Saturday, April 29, 2017

Climate Deniers Flooding Schools with Alternative Facts— Educators Are Fighting Back

While hundreds of thousands of concerned global citizens march for science and climate justice, a massive corporate-financed disinformation campaign on climate change is flooding our nation’s schools.

The right-wing Heartland Institute which is financed by the Koch brothers and other billionaires, is sending out 200,000 glossy books, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming and an accompanying DVD to the country’s science teachers. 

                                                                  TIFFANY CRAWFORD, VANCOUVER SUN

The purpose of their book is to sow confusion and doubt, not unlike previous campaigns the Heartland Institute has conducted, such as the one in 1990s, financed by the tobacco company Philip Morris, to raise doubts about the dangers of second hand smoke.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Heartland Institute has for years, “received funding from fossil fuel interests such as ExxonMobil and the coal magnate Koch brothers.” Heartland even sponsored a billboard campaign in 2012 casting climate change activists as “murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

This campaign has come under recent criticism by Curt Stager in a New York Times op-ed, but his exposé touches only the tip of a massive iceberg. School textbooks rarely do the issue justice, teachers are not well versed in the subject, and conservative politicians in many states frown on even discussing the issue.  Moreover, the oil and coal industry continue to pour money into various pseudo educational materials to obfuscate the truth.

Victories can be won against such corporate-financed curricular materials. Educator Bill Bigelow recounts how in 2012 a coalition of education and environmental groups, spearheaded by Rethinking Schools and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, exposed the cozy relationship between the coal industry and Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of materials for children. After publication of an exposé of Scholastic’s propagandistic “The United States of Energy” in Rethinking Schools magazine, a campaign to pressure Scholastic to break its ties with the coal industry led to a New York Times editorial, “Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake,” and then quickly to Scholastic pulling the curriculum off its website and promising not to shill for the coal industry any longer.

Last year the inadequacy of school textbooks on climate change led students, teachers, and climate activists to convince the Portland, Oregon, school board to adopt a climate justice resolution and to “abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.”

Despite attacks by the Heartland Institute and other climate deniers, the Portland schools are moving forward engaging parents, community members, students and parents to create a climate justice curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

People interested in learning how to organize similar resolutions in their school district can visit the Rethinking Schools site and download a free Climate Justice Kit.

People can also make sure their school library and child’s teacher has a copy A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, edited by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart. The 410-page book contains resources, lessons, and engaging role plays. Naomi Klein called it “an educators toolkit of our times.”

It is a good antidote to the poisons that are being spread by the Heartland Institute and other climate deniers.

As we march and organize for climate justice, the schools are an important battle ground. Our children and grandchildren should have the right to learn the science behind climate change, the stories of those most affected, the impact on all living fauna and flora and what they might do to work for climate justice.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Milwaukee School District Declared "Safe Haven" for Immigrants

The Milwaukee School Board unanimously passed a “Safe Haven” resolution on March 30 in response to the growing fears in Milwaukee’s immigrant communities caused by the Trump administration’s actions and statements.

Youth Empowered in the Struggle, a youth group of Voces de la Frontera, along with Schools and Communities United, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, and progressive school board members including Tatiana Joseph and Larry Miller were key to the resolution’s success.

The resolution states, “That the Milwaukee Board of School Directors declare Milwaukee Public Schools (the District) to be a safe haven for its students and families threatened by immigration enforcement or discrimination, to the fullest extent permitted by the law.” The resolution describes in detail what that means.

Hundreds of students, parents and educators came to the school board meeting in support of the resolution – so many people that an overflow room had to be opened after the auditorium was filled to capacity.

A video of this action, done by ShowTime, captures that power of the youth organizers and importance of this national issue.

Thank you Youth Empowered in the Struggle.

¡Sí se puede! 

photo credit: Joe Brusky

Thursday, January 19, 2017

An Orwellian cloud covers Trump's cabinet nominees

While it is doubtful that US President-elect Donald Trump ever read George Orwell’s 1984, Trump’s cabinet choices appear to come right out of the doublethink that ruled Orwell’s dystopian society. In Orwell’s book, the Ministry of Plenty rationed essentials while the Ministry of Truth manufactured falsehoods.

Trump’s pick for the Secretary of Energy said last year he wanted to abolish the department. His choice for the Environmental Protection Agency is best known for suing the agency. His proposed Labor Secretary has criticized overtime, minimum wage and sick leave initiatives. His attorney general nominee has a long history of opposing voting rights, women’s rights and once said he decided he didn’t like the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan only after he learned they smoked marijuana.

However, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is perhaps the most extreme of Trump’s cabinet nominees. She has spent her entire adult life — and her family’s considerable wealth — mounting campaigns to transfer public dollars away from public schools and into private and religious schools.

The 59-year-old DeVos will be in charge of the U.S. Department of Education, which has 5,000 employees and a budget of $73 billion last year. Unlike many countries, the U.S. educational system is decentralized, with much power resting at the state and local level. However, federal policy initiatives have played a growing role in recent decades, particularly in shaping educational policy across the country.

Historically, the department has been focused on protecting civil rights in areas of class, race, and gender, and has focused its budget on public schools. Before he won the election, Trump announced his main education focus was to invest $20 billion in federal money to increase school choice.

In the United States, the term “school choice” has become code for supporting “independent” charter schools that are nominally public but privately controlled, More threatening, it is code for transferring public tax dollars to private schools, including religious schools, that operate with little to no public oversight. For instance, under U.S. law private schools are able to circumvent basic safeguards such as freedom of expression and gender rights. In general, neither their finances nor their curriculum are made public.

Betsy DeVos is the ideal candidate for such an unprecedented policy shift. She has had virtually nothing to do with public schools her entire life. She’s not an educator, nor has she worked for any public school institution. The main organizations she has headed, The Alliance for School Choice and the American Federation for Children, were specifically set up to promote school privatization, and have spent millions of dollars electing local, state and national politicians.

DeVos hails from a wealthy family and married into an even wealthier one. Her father, Edgar Prince, was a politically active auto parts businessman. When not making money, he supported the creation of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian religious group that has been called a “hate” group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBT views. DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, is founder of the security firm Blackwater, which ushered in the era of private contractors performing duties for the U.S. military in order to evade public outcry over U.S. operations in the Middle East. Its employees were found guilty of killing dozens of Iraqi civilians in a massacre in 2007.

When DeVos married Richard DeVos, Jr., her oligarchic empire expanded. Her father-in-law co-founded Amway, a pyramid marketing company that made millions for its founders. Richard DeVos, Sr., has also been a long-time supporter of right-wing religious and economic groups.
Forbes magazine estimated the net worth of the DeVos family as $5.1 billion. This puts DeVos in the top tier of Trump’s oligarchic cabinet — even richer than Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, who was the CEO of Exxon.

Betsy and her husband have continued their families’ right-wing political traditions. They have been powerbrokers in the Republican Party and have donated millions of dollars to right-wing think tanks, foundations, legal teams and political action committees.

Known as a smart and determined political organizer, Betsy DeVos understands the important role of labor unions, particularly public sector unions, in opposing privatization. Thus her strategy has long included attacks on unions and worker rights.

DeVos ability to bring religious groups into the privatization struggle is strengthened by her personal beliefs. In 2001, she told a group of Christian philanthropists that her work on school issues was a campaign to “advance God’s Kingdom.”

In fact, her positions are so extreme — against any form of government regulation of voucher or charter schools — that some supporters of school privatization have expressed concern about her appointment. The main association of charter schools in the state of Massachusetts, for instance, said that DeVos’s positions would “reduce the quality of charter schools across the country.”

The Republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress and it is expected that DeVos and Trump’s other nominees with be approved. But as the last year has made clear, political developments in the United States are highly unpredictable. The fight over the federal role in public education is far from settled.

Originally published at