Dwight Pelz, the Iraq War, and Public Education

These days I'm reading Montaigne, whose essays remind us, among many other things, of the limits, if not the uselessness, of knowledge. Dwight Pelz takes seriously not only what he knows, but what he doesn't know. He's convinced that the Iraq war will end--whatever that means--in the next year or two and that we lefties ought to turn our attentions to the middle class. This assumes much, but what it most assumes is that Dwight is a prophet who can predict the future and scold the faithful--only in this case he's not some Amos or Jeremiah who admonishes us for having overlooked the abject sufferings of the poor, but rather for having overlooked the economic pressures on the affluent.

It's difficult to know where to begin unraveling this bit of muddle. One might start by saying that among the biggest mistakes of the Bush administration was the belief that, when it came to Iraq, they could predict the future. Dwight seems to have fallen into precisely the same delusion, and now he'd like to erect an entire state Party strategy on the effusions of his own mind. Dwight's effusions tell him that the American army will leave Baghdad for the same reason that it left Saigon or that the Nazis left Paris: because they will have been defeated.

Leaving aside the question of whether the state Party Chair ought to be equating the American army with the Wehrmacht, I note that we lost the war a long time ago and I don't see a shred of evidence that Bush has noticed it or will ever notice it. And even if American forces begin withdrawing in earnest in 2009 that doesn't mean our war in that region of the world is over. What magic thing will have happened in 2009 to diffuse the anger of the millions we have humiliated with wanton destruction and disregard? What wall can we build to keep the consequences of that cruelty out?

And what magic thing will have happened in 2009 to calm the bizarre paranoia of that portion of the American middle class that was so jubilantly ignorant as to cheer on revenge of Saddam for his role in 911? Dwight may see the end of the Iraq war, but I don't see the end of what caused it in the first place: human greed and stupidity. Wake me up in forty years, and I won't be surprised to find American forces fighting somebody in that part of the world. No doubt the Democratic or Republican Commander-in-Chief will have the best of reasons for persisting in war, as Commander-in-Chiefs always do.

But because we lefties understand that the underlying causes of war--whatever those might be--don't go away easily, we've been quite busy all these years worrying about things like energy policy, sustainable economics and agriculture, civic engagement, international humanitarian law, the foundation of our democratic political culture, civil liberties, corporatism, and so on. If Dwight has failed to notice that the left is eager to talk about so much other than the war, it's because he's chosen not to notice. He's been recently heard to say that our problem is that we don't realize when we've won. On the contrary, we are wise enough to celebrate our recent electoral gains without mistaking them for some kind of total victory. We thankfully are not so filled with hubris as to declare the dawn of a new age. We, perhaps more than anyone else, know the work to be done.

Among our concerns in Washington State--and I'll wager among the concerns of the state's middle class--is the worrisome condition of our public education system. Dwight, as leader of the state Democratic Party, should have something cogent to say about public education. I'm waiting. I'm not waiting hopefully, because it's difficult for me to believe that someone who writes at an eighth-grade level could have anything to say about something he so obviously lacks. However, that may be the English teacher in me, and I've been wrong before. In this case, I would dearly love to be proven wrong. If Dwight is the visionary he seems to believe himself to be, then let him say something visionary about public education--something that goes beyond the short-term necessities of increasing taxes to save the system from ruin.

And that, I'm afraid, is really the subtext of the Washington Learns report. I've talked to a member of a Washington Learns committee, a former Seattle School Board member, advocates for children's issues, a city councilman, teachers, education academics, and just about anyone who has anything to say about the report. I haven't come to any definite conclusions yet, but I'm beginning to suspect that the report is less education policy than cover for the governor, whose steering committee will propose tax increases in 2008 to rescue our public education system.

A legislator directly involved with the project has told me that the enabling legislation for Washington Learns originally called for funding proposals to be set forth last month. I'm told that the governor and steering committee she chairs discovered that constructing the policies that would accompany the funding proposals was harder than expected. This accords with what Governor Gregoire said in the Seattle Times:

I admit to you I didn't appreciate the enormity and challenge of the task," Gregoire said. "I thought we'd start with how much money would it take and where do we want to spend the money.

It may well be that the steering committee became, in the process of working on the report, more ambitious about policy than originally anticipated. However, I must note that the governor has recommended that the final report for funding proposals be submitted in December 2008--conveniently one month after her presumed reelection. In other words, if the governor and her steering committee had done the job that the legislation had expected of them, the governor would be facing a reelection campaign having to justify a tax increase. While Bill Gates, the editorial boards of the Seattle Times and P-I, and a few insiders I've talked to seem favorably disposed toward the report, I'm less than satisfied with it as policy.

In her cover letter, the governor writes, "We reviewed our entire education system--early learning, K-12, post-secondary education and workforce training--to figure out how to provide high-quality lifelong learning for all our citizens in the 21st Century." I think that "high-quality lifelong learning" is as good a place to begin education policy as any, but I find it undermined by the overarching theme of the report, stated in its first two sentences: "Our current education system was designed for the previous economy, and our students are falling behind international standards. As our economy and the world around us changes ever more dramatically, we must transform our education system to better prepare our children."

As policy, I don't disagree with these two sentences. They are merely restating what Tony Wagner has argued more eloquently and substantially in Making the Grade: Reinventing America's Schools. However, Tony Wagner would have never privileged the economic goal above all others and would never have limited the goal to one sector of the economy. In section 3 of the report, "The Global Challenge States," we read:

In his widely acclaimed book "The World is Flat," New York Times editorial writer Thomas Friedman described how technology, education and economic interconnections have come together to allow India, China, and many other nations to join the global supply chain for services and manufacturing. In just a few short years we've seen a dramatic improvement in the ability of individuals as well as companies and institutions to collaborate and compete globally. Friedman offers convincing evidence that we must focus on education training if we are to succeed. . . .

As we improve our education system to fit the new global economy, we cannot compare ourselves to mediocrity or settle for average. We propose a new benchmark to make sure that we remain competitive: the Global Challenge States. These states are the top eight performers on the New Economy Index. . . .

What's important here is not that the report turns to the jejune Thomas Friedman for expertise on education, nor that it proposes we measure Washington against the Global Challenge States of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia. Rather, what's important is that features of the New Economy Index form an unstated overriding criteria for how we should redesign public education. While privileging such criteria might be an effective way to sell a tax increase as an "investment in our future," it makes lousy policy to subordinate all other considerations to those criteria.

The reports cites the Progressive Policy Institute as having developed in the mid-1990s the indicators for the New Economy Index, which may be categorized as (1) knowledge jobs, (2) globalization, (3) economic dynamism and competition, (4) transformations to a digital economy, and (5) technological innovation capacity. The report generally assumes that we should be training our students for the high-tech, globalized, information-based New Economy by improving math, science and technology skills. I don't doubt that those skills need to be improved, but I do doubt that those are the only skills that need to be improved. Moreover, I question the wisdom of restructuring an entire education system to train a limited number of students for a limited sector of the economy, which, if we accept the assumptions of the report, is rapidly changing beyond what we can predict anyway.

I want not only our future high-tech workers to have an education worthy of their ambitions and ours, but also our future home healthcare providers, small business owners, construction workers, homemakers, cab drivers, medical technicians, zoo keepers--in short, I want all students to receive an education that enables them to engage in "lifelong learning." I would like all of them to understand the scientific process, do practical math, practice an art form, read and think carefully, speak and write articulately, and engage in civic activities and discourse.

In other words, I don't understand how restructuring our education for the 21st century means restructuring it for one sector of the economy, even if that sector enjoys the most growth and offers the best jobs. The idea of public education is that it's for everyone, and everyone will not, thank heavens, end up working for high-tech firms. But even if this most antidemocratic of visions for public education policy were realized, I don't see how the policy will even meet the future needs of our elite corps of biotech workers and code slingers. Any education policymaker who underemphasizes reading and writing doesn't really understand what high-tech workers do out in the real world. And what are we to make of a report that purports to train workers for a global economy and has nothing to say about teaching students to speak foreign languages?

I understand the governor's political pragmatism, and I might be willing to support her efforts and the Washington Learns report as the best we're going to get. However, I won't accept that our long-term vision for public education must be circumscribed by short-term political objectives. I would appreciate it if our Party's Visionary-in-Chief had something visionary to say about education, but I don't think we progressives can afford to wait for a miracle. Neither, in fact, can the young people of this state.

While the war ravages on and the national debt piles up, we progressives, by necessity, will continue our traditional work of figuring out what we want the next generation to learn and how we want them to learn it. The public in public education suggests that it's a complex task that concerns us all, one that we engage in the context of other complex tasks. But we should know by now that political leaders, policymakers and elected officials won't find the will to undertake ambitious changes to our education system unless we focus their energies with sustained public pressure. If there is one thing we've learned from our education as progressives, it's that we can't wait for someone else to do the important, necessary work.

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out of culture, politics, dialogue that I see as a very strong and dangerous trend in our society--

You discuss first what I see as circular or weather vane politics -- in which principles and policies are perceived only to service near-term election and power consolidation goals.  So we are told to give up dialogue on the war, because it interferes with election goals.  The horse race becomes the end rather than a means to the end.  

The other element here you point out -- the channelization of education into what's perceived, in a narrow sense, as marketable.  Same thing.  A denaturing of something vital, fixation on the most narrow goal.  

We see this trend also in the monoculture approach to forestry and agriculture; the degradation of our food; the erasure of the diverse and beautiful and quirky in communities so that they look all the same.  Also, the wiping out of wilderness, sanitzation of the natural.  It's a kind of domination mode, the killing off of what involves risk.

Any natural system in which the diversity is stripped out becomes brittle, fragile.  That's where this trend takes us.  Luckily, we are seeing also increasing diversity and innovation and creative outpouring in our culture -- and a very strong drive, yes, coming from progressives largely I think of keeping a place for the individual, the complex, the local, the unique, the personal, the unpredictable, the creative.

How do progressives have this influence in the education system?  By serving on education boards?    PTA?

by noemie maxwell on Sat Dec 09, 2006 at 06:21:37 PM PST

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Seems like that one would be one of the easiest to implement.  It would just require overturning the notion that "hard" things like languages are best postponed until high school.  For years it's been well known that learning languages is vastly easier for 3-5 year old brains.

by eridani on Sat Dec 09, 2006 at 06:45:53 PM PST

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I confer with him regularly. I helped him get elected, even though I didn't have a vote. I think he has done a great job, and won't have any trouble getting re-elected.

That said, I do not look to him to make public policy or for inspiration. I defer to him for how the internal "machinery" of the party works.

I heard what he said about "the left" and I ignored it. To me it was irrelevant. Nothing he says or does will keep me from pursuing the public policy goals that I think are important.

I do not give a rip if Dwight has "vision" for public policy goals or not. IMO that is not his function. His function is to build party strength and depth and to help us win elections. So far, so good. If I have differences with him it will be over what do do first and how to do it.

If people think that this is an overly mechanistic view, I can't help that. I have policy priorities just like everybody else does. For me, that's what my legislators are for, not the head of the state party.

If perception is reality, then the world must be flat and the sun must revolve around it.

by ivan on Sat Dec 09, 2006 at 07:37:36 PM PST

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I believe it is quite a mistake to take comfort in the 2006 elections which put Democratic party back into majority as an interpretation of voters buy-in of Democratic campaign talking points.  It quite simply was the only option left to voters to register their concerns about Iraq invasion/occupation going in wrong direction and a desire for a change in course NOW!!!  

Polls showing 60% of American voters dissatisfied with President Bush running of Iraq war were not out in the streets protesting the war with us for a multitude of reasons so their options were their votes.  Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the Democratic efforts are the result of a successfully run campaigning effort - please don't buy into that flawed thinking. While clearly it was a success; the message voters and America is sending is not a love of Democratic party as much as it is an abhorrence for a war gone badly in Iraq.  

The successes of 2006 election are more a result of the Democratic party strategies of 'not addressing specifically the Iraq invasion/occupation' than some higher wisdom they possess on what to actually do about it (Iraq).
A strategy of sitting back doing nothing so as not to be contaminated or stained by the stench of what the other party has done in Iraq is still NOT COURAGE and our deployed troops deserve a whole lot better than this kind of cowardly legislative response.  

I'm pleased that there has been a turnover of some magnitude in Congress, but I wait with weariness to see if the newly elected Democratic majority will authentically honor our troops and military or if they will 'play more politics' with this deadly issue.  

Perhaps Dwight Pelz can be satisfied with the immediate results and take whatever credit is due him for 2006 election results - beyond that though, a message to the party on Iraq of wait and see is unacceptable.  Unacceptable!

General Paul Eaton video, May 2007If Pres. Bush Won't Listen, Congress Must

by Lietta Ruger on Sun Dec 10, 2006 at 09:29:18 AM PST

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many of the comments are like a cancer. Over the years I have been involved in many legislative organizations, many many campaigns, environmental organizations, pro peace organizations, been close to elected officials on many levels and participated in state party politics. When it came to party politics at the state level the only time I voted with the majority for chair was in support of Dwight Pelz. I am more sure than ever that he is the right guy for the job.

The cancer I refer to often comes from within and is as a result of good people loosing sight of why the party structure exists and becoming drunk in a sense, as a result of feeling owed for all the hard work they have done. I have seen this take on many forms. Often it produces a demand for perfection and as here a loss of perspective.

When tough elections end and even when tough primaries end, each of us, the workers and the candidates must work to heal, must take pride in how thick skinned we are. We must learn to step back and take stock and find a way to use our skills to continually make our society a better place. Holding grudges and demanding perfection will never get the job done. Stand back, ask yourself what the choices are. Even as we are mired in this dirty war, we fought and demonstrated against, we must try to work together because if we cannot then the GOP and the neocons will win. That I can guaranty.

Let us step back together at this great and what should be hopeful time. The election is only but a month past and no one has even been sworn in yet, or taken a vote or introduced a bill yet. We should be celebrating what did work and while we lobby our issues we must look forward to the next election with an aim of holding our ground and electing a president that will be a peaceful and more capable leader.

I really wish some of you could just end the rant. Dwight is not the enemy. And democrats in general are certainly not the enemy.


by Particle Man on Sun Dec 10, 2006 at 09:12:23 PM PST

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it might be interesting to consider what would happen if the Chair were elected by rank-in-file Democrats instead of by the WSDCC.

As it is now, if we want to influence the process of electing the Chair, we have to work through our LDs to elect and then influence our state reps.

One of my questions is: what if the Chair (and his or her opponents, if any) had to appeal to all LD-member Democrats for votes? Would that change the process? Would the Chair feel he or she had to report back to rank-and-file Democrats instead of reporting back to the WSDCC?

Right now, we elect a Chair the way we used to elect, for example, US senators. The direct election of senators was a Progressive-era democratic reform. Would direct election of the Chair be a democratic reform that would have beneficial consequences?

A possible counterargument is that senators and state Chairs do fundamentally different things. Yes, they do. But the fact that they do different things doesn't mean that our State Chair has to be elected by our state reps.

I've said in a couple places that I don't know how to evaluate the job the current Chair is doing. Would it be easier for rank-and-file Democrats to evaluate the performance of the Chair if he or she depended on them for his or her election?

As I said--this is a thought-experiment. I'm just asking questions.

by DWE on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 01:14:37 PM PST

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Making Changes Families Can Count On:

Gov. Gregoire Invests for World-Class Math and Science Education in Washington

Strategic investments in math and science will grow the economy and secure a bright future for students

SEATTLE - Governor Chris Gregoire today at Garfield High School in Seattle announced she will invest in math and the sciences to help teachers teach and to help Washington students learn.  This will be the first comprehensive reform and investment in the state's history.

Recent scores on math assessments have shown that our students deserve better math and science training.  In addition to working to correct those deficiencies, Governor Gregoire is working to change the entire education system to include world-class learning opportunities and system-wide accountability.

"We already know that our students are not getting the math and science education they deserve and we know that our teachers don't always have the tools to provide that education," said Governor Gregoire.  "The best way to grow our economy and secure a bright future for our students is to make comprehensive, smart, responsible and accountable investments in math and science now."

Governor Gregoire's math and science initiative will:

ü      Reduce class size to give students more individualized attention by meeting, for the first time, nationally recommended standard of one teacher for every 25 students;

ü      Recruit 750 additional math and science teachers and invest in training so teachers can expand their knowledge and strategies for teaching;

ü      Establish a bonus structure so that nationally certified teachers who teach in a challenging school will earn an additional $5000 per year and another $5000 if they teach math or science;

ü      Expand hands-on science instruction so that 1,000 additional classrooms can improve their science experience;

ü      Integrate math, science, technology and engineering with support from the private sector so that today's math and science students can become tomorrow's engineers, designers, computer programmers, builders and scientists;

ü      Help students who are struggling with the WASL so that they have the tools they need to meet world-class standards;

ü      Help to standardize math curricula across Washington to bring our standards in line with international standards; and

ü      Increase access to math and science scholarships so that careers in these fields are more accessible to Washington students and employers are able to find qualified employees - right here in Washington.  

"With personalized instruction, rigorous coursework, expanded opportunities and consistent support and encouragement, we can fundamentally change Washington education so that students will improve their math and science skills to compete for jobs in the global economy," said Governor Gregoire.  

Governor Gregoire made education her top priority and in 2006, she restored funding for voter-approved initiatives to reduce class sizes and provide more individual attention to students.  She also invested in early learning so that Washington children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn and she provided support for students struggling to meet academic standards.

by Particle Man on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 05:17:31 PM PST

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is not the content or the opinions spoken or even the words used (though I can take or leave the name calling) no what gets me is the rap track skip bla bla bla skip
bla bla bla skip
bla bla skip
Some over time have hammered and hammered and hammered one point or another over and over and over. And this at the expense of the community you not brian have created here. I want to see this and other blogs grow to play a greater role. If things are going to evolve to where only the true believer greens or Kusinich folks are hammering a view so narrow the readers and posters go away, well that would be too bad.

by Particle Man on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 04:51:04 PM PST

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