Sunday, November 29, 2015

BATs Educators Survey:  Using Technology in Our Schools 

BATs – there has been much concern about the impending ESEA Reauthorization (aka Every Child Achieves Act) coming out on November 30th.  This new education law will be voted on by the House on 12/1 or 12/2 and by the Senate the following week (12/7).  When it left a joint committee the vote was 39-1 to accept it.  Lately, there has been concern about what is in the bill.  At this juncture the directors of BATs are discussing the direction we want to go but we will be waiting for the final bill so that we can comb through it and offer a firm direction for our network.  We will have to mobilize quickly for the House vote. 

There is large concern that the bill has components in it that will allow Wall Street (through the Social Impact Bonds) to pillage public education funds and will allow tech companies/testing companies to turn our classrooms into online learning centers.   We are not sure as the bill has not been released but we will be looking hard at the new language that could  have been inserted. 

To stay ahead of the bill, we want your opinion on what is happening  with technology in your districts.  What are technology programs that are working or not working?  Are you required to use technology? Are there tech programs you are required to use that you feel are detrimental to teaching and learning?   Please take the BATs Educators Survey:   Using Technology in Our Schools.

As an organization we feel strongly that the education of our children should be kept in the hands of humans and that funding needs to go to children, not Wall Street or technology companies. 

Before you take our survey please read the definitions of some of the items we will be asking you about. 

Keep in mind some of the new reformy buzz words that we will be looking for in the Reauthorization of ESEA:

Pay for Success (through the Social Impact Bonds, or SIB)
A lot of buzz has suddenly come up with the Pay for Success tie in that is rumored to be included in the new ESEA rewrites. But what is Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds? According to Nonprofit Quarterly, these bonds are simply a way of making the government pay investors that invest in social programs that will also include a return on their investment. In other words, the government will give money to high profiting organizations for their social financial contributions, and pay them more money on top of it; all with the premise of making these organizations look good and allow them a say in the decision making process. Many of these initiatives are already targeted at programs that are successful and begs the question, “Why not just directly finance the program?” The answer lies in the greed of the for-profit sector, wanting to profit from social justice, and to look good while doing it.
Chicago has had a Pre-K SIB to increase enrollment at the Pre-K level within the city. The initial cost of this initiative included funding from private investments, state grants, and city capital funds. What occurs after the initial investment, is that the government is left paying for costs that the private financiers refuse to fund (opening the door for the private organizations to control decision making through the tying of purse strings), as well as the heavy return on investment after completion of the project.
The ultimate question remains of these bonds...why are we making the government pay more for programs that are already guaranteed as a major platform? Basically no one can argue with the need for high levels of pre-K enrollment. Why are we tying more government funding into this that goes into the pockets of for-profit companies, such as Goldman Sachs, and then allowing these companies control of the decision making? When you take a look at the companies that are involved in the Pay for Success network, more names beyond Goldman Sachs raise additional bright red flags. Names like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, America Forward - a coalition that includes KIPP, Educators 4 Excellence, TFA and the New Teacher Center.

Competency-Based Learning/Personalized Learning/Student Centered Learning
Yes, they have co-opted Student Centered Learning.  This definition is taken directly from the USDOE and how it defines CBE, PL, and SCL
Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.

Blended Learning
According to the Glossary of Ed Reform, the term blended learning is generally applied to the practice of using both online and in-person learning experiences when teaching students. In a blended-learning course, for example, students might attend a class taught by a teacher in a traditional classroom setting, while also independently completing online components of the course outside of the classroom. In this case, in-class time may be either replaced or supplemented by online learning experiences, and students would learn about the same topics online as they do in class—i.e., the online and in-person learning experiences would parallel and complement one another.
Also called hybrid learning and mixed-mode learning, blended-learning experiences may vary widely in design and execution from school to school. For example, blended learning may be provided in an existing school by only a few teachers or it may be the dominant learning-delivery model around which a school’s academic program is designed. Online learning may be a minor component part of a classroom-based course, or video-recorded lectures, live video and text chats, and other digitally enabled learning activities may be a student’s primary instructional interactions with a teacher. In some cases, students may work independently on online lessons, projects, and assignments at home or elsewhere, only periodically meeting with teachers to review their learning progress, discuss their work, ask questions, or receive assistance with difficult concepts. In other cases, students may spend their entire day in a traditional school building, but they will spend more time working online and independently than they do receiving instruction from a teacher. Again, the potential variations are numerous. 

Community-based learning

Reformers have now co-opted that language and we need  you to know that Community-Based Education/Learning could mean “Learning Hubs”, or areas where students can go to get an online education in their community. 

At the same time, we need to be mindful that community based learning is in no way substituted for community schools that are built around the  control of the local educational authority with development and integration of community partnerships that work together to provide services for the families of the community.

We will be watching for anything in the language of the Every Child Achieves Act that is leaning towards the new buzz words for reformsters:  Compentency Based Education/Personalized Learning/Student Centered Learning/ Blended Learning/Community Based Education/Learning.

With all of this in mind we want to make sure that your voice and ideas about technology in the classroom will be known should we find these buzz words in the Every Child Achieves Act.  Please take our survey so that we are prepared to answer  with your voice.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

BATs Legislative Action Team - Weekly Legislative Update

ESEA Update
The final bill is set to come out on the 30th.  BATs will be reading this and issuing a report on any language that has changed since our last read on this several months ago.  The House should be voting on the 2nd or 3rd and the Senate will probably vote on it December 7th.  The larger concern is that there is NO debate on this bill.  This is concerning and BATs will mobilize to address any issues that we see with the bill and to make sure that there is debate and public comment on it. 

State by State Report - Thank you so our State Admins who reported in for this bulletin


Bills would report schools’ crime data next to test scores

Florida Republicans looking to ask voters for big changes in education

Alabama is not in session. Won't be until February


The Idaho Legislature begins the 2016 session in January. Little has appeared in the news except a discussion of including school nurses, librarians, and counselors in the career ladder. Since the 2015 bill has a test score component and uses the Danielson Framework, it will be interesting to see how the legislature will proceed.


Report: Cuomo may backtrack on tying teacher evaluation to Common Core scores

New KY governor takes office in 2 weeks. He's promising a Common Core repeal and charters.

The Tentacles Of Corporate Education Reform And How They Pull Parents Down The Rabbit Hole

Kansas bill could oust 40 percent of local school board members, survey says

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Of Lunacy and Rabid Dogs

“[The] idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America — it is nothing less than lunacy.” –Senator Ted Cruz
M enters my classroom on the first day of school tall and quiet and skinny. His eyes carry a haunted expression. 
M is a Syrian refugee. 
When I review his student file I read that he and his family had been in the country for only weeks before he entered school. There is no information about what he’s witnessed or experienced, just the date of entry into his new country and their new address. 
Several weeks into the year a friend observes my class and she sees what I see. M is withdrawn, quiet, sad. He doesn’t play with the others. When the others sing songs or play silly games, he sits down, removed from the group. He doesn’t warm up to anyone but me; he sits next to me on the rug every time, and he gets upset if someone tries to take his spot. 
He hasn’t even lost his first tooth, but he’s probably seen more horrifying things than I have. 
“We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, verycarefully.”
C and G spent a year together in my class. They’re not related, but I’m pretty sure their families have been together for years, first in a refugee camp and now in their adopted hometown. 
They may not be blood relatives, but they’re family. C takes on the role of responsible big sister, while G is the mischievous little brother. They are both smart, hardworking, and polite. They love me and I love them back; even after I was no longer their teacher, they came back every morning to visit. I miss their morning visits in my new school. 
“If there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” Carson, a front-runner in some opinion polls, said Thursday at a campaign event in Mobile, Alabama.
S and her parents and little brother came to visit school the day before school started. She entered the room the first time with a grin on her face; she still walks in every morning with that same grin lighting up her face. S is also a refugee, although she was not born in her home country; she was born in another country while they were waiting to be resettled in the U.S. 
S loves pink and purple. She draws a princess picture at least once every day. She loves stories and puzzles and helping her friends. She doesn’t let her language barrier stop her from communicating with them; she finds a way through words and gestures to make it work. 
“Something isn’t going right in this open-immigration policy. We are importing terrorism,” he [Mike Huckabee] continued.
I’m witnessing a great deal of cognitive dissonance these days. I go to school and teach my immigrant and refugee kids about the first Thanksgiving. We learn about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower and Squanto. We make turkeys and “plant” corn with fish like Squanto taught the Pilgrims. We learn about the Thanksgiving parade and watch the balloons expand and rise into the air. 
We learn about the Pilgrims settling here to make a new life for themselves. 
And then I watch the news or read a headline or go on Facebook. And there is hatred. So much hatred. 
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Unless you’re a refugee, we tell them. Then you don’t matter and you’re probably trying to kill us anyway. 
“As Governor I will oppose Syrian refugees being relocated to Arkansas.”–Gov. Asa Hutchinson
While American leaders and presidential candidates announce plans to refuse, reject, and deport refugees, France is planning to welcome 30,000 Syrian refugees in the next two years–three times the number that President Obama has said will be allowed to enter the U.S. 
“My view on this is that the safety and security of the people of the commonwealth of Mass is my highest priority.”–Gov. Charlie Baker
In the meantime S is still walking in every morning with a smile on her face. She’s recognizing more letters and making their sounds. She loves to come talk to me. 
“…I will oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” he [Gov. Robert Bentley] said. “As your governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”
C and G both love to read chapter books, and they’re excelling in school. Their teachers continue to rave about what good kids they are. 
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
And M? He’s still quiet, reserved, and holds himself back from others to observe what’s going on. But he’s also eager to help his friends. He raises his hand to speak. The other day he spontaneously began to dance with S during one of those silly songs he used to ignore. He still likes to sit by me, but he likes sitting with the other kids too. 
And his favorite thing to draw is rainbows.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Activist's Letter to Her Son
By:  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director BATs

We adopted our son from Russia when he was nine months old. It was the single greatest day of our lives when they finally brought him to the hotel we were staying at in Siberia. The orphanage workers handed him over to us and made us take all his clothes off so they could return them to his orphanage for another child. It was, to me, a strange stripping of his former life but a renewal for his new life.

We proudly kept his birth name and began our new lives together.

When we adopted him, we knew that he would come with cognitive delays. We were educated by the adoption agency about possible health issues that he could be born with. He had years of therapy (OT, PT, Sensory Processing Disorder Therapy, Socialization Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy, two eye surgeries to fix his strabismus) to catch him up.  He worked so hard! 

He has excelled beyond our wildest dreams, and he is the joy of our lives. 

He is an accomplished trumpet player, he knows the full history of the sinking of the Titanic, he is a lover of animals, and he is an amazing son.  

I decided to write this letter to him because I have been involved in trying to stop the destruction of his education for 3 years.  My involvement has been time consuming and I am hoping that this letter will serve as an archive for him to understand why I fight.

My son,
I adore you more than you will ever know. Having you in my life has been an utter joy and has enriched my life beyond measure. This is a hard letter to write because I have been fighting a battle that began because of you, my love for you, and my want for you to get a great education. As a teacher and a mother, I know that getting a sound education will open so many doors for you. I know that using education to find your passion will make you a happy adult. This is why I fight. This is why I travel and speak; this is why I work on the computer for hours at a time to write, organize, and join coalitions to make sure that you, and all children, have an education that opens doors and allows for discovery of a passion.

There are entities in the country that want to take away your right to a “Free and Appropriate Education." They want to deny you the rights you are entitled to under IDEA.  They want you to work to IEP goals that you could never meet. They want you to take exit assessments that are designed to set you up to fail. They want to create a cookie cutter education system that won’t help you overcome your weaknesses and will not lift your strengths to the surface. I know this, your teachers know this, but the entities that make education policy are not listening. 

You are my son. I adore you. I love you and…
I will not be ignored.

So, I need to extend an apology to you.

I am sorry that adults who make education policy are ignorant about the real needs of special education children. I am sorry that adults involved in making education policy continue to marginalize special needs children. I am sorry that adults who make education policy continue to see special needs children, and their parents, as invisible.

The fight we have before us is to tell education policy makers that we will not be marginalized, and we will not be invisible.

So, I continue to fight for you, for all children with special needs, and I hope one day…
You will understand why I fight.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

BATs Legislative Action Team - Weekly Legislative Update

Reporting legislative news at both the federal and state levels!

 ESEA Update

The ESEA‬ conference report passes 39-1 Next: House vote on December 2nd

ESEA rewrite clears another hurdle; final votes coming
At long last, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is teed up for final votes in the House and Senate after Thanksgiving! On Thursday, by a vote of 39-1, a Senate/House conference committee approved a framework to reauthorize ESEA for the first time in nearly 14 years.

--"The framework replaces the one-size-fits-all 'adequate yearly progress' federal accountability system under current law with a comprehensive State-designed system that improves State capacity to identify and support struggling schools."
--"The framework maintains annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12."
-- "The framework ensures States are able to choose their challenging academic standards in reading and math aligned to higher education in the state without interference from Washington. The federal government may not mandate or incentivize states to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, including Common Core."
-- "Instead of requiring schools to implement the same one-size-fits-all school improvement requirements as they did under NCLB, the framework calls for evidence-based action in any school in which students aren’t learning, but the Secretary cannot prescribe the specific interventions or improvement strategies schools must use."
--"The framework sets high standards for students with disabilities by putting in place a state-level participation cap of 1 percent of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who can take the alternate assessment aligned to alternate academic achievement standards. Additionally, the framework moves accountability for English language proficiency from a separate system in Title III to Title I, to ensure that States are focusing on the unique needs of students who are learning English."
-- "The framework maintains maintenance of effort and supplement not supplant, with additional flexibility for States and school districts."
-- "The framework also ends federal mandates on teacher evaluations, while allowing states to innovate with federal funding."
--Supports at-risk populations (multiple things outlined in this section)
-- "The framework authorizes the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program to help States and local school districts target federal resources on local priorities to better serve disadvantaged students."
-- "The framework improves the Charter Schools Program by investing in new charter school models, as well as allowing for the replication and expansion of high-quality charter school models."
-- "authorizing dedicated funding to support important priorities, including innovation, teacher quality, afterschool programming, increased access to STEM education, arts education, and accelerated learning, safe and healthy students, literacy, and community involvement in schools, and other bipartisan priorities." There is also a Preschool grant program being put together.

Higher Education - Brianne Kramer
H.R.4109 - To amend the Higher Education Opportunity Act to restrict institutions of higher education from using revenues derived from Federal educational assistance funds for advertising, marketing, or recruiting purposes.

State by State Report - Thank you so our State Admins who reported in for this bulletin

Washington State - Becca Ritchie

State Supreme Court says no — again — to Washington charter schools

New York - Marla Kilfoyle

Wisconsin - Debbie Kadon

Jeremy Thiesfeldt’s Bill to Silence School Boards, Principals, and Administrators

New Jersey - Melissa Tomlinson
NJ - A447/S1728 Establishing a task force to study the establishment of a full day kindergarten
A2994/S721 - proposal to allow higher performing districts to be monitored by QSAC every 7 years instead of the current 3
A-4044/S-1594 Establish requiremen
t for daily recess K - 5
A-2888/S-1039 Require teacher prep programs to include credit hours in autism spectrum disorder for instructional certificates for teachers of students with disabilities endorsements.
A4328/S445 Establishes Response to Intervention initiative in DOE to support and encourage school districts in implementation of Response to Intervention framework
S3240 Authorizes establishment of recovery high school alternative education programs.

Text can be searched at this link using the bill numbers

Florida - Cyndi Pelosi

HUR 759: Filed by charter school exec Rep. Manny Diaz eliminates school board authorizing power


Saturday, November 21, 2015

This Is a Story About Tenure

by Amy Ellis, Associate Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

When I was 16, I did a 6-week summer program at Carnegie Mellon in which I took some introductory courses in Calculus and Physics. While there I met a friend who liked math as much as I did. As August began to stretch into September, we returned to our respective hometowns (LA for him, Spokane for me) and commenced our senior year in high school.

Throughout that year, we would send letters via cassette tape, and we would include math problems or math puzzles for one another. One day, I got a tape with a problem he posed for me, and I remember just how he introduced it: "I'll be reeeeaally impressed if you can solve this," he said. "*Really* impressed."

Here was the problem. Imagine you have a cube that is made up of tiny cubes. Take apart the cube and reassemble it into two smaller cubes, with no tiny cubes left over. What are the dimensions of the original cube?

Well, that seemed like an easy, straightforward problem. Why would solving that be so impressive? I began playing around with some perfect cubes, trying to find a solution to a^3 = b^3 + c^3.

Those of you who aren't an ignorant teenager from Eastern Washington might immediately recognize that my friend set me up. I tried and tried all night to come up with a perfect cube triple that would satisfy the equation, but I could not. I made a program on my HP calculator to run a search, but it didn't yield any triples. The next day, I went into school and made a program for the Apple IIe to run a search for a triple to satisfy the equation. By the end of the day, it was still searching, and the numbers were huge. Frustrated, I took it to my math teacher, who took one look at the problem and started laughing. "Amy," he laughed, "There's a famous theorem that states there is no solution to this equation!"

Unbeknownst to me, right at that time the mathematician Andrew Wiles was working on what would become the successful proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.

I was unfamiliar with Fermat's Last Theorem at 17, but Andrew Wiles first encountered it as a 10-year old. In 1637, Fermat conjectured a^n + b^n = c^n has no non-zero integer solutions for x, y, and z when n > 2. Fermat made an intriguing note in the margin of his manuscript: "I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this theorem which this margin is too small to contain."

In the early 60's, at the age of 10, Andrew Wiles was captured by the simplicity of the theorem and began to try to come up with a proof of it. Fermat had proved the case for n = 4, and Euler wrote to Goldbach in 1753 that he had a proof for n = 3. Over time mathematicians were able to prove cases for other n's, but the problem remained to prove the general case. By the time Wiles encountered the theorem as a child, mathematicians had decided to put the theorem aside because they considered a proof impossible.

In the 1997 documentary by NOVA called The Proof, Wiles explained, "This problem, this particular problem, just looked so simple. It just looked as if it had to have a solution. And of course, it's very special because Fermat said he had a solution."

For over 300 years Fermat's Last Theorem intrigued mathematicians, professional and amateur alike. The theorem's notoriety grew over time as mathematicians failed to make substantial progress in solving it, with science academies offering large prizes to whoever could prove the general case. After the mid-1800s, most mainstream mathematicians gave up on proving Fermat's theorem. Furthermore, pursuing the problem had no known implications for other areas of mathematics. This meant that pursuing a proof was a big intellectual risk. A mathematician could spend an entire career attempting a proof and come up with nothing, with little to show for that effort.

Why would this endeavor be such an intellectual risk? Wiles explained, "The problem with working on Fermat is that you could spend years getting nothing. It's fine to work on any problem so long as it generates mathematics. Almost the definition of a good mathematical problem is the mathematics it generates, rather than the problem itself." Fermat's theorem was considered useless, in a certain sense, because it had no practical value in terms of generating new mathematics. It wasn't a mainstream, central question in mathematics.

As a young mathematician Wiles put aside Fermat's Last Theorem and took up the study of elliptic curves under his advisor at Cambridge, John Coates. Wiles became a successful mathematician and joined the faculty at Princeton, gaining the position of professor in 1981. In 1986, Ken Ribet, who was at Berkeley, built on the work of Gerhard Frey to establish a link between Fermat's Last Theorem, elliptic curves, and a conjecture known as the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture. Ribet's findings showed that in order to prove Fermat's Last Theorem one only had to prove the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture. Wiles knew that from that moment, that would be the problem he worked on.

Under the protection of tenure, Wiles abandoned all of his other research. He cut himself off from the rest of the world, and for the next seven years, he worked on proving the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture, and consequently Fermat's theorem, most of that time spent in complete secrecy.

Ribet noted, "I was one of the vast majority of people who believed that the Shimura-Taniyama conjecture was just completely inaccessible, and I didn't bother to prove it - even think about trying to prove it. Andrew Wiles is probably one of the few people on earth who had the audacity to dream that you could actually go and prove this conjecture."

Wiles worked in secrecy and isolation because talking to people about Fermat generated too much interest. His colleagues had no idea what he was working on, and thought perhaps he was finished as a mathematician. His colleague Peter Sarnak thought, "Maybe he's run out of ideas. That's why he's quiet." After 6 years of working completely alone, Wiles was close to a proof, and confided in his colleague Nick Katz, to help him verify one part of the proof. Katz found no problems and in June 1993 Wiles delivered a series of lectures at Cambridge in which he concluded by announcing that he had proved Fermat's Last Theorem.

Later, the proof was found to contain a flaw, but after a year of collaborative work with Richard Taylor, Wiles fixed the problem. Wiles and Taylor published their work in May 1995, in two papers in the journal Annals of Mathematics. The final proof ran 130 pages. Wiles was subsequently awarded the Schock Prize in Mathematics, the Prix Fermat, the Wolf Prize, and was elected to the National Academy in Sciences, receiving its mathematics prizes. His proof made history.

I have been thinking a lot about Wiles' story in the wake of Wisconsin's push to effectively end tenure. On May 29 the Joint Finance Committee introduced a motion that included broad provisions for terminating tenured faculty, which was passed in July. Moreover, in October faculty at UW-Madison discovered that Madison will not be allowed to write its own tenure policy, but instead will be bound by the parameters of a system-wide policy developed by the Board of Regents. The Regents policy will mandate a post-tenure review process, one of whose possible outcomes is termination of a tenured appointment based on unsatisfactory progress.

Many people make arguments for tenure based on the need to protect faculty in speaking out against their administration, in having the protection to question the status quo, or in conducting research that may be politically risky. These are important considerations for tenure protections and should not be ignored. But Wiles' story reminds me of another, less-often discussed reason for tenure protections: The importance of protecting intellectually risky research.

Under the protection of tenure, Wiles worked in complete secrecy for over 6 years on a problem that did not yield much in terms of publications along the way. His colleagues thought he might be washed up. What would his post-tenure review have looked like? Would Wiles have been able to show sufficient productivity to avoid sanctions and possibly termination? Would he have had the confidence to even attempt his proof under a policy that would have required regular demonstration of post-tenure productivity? Under the threat of possible termination?

Yes, most of us are not Andrew Wiles. But tenure offers the protection necessary to attempt the really big problems, the scientifically risky ideas, the ones that probably won't pan out, but might, and if they do, have the opportunity to move the field forward in historic ways. We need a system in place that enables faculty to go after the intellectual brass ring. That pushes faculty to think expansively about their research, to be creative, to take big intellectual risks. Tenure affords those monumental leaps in knowledge.

As a teenager interested in solving math problems, I had no idea that I would end up as a tenured faculty member at the University of Wisconsin. I truly believe it is a privilege to do the work I do. The directions of my research have taken me to places I could not have predicted a decade ago, and I hope that will continue to be true as my career evolves. I can think of no better career than the one I have. But I have also noticed that my work is more creative and more expansive post tenure. I am more willing to take risks, to follow a path that seems like it might lead to something fruitful, even if I'm not sure.

I hope that the UW Regents and the state of Wisconsin will eventually reverse its current course to reinstate strong, robust tenure protections. Whether it's the discovery of vitamin D by UW-Madison biochemist Harry Steenbock, or the first bone marrow transplant, performed at UW hospital, or the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, tenure protections affords significant advancements in research in science, in mathematics, in the humanities, and in the social sciences. We want those advancements to continue to happen in the great state of Wisconsin.

Prejudice of Poverty: Why Americans Hate the Poor and Worship the Rich


Take a breath.

Take a deep breath. Let your lungs expand. Let the air collect inside you.

Hold it.

Now exhale slowly. Feels good doesn’t it? You’d never realize there are hundreds of contaminates floating invisible in that air. Dirt, germs, pollution – all entering your body unnoticed but stopped by your immune system.

If only we had such a natural defense against prejudice. Racism, classism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia – we take all that in with every breath, too.

It may not seem like it, but all these value judgments are inherent in American culture. They’re as much a part of life in the United States as the flag, football and apple pie. And to a greater or lesser extent, you have subconsciously accepted them to help construct your ideas of normality.

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? How should black people be treated? To whom is it appropriate to be sexually attracted? What makes a person poor and why? All of these questions and so many more have been answered one way or another for us by the dominant culture. Not everyone accepts this perceived wisdom, but most of us have swallowed these solutions whole without thought, logic or criticism – and we don’t even know it’s happened.

Take our preconceptions about wealth and poverty.

Well paying jobs are drying up. Minimum wage work is becoming more common. Salaries are shrinking while productivity is increasing. Meanwhile the cost of living continues to rise as does the cost of getting an education.

Yet we still cling to the belief that all rich people deserve their wealth and all poor people deserve their poverty.

When we hear about someone on Welfare or food stamps, we sneer. The average conception is that this person is probably faking it. He or she could have earned enough to avoid public assistance, but he or she isn’t trying hard enough.

Moreover, we KNOW with a certainty that goes beyond mere empiricism that many of the poor still manage to buy the newest sneakers, have flat screen TVs and eat nothing but Porterhouse steaks.

You can hear this kind of story uttered with perfect certainty from the mouths of white, middle class people everywhere. They don’t mind helping people who are really in need, they say, but most poor folks are gaming the system.

Never once do they stop to consider that this story about impoverished individuals living better than middle class Americans is, itself, one of the most pervasive myths in our society. We know it the same way we know all Polish people are dumb, all Asians are smart and all Black people love fried chicken and watermelon.

However, none of this “knowledge” is supported by the facts. Look at the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the New York Times:
"Allegations of fraud, including an informal economy in which food stamps are turned into cash or used to buy liquor, gasoline or other items besides food have been used to argue that the program is out of control. In fact, the black market accounts for just over 1 percent of the total food stamp program, which is far less than fraud in other government programs like Medicare and Medicaid."
If you include erroneous payments because of mistakes on applications, overall loss to the food stamp program comes to 4%, according to the Department of Agriculture. Compare that to the 10% lost to Medicare and Medicaid – programs no one is calling to be cut or eliminated.

But figures like these don’t convince the average American. We’re so certain that all or most poor people are just lazy parasites. Everyone “knows” some low-income person they deem to be living too high for their circumstances.

And, yes, sometimes you do see an impoverished individual not wearing rags. Sometimes you do peek into an indigent person’s hovel and see new electronics or game systems.

How does this happen?


Credit card companies are waiting in the shadows to extend a line of credit to just about anybody. It’s a safe bet for these businesses. If they give you money today, they can charge exorbitant rates of interest – even more so with the highest risk clientele. But there isn’t much risk to these corporations these days when almost anyone can take a job as a state constable or bail recovery agent to hunt down debtors and bring them to economic justice.

When you see a destitute child with new sneakers, his parents probably bought them with plastic. When you see an X-Box in a needy person’s house, chances are that wasn’t paid for in cash. They used the charge plate and will end up paying for that game system many times what it’s worth.

It’s a problem not limited to the poor. Even middle class folks are drowning up to their eyeballs in debt. As wages have decreased, people have used their credit cards to keep a standard of living they expect. But they’re paying for it with huge portions of their paychecks going to these credit card companies. Yet even though we all do this, middle class folks look down their noses at people lower down the economic ladder for doing the same thing.

In fact, they refuse to even see that obvious truth. Instead they cling to the lie that poor folks are social parasites. We even begrudge them food. Those are my tax dollars going to pay for that penurious person’s free ride, they say.

Unfortunately, we don’t stop to consider how much of our taxes are actually going to help the less fortunate.
Let’s say you make $50,000 a year. That means, you pay $36 toward food stamps. That’s ten cents a day – the same amount many charities ask to help feed starving children in Africa.

If you add all safety net programs, the cost only goes up an additional $6 a year. That doesn’t seem like a huge chunk of my taxes. Honestly, do you begrudge needy people less than the price of a meal for a family of four at Bennigan’s?

By and large, your tax bill isn’t going to the poverty-stricken. It’s going to the wealthy. Over the course of a year, you pay $6,000 for corporate welfare.

You read that right. Six K. Six grand. Six thou. Those are your tax dollars at work, too. And it’s a much larger burden on your bank account than the $42 you shell out for the poor.

What do you get for that $6,000 outlay? It includes at least $870 to direct subsidies and grants for corporations. An additional $870 goes to offset corporate taxes. Another $1,231 goes to plug holes in the federal budget from revenue lost to corporate tax havens. Oh! And don’t forget a sizable chunk for subsidies to Big Oil companies that are polluting our skies and fueling climate change and global warming.

Most of your money isn’t going to feed hungry children. It’s going to recoup losses for giant transnational corporations like Apple and GE that hide their money overseas to boost profits and avoid paying taxes for things we all need like schools, police and fire departments.

This money subsidizes giant multi-national corporations that are already making billions and billions of dollars in profit each year. In the past decade alone, corporations have doubled their profits – all while reducing their American workforces and sending jobs overseas. Yet we only complain about poor folks using food stamps and buying new sneakers on credit.

Why is that? Why does it only bother us when poor people get help and not when huge corporations do?
Part of it is the media. We’ve been convinced that big business deserves its money and poor people don’t. Another part of it is that these facts often go underreported. Movies and TV shows love portraying the parasite poor person but rarely portray the corporate leech. Outside of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” the wealthy are usually portrayed in the most positive light possible and not as addicts hoarding cash they don’t need to compete with each other in a childish game of one-upmanship.

Finally, there is the racial and sexual element. By and large, corporations are run by white males. The poor are mostly black, brown and though women make up a slightly higher percentage than men, it is often conceptualized as uniquely female. Take the term Welfare Queen. Why is there no Welfare King? How telling that our conception only allows for one gender in this role!

The reality is much different. The true Welfare Queens are Big Businesses. They make unprecedented profits and avoid paying taxes on them. They have tons of cash on hand but never can seem to get enough. And if we increased the corporate tax rate to what it was in the 1950s when the Unite States was more prosperous than it has ever been, these same corporations would still be Filthy. Stinking. Rich.

So the next time you hear someone blaming the poor for gobbling up your taxes, remember the facts. First, it’s simply not true. There is no widespread fraud by the poor. They are not gaming the system. They are not putting an undue burden on the middle class. However, big business IS – in fact – cheating you out of income. Business people are getting fabulously wealthy on your dime – and even if we stopped subsidizing them, they’d still be fabulously wealthy!

Finally, don’t ignore the racial component. Would middle class Caucasians still complain so vehemently about the poor if they weren’t mostly talking about Black people, Latinos and women? I doubt it.
We may breath in these prejudices but we’re not helpless. It’s up to all of us to dispel these myths, not to let them stand, to confront them every time they come up. And, yes, I mean EVERY. TIME.

The only immune system we have as a society is education, knowledge, wisdom. And once you know the truth, don’t let anyone get away with this kind of racist, classist bullshit.