A New Rung in Hell

By Joe Batory - Posted 9/10/06

“…On a return to earth, Dante will almost certainly establish a new rung in hell for those who have attempted to obliterate public education. It is the most lied about, misrepresented story in America…

Frosty Troy, Editor, The Oklahoma Observer,

For more than 20 years, public schools have been a continuous target for bashers determined to discredit and destroy them. Much of this negativism can be traced to President Ronald Reagan who, because he had neither ideas nor a plan for education, decided to attack public schools. In 1983, he issued a report ( A Nation At Risk) that started a firestorm of negativism about public education.

The best source that exposes this era of disinformation about public education is The Manufactured Crisis by two university researchers, David Berliner and Bruce Biddle; the thesis of their book is that: “The manufactured crisis myth about public schools involved a serious campaign by identifiable persons to sell Americans the false idea that the public schools were failing and that the nation was at peril. This campaign involved a great deal of effort, chicanery, playing on people’s worries, pandering to prejudices, and misreporting and misrepresenting evidence. In short, to use terms that were popular when discussing World War II propaganda, this campaign constituted THE BIG LIE --- and a lot of people continue to be fooled by its claims…”

Another book, Exploding The Myths, by Joe Schneider and Paul Houston offers this blunt analysis: “We believe that many elected officials and their corporate sponsors have engaged in a conspiracy---a conspiracy against candor with the American people.

Indeed, since Reagan began the barrage, a corps of “right wing” talking heads has continued to indoctrinate the American public through an incessant crusade in the media, misrepresenting and perverting public education and rejecting any balance in their analyses. The names of these public school attackers might be familiar to anyone who watches those radio and television panel and “talk” shows that are little more than a forum for spewing bias and disinformation about public schools. Such rhetoric is repeated over and over again on television and radio across America these days (witness John Stossel’s incredibly biased and distorted “Stupid in America,” now run twice by ABC during 2006 in spite of a barrage of feedback to that network about Stossel’s one sided propagandistic analysis).

A corps of questionable “critics” of public education has been identified by the American Association of School Administrators in a white paper entitled “Backers of the Bashers.” They are: Grover Norquist, President, Americans For Tax Reform, a former key aide to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (“We are trying to change the tones in state capitals,” Norquist once told the Denver Post, “and turn them toward nastiness and partisanship…”); William Bennett, Founder, Empower America; Fellow: Heritage Foundation (…American schools are in general just not very good…”); Chester Finn, President, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (“…public schools are themselves becoming seedbeds of social dysfunction…”); Jeanne Allen, Founder & President, Center for Educational Reform (“…close down federally-funded programs like Title I…”); Howard Fuller, President & Founder, Institute for the Transformation of Learning (“…this is a debate about who’s got the power…”); and Lisa Graham Keegan, Founder and CEO, Educational Leaders Council (“…we need to get rid of school districts…”).

Beyond the fancy titles of these anti-public education celebrities and their “front” organizations lies a remarkable linkage (similarity) of money streams (directly or indirectly) from “right wing” sources to the tune of millions of dollars (Source: Media Transparency). These “big player” financers of anti-public education propaganda include: The John B. Olin Foundation, The Sarah Scaife Foundation, The Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, and The Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart).

What all of this adds up to is a group of mercenary critics being paid to attack public schools and manipulate public opinion. Millions of “right wing” dollars continue to support this ideological effort to destroy public education. Very wealthy private interests are essentially manufacturing “news” to create a distorted reality regarding public schools. It’s a terrifying picture of an immense propaganda machine, effectively spreading misinformation about public education across America.

Joe Batory is the former superintendent of schools in Upper Darby (PA) and the author of three books on school leadership.