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Radical Thanksgiving: the Top Ten Turkeys

November 22, 2007, 2:37 pm

Instead of giving thanks for my blessings today, which would be sweet, I know, I am going to be different and inaugurate the First Annual Radical Top Ten Turkeys in Education Awards on this Thanksgiving. Personally, I think this is only appropriate, since my Pilgrim forebears were turkeys too, and showed their thanks to the Indians who had brought several covered dishes to the first Thanksgiving by killing them afterwards. I don’t mean to take the fun out of the holiday or anything, but you can’t be in American Studies and not be up front about these things.

In order to build suspense, in true David Letterman style (hey — if the writers for Letterman’s show never come back maybe they’ll hire me and I can move back to New York!) I will start listing from the ten spot, reserving my Big Turkey Award for last. So without further ado, the winners are:

10. KC and the Sunshine Band, whose persistence in harassing members of the Duke University faculty and anyone who is, or ever has been, associated with them (or who has commented inadvertently on the Legal Case That Will Not Be Mentioned Ever Again Lest We Say Something Terribly Wrong And Incite Them to More Hate Mail) has become so extreme that it has become a separate phenomenon from the original issue, now resolved (in court, at least.) Give up this obsession, people, and get on with your lives as everyone else connected with this case has done. And by the way, if you write New President about me the way the way you wrote my former President about me, from what I have observed so far I think he will probably give me a big raise.

9. Alan Dershowitz who, not content with employing his fine mind in support of torture, wrote an unsolicited letter that helped take down the tenure case of DePaul political science professor Norman Finklestein. Alan — can you please tell us why someone at Harvard Law School cares who is tenured at DePaul in political science? Inquiring minds want to know. How about taking an interest in whether women and people of color are tenured at Harvard Law School, why don’t you? Or whether your research assistants use quotation marks when they take notes?

8. Margaret Spellings, chief of the United States Department of Education, who knew students were being ripped off by student loan lenders and financial aid officers collaborating with each other, but did nothing about it until her hand was forced by a New York State investigation.

7. Bloggers like this one who have been feeding the very peculiar conspiracy theory that the Virginia Tech shooting was a plot, carried out by Blackwater, to cover up the brewing national financial aid scandal. According to this little-known truth teller, the shooter was studying quietly in his room, where he was assassinated and his corpse was moved to the scene of carnage. Yikes. What will the bastards do next? Shoot up innocent people in Baghdad?

6. The Massachusetts Department of Education, for threatening to withdraw funding from a conference on standardized testing in Northampton, MA, if Alfie Kohn, a critic of high stakes testing was permitted to give a keynote address. Why is it news now? Because Kohn sued them on first amendment grounds and won, that’s why. Read about it here.

5. Washington D.C.’s Board of Education, for firing Gerald Norde from the charter school where he worked as a teacher. Norde charges he was dismissed for inquiring as to why students were being persistently listed on his class roll who had either dropped out or had never been enrolled at all. Guess why? So the school district could be billed for them, using money that was being siphoned away from public school children who are real and actually do attend school! One account of that controversy is here.

4. A joint Turkey award goes to the Philadelphia Board of Education and to Chris Whittle, founder and CEO of Edison, a for profit education corporation that takes over urban public schools and runs them into the ground while — you guessed it — siphoning off taxpayer money. This month Edison’s stock price went through the floor, and to pay the bills Whittle removed books and equipment from the Edison schools in Philadelphia and sold them. For money. Whittle also proposes that each child enrolled in an Edison school be forced to work an hour a day without pay so that the schools can cut maintenance costs, thus making the corporation more efficient. Read about it here.

3. David Horowitz, for inventing “Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week,” a national event featuring himself, that was supposedly an attempt to “rock…the nation” with “the biggest conservative campus protest ever.” Topping the charts on the all-time biggest conservative protest nationwide would not be hard, of course, since conservative students — being conservative, by nature — tend not to be interested in rocking the nation. Name a) any mass conservative protest that has occurred on your campus (this requires lots of conservatives showing up at the same time, not just twenty or thirty); or b) any conservative protest at all on your campus that was not staged as a counter-demonstration. Actually, however, Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week was a not terribly successful strategy to get Horowitz back in the news after the 101 so-called radical academics named in his 2006 book failed to be upset enough about it to make it a cause celebre. Oh yes, rocking the nation with conservative protest was also a strategy to rock lecture fees into the pocket of at least one conservative. Who needs the security of tenure if you can be as financially successful as David Horowitz has been by making a profession out of criticizing people with tenure? I ask you. Would that I had thought of it first.

2. The Turkey for Unnecessary Incivility Towards a Person Who Does Not Matter goes to students who thought an appropriate response to David Horowitz speaking on their campus was to attempt to restrict his speech by booing, throwing things, and childishly turning their backs on him. For the unnecessary fodder this provided for right-wing attacks on academia, click here. Please. Go protest the war, as opposed to protesting people who say dumb things about the war.

And finally, the Radical’s Top Turkey of the Year (for the Biggest Turkey in Education) is:

1. Whatever genius with a Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools who decided to label 1700 high schools nationwide “dropout factories.” Now there is a small step for the future of university-based education research and a giant leap towards really supporting public school students in this country — make kids ashamed of where they attend school! Particularly if the school you are naming is the best high school available in their district, and they couldn’t transfer anywhere better if they wanted to! Nice work, dude. And I bet the study was federally funded too. I know about this terrific piece of research because some other genius at Wilbur Cross High School, in New Haven CT, where one of my nephews goes to school, decided it was a good idea to announce to the student body that the school had been listed last week as a “drop out factory.” Thanks, guys. Maybe the kids will figure out how to persuade their parents to move out of New Haven and transfer them to another city system that is doing better like, say, Baltimore.

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