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A new “ketchup is a vegetable” moment

I don’t know what to make of this comment from David Obey about the Obama administration’s suggestion that funding for Obama’s Race to the Top educational initiatives be taken from food stamp funds:

The secretary of education [Arne Duncan] is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted .… [W]hen we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal. So as far as I’m concerned, the secretary of education should have been happy as hell. He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He’s got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together.

We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. …Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.

Hmmm.  I don’t know where the White House is shopping but here in NJ peaches are still retailing for $1.99/lb.  Yep.  It seems that when gas prices spiked a couple of years ago at $4.00/gal, grocery stores raised prices accordingly and now we have a “new normal”.  It’s not nearly as bad as it is in Maui where my older daughter lives where a couple of bags of groceries can easily cost $100 but it’s still pretty bad.  I marvel at the cost of a single dinner.

Around here, the layoffs are thick and furious.  One minute, you’re making enough to pay your mortgage and property taxes, the next, you’re facing foreclosure as soon as the severance bennies run out.  One of the obvious solutions is to not live in NJ.  Or New York, where unemployment benefits peak at something like $450/week.  Now, that might seem generous if you live in Alabama but that money won’t even pay the rent around here for a single month.  Imagine if you have hungry kids?

There’s no shame in accepting food stamps.  Unemployed people paid for them throughout their working careers.  When it’s time to collect, they need to be able to pay the going rate for food in their area.  That’s an insurance policy against malnutrition.  And no Race to the Top scheme is going to work in a state where children are too hungry to think.

And while the House Education and Labor Committees just approved a bill that would help improve our school lunch program, advocates say the measly sums appropriated for it will not be enough unless a convincing case can be made on the House floor during debate:

“From our view [the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act] is really the best child nutrition bill that we’ve ever had. It includes stronger nutrition standards and grants for farm-to-school programs,” says Gordon Jenkins, program manager at Slow Food USA. “The amount of funding however, is very modest at the $.06 addition to the current $2.68, which leaves only about $1 for ingredients. It won’t be enough to make a significant change. That can be modified on the floor if Congress hears it’s important enough.”

For those too young to remember, Ronald Reagan’s administration tried something similar in the early 80’s during another severe recession.  It tried to sut money from the school lunch program and reclassify ketchup as a vegetable.  That didn’t go over too well with the public, even among those who thought there was a cadillac driving welfare queen behind every application for a free lunch.  You do not skimp when it comes to the nutritional needs of children.  That kind of callous indifference will definitely get you pilloried by the public, which may be Obey’s intent.  We can read a lot of political subtext into this little ditty.

In the meantime, food insecurity is a big problem in this Great Recession.  If you have the means, remember that there are a lot of unlucky duckies who still can’t find work and feed their kids.  You can help by donating to Feeding America.

Uncle Barack Wants Your Kids

uncle-barack-wants-you1It’s not often that I agree with unrepentant terrorist, and Obabuddy, William Ayers, but when the man is right he’s right.  Seems Ayers’ neighbor, the Obapresident-elect, and his partners in government crime, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and newly appointed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “haf plans” for your children.

Black Agenda Report‘s Bruce Dixon interviewed “Chicago educator and activist, George Schmidt,” who calls Obama’s education secretary and basketball buddy Duncan “an underqualified stooge and privatizer” of education, and is highly critical of the job Duncan has done with the Chicago Public School System, and dropped this interesting tidbit of information:

Beginning in the first days of the 21st century, literally Chicago instituted military high schools. And we’re not talking about high schools that have ROTC programs, we’re talking about high schools that are run by and for the military. The first of those was established in the heart of Bronzeville, the south side community at 35th and Giles, in the old armory there. It’s now the Chicago Military Academy. Since then they’ve set up two more army high schools. Carver and Phoenix, a Marine high school and a naval academy which is named the Hyman Rickover Naval Academy inside Senn High School.

Since I was totally unaware of this program, I decided to do a little research, and yes, the military runs 5 inner city schools:

Today, Chicago has the most militarized public school system in the nation, with Cadet Corps for students in middle-school, over 10,000 students participating in JROTC programs, over 1,000 students enrolled in one of the five, soon-to-be six autonomous military high schools, and hundreds more attending one of the nine military high schools that are called “schools within a school.” Chicago now has a Marine Military Academy, a Naval Academy, and three army high schools. When an air force high school opens next year, Chicago will be the only city in the nation to have academies representing all of these branches of the military. But Chicago is not the only city moving in this direction: The public school systems of other urban centers with largely Black and brown low income students of color, including Philadelphia, Atlanta and Oakland, are being similarly reshaped.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is very proud of the military program.  In the fall of 2001, he had this to say:

Congratulations to Oakland mayor Jerry Brown on his plan to open a military academy (see “A Few Good Schools,” Summer 2001). Chicago’s experience with military academies has been overwhelmingly positive. I hope Oakland’s is equally successful.

In 1999 Chicago opened its first public military high school, the Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville, in a historic African-American neighborhood. Last year the city began converting Carver High School on the Far South Side into its second military school. Both schools are part of the Chicago Public Schools system, not charter schools like Mayor Brown’s academy.

We started these academies because of the success of our Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program, the nation’s largest. JROTC provides students with the order and discipline that is too often lacking at home. It teaches them time management, responsibility, goal setting, and teamwork, and it builds leadership and self-confidence.

Not surprisingly, the high-school graduation rate for JROTC students in the Chicago Public Schools is 20 percent greater than the citywide average. It’s a little early to measure the success of our academies, but the first class at Bronzeville scored 40 percent better than the citywide average in reading and 30 percent better than the average in math. Perhaps a clearer sign of success is that 1,300 students applied for 110 openings in Bronzeville’s next entering class.

Though a military academy isn’t for everyone, for some it is just what they need in order to make something of their lives.

While proponents claim that the schools do not recruit, and that their ultimate goal is prepare students for college, there’s some evidence that those people are full of hooey.  For one thing, these schools call their students “cadets,” require them to wear uniforms, stress discipline, and teach them to shoot guns.  From AFP:

Dozens of teens dressed in uniforms provided by the US Marines stand at attention in the gym of a Chicago public high school as a drill sergeant goes through a list of the day’s do’s and don’ts.

Bring your books to class. Come for extra help if you need it. And wear your uniform with pride.

“Young men, you think you can get a haircut and say I’m done for two or three weeks. WRONG,” Sgt. Major Thomas Smith Jr. intones.

“Young ladies. There’s been no problem with your uniforms but there is a problem with your ties. Again, I will go through it again. Wear your ties when you come to my class.”

One in 10 public high school students in Chicago wears a military uniform to school and takes classes — including how to shoot a gun properly — from retired veterans.

Also, the webpage of Chicago Military Academy-Bronzeville stresses it’s military curriculum:

Chicago Military Academy (CMAB) is the city’s first comprehensive military academy for high school students. The multicultural school, accepts both male and female students citywide. CMAB has a four-year college prep curriculum in addition to a mandatory Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) component. Our last two graduating classes earned over $1.5 million in scholarships and grants. Two of our graduates have been accepted to West Point, and four candidates were accepted to the Citadel. Advanced Placement (AP) classes are offered in four subjects. Honors classes are offered in all core subjects. Virtual courses are also offered.

A student, Natassa Bourkas, had this to say about the advantage of military prep education:

“When people see that we went to a military school, they know we’re obedient, we follow directions, we’re disciplined,” Natassa Bourkas, 16, a student at the Naval academy, told the Tribune.

Needless to say, these schools are not without controversy.  The transcript of a PBS Newshour discussion contains this exchange:

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Minorities make up 92 percent of the cadet population. Only 4 percent are white, compared to 8 percent of the general Chicago public schools population.There are no public school military academies in Chicago’s suburbs. That disturbs Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Education.

PAULINE LIPMAN, University of Illinois at Chicago: When we talk about how these are good schools for these kids, one of the things we want to think about is, why are they not in upper-middle-class white communities? Why are they good schools for low-income African-American and Latino students and not good schools for affluent white kids?


And are we saying that those students need a different kind of discipline, a different kind of regulation, a different kind of option? And I think that’s a form of racial discrimination, and that’s really concerning to me.

It concerns Bill Ayers, too.  On his web page, Ayers, Therese Quinn, and Erica Meiners make the case against the militarization of the school system, summarizing his “radical” ideas on the subject this way:

We live in a city awash in the randomly, tragically spilled blood of our children. We live, all of us, in a violent nation that is regularly spilling the blood of other children, elsewhere. It sickens us to think of students marching and growing comfortable with guns.

In an October, 2007 Chicago Tribune article featuring the dedication of a new Marine Academy, Arne Duncan weighed in:

The dedication of the Marine Military Academy on the Near West Side comesa few days after Chicago officials announced plans to open an Air Forceacademy high school in 2009. If that happens, Chicago will become the onlypublic school district in the nation to have academies dedicated to the Army,Navy, Air Force and Marines.
District officials say the military-themed schools give students morechoices and provide an opportunity to enroll in schools that providestructure, discipline and a focus on leadership. They say the schoolsemphasize academics, not recruitment.
“We have to think outside the box, and what existed before simply did notwork for far too many students,” said Chicago Public Schools Chief ArneDuncan. “These schools are popular and have waiting lists, so that tells meparents want more of them.”

Rahm Emanuel thinks the program is a very good idea too. From his Congressional website, Oct. 15, 2007:

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives joined Mayor Daley and CEO of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan at the Marine Military Academy, to officially Commission the launch of the new school.  Chicago Public School’s Marine Military Academy provides Chicago’s young men and women with a college prep education that focuses on Math and Science. Emanuel secured $300,000 in federal funding for the Military Academy in the Fiscal Year 2007 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

“Our Nation’s success depends on the quality of our children’s education. Chicago Public School’s Marine Military Academy is a pioneer of educational excellence and will become a model for public education across the country.”

Not all of Arne’s plans for privatizing the school system include the military, of course:

Chicago teacher Jesse Sharkey writes, “In the past couple years, Arne Duncan [Obama’s pick for Secretary of Education who hails from Chicago] has been turning public schools over to private operators–mainly in the form of charter and contract schools — at a rate of about 20 per year. Duncan has also resuscitated some of the worst ‘school reform’ ideas of the 1990s, like firing all the teachers in low-performing schools (called ‘turnarounds’). At the same time, he’s eliminated many Local School Councils and made crucial decisions without public input.”

On this website, the effectiveness of Duncan’s efforts is debated, here, the JROTC makes its own case, and here, in a 2003 National Catholic Reporter article, the genesis of the military push is traced to Colin Powell:

The four-year course, offered as an elective in lieu of physical education at a traditional high school or as a requirement at a military academy, comes with its own curricula and instructors, who are retired military officers certified by the branch of the armed services they represent. Army JROTC instructors receive their certification at Fort Knox, Ky., which is also headquarters for Army recruiting.

According to the military, impetus for JROTC’s growth in the last decade came from Gen. Colin Powell, now secretary of state, after the Los Angeles race riots in 1992. Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, surveyed the ruins of southern Los Angeles and decided that what the nation’s youth needed was the discipline and structure of the military. Critics say JROTC expanded substantially in the early ’90s because the military needed more skilled recruits and youth interest in enlistment had declined. As a recruiting tool, JROTC is undeniably effective. According to defense department estimates 40 percent of all JROTC graduates enlist after high school.

While I haven’t yet had the time to process all the information, I have to admit to being outraged.  Considering that both Obama and Emanuel are advocates of mandatory volunteer service, and “civilian defense,” my initial reaction to the notion that children are being militarily indoctrinated at the high school level is WTF!?!

What say you?