Ken Bernstein is a recently retired National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher who was a 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher. Nationally known for his blogging as teacherken at Daily Kos and elsewhere, he served until his retirement as the lead building representative (NEA) at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD.
By now most Americans paying attention have begun to realize the influence some billionaires are wielding upon the politics and governance of our nation. Perhaps most infamous among those billionaires are the Brothers Koch, Charles and David, who by themselves have funded much of the infrastructure of the political right in this nation, including these organizations very visible and unfortunately influential in recent years: Americans for Prosperity (AFP), American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and FreedomWorks. There has been pushback against all of these, but now there is an organized effort to push back against the Koch Brothers, who are currently spending $400 Million on what can fairly be labeled their “Greed Agenda,” which includes pushing for more tax breaks for the 1%, fewer restrictions on Wall Street gambling, and more giveaways to oil companies. Relevant to my writing, it also includes moving public funds to charter schools, some of which are poorly regulated on-line charters. It includes the so-called “parent trigger.” And these are just two of the ways that the Koch Brothers are undermining public education while they simultaneously attempt to use their wealth to undermine democracy.
The organization leading the new pushback is Patriot Majority USA. Its primary purpose is addressing economic policies that would destroy the American Dream. It has organized a “Stop the Greed Agenda” Bus Tour, to raise awareness among the American people, especially at the grassroots level, by travelling to 41 cities in 27 states to tell people that the Koch Brothers and their special interest frontgroups are spending millions to make life more difficult for us.
There are two buses, one in the Western half of the country and one in the Eastern half, both of which began their travels in September. This bus tour is part of a long-term, nonpartisan project designed to expose the efforts of the Koch Brothers and other special interests who have threatened to spend more than $1 billion to advance their “Greed Agenda.” I will be on the bus in the East as of Friday, October 5 as an embedded blogger on behalf of one of the partner organizations in this effort, the National Education Association. I will remain with the tour through its final stop on October 12, and will be posting here at least once a day.
You might ask why I am doing this. There are two parts to answering that. The first is why NEA asked me to do it. Perhaps a little of my background here is relevant. I am a just retired Social Studies teacher who served as the lead representative for the teachers in my building in a local chapter of the NEA. I reached ABD in Educational Administration and Policy Studies before deciding to take a different path to try to influence educational policy in this country. I am nationally known for my writing online – blogging, but also the occasional article – on education and other topics. I am most recognized as teacherken, which is the name under which I post at Daily Kos, a widely read political blog (my pieces, which include topics well beyond education can be read here. I have run panels at the annual conferences of bloggers and political types originally known as YearlyKos and now known as Netroots Nation. Those panels have included some very well-known names, such as then Commissioner of Education of Nebraska Doug Christensen, then Governor of Iowa Tom Vilsack, head of the Schott Foundation John Jackson, and educational historian and writer Diane Ravitch. I have also blogged or written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Learning First Alliance, the website of Education Week/Teacher, Huffington Post, and CNN.com. While I am best known for writing about education, I also write about politics and other topics, and thus am able to help people understand where educational policy sits with respect to other parts of our political processes.
I offer this much on my background not to brag, but it might help you understand why NEA asked me to do this. That’s the first part of my answering the question of why I am doing this. The second is personal. My primary course for most of my teaching career was Government. I have also been political active since I was a child, in part because I strongly believe in participating in order to make our democratic system work. What I see happening is an erosion of our democracy as a means of people like the Koch Brothers achieving their “Greed Agenda” while the rest of us see our hope for achieving the American Dream disappearing before our eyes. Too much of that “Greed Agenda” has been achieved by obfuscation, by bypassing the American people, by misleading the American people, their elected representatives, and the media. I am honored to do whatever I can to oppose the “Greed Agenda” and to work to preserve American democracy.
Public education is under particular threat. I have long believed that public education is the canary in the coalmine of American democracy. If we lose our public schools, we have lost a fundamental underpinning of democracy. There are many ways public education is under threat. One clearly is the attempt to delegitimize public schools. We have seen this now in two heavily promoted films, first “Waiting for Superman” and now “Won’t Back Down.” Both films saw the involvement of another billionaire, Philip Anschutz, whose Walden Media played a role in the production and promotion of both films. The latter is noteworthy because it was an attempt to popularize the idea of the “parent trigger.” This is one of the methods promoted by ALEC of both delegitimizing public schools and undercutting teachers unions as the voices of professional educators by demonizing the unions.
During the next week I will be writing from a number of perspectives. I will report on the various events that occur as part of the bus tour. I will offer analysis on the issues being addressed. I will be specifically writing about the educational issues that the Koch Brothers and their various organizations are attempting to manipulate. Where possible, and especially when writing on education, I will try to present and explain what material is available as the result of research already done.
I also hope to speak with people local to the cities in which we will be stopping to get their perspectives, to amplify their voices.
This post is somewhat briefer than what you can expect the next week. As I am writing this I am also trying to pack and leave for the airport so that I do not miss my flight! Besides, this is just an introduction, or if you prefer, an appetizer for the very full meals I plan to place before you in the coming days.
So thanks for reading. I look forward to your company as I travel on the bus and we work together to oppose the “Greed Agenda” of the Koch Brothers.