Notes From the US: October/ September

 

Education

No-one ever got taller by being measured. In schools, the only tests that help are the ones that

offer guidance on what’s next, not ‘summative’ ones that merely record children’s progress. Last month in Florida a kindergarten (5-year-old children) teacher took a stand by refusing to administer the state-mandated standardised test to her pupils. In Gainesville, Florida 59-year-old Susan Bowles explained how the FAIR assessment (computerised for the first time in 2014) is difficult to administer, unfairly tests 5-year-olds’ computer abilities, and eats up hours and hours of critical classroom time. Bowles wrote on her own FaceBook page content that was then copied elsewhere within her local and the wider educator communities:

“This assessment is given one-on-one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. Someone has forgotten there are other five year olds in our care. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. A certified teacher has to give the test. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children.”

And in an even more amazing development in schools, the police department for San Diego’s schools announced in mid-September that they have actually bought a large armoured combat vehicle from the US military – to use against their communities. It costs US$700,000 (£430,279) and is called an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected). It’s designed to stand up to blasts from IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and mines. The US military has a controversial plan, the ‘1033 program’, authorising the military to donate what it considers surplus to police and sheriffs’ departments. In the case of this equipment for schools this also includes tanks and weapons from the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile in Jefferson County, Colorado, hundreds of high school students walked out of classes in late September in protest at attempts by members of the school board (equivalent of a school’s governors in the UK) to skew the curriculum by emphasising the ‘positive aspects of the United States and its heritage’, corporate values and US militarism at the explicit expense of learning about people’s movements, the history of struggle, and communal reaction to US and commercial hegemony.

Just as encouraging was action in the second week of October when pupils from a couple of high schools in Philadelphia boycotted classes in protest at the fact that the Philadelphia teachers’ union contract with members in the city had been cancelled recently – and with next to no notice. As has been happening increasingly in financially-troubled cities in the United States, elected bodies have been replaced with nominees of the élite: in this case The Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) took over from the schools’ Boards in 2001; its five members – appointed by the governor and mayor – then voted to cancel the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).

 

Surveillance

In mid-September computer company, Yahoo, revealed that court documents just released showed how the US government was threatening to fine Yahoo US$250,000 (£154,079) for every day that the search and services giant refused to make users’ data available to it. The court documents were actually unsealed by a Federal judge and Yahoo’s general counsel, Ron Bell, said publication of the material was “an important win for transparency”… the government changed the law to demand user information from such online providers as Yahoo; this, led to the court challenge.

After yet another fatal shooting of a young black man by police, protest erupted near Ferguson, Missouri, the town where Michael Brown was shot in August. A weekend of protests followed in the area over October 11/12.

After high court rulings in early October that overturned state bans on LGBT marriage, it is now legal in a majority of states (32) – an increase of 19 over the count in the previous month.

 

Environment

Flood Wall Street was part of a mass people’s response to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City in September. On Monday, September 22 thousands brought the climate crisis to the doors of the financial institutions responsible with a series of mass sit-ins and the displaying of a 300-foot banner that read ‘Capitalism = Climate Chaos. Flood Wall Street.’ There were arrests. But the mood and spirits were high. The previous day, Sunday 21st, an estimated 400,000 people marched in New York, one of the largest climate demonstrations yet. As the Obama administration pledged not to allocate money or resources to a global fund for poorer nations as they dealt with climate chaos, it did pledge to increasing its nuclear weapons arsenal by spending up to US$1.1 trillion (or over £60 million a day) over the next three decades on modernising nuclear weapons.

It was announced that greenhouse gases increased 2.3% worldwide. Emissions in the US rose to 2.9% after a recent decline. Although even the heirs of the Rockerfeller oil fortune announced that the company was divesting entirely from fossil fuels – in common with an increasing number of academic institutions.

In response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Obama said in mid-September at a press conference: “[A US military response…] has just arrived today and is now on the ground in Liberia. And our forces are going to bring their expertise in command and control, in logistics, in engineering. And our Department of Defense is better at that, our Armed Services are better at that, than any organisation on Earth.”

Clever US Department of Agriculture: in mid-September it announced that it has approved two new genetically engineered crops. Above the hubris which messing with nature brings, the USDA has gone a step further; for these are not just any old GMO crops apparently temporarily resistant to herbicide-tolerant weeds, which thereby threaten the strength of the wider environment and the ability it has shown for millions of years before greedy, profit-motivated Americans came along. No, these crops are Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist corn and soybeans. They’re ‘engineered’ to be resistant to that companies toxic Duo herbicide. Just toxic? No – even better! Duo is rich in the disastrous exfoliant which contains 2,4-D, a component of the notorious Agent Orange and linked to Parkinson’s, birth defects, reproductive problems, and endocrine disruption. What a smart move!

Late in September Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance which should mean more composting and less food waste in the city. From next year businesses will be fined the admittedly small sum of US$50 (£30) and homeowners US$1 (60p) each time they put food or paper products that could be composted out with the rubbish.

 

Louis Further

 

References

Flood Wall Street: http://floodwallstreet.net