I Hope This Is Hyperbole…

Generally, when partisans of one sort or another pursue policies that are likely to have negative side-effects, those side effects are unintended. (Hence the term “unintended consequences.”) A recent report generated by The Institute for New Economic Thinking–a source with which I am unfamiliar, and for which I cannot vouch–asserts that the attack on teachers (about which I recently blogged) is part of a deliberate effort to “Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude.”

At least three people forwarded the paper to me. It references research by Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, and Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT.  It describes a movement that is said to have begun in the wake of Citizens United, a “highly coordinated campaign” to destroy unions, cut taxes for the wealthy, and cut public services for everyone else.

Lafer pored over the activities of business lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – funded by giant corporations including Walmart, Amazon.com, and Bank of America—that produces “model legislation” in areas its conservative members use to promote privatization. He studied the Koch network, a constellation of groups affiliated with billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. (Koch Industries is the country’s second-largest private company with business including crude oil supply and refining and chemical production). Again and again, he found that corporate-backed lobbyists were able to subvert the clear preferences of the public and their elected representatives in both parties. Of all the areas these lobbyists were able to influence, the policy campaign that netted the most laws passed, featured the most big players, and boasted the most effective organizations was public education. For these U.S. corporations, undermining the public school system was the Holy Grail.

The obvious question is: why? These organizations and businesses need an educated workforce; why would they intentionally subvert education? I understand–and mostly agree with– the argument that their preferred policies would have that effect, but why would that be the motivation?

While Lafer acknowledges that there are legitimate debates among people with different ideological positions or pedagogical views, he thinks big corporations are actually more worried about something far more pragmatic: how to protect themselves from the masses as they engineer rising economic inequality.

As Lafer sees it, we are headed for a new system in which the children of the wealthy will be “taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids.” The rest of America’s children will be trapped in large classes with a narrow curriculum taught by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits…

In other words, dismantling the public schools is all about control.

The linked article develops these themes, and readers who want to explore them more fully are welcome to click through and do so.

I know that even paranoids have enemies, but this argument strains credulity. I don’t quarrel with the assertion that many of these “reforms” are wrongheaded and detrimental to the national interest. (Vouchers, for example, are supported mainly by people who think they can make a profit and religious zealots who want public money to support their parochial schools.) The unwillingness of so many “haves” to pay the taxes that support the social and physical infrastructure that enabled their good fortune is selfish and despicable, but the policies they are pursing can be debated–and their dangers exposed–on their own (dubious) merits.

The problem is, if the gap between the rich and the rest isn’t reduced soon, we are likely to see more overheated accusations along these lines–along with more class-and-race-based animosity.

We’re entering the social danger zone.


  1. As Donald Trump said “We LOVE the low information voter” or something close to that.

    Only poorly educated voters will continue to vote against themselves base on their hatreds.
    Educated voters will not
    Blue states tend to have better schools
    Republicans fear good schools

  2. Sheila,

    “We’re entering the social danger zone.”

    We are not entering it. We’ve been in it. That’s what BLACK LIVES MATTER is all about.

  3. I judge people by their actions… not their words.

    If a group of people hires a bunch of lobbyists and bribes legislators to enact laws that divide the nation, destroy the safety net so long woven to protect the disadvantaged, and deprive some groups of their basic rights , they are not acting on policies; they are acting on their evil greed.

    No amount of debate is going to change the hearts of those who are practicing or supporting these efforts by the Republican Party and the Evangelical Right. The time for debate passed a long time ago.

  4. Control. It’s all about control of the many be the few. Like everyone, the rich like order and efficiency. When you have ‘freedom’ you have disorder and inefficiency. Think ‘strike’, and regulations that hamper that efficiency.

  5. Let me point out this comment because it’s incredibly important to grasp: “Koch Industries is the country’s second-largest PRIVATE COMPANY with business including crude oil supply and refining and chemical production.”

    Private vs public company built by their father. They are Libertarians who’ve taken over the Grand Ole Party…why??

    The French economist, Thomas Piketty, already disclosed the class warfare which started with Reagan and Thatcher in the 80’s (it’s now called Neoliberalism). Thomas began his study in the USA but went to France to finish the project because he knew the academic institution he was working with would kill off his research.

    For example, the elected senate professor representing Ball State’s teaching staff called the state-appointed board of trustees, a “politburo”. He was almost immediately replaced by a few professors who cut a deal with the board.

    Control? Social danger zone?

    The state just approved a special session to allow the Ball State University takeover of Muncie Community Schools because a CFO and maybe his superintendent misspent $10 million meant for capital projects. The school board had NO idea. The union leadership was/is the worst and basically worked to steer the district right into the control of the state. Intentionally or unintentionally, it happened. It’s creating an excellent petri dish for the Koch brothers and ALEC minded professors at BSU. The Koch’s fund the “entrepreneurial center”. More than a handful of the business department cohorts with the Indiana Policy Network.

    We’ve gone well beyond this imaginary “danger zone” decades ago, but Americans are slowly waking up to it.

    We lean toward entertainment soaked gluttons. Our ability to problem solve and use critical thinking skills are abysmal. It’s embarrassing to watch. Grown men and women bashing unions for workers and democracy.

    Once again, you can’t fix stupid so maybe that’s the point! How else can you explain convincingly how 99% of the populace rolls over to take a screwing by the 1%.

    Or why 50% of the working class supports getting screwed by the 1%…even applaud it because they amazingly believe they are part of the 1%. 😉

    Our brains haven’t evolved much since the Civil War…

  6. Where and how do you draw a line between hyperbole and outright lies? When we have a leader whose daily Tweets, rants and speeches are filled with hyperbolic lies; can a line be drawn between to two? His every word is taken as gospel by his voting supporters while his appointees are intelligent enough to know the difference and the dividing line; probably why so many have either walked away or put themselves in a position to be fired. My dictionary used the example of, “I am so hungry I could eat a horse!” as hyperbole. Compared to Trump’s oft repeated statement that he knows more than anyone else, including more military knowledge than our highly experienced and qualified generals, he does not speak hyperbole because he believes everything he says. Does he know he lies? When films of his speeches are made public; he accuses the media of putting out “fake news”. Hyperbole or lies from someone who believes himself?

    “As Lafer sees it, we are headed for a new system in which the children of the wealthy will be “taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers.”

    Is Lafer’s view on the new system of education as expressed above, hyperbole, a lie or ignorance of the fact that DeVos and Trump want to end public education and fund the voucher system with our tax dollars going into private – mostly religious based – schools which will be hand fed creationism in their “God’s Kingdom” foundation? Having family members using vouchers and one family member an employee in a Catholic school (not as an educator) there are no small classes and not all teachers are experienced or qualified. The only way their education system can be put into effect would be to end all education systems and start each of them from scratch.

    “The unwillingness of so many “haves” to pay the taxes that support the social and physical infrastructure that enabled their good fortune is selfish and despicable, but the policies they are pursing can be debated–and their dangers exposed–on their own (dubious) merits.”

    Sound education is and has always been the foundation of our future in this country; is there any proof that the “haves” who put their children into private schools have received a better quality education or did the wealth they “have” provide better opportunities for their children to use their education, not having to find jobs right out of school (or work and attend school) to keep their bills paid? The “haves” appear to me to be much more interested in quantity rather than quality. For those on the blog who are local; my Letter to the Editor of the Indianapolis Star was published yesterday (Sunday, 4/29); I stated my view on paying taxes from my level of “have nots”.

  7. To paraphrase Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire , education can be used to liberate or domesticate. Regardless of the merit of the Lafer/Tenin research, political forces shaping U.S. public education have been pushing toward domestication of students for at least the last two decades. Domesticated people are much easier to govern as citizens and manage as workers.

  8. Let’s not forget, it’s easier to keep ’em poor if you keep ’em dumb. USA! USA!

  9. The Koch Network is the greatest danger our democratic republic has ever faced. They have been gathering in secret every year since the early seventies to plot the course ahead and pledge funding toward achieving their goals. They understand the long game and they are beyond libertarian. They want a government devoted to the protection of THEIR property rights and nothing more. Don’t think for a minute that Keystone XL would be proceeding if it were crossing Koch property. It goes forward because it’s just ranchers and Native Americans who will be displaced.

    Speaking of the long game and Keystone, remember that one of the greatest concerns the public has had is the water of the Ogalala aquifer. Potable water is the next scarce commodity that will be controlled by the Kochs and their friends.

  10. Very wealthy people have a deep-seated insecurity about retaining their wealth and passing it to their children. They feel the need to build fortunes as a means of status and self-protection. Competition from the lower classes is not in their immediate best interests in their quest to build secure dynasties. Repressing and controlling the lower classes has throughout history been a motivation of the upper classes. They have no interest in maintaining a democratic and equitable society. That is a dream of the middle and lower classes. The sooner the rest of us understand this the sooner we can take real action to prevent the further development of and American aristocracy.

  11. The superrich have decided that they will pay propaganda organs to stay rich and get richer rather than pay taxes to stay rich and get richer via an educated workforce. The key to such thinking is control, evinced by wage inequality, inferior schooling, incessant propaganda etc. The “Him who’s got the gold makes the rules” is in full play and has very successfully invaded and taken over the inner sanctum of political control (see the Trump Ryan tax atrocity), which is the fundamental problem, and one that will not be solved until we elect those who bring our elections back under democratic control via elections exclusively financed by the public which, if it happens, will have the additional and beneficial effect of reversing Citizens United and other such judicial anomalies by legislative edict.

    Contrary to what you will hear from the rabid right financed by those who would control our very lives, public financing of elections would be far cheaper and more democratic than the effects current libertarian purchase of our politics has afforded us. As Sheila’s quotes suggest, especially with our entrance into the world of automation, we are little more than widgets in the world of high finance and purchased politics. Big Brother is alive and well, because lest we forget, “Him who’s got the gold makes the rules.” What to do? Take BB’s gold out of the equation by regulating his business rather than having him regulate ours.

  12. Todd,

    Two things: (1) Neo-liberalism began with the infamous Lewis Powell Manifesto to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971. In it, he described – in detail – how the education system must be changed to influence our children to accept the vagaries of for-profit everything and to reject liberal thinking in government. The complete paper is in my latest book. Read it. (2) The human brain hasn’t evolved for the last 200,000 years, biologically, because we changed the rules of selectivity of genetic information being allowed to exist.

    There’s no hyperbole here. The conspiracy to use education to create a servant class to the rich has BEEN DOCUMENTED. Ask Marv. He’s read my stuff. I’ve cited the conspirators efforts to ruin critical thinking since 2007.

  13. One need look no further than the current push by the education establishment for students to choose vocational education over higher education, as though a dichotomy actually existed there to begin with. It doesn’t, and never has. Regardless of what one chooses to do in life, education in the arts and government, philosophy and critical thinking are always relevant. In ten years, what will a Commercial Drivers’ License be worth on highways filled with self-driving, automated vehicles? Who remembers iron pipes? Today, the plumber works in plastic, like a model builder. Trades are always changing and one must be educated to think critically to re-invent oneself. And the future of oil when nations like Germany generate over 70% of their electric power from wind, water, and solar sources of energy? Our nation’s economy rests on oil and gas. Keeping the masses believing that solar won’t ever be able to provide our energy needs–when it doing just that in other nations–is crucial to maintaining the Koch dynasty. Lafer’s work is not hyperbole and our children and grandchildren’s futures are in real peril unless we rise up to stop this!

  14. The establishment was once upon a time gravely threatened to it’s core when the Silent 1950’s erupted into the Swinging/Raging 1960’s. The old music was being rejected, the old way of thinking was being undermined. Bob Dylan said it well:

    For the times they are a-changin’.
    Come senators, Congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don’t stand in the doorway
    Don’t block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There’s a battle outside
    And it is ragin’.

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.

    Power to the People was no meaningless marketing slogan. The streets, roads, colleges and universities were filled with protests: Civil Rights, Anti-War, Anti-Draft. The rejection of the establishment was even reflected in clothing, the three piece suit was replaced by tie-dyed clothing. Clean shaving, slicked down hair, gave way to beards and long hair. Young woman were rejecting the kitchen and motherhood as a career path.

    The mindless nationalism and patriotism of the Vietnam War was rejected. Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali refused to step forward. Ali became a hero to the young and an implacable enemy of the establishment.

    The establishment was shaken the classes were uniting across racial, gender and economic class lines. The lines were being erased. LBJ was probably the first political casualty when he realized the depths of the opposition and decided not to run in 1968.

    Nixon brought on the counter-revelation for the establishment, when he promised “Law and Order”. Law and Order were the code words for the domestic front. Nixon would later say after he was elected President:

    “My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed.”

    As is typical of the establishment the rules applied to the “Others” who threatened them. Nixon would find Law and Order to be a double edge sword.

    The last thing the establishment wants is well educated populace that recognizes the class war.

  15. Reminds me of what I was told about women, “Keep them bearfooted in winter and pregnant in summer and you don’t have worry about them leaving.” We can see how it works today dumb them down don’t allow them to learn other opinions or see the world and they wont’t be any trouble. Just watched a McDonalds commercial where one employee is given a scolorship. If they shared their wealth and paid all employees a decent wage all of their employees could afford higher education.

  16. Suffice to say,the wealthy have won. They did so with the help of Vichy Democrats. Their efforts predate Trump. Just read General Smedley Butler’s book. It’s not a work of fiction. The Powell Manifesto is their raison d’etre.

    They have won. When the DNC and DCCC effectively rid themselves of the Socialist Cretins supporting Bernie Sanders in the next 3 years ( they will with the full support of most of the commenters here) that will be their victory lap. All we can do is talk about the results amongst ourselves within the confines of our little walled gardens. Oh,we can vote for an entire ticket of Democrats as if that will actually matter. We might even have a handful of protests whilst we hold our cups of water with Koch Industries produced cups. At the least,that ticket will make us feel good about ourselves and make us feel as if we had done something that really mattered.

  17. Motivation. While it’s not necessary to know it can reveal more about the plans that it hatches. Let’s do some surmising here.
    Capitalism has been an absolute windfall for a few, a solid benefit to many and a burden to quite a few but over the last 200 years it has pretty much defined progress. While it gets all of the credit the truth is closer to that that success was enabled by the fact of absolutely unlimited, cheap in huge quantities, energy. The success of Capitalism depends on cheap energy and vice versa.

    Reality revealed by science over the last century informed us that such massive use of fossil fuels created a high cost for waste disposal from fossil fuels. We thought that we could just dump the waste into the air once the energy had been removed and it would disappear forever. Reality turns out to be different. The more we dump the more we change some of the fundamentals that we built our civilization adapted to like the distribution of seasonal weather around the world and the level of the seas, and the damage potential of extreme weather plus things like the chemistry of ocean water which is an essential source of food for humanity.

    What to do, what to do. It turns out we can chose one alternative or not in which case nature will chose the other but both require us to replace fossil fuels. We can either do it as rapidly as possible, or nature will dictate when the economically recoverable supply dwindles. The difference in time between the two options is somewhat slippery to pin down so let’s just assume a century. I think that’s longer than we have, some might guess shorter. Our only two alternatives (the one that we can chose, vs the one nature demands) both require the re-sourcing of energy. The difference in costs between them is that of recovering from the consequences of anthropogenic global warming growing every year on critical resources that began a few decades ago and will increase annually until they become unaffordable which will then motivate us to finally adapting our civilization to those inescapable blows to it.

    Bottom line is that Capitalism will lose its essential partnership with energy either sooner (very costly) or slightly later (way more costly).

    This could be a fatal blow to those who built mega fortunes from the former conditions, capitalism and abundant energy. They know this. It’s the topic around the lavish banquet table every year in Davos, Switzerland. What do they need to do to lock in their royal lifestyles given that what created them is short term?

    If we look over big history we know that we went from hunting-gathering to settlements and to protect them from each other a feudal community organization that linked serfs to mega wealthy militarily powerful nobility and as nobody except other nobility could dislodge them they because permanent fixtures supported by the wealth creation of everyone else. That’s what the American and French Revolutions managed to change but Capitalism and abundant energy re-created the same arrangement in every important way since. Now physics and chemistry and economics are unintentionally driving a different and unavoidable revolution to the next arrangement, whatever it turns out to be.

    People in Davos and at other conclaves of course don’t want to go back to economic equality so plan to manage nature’s revolution to maximally advantage their position. Bottom line thinking. Their tools are no longer armor and castles and moats but now are advertising based and effective because we addicted us to enertainment enough so that we purchased a media outlet for every purse, pocket and room over which their wealth can broadcast thoughts to keep us otherwise occupied so that their wealth (capital), rather than our capabilities will save us from the energy shortage and natural consequences problem.

    Enter Donald Trump stage right………..

  18. William @ 12:25 pm. In These Times has an interesting but depressing article on the DCCC. The DCCC’s Long, Ugly History of Sabotaging Progressives

    The latest attacks on left challengers are no fluke: For decades the House Democratic fundraising body has put corporate, big-money interests first. Challenging the status quo and advancing a progressive agenda have never been the business of the DCCC, so long as the money keeps flowing. http://inthesetimes.com/features/dccc_left_progressive_challengers_laura_moser_campaign_finance.html

    The DCCC and the DNC essentially act as privatized Political Police Force for their Corporate Donors. Those who oppose the Corporate Agenda are weeded out.

    At the present time the Corporate Establishment Democratic Party is placing their hopes on Robert Mueller to accomplish the heavy lifting and Stormy Daniels to a lesser extent.

    Issues that could benefit the people like Universal Health Care, reducing the costs of prescription drugs, a Free College or Vocational School tuition will not be permitted, by the Democratic Political Establishment. Banning the sale of assault weapons, universal federal firearms registration, supporting unions, closing tax loopholes on the 1%, is also not on the agenda.

  19. Thanks for sharing the link, Monotonous.

    I think my sentiments can be/were best expressed by a comment at the bottom of the article;

    “The DCCC is there to ensure that, even in the rare event that Democrats win the House – we -and all ordinary Americans still lose.”

  20. Vernon,

    “There’s no hyperbole here. The conspiracy to use education to create a servant class to the rich has BEEN DOCUMENTED. Ask Marv. He’s read my stuff. I’ve cited the conspirators efforts to ruin critical thinking since 2007.”

    I’ve read you last two books. You’re right “there’s no hyperbole here.” You’ve DOCUMENTED IT.

    As a former state and federal prosecutor, I agree this is clearly a conspiracy. I have to admit, I didn’t realize how bad the situation is in the classrooms. What a horrible mess.

  21. Education is infusing a person with science , facts and confidence in their abilities. Recognizing that humans are intellect, emotional and spiritual is not detrimental. When working families work and pay taxes and yet don’t opt for “free” public education there must be a reason? They don’t benefit from the public education for their kids. They muster together “tuition” to pay to their parochial schools. So the taxes these families pay for public education, but don’t take advantage of, where do they go? Some-one must be benefiting from these unclaimed resources? Have some public school attendees gotten more than they paid for, due to the absence of over 10% of population that never claimed their right?

  22. Lafer is right. I’ve seen it up close and first hand. The business lobby in Indiana wants compliant, standardized teachers, curricula, students, and worker bees for Indiana and most of America. They figure they’ll get the thinkers and innovators from the private schools which educate their own kids with the help of government-financed vouchers for which wealthier families can now qualify. The private schools and their corporate supporters have fiercely resisted any anti-discrimination requirements to enroll the handicapped, the unloved and unwashed, children from all religions or anyone else they’d rather not enroll from the public which is helping pay their bills. A major Hoosier business mogul commented several years ago that he knew Carmel schools were inferior because they enrolled a student with purple hair. (That mogul drove his own business into bankruptcy.)

    While the business lobby complains that students are under-achieving, it lobbies to loosen child labor laws so that students can be worked til 1:00 a.m. on school nights and many more hours per week. The business lobby says it wants a better educated workforce but ships jobs to countries with much lower literacy rates and sweat shop wages and working conditions. We have a world class engineering university in Indiana that educated the astronauts who first stepped on the moon, but that university loses 70% of its engineering grads to other states within 5 years of graduation. Apparently Hoosier businesses are not that interested in hiring the graduates who have spent years and tens of thousands of dollars pursuing the science, technology, enginneering, and math (STEM) courses that the business lobby is pushing EVERY high school student to pursue.

    The business lobby used to support ‘highly qualified’ teachers but has lowered standards repeatedly and pushed to pay only a small sliver of high performers well based on standardized test scores while siphoning funds from all the rest. (That’s a sure way to shortchange special ed. teachers who have the most difficult job of all and pay the teachers of gifted students more.) Apparently paying 5% of high performers well is preferable to having and paying well prepared teachers in every classoom. We don’t have a nation-wide teacher shortage because teachers and schools are being well-supplied and highly valued with working conditions conducive to teaching and learning.

    School libraries are going without librarians. Fine arts, a wider curriculum with enrichment courses, summer school, foreign languages and other electives are being eliminated while class-sizes increase again and again. School buses are driven beyond the dates when they should be replaced, but schools are cutting back on mechanics and/or privatizing bus service where maintenance takes a back seat to profits.

    Textbooks, labs, computer hardware and software, basic supplies like pencils and paper and gradebooks, and even recess where kids can get some exercise and let off steam are being shortchanged in order to give businesses one tax break after another, often shifting more of the tax burden to individuals.

    Education is expensive, but it pays for itself many times over. Pre-school alone returns $7 for each $1 expended. The business lobby and legislators largely driven by the Koch brothers’ ALEC agenda has treated education as a public trough to drain and/or from which to feed. The teacher unions have stood in the way of that, so ALEC and their business lobby supporters have sought to decimate the unions.

    Most Americans support their public schools. The business community used to do that as well. But I have become convinced that’s no longer the case and hasn’t been for at least 2 decades.

  23. Marv Kramer: “I don’t remember any debate over the pros and cons of APARTHEID.”

    Right…some, but not much before apartheid was put into practice in South Africa. But afterwards, continuously, year after year, there was ongoing public debate across the entire globe. I recall reading about it in the Weekly Reader,as early as fourth grade,and having classroom debates on the subject.

    Then there it was in high school, and again in college. Sociology and history and psychology professors never missed an opportunity to get students going on the subject. The subject of apartheid had that power to reveal an individual’s character.

    Apartheid became an item in American presidential campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s. A hundred years before that, Lincoln’s conscience was already debating the idea minus the name of Apartheid. So also, but much earlier, when Dutch colonists were tuning up the idea in African territories from which they were raking in gold and diamonds, for which they needed a system that worked while at the same time eliminated revolts, they had some progressive opponents at home and in Europe proper who voiced their objections. But maybe all that was fake debate.

    What I do recall missing in those early “white man” debates was passion (think of Hillary’s lack of passion for job creation) and household recognition of the issue.

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