Saturday, March 15, 2014

Would Pete Seeger Perform At An Eva Moskowitz Rally?

I seriously can't believe I just had to write that title.

Please, don't blame me, blame Laura Waters.

In her latest opinion piece for NJ Spotlight she posits that Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka may activate the reformy base in New Jersey as she claims Mayor Bill de Blasio has in New York City. 

She cites the recent Eva Moskowitz rally as proof positive that de Blasio has "unified and energized" the school choice movement.
Parents, children, teachers, and community members who value school options other than their assigned neighborhood schools are unified and energized. If Pete Seeger were still around he’d be writing ballads about Eva Moscowitz and singing “We Shall Overcome.”
(Let's all just ignore that Waters spells MosKowitz's name incorrectly throughout her entire piece, OK?) 

We've all seen Waters engage in this type of inane rhetoric before, most notably when she invoked the late Albert Shanker and claimed he'd be a supporter of New Jersey's school choice movement.
Here's a fact. 
If Albert Shanker was alive today he'd still be an education reformer and would support NJ's efforts to expand school choice for poor urban students.
I guess Waters didn't learn not to just make sh*% up about iconic figures, even after she was called out by Albert Shanker's daughter Jennie, who informed her in no uncertain terms that her assessment of Shanker's position was preposterous.
As his daughter, I treasure the testimony of individuals who knew my father and his work.  Lately, it has been, frankly, dreadful to find his name associated with school "reform" that undermines public education.  Without exception, these articles offer a few short quotes in evidence, always inappropriately pulled out of the context of his true mission and life's work. 
I can tell you, absolutely and unequivocally, if my father was with us today he would be fighting side by side with Diane Ravitch to preserve and improve public education. The Washington Post re-published an excellent post from Ravitch's blog this week which very clearly articulates the differences between his vision of charter reform and the for-profit version championed by Chris Cerf and others in New Jersey. (emphasis mine)
Now, I don't expect any of Pete Seeger's relatives to come out of the woodwork and clarify Seeger's politics, and quite frankly it's not really even necessary. It is simply ridiculous for Waters to posit that Seeger would have "sided" with Eva Moskowitz.

Seeger has been called a Troubadour for Truth and Justice, and in this Democracy Now piece we learn about when it was Seeger first sang "We Shall Overcome." 
Pete met another target of FBI surveillance and intimidation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in 1957. Seeger helped King and other civil-rights activists incorporate song into their organizing tactics. It was at Highlander that Seeger first sang for King what would become the anthem of the civil-rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.” (emphasis mine)
Is Waters really implying that, if alive, Seeger would be "writing ballads for Eva Moskowitz" to help her organize the school choice movement like he helped King in the civil-rights movement? Does she really think he would sing "We Shall Overcome" along side Moskowitz as he did Martin Luther King?

Is she therefore implying, that school choice is the civil rights movement of our time? 

I'm in very good company in thinking that this is utter claptrap.

As a child that was born and raised in the Bronx, I have seen first-hand the inequity of public education for a community of color. We need to make sure every child gets a quality education, not just a few. 
Real civil rights issues were about the fundamental notion that separate is unequal -- separate bathrooms for blacks, riding the back of the bus, being denied the right to vote, the right to hold good jobs and take part in everyday life as equals. Moskowitz is attempting to perpetuate a separate but unequal system that disadvantages children in traditional public schools and those with special education needs. That is the civil rights issue.
With the heightened attention on Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy charters some interesting things have come to light. Primarily that Moskowitz's rally and expensive ad campaign are being bankrolled by a group called Families for Excellent Schools. 
... Late last month, days before the education department announced it would keep a few new charter schools from opening, supporters registered the domain name At the same time, local television stations started airing slickly-produced ads. 
Behind the multimillion dollar ad campaign and website is the same group—a nonprofit called Families for Excellent Schools. If their message wasn’t clear, they also helped organize Tuesday’s rally in Albany where thousands of charter school advocates turned out.
Who are Familes for Excellent Schools?
Families for Excellent School’s most recent tax filings are from 2012, so it’s unclear how much they’ve raised in recent years or where that money is coming from. The organization is technically two entities—a standard charity and a tax exempt group that can accept anonymous contributions for advocacy.
Families for Excellent Schools shares an address with the New York arm of StudentsFirst, a national education reform nonprofit led by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. schools chancellor.
The Walton Family Foundation, of Walmart fame, has given more than $700,000 over the past two years. That foundation recently hired a deputy schools chancellor from the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Another Bloomberg official—the mayor's former spokesman, Stu Loeser—is handling press for Families for Excellent Schools.
A spokesman for Bloomberg says he hasn’t donated to Families for Excellent Schools.
According to the records that are available, other large donations to the organization include $200,000 in 2012 from the Broad Foundation; $200,000 from the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation in fiscal year 2012-13; $100,000 in 2012 from the Moriah Fund; $25,000 from the Ravenel and Elizabeth Curry Foundation in fiscal year 2011-12; $19,000 in fiscal year 2011-12 from the Tapestry Project; $50,000 in fiscal year 2012-13 from the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program; and $1,000 in 2012 from the Dalio Foundation. (emphasis mine)
As if this isn't all the evidence anyone needs that Moskowitz's attack on de Blasio is astroturfing at it's finest, Success Academy teachers are starting to speak up about the tactics used to get so many bodies at the rally.
The teachers and staffers who spoke to The Nation said that although they were never told they would lose their jobs if they did not attend the rally, they didn’t think they had much choice and were afraid to ask for an exception. “An option was not presented. The schools assigned everyone with a job, so you were either going to be an instructional coach or a bus captain,” one teacher explained. “They weren’t really asking us if that’s what we wanted to do. They were telling us that that’s what we were going to do instead of teaching for the day.” 
“Our parents have been led to believe that we are the answer for their children,” one said. “We’re definitely capitalizing on that whole notion.”
Another said that she didn’t believe all parents were fully aware of what they are participating in. “I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I mean that the info presented is not necessarily accurate and it’s entirely one sided. This is being framed as a second or third civil rights movement, and I think that’s a racially charged power play—considering our demographics—to manipulate people.” (emphasis mine)
So it's not just Waters hijacking civil rights icons, language and messaging to advance the school choice movement - this seems to be pervasive among reformers. Moskowitz is using the money and power behind her charter chain to manipulate her staff and parents into being unwilling and/or unwitting pawns in her quest for omnipotence in New York City's charter realm.

Kind of hard to see this as the kind of thing Pete Seeger would have gotten behind.

But I will concede that Waters may be partially right about one thing. 

Maybe, just maybe, Seeger would have performed at Moskowitz's rally, because he seemed genuinely eager to play for all people, no matter their political beliefs.
I have been singing folksongs of America and other lands to people everywhere. I am proud that I never refused to sing to any group of people because I might disagree with some of the ideas of some of the people listening to me. I have sung for rich and poor, for Americans of every possible political and religious opinion and persuasion, of every race, color, and creed.
But to claim he would "be writing ballads about Moskowitz" seems disingenuous at best, especially when you consider the big money and pressure tactics Moskowitz employs to get what she wants. 

My new friend and fellow education blogger Russ Walsh wrote an eloquent piece after Pete Seeger's passing, titled What Would Pete Do?
Pete Seeger was the quintessential American optimist. He was the Johnny Appleseed of folksong. He was a believer in the power of good people to do good work together and to overcome oppression.  I can think of no better role model for us all as we work to stop the corporate takeover of public education.
And Russ pulled another fantastic quote from Seeger:
Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life. –Pete Seeger
Call me biased, but I think Russ has a better read on Pete Seeger's legacy. And I think Waters should stop speaking for men like Shanker and Seeger after they're no longer here to speak for themselves. 


  1. Laura Waters' writing wouldn't be so bad if not accompanied by that smug face staring at me on facebook. I wish people would use the "hide thumbnail" feature when they post her trash.

  2. It's an interesting approach. If you invoke the spirits of dead people to justify your views, they can't refute what you are saying. Sheesh.

  3. ACK!!! GAG!!! I assume Laura Waters is not familiar with the Pete Seeger song, "What Did You Learn in School Today?" You know, his satirical song about the horrible BS stuffed into kids' heads in schools controlled by politicians and bureaucrats. Pete Seeger, a fan of "no excuses" charter schools? HA! *headdesk*

  4. Darcie, Thanks for the shout out here. And most of all thank you for standing up for one of my heroes. I know Pete would approve. If he had sung at an Eva Moskowitz rally, I am sure he would have pulled out, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" where the "big fool says to push on."

  5. Wow,,,Wasn't Pete Seeger singing about public schools in Tom Paxton's song "What Did You Learn in School Today?" Didn't realize charter schools were in mind in the 1960's. And I wonder if Pete would have deleted my previous post on the same point. P.S. If you delete this post, you are crapping on Pete Seeger's memory and become just as much part of the power and control that Pete rallied against his whole life.

    1. Hi Anonymous, I don't know what you're referring to as I didn't delete any comments on this post. I only delete posts if I consider them abusive. I am always happy to engage in a debate if a reader disagrees with me.

  6. Reading a Laura Waters op ed is like entering a Kafkaesque alternate universe. I have to force myself to finish the disingenuous blather that she regularly pumps out.
    I'm in agreement with Bob Braun's latest blog entry titled, Ban All Charters. Now. That may sound extreme but I don't think so. No matter how you slice it, charter schools do drain funds and resources from the real public schools where the vast majority of the kids are educated.

  7. Doesn't she have any alive people she can use to support her?

  8. Why isn't anyone talking about Ras Baraka's outrageous violently racist rhetoric that was caught on video recently? The public education mavens don't care who is in charge as long as the unions are calling the shots. This isn't about education at all, but control. Charter schools threaten control of the message and people would learn that their leaders are hateful racists. Diane Ravitch endorses Ras Baraka, she even deleted my comment with a link to the video because she doesn't want her supporters to know the truth. I'm 100% positive this comment will be deleted also. The far far left cannot allow any dissenting opinions.