Leaving Children Behind

New Orleans: We know Rod Paige too well!  America, if you had only listened, we tried to tell you even during his confirmation hearing that things were sketchy back home in Houston and there was more flim-flam that good fortune for children in the schools there. 

Our union, Local 100, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO  went hammer and tong with him during his celebrated, but now proven duplicitous, reign as Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), where we represent thousands of school support workers.   Privatization was the flashpoint.  Special deals with board members, ghost employees making huge salaries on contracts, you name it – we exposed it, as we tried to reign in Aramark and others who were being trotted out to deteriorate the working conditions and wages of African American and Hispanic workers who had kept the infrastructure of the system together!

Paige was Bush’s hero because of the test scores and the dropout rate.  Paige went to Washington as the show horse for the success of Governor Bush’s education “reform.”  Turned out to be a mirage (which is a polite thing to call a total lie and fabrication!).  Because the dropout rate was totally made up and so was much of the pass rate in the schools which it fueled.  One of those deals where if you let me cheat, I’ll do well on the test, too!

This is the team that has now brought the country the originally ballyhooed and now much boo-hoo’ed, No Child Left Behind Act, which is making even more mayhem of our public schools throughout the country.  No one is saying – especially not those of us who are working with families in lower income and working communities – that the public schools are not in a huge crises.  They are, and more!  We have consistently said that this is not the way.  One cannot test to education, we have to educate, and then the test will reflect the success.  Additionally, this mess was one unfounded mandate after another – this was a Republican apotheosis – the big federales ordering the states and districts down to the fine detail how to run their local schools – who but these fellas would not have appreciated the huge ironies involved, much less the absurdity of it all.  Throw all of that together with the fact that no rain followed the plow – there was no money to help the local school districts or the states saddled with these mandates make the changes demanded.  Meanwhile the teachers unions, support worker unions like Local 100 SEIU, ACORN, and a host of others are lying in the gap for these jokers….fun times at Ridgemont High!

They are truly dancing now.  Some 14 states have all signed on to a chain letter to Washington saying that the Department of Ed needs to get its arms around this problem and figure out a way to cut them some slack.  Even better these are not in the main your bleeding hard “red” states, but your deep “blue” states, like Utah, Idaho, Virginia, and others who are kicking up sand.  Secretary Paige was on the front page the other day squirming in the heat of this mess – saying they were not open to amending the act (and publicly admitting their huge booboos!) but they were squeezing every bit of discretion they could find in the act to cut the states some slack.  Read more carefully, that means figure out a way to look the other way, while the mess goes on, but the politics still lets them call it a “win” in November.

If we had a real Attorney General, it would be time to issue some indictments to haul in Bush and Paige for the mess they have made and the permanent and irredeemable damage they done to the nation’s children with NCLB. 

This is child abuse of a high order.  And, we need to put a stop to it!


Environmental Immigrants?

New Orleans: The Sierra Club is well known as the gray lady of the environmental movement – big, old, and staid with huge resources – some $80 million a year in expenditures – and a largely passive, tree hugging membership.  Led by Executive Director Carl Pope for some years, more recently the Sierra Club has become more active and aggressive in the political battlegrounds, raising $14,000,000 recently for voter registration before this November’s election for example, and getting involved in education based political activity in the last cycle. 

 Structurally the staff runs the operation and the members join through direct mail and other means as well as the structural local clubs that get out and clear brush, clean trails, and other classic and activist environmental efforts.  But because of this dual structure that includes the local clubs and years of traditions there are often spirited contests for the elected board and leadership positions and frequent referenda on numerous issues where the members get to vote every couple of years positions the Sierra Club should take on this and that.

I am not a member, so the process easily confuses me.  But, this year there is something peculiar that seems to be going on.  One keeps running into the oddly incongruous note here and there.  One would read of ex-Governor Richard Lamm from Colorado, known as a quasi-liberal Democratic green leaning politician in his day, being savaged as a radical candidate in some newspaper or magazine article and the nature of the invective would have something to do with his candidacy for the board: Lamm, an insurgent?  Who would ever have possibly guessed!  There are charges and counter-charges, mailings and money, slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Recently, MoveOn.org, the phenomena of internet activist, which I believe is structurally accountable to no one really, other than contributions “vote” with their donations, I presume, even jumped into the fray to support the incumbents against the insurgents.  Another unusual player was the Southern Poverty Law Center — in the main is a mailing house in Alabama often specializing in more sizzle than steak in recent years – which also jumped in for reasons obscure.

What is all of this about?

Seems that Lamm and his cohorts with the support of unseen others want to raise the old issues about population control – the Malthusian dilemma (now ultimately discredited, but still not insignificant) – as an environmental issue.  Fine, so far.  Deal with overcrowding, scarce resources, inequities between the first world and the third world – big issues, big debates, all of which would make for good small group discussion in hundreds of club meetings in church basements in middle class neighborhoods around the country.  But, where there seems to have become a flashpoint is that the population issue is being linked to immigration and a half-step from there to civil rights.  So the Lammistas have to present their civil rights record and in fact one of the Lamm ticket is a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, probably exactly for that reason.

I had not realized that the Sierra Club was even involved in the important debate about immigration in our country.  That would have seemed so far from their core competency, that it is hard to imagine what particular credibility they would bring to the discussion whether they were for it or against it. 

I gather from a recent article in the Washington Post (3/22/04) that the ballots are now out on this issue and the board members who have staked out their various positions.  I have to wonder how it would much matter what position the Sierra Club might come to take on this issue versus the harm that has undoubtedly already been wrought from such intense and expensive internal conflict, which has the capability of diminishing a newly minted ally in our broader progressive fight and pushing the Club back into the forest among the trees from which they originally came.