Inside ALEC's Education Task Force: Private Players Manipulating Public Education
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For me, that was turning-point number one. By then, all nerves had disappeared, replaced by total umbrage.
They started talking policy. They started out by looking quickly at the model bills they want to "sunset,” or have expire, part of an overall effort to try to change their profile.
At this point in its history, ALEC is in damage control mode. Unlike the past 30 or so years, during which it has been operating more or less invisibly, the group now faces more scrutiny than ever, particularly as more people see the incredible work being done by groups like the Center for Media and Democracy (which created and ALEC Exposed), Common Cause and others to unmask their aims and tactics. After tragedies like the murders of unarmed teens like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, people are more aware than ever of just how closely public policy affects real life—and how important it is to know who makes those policies, and what their interests are.
Looking at the projected list of bills the task force was taking under consideration was a chilling experience for me. As models intended to become legislation, it’s easy for them to look like nothing more than a bunch of dry words on a page. But having had the experience of living through them, then organizing with people around them, and then studying them, I’ve started to look at those dry words very differently.
Pardon the geeky metaphor, but it felt a bit like that scene in The Matrix where Cypher is looking at the stream of 1s and 0s, but after so much exposure, he can visualize people and objects through the code. That's what public policy has started to feel like for me: except instead of a fake reality manufactured by digital code, ours is a lived reality bound by the set of decisions—the ideas of those decision-makers—embodied in our legal code. (And unlike Cypher, I do not agree that ignorance is bliss—or that backing down is an option.)
So for example, if we look at the union-busting laws ALEC favors and pushes throughout the country, we can start to see our fellow workers who are going to have a harder time organizing as a result, and who will in turn have a much harder time commanding the living wage and benefits they need to feed, house and take care of themselves and their families. We can see the extra time and energy a growing number of us will have to spend working instead of spending time with our loved ones, or participating in any of the different activities that could help us assert our political rights (especially important since another ALEC task force pushed policies to make it harder for some of us to vote), or doing all of the other fulfilling and empowering things people can do when we have "8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, and 8 hours for what we will."
Thinking as a teacher, I also can’t help but consider how all of those things will impact the classroom. If students’ guardians are working 70 or 80 hours a week because their bosses refuse to pay them a decent hourly wage, those bosses—and the people who let them get away with this—are making it unnecessarily difficult for said guardians to do things like attend parent-teacher conferences or get actively involved in the rest of the school community. By depressing wages (and dodging taxes), they’re also destroying the public funding base that supports public services like schools. And that means they’re forcing students to live with the social and emotional consequences that come with being surrounded by overworked and/or undervalued adults -- both at home and at school.