Education Under Fire

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* Book: EDUCATION UNDER FIRE. Edited by William Ayers and Rick Ayers. Monthly Review, July/August 2011


Paul Buhle:

"Reading Education Under Fire will bring the reader up to date with sophisticated interpretations of what went bad and how. I had never appreciated the ways in which seemingly benevolent projects, the Gates Foundation in particular, actually reinforced the Reaganite drift toward numbers-as-guide and a to-hell-with-real-teaching mentality. Soon inner-city public schools were on a search for the talented tenth (make that tenth of a percent) to be uplifted from the hopeless 99 percent, who are left to spend their lives in newly built prisons. The point of identifying the hopeful ones is to create a multicultural elite—Harvard to Wall Street to Washington, D.C. (not forgetting the diplomatic corps and CIA)—suitable for twenty-first century U.S. global domination. If the field of academic economics has gone from reformist to classical during the last thirty years, the trend toward number-crunchers makes sense in yet another way in Leave No Child Behind, whether the Bush or Obama variant.

Why would we be shocked to be reminded that the prospective end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would prompt Obama’s reminder that all colleges and as many secondary schools as possible should have ROTC in the curriculum? It is more surprising to find a careful, first-hand analysis of what this means to Chicago African-American kids: field trips downstate to military centers for fun outings; snazzy uniforms; more respect from teachers and administrators; and presumably a future in the military, if not life-long for most students, at least a hitch. This is a different kind of “hope,” to put the matter mildly.

In Education Under Fire, Charles Cobb, Jr., a former SNCC leader, explores the alternatives offered in the Freedom Schools and the model for an education that might have been possible. (In Detroit and a few other places, similar ideas are underway today, underfunded but hopeful.) In their own ways, many thousands of teachers have been trying something similar and continue to try, in so many varied circumstances. But they are increasingly denied the best opportunities due to the accelerated rush toward charter schools. If anything can be worse, it is surely the online curricula for kids whose schools have been abandoned." (

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