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Monthly Archives: April 2017



How corporate ed reform threatens democracy

April 25, 2017


Over the last couple of decades, it has become fashionable for Americans to attack our public education system. Behind these attacks is that most un-American of attitudes: elitism. This is problematic for a number of reasons — the main one being that America remains a democracy. Not a perfect democracy where citizens get to vote on pretty much every decision at every level, but a system of government where citizens can at least have some political impact when they stand up for themselves in the voting booth and in daily life.

In a democracy, the education of all children capable of being educated is a vital necessity. Because, as a political system, it can only continue if its history, practices, and values are taught to young citizens by older citizens on an ongoing basis. Further, living in a democracy requires the experience of being directly socialized into its norms.

A public school therefore is both the training ground of our democratic society … and its mirror. Virtually every kind of young person in any given community is there. From every background represented in that locale. Kids from every race, sex, class, ethnicity, gender, ability, immigration status, and belief system. Understanding that we’re still a very segregated nation, and that all too many neighborhoods, towns, and cities remain relative monocultures.

Regardless, this generally diverse student body has to learn how to get along and work together toward common goals. Just like they will to one degree or another in their adult lives. This, more than any of the sadly diminishing number of civics classes on offer in today’s public schools, teaches students how to be active citizens in a democracy.

Or at least that was the ideal when public education became the standard a century back.

But that ideal has been replaced by a pernicious new mantra: Public schools don’t work. Our government can’t afford to educate every child. And we shouldn’t try. Political front groups bankrolled by corporations — ultimately seeking to privatize public schools and convert them into a profitable industry — are convincing average Americans to help destroy their own birthright to a good public education on little more evidence than such cynical slogans.

They are leading the charge to steal public funds from public education — more than $450 million this fiscal year alone in the Commonwealth, according to the Mass Teachers Association — and give them to charter schools that do not have a mandate to educate every child in their communities. Only the better students who have parents with the time and money to participate in mandatory charter school family activities.

Public schools are getting stripped of their best and brightest in this fashion. Sending their performance into decline in many instances and strengthening the argument that charter schools are inherently superior to the publics. Something that study after study shows is not the case.
 Students in those charter schools do not sit in class with other students from every conceivable background. They sit with a limited selection of classmates.

And they are taught, whether their teachers intend it or not, to be elitists. Not just that they are smarter than other students — which can happen in any school — but that they are better than other students.

The same thing has happened for generations in private schools, too. But Americans do have the democratic right to organize private schools if they want to — as long as they are prepared to fund those schools without significant government support. And private schools have not attempted to tear down the public school system the way charter schools and the corporate titans behind them have been doing. Nor are they as damaging to our society as the often wildly anti-social and anti-democratic homeschooling movement has been. A topic for another day.

So, parents, remember that your decision about where to send your kids to school has very serious consequences for the future of our democracy.

And students, it’s true that no school is perfect, and that all schools suck at least some of the time. But where would you rather be? In a school that truly reflects your community and the best American values of equality, justice, and opportunity for all? Or in a school that only believes that “elite” students deserve a good education, and to hell with everyone else?

It’s your decision. As long as we remain a democratic nation.

This column was originally written for the Beyond Boston regional news digest show — co-produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and several area public access television stations.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunesGoogle Play MusicBlubrryStitcherTuneIn, and YouTube




Sherri Mitchell

Sherri Mitchell


Questioning capitalism? Learn more about an increasingly popular alternative.

April 19, 2017


Last year, a Harvard University survey concluded that a majority of young Americans between 18 and 29 years old rejected capitalism, and fully one-third now support socialism as an alternative. Despite this interesting development, very few Americans of any age have a clear idea of what socialism is. To help remedy that situation locally, the Boston Socialist Unity Project (BSUP) is holding its second annual public conference this weekend at MIT. I caught up with Suren Moodliar, one of the BSUP organizers, to ask him why people should consider attending to learn more about a political economic system based on the idea that workers should democratically control their government, their workplaces, and the fruits of their labor.

What is the Boston Socialist Unity Project?

It is a collaborative that focuses on education to foster a greater sense of community among Boston area socialists and organizations in hopes of developing better communication, stronger campaigns, and a broader vision of a future without capitalism.

Socialism has been making a comeback in recent years, and is considered a fresh set of ideas worth considering by many young people. Why do you think that is?

To be sure there is a certain newness. But it is a powerful and deeply popular idea that has resurfaced in the United States and globally in response to the bomb dropping, climate altering, and livelihood destroying economic system championed by Donald Trump and his fellow race warriors. If activists “name our pains,” socialist activists must also name that which we must gain. When Bernie Sanders had to distinguish himself from his bomb dropping, climate altering, and livelihood-destroying Democratic Party rivals, he turned to the socialist idea. In doing so, he was echoing a movement that elected mayors and congresspeople from Kansas to Massachusetts in a previous gilded age, and that had deep roots in the South as defenders of Black freedom. Young people, union workers, and people of color have historically been the most receptive to socialist ideas given their experience of a system that fails to address their most basic needs as individuals, that also fails them as communities, and serves only a rapidly diminishing minority of humanity.

What is the goal of the 2017 BSUP conference in the context of a socialist resurgence?

This year’s conference takes place in a historical context that is unprecedented in modern times — never before have the dominant parties and the presidency shared such low legitimacy while their ruling ideas hang on by force of habit and power rather than merit. For the Boston Socialist Unity Project, the challenge is to engage that majority of Americans who are searching for answers; our second annual conference promises to be a second installment paying down a huge debt to the future. Specifically, the conference showcases important ideas and strategic choices that the left has to consider.

Who are the keynote speakers this year?

On Friday, we have turned to Barbara Madeloni of the Mass Teachers Association, a union that successfully defended public education in Massachusetts against corporate privatizers last year, and to Eugene Puryear, organizer of this coming August’s “Millions for Prisoners” march in Washington.

On Saturday, we take the climate crisis head on with Sherri Mitchell, an indigenous activist and lawyer from Maine, and Fred Magdoff, a soil scientist from Vermont. Together, they address both the original sin of the American state and the global challenge of environmental catastrophe.

Matching the dysfunctional economic system is a political one that rewards its boy-president every time he lobs a bomb on a defenseless country. Helping the conference understand these dynamics is the legendary socialist writer and activist Vijay Prashad. He will lead a workshop and a plenary session on imperialism.

There are several small socialist organizations in Boston … plus many self-identified socialists — myself included — who aren’t in an organization. How can people interested in socialism figure out where to plug in?

Each conversation provides entry points for interested individuals to engage with socialist ideas and formations. More intimate discussions will also take place in workshops that address grassroots organizing on campuses, for housing and health, in the media, and on music and revolution.

I should add that socialists have notoriously diverse political strategies; so, our Saturday lunchtime plenary deals with that issue directly. Political projects of various stripes will present their strategies for social change — working inside of the dominant parties, against the same, or outside the entire system, or some combination thereof. This may also surface important areas of convergence and cooperation.

The Boston Socialist Unity Project 2nd Annual Conference will be held on Fri., April 21 and Sat., April 22, 2017 at MIT Room 34–101, 50 Vassar St. in Cambridge. For full info and to register, check out the BSUP website: $10 donation requested.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunesGoogle Play MusicBlubrryStitcherTuneIn, and YouTube