February 22, 2014

The real agenda of school choice opponents: protecting privilege

Perhaps Steve Nelson should have heeded his feelings of “caution and ambivalence” before submitting his jeremiad against school choice (“Real Agenda of School-Choice Advocates,” Valley News [West Lebanon, N.H.], January 5). It is difficult to imagine a more awkward and inappropriate source of such a lamentation than the head of an expensive private school in Manhattan [The Calhoun School].

Nelson is rightly concerned about quality, but erroneously states, “The one comprehensive study done to date shows that charters on balance do slightly worse than the public schools they replaced.” Assuming that he is referring to the “National Charter School Study” by the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), the 2013 report actually states that “charter schools now advance the learning gains of their students more than traditional public schools in reading[, and] academic growth of charter students in math [...] is now comparable to the learning gains in traditional public schools.” CREDO also separately studied Louisiana, which Nelson singled out for condemnation: “The charter school sector in Louisiana has a trend of strong results.”

Obviously, not all private or charter schools are commendable, voucher systems are far from ideal, and profiteers exploiting a real need are rightly decried. But students who are failed by their public school don’t have time to wait for improvements. They need those alternatives now. It certainly doesn’t help to accuse their parents of tearing apart “the connective tissue of our nation” for trying to do what’s best for their children.

Since Nelson defended his own alternative school as decidedly not rending “America’s social fabric,” he would have done better to suggest more progressive ways to expand such options for others. As noted by Ginia Bellafante in the same day’s New York Times, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s newly appointed Schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña, has high praise for a network of charter schools serving the poorest neighborhoods of Brooklyn. And the cover story of the Valley News featured the Ledyard Charter School, which impressively meets the needs of many area students for an alternative to the regular high schools. Not only the schools and students, but society as a whole would clearly benefit from more support for such alternatives.

A progressive approach to education requires choice for all, not just the rich.

human rights, Vermont

February 20, 2014

Three-dimensional chess

While U.S. President Obama denies involvement in Ukraine yet decries the remarkably restrained government response to violent protesters as repressive and antidemocratic, even as his Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs is recorded going over her plans for regime change, and nonsensically insists that (democratically elected) Ukraine President Yanukovich has refused to negotiate with protesters when it is clearly the other way around, here are a few pieces from Counterpunch about this week's state of the great game (of hypocrisy).

Masking Tragedy in Ukraine, by Chris Floyd

Obama Pushes for Regime Change in Venezuela, by Mark Weisbrot

Do We Care About People If They Live in Bahrain? by David Swanson

human rights, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

February 11, 2014

More on science fetishization

The corporate bullies of GMOs, wind power, “smart” meters, etc. invariably appeal to “science” to dismiss concerns of harm and tout the claims of good. But the actual good is invariably the benefit to their companies’ or research teams’ viability and profits. There is no questioning of their necessity or consideration of what is to be lost or taken away (e.g., farming freedom, open and wild spaces, privacy, etc.).

Their appeal to science is amoral. Their defenders apparently believe that a conclusion is “good” simply for being reached logically. And that criticism of science, however logical, can not in fact be so, because logic has already determined that it is good.

The problem, of course, is an infantile division of human thought between “rational” and “emotional”. Both religion and science operate with both, but the latter claims the exclusive mantle of “reason” and then self-servingly stops there. Any questioning of what science does in the name of reason, or what companies do under the name of science, is called an attack on reason itself, even when it is itself quite reasonable.

The business of science, as its own gatekeeper, is often deaf to reason outside its own self-serving logic. A prime example is the swallowing by GMO supporters of the claim that Roundup-Ready crops would reduce pesticide use, when they are expressly designed to tolerate the company’s own pesticide, thus removing an important check on that pesticide’s use. The result has indeed been an increase in pesticide use, and the “anti-science fear-mongers” who warned of super-weeds and the threat to monarch butterflies have been proved correct. While “golden rice” has been talked about for many years without any practical results, the actual results of GMO “research” have been “terminator” genes to prevent seed saving and plants that produce their own pesticides, as well as pesticide-tolerant crops. Even if golden rice were a beneficial reality, it has nothing to do with all that is wrong with the GMO business.

The assertion that humans have always manipulated the genes of plants and animals illustrates the amoral logic that actually, in the service of corporate science, avoids thought. There is a big difference between selecting the results of a plant or animal’s own natural processes and splicing genes between species and even kingdoms. The latter represents a violation of the natural order that science purports to study.

Reason without consideration of ethics or morals, or simply without considering potential harms or seriously assessing actual benefits, is a mark of a sociopath. Human reason is not a good in itself. It is ultimately self-serving: hence the term “rationalization”. And rationalization of corporate depredation and profit — along with demonization of those who question it — is not science.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism