Dump Duncan. The Power of a Plan versus Petition

copyright © 2012 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

The Powell Plan understood what the Dump Duncan advocates seem to have missed.  “The Medium is the Message.”  Melodic Messages such as “Freedom” and “Individual Choice” Move the Masses. Move the Masses. Money is less Meaningful than a Mission that Gives Voice to a Shared Vision.

What does a memorandum scribed more than a two score ago have to do with a present-day petition?  Everything!  Granted, on the surface there are few if any similarities beyond the veracity that each addresses education.   One is an archaic collection of suggestions.  The other is a contemporary polemic petition.  The latter has an immediate punch.  The language is forceful.  The sentiments are fervent.  Signers of the Dump Duncan supplication submit, we “wish to express our extreme displeasure,” followed by a threat. “It is unlikely that you will receive continued support unless…”  The plea is addressed solely to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.  The former, known as The Powell Memo, while a quiet communiqué, became a catalyst for lasting and profound change.    The latter “Dump Duncan!” document, however, will likely die a quiet death.  Why might this be?

A word; which has a wide appeal, propagates the Powell dossier. “Freedom.” The stance silently stated and shared with many was “the truth is that freedom as a concept is indivisible.” Indeed, even those who wish to Dump Duncan might agree.  After all, endorsers of Duncan initiative seek also emancipation.  Signatories seek freedom from No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top mandates and the man who enforces such unyielding legislation.

Freedom is a concept that resonates within us all.  However liberty from this particular Secretary of Education does little to excite most Americans.  In truth, despite a devotion to Party or position innumerable individuals think Arne Duncan is doing a fine job.  Thus the reason the Dump Duncan dictum did little to move the masses.  Meanwhile, the Powell Manifesto moved and moves us all, like a ghost never gone with the wind.

Readers respond to what is relatable, the Powell proclamation.  The “views expressed…tentative and suggestive” sparked a flame. Insidiously, the intensity of the fire grew and grew.  Today, the nation is ablaze.  Intent on privatization, a select few ultimately persuaded a nation.  Millions of individual men, women, and children, acceded to the need to transform our schools.  

Once the initial mission was accomplished the quest did not end.   It was never meant to as is evident in the statement; “Recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival – survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.”  It is essential to realize as the Writer, an Industrialist highly involved in multiple Boards of Education did.  Even Educators fight for survival.  Teachers, parents too, want the right to choose.  Everyone does.  In America, few are ready or willing to reject what is prized, the Entrepreneurial spirit.  Citizens, and those who flock to the States, celebrate what Capitalism symbolizes.  We cherish independence and the possibility that as an individual we too can succeed.

Thus as it has been for decades; society and the world, followed the lead first fashioned in the subdued Powell epistle.  Indeed, were it not for the effectiveness of this treatise, there would be no Dump Duncan plea.  The Powell Memo or at least what some consider a transformative version of it, would have been but a whisper, lost in the past.

The Powell Plan understood what the Dump Duncan advocates seem to have missed.  “The Medium is the Message.”  Melodic Messages such as “Freedom” and “Individual Choice” Move the Masses. Money is far less Meaningful.  Convince the people that what they want is what they need and can have and the world, education and equity reform will be your oysters.

Beyond a Broad Appeal.  Saper  Vedere. To know how to see.”

Justice Powell had sight, hindsight, foresight, and insight.  Lewis F. Powell had a vision, a message to impart.  He mapped out the elements that comprise the essence of an effective campaign.  The Corporate Lawyer understood the core of a fine argument.  It is vital to gain people’s confidence, utilize any and all available medium, and the case is yours.  Mister Powell’s thoughts can be summarized in a phrase, as Marshall McLuhan articulated before him, “The Medium is the message!” This truism translates to ‘Market to the masses.’  Do not miss a moment.  Broad appeal is the aim.  “Public relations” equates to relate to the public. Meet their needs and wants, one individual at a time.  

The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.  “Television.” Radio. Periodicals. “The Scholarly Journals.” “Books, Paperbacks and Pamphlets.” “Paid Advertisements.” Pronouncements are powerful; that is if a presenter or presentation is profound and present in every conversation.  The essential elements need be pervasive and persuasive.  Expression matters more than what is expressed.  However, these fundamentals alone may not be enough to sway the people.  The ultimate strength is found in “freedom.”

People need to feel as though whatever their thoughts, these were arrived at independently, and after much analysis.  Thus, the message must appear on every avenue, in each forum and discussion.  Omnipresence affords infinite opportunities.  In time, ideas are internalized.

For Powell and his pals the hope was the public might see and surmise that it was time for a change.  Surely, the average America was aware, or would be with a little help from free-market friends, there had been a triumphant broad-based “Attack on the American Enterprise System.” In his personal assessment of the past, Lewis Powell penned what his business partners also believed.  He outlined the dimension, sources, and tone of the assault on entrepreneurship.  The eventual Supreme Court Justice also gave voice to “The Apathy and Default of Business.”  Much as a frustrated Teacher might say at present.  Colleagues frequently feel that coworkers are overly compliant, unconcerned, or just too comfortable with what is.

All those decades ago, Barrister Powell, advanced a societal shift…a move from a perceived attack on American Free Enterprise to an engineered assault on public opinion, especially as it relates to education and equity.  Perhaps, we can best understand how this played out by way of an analogy.  Contemporary anecdotes may offer just the “saper vedere” we need.  

Medium Builds a Movement Beyond Magnates or Mentors

On the Surface, Seen in the Cinema

We can see the contrast and consequences of a vision acted upon when we observe what occurs in our theatres.  The regard for films such as Waiting For Superman versus ‘American Teacher, narrated by Matt Damon tell a part of the tale.

Actor, Director, and Author, Matt Damon has a name and fame.  Millions express an interest in the man, his career, and subscribe to the quests Damon undertakes.  His work sells.  However, the movie American Teacher was never a box-office success.  The motion picture was barely a blip on the national radar.  It is as the Dump Duncan appeal, only acknowledged by academics, classroom teachers and their allies.

The American Teacher is not alone in the film world.  Other productions have attempted to tell a tale about education, just as  Waiting For Superman does.  Several flicks evoke sniffles a technique used effectively in the Guggenheim creation.   Race To Nowhere, and August To June, bring audiences into the lives of little ones, as does Superman.  In each production, viewers can and do relate to real-life “characters.”  Thus, the theory that the  much-acclaimed movie was a tearjerker, and therefore, a success does not hold.  

Through each production, we feel the pain in pupils and parents.  School life offers stress as well as success.  The circumstances in one or the others are all too familiar.  Any of us who has yearned to learn, especially as children, fears being told that we, or our work is a failure. Empathy is a strong emotion evoked as we watch the stories unfold on a silver screen. People relate to what mothers and fathers feel.  When a young one stumbles, falls, and pick them selves up again we bleed then believe.  Then, why might it be that one of the movies has a mammoth following?  Why is Waiting For Superman present in the public’s collective mind?

Obviously, we cannot surmise that documentaries do less well; Waiting is of this genre.  It is a “factual” film, dependent on your personal perspective.  Yet, it has received awards, accolades, and is much appreciated. The essential difference came in the form of backers.  Not only did the message speak to the magnitude of the desire for freedom, Free-Enterprise proponents promoted the production.  Any policy or presentation that appeals to marketers is as a Muse.  Inspired Industrialists will happily be advance-persons and advertise programs that push an agenda of “Choice.”

In actuality, frame after frame of Waiting for Superman circulated in Corporate Board rooms. Audiences of Chief Executives gathered to assess the much-acclaimed film.  Staffers were called to view.  Won over by the medium, and the message, word spread.  Ah, the wildfire that today is ablaze.  Soon audiences attended screenings in droves.  Showings were held not solely in theatres, but in homes, town halls, and youth centers.  Clubs used the film as fundraiser draws.

Behind the Scenes. In the Streets and In Corporate Suites

Money. Money. Money! Does not a Movement Make

Such was the fate of the Powell Memo and its mantra as well.  Interestingly enough, the two [Which two?]share the same message; privatize! Each was sponsored by big businesses.  

In the case of the push for the Powell Plan, there were many movers and shakers.  US Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Columbia Broadcasting Services (CBS) were actors of note.  

The latter two of these enterprises could and did weave a tapestry that told the tale of privatization in all its glory.  Lights, cameras, action mixed with a bit of adversity, adventure, triumph, and special effects, surely tell this American  folkloric story successfully.  

Witness Waiting For Superman.  It too had and has phenomenal partners.  Glance at a revered registry, Organizations Making a Difference for Waiting For Superman.  The Gates, Broad and Walton Family Foundations are primary partners in the popular plots.   (Please explore their areas of interest and influence.  Click on the stack of dollars in Under the Influence; Big Education Spenders to see behind the scenes.)

Consider Merit Pay and Charter Schools.  Powerful privatization promoters subsidize vouchers too, just as they did the movie.  All fall are under the influence of the influential.  

Perchance unexpected, although equally compatible with the Entrepreneurial agenda are federally “funded” programs such as Race To the Top, and No Child Left Behind.  These donors, and more benefactors sponsored the film and were intimately involved in Arne Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 Chicago School Miracle Story.  

The marriage between moneyed and governement bureacracies is a long and enduring, mutually beneficial engagement, one Lewis F. Powell proposed.  Plese recall, Mister Powell, unlike Dump Duncaneers, saw the pertinence of no left stone unturned.

Corporations fund alliances such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),”the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators.  This organization, as many other conservative collectives, was born of the inspirational ideology found in Powell’s prose. Corporate-controlled task forces within ALEC address issues from education to health policy. Legislation introduced by this dominion in recent sessions complements the agenda voiced in theePowell doctrine and in the documentary, “Waiting For Superman.” Privatize education. Break unions, such as the Teacher’s.  Deregulate major industries, inclusive of the institution known as public schools.

As many might be aware, in 2011, in 2012, and as is expected to be in the future, America’s public education system has evolved.  For-profit venture Capitalist sought and found homes in America’s “public” schools.  The key to schoolhouse doors was opened with the turn of a phrase, the one found throughout the Powell Memo.  “Freedom!”  

Independence and individual choice.  The music from Powell’s Manifesto prospered

While the immediate response might be “Follow the money.”  Frequently we find funds are not enough to advance a message.  Money does not buy love or a movement.  Consider recent political races and grass-roots actions.

Occupiers grow without gardens of green-backers.  Please ponder a list of abundantly affluent “losers.” Meg Whitman, spent $160 million on her failed bid for Governor of California.  Linda McMahon depleted her bank account with a $47 million withdraw.  Her belief was she could purchase a Connecticut Senatorial seat.  Microsoft Vice President Suzan DelBene tried to procure a position in the Washington House.  Well over two million dollars later, the candidate   was defeated.  In the 2012 Grand Old Party Presidential races we have often seen that dollars do not get the job done. Thus, we must wonder; as Lewis Powell did, what is it about a film or a philosophy that allows it to spread?  It is the meduim and the essence of the message.  “Freedom!”

Does it have a beat that harmonizes with that of an individual’s heart.  “Liberty!”  Sing it loud!  “Choice.” Chime in.  People on the Left, Right, Middle and Independent spirits do.

Melodic Messages Move the Masses.  The Choir. The Chorus and Choice

Free Enterprize! Freedom. Individual Choice. “Education  and Equity,” as envisioned and eloquently expressed by entreprenuerial edification deformers, is areality embraced by the public.  Yes, please, the people say, we must put Students First.   Educator need to Teach For America.

The opportunity to choose the best school for our offspring is one any, every, and  likely all mothers and fathers covet.  Our President understands this.  Mister Obama often cites his own circumstance when he speaks of the issue. Just as persons who actively advocate for “School Choice” Barack Obama wants to provide his progengy with the finest education he can.  The variance comes only in how this might be achieved politically through policy.

No one can deny that consistently, Barack Obama, just as Arne Duncan, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, Michelle Rhee, the American Legislators Executive Council (ALEC) and a majority of “we the people” hold dear the prospect of Charter Schools.  Vouchers are the aspect of School Choice that the Administration rejects.  Only Dump Duncaneers and/or persons who support an authentic preservation and transformation of public education object to owner operated Education Management Organization Charter Schools and Vouchers.

We might surmise the  intial bipartisan hug over No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top was born out of a love for accountability.  Indeed, even today, Teachers, their Unions, those who see the woes of high-stakes testing, and some who acknowledge the abundant stress these bring, justify a need for “accountability.”  “Sophistication” of the standards appears to be the point of contention.  As a whole, very few believe that education and equity can be sustained without some sort of quantifiable measure.  Perhaps, those who do never sat in the pews occupied by the broader population.

Barack Obama, alongside his friend, Arne Duncan did.  The two hummed the hymn as the High Priests and Priestess, sang.  Affluent families attended the church and stood with common parishioners as they  kneeled and prayed.  As the Good Book says, Moms and Dads must have the prerogative to choose what is best for their children.

Thus, there is reason to believe.  The Powell Plan understood what the Dump Duncan advocates seem to have missed.  “The Medium is the Message.”  Melodic Messages such as “Freedom” and “Individual Choice” Move the Masses. Money is less Meaningful than a Mission that Gives Voice to a Shared Vision.

References and Readings…

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