Thursday, October 24, 2013

Colleen Ritzer: Find Something Good in Every Day

Colleen Ritzer, in the classroom, of course.

Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School died Tuesday, almost certainly killed by one of her students. A freshman at the school has been arrested and charged as an adult in her murder. A box-cutter is said to be the weapon.

It may be this tragedy will spark discussion about “the failure of modern America society” to raise healthy children. Or we might veer from the story in Danvers, to look at gun violence, generally, since a Nevada teacher, Michael Landsberry, 45, was gunned down the day before.

Or we may link these incidents to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary last December. The killers, or suspects, this week were in ages: 12 and 14.

Instead, we should remember Ms. Ritzer.

Who was this dedicated young teacher? She grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, one of three children, with one younger brother and one younger sister. In 2007, she graduated from Andover High, knowing she wanted to go into education. Four years later she graduated magna cum laude from Assumption College where she majored in math. Her minor was psychology and her understanding of human nature seems deep and clear from what we hear.

Ritzer was an avid baker. She was a fan of the New England Patriots, the Boston Bruins and the Red Sox. (She’d probably be celebrating their win last night had her life not been cut short.) She liked country music and the color pink.

Jennifer Berger, her long-time friend spent most of last Saturday shopping with Ritzer, as she searched for Halloween greeting cards. That night they baked treats together. “She was telling me that she was having a good year,” Berger said. “She loved all her classes.” She was “an aspiring mom searching for the right guy,” Berger added.

A search now ended.

Colleen was a positive, caring person. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing last April, Ms. Ritzer posted a quote from Mr. Rogers on her Facebook page, by way of her mother. The words have even greater poignancy now. “I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

“This world is a crazy place. Love who you love and live every day.”

Ritzer was one of the helpers.

On Sept. 11, she posted again, noting that she was “always thinking of the innocent victims…and the loved ones left behind who live in their light every day.”

Like most 20-somethings, Ritzer left a broad electronic footprint behind. She put up a Facebook page for her classes (overwhelmed by traffic today). She started a blog once but like many didn’t keep it going.
Still, her warm tribute to her grandfather (see below) is telling both about subject and author. Colleen was also active on Twitter. In one telling tweet she identified herself as a “math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.”

Other times she contacted students to wish them “happy birthday,” or posted assignments for her geometry and algebra classes, or commented on life in general. Her enthusiasm is palpable, making her loss seem doubly tragic.

As a retired teacher, this tweet resonated forcefully with me: “Now that the school year is in full swing, so are my weekly Target visits. #obsessed.”

You know that this young lady was out there—willing to spend extra to buy supplies and prizes and materials for her class.

On October 5, she tweeted: “Find something good in every day.”

According to the Boston Globe, students had come to know the second-year teacher “as smart, gracious, and persistent, as diligent about grading their geometry problem sets as helping to ground them amid the turbulence of adolescence.”
Sophomore McKenzie Plaza described the raven-haired teacher as “lighthearted, kind, and genuinely nice.”
“She was always smiling, and she really loved what she did and loved working with us,” said Plaza, who had Ritzer as a homeroom teacher.
“She gave off the impression that you could talk to her about anything. You just enjoyed her presence.”

What a loss.

Riley Doyle, a freshman in one of Ritzer’s classes, told a reporter for CBS that her teacher “was always really upbeat and positive and excited about math.”
“She made every lesson like you wanted to learn it,” Riley added. “For the first time, math became one of my favorite classes.”
“She was always very courteous to her students, and she would never talk down to them,” Riley continued. “She treated them like people.”

I suspect that Ritzer was not really so different from tens of thousands of young teachers toiling away today. Really, Colleen Ritzer reminds us there’s plenty good about this coming generation and nothing wrong that wasn’t wrong with all the generations that came before. It's the human condition. Certainly, she was always ready to come in early and stay late to help students who needed math instruction or needed advice on how to survive adolescence.

If we listen in days to come we will surely hear more about her. And we should. Colleen Ritzer was a dedicated teacher, a kind-hearted human being, and would surely have told you that the world is full of good people.

Mary Duffy, a neighbor who watched her grow up over the last twenty-four years, was overcome by sobbing when she heard the news. She described Ritzer for a reporter from the Andover Townsmen:
“She was a quiet, unassuming girl with a beautiful smile. She was a lovely child.”
“I love the family and they have a beautiful family. If every family throughout America was like that, there would be no trouble. It would be utopia.”

It’s not a utopia, though. That’s the tragedy of life, most tragically for the Ritzer family now. Still, from what I gather, Colleen would probably have a hard time mustering up any hate even for the young man who killed her.

If she had lived she’d probably be ready to help him.

Colleen Ritzer, 24, was by all accounts a wonderful young woman.

What a loss.

Thank you, grandpa.

Over the past few weeks, our family has experienced the tragedy of watching the strongest man we know lose his battle with cancer. I will not say that we watched him give up strength, because along this heartbreaking journey, he never gave up one bit of it.

My courageous, hard-working, devoted 89-year-old grandfather exemplified the meaning of strength. Experiencing several health complications throughout the course of his lifetime, he fought through each and every one of them. He was not ready to go, and he was determined to let the world know that. He wanted to be here, to live a little longer, and it was that desire and strength that allowed him to live a prosperous 89 years. So, for that,thank you grandpa, for showing us all what it means to be strong in the most difficult of times.

Thank you for showing us what it means to love. To love life. To love your family. To love all that you have. Your sense of pride was magnificent. In the countless stories you shared with us, you never shared any stories of regret. You lived your life to the fullest. You made your dreams come true. You did not believe for one second that life was something you should look back on with regrets, but rather look back on and realize what you want to do differently in the future. Realize which dreams you really want to follow. Most importantly, you taught us to never let a setback cause us to give up on our dreams.

In the last few weeks of your journey of life, I will never forget the way you woke from your sleep and said to my mom, “I’m hanging in there”. Hanging in there; that’s what you did your entire life, right up until the very end.

So, we will hang in there for you. We will live our lives with no regrets, so that we can tell our grandchildren stories the way that you told us stories.

Thank you for the stories, for sharing your life with all of us.

And above all, thank you for hanging in there.

May you finally receive the rest that you so very much deserve. We love you and will miss you every day.

Ritzer had a sense of humor, too.

Tribute from students.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Another Teacher Killed in Danvers, Massachusetts


Monday, I picked up the New York Times and read again about how dumb America’s teachers supposedly are.

I’m a retired teacher myself, and a liberal, too, and love to read the Times. So, maybe that does make me dumb.

More on that in a moment; but a few hours later I turned on the TV and heard about the school shooting in Sparks, Nevada.

Depending on how you count such incidents the shooting at Sparks Middle School was the fifteenth in or near a school this year. (That includes a number of episodes involving gunfire on college campuses.) In Sparks, the shooter, 12, wounded two classmates, killed Michael Lansberry, a teacher and ex-Marine who served in Afghanistan, then took his own life.

Today we have terrible news again.

The body of Colleen Ritzer, 24-year-old math teacher at Danvers High School in Danvers, Massachusetts, has been discovered behind her school. Blood was found in a second-floor school bathroom and a 14-year-old has been charged with murder.

It’s bad enough, then, that American students and teachers are killed with such sanguine regularity. The Sandy Hook Elementary massacre briefly focused attention on the problem. But the deaths of one or two or three individuals, here and there, are no less horrifying. Here in Ohio, last April, a La Salle High School student shot himself in the head and ended up in critical condition. In February 2012, gunfire erupted at Chardon High, not far from Cleveland. That incident left three teens dead, a fourth paralyzed, and one “slightly” wounded.

(Imagine that you are the parent and find that your son or daughter was “slightly” wounded at school that day.)

Worse yet—if there can be a “worse” when it comes to such matters—the Chardon shooter showed no remorse in court. At his sentencing, T. J. Lane, 18, wore a plain white tee shirt on which the word “KILLER” was scrawled in magic marker. “This hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons,” he told stunned families in court, “now masturbates to the memory. F--- all of you.”

With that he flipped everyone the bird.

So here I sit in my safe retirement. I read these stories of mayhem in the schools and find myself sickened. I read of the father who stuck his infant daughter in a freezer to stop her from crying. I read—in the Times, of all places—that 10% of babies born in Scioto County (again, here in Ohio) are addicted to drugs. I read in the Times, again, that 15% of parents let their sons and daughters stay home from school twenty times or more every year.

Then I read the editorial on Monday: “An Industry of Mediocrity.” I know my disgust is as nothing in the face of very real tragedy in Sparks or Danvers. A stupid article is nothing compared to the loss of a loved one. Still, this article is all too typical in its lame attempt to come to grips with “what’s wrong with America’s schools.”

I think to myself: “Maybe part of the trouble involves ‘gunfire.’”

Well, what industry is producing all this “mediocrity?” Colleges of education, naturally! What is the mediocre product? Why, it’s you and me, a nation’s public school teachers.

Here’s the gist of the article:

  • America’s teachers aren’t all that bright. According to “one respected study” only 23% come from the top third of college graduates. That sounds bad, till you stop to realize, statistically speaking, that only 33% should come from the top third—the same as bankers, bakers, butchers and editorial writers.
  • Worse yet, only 14% of teachers in high-poverty schools come from the top third of their college classes. 
  • People who run charter schools are quoted, insisting that, yes, it’s true! Charter schools are way better than regular public schools. That’s because they have freedom to pick teachers and don’t pick dimwits. (I admit I’m paraphrasing.)
  • The article quotes individuals who run various foundations interested in reforming education (but much too smart to go into the high-poverty schools and do any teaching). These theorists promise that, sure, they know exactly how to fix education.
  • Some college professor who did a study grumbles about how we train teachers. There are a few good training programs. Sadly, most don’t require middle school math teachers to study calculus before entering the classroom. Therefore, “Some of our education programs are putting out math teachers at the level of Botswana.” (Damn! Botswana!) Worse, yet, according to Bill Keller, who penned the column, “the Botswana-level teacher programs produce about 60% of America’s future middle school math teachers.”
  • Finland has better teachers—all chosen from the top third of their classes. We need to copy this system. Keller quotes Amanda Ripley (who also did not choose to go into a high-povertry school), who wrote an entire book about Finland’s smarter teachers. (I admit I liked a large part of what Ripley had to say in The Smartest Kids in the World, but I’m not buying this happy myth about how we could solve all our problems if only we had smarter teachers.)

Finally, Keller notes that there are already 3.3 million public school teachers in America today. They can’t all be trained (retrained?) by new methods or start-up programs. So, hell, we’re temporarily screwed, at best, and there’s still a lot of “widespread mediocrity.”

What I notice, very sadly, is that there’s a lot of gunfire. And I don’t think you have to graduate in the top third of any class, not even kindergarten, to realize most of the problems “in” our schools have deep roots in a society outside their walls.

I don’t think the main problems in education have anything to do with where Michael Landsberry or Colleen Ritzer or any of the rest of us finished in the college rankings.

I’m surprised editorial writers continue to miss the point. 

Say a prayer for all the students and teachers.

T. J. Lane gunned down several classmates.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

School Shooting in Sparks, Nevada: A Gory Red, White and Blue Pattern

Once again an ordinary American school day ended in a cacophony of gunfire. Once again all the guns in the world don’t seem to make America's students and teachers safer. Once again the gun lobby will refuse to admit even simple truths.

Well, let me be the first to say, “Good job, N.R.A.”


Unfortunately, the report of yesterday's shooting at Sparks Middle School ought to shock all citizens of this blood-soaked nation.

This time gunfire shattered an ordinary morning on a playground in Sparks, Nevada. Students arriving for school told reporters later that they fled screaming into the building once they realized the “pops” they were hearing were gunshots.
“A kid started getting mad and he pulled out a gun and shoots my friend, one of my friends at least,” a seventh-grade student identified as Andrew told local KOLO-TV. “And then he walked up to a teacher and says back up, the teacher started backing up and he pulled the trigger.”
 “The teacher was just lying there and he was limp, he didn't know what to do, he was just in a lot of pain,” he told KOLO.
 “And me and five other friends went to him and said come on we’ve got to get him to safety. We picked him up, carried him a little bit far and we left him because our vice principal came along and said go, go, go get to safety, get to safety. So we left the teacher there and we went to safety,” Andrew said.

Safety, Andrew said. Where is the safety today? This was the fifteenth school shooting in the United States this year. Two students were wounded. Michael Landsberry, 45, a teacher and former Marine who served in Afghanistan, was killed.

The perpetrator—himself a victim of a national inability to come to grips with gun violence in any way—was 12.

An ABC report noted that an eyewitness described the scene in one word: “chaos.”

Student Thomas Wing said he was walking out of the cafeteria after eating breakfast when he saw a gun.
He told CNN affiliate KOLO that Landsberry was trying to get the student to put the weapon down. After a gunshot, Thomas started running back toward the cafeteria. He heard another shot.
"I was thinking, oh my gosh, am I going to get out of this? Am I going to die?" he told KOLO. "My heart was pounding faster than I could run."


The carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary garnered headlines last December. But the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was just one of many. It’s all part of a gory red, white and blue pattern. There were ten school shootings in 2010. There were eight school shootings in 2011. In 2012, there were a dozen awful incidents. Forty-two students and teachers were slaughtered. Seventeen were wounded.

This year the killing continues:

A 17-year-old student at Lanier High in Austin, Texas, died earlier this month after he pulled a gun and committed suicide in the school courtyard.

A 15-year-old at Carver High School in Winston-Salem, N. C. was shot in the neck by an 18-year-old classmate just as a fire drill ended. Somehow, the victim was not safe even though an armed school resource officer (a policeman assigned to the school) saw the shooting and arrested the gunman almost immediately.

In August bullets flew at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy near Atlanta when a deranged individual carrying an AK-47 opened fire. This time students, faculty and police were probably saved, not by a gun, but by Antoinette Tuff. Tuff, a school secretary, managed to talk the shooter into laying down his weapon.

Six died in a bloodbath at Santa Monica College in June and four others were wounded. The assailant was garbed in black and wearing a ballistic vest. According to police he carried a semi-automatic assault rifle.

The N.R.A. will insist, “We need to arm teachers.” Perhaps they mean we should arm them like Navy Seals, so they’re not outgunned during the next school shooting. There will be a “next.” You can count on that here in one of the most heavily-armed nations on earth.

Just hope your children aren't among the victims.

A student at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, Ohio was critically injured in April after he pulled out a pistol during first period and shot himself.

A former University of Central Florida student died by his own hand in March, after apparently planning a Virginia Tech-style mass shooting. He first pulled a dormitory fire alarm, probably hoping to lure more victims into the open. His plan was disrupted when a roommate stumbled upon him in their room. The gunman pointed a weapon and his roommate fled and dialed 911. The gunman was found dead soon after, lying next to “an assault weapon, a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and four homemade bombs in a backpack.”

January 2013 was a particularly gory month. There were eight incidents. On the 31st classes at Price Middle School in Atlanta were broken up by gunfire when a classmate shot a 14-year-old in the head. A teacher was injured and once more a school resource officer managed to disarm the assailant.

Two days earlier a 60-year-old Alabama man with mental problems boarded a school bus and shot and killed the driver. He then took a 6-year-old hostage and held the child for several days in an underground bunker.

Students at Lone Star College in Houston found themselves hiding in closets when a fight on campus ended with bullets flying. The campus was locked down, and three students were wounded, before police could take two individuals into custody.

Tyrone Lawson, 17, of Chicago, wasn’t safe when both his life and a high school basketball game he was attending were ended. In the parking lot, after the final buzzer, he was hit by multiple gunshots. And this, despite what school officials termed “a significant security presence both inside and outside the gym.” His mother remembered sadly: "He asked if he could go to the game. I gave him the money to go to the game, and [by] 9:30, my son was dead."

Another shooting occurred in the parking lot at Hazard Community and Technical College in Hazard, Kentucky. Three died, including a 12-year-old girl.

After a regular basketball game ended at Detroit’s Osborn High, a pickup game on a nearby court led to an altercation. A pistol was fired and a 16-year-old collapsed to the asphalt, badly wounded.

A dispute over financial aid ended in yet another school shooting. A student opened fire at the Stevens Institute of Business and Arts, striking a faculty adviser in the chest. When police approached in a stairwell he turned the gun on himself.

Finally, Ryan Heber—an unarmed teacher in Bakersfield, California—managed to convince a 16-year-old student to put down a shotgun. But not before the boy badly wounded a classmate, fired at and missed another, and not till Heber was hit in the head by a ricocheting pellet. According to reporters one terrified student called her parents from inside a locked closet. Another told her parents “she saw a classmate on the floor in a pool of blood.”


Still, the N.R.A. isn’t worried. And gun manufacturers continue to enjoy record sales. In 2012, the FBI ran 16.8 million background checks on gun purchasers. In the first six months of 2013 the pace only accelerated. Federal authorities ran 11.4 million additional background checks during that period.

At this rate, perhaps safety will finally be achieved when every American is armed to the teeth.

Then, perhaps, school children and teachers will be safe at their desks. That is: unless a classmate or some crazed individual happens to be planning to open fire.


On the same day as the Sparks shooting the New York Times ran another editorial citing the mediocrity of this nation's teachers as a major problem in education. 

I will comment on this tomorrow.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Way of the Whigs! Republican Party Reaches Nadir in Popular Opinion

Call it official. Americans now hate the Republican Party.

In the long history of Gallup polling the GOP this week touched new lows. Today only 28% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the GOP. Worse, if you are the preternaturally-tanned John Boehner, the Gallup poll numbers look like your party jumped off a cliff. The “favorable opinion” line on the graph points straight down.

This is the kind of political nadir no one living in America today has ever seen.

Even worse, the Grand Old Party has an unfavorable rating of 62%, also the highest ever recorded, the kind of rating not seen since the demise of the Whig Party.

It’s so bad even 27% of those who identify themselves as “Republicans” don’t like the Republican Party. Only half of moderate Republicans say they “mostly vote” for Republicans during elections, another bad sign for the nutty right.

How do we account for this decline in the popularity of the Republican Party? How have they earned their high “unfavorable ratings?” The racists, bullies and imbeciles who speak for and lead the party have had to work hard. The Frankenstein monster the GOP created, the Tea Party wing, have played a major role.

Let us count the ways Republicans have managed to drive down their own ratings:

Shutting down the government certainly didn't help (with 62% of Americans placing blame on Republicans for the debacle and 70% expressing disapproval of GOP tactics). A few of the “lowlights” on the path to the lowest "favorable" ratings ever:

1. Planning to shut down the government all along and then denying any blame for the pain that might result. According to Michael A. Needham of the conservative Heritage Action group this shutdown has been in the planning since right-wingers gathered last January and decided to use the power of the purse to defund Obamacare. “At least at Heritage Action, we felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.” So they picked it, like spoiled punks, with the Koch brothers investing $200 million in support of the cause.

2. Denying death benefits to families of four U.S. military service members killed last weekend in Afghanistan. This was so unpopular even Tea Party stalwarts quickly voted to pass a special funding measure to rectify the situation.

3. Closing down the National Park system, canceling plans for at least six weddings in Yosemite! Great idea! And turning away tens of thousands of visitors daily, because the GOP apparently hates Nature. “We’re all kind of pissed off,” was how Karen Najaran, 60, put it when she was turned away at the gates to Yosemite.

4. Killing the economy, even in bright red states like Utah. One hotel owner outside of Zion National Park admits losing $19,000 in canceled reservations. (This has forced Republican governors to offer to pay the tab to reopen the parks!)

5. Furloughing hundreds of thousands of government workers, cutting GDP by $1.6 billion per week, and putting a dent in consumer spending. Nothing makes you more unpopular than taking money out of workers pockets—kind of a conservative specialty!

(Ironically, Congress still gets paid. That's how the popularity of the Republican Party goes down!!)

Throwing repeated hissy fits. (This includes blaming ACORN for loss of the 2008 election. Next, you warn that providing government health care to those without health insurance will lead to unplugging Granny, who already has government health care. Then you threaten to secede after another well-deserved electoral defeat in 2012. And now you claim Obama should be impeached because he won’t negotiate about the Affordable Healthcare Act. Why is he so stubborn? Because both houses of Congress passed it, he signed it, and the U. S. Supreme Court upheld it).

Republicans eating their own! With the Tea Party attacking anyone not deemed conservative enough, and by that, apparently this would mean anyone not willing to return to the good old days of burning witches and executing Sodomites, moderate GOP voices have been silenced. That's how the popularity of the Republican Party goes down!!!

Ted Cruz! Even most Republican lawmakers don’t like the arrogant junior U. S. Senator from Texas. Mike Lee, a Cruz ally, whined about a recent meeting of Republican senators. “It was an all-out attack against Ted Cruz and me. It was unflattering. It was unfair. It was demeaning. It was demeaning to Sen. Cruz and me, but more than anything, it was demeaning to those who engaged in the attack.”

Having Ted Cruz, kind of a weasel, as the face of the shutdown and the conscience (such as it is) of your party.

Driving down the popularity of your own party by having ultra-conservative Colorado members of the U. S. House of Representatives vote against money to help areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Then turning around and asking for federal disaster relief in the wake of recent flooding in Boulder, Colorado. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a member of the Republican Party, himself, put it succinctly: “They’re hypocrites. That’s what they are.”

Having Glenn Beck as the nutty voice of your party. (This past March he claimed that a shape-shifting lizard-human might be working for the Secret Service.)

Also helping make the GOP unpopular: Rush Limbaugh, hater of women, hater of gays, and pretty much hater of everyone except Rush Limbaugh, and possibly Sarah Palin.

Making women cringe with calls for vaginal probes and an end to abortions in cases of rape and incest. Because God wants you to get pregnant! And refusing to support the Equal Pay Act and a thousand other insults to females in general.

Wanting to bomb Syria, or even puts “boots on the ground” as GOP Senator James Inhofe suggested in May. Then blaming President Obama for drawing a red line and threatening to bomb Syria, but not doing so. Not to mention, earning bonus “unpopularity points” by claiming that President Obama is trampling the U. S. Constitution, and guilty of treason, when he asks Congress to give him authority to take action in Syria (by a 62-30% margin, Americans opposed U. S. military action).

Blocking attempts to raise the minimum wage (favored by Americans 71-27%, by young people, 18-29, 78-20%, and even narrowly by Republicans, 50-48%). Also: attacking unionized workers, because union workers ask for higher wages.

Ignoring the needs of middle class families, while demanding lower taxes for giant corporations because…well, these corporations are racking up the highest profits in history.

Promising to focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs,” during every election and then spending the last three years voting 42 times to kill the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Rick Perry! He's helping lower Republican ratings by traveling to Maryland and other states to convince businesses to move to Texas. There you can pay lower taxes, avoid being bothered by government regulations, including safety measures, blow up a town now and then, and provide subpar wages.

And that's how the popularity of the Republican Party goes down!!!

Blocking immigration reform and routinely insulting Hispanic voters! Who can forget Congressman Steven King’s comments about more immigrant children serving as drug mules than can hope to become high school valedictorians? (By a 64-30% margin Hispanic voters born in the United States favor the Democratic Party).

Hating on gay people (with the tide turning, too, in part, because fair-minded people notice the gross ignorance of leaders on the right. This would include Michele Bachmann, who once insisted that gay people did have the right to marry, just like anyone else. Just so long as a gay man married a woman and a gay woman married a man, which kind of defeated the purpose. If a national referendum were held today gay marriage would be legalized by a 52-47% margin, with voters, ages 18 to 34, supporting the idea 69-27%.)

Watching people who have a favorable opinion of your party (really old people) die off with each passing day. Three-fourths of younger voters, for instance, associate climate deniers (a cottage industry on the right) with words like “ignorant,” “out of touch,” or “crazy.”

That's how the popularity of your party goes down--and straight into the grave.

Last but not least, you clinch your ranking as the most unpopular political party ever by screaming “tyranny” every time anyone mentions any gun control measure. Bonus points for saying that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was staged by the Obama administration! (By an 83-17% margin Americans told Gallup last April that they would support background checks on all gun purchases.)

Keep up the good work, GOP leaders.

If you force the federal government to default on October 17, even though you insist (like a vaginal probe) it won’t hurt, the popularity of the Republican Party can drop even farther.

Even scientists hate the GOP.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

If Only Goldman Sachs Ran the Public Schools!

Alright, teachers: You’ve heard what the right-wing crowd has been shouting. The public school monopoly is bad! Teachers’ unions and tenure only protect lazy workers. Taxpayers get fleeced and the nation’s schools fail badly.

Only business methods can save the children.

That’s the argument, anyway. But I wonder:  why does anyone believe cash-crazy corporations will actually care about kids?

If we say that public schools should follow a “business model” then what is that model? We already know how one version works with for-profit colleges. They’d enroll cows in physics classes if only the cows would agree to pay the tuition.

What about the business model of JPMorgan, currently working on a deal with the Justice Department to provide $4 billion in relief to all the homeowners the company shafted in regard to their mortgages? The company is also considering an agreement that would involve $7 billion in penalties.

If you figure the average public school teacher today earns $56,000, this one company is about to admit to questionable practices equal to the annual salary of 196,428 educators—with a little left over to hire some substitutes.

Introducing business methods in the schools sounds wonderful if all you ever do is watch Fox News. But with business methods you get “business ethics.” And where business is involved the greatest good is piling up the greatest profit. Consider, for example, nine Japanese automotive parts manufacturers now having pleaded guilty to price fixing in the U. S. market. They are set to pay $740 million in criminal fines, bringing their total bill to $1.6 billion.

That’s another 28,571 teachers.

How about copying the drug companies, who sell their outstanding products for use on our children? Plenty of models to follow here: Johnson and Johnson, fined $70 million in 2011 for bribing doctors (and double points for doctors who took kickbacks). That fine alone would pay the average annual salaries of 1,000 school nurses.

Even better, in 2012, J & J paid a fine of $1.2 billion for deceptive marketing of Risperdal. Did we mention that our drug might increase the risks of suicide in teens?

No? We didn’t?

Sorry about your daughter.

You can pile up great examples just from the drug companies: GlaxoSmithKline hit for $3 billion in 2012 to settle claims of marketing antidepressants illegally and withholding information about health risks of one of its diabetes medications. Or: Bristol Myers Squibb, fined $515 million for marketing Abilify to treat behavior problems in children—then hiding evidence of potentially fatal side effects—oh, and getting doctors on board to push prescriptions anyway, offering “kickbacks and expensive vacations to luxury resorts.”

In fact, if you total up the ten biggest fines paid by the drug companies (Amgen, Merck, Pfizer and others) you have $11.579 billion.

Just for fun, let’s call that enough to pay 3,879 school nurses, 5,542 school counselors and another 196,428 teachers.

Need a few art instructors? How about copying the business model of Glafira Rosales, a New York City art dealer, who stood the concept of “artist” on its head and sold 63 fake art masterworks for a cool $80 million. That’s small potatoes compared to Merck or Pfizer but still enough to hire 1,429 elementary school art teachers.

Speaking of art, how about Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors? That man does love his Picassos—spending $155 million recently to buy one of his pieces. Cohen’s company is under investigation and his hedge fund is looking at $2 billion in penalties for shady dealings. So far, SAC has paid a mere $616 million in fines, but even if we stick with that lower figure we can hire another 11,000 fifth grade science teachers.

Here’s one of my favorites—a lesson in ethics teachers might discuss with students next time they do character education. This past summer Henry’s Turkey Service was ordered to pay a judgment of $240 million in back wages after a jury found the company guilty of profiting for decades by supplying mentally disabled workers to an Iowa turkey plant at wages of 41 cents per hour. Even more impressive, ethics-wise, this was the company’s third trip to court, including a 2009 ruling that closed down a rundown Iowa bunkhouse where 32 employees lived. Those men had been there since the 1970s and hadn’t had a raise in all the time they were employed by the company.

The fine Henry’s paid equals the salaries of 4,286 special education teachers.

Another fine example of the business model we might copy in the schools would be Massey Energy. The company was docked $209 million recently for its role in the deaths of twenty-nine West Virginia miners in 2010. These deaths were ruled “entirely preventable” and found to be a result of a decision by top executives to keep two sets of safety records, one for the company and one to fake out federal safety inspectors.

Maybe schools could follow the business strategy of West Fertilizer Incorporated. The firm decided not to notify Homeland Security that it was storing 270 tons of volatile ammonium nitrate, even though the law requires a company to report if it has even a single ton. In April the company blew up its own facility and a good part of nearby West, Texas, and fifteen people were killed. And yes, three of four schools in the West Independent School District were flattened or irreparably damaged.

How about Wal-Mart: docked $81 million this past spring for dumping hazardous materials in local sewers and waterways?

And who can forget the awesome job done by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico? Eleven workers were killed—and the company paid $4.525 billion in penalties, while Trans Ocean, also held partially responsible for the disaster, was billed $1.4 billion.

What about Wal-Mart (again) facing charges of bribing foreign officials under the Federal Corrupt Practices Act? No word on penalties yet: but in similar cases Siemens paid $800 million, Halliburton $579 million and BAE Systems $400 million.

Throw in Bernard Ebbers who once earned enough to be able to afford a $6,000 shower curtain and then got busted for engineering an $11 billion Ponzi scheme. Don’t forget Bernie Madoff, mastermind of the “scam of the century.” His machinations led to the loss of another $50 billion. Then you had Ken Lay who ran Enron into the ground and just so happened to wipe out $60 billion dollars in stock market value.

Many of the investors these scumbags cheated were…yes…public school workers.

Hey, what about News Corporation—which hopes to get into the business of selling computer tablets and software to America’s kids? Rupert Murdoch’s company admitted bribing London police officers to get tips and coughed up $139 million to settle just some of hundreds of charges of phone hacking of private cell phones, including that of a teenage murder victim.

Why not ask our physical education teachers to copy the methods of that business juggernaut, the National Football League? If you missed that heart-warming story recently, the NFL agreed last month to pay $750 million in damages to former players and their families related to catastrophic head injuries.

Honestly, it’s going to be really hard for schools to decide which business model to choose from. How about HSBC, the banking giant? The company was just ordered to pay a penalty of $1.92 billion for “allowing itself to be used to launder a river of money flowing out of Mexico and [for] other banking lapses.”

There’s always UBS, a Swiss bank, if you prefer—considering that the company was fined $780 million by the United States government, after officials admitted offering shelter to thousands of tax cheats—and fined again, $450 million, for rigging interest rates. Then there’s Bank of America, hit for $2.4 billion for questionable operations.

Can we also agree that where the “business model” is concerned the entire pornography industry is doing a bang-up job of creating jobs and profits! That’s another $10 to $14 billion.

Add up all these examples and you have $135.271 billion, not to mention some tasty pesticides in your drinking water and thousands of young women swallowed up annually as part of the booming sex trade.

Enough to pay another 2,415,556 teachers.

Let us count the ways to cheat in business! You have Kia and Hyundai faking gas mileage figures. Halliburton admits destroying evidence related to the company’s role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Novartis is under investigation both for bribing Chinese doctors and providing kickbacks to doctors in this country.

Certainly, the public schools are going to have a hard time topping the creative tactics of Goldman Sachs. This brilliant business model gives new meaning to the words: “The wheels on the bus go round and round.”

In 2010 Goldman bought up critical aluminum-storage facilities in Detroit and went into business supplying car manufacturers and beverage companies. In case you missed this story of hard-working business folk doing what business folk do best, you might not know that delays in aluminum shipments grew from six weeks to sixteen months. Goldman claimed to be hamstrung by a shortage of forklifts and drivers. Unfortunately, there were only enough forklifts and drivers to load 1,000 tons of aluminum in Warehouse A and ship it over to Warehouse B and unload. Then Warehouse B loaded and shipped another stack of 1,000 tons of aluminum over to Warehouse C and unloaded. Then C loaded and shipped a third stack of 1,000 tons to Warehouse A, and then the company filled out the paperwork to show that, hey, they shipped the 3,000 tons of aluminum required every day under an agreement with producers.

Naturally, prices rose and Goldman is estimated to have made an extra $5 billion in profit.

If schools here in Ohio would only copy Goldman’s strategy they could stop wasting time asking voters to pass levies!

Finally, the public schools might copy apparel companies like The Gap, which buys jeans from factories in Bangladesh because workers there—including children—earn a minimum wage of $37 a month and don’t have much recourse if they get crushed in collapsing factories.

What the heck! Why not let American businesses take over the public schools—and then we can even bring back child labor!

Remember, when it comes to putting profits before children, or children before profits, we already have plenty of examples to tell us how American companies might choose.

Author’s note: My father was a small businessman and the most honest individual I have ever known. I realize many business people are honest, upright individuals.

The same is true of most teachers.

Still, it’s a myth that the business model can save U. S. education.

Extra Credit Reading: You might also like: “Privatizing the Public Schools and the Loch Ness Monster Bonus.”