Overthrow of government?

Tucson Unified School District wanted to implement “culturally relevant” courses as required by the desegregation act of decades ago. State legislators passed the Ethnic Studies Law in 2010 to rein in Mexican American Studies from going too far. In February 2013, the federal court adopted the Unitary Status Plan to guarantee equal opportunity for students. It outlines how students should be assigned to schools, provision for their transportation, faculty and staff assignments, and equal access to quality education, including facilities and technology.

005TUSD has been under federal supervision since the 1970s when a case was brought by “minority” parents against TUSD and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund demanding changes that would benefit their children academically. The most recent efforts, Mexican American Studies classes, have improved academic standing for the students, but state legislators are concerned that they are being recruited to a political cause to overthrow the government by their Mexican American teachers. And, while the MAS teachers say they just want to foster debate and critical thinking, across this nation education critics have been worrying about our kids not getting any training in civics, aka American democracy.

In 2000, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam documented with numbers the decline of involvement in civic activities such as the PTA and other groups because of changes in work and family structure and the impact of suburban life and television. He is not the only one who has noticed this. The low voter turnout in most elections has resulted in renewed efforts to familiarize newcomers and new voters with our democratic system, allowing mail-in ballots, and offering rides to the polls.

Putnam, born in 1941, is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard. He has served as chairman of that university’s Department of Government, Director of the Center for International Affairs, and Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is author or co-author of more than a dozen books and more than thirty scholarly articles published in ten languages. Educated at Swarthmore College, Balliol College, Oxford; and Yale University, he has received honorary degrees, served on the staff of the National Security Council, and been President of the American Political Science Association. Among his many awards is the National Humanities Medal, presented by PresidentBarack Obama in 2013 for “deepening our understanding of community in America.”

Professor Putnam maintains a website (bowlingalone.com) and continues to work to re-connect Americans with their communities. His Saguaro Seminar, series of meetings among academics, civil society leaders, commentators, and politicians to discuss strategies to revive American “social capital,” that is the “bonding” of individuals with similar interests and “bridging” with people who are not like you to create peaceful societies out of diverse populations.

Arizona’s new governor has announced that he supports adding a civics course to the high school graduation requirements. This kind of thinking is a decent response to Bowling Alone. But another announcement has been made that might take things in another direction: Mark Zuckenberg, founder of the networking website Facebook, is starting a book club. He is going to allow followers to comment on books they read together, and this will bring their voices out of isolation. He gets to choose the books. The first is The End of Power by Moisés Naím. He selected it because “it explores how the world is shifting to give individuals more power that was traditionally only held by large governments, militaries and other organizations.”

Is this a good thing? Technology futurists have often said so.

Naim is a widely-respected journalist and expert on international affairs. In this book he warns that “65 million people with vastly contrasting aspirations are added to the global urban population” each year. To me, this looks like anarchy.

Zuckerberg, not yet thirty years old, is a good example of someone who goes his own way. Its given him tremendous power. At Harvard, he helped three other students launch Harvard Connection, a website that compared pictures of students on campus and allowed users to vote on which one was more attractive. This was shut down by the administration as inappropriate, but Mark kept working with the idea, found venture capital, and developed his own social media site. By December 2005 it had 5.5 million users and attracted advertisers and potential buyers. And we all know he quit Harvard.

In 2006 the creators of Harvard Connection claimed that Zuckerberg had stolen their idea, and insisted that he pay for their business losses. This was settled out of court for $65 million after lawyers revealed incriminating Instant Messages from Mark. He then admitted that he was immature for sending those messages and had since “learned a lot.”

Zuckerberg remains the target of critics, but he has announced, following the example of Bill Gates, that he will give 50% of his wealth (currently $33.1 billion)to charities.

Here’s the relevance: He donated $100 million to save the failing Newark Public Schools system in New Jersey, on a plan that leaned toward unique charter schools. The first million dollars went towards a poorly conducted community survey, and then a foundation board was established — with only one community member — to decide how “the Facebook money” would bespent. A law professor at Rutgers University described the donation as a catalyst for “a broader top-down strategy” and, indeed, the plan for reform was presented by the mayor, known as a proponent of social media, who was made an equal partner. Cory Brooks has moved on to the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, the superintendent Newark hired is at swords point with the board. The parents are rabid. Most of the money is gone, millions to consultants. Nearly $50 million of went to pay for unusually generous performance pay – on the model of Silicon Valley — for teachers who are “highly effective.”  Interestingly, half of the required matching funds have come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and New York hedge fund donors.

Now – to return to the original question — who is likely to overthrow the government? Or, put another way, where is our democracy headed?

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