Thursday, January 23, 2014

Alaska Gov Becomes Pro-Choice, Declares Year of Education[Privatization]

In his State of the State Address Wednesday night, Alaska's Gov. Parnell declared the Year of Education and spent the largest part of his speech talking about education.  He was going to make a deal.  He'd raise the money going to education in return for giving parents the choice to take the public money allocated for their children's education and spend it on private schools, including religions schools.

He's opposed to women making intimate choices about their own bodies when they become pregnant.

He's opposed to gays and lesbians making choices about whom they marry.

He's opposed to local communities making choices about the kinds of development that takes place in their communities.  (Local Coastal Zone Management has been gutted, and HB 77, that the Governor is pushing hard, would eliminate lots of local say in development projects.)

What is the real agenda here?  I can't get inside of the Governor's head, but if you take the old political advice from Richard Nixon's attorney general John Mitchell, "''Watch what we do, not what we say,'' I'd have to conclude that the Governor's agenda:
  • Mirrors a lot of Tea Party agenda - strongly pro-evangelical and anti-federal government
  • Mirrors a lot of corporate agenda 
    •  remove federal and local obstacles to development (to hell with environmental protection or local say)
    • Transfers as much government money to the private sector as possible (the $2 billion a year tax cut for the oil companies, public school money to private schools, etc.
Of course, this starts a slippery slope.  If parents can transfer public money from public schools to private schools because they don't like the public school program, some people are going to want to take their share of the federal budget that supports war and transfer it to support programs that encourage peace and cooperation.  Others are going to want to take their part of the budget that supports things like the Knik Arm Bridge and spend it on things like better maintenance of existing roads.  

By using a Republican majority in the legislature (enabled in the Senate by playing with just enough districts by the redistricting board to break the bi-partisan coalition) to force a conservative, pro-corporate agenda on Alaskans rather than find ways to work with the opposition (that does still represent a significant portion of the Alaska public), the Governor is rejecting civilization for force and balkanization.  

He would give us an education system where kids go to schools that indoctrinate them into their parents' ideology instead of public schools where people meet with other students and with teachers who don't necessarily share the same world view.  In a democracy, that's a good thing.  In fact it's the only possible way.  

He would give us a state in which corporate profits (most of which leave the state) would trump the will of the people who live in Alaska and consider it their home.  This would take us back to the days before Statehood, when Alaska's resources and landscape were trashed for corporations which had no long term stake in Alaska or its people.  

Fortunately power isn't forever.  When you abuse it, when you don't hold it as a responsibility to improve the lives of all,  when you listen only to your ideological colleagues and your corporate sponsors, you get isolated and think everyone thinks like you.   The natural world finds equilibrium.  When things go too far in one direction, they eventually snap back.  Humans are still part of the natural world and those rules apply to humans too.   When things go too far, nature  pulls things back into balance.  Even the powerful Soviet empire overextended its power until it snapped.  The Middle East has seen unthinkable recent shifts in power.  Revolution doesn't always work out the way the revolutionaries want.  It doesn't cure the underlying ideological or economic divisions.  But it does stop the momentum and offers a chance for a realignment.  It would be much easier if those in power respected the interests of those out of power, if they didn't use their power to force their agenda on others.  Precisely what they complain about Obama and ACA.  Though I would argue that Obama is more in alignment with the population.  Without the constant Fox lies and meanness, things would have rolled out much more smoothly.    The Republicans in Juneau don't even realize how extreme they are, how far from the average Alaskan and from the spirit of the Constitution.

I'm afraid that the Republicans have picked up where they left off when the Corrupt Bastards Club was exposed by the FBI.  There was a short break in the oil companies' total rule of Juneau.  But it seems it was only a small bump in the road and now that they have a former Conoco-Phillips lobbyist in the governor's seat, they have a smoother ride.  

But I suspect things are being stretched too far in their direction and people who normally don't pay attention are being negatively impacted.  There are 20,000 people the governor has prevented from getting medical insurance by not expanding Medicaid.  There are many folks who are finding their local communities have no say on corporate development projects in their communities.  

Let me say also, that capitalism isn't 'the enemy', but capitalism with no checks on its failures can do serious harm.  The free market's most popular proponent, Milton Friedman, identified flaws in capitalism, which he said justified three needed government functions:  "government as rule-maker and umpire, technical monopoly and neighborhood effects, and paternalism."    The problem I have with those who would whittle down government to nothing and 'let the market take care of things' is the problem that these folks have with government - power.  Power is a human issue and corporations are run by humans.  As they become more and more powerful, they make rules and decisions that take away our liberty.  Without a counterbalance, they become the new government.  A government, though, where people have no say in who's in charge and what the rules are.  What we need is much better accountability of government and more balance between the public and private sectors.  Declaring that government is bad and the market is the cure of all ills is simple minded.  As simple minded as saying that corporations are all evil and government should have all the power.  

I'd also say that our current education system has lots of flaws.  First, it's way too oriented toward academics from early on.  It sets up kids as failures if they are not ready to perform at an arbitrary level from the first grade on.  There aren't adequate options for kids with non-academic strengths (except sports).  Its mass production assembly line tends to reject kids who don't arrive at school without the specs the curriculum requires.  They don't get thrown out like a bad part would, but they fall further and further behind and are taught they are failures even if no one says it out loud.   Our system demands kids adjust to the system, not the system adjust to the needs of the kids.  

So, I'm all for serious education reform.  But not simply transferring public money to unproven private organizations that have no responsibility to take on all the children, including those that don't fit the ideal mold (social problems, physical problems, etc.)  I also see inclusive public schooling as the incubator where people learn to get along with all their fellow citizens, a necessary part of democracy.  And public schools also don't necessarily do that good job of this either. But at least the ideals of tolerance of other people and other ideas is taught.   Perhaps the biggest conflict is whether schools should teach kids how to think or to teach kids what to think.  I don't think the public schools do a great job yet in teaching how to think (though some do quite well), but I have grave doubts about it happening in most religiously oriented private schools.   Do you really want public money paying tuition at Jerry Prevo's Anchorage Baptist Temple?  And does Prevo want public money to pay for Muslim school tuition?

There's lots more to say about the State of the State.  Most of it was generalities about how things have gotten better the last year, but there was no evidence I heard that would connect those benefits to the things the governor did.  And it seemed to me significant things were misrepresented.  If everything has gotten as rosy as the governor suggests, then why is the Anchorage School District being forced to cut teachers next year?  I need to go through it more carefully and see if I can figure it out.  


  1. This guy is up for reelection and Alaskans would be nuts voting for him again - absolutely nuts!

  2. Here, here! You hit the nail on the head. I couldn't stand watching that guy with his Snidely Whiplash smile tell me how good things are and how he was going to make them better. I am going to read the transcript when I get time so thanks for your summary.

  3. What crazy talk this governor speaks. Public money for private schools? How does one put these adjectives in the same phrase? Sounds to me as crazy as my last trip to Costco: dairy free cheese. gluten free pizza. sugar less cookies. And this education talk comes a mere two days after ASD's dismal budget proposal. What a slap in the face to educators at public schools.


  4. The Governor of Alaska is holding public education hostage, blackmailing the public in an attempt to not-so-subtly advance his religious agenda. In exchange for adequately funding public education, Parnell seeks to allow private entities (including religiously affiliated schools) to receive public funds to inculcate young minds with their specific dogma and message which may or may not be founded on solid educational or scientific ground, and “values” which may or may not promote or recognize equality in every sense of the word. Hmm, it doesn’t take a mathematician to see the pattern here: give away public money without securing guarantees … where have I seen this approach before?

    That’s a slippery slope, Mr. Parnell. Of course, you’ll allow Christian schools and probably Jewish too. Will you allow Muslim schools? How about one for Wiccans? Gays and Lesbians might want to advance their cause. Neo Nazis? And how about a whole school of Atheists! Who gets to decide what is funded, and how many bureaucrats and at what cost does this hare-brained idea cost? And after you give this money to private entities, what is the actual net increase to the public school districts across the state?

    Parnell says that parents should have a choice in where their kids attend school. Guess what? They already do! Students may attend alternative, charter and traditional public schools or be home schooled. Parents also have the option to send their children to private schools, either sectarian or non-sectarian. No one is forcing them to go to public school. What Parnell is really saying is that the state should pay for wherever the parents want their kids to go. Well, here’s how I see this situation: the public already subsidizes religious education in so far as churches, religious schools and associated land, buildings and some staff salaries are tax exempt. So here’s the deal, Governor. Insist that churches and affiliated schools, staff, etc start paying taxes and then we can begin to talk about vouchers.

  5. Bravo: this is an excellent post. The members of the majority in the Alaska Legislature, much like their counterparts at the federal level, will do everything they can to undermine and dismantle basic governmental functions – in this instance public education - then point to the wreckage that they created and say ”See! It doesn’t work!”
    If I were cynical, I'd suspect these concerted efforts serve to cultivate their future voter base: they have a vested interest in promoting ignorance and stupidity, which in turn ensures their prospects for re-election.
    Just call it gerrymandering children’s minds.

  6. I read somewhere that Gov Parnell's children attended Grace Christian School. In reading the description in two of the science courses taught at this school, I couldn't help but notice the sentence stating "The theory of evolution will be discussed and contrasted with the reality and truth of God’s Word". Does this mean, if Gov Parnell gets his way, that public money would be funding the teaching of "Intelligent Design"?


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