On May 1st, 2016 LaborFest Hawaii participated in the Global Labor Film Festival along with the following countries:
Barre, Vermont: May 22: How Green is My Valley; Old Socialist Labor Party Hall
Campinas, Brazil: May 04: Greediness; Brazilian International Labour Film Festival / Mostra CineTrabalho
Honolulu, Hawaii: May 1: Where To Invade Next & Hole Hole Bushi: Hawaiian/Japanese Canfield Songs; LaborFest Hawaii
London, England: May 8 Jose Marti: The Eyes of the Canary; London Socialist Film Co-Op
Marília, Brazil: May 24: Active Life; Brazilian International Labour Film Festival / Mostra CineTrabalho
New York City, New York: May 11: A Bold Peace, Thailand’s Seafood Slaves, & Limpiadores: Workers Unite Film Festival
Santa Cruz, CA: May 1: When Voices Meet; Reel Work May Day Labor Film Festival
Washington, DC: May 23: Joe Hill; DC Labor FilmFest
1:00 PM: Center for Labor Education & Research: Canefield Songs – Holehole Bushi
New documentary capturing Hawaiian/Japanese plantation history and music.
2:00 PM: Michael Moore’s new film – Where to Invade Next
Subversive comedy in which Moore visits a host of nations to learn how the US can improve.
Mahalo Cosponsors! UNITE HERE, Local 5 – AIKEA; Pride@Work Hawai’i; Center for Labor Education & Research; ACLU Hawai’i; Hawai’i People’s Fund; I.A.T.S.E. -Local 665; Musicians’ Association of Hawai’i; Laura Ruby.
3rd Annual LaborFest Hawai’i
On August 7, 2012 Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson spoke at a University of Hawaii event co-sponsored by the William S. Richardson School of Law, and the Shidler College of Business on the topic of “Ethics in Education”.
We were as shocked as you are at the title of this event, which approaches a level of surreality that might have caused Andre Breton to do a double, or triple take. Although the event was not billed as a partisan promotion of a specific ideology there were no other presenters or perspectives. The only perspectives on educational ethics the audience of about 200 heard were those of Rhee and her husband, Sacramento Mayor and and former NBA athlete Kevin Johnson.
As we entered the venue, there were notecards and pens for people to write questions on. We suspected immediately, and correctly, that this was a way to weed out questions the moderator did not want Rhee and Johnson to have to deal with. Sure enough, every single question asked at the end of the evening was either framed in a pro-Rhee way, or an anti-union way. For example: “How can one teacher make a difference in a system protected by the union?” And then there was: ” How can we do in Hawaii what was done in Washington D.C.?” The latter sent a shudder down our spines, but their answers even more so. Rhee and Johnson noted that in Hawaii, there is only one school district for all public schools, which makes the political structure more conducive to “aggressive” reforms. They stated that since Hawaii is “at the back-end of reforms” one way to move to the front end would be for Hawaii’s Governor to invite Rhee’s “Students First” organization (as other states’ Republican Governors have done) to push through reforms. Johnson noted that Hawaii has a strong presence of Teach For America (TFA) teachers, (big round of applause) which should translate into TFA school board members, principles, and political candidates at “every key position” where they could shape policy.
TFA’s concentrated efforts in districts with high drop out rates have only exacerbated the teacher attrition rate in those struggling districts’ schools. TFA programs and their accompanying accelerated teacher preparation programs have received tremendous financial backing from anti-union foundations in Hawai’i. The majority of TFA candidates are not from Hawai’i but have a genuine desire to help the poor. Imagine the political climate that manipulates their goal to add TFA experience to their resume, their genuine altruistic notion (and youthful naiveté) that a two year commitment in a poor community benefits a struggling school, and their willingness to undermine labor gains made by traditionally licensed teachers. This scenario positions TFA candidates as unknowing union-busters within a neoliberal framework. The Hawaii DOE has guaranteed 80 teaching jobs to TFA candidates, in addition to 32 more Special Education teaching jobs over the next two years. Local teacher candidates who are paying tuition and taking additional education courses in traditional teacher preparation programs at the University of Hawaii, Chaminade University, Brigham Young, Hawaii Pacific University have not been guaranteed jobs within the DOE system, and will be competing for the remaining positions.
Both Johnson and Rhee promoted the anti-union film “Waiting For Superman.” When Johnson asked how many in the audience had seen the film, only about 20 of 200 raised their hands. Rhee told the stories of children in the film trying to get into better schools, and how their parents struggled with this, to make the point that vouchers would have paid the needed tuition. This concern over parents’ powerlessness over their children’s educational options led to a promotion for another upcoming film, this one funded by the Walden Foundation (Walmart), called “Won’t Back Down.” This film deals with the “parent trigger” in which parents can step in to privatize a failing school (by NCLB standards) have the faculty fired and reapply for their positions en masse, or create some other type of charter. No mention was made of the fact that in Los Angeles, it could in reality end with the closure of the community school, nor that chain charter schools actively recruited parents to do this. Sadly missing was any reference to the research that has determined that, although great teachers can make a difference in students lives, the “teacher effect” is a relatively small part of student achievement, rendering efforts to blame and punish teachers as the singular or main cause of low student achievement dubious at best, and transparently political at worst. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-ptsrdyxBE&fb_source=message)
Rhee gave several examples of a “parent trigger” scenario. One was in Los Angeles, in which the parents were threatened with deportation, although she did not indicate how the teachers or unions would have been behind the threat. In Sacramento, Johnson said there had been a 161 point gap in student achievement between Latino and Black versus White students. He said once the school was chartered the gap vanished, due largely to students, teachers, and parents signing a contract to turn a school around. We were not able to find the documentation of this incredible sounding turn around, but are open to seeing it.
Johnson pointed to several factors for the success of his charter. Teachers could be called at 8 or 9pm to help with homework, and that every party was committed to helping students in any way possible. No one in the audience chafed at the idea of a teacher being on call during any and all of their waking hours, and many were nodding in approval at this idea. Rhee also promoted the idea of teachers being assessed by how many extra-curricular unpaid “community contribution” hours they put in, for example, math tutoring after school, coaching a sports team, or other unpaid service after school hours. This would be combined with value added assessments utilizing standardized scores to determine how “effective” teachers are. Rhee explained that they had corrected for economic, social, and other aspects that could be factors in why some students did better than others, in order to leave these value added assessments as purely reflective of the effectiveness of teachers. It was never explained how this works, what research backs up their model, or what institutions or studies support their methods.
The moderator, Will Weinstein, who created the “ethics” series of which this presentation was a part, fawned over Rhee and Johnson all night long. His sarcasm was apparent whenever he asked a “tough” question of the couple. They obviously charmed him and the audience, made up seemingly of law and business students and faculty. This was apparent, when, after about an hour of their promoting union busting, attacks on collective bargaining, and their marveling and wonder at why Republican politicians seem so much more supportive and knowledgeable about their progressive school reforms, Weinstein jokingly asked them why they were “such right-wing conservatives” eliciting a ripple of knowing chuckles throughout the audience. They responded that they had been given a bum rap, with Michelle playing the victim of political Democrats who were in bed with unions.
This was a major theme of the evening, the obstruction that unions present to meaningful reform. Johnson gave a powerful telling of his work to convert Sacramento High from a public school a charter. He stated that the unions stepped in to oppose this, spending vast sums of money to fight against it. No context was given as to why, leaving the audience to assume it was because they opposed poor and minority children receiving a quality education. The flip side of the demonization of unions throughout the night was the way in which the actual results of Rhee’s programs were blatantly whitewashed, or barely addressed. No mention of a D.C. test cheating scandal, of the lackluster performances of charter schools, of the billionaires that back up Rhee’s attacks on teacher unions, of the lack of effective teacher training for TFA graduates (who are assumed to be better than the “bad” experienced public school teachers), and no mention of the corporate funding of the anti-union films they were promoting. Rhee also promoted the corporate model of merit pay for the “best” (according to flawed assessment models) teachers, and punishment for the bottom-performing percentile. This corporate model known as “stack ranking” or “rank and yank” is a perfect example of how Rhee sees schools as indistinguishable from businesses. She and her husband both portrayed themselves as progressive liberals stating that charter schools needed to be heavily regulated and that failing charters needed to be closed. This qualification was obviously too little too late to establish any semblance of “balance” in their ideology.
For all their talk of accountability, no one thought to ask them who holds them accountable to prove their claims of miracles, turn-arounds, or the selfish agenda of kid hating unions whose one desire is lifetime tenure. If anyone wrote that question for them, it was not asked.
The night ended with one final anti-union joke when Johnson asked if they were out of time. Weinstein smugly responded that the Moderators Union had called and they had to wrap it up, audience applause.
The authors of this report-back are among the founders of a new annual event called LaborFest Hawaii, a celebration and examination of working class and labor history and current events, and a place where working people can assess present conditions to better organize. Our first event will focus on education with a screening of the Grassroots Education Movement made documentary “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman.” This film is a counter-argument to Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting for Superman” which targeted teacher unions and pushed privatization, charter schools, and the business model of education. Guggenheim advocates the same austerity-based, anti-union, anti-teacher, and ultimately anti-student reform regime championed by Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and others.
Watch the video here:
The new media venture from billionaire philanthropist Pierre Omidyar will enlist the muck-raking talents of Glen Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. Omidyar’s record of promoting and funding “free-market solutions” to social problems is a good indicator of what the limitations of the project will be.
Pierre Omidyar is a Punahou school alumnus who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He is also the multibillionaire philanthropist behind Hawaii-based Civil Beat, a Right-Libertarian, pro-business, pay-walled media website that focuses its critique on the shortcomings of democratic governance and the public sector. Omidyar’s Civil Beat offers analysis which seems to exist in a strange land without class conflict, where the ruling-class and the working-class struggle shoulder to shoulder against the forces corrupting liberal democracy. As a result, the editorial slant is marked by a distinct disconnect from the every-day lives of non-billionaire philanthropists, those who don’t stand to gain from the schemes of Omidyar, the “classless angel.”
Omidyar’s latest project is to launch a media group whose roster of reporters will include the muckraking talents of Glen Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. To assess the potential for this new project, it is important to know his basic ideological outlook, which we can find in the projects he has participated in.
After striking it rich by helping to establish ebay, Omidyar decided to engage in targeted philanthropy to promote opportunity and a better world. He believes he earned his billions without taking anything from society, so his philanthropic impulse cannot be traced to a sense of guilt regarding his fortune. In fact it’s the other way around: “To Omidyar, ‘giving back’ implies that, before philanthropy, you were taking away. Not so, says Omidyar, who believes that people succeed when they create value for society.”
One of Omidyar’s “value creating” projects has been to invest heavily in the micro-loan industry, through groups like Kiva which allows investors to profit off of loans to the poor, especially in impoverished regions of India. The ideology behind this business venture saw free markets magically lifting all boats where government funding did not. The actual results were often financial collapse, leaving the borrowers prey to lenders demanding repayment. “It is tough to find a household in this village in an impoverished district of Andhra Pradesh that is not deeply in debt to a for-profit microfinance company.”
The Omidyar Network states on its website that it “is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives.” Omidyar is often identified as an “economist,” perhaps explaining his profoundly distorted idea of what markets do and how capitalism works. For him, markets seem to act as avenues which unleash people-power and democracy, especially when noble-minded entrepreneurs are navigating them.
But the misguided nature of Omidyar’s philanthropy comes into sharpest focus when looking at his projects around education. He has given ten million dollars to the Skoll Foundation, a major backer of Teach For America”, which specializes in placing undertrained Ivy League idealists in classrooms in underperforming neighborhoods. They commit to two years on the job after graduation, and are (perhaps unwittingly) deployed as part of an end run around teachers unions. TFA promotes legislation that seeks to undermine tenure, and “reward good teachers” while making it easier to fire “bad” ones. They promote charter schools as inherently superior to public ones, and advocate for a business-model-of-education with school principals acting more like CEOs than head teachers.
Opponents of Teach For America have pointed out, that TFA is an “incubator for the privatization movement”:
TFA plays a key role in developing and connecting personnel, political support, and financial backing for neoliberal and market based policies, specifically charter school reform, the deregulation of teacher education, and accountability policies.
While TFA uses the rhetoric of justice and equity, these reforms in fact stifle democratic processes and are used to justify budget cuts and the takeover of public institutions by privately funded and privately run companies.
Jeff Skoll was Omidyar’s business partner and the first President of ebay. Skoll was a major funder of the movie “Waiting For Superman” which featured Michelle Rhee as its protagonist, giving her a national platform to attack teachers’ unions and promote her privatization agenda which has resonated with both Republicans and Democrats carrying out austerity-governance. Diane Ravitch’s description of the movie (and related education “reform” films) shows how it is a perfect fit for Omidyar’s vision of entrepreneurial genius coming to the rescue of a world mired in public sector programs that are alleged to have “failed”:
The message of these films has become alarmingly familiar: American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers. They would get higher test scores if schools could fire more bad teachers and pay more to good ones. The only hope for the future of our society, especially for poor black and Hispanic children, is escape from public schools, especially to charter schools, which are mostly funded by the government but controlled by private organizations, many of them operating to make a profit
The Omidyar Network is behind “Teach For All,” the globalized version of the Teach For America model. A look at the Board of Teach For All, provides a clear illustration of both its detachment from the educational field, and the corporate world view it embodies. Its members include top brass from Rolls Royce, Visa, Goldman Sachs, the founder of Teach For America, and Dr. Rufus Black a “theologian and ethicist” who is presumably there to provide rationalizations for their atrocious attacks on working teachers, students, unions, and communities.
Especially appalling is the push by Omidyar and other corporate education “reformers” to link teacher assessments to their students’ scores on standardized tests, and then to utilize those assessments in determining whether a teacher retains employment or not. This correlates to the “business model of education.” A profile on the Omidyar Network states that “[t]he model of investing in social change organizations requires that measurable good flows from the investment, just as accounting methods tell executives whether a for-profit investment is producing profits.” This is the lens through which corporate reformers like Bill Gates, the Broad Foundation, and Omidyar see the world. Numerical data will reflect the “measurable good” provided by a teacher, but the data will be detached from factors like poverty, student access to nutrition, problems at home, the level at which particular schools are funded and the educational resources they have access to, etc. These aspects will be abstracted out, as is the fashion in the neoliberal economics that underpin Omidyar’s crusades to create social value. Teachers with students who are learning English as a second language, who have learning disabilities, or who face issues stemming from poverty, still the main determinant in negative educational outcomes, are assessed as “failing” if their students’ scores are low.
Omidyar, and the other billionaire philanthropists who push top down, non-democratic crusades to empower the people, genuinely believe they possess the knowledge that the “best minds” have to offer. One problem is that their money gives them the right to engage in these projects whether or not they have any kind of relevant expertise, or even a grasp on reality. The corporate-philanthropist take on reality amounts to little more than ideology; specifically capitalist:
Property rights are the keys to economic security, identity, and wealth creation. …Societies that enforce these rights benefit from greater economic growth, transparency, and political stability, as they encourage investment, promote the rule of law, and give people a stake in the future.
Any grounding of capitalism in history shows that, while it unleashed productive powers never before dreamed of, it cannot be a truly liberating force for humanity. Beyond whatever role it had in overturning feudal social relations, it came with inherent problems of its own, and the concept of “property rights” is one of them. From the English enclosures carried out by the landed gentry, enabled by laws created by the parliaments they owned, to the hangings of thousands of “vagrants” who had become criminalized via this process, capitalism’s beginnings were brutal by design. Property rights as enshrined in law has mainly to do with preserving the ownership of the “means of production” in a very few hands while the masses own little more than their own labor power, which they must sell to a boss. For every gain made via capitalist production, so to have these inequalities of the class system been reproduced. The hangings were part of a ruling class pedagogy, because people had to be taught to respect the new restrictive capitalist property relations which made it so hard for them to survive. With this in mind, its hard to get on board with Omidyar’s goal of creating value for society, when the system of value production he promotes as a panacea is the same one that reinforces the process of alienation.
The idea that property rights make people free should be especially offensive when Omidyar targets former colonies for philanthropic rehabilitation. With Teach For India, we see a project promoting markets as the savior of Indian social infrastructure. Unfortunately, the impact of the market system on India has a deeply disturbing history, completely relevant to Omidyar’s present efforts. In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis has illuminated the incredible human toll markets unleashed on the subcontinent under British colonial rule: “Davis’ primary focus in fleshing out his story is the crown jewel of Britain’s colonial empire: India. Drought was the precipitating cause of the hardship faced by the Indian people. However, Davis demonstrates with statistics and anecdotes that it was the unregulated “free market” system imposed on India by Britain that led to the deaths of tens of millions in the mid-1870s and late 1880s.”
Aside from his ideologically dubious philanthropy, Omidyar has also drawn outrage closer to his present Oahu home from the residents of the island of Kauai, where he has proposed to develop a mixed residential and low-density hotel resort. “Despite 5,000+ petition signers, strong, visible community opposition, and several attempts to dialog directly with Mr. Omidyar, the Oahu resident and billionaire founder of eBay has thus far declined to personally dialog with concerned Kauai Community leaders.” It should be noted that Kauai’s population is roughly 68,000, so 5,000 signatures is proportionally significant. A member of Save Hanalei River Ridge, wrote to Omidyar, complaining that:
To introduce multi-million-dollar homes sitting on top of the ridge looking down on Black Pot, would break the hearts of the thousands of people who live here and also those who come to visit and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the River and the Bay. A resort development on this massive scale on the Hanalei River Ridge opens the door to letting it become more like Laguna Beach and less like Hanalei; this Garden of Eden that so well defines Kauai.
Despite the fact that his projects consistently put him at odds with the poor and working-class, Omidyar still sees himself as a benefactor of the people. The new venture, he explains “was fueled by his ‘rising concern about press freedoms in the United States and around the world’.” Natasha Vargas-Cooper hit what is perhaps a more telling note about Omidyar’s interest in independent media when she wrote of Glen Greenwald in a profile of him for The Advocate. She believes that Greenwald’s “obsession with surveillance and privacy issues have made him into an ideological pillar of the rather sterile, unfriendly world of civil libertarian politics, a group not known for its warmth and humanism.” Omidyar’s union-busting politics, his focus on private sector saviors, his backing of disruptive land developments, and his misnomered “social entrepreneurship” put him in that world.
Reading Omidyar’s description of how his private sector experience will create success for his new media outlet, one would be justified in suspecting the blind spot toward working-class issues, so glaring in Civil Beat, will be replicated in the new venture: “Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement. …That process got me thinking about what kind of social impact could be created if a similar investment was made in something entirely new, built from the ground up. Something that I would be personally and directly involved in outside of my other efforts as a philanthropist.” Omidyar’s idea of a community of readers empowered by truth is again seen through a commodified lens: “Users,” (themselves a product to deliver to advertisers and others who can utilize information they generate about themselves) are driven to engage with his product, in this case news.
For the working-class, Omidyar’s pursuit of freedom of both information and markets cannot be seen as inherently progressive. His top-down billionaire philanthropist/savior antics are as insulting as Andrew Carnegie’s public infrastructure campaigns, which created public libraries and parks from the private fortune he’d amassed repressing wages and workers’ movements. In Omidyar’s world a classless civil society fights the powers that impede the market’s ability to liberate human potential. In the real, historically grounded world there is an employing class and a working-class that “have nothing in common”. No billionaire media mogul is ever going to be in the service of working people, no matter how much rhetoric about freedom of speech is deployed in the promotion of his or her product.
David Carr is an organizer with LaborFest Hawaii and a History instructor at Leeward Community College.
Both LaborFest Hawai’i events on Friday, September 20th at 6:00 pm and Saturday, September 21st at 3:00 pm will take place at Mark’s Garage in Chinatown.
Both events are free!!