A Look Into Betsy Devos’s Detroit Schools

Last year, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven Detroit students, claiming that severe underfunding, mismanagement and discrimination had deprived them of a quality education. The suit specifically claims that the students were denied “access to literacy,” which they argue is a constitutional right.

Detroit’s education system underwent some significant changes in recent years. After taking office in 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled legislature set out to dramatically expand the charter school system. Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run, often by for-profit corporations and multi-billionaires. The current Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, was a key player in the proliferation of charter schools in Michigan and worked closely with the legislature on “education reform.” But over five years later, the results, as the class action lawsuit lays bare, have been shocking, to say the least.

The suit details the conditions inside the Detroit charter school system. A summary has been compiled below.

“The physical conditions of the schools are unsafe and include vermin infestation, extreme temperatures, insufficient or inappropriate facilities, and overcrowding. The schools lack the capacity to meet students’ social-emotional needs and the learning needs of English Learners. As a result of the incredible challenge of teaching at these school sites, schools predictably lack sufficiently qualified teachers. Instead, schools are characterized by illogical or inadequate allocation of resources and the complete lack of any considered policy or system for the delivery of education.”

Condition of textbooks:

“Many classes do not have books, and the books that are available are decades out of date, damaged and defaced, with taped spines and missing pages. Not one school has textbooks for students to bring home, and therefore teachers, despite their best efforts, cannot assign meaningful regular homework. One second-grade class did not have any English Language Arts books, and the books they did have were mostly picture books. One student’s second-grade teacher sometimes directed her to use the computer for educational purposes, but the computers are frequently broken or unable to connect to the Internet and she often spends her computer time staring at a scratched screen. The third floor of the building technically had a library, but there was no librarian and students were not permitted to access the library or check out books without a teacher escort. Most of the time, the library remained locked.”

“An ELA teacher told her twelfth-grade students that she didn’t have their literature books yet because she was still taping them back together. A U.S. History class had only 5 textbooks for a class of 28 students, and an economics teacher had 25 textbooks for 118 students. A single classroom set of chemistry textbooks is used by the approximately 200 students enrolled in chemistry each year. In 2015, an outside non-profit threw away the books in the library because they were deemed too old. The books have not been replaced. There are no textbooks for the Earth Science, Physics, or Research and Development science classes, so the teachers in each of those classes rely on a section of the Biology textbook most closely related to the subject they are teaching. Because students periodically have to share textbooks for classwork, they are often unable to complete the day’s assignment, especially when the books being shared are defaced and have missing pages. Many teachers seek to make up for the lack of books by photocopying assignments, but the copy machine is frequently broken.”

“To make up for the shortfall in instructional materials and other basic supplies, including books, pens, pencils, notepaper, and printer paper, teachers in all of the schools frequently pay out of their own pockets or privately raise money online. It is not uncommon for a teacher to spend more than a thousand dollars on school supplies in a single year, and some spend as much as $5000, roughly one-sixth of their annual salary. At all of the schools, teachers applied for grants, requested donations on donorschoose.com to obtain textbooks and classroom supplies, scavenged yard sales, or solicited donations from friends and families. Many teachers attempt to utilize technology to compensate for these shortcomings, but there are insufficient computers at the school sites, and the Internet connections are often too weak to accommodate more than one class at a time. Moreover, many of the students lack access to the Internet outside of school; a 2015 article in the Detroit Free Press found that 70% of Detroit students have no Internet access at home.”

Physical Conditions:

“Students face unsafe and unsanitary physical conditions that make learning nearly impossible. Overcrowding, failure to regulate temperature, dangerous or missing equipment, pervasive rodents, and the other conditions described here mean that sustained, consistent instruction cannot occur in these schools. The City of Detroit admitted that during the 2015-16 academic year, none of the school district’s buildings were in compliance with city health and safety codes. No entity has taken steps to address learning-prohibitive physical conditions in Plaintiffs’ schools, including extreme temperatures and excessive overcrowding.”

“All of the schools that are currently operating have been infested by vermin. Students and teachers have frequently encountered mice, mice droppings, rats, bedbugs, and/or cockroaches. Teachers keep canisters of Raid on their desks to address the many cockroaches throughout the school. One teacher was forced to work on a computer next to a decomposing mouse that produced a horrible smell. Classes are interrupted by students calling the teacher over to kill a cockroach or screaming as a mouse runs across the floor. One school is frequently filled with yellow-jackets and multiple students and teachers have been stung.”

“Absent or malfunctioning heating and air conditioning systems subject students and teachers to extreme temperatures, sometimes necessitating school closings or early dismissal. All of the schools periodically experience classroom temperatures that range from so cold the students can see their breath to above 90 degrees. During the summer, one school’s west-facing classroom reached 110 degrees. The windows either couldn’t open or had to remain closed because they were unstable and would crash down unpredictably. On the first day of the 2016-17 school year, the temperatures in the school grew so extreme that multiple students fainted, both students and teachers got so sick they threw up, and multiple teachers developed heat rashes. In contrast, the heat did not come on for several days after the students returned from winter break in the 2015-16 school year, and the students and teachers had to wear winter coats, hats, and scarves and could see their breath. Students visibly shiver throughout the day. The boilers are not up to code and the windows are damaged.”

Facilities:

“The physical conditions of school buildings are decrepit and unsafe. One school’s playground equipment, which is designed for 2-5 year olds, although the school serves children ages 5-14, is frequently broken. One of the playground slides is disconnected at the base so it shifts around, and the other has cracks with sharp pieces of plastic sticking out. Multiple students have sliced or otherwise injured themselves while playing. Students also find bullets, used condoms, sex toys, and dead vermin on the playground. At another school, the only outside area for the students to play was a small, fenced-in rectangle in front of the school, so the school held recess across the street in an open field where it could not control access from individuals who might pose a threat to the children.”

“Ceilings frequently buckle or collapse, raining plaster onto the floor. Floors are often covered in water from leaks, causing students to slip and fall and generating moldy smells. Buckets are put out to catch rainwaiter or melting snow. The walls in corner classrooms are water-stained, and water-soaked tiles periodically fall from the ceiling, sometimes hitting students in the middle of class. One school’s roof was not repaired until the principal obtained an outside grant through a private foundation to cover the costs. In one classroom, a window that fell out was not fixed for over a year. During the winter of 2015-16, the teacher covered the gaping hole with corrugated cardboard, duct tape, and a bookcase. The sewage periodically backs up, leading to waterlogged carpets and mold.”

“School meals feature moldy bread and expired milk. The students know not to drink out of the water fountains, which are frequently infested with cockroaches and maggots. The seats in the auditorium are broken, and the entrance to the school is riddled with potholes, causing students and parents to twist their ankles on the way into the building. Bullet holes in walls and classroom windows go unrepaired. Toilets, urinals, sinks, and locker room showers are regularly out of order, and the bathrooms lack toilet paper and soap. The water fountains are filthy or sealed off with plastic or unusable because they are contaminated with lead. Walking through the halls and bathrooms, students see broken water fountains and toilets covered in black garbage bags. At one school, urine frequently leaks out of the men’s room and soaks the carpet in the hallway, causing the hallway to smell for days.”

“During the 2015-16 school year, a fire broke out in the school and students were given no notice to evacuate because the Osborn fire alarm system failed. One teacher became aware of the fire only after a student opened the door and thick smoke poured inside. The alarm system was not fixed until teachers called the fire marshal, and there continue to be missing fire extinguishers.”

Extreme Overcrowding:

“Students outnumber desks, and students are squeezed together so tightly that teachers cannot walk through the room. Desks are crammed wall-to-wall, with no room for aisles. One classroom had 42 students but only 32 desks. Another classroom had 52 students but only 37 chairs and fewer desks. The overcrowding also significantly exacerbates the extreme heat at many points during the year.”

Meeting Students’ Needs:

“After one student was kidnapped and murdered, his classmates were not provided any opportunity to grieve. No additional counselors were brought in, and the teachers were not offered any support or training on how to speak with the students about the tragedy. Instead, on the day the police found the boy’s body, the only school-wide reaction was an announcement by loudspeaker to remind the students, who were using their phones to share details about what happened and to communicate their grief, that cell phones were not allowed at school.”

“When children act in ways motivated by the trauma they have experienced, or act out due to embarrassment over their inability to perform basic academic tasks successfully, the schools’ response is to punish and exclude them from the classroom, rather than to implement restorative practices for support and healing.”

Providing Instruction to English Learners (“ELs”):

“Schools also serve a number of students whose first language is not English. But despite representations to the contrary, schools employ no teachers trained in the delivery of EL instruction and provide no dedicated EL instruction whatsoever. In the upper grades, about 20 of the approximately 80 students were English learners, but the English language class available to them covered the same elementary phrases for two years. As a result, multiple students never obtained even basic English proficiency and were unable to follow any of the material covered in core classes. Instead of being given the support that she needed in English language instruction, one student, who was more comfortable in Spanish than in English, was frequently called upon to assist her Spanish-speaking classmates by summarizing the material for them in Spanish. Some students relied on Google Translate in order to teach themselves English, although many students did not have access to the Internet outside of school. One student stole his history textbook so that he could translate it at home using his phone. One parent was unaware until recently that her sons were so far behind because she received English-only report cards for them.”

Teaching Staff:

“Schools lack a sufficient, and sufficiently stable, set of qualified and properly trained teaching staff. Given the challenging teaching and learning conditions in these schools, they unsurprisingly experience high teacher turnover. Teachers are frequently subject to salary freezes, and many feel they must spend their own meager salaries to make up for shortfalls in classroom supplies and instructional materials. Heavy reliance on Teach for America instructors, who typically stay for only two to three years, also contributes to high turnover. Failure to provide adequate support to students who have experienced adversity also results in burnout and vicarious trauma among teachers. The frequent teacher turnover predictably creates teaching vacancies, some of which occur during the school year because teachers cannot continue working in these conditions or they are forced to take medical leaves.”

“There are hundreds of vacancies each school year. These vacancies are typically filled by non-certificated paraprofessionals, substitutes, or misassigned teachers who lack any expertise or knowledge in the course content. At one school, the middle school science classes at Hamilton are currently taught by a paraprofessional who states that she does not understand the material and cannot lead classroom experiments. One math teacher left several weeks after the start of the 2015 school year due to frustration with large class sizes and lack of support. He was temporarily replaced by a paraprofessional and then a special education teacher. Eventually, the highest performing eighth grade student was asked to take over teaching both seventh and eighth grade math. This student taught both math classes for a month. Due to overcrowding, the kindergarten and second grade classrooms were split in half early in the 2015-16 school year, but the school was unable to find additional teachers so the new classes were covered by long-term substitutes for the remainder of the school year.”

“Approximately half of the 25 teachers who started at one school in the fall of 2012 quit by the end of the second semester. By the end of the second year, the high school science teacher had changed seven times, the high school history teacher three times, the high school math teacher more than five times, and the high school English teacher six times. After the Spanish teacher quit, teachers who were not certificated to teach Spanish but who happened to know some Spanish took over teaching the Spanish classes on a rotating schedule. After the physical education teacher quit, the homeroom teachers surrendered their prep periods to cover gym class until it was eliminated altogether.”

“As a result of these stressful and appalling conditions, some teachers in these schools miss classes. Some teachers are absent as many as 50 days in one year. Unsurprisingly, short-term substitute teachers often cannot be obtained. When a teacher is absent and no short-term substitute is available, classes are frequently combined, so one teacher may have up to 60 students in a single classroom. The budget for short-term substitute teachers is generally exhausted by January. After this date, classes are typically covered by paraprofessionals or by teachers from other classes who have a preparation period. If no teacher or paraprofessional is available, the students are split up and sent to sit in other classrooms with no regard to age group or subject matter. In addition, because of the substitute shortage, teachers were told that they would be able to use only 5 of their 10 allotted sick days and would be docked pay for any additional days they took off.”

“In high schools, other teachers must sacrifice their prep periods to cover classes for absent teachers. Students at one school, for example, estimate that they have a substitute teacher or no teacher at all during at least one, and often two, class periods a day. The teachers estimate they are asked to cover for an absent teacher approximately twice per week. If no teacher is available, two classes are often combined, resulting in upwards of 60 students in a single classroom. When a teacher is asked to substitute or classrooms are combined, that teacher’s qualifications to teach the relevant subject matter are not considered. In other circumstances, classes may be covered by administrators, security guards, paraprofessionals, or no one at all. When there is no adult available to staff a classroom, sometimes students are permitted to sit in classrooms or the gym unsupervised. At one school, students were frequently sent to other classrooms that could accommodate all the students. They would then be shown a movie, such as Kung Fu Panda 3 or Frozen. At one point in the 2015-16 school year, so many teachers were absent and so few substitutes were available that over 80 students gathered in the gym despite no physical education class being scheduled for that time.”

Some success story, huh? Betsy Devos is currently exporting it to the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit was tossed by a U.S. District Court judge. The plaintiffs are appealing the ruling.

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Justice for Kino Jimenez

On the Fourth of July, Kino Jimenez was dining at a San Antonio Whataburger when three teenage patrons began making some disturbing comments. Sporting red MAGA hats, they started discussing the film “The Purge” and expressed their wish to purge African-Americans and Latinos. They proceeded to joke about hanging blacks and killing off minorities and wished it could be legal for white people to slaughter all other races for the Fourth of July, characterizing such a massacre as “the perfect party.”

Other patrons, deeply disturbed by their violent and genocidal remarks, politely asked the teens to cut it out, to no avail. Eventually, Kino Jimenez decided to confront them. As the confrontation escalated, one of the teens whipped out his phone and began recording. On camera, he quickly changed his tune and innocuously claimed that he was “just supporting the president.” Jimenez finally the bait, dumping the teen’s drink on him and walking away with his hat.

The teen promptly posted the video online, framing the incident as an unprovoked attack. The video quickly went viral, with prominent right-wingers like Donald Trump Jr. weighing in on his social media page. In media interviews, the teen falsely claimed that he just “wanted to have a conversation” and that Jimenez “was entitled to his opinion.” The media reported the teen’s version of the story as fact, and, by and large, did not bother to verify his claims.

One media outlet interviewed a witness, who disputed the teen’s claims and revealed that he had made threats of violence and genocide against racial minorities leading up to the confrontation. Before long, the witness and his family were being inundated with death threats. The media outlet suddenly retracted the witness’s statement, claiming it conflicted with the victim’s mother’s version of the events.

Jimenez has been arrested and charged with felony theft. His bail has been set at $5000. He has also been fired from his job and expelled from the Texas Green Party.

What happened here is plainly obvious. These racist Trump supporters deliberately provoked Jimenez into attacking them so they could pose as innocent victims for the cameras and push the false narrative that Trump supporters are under attack by violent leftists. Both the media and the police have taken their version of events at face value, while dismissing anyone who contradicts it.

The far-right has unsurprisingly pounced on this story, always hungry for any opportunity to victimize themselves and villainize their political opponents, essentially flipping reality on its head. They have blasted Jimenez all across the Internet and vowed to ruin his life. Indeed, Jimenez has become the latest victim of the right-wing online lynch mob.

Kino Jimenez needs our support. Although dumping a drink on the teen and taking his away may not have been the best course of action, the notion that the incident was completely unprovoked is nonsense. The racist teens should be in jail for their threats of violence and genocide, not Jimenez for standing up to them. Please spread the word so we can clear Jimenez’s name and set the record straight.

Justice for Kino Jimenez!

Child Rapists Given Preferential Treatment by American Justice System

From birth, Americans are primed to put their faith in authority. A steady stream of primetime crime dramas, featuring heroic law enforcement authorities saving the day and locking up the bad guys, prompt the general public to trust the criminal justice system. While acknowledging its flaws, Americans generally believe their justice system is fundamentally fair and just.

Unfortunately, their perception is not consistent with reality.

As mentioned in the previous article, only 29% of child sexual assault cases result in an arrest and those convicted are routinely handed light sentences. Here is a list of a few notable examples:

In Texas, a judge sentenced a confessed child rapist to just 45 days in jail. The rapist was not required to be listed as a sex offender, attend treatment or even stay away from children. Even after the perpetrator’s confession, the judge insisted that the victim “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be” and emphasized her past sexual history.

In Delaware, a DuPont heir was convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter and sexually abusing his toddler son. However, he was spared jail time because the judge declared that he would “not fare well” in prison.

In Montana, a man who repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter was sentenced to just 60 days in jail. The judge defended his decision, arguing that the rapist needed an opportunity to improve, rehabilitate and reintegrate back into the community.

In Michigan, a man who kidnapped and raped two young girls was sentenced to just one year in a county jail, serving only six months. He went on to rape another child after being released and was subsequently sentenced to four years in prison. After being released again, a judge awarded him joint custody of one of his victim’s children, which he did not request.

In Alabama, a convicted child rapist was spared jail time and instead required to serve two years in a program aimed at nonviolent criminals. His attorney argued that the punishment was too harsh.

In Pennsylvania, a cop who violently raped and tortured two little boys over a seven-year period was sentenced to just nine months in a county jail and given work release.

In California, a judge reduced the sentence of a man convicted of raping a toddler by 15 years. The judge went to great lengths to downplay the crime and humanize the rapist, arguing that he “didn’t mean to hurt” the toddler and that a 25-year mandatory sentence would be “cruel and unusual punishment” for him.

These cases are not isolated incidents. Post-Crescent Media examined 153 child sexual assault cases between the period of August 2009 and September 2014 and found that only about half of the cases ended in a conviction and most perpetrators served an average prison sentence of just 3-5 years. Many were spared prison. The examination also found that over half of defendants were released from jail during court proceedings and 40% were not required to register as sex offenders.

When reviewing child sexual assault cases, a startling pattern emerges, one marked by sympathy for child rapists and indifference towards victims. One possible explanation is the standard perception of child rapists as visibly evil, barbaric monsters. Ordinary-looking white guys, an archetype commonly featured and glorified in popular culture, do not comport with such an image.

The United States Has Produced 67% of the World’s Serial Killers

The United States regularly touts itself as the best country in the world, invariably spurring rounds of boastful “We’re #1!” chants by proud, patriotic Americans. While, in actuality, the country falls near or at the bottom of most OECD rankings, it has earned its spot at the top in one notable category: serial killers.

The United States has produced a staggering 3204 serial killers, amounting to 67% of the world’s serial killers on record in a country containing just 4.35% of the world’s population. The figure is more than 19 times higher than the country with the second-highest number of serial killers, which happens to be the US’s closest ally, England. Roughly 90% of serial killers are men, over half are white and their average age is 27.5 years. In addition, more than 20% of serial killers had a military background, nearly triple the rate of the general population. The top three motives of serial killers are enjoyment (thrill, lust, power), financial gain and anger. The New Yorker estimates that there are currently more than 2,000 serial killers at large in the United States.

Interestingly, four of the six countries that make up the Anglosphere are among the top ten countries with the most serial killers, and seven out of the top ten countries are located in the West. Moreover, fourteen out of the top twenty countries with the most serial killers are predominately white countries. And despite being tarred as violent and barbaric countries in the West, not one predominately Arab or Muslim country made the top twenty.

One common thread that runs through serial killers is child abuse/neglect. One 2005 study found that serial killers are six times more likely to suffer from physical abuse, nine times more likely to suffer from sexual abuse and twenty-five times more likely to suffer from psychological abuse as children than the general population. Other studies have found similar results.

Unsurprisingly, the USA has one of the highest rates of child abuse in the world. Every year, there are more than four million child maltreatment referral reports received, involving more than seven million children. An average of four to seven children die every day from child abuse and neglect, and 70% of victims are ages two or younger. Moreover, one in five girls and one in six boys is a victim of child sex abuse, and one out of every five teenagers has reported experiencing abuse either in school or home. Predictably, children who experience child abuse and neglect are about nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activity.

One possible reason for the USA’s enormous child abuse rate is the perplexing unwillingness of the American judicial system to properly punish perpetrators. In regard to child sex abuse, only 29% of cases even result in an arrest and those convicted are routinely handed light sentences. Indeed, one suspected serial killer currently awaiting trial (who also has a military background) was sentenced to just five years in a state penitentiary for sexual assault, and, upon release, picked up right where he left off. A journalist who attempted to alert the authorities to a potential serial rapist/killer on the loose was consistently rebuffed.

Post-Crescent Media examined 153 child sexual assault cases between the period of August 2009 and September 2014 and found that only about half of the cases ended in a conviction and most perpetrators served an average prison sentence of just 3-5 years. Many were spared prison. The examination also found that over half of defendants were released from jail during court proceedings and 40% were not required to register as sex offenders.

There is also an unwillingness of child welfare and law enforcement authorities to intervene in cases of child abuse. In Los Angeles, multiple social workers are facing criminal charges after failing to protect a little boy from deadly abuse by his mother and her boyfriend, who believed he was gay. Among other things, the boy was brutally beaten, forced to eat rotten food and cat feces and bound without food or water for long periods of time in a small, locked cabinet. Yet virtually all of the social workers’ investigations deemed the abuse allegations “unfounded.” In addition, several deputies visited the boy’s apartment and school on multiple occasions and each time concluded that there was no evidence of abuse. Furthermore, the deputies ignored a suicide note written by the boy and even said that his cigarette burns were “not an emergency.” The boy’s autopsy revealed a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body. Two of the social workers are still at work and all the deputies remain on the force.

This tragedy is just one of the many, many, many cases of jaw-dropping incompetence and negligence on the part of child welfare and law enforcement authorities. Even children who are removed from their homes are subject to abuse in foster or adoptive homes. Indeed, a Pennsylvania couple was recently arrested for raping, killing and chopping up their adopted daughter. The rampant abuse of adopted children in the USA even prompted Russia to impose an adoption ban on Americans in 2012.

Not only does the state fail abysmally to properly punish child abuse but it also fails to prevent such abuse. The new administration is pushing through policies that will invariably worsen child abuse by slashing funds for child welfare services, which will very likely lead to layoffs and place even heavier burdens on overworked and underpaid child welfare authorities. The Department of Education is also diverting massive funds from public schools to private schools, which are unaccountable to the public, subject to little oversight from officials and have been plagued by child abuse scandals.

While childhood trauma appears to be the leading cause of serial killers, other theories have been floated, including the glorification of serial killers in popular culture and the easy accessibility of guns. Corroborating the second theory, Radford University’s Serial Killer Database has identified shooting as the most popular killing method of serial killers. Others have pointed to hypermasculinity, militarism and white male entitlement.

But whatever the cause, one cannot dispute that serial killers are as American as apple pie. The term “serial killer” was even coined by an FBI agent. And with such an astronomical rate of serial killers, the United States is poised to retain its title as the serial killer capital of the world for the foreseeable future.

Public Media

The emergence of public media in the twentieth century shook the foundations of the media landscape. Public media would provide a valuable service to the public and rectify the numerous flaws of the private commercial media. Public media was developed in Britain in the 1920s with several lofty goals in mind. One goal was to create high quality, intellectually stimulating and culturally enriching content that would expand the horizons and broaden the cultural outlooks of viewers. Other goals included the creation of broad and diverse content and universal provision. Across the Atlantic, public media remained unavailable until the 1960s, when Newton Minow, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman, delivered a historic speech denouncing commercial television as a “vast wasteland” and calling for the creation of more creative, educational and quality content. This remarkable speech paved the way to the establishment of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1967, signaling the launch of public media in the United States. The creation of the CPB led to the development of the National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). PBS developed Sesame Street, an educational children’s series aimed at preparing children, specifically low-income children, for school. Public media, unlike commercial media, strove to provide free, quality and accessible content in order to educate, inform, enlighten and enrich viewers and build high-minded and sophisticated public citizens.

Public media brilliantly executed its goals, providing the public with groundbreaking, educational and critically acclaimed content that made a mockery of the vapid sensationalist content clogging the commercial media airwaves. However, as the era of neoliberalism crept in, public media, along with the entire public sector, suffered. Budget cut after budget cut has forced public media platforms to turn to private contributors to remain afloat. And as government funding has dried up, public media has been forced to rely more and more heavily on private donations. This trend is likely to continue. The new reactionary administration has waged war on public media, calling for the elimination of funding altogether, which would force local public media stations around the country to close their doors. Though the final negotiated budget will probably maintain some funding for public media, the appropriation will likely continue to decline. The ever-shrinking government appropriation for public media and the system’s growing reliance on private contributions pose a threat to the values and goals of public media. Private contributions from wealthy sources inevitably come with strings attached, most notably the power to influence and shape public media content in accordance with their economic interests. The wealthy sources may require public media platforms to dumb down their content in order to appeal to a wider audience and steer clear of content that is critical of certain industries and/or the capitalist system itself. Thus, by depending on private donations, public media risks compromising its fundamental values and intents and morphing into a quasi-private system.

Public media is more necessary at this point in time than ever before. As the public sphere becomes increasingly segmented and polarized, a media system that has a broad and diverse appeal is crucial. The commercial for-profit media thrives on division and strife, and a non-partisan public media system is therefore needed to help bridge the differences among people and foster mutual understanding and respect. Furthermore, public media serves the public interest by providing educational and informational content, which play an essential role in cultivating an informed, cultured and engaged citizenry capable of solving local, national and international issues. By contrast, the ratings-hungry commercial media avoids educational and informational content like the plague in order to cater to the lowest common denominator, reach the largest possible audience and maximize profits for sponsors. Finally, public media is indebted to the public, whereas private media is indebted to a handful of wealthy shareholders and advertisers. Public media is thus fundamentally democratic and helps elevate the voices of ordinary working people and create a more egalitarian society. A completely revitalized, revamped and robust public media system is needed, one that is fully funded by the government and does not accept a dime of corporate money. The revenue can easily be generated by rolling back the spate of unnecessary tax breaks handed to the wealthy over the last few decades or by cutting the bloated defense budget. The investment will be worth every penny. Media not only shapes but also reflects society. And a society marked by communication, cooperation and equality is far more preferable to one marked by antagonism, cutthroat competition and drastic inequality.

The War on Higher Education

One cannot keep abreast of the news nowadays without coming across a hit piece on higher education and college students. Mainstream media outlets routinely bemoan the alleged widespread suppression of debate and discussion and the prioritization of feelings over facts on college campuses. The right wing, as always, has been at the forefront of the assault on higher education, depicting universities as liberal indoctrination centers populated by coddled politically correct liberal arts majors intent on suppressing free speech and silencing the right. Indeed, the majority of Republican voters now view universities as harmful to the country. But is this onslaught rooted in sincere concern for free speech or is there an ulterior motive?

As a recent graduate of a public university, I found myself puzzled by the negative characterization of universities, which was completely at odds with my college experience. On my left-leaning campus, there was no PC police, no liberal indoctrination centers and no safe spaces or trigger warnings (I actually learned these terms from the media). There were simply students pursuing their degrees. When I went to the tech center or library, the conversations around me typically centered on math and science. In fact, the two most popular majors are business administration and nursing. It’s almost as if people attend college to study and prepare for a good career.

In the classroom, the professors encouraged students to ask questions and provide comments. Most classes were discussion-oriented, and for the most part, discussions were civil and respectful. Respectful conversations only went south on a couple of occasions when conservative students made derogatory comments about certain demographics and insulted and attacked both students and professors who expressed opposing viewpoints. The professors, many of whom were adjuncts, rarely pushed back, and the other students remained quiet. Not only were conservative students not silenced but their insults and bigotry often went unchallenged and professors and students would go to great lengths to accommodate them. The day after the presidential election, one student, a queer black woman whose mother is undocumented, tearfully told a pro-Trump student that she was trying to understand him and his views. I would be hard-pressed to find a Trump supporter who was trying to understand the views of the left.

Right-wing viewpoints could be heard loud and clear around campus. Every day, a preacher stood in the middle of campus and loudly proselytized his views. And after the election season, a contingent of Trump supporters would regularly congregate on a popular street corner and hold up signs that read, “Homos, Muslims and Jews: Repent or Burn in Hell.” (When other students held up their own signs that promoted tolerance and equality, the police showed up to “monitor the situation”). On another occasion, a Zionist student aggressively approached and antagonized a group of female Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members, hurling insults and slurs left and right. He succeeded in provoking a male acquaintance of the group members to slap him across the face and immediately bolted to the media, posing as a victim of a brutal anti-Semitic hate crime and calling on the university to ban SJP. The media unquestionably reported his version of the incident, and the university released a statement condemning anti-Semitic violence.

Contrary to the narrative that universities are hostile to free speech and conservatives, it is conservatives who are hostile to free speech and progressives and have the backing of both the corporate media and law enforcement. And progressive professors have found themselves under threat. A few years ago, a University of Illinois professor was fired after he criticized the 2014 Israeli massacre of Gaza. More recently, a professor was fired after she had the gall to suggest that Americans should follow the laws of the land they are on. Another professor was censured for mocking the myth of “white genocide.” And at my university, a popular African-American professor, and a noted critic of capitalism and empire, was fired after he opposed the nomination of a white woman to the chair of the African-American studies department.

As a recent college graduate, I can attest to the importance of higher education. My education introduced me to new ideas, new people and new cultures. It taught me to think critically about the world around me and question dominant ideologies and beliefs. My mind was liberated and my consciousness was raised. Herein lies the true motive behind the assault on higher education. The gravest threat to the right-wing elite is independent thought. They are terrified of a populace that questions the virtue of capitalism, the genius of the Founding Fathers, the exceptionalism of the United States and the rightness of Christianity. In short, they are terrified of a populace that challenges their power. And throughout history, the most formidable challenges to their power have been mounted on college campuses. Universities have long challenged the establishment by spearheading powerful social movements, including the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement or, more recently, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement (which is currently at risk of criminalization by Congress).

Higher education critics claim that universities muzzle free speech and debate, when, in reality, it is precisely because universities foster free speech and debate that they are being smeared and muzzled. The smear campaign against higher education thus flips reality on its head. Instances that suit the narrative are cherry-picked, overblown and generalized to the entire college population. The goal is three-fold: discredit university dissent, dissuade the masses from attending college and justify education cuts and ultimate privatization. Indeed, amid the Evergreen protests, a Republican representative called for the privatization of the university. The elite envision a public that is free of educated thinkers and populated solely by ignorant, obedient laborers who can be easily manipulated to serve their interests. Education is their only obstacle.

Progressives, leftists, free thinkers and proponents of free speech must retaliate against this Orwellian assault on higher education and expose its true motives. We must use our voices to counter media narratives and emphasize the significance of higher education. We must not only fight against the creeping privatization of education but fight for fully funded public schools and universities to enable everyone, regardless of socioeconomic background or political beliefs, to receive a world-class education and pursue their hopes and dreams.

The United States has some of the most renowned and prestigious universities in the world, and I am proud to have attended one. Hopefully we can reclaim our universities as a source of national pride rather than shame and ridicule.

A Defense of Political Correctness

I am politically correct. I think women doing comparable work should receive the same pay as men. I believe that universities should seek out faculty members from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. I am angered when unarmed black people are gunned down by the police. I support programs that help homeless people, fund AIDS research and recycle.

What’s wrong with that?

It has become trendy lately to point fingers at the so-called politically correct as the “thought police,” “new McCarthyists,” even “neo-Nazis.” Critics have denounced non-sexist language and multiculturalism in a deluge of newspaper and magazine articles. PC opponents have waged a blistering attack on college campuses across the country, rejecting what they claim is regimented language and behavior. Indeed, PC-bashing is all the rage.

But political correctness is not about blindly policing language. It is about making conscious behavioral and linguistic choices and understanding why it is appropriate to do so. It is PC to call a 25-year-old female a “woman” rather than a ”girl,” because it puts her on equal footing with her male counterparts, who are not called “boys.” It is PC to say “humanity” and “police officer” instead of “mankind” and “policeman” because gender-neutral terms do not exclude or devalue women.

Women and minorities have long been required to check their speech. They have been taught to stifle themselves to make sure that they do not make others feel uncomfortable, to never create a scene. Thus, women do not always speak up when men sexually harass them on the street. People of color don’t always protest when they hear a prejudiced remark. Gay men often remain silent when they’re called a “faggot.”

Now, after years of making political and social inroads, a number of women and minorities have gained the confidence to speak up and challenge demeaning labels and attitudes. They now ask others to watch their speech in order to avoid offending others, something that they have been doing for years. PC opponents (mostly white men) feel persecuted by such a request. To them, watching what they say is a new and distasteful concept. What they don’t realize is that everyone else has been doing it all along.

Contrary to what the critics would have us believe, no one is being forced to acquire PC language or behavior. It’s just that the voices that were once ignored or silenced are beginning to finally be heard, and they are making it known that they are tired of the insulting behavior and language that until now has been accepted as the norm. The fact that so many people regard this request for a little respect as an egregious threat shows just how important the PC movement is.

It is ironic that PC people are accused of intolerance, when political correctness is all about tolerance. It’s about respect for human beings, progress, manners and basic decency.

PC means not whistling at women when they walk down the street. It means not waving the Confederate flag, not gay-bashing with verbal or physical violence and not beating a man half to death just because he is black. If you think about it, you just might be PC yourself.