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries. It has become a question of whether people or money count the most in determining policy of any sort, especially education policy. It also is a turning point in considering just what it means to be a Democrat or a progressive or a liberal. No longer are the predominantly poor and minority residents in the cross-hairs of crazy, right-wing Republicans who are either hostile or indifferent. Now the poor must worry more about those with “liberal” credentials who would pretend they care and they know better and, because they do (and have the money to prove it), they will tell the poor how to act, how to behave, what to believe.
Two masterful pieces of writing appeared yesterday that proved the point. The New Yorker article by Dale Russakoff, “A Test for School Reform in Newark,” demonstrated beyond doubt that the children of the city were unwillingly and unwittingly–and secretly– chosen for an experiment in school reform. The secret use of children as social engineering guinea pigs was a conscious and deliberate decision by Cory Booker—and whoever his backers are, because we don’t know—and a handful of other people, using tens of millions of dollars of private money. The greatest irony is that, while many of us blamed Gov. Chris Christie for the debacle in Newark, the blame really lies with Booker and his billionaire accomplices. Booker brought Christie into the mix and used old friends Christopher Cerf and Cami Anderson as the enforcers.
The other piece has a more narrow scope but, in some ways, is even more disturbing. It was written by a Highland Park resident named Darcie Cimarusti who blogs under the name “Mother Crusader.” She is an artist, the mother of twins, and a member of the Highland Park school board. Cimarusti followed the money that is going into the Jeffries campaign. What she discovered was a possible fraud, money–some $300,000– going into a non-existent company that will put people on the streets today to get the vote out for Jeffries. In light of this article, Jeffries looks less like a champion of reaction but rather just another pawn in the game. A willing pawn, but a pawn nonetheless.
She quotes Jeffries as saying that, in the polls today, there won’t be hedge-fund managers and Wall Street financiers pulling the levers. But he’s wrong—they are pulling the levers. Just not the levers of voting machines but of how we know what we know, why we believe what we believe. The bigger levers.
Together, the Russakoff and Cimarusti articles introduce us to a frightening future in which those who have made their fortunes have decided what is best for all of us. Right now, they have decided that public education, especially in the cities, should be a private matter, handed over to private corporations unfettered by employee unions. They will educate only a fraction of the children, those they believe can be of use to them in a future in which we really don’t need a mass electorate with good skills, but just enough talented people willing to listen to the needs of the well off and their political patrons and execute their wishes.
To the rich, whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, public education as we know it in this country is too poltiically dangerous to be allowed to continue and succeed, especially among those who have been offered no financial stake in the future. Other countries throughout the world know how destabilizing it gets when too many people are too educated and there are no jobs. It is no coincidence that privatization comes just at a time when increased funding for public schools began to show good results. Booker, Cerf, Christie, Anderson, Jeffries, et al., don’t want public schools to succeed—because that would be an argument against privatization. So, as a consequence, public education in places like Newark has been stripped of its assets and declared a failure before it even had a chance.
This arrangement has been good for the junta running New Jersey education. Christie portrays himself to the nation as someone who can negotiate with “Democrats” like Booker. He also has a built-in union-destroying machine. Booker’s scary ambitions–hidden behind a charming smile and myths created by a public relations machine–have been boosted. He will make a fine president some day for the rich of both parties. Cerf and Anderson look like heroes to their co-religionists–and to themselves in their most bizarre fantasies about power and control.
The arrangement also produces enough partisans—for obvious reasons. The few families who can take advantage of privatization become a lobbying force for the very idea of privatization. Many will vote today for Jeffries—and who can blame them? Who outside Newark would sacrifice what they think is best for their children just to save abstractions like “democracy” and “public education.” Sacrifice is for other people.
I am sorry to be a bummer but I’ve said it before and I will say it again: The people with the money will not let Baraka win. They will either steal the election today or, if he wins by so large a margin they cannot, they will do everything they can—and, with their money, they can do a lot—to make him fail. Sharpe James, let us not forget, was indicted and convicted by US Attorney Chris Christie for, get this, selling public property at bargain prices to a close associate–exactly what was done with the 18th Avenue School and “Pink Hula Hoop.” If, somehow, Baraka wins, he will be targeted from day one–he will be a perfect candidate for a frame-up.
Just a note to my white friends in the suburbs. You’re probably not paying much attention today. If you are, many of you might be grumbling about all the money that goes into city schools. But the extraordinarily wealthy people in this country will not stop at the border between city and suburb.
They’re coming for your kids next. Either get rich enough to join the one percent if you can or be prepared to enjoy what that nice, respectable group has prepared for your future. I hope you’re paying attention–and not to the television ads.