By Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist, We're waiting to hear the finale to the Tale of Two Congressmen
Congressmen Dave Reichert and Brian Baird certainly had a different few days last week, but only 2008 will tell which Washington congressman made the correct political decision.
Reichert, a Republican whose traditionally GOP district now hangs in the balance, hosted President Bush and raised half a million dollars for his campaign (and the party).
Baird, a Democrat whose Southwest Washington district leans Democrat but contains pockets of strongly conservative voters, is defending a change of views on Iraq — moving from war opposition to a more cautious view.
Three hundred or so hardcore Bushies paid from $1,000 to $10,000 each to be in the president's presence, but Reichert's cash windfall may be offset by linkage to the least-popular chief executive in a long time. One 2008 Democratic opponent, Darcy Burner, claims to have raised more than $100,000 on the Internet from Bush's visit.
Generally speaking, money trumps notoriety, but this may not be an ordinary election.
Baird is in the unusual position of poster boy for Bush's supporters, as he urges a slow withdrawal from Iraq after a second trip to Baghdad. Was the congressman snowed by the Bush spin machine, Baghdad branch?
If so, he hasn't made the mistake that Michigan Gov. George Romney made after his trip to Saigon in 1968, after which he admitted that he was "brainwashed" by Lyndon Johnson's spin machine.
Will he earn credit for courage in speaking his mind, or will angry voters decide for themselves that he was "brainwashed" and relegate him to Romney's fate: retirement?
Generally speaking, incumbency trumps a policy mistake (but not always a personal-conduct mistake), but this may not be an ordinary election.
What is interesting in these two events is the contrast in how public reaction plays out in very different ways for a president and a congressman.
Baird faced very large and very angry community meetings, and took his lashing with grace and dignity. Bush, thanks to a complex system of crowd control, never faced a protester and probably never even saw one during his two hours in the area.
The message was delivered to Baird in very explicit terms, by some of his past supporters, and he listened. Presumably, the message was also delivered in smaller meetings, perhaps at a lower volume but with equal fervor.
The frustration level of Americans is at fever pitch, revealed not only in polling but also in such safety-valve outlets as letters to editors, which are as angry as I have seen in years. Anger over Iraq piles onto anger over lack of health care, stagnant incomes while the rich party, fear of job loss with accompanying loss of benefits, and housing costs beyond reach.
The president's Bellevue message — tax cuts, economic growth and keeping terrorists from boarding a plane to Sea-Tac — does not address the point of anger. And there is little way for him to understand it, because he lives in an airtight cocoon, into which little reality intrudes.
Enormous effort — and cost — is devoted to isolating the president from the common folk. In Bellevue, he met with core supporters and took no questions from reporters or the general public. There was no talk of the Alberto Gonzales resignation — which took place that day — or of anything not on his talking-points agenda; no meeting with a civic or educational audience.
At home, the president has often stated that he pays little attention to the news. He reads little and is known for taking one-page summaries of important matters. What information reaches him is vetted thoroughly by senior staff and Vice President Dick Cheney. The vice president has his own political agenda, and wields more influence with his nominal boss than any vice president in American history.
Senior staff values loyalty above all — Bush is known for sticking with old friends — and loyalty does not encourage candor. Colleagues who prefer to feed the boss' inclinations and ego rather than tell him he's all wet quickly isolate the political aide who brings bad news. Sooner or later, the bad-news-bringer is gone.
This is the danger of the imperial presidency, and the more we move toward a more-powerful executive, the more this will endanger the democracy, regardless of who is president.
The president needed to face Brian Baird's angry Southwest Washington constituents instead of loyal Bellevue supporters grateful for his tax cuts for the wealthy.
But we are not allowing that sort of confrontation these days. The cocoon is spun, and inside all is safe and well.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to The Seattle Times editorial pages.
Editor's Note: Congressman Baird my not live in the cocoon that Dubya does, but like JFK who led us into several foreign policy disasters (The Bay of Pigs and Vietnam) and a nuclear near miss (The Missiles of October), Baird suffers from that JFK "can do" ideology that the US must be the policeman of the world. When the world was a bi-polar world composed of the USA and USSR facing each other across the barrier of the "Cold War" and mutually assured destruction from nukes, things seemed simpler even if they were not. Now that we are faced with an enemy which is embedded all over the world, the concept of military confrontation is even more risky than it was in the earlier era. As events in Frankfurt today prove, good police work, not the military option, is the key to stopping the terrorists in their tracks. When will we learn this lesson? If you want a primer on the fatal flaws of the "can do" mindset and groupthink read a classic - David Halberstam's The Best & The Brightest.
By Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist, We're waiting to hear the finale to the Tale of Two Congressmen
Congress returned from its August recess to a series of reports assessing progress in Iraq, including one that found the Iraqi government is having trouble meeting most US-set benchmarks. On PBS' NewsHour tonight four lawmakers (including Washington Congressman Brian Baird) recently returned from trips to the country discussed what they saw and the political ramifications of a troop withdrawal.
Aside from a congresswoman from Illinois, the discussion was surreal - three male members of Congress clung to the hope that things could still be turned around. Only the woman member of Congress pressed the case for total withdrawal - the others couched their comments in language so vague that one wonders if we "ever" will leave, even though this war has gone on longer than WW II.
Over the weekend the Bush administration used Anbar Province south of Baghdad as a photo op to prove to the American public that the surge was working. We saw pictures of President Bush engulfed in a sea of happy US troop faces as if this were proof that all is well in Iraq. While this fits the Lee Atwater/Roger Ailes concept that it's all about the pictures, reality in Iraq is anything but a sea of happy faces.
For all intents and purposes Iraq is partitioned into four zones.
- The Kurdish north near the border of Turkey has been a self-governing entity since the end of the first Iraq War in 1991 under Bush I - nothing has changed;
- By contrast, the central provinces of Iraq including Baghdad are a seething caldron of inter-ethnic/religious warfare but increasingly Shi'te dominated by the politics of ethnic cleansing, attrition and emigration;
- The south central portion of Iraq, including Anbar Province, has merged into a Sunni stronghold where Sunni warlords have made a truce of convenience with US forces in order to get a piece of turf for their own control;
- And as the British exit Basra along the southern tip of Iraq, an Iranian supported Shi'ite region is being created as the Brits make a not so graceful exit and the Iranians establish a beachhead in Iraq;
For any the President or any member of Congress to suggest that success is just around the corner and that the surge is working belies what news reports from Iraq daily report, more violence not less violence. The fact that parts of Iraq have been "pacified" only suggests that the de facto partition has stabilized portions of Iraq under Kurdish, Shi'ite and/or Sunni control. But none of this suggests the government in the Green Zone is anything but a dysfunctional puppet.
The question which needs to be asked is how much longer must we stay? A phased withdrawal which protects American troops as it happens would take about 6 months - that would mean an end of US occupation by March or April. Staying the course until the Government in the Green Zone is a functioning legitimate government would prolong our occupation for years - probably a decade! The third option would to suggest a target date somewhere between 6 months and 10 years.
Question: How many more US soldiers and civilians are YOU willing to sacrifice on the altar of what everyone admits is the biggest foreign policy fiasco in US history? How many Iraqis are YOU willing to sacrifice within this time frame? That's the question which the male Congressmen were unable to answer! We were fully engaged in Vietnam from 1964 to 1973. Did staying the course change the end result? Answer: NO. Why is Iraq any different?
When you visit Washington D.C. someday, go to the "Wall" and ask was the sacrifice worth it? Then imagine another monument to our Vets from this war. How many names do you want etched on it? It's YOUR choice, not the politicians! Watch the presidential candidates on the stump - which has a plan to end it? And who would prolong it indefinitely to satisfy the egos of those who voted for it, executed it and still can't say NO MORE, NOW WAY.
For those who can't face the music that there is no graceful way out of this mess you can be like Richard Nixon's so-called "Silent Majority" and simply ignore it all. Allow me to draw another parallel here. Imagine you are the victim of an abusive spouse. How long should you stay in the relationship? The experts say - get out ASAP. As citizens we've been in an abusive relationship with the Bush administration for over 6 years.
My bet is that as campaign '08 heats up we'll vote to end the pain and exit the relationship of abuse. We have a choice and so do the Iraqis. They are making their choices on the ground. It's time we did too...
EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks to my Canadian Connection for sending me this interview from Salon.com of educator, author and education reformer Jonathan Kozol, author of many books including Death at an Early Age and Savage Inequalities. Kozol has carved out a niche for himself as the unofficial "conscience" of American education.
This interview is very timely since a headline story in Sunday's Oregonian rhetorically asks the question why isn't the testing regime under NCLB set as the benchmark for high school graduation in Oregon like so many sister states in the region? Kozol's analysis is a cautionary tale that answers that question, in part.
RAD hopes that the generation of teachers he taught in Pacific University's MAT 5th year program for 13 years will read Kozol's book. It should remind them of the questions they were challenged to think about as they prepared to enter the calling of being a teacher are still in play, sad to say.
However one can find fault with Kozol too. He seems to feel that the educational divide in the USA is primarily racial. That's rather one-dimensional view in my opinion. It's also a denial of the fact that not all suburbs are like Cambridge, Mass or Lake Oswego, Or. And Kozol seems sadly tone deaf to the plight of rural America.
High stakes testing marginalizes ALL teachers not just ones in the ghetto or barrio. And it distorts the curriculum of ALL kids from the inner city to rural towns by turning teaching into a kind of educational accounting. In Vietnam we learned the fraud that was the daily body bag count. Now the bean counters have moved on to our schools.
Perish the thought!
Salon: Jonathan Kozol, author of "Letters to a Young Teacher," talks with Salon about why No Child Left Behind squelches learning and about reading Rilke's sonnets to first graders. By Matthew Fishbane
Aug. 30, 2007 | School days, writes Jonathan Kozol, should be full of "aesthetic merriment." But instead, too many of America's 93,000 public schools, particularly those in the inner cities, are what the poet Gwendolyn Brooks once called "uglifying," brimming with demoralizing indignities. Those indignities -- and also the acts of "stalwart celebration" that surface in classrooms across the country -- are the topic of Kozol's latest book, "Letters to a Young Teacher."
RAD: The impoverishment of public schools is not just happening within the inner cities, but in rural and suburban America too. When you disenfranchise teachers by high stakes testing you are in effect telling them society doesn't feel they are competent, they aren't professionals.
Salon: Kozol, who will turn 71 this year, has written about race and class in the classroom before, most recently in 2005's "The Shame of the Nation" -- and in his latest work, an undercurrent of anger still simmers.
But rather than descend into polemic, Kozol returns in "Letters" to his teaching roots, using a correspondence with a teacher he calls Francesca as a chance to pay tribute to the men and women who devote their lives to children every day.
Francesca herself is "semi-fictionalized," a stand-in for the young educators -- almost all women -- who have been writing in remarkable volume to Kozol over the years. Still, Kozol insists that Francesca "is a very real person," "marvelously well-educated" and certified as a teacher.
Written for an audience that is just becoming politically engaged, their exchange gives Kozol a forum in which to address No Child Left Behind, high-stakes testing, vouchers and other privatizing forces in public schools -- while at the same time leaving ample room to praise and celebrate the inspiring, human qualities he encounters in teachers, "empathetic principals" and, of course, kids.
RAD: My course, School & Society, which I've taught at both the undergrad and graduate level at Pacific and PSU left no doubt that schools are a political arena and that teachers must be prepared to fight the good fight at all levels - within their buildings, their district and beyond.
Salon: From page to page, the focus of Kozol's "Letters" shuttles from the mundane to the profound -- from loose teeth to the democratic aims of education -- in a thoughtful first-person that echoes another "buoyant spirit" of New England: Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in "Civil Disobedience," "as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow countrymen now."
And in fact, Kozol's goals -- in calling for "a sweeping, intellectually sophisticated political upheaval" -- are no less lofty.
Salon spoke to Kozol from his home in Byfield, Mass., about the fun of first graders, the trouble with "utilitarian" teaching, and why No Child Left Behind is "the worst education legislation" in 40 years.
Salon: Unlike some of your previous books, "Letters" strikes me as being more about teachers than students.
Kozol: Yes, that's true, although the students -- especially because they're young and so delightfully impertinent -- force their way into the story repeatedly. Like most teachers, Francesca talks about the children all the time.
But it's true, the main purpose of the book is to describe what it's like to be a young teacher just beginning in an inner-city school at a time when there are unprecedented pressures, in part because of No Child Left Behind.
It records a year of correspondence and visits with an irreverent young woman who also happens to be an excellent teacher. I think of the book as an invitation to a beautiful profession.
RAD: Kozol's experience as a teacher and educational reformer has been shaped by his own experience in inner city Boston. But the stultifying nature of NCLB is no less corrosive of authentic teaching and learning beyond the ghetto or barrio.
Salon: Can you really call it an "invitation" when a huge part of your work is describing the many challenges teachers face in urban schools?
Kozol: Well, teachers have been profoundly demoralized in recent years and are often treated with contempt by politicians. There's a great deal of reckless rhetoric in Washington about the mediocrity of the teaching profession -- and I don't find that to be true at all. We are attracting better teachers and better-educated teachers today than at any time since I started out in 1964.
RAD: The students I've taught in School & Society have been some of my best and brightest whether measured by their GPAs, degrees or in many cases real world knowledge gained from a variety of vocations and/or professions prior to entering teaching.
Kozol: I emphasize teachers because they are largely left out of the debate. None of the bombastic reports that come from Washington and think tanks telling us what needs to be "fixed" -- I hate such a mechanistic word, as if our schools were automobile engines -- ever asks the opinions of teachers.
RAD: In Oregon when Vera Katz was advocating the Educational Act for the 21st Century in 1991's legislative session the teachers union was told to stay out of the discussion. Aside from handpicked teachers and administrators - there was no buy in by rank and file teachers.
Kozol: By far the most important factor in the success or failure of any school, far more important than tests or standards or business-model methods of accountability, is simply attracting the best-educated, most exciting young people into urban schools and keeping them there.
Salon: In your letters, you spend a lot of time reassuring Francesca that it's OK to follow her instincts, or even encouraging her to be subversive, to disregard school policies if they don't make sense to her.
Kozol: I would say pleasantly subversive. In part that is Francesca's character anyway -- but I do recommend an attitude of irreverence on the part of teachers who are having tests and standards shoved down their throats from Washington.
We try so hard to recruit exciting teachers into these schools, but nearly 50 percent of them quit within three years. In order to survive, they need to keep their individuality, their personalities, intact, and they need to fight to defend a sense of joyfulness that brought them to this profession in the first place.
RAD: Here's where schools of education do their students a major disservice. They don't give them the skills of how to survive in a hostile political environment whether the critics come from the ranks of parents, school board members, legislators and all too often co-opted school administrators who've bought the farm on high stakes testing.
Kozol: In most suburban schools, teachers know their kids are going to pass the required tests anyway -- so No Child Left Behind is an irritant in a good school system, but it doesn't distort the curriculum. It doesn't transform the nature of the school day.
RAD: This is NOT true. Suburban schools in Oregon are not homogeneous bedroom communities of the upwardly mobile. Even in upper income Beaverton, let along the Grove, we have a highly diverse community including lower income Oregonians and minority families - especially Hispanic families where English is not the family language.
Kozol: But in inner-city schools, testing anxiety not only consumes about a third of the year, but it also requires every minute of the school day in many of these inner-city schools to be directed to a specifically stated test-related skill. Very little art is allowed into these classrooms. Little social studies, really none of the humanities.
RAD: I've heard the same stories from teachers regardless of where they teach in the metro area - inner city Portland, suburban or rural Washington County. Time taken for getting ready for the tests means less time for the basics - reading, writing and math as well as for art, science and social sciences.
Kozol: In some embattled school systems these high-stakes tests start in first grade, or even kindergarten, in order to get the kids used to the protocol of test taking -- yet a vast majority of low-income kids have no preschool before they enter kindergarten.
According to Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund, less than 50 percent of eligible children are provided with Head Start nowadays, and it's even worse in the poorest inner-city districts.
RAD: Kozol needs to come to Oregon to see poverty in suburban and rural America. With 1 in 10 Oregon families mired in poverty - testing doesn't just hurt inner city kids, it hurts ALL kids and marginalizes their teachers!
Kozol: Meanwhile, the children of my affluent Harvard classmates, or their grandchildren, typically have three years of developmental pre-K education. Then a few years later, they all have to take the same exam -- presuming the affluent kids go to public schools -- and so some are being tested on three or four years of education and some on twice as many years.
RAD: Kozol's Harvard classmates are not your typical American family. Cambridge is NOT America. If it were - George Bush would never be president. It's time Kozol left his Cambridge bubble and saw the "other" America that is not the inner city but the Roseburg's of the country.
Salon: Is that what you said recently when you went to speak to the Democrats on the Senate education committee?
Kozol: Yes. I think the tests in their present form are useless, because although President Bush promoted them by saying, "All we want to do is help these teachers see where their students need more help," the results typically don't come back before the end of June.
RAD: Even if they did - they would be of no enduring value. They test the wrong skills - test taking, not critical thinking; rote memorization and drilling not creative problem solving.
Kozol: What is the teacher supposed to do when she finally sees the test scores in the middle of the summer, send a postcard to little Shaniqua, saying, you know, "If I knew last winter what I know now, I would have put more emphasis on the those skills"?
I recommended to the Democrats that they replace these tests with diagnostic tests, which are given individually by the teacher to her students. They are anxiety-free and you don't have to wait six months for McGraw-Hill or Harcourt to mis-score them, as they often do. The teacher gets results immediately. And it's not time stolen from education because she actually learns while she's giving this test.
RAD: Good teachers have always done pre-testing of some form in both reading and math. That's why you have ability groupings within the same class and well as within grade levels. There is nothing new about this. Good teachers assess the abilities of their students at the beginning of each school year and normally information on how a child did the previous year is part of their record that is passed on.
What's new if the education has been appropriated by the POLS as a political football has it has throughout American history to solve the immigration problem (1890s-1920s); to meet the challenge of the Cold War (1950s); to address the civil rights revolution (1960s); and most recently to prepare a workforce for the global marketplace.
Salon: After the Supreme Court decision last June on segregation in Seattle's school districts, you wrote a critical Op-Ed in the New York Times about a transfer provision in No Child Left Behind that says that if a student is in a perennially failing school, that child must be permitted to transfer to a high-performing school. Can you explain your argument?
Kozol: The idea of the provision is that a child's parents should be able to transfer the child to a successful school in their district if the child's school has proven to be a hopeless failure.
The trouble is, there aren't enough schools in overwhelmingly poor and minority inner-city districts to which a child can transfer. So less than 3 percent of eligible kids have transferred during the years since No Child Left Behind came into effect.
RAD: Kozol is only partially right. In rural America the problem is even more acute. If your community has only one high school, one middle school or one grade school - where's the choice there? The NCLB transfer policy is actually a thinly veiled attempt to deconstruct public schools per se.
Kozol: I proposed that the transfer provision be amended not only to permit but to require states to make cross-district transfers possible -- so that a student in the South Bronx could be transferred to Bronxville, which is, I have tested in my car, only about a 12-minute drive.
RAD: Such a policy makes sense in a metro area like Portland. But what do you do in "the other" Oregon when the drive from Roseburg to Eugene is 75 miles? The answer is not a transfer policy but creating and funding good community schools.
Kozol: It would be a very simple amendment to add and it would drive a mighty blow against the deepening re-segregation of our urban schools, without making any reference to race. Justice Kennedy, in his partial concurrence, pointed out that strategies like these, which are race-neutral, would certainly be constitutional.
Salon: How would those changes help to retain the wonderful young teachers you write about?
Kozol: First of all, it would immediately relieve that sense that there's always a sword above their heads, and that sword is empirically measurable testing. It would relieve the sense that every minute of the day has to be allocated to a predesignated skill.
It would free them from the absurdity of posting numbers and the language of standards on their blackboards, which are of absolutely no benefit to a child. As Francesca once pointed out to me, no child's going to come back 10 years later and say, "I'm so grateful to you for teaching me proficiency 56b."
RAD: I remember sometime in 1992 attending a session led by staff members of Oregon's Department of Education talking about educational rubrics as part of Oregon school reform movement begun in 1991. The 3-hour session was stupefying. Trying to reinvent grades by calling them by another name is pointless which is why the CIM and CAM have gone the way of the dodo bird in Oregon!
Grading and testing per se are not the problem, nor the solution. Having high standards and expectations are. But such cannot be mandated on high. They can be only given life one teacher at a time in the environment of a classroom set up for learning not testing. Good teachers know the difference.
Kozol: It would free the teachers from all of that, and it would allow these young teachers, most of whom have majored in liberal arts, and who love literature and poetry, to flood the classroom with all those treasures that they themselves enjoyed when they were children, most of them in very good suburban school districts.
RAD: It would also free teachers and school principals from cooking the books through scams like devising ways of making sure less able test takers don't take the tests on the days they are administered hence avoiding the chance of lowering the overall results of such tests.
Salon: You use a lot of military language like "combat," "assaults" and "capitulation" and return again and again to the idea that the administrative brass doesn't know what the grunts are living through. Are our schools really war zones?
Yes, they are. You rightly called teachers "grunts," in that they are the ones who are doing the actual work. In the inner-city schools these classrooms are not simply the front lines of education: They're the front lines of democracy.
No matter what happens in a child's home, no matter what other social and economic factors may impede a child, there's no question in my mind that a first-rate school can transform almost everything. So long as the teacher is energized and highly skilled and her personal sense of exhilaration in the company of children is not decapitated by a Dickensian agenda.
RAD: This is a myth. Teachers cannot, on their own, change the socio-economic environment from which a child comes to school. If a child comes to school hungry, is homeless or from a family dealing with domestic abuse, drug addiction etc. the teacher alone cannot "transform" this child's world. This is why schools must be connected to other social service entities which can intervene on behalf of the child and the family.
Kozol: I've received at least 30,000 letters, calls and e-mails or written notes handed to me from young teachers in the past two years alone: These teachers by and large are very well-educated and they are highly idealistic.
And they know something that the testing and standards experts don't seem to know: namely, that the main reason for learning to read is for the pleasure it brings us, not for the utilitarian payoff of being able to read your orders.
Salon: So you take issue with the argument that children need to be prepared for the realities of the marketplace. But isn't that what they will face?
Kozol: Yes, children do have to be prepared for the economic world -- but the invasion of the public schools by mercantile values has deeply demoralized teachers. I've been in classrooms where the teacher has to write a so-called mission statement that says, "The mission of this school is to sharpen the competitive edge of America in the global marketplace."
Francesca once said to me, "I'm damned if I'm going to" -- I don't think she said "damned," because she's too polite; maybe "darned" -- "treat these little babies as commodities or products. Why should they care about global markets? They care about bellybuttons, and wobbly teeth, and beautiful books about caterpillars." I think we have to protect those qualities.
Most of the teachers we're trying so hard to recruit into these schools, then driving out, tend to be the children of the 1960s generation, and they are steeped in civil rights values, and those who have gone to good colleges and universities come into these schools with what I would call almost a preferential option for minority children of the poor.
But no matter what they've read beforehand, they're generally stunned at the profound class and racial segregation they encounter. It's not as if they didn't know that this was the case, but when they're suddenly in a class, as Francesca was, with not a single white child and only three white kids in the entire building, it hits them hard.
RAD: Again, Kozol needs to get out of Boston or NY. Poverty, homelessness, dysfunctional families are not the preserve of being a racial minority. Such children come in all colors, from all communities, from all states. Class, not race, is America's hidden problem. But we only recognize it when the face of class is Black or Brown. It's our deepest little secret in the USA. We refuse to recognize that poverty knows no racial or ethnic boundaries. To acknowledge this risks unmasking the Horatio Alger myth and the fraudulent promise of the American Dream.
Salon: Is that how Francesca experienced it?
Kozol: Francesca and I once had a long talk. I tend to say that we've basically ripped apart the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, but it was she who first pointed out to me that we haven't even lived up to the mandate of Plessy v. Ferguson, because our schools are obviously separate but they're certainly not equal.
Now, especially with the recent Supreme Court decision [on segregation], there's a sense of profound anger among these teachers. A sense that everything they grew up to believe is good and right is being discarded by our society. They also note that despite all the fatuous claims from the secretary of education, the achievement gap between the races has not closed. And even worse, the cultural gap has actually widened because of the narrowing of the curriculum in these schools.
Francesca, despite the fact that she refused to teach to the test, managed to be very effective in teaching skills, and her children did well. Apparently you don't need to hire Princeton Review to come into your school and use scarce education funds to pay them to create artificial test-score gains.
RAD: Good teachers always increase the performance of their students. But one size of education does not fit all. If a child comes into the first grade reading at grade level, then challenge that child to read above that level and test accordingly. If another child is a non-reader in first grade, then that child needs a different approach and diagnostic assessment at the beginning and end of the year.
Salon: You're an advocate now. Have you ever considered going back to the classroom yourself?
Kozol: All the time. When I was visiting Francesca's class, I was jealous of her. When I give lectures what usually happens is some teacher or principal in the audience will grab me at the end and say, "Do you have four hours tomorrow morning before you leave? Would you visit my school?" and I always try to do it. And then I don't want to leave because it really brings my spirits back. I love the unpredictable. I love the whimsical in children. I love it when a child asks me what you might think is a funny question, like, "Do you feel sad because you're old?" Or, "Is it lonesome to write?" It's a wonderful question, don't you think?
I'm still very healthy and I sometimes think I would love to go back and teach first grade or second grade. First grade, under the best conditions, is what I call the miracle year, because that's the year when -- if you're in a reasonably good situation, and if your children have a little pre-K, and if they've had a good kindergarten year -- it's in first grade that you see the children go from knowing letters only as images, the shapes of the letters, to suddenly writing and reading. Writing real sentences and reading real books. That's a miracle to me. To me that's more dramatic than anything that happened to me at my four years at Harvard.
Salon: This book revisits some of the topics -- like dealing with unsupportive administrators -- from your 1981 book, "On Being a Teacher." Why did you feel the need to return to those subjects?
Kozol: Well, I've spent more time with other teachers since then and spent so much time in classrooms that -- I can't quite explain why. I know this book has a political cutting edge and it's going to make me a lot of enemies in Washington from the right-wing think-tank types.
I'm sure they won't be sending me any bouquets from the Heritage Foundation, or the Manhattan Institute. But it's the first book I've ever written where I actually enjoyed it every day, and it's because there's enough in it, and because I think of it sort of as an invitation to the dance. I think the book, in a strange way, is kind of a cheerful book. Wouldn't you say so?
Somewhere between naive romance and sophisticated idealism.
I hope it's not naive. It's not a theoretical book, like, wouldn't this be wonderful? or something. It's based on being there. Francesca's kids did well. At the same time, she did not stick to the standards. I don't think there's anything in No Child Left Behind about reading the sonnets of Rilke to first graders.
RAD: Maybe "Cat in the Hat" might be a better choice! Rilke might require too much deconstruction. Kozol's elitism is showing.
EDITOR'S NOTE: NPR radio's All Things Considered ran a story today which blows the lid off what's left of the administration's rationale for staying the course in Iraq. NPR reporters Debbie Elliott & Corey Flintoff in Report Reveals Corruption in Iraqi Government got access to a report by the US embassy staff in Baghdad headed by US ambassador Ryan Crocker, a Whitman College grad and career service State Department pro. Clearly Crocker and his staff are sending a signal to Capitol Hill which is a lead in to the Petraus report due to the Congress later this month. One might consider it a pre-emptive strike.
This report will clearly will embolden the anti-war crowd in the nation and hopefully help members of Congress develop some moral spine about ending this fiasco, now not later. The corruption in Iraq's government in the Green Zone is so endemic that there is really no hope that the Maliki government can turn things around or even has the will to do so! One worries that the administration might be stupid like JFK was early in the war in Vietnam and try to remove Maliki by whatever means necessary to put a new face on this disaster. That didn't work in Vietnam and such a Faustian option now will not work either.
One would have to be colossally naive to think that this is not a deliberate leak by Ambassador Crocker and his top assistants. It is clearly intended to stir a major debate on the Hill, in the West Wing and beyond about the war in Iraq. And with Karl Rove gone the administration does not have the political firepower to fight back very successfully. The defection of Senator John Warner (R, Va) has made it much easier to oppose the administration. There is no reason with Rove gone and discredited to fear anyone in the administration, quite the contrary. Expect more Rs to jump ship and join the chorus of criticism.
Hopefully this report will play a role akin to the Pentagon Papers (in the Vietnam war era) or the Watergate Tapes (in the Nixon era) lifting the veil of deniability over the administration's failed policy in Iraq. Now that Idaho's senior Senator Larry Craig has resigned, let's get on to the real news - not the sideshow of another GOP power broker run amok. Let's keep our eyes on the prize - bringing the troops home, NOW.
RAD has highlighted the most bone chilling parts of the report released by NPR. There will no doubt be more headline stories on this report and the political fallout it will create. Stay tuned!
NPR: All Things Considered, September 1, 2007 · State Department investigators in Iraq have concluded that the government of Nouri al-Maliki is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws. The investigators also say that corrupt civil servants with connections to the government are seen as untouchable, and that employees of Iraq's watchdog Commission on Public Integrity have been murdered in the line of duty.
The U.S. investigators lay out their conclusions in a draft report obtained by NPR's Corey Flintoff in Baghdad. The report was marked "sensitive, but unclassified, not for distribution to personnel outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." The State Department report was leaked at a politically sensitive time, when Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is preparing to brief Congress this month on progress since the U.S. troop surge.
The U.S. draft report leaves the impression that corruption is sapping Iraq's resources. An employee of the Ministry of the Interior, which supervises the police, told NPR that senior ministry officials are making money off of contracts to buy equipment. He said rank and rile police officers have to pay bribes to be promoted.
The State Department investigation found that Iraqi ministries routinely refuse to cooperate with Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, and the watchdog agency's investigators are often unable to enter government offices because they don't have enough firepower to defend themselves.
Debbie Elliott speaks to NPR's Corey Flintoff, who has read the draft report.
Give us a little background on this report — who produced it?
It was produced, at least in part, by the people at the Embassy's Office of Accountability and Transparency, which advises the Iraqi government's corruption watchdog that's called the Commission on Public Integrity. The embassy spokesman stressed to me that this is only a draft report, and he pointed out that it's not a secret. As a matter of fact, it says "sensitive but unclassified, not for distribution to personnel outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." I'd say the reason that it's marked "sensitive" is that it paints a very negative picture of the Maliki government, saying that, right now, Iraq is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws.
Why is that?
Well, It's a lengthy report and it offers a lot of reasons, but it says the single biggest hurdle to prosecuting these anti-corruption cases is that the Commission on Public Integrity — that's the watchdog agency — can't get its investigators inside the ministries. It says some ministries, such as the Interior Ministry are seen as untouchable because of their political connections to the government. The Ministry of Oil, which is supposed to safeguard the country's major source of wealth, has allegedly manipulated investigations against it. The report goes on to say the departments of the government routinely ignore requests for information, and they do that with impunity, and that investigation teams can't go into their offices because they don't have any firepower to protect them.
What kinds of crimes are we talking about? How serious is this corruption?
If you believe the report, and you listen to people who work at these ministries, you get the impression that corruption is completely sapping the country's resources. I had a long talk this afternoon with someone who works at the Ministry of Interior — that's the department that supervises all of Iraq's police forces. And he told me that it's corrupt from top to bottom — that officials at the top of the pile are making money from things like contracts to buy equipment. One example of that was that a top official got a contract to buy armored vests for the police. And when the vests arrived, they were much cheaper quality than the ones he was paid to deliver.
This doesn't sound like it bodes well for the security situation there. What is the U.S. Embassy saying about the information in this document?
Well, they're basically saying that it's not that big a deal. The embassy spokesman stressed that this is a report that's put out every six months, so he's painting it as rather routine. But what's out of the routine here is that Ambassador Ryan Crocker is about to present his part of a report on how well the current administration strategy in Iraq is working, and anti-corruption efforts are bound to be a serious issue. This report was produced by people in his own embassy, so you'd assume it will have to be looked at. One thing the Embassy spokesman did tell me is that there's some concern at the embassy over the truthfulness of some of the sources that this report used from the various ministries. He said that, given the fractious politics here, it's not uncommon for government agencies to accuse one another of corruption.
Does the draft report offer any solution to this problem?
It offers some recommendations, including giving more U.S. backing to the Iraqi watchdog commission. It says the Maliki government has attempted to undermine the commission's independence by starving it of resources for one thing, and it also quotes government officials who say that the commission shouldn't be independent, and it's supposed to be independent under the Iraqi constitution, but people in the prime minister's office says it should be under their control. It also says that U.S. forces should be used, when possible, to give protection to the commission's investigators so they can do their job.
For the full story go to NPR and hear it online.
Oregon's personal "kicker law" which rebates individual income refunds to Oregonians when state income tax revenue collections exceed estimated revenue by 2% will enable Oregon taxpayers to get an early Christmas bonus this year. The average check will be @ $612 but for those who earn @ $100,000 or more - the gift could be much higher, $1000 - 3000. But as State Senator Ginny Burdick (D, Portland) chair of the Senate Interim Finance & Revenue Committee said this is "really dumb" policy.
Everyone is aware that the nation is hovering on the edge of a major recession given the sub-prime home mortgage crisis, to say nothing about wasting $12 billion a month on the war in Iraq. And in Oregon if the nation's economy goes south, with our dependence on the income tax and no ability to get tax reform through the legislature our ability to hold budgets harmless in the wake of an impending recession will be impossible. As in the past the most vulnerable Oregonians will pay the price.
But we don't have to wait for the bad times to see the folly of the kicker. For example, in Washington County, the richest county in the state, we have over 2000 homeless residents, 6000 on a waiting list for low income housing and many thousands more on the edge of homelessness. What did the legislature do about that? They tinkered around the edges at best. But the GOP caucus in the final days of the session refused to pass HB 3551 which would have addressed housing insecurity crisis across the state.
We also live in a state where our mental health system is in tatters. While we are phasing out the state mental hospital in Salem - we have NO community based mental health system in place to take the patients who will be shipped out of that aging fortress designed for the 19th century. And as the tragedy in Minneapolis showed us, we have an aging road and bridge system in dire need of repair and/or replacement. And finally, while education got a big boost long term capital investment needs were not addressed.
So the folly of the kicker is clear. If Oregon's social safety net had not been eroded since the passage of Measure 5 in 1991 the sky would not be falling on us. But it is - and has been - for over 15 years. Giving taxpayers an early Christmas present is indeed dumb policy. It's akin to giving an addict one more drink, one more pill, one more smoke. With no state sales tax and a corporate minimum tax of $10 per year - Oregon sits on a precipice which the next recession will take us over the edge again.
Consider this - our county prison system is now our housing first option and our community mental health option. This fact does not square with Oregon's reputation for being a progressive state. But then again, image rarely does square with reality. Until Oregonians and their legislators have a reality fix - we will fall over the cliff again like a bunch of lemmings as we did in the recessions of 1980, 1991 and 2001. Keep that in mind when the legislature meets in February 2008.