The Fierce Urgency of Now

Spoken by Martin Luther King and repeated often, do the words “the fierce urgency of now” no longer stir our souls? Did they ever?

Why the Urgency NOW?

The urgency is the need for all of us to filter out the divisive political language coming at us from all sides. In this moment, we need to look back at what was once only a theory. Now our reality is that economic theory fostered a political strategy to supplant our constitutional republic with “a private governing elite of corporate power.” *Those pushing corporate control understand how essential it is for them to …

“…kill public education because it tend[s] to foster community values…” *

And market-based education reforms became the weapon of choice. But the role of political economist James M. Buchanan is only now being closely scrutinized. Buchanan’s theories explain much about the divisiveness destroying our schools and our nation.

“…[Buchanan] observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly ASSUMED that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. …[T]hat was a belief he wanted, as he put it, to ‘tear down.’ His ideas developed into a theory that came to be known as ‘public choice.’” *

Public Interest vs. Public Choice

Public interest is defined as “the welfare or well-being of the general public.” It is a national goal clearly stated in the Constitution’s preamble — “in Order to … promote the general Welfare…”.

To “tear down” our assumption that officials are acting in the public’s interest is one thing. To destroy our union is another. That goal does NOT appear to be one of the aims of Buchanan’s original 1986 Nobel Prize winning work on “Public Choice Theory.”

In its announcement of the prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted, “Buchanan’s foremost achievement is that he has consistently and tenaciously emphasized the significance of fundamental rules and applied the concept of the political system as an exchange process for the achievement of mutual advantages.Tennessee Encyclopedia (James McGill Buchanan)

His “research program” ** centered on the belief that people make purchases (market choices) based on value. He saw the public making political choices they believed would benefit them. He viewed us as making choices based on our own “venal self-interest.” *

So he and his ilk developed what they called “non-market decision-making.” Finding that name “awkward” and not as appetizing to “free-market” thinkers, the groups’ organization and publications took on the name “Public Choice.” **

Choice or Coercion?

Some researchers believe that Buchanan’s Public Choice Theory began as an “optimistic conception” based on “unanimous consent of the people.” But he later adopted a more “pessimistic view” about “social organization” and people’s “intolerance” to entering into the discussions necessary to reach consensus on issues. Thus Buchanan’s emphasis morphed from “individual freedom” to the need to “enforce order.” ***

As Buchanan explained “Public Choice” to an audience (2003) …

Public choice, in its basic insights into the workings of politics, incorporates an understanding of human nature that differs little, if at all, from that of James Madison and his colleagues at the time of the American Founding.” **

Buchanan wrote that for public consumption. It’s a distortion of history, which is likely being perpetuated through institutions such as George Mason University in Virginia.* And in misrepresenting the American Founding Principles, Buchanan opened himself up to being viewed as a major manipulator in our historic fight against corporate control.

James Madison vs. James Buchanan 

As a key author of the Constitution, Madison left a record of discussions about our nations founding principles. Therefore, a better understanding of the American Founding political views can be gleaned from Madison’s correspondence with a colleague who Buchanan also admired. ***

James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 17 October 1788 (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd, ed., vol. xiv, pp. 18-21) …

“With regard to Monopolies, they are justly classed among the greatest nuisances in Government. … Monopolies are sacrifices of the many to the few. Where the power is in the few it is natural for them to sacrifice the many to their own partialities and corruptions.”

Madison went on to express his doubts about a government takeover by monopolies being skeptical …

“…that a succession of artful and ambitious rulers may be gradual & well timed advances, finally erect an independent Government on the subversion of liberty. … Is there not also infinitely less danger of this abuse in our Government than in most others? … with the power as with us is in the manyIt is much more to be dreaded that the few will be unnecessarily sacrificed to the many …”

It appears the expressed sentiment of that last sentence was taken to imply that corporations are the ones in need of constitutional protection from the masses. But Buchanan obviously took Madison’s words out of their historic time and context. Regardless, Buchanan did communicate to the public an association of his “public choice theory” with our nation’s founding principles.

****This quote is from the blog of libertarian economist, Daniel J. “Dan” Mitchell who believes Buchanan’s ideas are being misrepresented.

Same Old Fight: Big vs. Smaller Government?

Not Quite! Think about the following in relationship to the privatization of public education through “school choice” models. The allure of choice is deadly.

With our political choices being analyzed under market-based economic theory, it is assumed people make choices based on their own self-interests — first and foremost. We shouldn’t deny that as a truism. But when market forces through privatization of public services or goods come into play, competition for a limited supply will result in winners and losers. Always does.

We risk having children lose, or never develop, the safe and secure sense of belonging that defines “community values.” When all of us are seen as “self-interested players in the marketplace,” **** we are vulnerable to division. Competition for public services runs the high risk of destroying community values, but, that part of the equation didn’t seem to garner much consideration.

Instead, Buchanan saw the need to bring his vision to life by NOT focusing on who rules because who the public chooses doesn’t matter since elected officials don’t act in the public interest anyway. Therefore, this brilliant political economist focused on the rules themselves.

“… the Holy Grail was the Constitution: alter it and you could increase and secure the power of the wealthy in a way that no politician could ever challenge.” *

Buchanan found many willing partners.

“Subversion of Liberty”? Translation: Sabotage of Authority

What Madison saw as improbable under our constitutional republic — “a succession of artful and ambitious rulers” changing the balance of power — is exactly what is happening. Our federal government IS under the control of special interests. Many state governments are no different because too many of our representatives ARE no longer serving in the public interest.

The toxic divisiveness of party politics is permeating our communities. The principles of localism and populism, which formed the fabric of our founding documents, are being replaced by corporatism. Thus, when we can no longer reach consensus on the issues that matter, the authorities will step in and set the rules “to enforce order.” ***

This scenario should sound familiar to Baby Boomers. It was a shared American experience on many college campuses during the protests of the 60’s and 70’s. Martial law was declared in many places, which Buchanan supported (at Berkley***). And not to be forgotten were the killing of students by the National Guard. That’s about the time Buchanan’s vision of “unanimous consent of the people” *** seemed to change.

Now? Consider this.

“[historian Nancy] MacLean details how partnered with [Charles] Koch, Buchanan’s outpost at George Mason University was able to …  promote new curricula for economics education, and court politicians in nearby Washington, D.C.”

“… MacLean points to the fact that Henry Manne, whom Buchanan was instrumental in hiring, created legal programs for law professors and federal judges which could boast that by 1990 two of every five sitting federal judges had participated. ‘40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,’ writes MacLean, ‘had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.’” *

Supreme Urgency?

Think about the urgency demonstrated during the confirmations of both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Ask yourself, why the fierce urgency?

Think about it. When changing the Constitution is still out of reach, CONTROL of the U.S. Department of Education and having corporate-minded allies on the Supreme Court are a handy pair of tools. Then it requires pushing appeals through the court system to the level of the Supreme Court. Once there, having enough justices interpreting our Constitution and rules in ways that favor corporations and the wealthy is almost as good as a “constitutional revolution.” *

This is no longer just theory and we knew this day was coming. Now …

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” MLK

Vote, of course.

Is that enough? Absolutely not.

References

* FROM THE LEFT ⇒ Lynne Parramore, “Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America”

**ORIGINAL SOURCE ⇒ James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in Economic Science, George Mason University, “What is Public Choice Theory?”

***STUDY OF BUCHANAN’s EDUCATION SPECIFIC WRITINGS ⇒ Jean-Baptiste Fleury THEMA, Université de Cergy-Pontoise, Alain Marciano MRE, Université de Montpellier, Montpellier, Franc. “The Making of a Constitutionalist: James Buchanan on Education”

**** FROM A LIBERTARIAN VIEW ⇒ Daniel J. “Dan” Mitchell, former senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “A Taxpayer-Funded Smear Job of Professor James Buchanan”

 

Civil Disobedience

Test refusal is an act of civil disobedience.

52 years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. explained the chain of events that typically leads to civil disobedience and the reasons it must occur.

Civil disobedience landed MLK in the Birmingham jail where he penned these words on April 16, 1963.

Civil disobedience landed MLK in the Birmingham jail where he penned these words on April 16, 1963.

“IN ANY nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.”

The United Opt Out Movement is a campaign to, among other things, end high-stakes testing that has been firmly embedded in public schools through the No Child Left Behind law.. (and now continues with the Every Student Succeeds Act)…

As Dr. King explained it:

“There are just laws, and there are unjust laws…. A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law… Any law that degrades human personality is unjust… [it] distorts the soul and damages the personality…. [creating a] false sense of inferiority.”

Over-emphasis on standardized tests’ importance, their over-administration, and the inappropriate uses of standardized tests have made children, teachers, whole schools and districts feel inferior — most falsely so since these narrowly focused, single-point-in-time tests cannot accurately judge the quality of education nor diagnose an underlying condition with any accuracy. It’s like taking a temperature, blood pressure reading, or monitoring thyroid levels; they can change simply based on the time of day.

So…..

Step 1 in the campaign: Facts on testing and No Child Left Behind are clear. Research and time has verified the truth.

I’ll never forget being in a meeting of the Idaho Assessment and Accountability Commission and hearing person-after-person get up and testify to the absurdity of the test-based (outcome-based) mechanism of “accountability” that was about to go forward. The words “we are headed for a train wreck” still echo in my mind. Well, we are there.

Step 2 in the campaign: Negotiations were attempted repeatedly at the local, state, and federal levels.

And throughout the years, multitudes of people scattered across the country, separated by distance, differing ideologies, political party affiliation, socioeconomic stature, race, and a whole host of issues including the divisive topic of how to “fix” schools all continued trying to derail the standardization and privatization of our institution of public education.

“We realized that we were the victims of a broken promise.”…

“We did not move irresponsibly into direct action.”

Many made the determination that it was going to take a personal sacrifice of time and money to move forward. That is self-purification — acknowledging that personal sacrifices are needed for the sake of progress.

Step 3 in the campaign: Self-purification occurred knowingly and unknowingly as many of us gave our time, energy, and money to make the Save Our Schools March happen.

And that has led us to Step 4 in the campaign: Direct Action

So….

How will “opting out” work?

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

It is the entrenched educational community; it is the dysfunctional community; it is the corrupted lawmaking communities that have refused to face facts, the issues, and the more logical solutions.

It is those “bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue” that have oppressed those wishing to move the efforts of education reform to focus on what is best for children and what child need us to do to ensure they have been provided with quality learning opportunities that fit their individual needs.

Martin Luther King saw others “smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society” and knew it was morally wrong to turn away. We must face that same problem now.

We are left “with no other alternative.” The time is right for civil disobedient in the education reform arena. Test refusal is the tool.

Words Are Not Enough

Flotsam is the wreckage of a ship or its cargo, worthless things, unemployed people.

Jetsam is that part of the cargo thrown overboard to lighten a ship in danger.

The only reason I looked those words up in a dictionary was because Martin Luther King, Jr. hit a chord with me when he spoke these words: “I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding of events which surround him.” Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964

And knowing that the “March on Washington” in 1963 was organized to urge Congress to pass John F. Kennedy’s civil rights bill calling for equal opportunity in employment and education, I have thought long and hard about the children in this country being treated like flotsam and jetsam.

I know MLK was more focused on the unemployed adults at the time that he spoke those words, but children are people too, and much less likely to be able to influence events that can engulf them and take them under. They need us so desperately to do the right thing and stop ignoring the challenges they face that we can influence.

The March is Unfinished.

The poster says it all.

The poster says it all.

Today we celebrate his birthday of January 15, 1929. And many of his words will forever be recalled. But words are not enough.

Let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.” April 3, 1968

RIP April 4, 1968

Turning the Dream into A Vision

What does equal educational opportunity mean to you? It is the American peoples’ answer to this question that should guide us. To take proper aim, we must identify the target.

“Do America’s citizens understand that public policies have resulted in severely unequal and inadequate education, particularly for disadvantaged children?” Gary Ratner, Foreword to The Crucial Voice of the People

A long forgotten American, Edwin E. Slosson, put it in these terms: “Equality, in the American sense of the word, is not an end but a beginning. It means that, so far as the state can do it, all children shall start in the race of life on an even line. The chief agency for this purpose is the public school system.”

But have we associated our educational shortcomings not with an “overall” poor system but with one that continues to have pockets of inequalities, big and small, that accumulate like so much sludge in an engine? Do we see unequal distribution of quality education as the problem?

Part of The Dream that Martin Luther King spoke of was that children would get a quality public school education no matter where they live, what color their skin is, or how poor they are…I hope this issue still matters to people today.

So what does that dream look like? Here’s what it looks like to me: Children from all walks of life enter classrooms where through their teachers actions and words, the teachers convey the expectation that each and every student will learn in order to fulfill their own personal potential. The instruction children receive is not based on predictions biased by color, race, socioeconomic background, or standardized scores, but rather, it is based on twin expectations — the students are capable and will do their best, and the system will provide challenging, stimulating learning materials relevant to the way the student learns. Children’s learning needs will then be met in the school — equal access to quality education provided.

For children to be ready to make the most of the educational opportunity offered in this dream, the community must step up to meet the needs of disadvantaged children. Schools cannot fulfill their responsibility without parents and communities first fulfilling theirs. We need to define what having children “ready to learn” means.

The American people must provide answers.

Our duty - enlighten each other and guide lawmakers.

Our duty – enlighten each other and guide lawmakers.

Equality, governing by the consent of the governed, freedom—these were our basic American values. Are they still?

Education law at one time embodied our values. At this time, will we define and secure equality of opportunity for children? It is only through equal educational opportunity that the People can fulfill their constitutional responsibility to resist aristocracy – “a ruling class”– and instead establish rule through the consent of an enlightened people.

As John F. Kennedy explained it, “Our present American education system was rounded on the principle that opportunity for education in this country should be available to all—not merely to those who have the ability to pay.”

“Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement arising out of a democracy of opportunity.Thomas Jefferson