Hisssssssssss… the scourge of gentrification… fighting school “reform”… Ai Weiwei, revolutionary… exploit this proletarian—please!



Re E.L. Doctorow’s “Our Virtual Hell,” his wonderful comment about the Internet [Dec. 23/30, 2013]: there is a way to fight back:

Don’t do Facebook, don’t do Twitter
Clear your mind of all that litter.

Or, as Eve should have asked the serpent when he offered her the fruit of knowledge (lately known as the Internet), “Did you wash it?”

Peter Weiss
new york city

The Scourge of Gentrification

Re Michelle Goldberg’s “Solving Gentrification” [Dec. 23/30]: zoning cannot fix what inadequate income taxation is causing, not only in New York. But I wish the best to Mayor
de Blasio anyway.

I know how it feels to suddenly be surrounded by crowds of new, young, ambitious, monied people who start describing my hometown to me in terms I’ve never heard before. Generations of experience and know-how are suddenly thrown out the window, and I am the odd man out in my own home. It feels like I’m dying while I’m still alive. And they don’t realize what they are doing. It’s the monied classes I am really starting to resent, hotly.

Tax heavily all homes that are not owner occupied and put the money into a public bank that makes home loans. The higher the tax, the more gentrification will go down. But the money must not be touched by the government.
Alexander Hagen

Fighting School “Reform”

It’s great that teachers, parents, unions and community groups are finally making their voices heard on behalf of public education [“Reclaim School Reform,” Dec. 23/30].

However, if public schools are to be protected from the privatization predators, teachers and parents will have to take on the most insidious lever of corporate control—the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), along with the elaborate computerized testing systems and curriculums that go with them. 

Hatched in secret and with limited input by classroom teachers, these new standards are being railroaded to adoption by states very fast (incentivized by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program). 

Since they are copyrighted, the standards will be difficult to change. Once the tests are fully implemented, Big Ed (Pearson, testing companies, etc.) will not only benefit greatly, but will likely have a role in nearly everything that goes on in the classroom. Teachers will have limited autonomy to tailor instruction to the needs of students, and high-stakes testing and data crunching will continue to have their abusive effects.

Teachers and parents are raising objections (calling it a “hostile takeover” of education). But the Gates Foundation, which helped fund the development of the standards, has apparently given grants to the teachers unions and educational organizations to promote the CCSS—a silencing effort afoot as well. 

Christie Hakim
san francisco

Without strong unions, public education is doomed. And considering the animosity toward unions shown by the Republican and Democratic parties, the long-term prognosis is not good. The overt hostility of the Republicans was stated by President Bush’s secretary of education when he declared the National Education Association a terrorist organization and continues as Tea Party ideology. The more subtle anti-unionism of the Democratic Party is demonstrated by the policies of the Obama administration. 

The American Legislative Exchange Council and the corporations it serves could not be happier. Public schools are fodder for privatization and profit, and since there are always schools performing less well statistically relative to other schools, there is a constant feeder system funneling public schools to the corporate sector. As the overall number of teachers is reduced and unionized professional teachers are replaced by Teach for America interns, public education costs are reduced as well, obviating the need to create a stronger tax base for education by taxing corporations.

Kudos to the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers for implementing their community-based approach to strengthening public schools.  Private sector unions need to be part of the groundswell as well. After all, the welfare of the children of union members is greatly affected by the quality of public education. In the absence of a pro-union political party, it is left to unions to bear the burden of democracy.

Sidney Kardon, president
Royal Oak Education Association, NEA
huntington woods, mich.

Ai Weiwei, Revolutionary

Barry Schwabsky has a blind spot about Ai Weiwei’s art [“Monumental, Imperial” Dec. 16] and lectures us on Duchamp, as if we had not endured a century’s repetition of his theoretical infallibility from one of art’s most successful salesmen. 

There is a twenty-first-
century art revolution under way, and like all revolutions, those in power will be the
last to recognize it. And Ai, as a Chinese (with a vision as vast and problematic as his country), as a versatile sculptor, as a master technician, as a social activist, as a courageous populist protagonist in the revival of beauty and, yes, as a savvy product of twentieth-century art theories (which he transcends), is one of its foremost freedom fighters. He learned from, but is not constrained by, Duchamp’s tiresome dictums.

I welcome and celebrate Ai’s radical integrity (when is the last time a Duchampion suffered imprisonment and torture for his/her art?) as well as his effervescent creativity, emotional wisdom and artistic generosity.

Cecilia Lieder
duluth, minn.

Exploit This Proletarian—Please!

Gabriel Thompson, in “Holiday Crush”[Dec. 16], writes about the warehouse laborers who make $9 an hour packing and shipping products for the holidays. Now that robots are taking over much of this work, however, these immiserated proletarians will soon echo the sentiment once shared with Jim Scott, in Weapons of the Weak, by an unemployed factory hand:  “The only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited.”

Clare Boulanger
grand junction, colo.

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