For MLK Day – “Put pressure where it really hurts”

Last year on the observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I offered this quote from Dr. King’s famous last message, the “Mountaintop” speech:

We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

Last year I urged parents, teachers and others who care about saving public education in this country to begin to boycott Microsoft products, Wal*Mart, and other corporations that are behind the billion dollar attack on our teachers, our schools, our communities and our children.

Things have gotten worse for our children in the year since I wrote that piece.

Bear with me for a while – I will get to a call to action eventually, but first some things need to be laid out.

The steamroller of corporate education “reform” has picked up speed since last year. It’s come crashing through the states and greasing changes in state education laws with a combination of campaign donations and expensive propaganda paid for by Gates and friends and fronted by astroturf groups. With little public input and in defiance of scientific evidence and community outcry, states have raised or abolished their charter caps, placed even higher stakes on student test scores, bought into computerized national tests and virtual schools, and kicked the legs out from under teachers’ unions.

This has been done in part as a result of something else Dr. King talked about, the growing power of propaganda. Here’s what he said about that in a 1947 article, excerpted today in Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog:

We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, “brethren!” Be careful, teachers!

But now education itself is being overtaken by the propagandists, not from our colleges but from the Broad Foundation, whose Broad Academy graduates now run nearly half of all large urban school districts, and from other supposed do-gooders like Bill Gates, who funds astroturf groups all over the U. S.

We used to say that “the truth will out” and that people can “speak truth to power.” But that’s not so true lately.

In his Schools Matter blog, Robert D. Skeels takes on a recent article by Chicago expat Alexander Russo, who claimed that the poor corporate reformers were being outdone in the realm of internet opinion by such “naysayers” as Diane Ravitch and Parents Across America’s Leonie Haimson. Russo actually called the corporate folks the “David” to the grassroots “Goliath.” Honest. He did.

In his lengthy and useful rebuttal to Russo, Skeels includes this quote from Paul D’Amato: “The problem is that power already knows the truth, they just don’t care because they’re power.”

The fact is, the goal of corporate reform is not to improve and strengthen public education for all children using methods they truly believe will work, but to destroy it altogether and remake it as a competitive marketplace which creates wealth for some even as it produces a lower quality education for many and push-out and drop-out for some.

What to do?

I along with many others have spent the better part of the last 15 years trying to spread the truth about mayoral control, Arne Duncan, and corporate reform. We’ll keep doing that because, as Dr. King pointed out, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” We’re never going to give up on real education, real truth.

But these wealthy 1%ers simply blow off the truths we speak. Our objections, our evidence that they are wrong, our lists of footnotes simply don’t phase them. They just go out and pay for slicker propaganda.

And they have our children’s education in their crosshairs.

Before it’s too late, we have to put pressure where it really hurts. We have to attack them where it counts – smack in the middle of their corporate image.

More tomorrow for PSAT.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.