By Rebecca Kemble

“To be pro-business you have to be pro-education,” said the Wisconsin State Superintendent of public schools, Dr. Tony Evers, in his annual State of Education address in the capitol Thursday.

That statement reflected the tone of the speech delivered to the audience of several hundred state and local elected officials, lobbyists, school district administrators, and a smattering of others, many of whom were dressed in black suits, as if for a funeral.

The mood was indeed somber, broken just once with an enthusiastic ovation when Evers said, “Every citizen should feel alarmed when teachers don’t feel valued or respected in our communities. No other profession deserves more respect. No other profession is more important for securing our economic future.”

The bulk of Evers’s speech described various aspects of how Wisconsin public schools are being geared toward serving the needs of businesses through career and technical education, internships, and on-line learning. After the speech, “Friends of Education” awards were given out. Two of the first three to be given out were to corporations: GE Healthcare of Milwaukee and C.G. Bretting Manufacturing Co., Inc.

Superintendent Evers has participated in most of Governor Scott Walker’s educational reform initiatives. From Walker’s School and District Accountability Design Team that created a new school report card system designed to secure a waiver to federal No Child Left Behind requirements to his College and Workforce Readiness Council that will shift money and resources in the ever-dwindling public school budget toward underwriting business training programs, Evers has been an active, key player. In last year’s State of Education address, Evers exhorted the public education community to “begin the slow process of rebuilding trust” with Walker after the passage of Act 10, which removed meaningful collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public workers, and unprecedented cuts to the k-12 education budget. I offered the following commentary after that speech: Any appearance of “working together” under this regime is simply a matter of the powerless trying to keep their jobs, support their families and make their day-to-day work life a little more tolerable by being compliant. Who can blame them? But honestly, how do you talk about building trust with someone whose boot is still firmly planted on your neck? A year later Walker’s boot remains on the necks of public workers. He has made no effort to engage in the trust-building process. In fact he’s done just the opposite. Last week’s decision by Dane County Judge Juan Colas that Act 10 violates teachers’ constitutional rights to free speech and assembly only prompted Walker to hurl more abuse. In a typically nonsensical, politically provocative statement released after the ruling, Walker said, “Sadly a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backwards and take away the law-making responsibilities of the legislature and the governor.” Huh? There is nothing in the ruling that takes away anyone’s law-making responsibilities.

The timing of Colas’s ruling of Act 10 as unconstitutional was particularly poignant since Walker had just pronounced September 17 “Read the Constitution Day” in the state. This week he embarked on a Constitution Tour, visiting elementary schools throughout the state. On the final stop, Walker visited Lindbergh Elementary School in Madison to talk about the US Constitution with 4th and 5th graders.

Though he got through it with a straight face, Walker’s discussion of checks and balances of power and the Bill of Rights was shot through with irony, especially given the setting: a school staffed by members of Madison Teachers, Inc., one of the parties to the lawsuit Walker had just lost on constitutional grounds.

Walker spent a half hour in the classroom with Robert Parker, Assistant Director of Old World Wisconsin, who was dressed up as Senator Robert Morris of Pennsylvania. They entertained questions and described different aspects of the constitution. Click on this entertaining video to see Walker’s attempt to explain the Connecticut Compromise and proportional representation to the kids.

After his time in the classroom, Walker But the Supreme Court only ruled on the process of the bill’s passage, not its contents. The question was whether or not open meetings laws had been violated when Sen. Scott Fitzgerald amended and rammed the bill through committee. The court ruled that the legislature is self-governing and they did not have jurisdiction to rule on the legislature’s compliance with its own laws.

In his address on Thursday, Superintendent Evers spun the Walker agenda for public education this way: “It’s an exciting time to be in public education. We’re changing what children learn, how they’re taught and tested, and how schools and teachers are evaluated. The scope and pace of change is unprecedented.”

Once local school boards and teachers unions are effectively cut out of the decision-making picture through local tax levy limits and union busting, the massive $33 billion biennial state public education budget is ripe for the corporate picking. Evers’s plans for the next five years involve purchasing ready-made curriculum aligned to Common Core standards and adopting corporate testing regimes, including software that links students directly to potential employers. And he hopes to increase investments in technology to enter, “the promised land of personalized learning,” which could mean that a rise in virtual charter schools is looming.

In closing, Superintendent Evers said, “I am jazzed about the future. I hope you are too. This school year, and the next few to come, will bring many important, exciting changes to Wisconsin schools.” How all that excitement affects kids remains to be seen.

Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.



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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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