"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

What A. Lincoln and D. Ravitch Have in Common

The recent interview with Trump's Chief of Staff, John Kelly, got me thinking about compromise, the status quo, and resistance to the status quo.  Kelly seems to think that the failure to compromise resulted in the Civil War, and so it might seem to those who believe there was some way to preserve slavery and democracy at the same time in the same place.

Kelly would like to suggest, of course, that there must be a way today to preserve segregation/white supremacy and the Union at the same time, and in the same place.  Some way to normalize Trump's most loyal supporters and to give their militant and lethal hate some equal place within American democracy as those who believe in equality.  

After all, honoring the rights of white supremacists and fighting for those rights is what fine men like Robert E. Lee did, according to Kelly, and his service to his slave state in that cause should be revered and preserved.  In short, Kelly would have us believe that duty and honor are not dependent upon moral conduct and ethical principles in any way.  Apparently, Mr. Kelly believes as much.

As a follow-up to an earlier piece in the Washington Post, an article today tells a bit of American history that Kelly should read, that we all should read, as I did today with open mouth.  As I read about the Constitutional Amendment that was passed by Congress and signed by Lincoln to block any federal effort to end slavery in the states, I was reminded of my own ignorance (stunned, I tell you!) regarding the debate and initiatives in 1861 to neutralize the hostile threats by slavery supporters and their secessionist political leaders.

The WaPo article is based on research that Daniel Croft offers in his book, and it presents in compact fashion the story of the efforts during the first days of the the Lincoln Administration to stem talk of secession and civil war.  Having refused to entertain the idea of expanding slavery to the Territories, Lincoln did, in fact, accept a constitutional amendment put together by Senator Seward that would disallow any federal effort to interfere with slavery as it was then practiced by the existing states:  
“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of people held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”
The amendment was approved by both houses of Congress early in 1861, signed by Lincoln before the end of February, and sent to the states for ratification by state legislatures.  In fact, Kentucky was able to ratify the constitutional Amendment before the War broke out in April 1861, with Ohio and Rhode Island following suit in the first bloody weeks of the War.  

Compromise had not been enough, however.  

The more important lesson is that if it had been enough, we would likely be living a slave nation today, rather than a nation where a large minority of white supremacists look back longingly to the era when owning humans was legal.

The War reminds us that the realization of freedom and democracy carry a heavy cost that cannot be bargained down with cheap compromises.  Avoiding that heavy cost has always been the work of equivocators, cowards, and those who benefit from the status quo.  

In recent years, in my tiny corner of the freedom debate in education, I have listened to FairTest talk about opposing the "overuse" of inhumane and racist testing in schools, while ignoring the need to end finally, after a hundred years, any such testing at all.  

More recently, I have read NPE's statement that calls for a charter school moratorium, one that does not interfere with the current 7,800 charter schools that segregate and abuse children every school day.

I listened, amazed, a couple of years ago, when Diane Ravitch declared that ESSA was the best compromise that public school advocates could hope for as a replacement for NCLB, even though the law continues the policy of mandated and racist standardized tests for labeling and shutting down five percent of public schools each year.

As these "successful" compromises have been made and lucrative deals cut, I have emphasized the necessity for the resistance to dehumanizing and anti-democratic school corporatization to maintain the same unyielding and unwavering position as that of the abolitionists of the 19th Century, who opposed slavery in any form, in any place, for anyone, at any time.

Rather than working overtime to placate the corporate reformers with deadly compromises that enshrine the corporate education status quo and the dehumanizing schools thus created, we need NPE, FairTest and the other milquetoast liberal pretenders to become what Abraham Lincoln never dreamed he would become after years of compromise: an abolitionist.

That would mean the abolition of 1) standardized testing, 2) segregated classrooms of any kind, 3) corporate influence in public education policy.


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