Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sarandon / ‘Pull Out the Pumps, Boys’ / The Fiasco of Public Education

Susan Sarandon….Not Again?    I’ll be blunt, here at the onset: I cannot stand Susan Sarandon.

The back story: during the 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Ms. Sarandon, along with her lackey husband/partner and the pathetic Phil Donohue -- who, I’ll remind my readers, in order to curry favor with his female audience, wore a dress one day on his daytime show –  went on TV repeatedly to back Ralph Nader, who ran as a third candidate. When I first noticed what Ms. Sarandon and her associates were doing, I was horrified: ‘You may be handing the election to George Bush, you morons.’ Their reasoning? ‘Both parties are the same.’ Guess what happened: Ralph Nader siphoned off enough votes to give the election – electorally – to Bush. And, as far as the parties being ‘the same’, well, George Bush unilaterally charged into Iraq, ultimately resulting in the deaths of 5,000+ Americans, and 200,000 Iraqi. Susan, the parties may be ‘the same’ to you, but Al Gore would never have embarked on a blunder like that.

Photo art by
In the sixteen years since that depressing election, have we heard one word of remorse, contrition or confession from Queen Sarandon that maybe, just maybe, she was wrong? Not a word. I suspect Queen S will never admit error, ever; she’s a colossal egotist. And, the hubris…my God.

The history lesson is not the end of the story, unfortunately. In fact, stunningly, Ms. Sarandon doubles down in the upcoming Trump-Clinton 2016 election contest. 

A month or so ago, I nearly choked on my morning bagel and peanut butter, when I read that now Ms. Sarandon is ‘thinking of voting’ for Donald Trump. If Trump is elected, Ms. Sarandon explained, ‘some feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution faster. If he gets in, things will really explode.’

What! There she is, after her Bush-Gore disaster, tacitly acknowledging that a Trump victory won’t be so bad. We’ll have that revolution after all.

Yes, her comments prompted Twitter to blow up with scathing criticism, so vicious that she backtracked the next day, saying she does not support Trump. But Mr. Gripes knows where her heart is.

I don’t have a clue what motivates Ms. Sarandon. But she sure as hell does not know history: revolutions, especially modern ones, leave in place regimes that are worse than what was replaced: look at Egypt, for example: many of those young kids advocating revolution in the plaza in Cairo a few years ago are now sitting in horrific jails, with very long prison sentences imposed on them by an extremely repressive government. A ‘flower-child’ revolution of the sort that Ms. Sarandon is praying for will not happen here; something much more sinister would occur. Put that Donovan record away, Susan; it’s not the 60’s anymore.

I’ll wrap this up shortly, but still have one question for Queen Sarandon and her hopes for Trump: you’ve lived basically a charmed life. Beautiful houses on both coasts, healthy children, plus you’re still working at an age at which the vast majority of actresses can’t sniff a role -- and you’re getting paid handsomely for one dopey movie after another. You’re very fortunate to be living a free, essentially unburdened existence, one that 99.9% of the rest of us cannot possibly attain. Queen Sue, what’s bothering you? Mr. Gripes doesn’t get it at all.

Pull Out the Pumps, Guys…. Last month, on April 15, I attended, with my wife, a college-alumni function at Yankee Stadium up in the Bronx prior to the game that night between the Yankees and Tampa Bay. As I took my seat after the party and turned my attention to the action on the field, I was taken aback by a strange sight: every player, every coach, in fact anyone in uniform, worn a uniform with ‘42’ on its back. No other numbers at all.

Then, instantly, I remembered: this was an annual homage to the great Jackie Robinson, a Brooklyn Dodger who wore 42, and the first black man to play major league baseball. If you pick up any book relating the experience that Mr. Robinson, a very proud, combative individual, went through that first year, 1947, you’ll likely be awed that anyone, especially someone of Mr. Robinson’s personality, could have gone through that by, essentially, turning the other cheek. That pacific attitude was his marching orders from his general manager; if he had acted violently or vengefully at all, the ‘negro’ movement in baseball could have been delayed another 20 years.

But, in the inevitable hagiography that Mr. Robinson has accrued since his early death [of acute diabetes, at the age of 53], it’s often overlooked that Jackie Robinson was not a young kid who, by good fortune, was blessed with great talent for the game. He surely was gifted athletically, but he was much more than that. For one thing, and I believe this was one reason he was chosen to integrate baseball, he was a fully grown-up, mature adult, who had in fact graduated with a Bachelors degree from UCLA and who had served as an Army lieutenant during World War II. Not your cookie-cutter ‘aw-shucks’ 19-year-old with ungodly talent.

He was also a man of great fortitude and principle: during his career, in fact, during one off-season, he was offered a job to play with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. He declined. We’re talking here of a second job that probably would have paid more than his salary with the Dodgers. Mr. Robinson simply did not want to be put in the position of being a clown, a court jester, a grinning entertainer for white people, which is essentially what the Globetrotter enterprise is all about. Jackie was not about to take on a Stepin Fetchit persona of ugly subservience, for the sole purpose of amusing white people. Jackie’s pride wasn’t going to allow that.

He was also very intelligent, and resourceful. I’ll recount one incident: it occurred in Mr. Robinson’s first year in professional baseball when he played first base for the All-Black Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues:

In those days, The Monarchs, for road trips, travelled in two buses to accommodate the players, the manager, and other team employees. On the first road trip, the buses make a pit stop at a gas station somewhere in the Deep South: Jackie jumps out, and asks to use the bathroom.

     Station owner: ‘You can’t use the restroom. No Negroes allowed. That’s only for white people.’

     Jackie:  ‘All of us need to go to the bathroom. Now, which way to the restrooms?’

     Owner: ‘Listen, I told you: you can’t use the restroom.’

     Jackie: [To the bus drivers filling their tanks]: ‘Pull out the pumps. We’re leaving.’

     [Writer’s note: each gas tank had a capacity of around 50 gallons -- 100 gallons between the two buses.]

     Owner [alarmed]: ‘Ah, what the hell are you doing?’
     Jackie: ‘You’re saying we can’t use the restrooms? Then we’re leaving….Unless you let these fellas [pointing out his teammates, still in the buses, hanging out the windows, aghast at what they were seeing and hearing] use the toilets, we’re out of here. Come on, guys, I told you, pull out the pumps.

     Owner: ‘Ah, Mister, now let’s just wait a minute. [He pauses -- a sale of 80 or 90 gallons of gas about to go up in smoke, perhaps a week’s worth of business.] Yeah, OK, you can use the restrooms, but make it snappy.’

And so, Jackie’s teammates marched off and ‘integrated’ the bathrooms. 

I love this story. The gas-station owner may have been a violent, incorrigible racist who hated blacks -- maybe even wanted them strung up on tree limbs -- but he caved because of the money. Jackie intuitively knew what would make that bigot flinch; hard cash would trump over racism every time. [Later on, the ploy worked with hotels, too.] Mr. Robinson and his black brethren had triumphed.

The Ongoing Education Disaster… Donald Trump has spewed all kinds of nutzo ideas over the last few months; some are so ridiculous, [Mexico paying for the round-up and repatriation of 11 million immigrants living here is an all-time beaut] that even Mr. Trump can’t possibly believe them. But, every now and then, he expresses an opinion that Mr. Gripes absolutely agrees with.

His advocacy of abolishing the Department of Education, to Mr. Gripes, makes perfect sense. What the hell has it accomplished? I’m not going to rattle off statistics to prove my point, but Mr. Gripes has a distinct sense that educational policy in this country, despite ongoing expenditures in the gazillions, has been a total disaster. Let’s stop the charade that our schools are furnishing the necessary tools for our children to compete all over the world, and save billions of dollars by closing down the cabinet department.

Oh, for sure, the affluent, who live in upscale communities, have perfectly fine schools. The more well-off, with their substantial political clout, get sufficient funding for their local schools, you can bet on that. That’s not the case with lower-income, urban, inner-city students. The schools serving them are abysmal.

What’s going on in these urban public schools? Let’s look at New York City: I’m a resident and generally familiar with education policy here in New York. Education, simply, is a disgrace and a fiasco. And the money spent on schools is scandalous: in the 2015-16 school year, in New York City, $21.6 BILLON will be spent solely on education, and that figure, incredibly, doesn’t even include the run-away, bloated teachers-retirement pension debt accumulating exponentially as we speak.

And what kind of product do we get with that kind of money? Zilch, nada, nothing. Oh, yeah, every few years there’s a policy overhaul with a new master plan; hard-core testing was introduced a few years ago, and was to be the grand solution to the educational failures of the past four or five decades. It didn’t work out as anyone with half a brain knew it wouldn’t: teachers started teaching to the tests, the inevitable test-cheating scandals began popping up, then school districts started opting out, and the initiative soon was as doomed as the Hindenburg.

Nothing ever gets better in these schools: yes, there are a dozen or so terrific high schools in the city but they are, in reality, ‘show-horse’ schools. The vast majority of schools are terrible. [I’ve passed by on occasion Stuyvesant High School, the top public school academically in the city, and, for what’s it worth, all I see are Asian students filing into the building.] The reality is that the worst teachers are dumped into the poor areas, and the school buildings themselves are often in deplorable condition, in need of urgent repair.

The macro-politics of urban education almost guarantees nothing will change: the Democratic Party absolutely depends on city unions like that of the teachers for not only votes, but donations and ‘get out the vote’ volunteers as well. Thus, federal funding is always rubber-stamped, without any real accountability. [Mr. Gripes has a suspicion that the two parties have had for a long time a tacit understanding: the Democrats get their billions, with token opposition, for urban education and social programs, and, in return, the Republicans can count on many billions to fund, for instance, new military programs and crop price supports, with little opposition. Wink, wink: Grease my palm, I’ll grease yours.]

Obviously, the Democrats, kowtowing to teachers unions and the like, don’t really give a damn about educating the urban poor. It’s all about protecting teacher jobs and their ridiculous retirement pensions. Once upon a time, a union like the UAW, in hand-to-hand blood brawls, fought Henry Ford’s black-jacked goons around Detroit in order to be recognized as the bargaining agent for auto workers. Now? If a city requests a commitment – small, for sure -- from the union to pay for a sliver of medical insurance coverage, all hell breaks loose. It sure isn’t your grandfather’s union any more.

Despite his despair that there’s no hope regarding our schools, Mr. Gripes will forge ahead and suggest some solutions: [again, I’m talking about New York schools.]
First, the ‘consultants’ must go. What in God’s name do they do, besides earn huge salaries, and create an enormous bureaucracy? I don’t get it: these ‘consultants’ are supposed to be all about improving the lot of students, but nothing’s gotten better for years. So, fire them all if you have to, and save many billions. Teachers that I’ve known tend to be dedicated souls, and can get along just fine by themselves, without all the meddling from over-educated, bobble-head consultants. [Again, the consultancy contingent – white, affluent, liberal -- is a sizable Democratic voting bloc, and politicians naturally would be averse to diminishing its size. The Democratic Party basically says, ‘The more, the merrier. We need the votes. To hell as to how we’re going to pay for all of this. Let the guys after us worry about that.’]
Second, charter schools appear to work: it’s apparent that charter schools do a much better job of educating our children than regular public schools.  So, let’s convert 100% of the schools into ‘charter’ schools. Every public school becomes a charter school. Of course, the teacher union will squeal like a stuck pig, since they have less control over charter schools. Tough sh_t. If a teacher or principal objects, and they shouldn’t because there are less disciplinary problems in charter schools, he or she can quit, or, as a last resort, fired.
Third, the rotten, burnt-out teachers and principals must be rooted out, and eliminated. It’s a tough, exhausting task teaching children. I advocate, in fact, compulsory retirement at a specific age – 62? -- for teachers. Push the lifers out, and let young teachers open the windows and bring some fresh air into classrooms.
Finally, perhaps most important, we shift the overall goal of education in public schools to a much more directive type of learning: We operate the schools as ‘occupational opportunity’ sites. Students in junior high could all tested for particular natural skills and talents they may possess, i.e., those that test out positively for math or computer proclivities are directed to that type of study; some may have aptitude for law enforcement work, or cooking, or physical fitness, or engineering, or carpentry, or nursing, or auto mechanics, or administrative skills….whatever. Latent abilities are encouraged, always with an eye on the needs of the labor force. 

I’m sure you’re wondering how do we pay for all this. Well, I’d dismantle the towering city educational bureaucracy, to start with; then, I’d take on the teachers union, and ‘claw back’ some terms during the next contract negotiations. Bottom line, something’s got to be done with the carcass we’re living with now: otherwise, looking years ahead, this country is in big trouble. China, Europe, Japan et al. just laugh at us for the unmitigated disaster we’ve created over the past 40 years. It’s shameful we’ve come to this.

May 31, 2016
By Jim Israel, aka Mr. Gripes