by Ray Guzman
The assault under way in Philadelphia is a textbook example of government and corporate interests superseding the rights of citizens and workers.
In 2004 John Perkins, a former chief economist at a Boston based consulting firm, wrote a contentious mea culpa titled Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man. If you are unfamiliar with this moniker, I’ll paraphrase a definition offered by Mr. Perkins, “an economic hit man is a generic term for a private agent carrying out government and corporate interests in public spheres”. The publication of his murderous memoir offered many Americans whom may have never lived abroad a perspective into shady tactics. Mr. Perkins describes his salacious services with the carefree pace of a dying man. His tactics targeted foreign leaders. They ranged from enticing presidents with earthly vices to threats of hellish violence. Perkins’ book reveals the extreme, if not criminal duress he and his ilk levied upon these leaders. Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man forces Americans who have lived abroad to reflect on events we may have experienced. In addition, for many of us who are educators as well, we should cogently overlap these experiences with the tactics being unleashed upon public education in the United States. Our reflections, then, must lead us to surmise that there are educational hit men/women among us. I am convinced that another timely murderous memoir needs to be written by a repented “leading education reformer” with perhaps the working title of -Confessions Of An Educational Hit Man/Woman.
I lived in the Dominican Republic during the 1990s. Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, a wily, octogenarian remnant of the Trujillo dictatorship and not of my liking, governed the country. Nonetheless, an interesting episode transpired which has always held my interest. The International Monetary Fund and Mr. Balaguer were embattled in “prolonged negotiations” pursuant to a structural adjustment agreement. The crux of the impasse circled around two key issues demanded by the IMF in their proposed structural adjustment agreement -austerity, and privatization measures. Our ambassador echoed the IMF’s demands that the Dominican government ensure budget cuts and guarantee the privatization of publicly owned sectors in particular, the electrical system. Until that time I had neither heard of austerity nor privatization. Albeit as a naïve American living abroad, I became very interested in the odd, meddling insistence of our American ambassador in the economic affairs of a sovereign country. One would think that such an affront would foster national opposition. –Not quite. A strange coalition of self described liberals, impresarios, and popular opposition leaders lead mobilizations urging Mr. Balaguer to acquiesce. In summary, the delay tactics ceased, and once the agreement was signed, killer cuts left the most vulnerable, completely vulnerable. Dozens died in the protests that followed. I will offer an example as credence to the debacle that ensued. Implementation of the IMF’s structural adjustment agreement, allowed Enron Corp. to become a key looting figure in the privatization of the Dominican electrical system.
Mr. Perkins continues to detail his early beginnings at the Boston based Charles T. Main Inc. He describes the courting and vetting process conducted by corporations via private strategic-consulting firms and their billionaire backers. He enumerates his ever escalating assignments which eventually lead him to a spiritual crisis. In essence, as an economist he was charged with “convincing” elected foreign politicians to accept usury loans, which would then be coupled with repayment guarantees such as killer austerity cuts and privatization measures. Most leaders he “consulted” would accept these terms –for a price. Yet, a patriotic few resisted and would die in plane crashes. Mr. Perkins admits that his personal relationship with the incorruptible Ecuadorian president, Jaime Roldós Aguilera, and his subsequent “accidental death” lead him to renounce his cancerous career and begin confessing his misdeeds in writing.
Akin to Mr. Perkins’ experience, current education reformers are initially courted and vetted by similar corporations via private foundations or billionaire backers. Next, they are invited to attend non accredited institutes funded by the same foundations. They study the rigors of reform and the construction of choice. Upon graduation, they profess the need for REFORM above all policies. By reform they mean fewer rights for workers, namely teachers’ unions. By choice, they mean the expansion of charter schools and vouchers redeemable at private and religious schools. The main distinguishing commonality these economic and educational hit men/women share is their contempt for democracy. These individuals never participate in any election. Yet, they insist on imposing their agendas into public arenas. Ultimately, they adhere to an assassin’s ethos. They view the completion of an assigned mission as supreme. Under this ethic, the mission must be accomplished regardless of formalities or victims.
American educators need to wake up and face this unsettling fact, -hit men tactics have returned home to roost and -of all places– in our public school districts. Here in Philadelphia, both school budgets and the teachers’ union are under ferocious attack. To ensure implementation, Philadelphia has been assigned by -elected officeholders- a committee of educational hit men/women. The non-elected School Reform Commission has been trying to “convince” the teachers’ union to accept structural austerity measures in order to solve the current deficit via 13% salary cuts, loss of seniority rights, higher contributions to health plans and most disturbing of all reduction of staff. They have “consulted” with the teachers’ union. Cynically, they seem surprised by our resistance and voice their frustration to the media. They speak with pained tones, as if they are the ones under duress. And shamelessly, too many in the media continue to promote their sardonic diatribes.
This cowardly, long distance drone assault is being guided directly from Harrisburg. The governor held the disbursement of allotted funds desperately needed to properly staff our schools. He insisted that teachers swallow his hemlock spiked quid pro quo in order to release the funds. One would think that such an affront would provoke Philadelphians’ pride into action and garner a wide coalition against this farce. –Not quite. A stranger still coalition of “non-profits”, impresarios, and elected officeholders has demanded that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers acquiesce and accept terms immediately. Incidentally, don’t bother looking for neither wily, old men nor self described liberals, and much less popular opposition leaders to come to our aid. Teachers must lead this fight.
It is imperative to note that the fiduciary responsibility of the school district has been under the control of these same non-elected, state and city appointed, private agents for the past thirteen years. In effect, they have allowed a 304 million dollar deficit to balloon and hamstring the school district, while assessing counterfactual blame to teachers for their mismanagement and political chicanery. Interestingly enough, another Boston based firm appears in our negotiations. The current master plan being followed in Philadelphia has been attributed to the Boston Consulting Group. Yes, the same one where a young Mitt Romney cut his fangs.
These killer austerity measures have already traumatized our students. Many of our schools do not have nurses, nor counselors, and scant material support necessary to provide an efficient education. Tragically, these austerity measures may have already contributed to the death of a student. On September 25th Laporcha Massey, a sixth grader at Bryant Elementary School in West Philadelphia, had an asthma attack while in school. Bryant is assigned a nurse only twice a week. September 25th was not one of them. Hence, there was no one medically certified to assist Laporcha. Although the school called her parents and apparently were unsuccessful to speak to them, they also apparently failed to call 911 to avail further certified assistance for the child. An aide drove the child to her house. Once the father picked up his daughter, he took her to Children’s Hospital, then hours into her attack. Despite efforts, tragically, Laporcha died later that night. This outrageous incident highlights the urgency of proper staffing levels at schools in particular at the elementary level. We should also keep present that Laporcha’s classmates have had to return to the same classroom since her death, and ponder her empty seat. One may ask, -does the school have certified counselors available to assist Laporcha’s classmates and dare I add, her teachers as well?
Despite endless attacks on public education, none of these reformist charlatans has come close to offering a confession. At least none has been made in any forum, and much less published. Nonetheless, I would like to believe that these hit men/women are not devoid of a conscience. I hope that they examine their actions. Moreover, I am almost certain that similar to Mr. Perkins some education reformers must be spiritually haunted by the transgressions they have carried out or continue to conduct. They must know that they are guns for hire. I truly hope they find the need for renunciation at some point in their petty lives. A life of endless assignments bent on deconstruction, roaming from one public school district to another with neither connection nor consideration to either pride or place. It is a Dantesque existence free of both, levity or divinity. Think of the pathetic “specialist” Ryan Bingham, portrayed by George Clooney, in the movie Up In Air. Clooney’s character roams the country in swift “fly by hits” for his clients. Ryan Bingham’s sole purpose in life is to fire people –for a price.
The assault under way in Philadelphia is a textbook example of government and corporate interests superseding the rights of citizens and workers. A brave whistleblower or repented technocrat is well overdue. I especially pray that a remorseful, leading education reformer may soon confess his/her misdeeds in writing. And if his/her mea culpa is sincere, I hope that all possible mercy be bestowed upon them.