Thursday, March 12, 2009

President Merit Pay Or How I Have Come To Despise Barack Obama

Barack Obama has decided he would like to turn the entire nation into one big KIPP charter school.

In a speech he gave yesterday, he laid out his education proposals which have "progressive" education writers (i.e., people who have never taught a day in their lives but claim to be education experts) like Jay Matthews
and the editors at the NY Daily News soiling their suit pants.

The gist of the speech was this: Obama believes a longer school day, a longer school year, the end of teacher tenure, a merit pay system tied to test scores, additional standardized testing for students, and the end to charter school caps will solve the "education crisis" the nation is suffering from.

None of this is a surprise. I wrote during the primary season that this was his agenda and this was why I was loathe to support him during the primaries (I was first an Edwards man, then I debated voting for Harpo Marx or Ron Paul...) and held my nose when I voted for him in November. The only reason I did vote for him in November is Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 years old, Justice Ginsburg is ill and I didn't want to see a Republican president get another two or three Supreme Court picks. Nonetheless, I regret voting for Obama then and I would like to officially rescind my vote now.

Here's why:

Yes, his education policy is silly. We've covered this stuff before - the regular school day is already 7 hours. My students travel about an hour or more each way to school. That's 9 hours. Many of my students take part in after school activities or internships. That adds another 1 or 2 hours a day. Then there's an hour or more of homework. The older ones work jobs. Many have single parents, so they have to take care of domestic activities - you know, cooking and cleaning and the like. And that's leaving aside the dysfunctional environments so many come from - I just finished grading 105 college essays written by my juniors. Can I tell you how many of those essays were about alcoholism, child abuse, sexual abuse, sickness, mental/emotional illness and other horrific things these kids have to endure every day? And now President Merit Pay wants to add another hour or two a day to their schedules because he thinks that will help them become better educated? Please...if he wants to raise their education levels, start by fixing the sheer dysfunction so many of them grow up in so that they feel small and insignificant and full of despair and anger.

But that's too difficult, isn't it? It's easier to blame society's ills on teachers and schools - they day's not long enough, the year's not long enough, there aren't enough tests, there aren't the right kinds of tests, the teachers suck, teacher tenure sucks, teachers need to be paid on a Merrill Lynch-like bonus system to make things better.

Uh, huh. Every "solution" to the problems in public education President Merit Pay has proposed is meant to socialize kids to expect to have to work longer and harder to make less money in the future.

Longer school day - well, then they won't mind working 10 hour days when they grow up.

No more school vacations - well, then they won't mind the lost vacation time when they grow up and have to compete with workers in Sri Lanka who get 2 vacation days a year.

Merit pay for teachers - well, then they'll expect to be paid themselves on a bonus system when they grow up. Never mind that it was this very bonus or "merit" or commission system that helped create the financial Armageddon on Wall Street (see Merrill Lynch, Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, et al.) and Main Street (see real estate bubble) that has nearly and may still bring the nation to its knees. Bonuses are great!

Merit pay for kids - well, again they'll expect crap wages and most of their compensation in bonuses when they grow up. Good for the masters, not so good for the serfs! Never mind that we'll never endear a love of learning or reading or improving in kids by paying them every time they go up a few points on this month's standardized tests, the point is to get them to expect most of their compensation to be "performance-based." And never mind just how (or who) gets to measure that performance. You'll take your gruel and like it!

The point is to prop up the status quo, lower the expectations for what young Americans can expect for their futures. I've said this before. Progress for education "progressives" - global free traders all(see Tom Friedman, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, et al.) - is longer work days, longer work years, longer work careers, and a work system in America that mimics Third World standards.

But there are so many other reasons to despise President Merit Pay beyond the silly little speech he gave on education yesterday. Here are a few more:

He seems intent on setting as much money on fire as possible and handing it hand over fist to AIG, Citigroup, BoA and the rest of the zombie finanacial instituions, all the while mortgaging the country's future by either printing that money or borrowing it from the Chinese.

He can't seem to actually hire anybody else for the Treasury Dept. outside of Little Timmeh Giethner and Larry "Misogynist" Summers, which is troubling considering both of these clowns helped create the mess we're in now and have no idea how to get us out of it other than throw as much borrowed money at the problem as they can, inflation be damned.

As an environmentalist and a person concerned about food safety, I can't tell you how disgusted I am by Obama's pick of "Ag Whore" Tom "I'm owned by Monsanto" Vilsack to run the the Agriculture Department. If you're a big agricultural conglomerate, you're going to do well under the Obama administration. If you're a little farmer trying to grow wholesome, non-genetically modified food, you're not going to do so well.

And finally, he's just a hypocrite. Today he signed a bill loaded with earmarks while railing against earmarks. Seriously. That's as bad as GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell railing against ear marks while loading that very same bill with earmarks. You know what Merit Pay? If you don't like the bill, don't sign it. You have veto power, you know. Oh, and he also railed against signing statements while issuing a signing statement. When I looked that up in the dictionary, it said SEE HYPOCRITE.

Yeah, I'm done. With Obama. I wanted to give him a chance, but I just can't support him any longer. On education policy, financial policy, food policy, the Afghanistan policy, he's shown little to no break with Bush. And yet, even as his policies actually prop up the right wing consituencies like financial institutions, food conglomerates and the defense complex, he still manages to get stereotyped as a "radical socialist." PLLLLEEEEAAAASSSSSEEEE.

About the only thing radical about President Merit Pay is that he takes smoke breaks when he plays basketball.

Other than that, it's business as usual.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I despise both bosses.

POSTSCRIPT: I attended a Jesuit high school in Manhattan. My school has graduated a Supreme Court Justice, a Mayor of New York City (albeit one who was indicted and had to flee the country), captains of industry, lawyers, teachers, doctors, and priests. This school has a rule that all students must be out of the school building by 5 PM and all after school activities must be completed by then. Do you know why? Because the people who run that school believe it is important that the students go home and, if possible, have dinner with their families. Imagine that? Family time that cuts into the school day. Oh, and summer starts the first week of June and ends the first week of September. And yet, somehow, despite less seat time and (gulp!) a shorter school year, the school manages to graduate some pretty successful men. Hmm...maybe it's not all about seat time?
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