Friday, February 15, 2019

Latest Gig for SEIU’s Andy Stern

As 35,000 Los Angeles teachers struck to oppose the harmful effects of charter schools, SEIU President Emeritus Andy Stern jumped onto the side of (you guessed it) the charter schools and other “bold” ideas backed by his deep-pocketed patrons.

In a recent column in The Daily Beast, Stern announced he’s taken a seat on the Board of Directors of Cambiar Education, which “is now incubating over 20 projects and trying to raise a new venture fund,” according to Andy. 

Cambiar is a California-based organization funded by the venture philanthropy group New Schools Venture Fund.

In another one of his so-called "bold" ideas, Stern argues that education should go the way of Google, Apple and Big Tech. Stern writes:
Silicon Valley has created an ecosystem to foster and scale innovation: a continuum of educational institutions, incubators, startups, and funders with different stages and strategies of investment. United by a “can-do” culture of experimentation that accepts failure, the Valley regularly generates disruptive ideas and creates companies that change the world.

In response, C.M. Lewis published a fantastic take-down of Andy entitled “Andy Stern is back. This time, it's ed reform” (Strikewave, February 13, 2019). Here are some excerpts:
Stern thinks we need to disrupt education by bringing a Silicon Valley ethos to the classroom.
Quelle surprise.
Stern’s post-union career has been characterized by a hard pivot toward the tech sector and abandonment of interest in the labor movement. It’s been quite the 180° for the modern era’s most notorious union leader…
It’s no surprise that Stern thinks that the same market-driven, Silicon Valley “solutions” should enter the education sphere… Stern has peddled the same utopian (or dystopian, depending on who you ask) vision of benevolent saviors in paeans on the universal basic income for right-wing Cato Institute forums—and, really, for anyone that’ll still listen to him.
Unsurprisingly, Stern doesn’t actually offer much in the way of concrete proposals; really, all he has to say is that “some charters are good, but they’re not effective, so let’s bring in some Silicon Valley billionaire vultures to disrupt education and save the kids.” The ability of tech billionaires to offer solutions is assumed: after all, didn’t they give us Siri and Alexa? Why wouldn’t that translate into teaching our kids? Who would doubt that Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey can teach the children?
This is, in fact, the assumption behind Stern’s foray into education policy: that education reform—the played-out billionaire-driven agenda that spent the past few decades gutting our public schools and privatizing the education sector—is still the solution. Just add venture capital, some paternalistic tech billionaires, and mix till blended…
Stern has made his post-union career serving as a hype man for anti-worker interests; all they need to do is show they have a former union head on their side to say “See, we’re not so bad!” It’s no surprise that he came out swinging in favor of friendlier, gentler education reform right as the teacher revolt against school privatization reached its pinnacle in Los Angeles. Someone’s got to carry water for the folks picking apart our education system; if he undercuts a union victory in the process, well—it wouldn’t be the first time.
Stern may not be convincing anyone in organized labor, and he’s certainly not convincing teachers. But he does do something insidious: give cover to some of the worst social actors around; ones that think that just because they’ve amassed billions, they can use society as a laboratory. His participation and support allows them to pretend that they do have the interests of workers in mind, and that their policies won’t hurt working families. After all, Stern was the “New Face of Labor.”
Stern’s spectre still hasn’t been completely exorcised from organized labor, or from the broader political discussion. Folks like David Rolf still wield influence, and SEIU has struggled to oust the predators and abusive bullies Stern cultivated like Scott Courtney and Dave Regan. He’s still invited to talk to “thought leaders,” and prominent activists like Barbara Ehrenreich, Cecile Richards, and Robert Reich promote his work.
He’s problematic, sure—but he’s still getting invited to Thanksgiving, even though everyone knows he’ll ruin dinner by complaining about Sal Rosselli.
Enough is enough. Carrying water for education reform in 2019 is too far; doing it right as 35,000 teachers fought and won against the wholesale privatization of the second largest public school system in the country is unconscionable. Touting a pie-in-the-sky vision of future automation, innovated and disrupted schools, and benevolent tech billionaires doesn’t change the basic fact that we live in a moment in which it’s been made painfully clear that the elite don’t care about us, and that their interests are not our interests…

Here’s a link to the full piece.