Editor’s Note: This essay appeared in the February 2015 print edition of The Oklahoma Observer. We are publishing it on-line for all to see in light of the Senate Finance Committee’s decision last week to approve SB 609, Sen. Clark Jolley’s ill-conceived, unconstitutional voucher scheme that could steal millions from Oklahoma’s already under-funded public schools.
BY BRETT DICKERSON
Once upon a time in Oklahoma, magnet public schools were the “choice” that allowed for much more creativity and freedom. They helped to break years of racial/economic segregation. But that’s not the point of a huge “school choice” push today.
Instead, “school choice” has become code for getting an unwitting public to allow private investor corporations to siphon tax money from the public and funnel it into accountability black boxes. And worse, they will do that while re-segregating American education and society.
Proponents of “school choice” – choicers – argue that when there is competition in an education marketplace, quality will just magically break out.
But it won’t. It won’t because participants in any market place actively attempt to eliminate the competition. Increasing profits for any business come from doing away with or absorbing their competition.
Anyone who argues for competition as a way to improve schools while keeping all of the choices in place simply doesn’t understand how competition works. Or, worse, they are consciously trying to deceive others.
And that deception is what I want to point out here.
There are some people for choice who are sincere. But the ones we are hearing from the loudest and the most right now are those who make a handsome living trying to destroy support for a common, publicly-controlled education.
Their donors want a small minority of the rich to control what is being taught, and that can’t happen unless publicly-controlled schools and professional teachers are destroyed in their current form.
I’m seeing a very real increase in cynical stunts by some organizations, mostly those that are associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
If you don’t already know, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, or OCPA, is tied in tightly with ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and many other donors who want to profit by forcing you to pay taxes that their buddies in the legislature will turn over to them without any accountability.
There are several cynical, deceptive practices that I have been observing over the last several weeks as we draw nearer to the Oklahoma Legislature convening.
TWITTER HASHTAG FLOODING
Hashtag flooding is where a relatively small group of people flood a particular hashtag that is being used by their opponents to connect with each other. The subject matter of the tweets is intended to discredit the position of their opponents.
The flooding happens when a small, well-organized group use a large number of Twitter accounts to RT one well-written attack tweet, which makes it harder for those in the hashtag to actually communicate with each other.
Hashtag flooding also gives occasional observers of the hashtag the impression that opinions have shifted when they have not.
This stunt was originally perfected by conservative organizations opposed to liberal TV commentators who were gaining a large nation-wide Twitter following like Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Perry.
Followers of their show’s hashtag get to know one another and support each other in their agreement about the issues being presented.
Eventually what was once organic with several conservative hot-heads jumping into the hashtag just because they enjoyed trolling the followers, turned into an organized effort that involved staffers and interns of well-funded think tanks and lobbying organizations.
Especially during the recent School Choice Week I saw this very stunt being used in the #OklaEd hashtag, widely known as primarily supporting public schools, professionalized teachers, and transparency of school funding.
Did you notice the sudden appearance of OCPA attack master Brandon Dutcher in the #OklaEd hashtag this week? Yes. Can’t recall seeing him there much before, though. Hmmm.
Did you notice how many people were RTing his tweets? Did you recognize very many of those Twitter handles that were flooding the hashtag with the same tweet during certain parts of the workday? I didn’t think so.
All that stunt takes is one person to work up about five pithy tweets to attack a position, and five staffers plus five more interns with 10 bogus Twitter accounts each RTing those original tweets, and … business! To occasional observers, #OklaEd has shifted to being all for school choice. Well, whatayaknow.
What is most significant is what this reveals about the deep cynicism of these promoters. “Huckster” is a better word.
Remember, these lobbyists and think tanks are paid very well, which means that there is someone else who is willing to get that money if the current recipients object to demands for at-all-costs attacks in order to get their way.
BAIT AND SWITCH
I previously pointed out how choicers use the bait and switch technique to get vouchers and school choice into a state’s law books. It has happened in more than just a few states and it’s being tried here in Oklahoma.
One part of the stunt is to point to the Catholic schools that have done a good job over many years of educating students.
Most of us here in the state know at least one person, probably a lot more, who are graduates of Catholic schools. To their credit, Catholic schools have been widely known and respected for their development of civic pride in our country while couching that within the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is no accident that School Choice Week was set up during the same traditional week of Catholic School Week where Catholics celebrate the strong work that their schools have done over the years.
This is a cynical stunt at two points: It is a hijacking of someone else’s emphasis to legitimize theirs and it’s claiming to promote something that isn’t even their true focus.
Catholic schools have been doing quite well for over a century in Oklahoma without one penny of tax money going to them. Why would they need it now? And after so many years of complete independence from state scrutiny and control, why would they want it now? They don’t, and, they don’t.
Cynical boosters of corporate charters that don’t support anything but the money-making of their investors have much to gain by pointing to the highly-respected Catholic schools and making us believe that’s what all of this promotion is about. It’s not.
And the Catholic schools have already been doing a good job with the poor students who come to them. Catholic education is couched in the Roman Catholic Church’s defense of dignity for the poor.
But what I have shown in previous posts is that in the case of New Orleans, Detroit, and Newark, corporate charters have taken over the education of the poor, only concerned to teach complete compliance to authority figures while being taught the most rudimentary of educations. That “dignity” business just complicates things.
Why work harder to develop independent thinking skills in a class of people who the investors think can’t do anything but work at a minimum wage job?
So school choice isn’t about supporting Catholic schools. It’s about allowing corporate investor-owned schools to slide in under the cover of Catholic schools.
IT’S THE MONEY
There are certain people in this society who are very susceptible to having large quantities of money waved in front of them.
And we have allowed the 1% in this country to take over to the point where they have a lot of money to burn on hucksters who claim to be working for the public good while working for investors instead.
It’s time to understand that school choice is money-driven and those who are at the core of it’s promotion have little virtue.
When we allow ourselves to see and hear clearly what is being done and said, then the reclamation of public schools will begin in earnest.
Brett Dickerson’s blog, Life at the Intersections, can be found at brettdickerson.net.