Doing It for the Kids (March 21, 2001)

Gov. Gray Davis “steered public schooling in a decidedly pro-business direction yesterday” with his appointment of Donald Fisher, big daddy of The Gap, Inc., to the California Board of Education.

So wrote SF Chronicle reporter Nanette Asimov in her Friday story on Davis’ two March 15 education appointments: Fisher, 72, and Suzanne Tacheny, 36, director of a lobbying group funded by business interests, the California Business for Educational Excellence.

So now, Asimov continues, the state board consists of: “six heads of business, two former mayors, an ex-principal, and the state's only 17-year-old permitted to cast a binding vote on a policy-making body.”

Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Because, after all, the purpose of public education in California is to provide fodder for the economic engines, not to produce public-spirited citizens or promote “the well-lived life” or anything wimpy like that.

Actually, there’s only one former mayor on the board — Vicki Reynolds is still the mayor of Beverly Hills, although she’s not part-owner anymore of “one of Phoenix's most squalid, crime-ridden apartment complexes,” as the LA Times put it, in a story about “authorities in Arizona” who “have filed 937 criminal charges, potentially carrying $4.9 million in fines, against the owners of Phoenix's most troublesome slum.” Apparently Reynolds “deeded her share to a charity” at the end of last year after the charges were filed — no doubt to a charity “serving the kids.”

Another point which deserves mention: two of Davis’ earlier “heads of business” appointments are dot-com types. One, Carlton Jenkins, is — or was? — CEO of OneNetNow.com, which when you go there, tells you tersely: “On Sunday March 31, OneNetNow.com, LLC will discontinue operation of its www.OneNetNow.com website.”

The other dot-com CEO, Reed Hastings, now chairman of the state’s education board, heads up Netflix.com, a wonderful website where you can download all kinds of educational movies including: Erotic Thrillers, Crime Thrillers, Mobster, Murder, Teen Screams, Satanic Stories and Slashers. I’m surprised there isn’t a “Teen School Shooter” category, just to make things easier. Then, of course, there’s a third “business head” appointed by Davis, one Robert Abernathy, the president of Self-Storage Management Co. — a real intellectual academic type, from the looks of his photo on the board’s web site.

In the Sacramento Bee’s Friday story, reporter Emily Bazar quoted California Teachers Association spokeswoman Becky Zoglman as saying: “We’re speechless. These appointments would mean there are no active teachers on the board that determines education policy for our state.”

So who needs teachers? On the policy level or in the classroom… Computers and videos are much more cost-effective, and don’t join unions, either.

Lobbyist Tacheny, to be fair, apparently has a doctorate in education and “has worked in administration for the Los Angeles Unified School District.” As a board member, Bazar writes, Tacheny “hopes to ensure that Davis’ initiatives for standards and school accountability stay on track. She also plans to focus on improving communication with schools.”

Communication with schools by who? By businesses, I suppose she means. Just think, if businesses were only free to “communicate” to the schools exactly what sort of workers they’d need four years into the future, the schools could churn ‘em out as efficiently as any other assembly line.

If US workers came with a more efficient operating system — task-specific, without a lot of excess data, and with respect for authority permanently pre-installed — Big Daddy Fisher and his boys at The Gap wouldn’t have to be hiring 12-year-old Cambodian girls to sew their clothes. They could do it almost as cheap right here at home.

Neither reporter mentioned the anti-sweatshop campaign against The Gap, or the continued allegations that factories making goods destined for The Gap exploit child labor. A BBC documentary aired in October included interviews with six Cambodian girls — as young as 12 and 14 — detailing their unhappy lives as employees of June Textiles, a factory manufacturing clothing for The Gap and Nike.

“If each month they pay every one of us the price of two shirts we would feel better,” one girl said on camera. “But here we're cheaper than the price of a single shirt, and I think we've been working like hell.”

These girls make about $40 a month, working seven long days a week — standing up, one of them said, and as long as 16 hours a day, according to another. They live four to a room, in rat-infested dormitories without running water, the BBC crew said, and after paying for rent and food, “there’s nothing left” of their wage to send home to their parents.

The Gap claims that it actively monitors its contract factories for labor abuses, but as the BBC reporter commented: “If Nike and the Gap were doing what they said, interviewing workers, monitoring factories properly, enforcing their anti-sweatshop rules, why hadn't they found what we had?”

In only a few days, the BBC team found a half-dozen factories in Cambodia manufacturing for either Nike or the Gap with “persistent and serious breaches of their own codes of conduct,” and none of the workers they interviewed “had ever been interviewed by a monitor.”

“It's almost as if that ethical trading policy which these big labels trumpet in Europe and America just doesn't exist in any real way here,” one of the reporters mused after interviewing the girls.

Asimov’s Chronicle story does point out that “the official biography put out by the governor yesterday did not say that Fisher also favors the right of for-profit companies to run public schools.”

Indeed, Fisher is a big player in the movement to privatize public education — as is well known, back in 1998, the Fisher Foundation gave $25 million to the for-profit charter school operators, Edison Schools, Inc. (Fisher, who also spends lots of money on politicians, contributed another $10,000 to Davis’ never-shut campaign chest just two or three months ago, a fact that was mentioned by both reporters.)

It’ll be handy for Edison Inc. to have Fisher on the state education board — especially if, as seems likely as we go to press, the new majority (elected last November) on the San Francisco Board of Education cancels the city’s controversial contract with Edison Inc. to manage a for-profit school in Noe Valley.

So, folks, these are the people our Democratic governor — “the education governor” — deems fit to govern California’s now-troubled public school system. Any other Davis voters (yes, yes, I admit it — I was suckered in by Davis’ pledge to “spare all the old growth from the lumberman’s axe”) want to join me in a round of heartfelt “mea culpas” and a chorus of “The Democratic Party is dead, the Democratic Party is dead, heigh ho the dairy-o, the Democratic Party is dead”?

One Response to "Doing It for the Kids (March 21, 2001)"

  1. david hayden   April 22, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    THANK EVERYONE THAT PRAYED FOR MY GRANDAUGHTERS TO BE RETURNED UNHARMED, GOD CAN DO ANYTHING IF YOU ASK A THEN BUT OUT. PRAISE GOD, THEY ARE HOME.

    Reply

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