Obama Supports Mass Firing of R.I. Teachers
President Obama made a hair-raising teacher-bashing speech March 1 when he supported the mass firing of all 93 teachers and staff at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, and said he’d like it to happen around the country. The Rhode Island teachers were fired by the trustees who said the school was failing, and blamed the teachers.
If teachers are being scapegoated for the failures of a system, no educator’s job is safe.
Central Falls, Rhode Island is the poorest, run-down and most densely populated city (1.3 square miles) in the state, with the highest percentage of immigrants. It’s run by an Anglo mafia who stay in office because many of the residents can’t vote.
It’s an old factory town, whose factories have closed down. Now it’s a one industry town – a for-profit prison for immigrants lured by the same city fathers who are firing all the teachers. The prison gained notoriety in 2008 when the death of an inmate threw a harsh light on terrible conditions in the facility.
In his remarks, Obama said school districts could get federal grant money to turn around schools but they’d have to agree to 1) fire the principal and at least half the staff, or 2) turn the school into a charter or 3) shut it down altogether.
He spoke before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that voice of American capitalism. On the platform with him was Colin Powell, who carried out Desert Slaughter for Bush I in 1991 and who told the world for Bush II in 2003 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Now Powell and his wife have an education foundation and we are supposed to believe his recommendations are in the interest of kids.
In the aftermath of Obama’s “fire ’em all” speech, Newsweek (March 15) ran a cover story, “The Key to Saving American Education,” in which the cover showed a blackboard filled with the sentence: “We must fire bad teachers.”
Many people are in denial: they think the president is the victim of bad advisors. But you can’t blame this one on Arne Duncan. This has been Obama’s program since before he was elected. Charter schools, privatization, merit pay – the whole nine yards. The program of corporatization of public education is shared by both the Democrats and the Republicans. (Ditto for bailing out Wall Street banks and making war on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and others.)
So now, Randi Weingarten, as head of the AFT, finally criticized Obama for his speech. A little late. In reality, she’s an enabler for corporate school “reform.”
How can anybody still believe that the Democrats are “friends of labor”?
In the last delegate assembly, there was a brief back-and-forth (to the extent that Unity allows) on the question of our union endorsing a Democratic Party politician. In this case it was just a state office post in Albany, that bastion of incorruptible upstanding political leadership. But it’s not a question of any one individual. We in Class Struggle Education Workers say that you can’t defeat the corporate school “reform” agenda without addressing the whole system of racism and class oppression.