The Privatization of Childhood

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood

By Megan Erikson

Verso Press (2015)

Book Review

Megan Erikson’s 2015 book provides an elegant class analysis of the current push by Wall Street and Silicon Valley to privatize US education via voucher programs and private publicly-funded charter schools. Class War provides an in-depth examination of the dismaying effects of systematic privatization on the teachers and low income students who struggle on in brutally underfunded public schools.

Erikson’s basic premise is that the current purpose of the US educational system isn’t to educate but to permanently entrench social class divisions by sorting students into winners and losers.

For me the three basic points Class War puts across are

  1. US public schools are increasingly run like prisons, complete with metal detectors, cops, surveillance, attack dogs and random sweeps,
  2. Teachers are unfairly blamed for severe social problems that are beyond their control. Five decades of research conclusively concludes that classroom education accounts for less than 30% of a child’s education success and teacher performance only 7.5%. Achievement levels relate much more closely to exposure to complex language, access to medical care and a “healthy” home environment that provides access to books and challenging games.
  3. Claims by the CATO Institute and other conservative that increased federal education funding* won’t help are dead wrong. Research consistently shows that increasing the funding level per student**and reducing class size,*** increasing teacher pay, and providing better instructional materials (many New York City public schools fail to provide a textbook for every child) all improve achievement levels.

Erikson points to the irony of neoliberal billionaire reformers (like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg) calling for an increase class sizes in public schools (currently 40 students per teacher in New York City, while they send their own kids to exclusive private school with class sizes of 10-16. Likewise Silicon Valley executives push for early access to tablets and laptops in public schools, while sending their own kids to Waldorf schools that ban classroom computer access prior to age 13.

*In most industrialized countries, 50% of funding comes from national government. In the US the federal share is only 10-15%. This means most public school are mainly reliant on local property taxes for funding. This translate into major financial problems in poor districts.

**In public school districts with high funding levels per student, results on global achievement tests are equal to those of high performing countries like Japan and Hong Kong.

***In most European countries, administrators reduce class size to increase achievement in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the US, the exact opposite occurs.


Fethullen Gulen, Turkey’s 2016 Coup, and the US Charter School Movement

Turkey’s Coup: The Gulen Mystery

RT (2018)

Film Review

This alarming RT documentary series concerns the secretive Turkish imam accused by Turkish president Recep Erdogan of orchestrating the 2016 coup. Fethullen Gulen, founder of Turkey’s Hizmet movement, defected to the US in 1995, after being charged with trying to start a secret religion. At the height of the movement’s power in 2008, it had 2-3 million Turkish followers and ran 2,000 Gulen schools and universities in 140 countries, including the US.

The US is resisting Turkey’s demands for Gulen’s extradition to stand trial for his role in the coup.

What I found most concerning about the series is learning (in Part 4) of Hizmet’s extensive role in starting 170 taxpayer funded Gulen charter schools in the US. The FBI raided a number of Gulen schools in 2011 as part of an ongoing investigation. For some mysterious reason, the mainstream media made no mention of this at the time of the Turkish coup.

Some Russian analysts believe Gulen received CIA support in expanding his private school network to newly independent Muslim republics following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2008, the Justice Department appealed the State Department’s decision to award Gulen permanent residency in the US. They lost the appeal based on two letters from the CIA and one from the US ambassador in Ankara.

Gulen presently lives on a 25 acre estate in Pennsylvania.

Part 1 describes the formation of the Hizmet movement in Turkey in the sixties and seventies and the spread of Gulen schools to Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia, Ukraine and Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the same period, they also spread to many countries in Africa and Asia.

Part 2 describes the expansion of Gulen schools into Russia and Germany. After Putin came to power, many Russian Gulen schools were closed after parents complained about their children being indoctrinated with Islamic beliefs.

Part 3 includes interviews with Turkish immigrants in Germany and the extortion-style techniques the Hizmet movement used to pressure them to help fund new Gulen schools.

Part 4 examines the history of Gulen charter school movement in the US. One former American Gulen school teacher describes their abusive treatment of women and the complaint she made to the FBI about her husband being forced contribute 40% of his salary to the Hizmet movement. At the height of their power, the Hismet movement represented a powerful tightly controlled international corporation and had major presence in number of Turkish government agencies.

Part 5 explores the powerful role of the Turkish military in maintaining Turkey’s status as a secular state. It also describes a brief alliance between Erdogan and Gulen in the early 1990s to advocate for greater Islamic influence over Turkish society. Prior to the 2016 coup, the Hizmet movement controlled the second largest media empire in Turkey – with six TV stations, two radio stations and several newspapers, magazines and publishing companies. Following the coup, Erdogan arrested 102,000 members of the Izmet movement and fired 130,000 others who held government jobs. He closed all Turkey’s Gulen schools or arranged for their takeover by local authorities, He also shut down 1,500 Hizmet-funded NGOs and their Turkish media network. The subsequent drop in their funding led to the closure or takeover of many Gulen schools worldwide.

Part 5, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed free at

The Rise and Fall of Fethullah Gulen


Addressing Grossly Underfunded Ghetto Schools

Black Lives: Agents of Change, Failing Schools vs Community Education in America

RT (2019)

Film Review

The fifth episode of Black Lives contrasts failing public schools in New York and Philadelphia ghettos with community education efforts by Black Lives Matter organizers.

Due to systematic defunding, African American students attend schools with as many as 40 kids in a class. With no time to correct it, some teachers have quit assigning homework.. At the same time, many “underperforming” (ie underfunded) schools in African America communities have been closed to redirect public funding to privately run for-profit charter schools.

Most of the film centers around efforts by Black Lives Matter organizers to teach Black teenagers gun safety (via the Black Guns Matter program) and community organizing skills. They learn how to organize protest marches, send out media releases and lobby officials at all levels of government.

While Black Lives Matter has come under criticism for its failure to bring about any genuine policy changes, their community education efforts seem to offer Black teenagers good male role models, as well as an attractive alternative to drug dealing and gang banging.



We’re Still Here Ya Bastards

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City

by Roberta Brandes Gratz

Nation Books (2014)

Book Review

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards is a remarkable account of how a loose knit network of citizens groups and organizations fought FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), city hall and the state of Louisiana to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP Oil Spill (2010). The grassroots rebuilding effort happened despite a federal/state/city conspiracy to use the storm (and flood) to rid New Orleans of black residents.

Prior to Katrina and the levee failure that flooded 80% of the city,* New Orleans was 67% black. Initially 250,000 of New Orleans 485,000 residents were forced to relocate to other cities and states. Thanks to grassroots efforts, by 2015 81% had returned – despite the best efforts of officials in charge of the recovery effort.

Specific examples of FEMA/city policies to discourage black evacuees from returning:

  • Unlike other areas, (mainly black) Lower Ninth War residents were forced to wait four months before they were allowed to return to their flooded properties.**
  • Homes in low income areas, in many cases, were red-tagged for demolition without notifying owners.
  • All New Orleans public housing was demolished, even though only one public housing building was slightly damaged, and FEMA funds were fraudulently funneled to private developers to build market rate housing.
  • Despite being returned to full function by volunteers, Charity Hospital was closed, with FEMA funds being channeled to build a new hospital serving private patients.
  • All New Orleans teachers were fired (in violation of the union contract) to enable the replacement of the Black middle class who previously ran the city schools with a white out-of-state corporate elite and publicly funded, privately run charter schools.
  • “Predatory demolition,” in which many poor residents were deliberately misinformed they had to demolish their homes due to “black mold.”
  • Systematic refusal of FEMA, insurance companies and Road Home*** to pay homeless residents enough to rebuild their homes.

The coming together of local and out-of-state volunteers and wealthy benefactors to assist New Orleans residents to rebuild and/or rehabilitate their homes is incredibly inspiring. The best known benefactor was actor Brad Pitt, who funded the construction of 150 sustainable, solar-power homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.

*Contrary to mainstream media reports, Katrina was a man-made disaster stemming from flawed construction (by the Army Corps of Engineers) of the city’s levees. Katrina was only a category 3 hurricane – not a category 4-5 as was widely reported.

**Despite its working class character, 60% of Lower Ninth residents were homeowners, the highest proportion in the city.

***Road Home is a federally funded disaster relief program administered by Louisiana.











25 Years Among the Poorest Children in America

Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-five Years Among the Poorest Children in America

by Jonathan Kozol

Crown Publishers (2012)

Book Review

Unlike Kozol’s prior books, which focus on the abysmal condition of inner city schools, Fire in the Ashes follows the families of specific children Kozol has befriended and their disastrous living conditions. The families he describes are either those he encountered at the Martinique Hotel homeless shelter in midtown Manhattan or those he met through an after school program at St Ann’s Episcopal Church in Mott Haven.

With a media annual income of $17,000 for a family of five, Mott Haven is the poorest neighborhood in the South Bronx and the poorest congressional district in the US. Official unemployment (which doesn’t count those who have given up and quit looking) is 14%.

The book poignantly describes the brutal living conditions the children and their families confront, including chronic malnutrition, chronic asthma (from asbestos and incinerators), sexual exploitation of mothers by shelter guards, grooming by gangs and drug dealers, untreated parental mental illness, repeated episodes of homelessness and overcrowded classrooms and schools (many of which have lost funding to private charter schools).

Kozol follows the children of eight African American and Hispanic families from primary school through adulthood, as they struggle with social service and educational systems that have virtually abandoned them.

Some of the children he befriends graduate from high school (and even college) and end up in long term employment. Others drop out and are swallowed up by the criminal justice system. In each case, the children who succeed do so because someone (a teacher, social worker, pastor or Kozol himself) offers financial assistance to ensure they received the educational support they needed.

Although Kozol (with the help of readers and supporters) has set up an Education Action Fund to assist students from desperately poor racially segregated neighborhoods like Mott Haven, he argues against this type of individual intervention as a long term solution.

The real answer, he maintains, is to provide public schools in neighborhoods like Mott Haven, with the best educational funding (instead of the worst), the smallest classes (at present most classes have over 30 pupils), and the best prepared and best paid teachers (instead of the least experienced, most poorly paid).

The Unauthorized Biography of Barack Obama

unauthorized biography

The Unauthorized Biography of Barack H Obama

by Webster Tarpley

Progressive Press (2008)

Download free PDF

Book Review

Published in the lead-up to the 2008 election, Tarpley’s unauthorized biography of candidate Obama makes some uncanny predictions about his administration’s pro-corporate and pro-war policies. While some aspects of the book are purely speculative – namely those related to Obama’s psychological make-up – Tarpley raises important concerns about Obama’s background which still haven’t received the public attention they deserve.

Tarpley was one of the very first to publicize the extensive links Obama’s family had with the CIA, as well as his early grooming for the presidency – starting at Columbia University under the tutelage of Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Bzrezinski.

Obama’s CIA Career

Following his graduation from Harvard Law School, Obama himself went to work for a CIA front company called Business International Corporation (the New York Times exposed BIC as a CIA front company on 12/27/77). Tarpley cites former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leader Carl Oglesby (writing in Ravens in the Storm) that BIC’s main goal was to infiltrate student and leftist groups.

After leaving BIC, Obama became a civil rights lawyer and so-called “community organizer.” In actuality, he served on the board of a number of “progressive” foundations like the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC). Tarpley, who examines the funding and specific activities of these foundations, questions the genuineness of their progressive credentials. All the evidence suggests they actually played a “gatekeeper” or “counterinsurgency” function similar to the programs McGeorge Bundy pioneered as head of the Ford Foundation.

Obama and the Agenda to Privatize Chicago Schools

In fact CAC itself, where Obama was a board member for six years (three years as chair), appears to have replicated Bundy’s 19968 strategy to pit minority boards (in Chicago they were called Local School Councils) against the New York City teachers unions. As Tarpley discovered, the campaign to give LSC’s the power to fire teachers and school principals was championed – not by grassroots minorities – but by business interests headed by Thomas Ayers.

Ayers, by coincidence, happens to be the father of Obama’s pal the former Weather Underground “terrorist” Bill Ayers. Ayers senior has impeccable corporate credentials, which include heading Commonwealth Edison for seven years in the seventies and serving on the board of General Dynamics, Searle, Chico Pacific, Zenith, Northwest Industries, First National Bank of Chicago and the Chicago Tribute.

This may possibly explain his son Bill’s “magical ability” to secure foundation funding. Ayers wrote the grant to secure Annenberg funding for CAC, and he credits himself as one of its co-founders.

By Obama’s own admission, the project on which CAC spent $100 million was unsuccessful in improving the education achievement of black students. What the CAC did accomplish, very successfully, was to drive a wedge between minority parents and the teachers unions, when they could have united to block extensive federal and state education cutbacks. It also threw Chicago schools into such chaos they became ripe for school privatization efforts (ie creation of private Charter schools), championed by the same elite business lobby that pushed through the 1988 School Reform Act. The latter created the LSCs, which ultimately laid the groundwork for former White House staffer Ron Emanuel to close 49 Chicago public schools in favor of private charter schools.

Bill Ayers: the Bomb Making Terrorist

As Tarpley points out, this raises the tricky question of how Bill Ayers transformed himself from a bomb making terrorist to a tenured Professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a pre-eminent education reformer. Tarpley and others allege the Weather Underground was actually a US intelligence creation, formed with the specific objective of infiltrating and shutting down SDS. This view is substantiated by FBI documents that came to light in 1973 reveling the role of agent provocateurs in instigating much of the violence attributed to the Weathermen – evidence Ayers used to have his own weapons and bomb-making charges dismissed.

Considerable circumstantial evidence supports these allegations. First is the striking “coincidence” that many of the Weather Underground leadership were, like Ayers, the sons and daughters of wealthy members of the corporate elite. Second is the report of former SDS members that the Weathermen, who did no fundraising to speak of, appeared to have unlimited funds to spend on organizing and military-style training. Third are their classic (successful) Cointelpro-style schemes to undermine. And last is the troubling question of how Bill Ayers can openly brag about his terrorist activities in his 2002 book Fugitive Days – and instead of the facing the death penalty for conspiracy to commit murder, enjoy status and privilege as a tenured professor of education.

Education Spring: Parents, Teachers and Students Fight Back


more than a score

The Education Spring uprising against corporate education reform began in Seattle at Garfield High School (my daughter’s former high school) in January 2013. It started with the entire school (teachers and students) walking out rather than take the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). The latter is standardized test mandated under Obama’s Race to the Top and Common Core initiatives.

The Obama administration has used this heavy emphasis on high stakes testing (a leftover of Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy) exactly as his predecessor did. Low test scores are frequently used as an excuse to demote or fire teachers, to cut the budgets of low performing schools, and even to even close them and replace them with private charter schools.

As Garfield teachers explained in a January 2013 press conference, the MAP is neither an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress. For numerous reasons: it’s unaligned to the Seattle high school curriculum, it’s biased against English-language learners and special education students and it’s high margin of error makes it statistically invalid at the high school level. The makers of the test caution not to use it to evaluate teachers, as many school districts have been doing.

Common Core standardized tests like MAP are also racially biased. As Garfield history teacher Jesse Hagiopian, author of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing states, “they’re a better indicator of a student’s zip code than their aptitude.”

All agree the biggest problem with high stakes testing is that it forces teachers to spend so much time teaching kids to regurgitate on multiple choice bubble tests that there’s no time to teach them valuable analytic and decision-making skills.

The Opt-Out Movement Catches Fire

The boycott against standardized testing quickly spread to other Seattle schools. Over the coming months, Portland students initiated their own boycott of the OAKS tests, some 10,000 parents and students marched in Texas against the overuse of high-stakes tests, and kindergartners and their parents staged a “play-in” at the Chicago School District headquarters against the replacement of the arts with high stakes standardized tests. In Rhode Island , members of the Providence Student Union dressed as as guinea pigs and lab rats to march on the State House.

The Seattle School District initially threatened to punish teachers with a 10-day suspension without pay. They eventually backed off owing to the unanimous support of the Garfield High School PTSA and student government, and after hundreds of phone calls and emails from parents and teachers around the country. After months of rallies, teach-ins, call-ins, and opt-outs, Seattle School Superintendent Jose Banda announced Seattle high schools could legally opt out of standardized testing.

The Education Spring has continued to spread. According to the New York Times , 20% of 3rd through eighth graders (more than 200,000) opted out of New York standardized tests this year. In Washington State more than 62,000 (and approximately half of 11th graders) opted out of the SBAC in 2014-2015.

A Broad Spectrum Populist Movement

As a populist movement, the Education Spring seems to be gaining momentum across the political spectrum. Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan initially blamed growing opposition to standardized testing to “Tea Party extremists.” When he could no longer deny the phenomenal strength of the opt-out movement, he blamed it on “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Hagiopian’s book More Than a Score is a collection of essays, poems, speeches and interviews from teachers, grassroots education activists and education researchers. He talks about his book in the following video:

There’s also a great clip of Jesse suggesting a more reasonable and reliable method of assessing students on NBC News

He blogs at I Am an Educator