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Gordon Campbell on privatizing education, and the Amen Break

Gordon Campbell on privatizing education, and the Amen Break

Here’s a link to a brilliant piece by the Aussie economist John Quiggin - occasionally of this parish – about the failures of the market when it comes to the delivery of social programmes.

I particularly liked this introductory contrast between Thomas Edison and Tony Blair :

Thomas Edison is supposed to have said, “I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This quote comes irresistibly to mind when thinking about Tony Blair’s famous commitment to “what works”, as opposed to ideology, in public policy.

In retrospect, it seems that Blair, and like-minded reformers throughout the English-speaking world, have delivered an Edison in reverse. Edison experimented with many things that didn’t work, but ended up with a light bulb. Market-oriented reforms, particularly in the provision of human services like health, education and public safety, have begun with a working system and replaced it with a string of failed experiments.

Quiggin proceeds to give some examples of those dismal market experiments from all around the world, with even Serco’s private prison experiments in New Zealand rating a mention. Links are also provided to US data on the school privatisation industry, aka charter schools.

The argument that Quiggin is making seems especially relevant to this country at a time when several major experiments on New Zealand children are getting under way.

The changes were the most significant in more than 25 years, NZEI president Louise Green said. "They change the way schooling and early childhood education are delivered, so it changes the system, and these are the biggest changes since Tomorrow's Schools was introduced in 1989," she said. Ms Green said the changes could harm the public education system.

To cite a couple of examples of the ideologically driven experiments now in train, one can point to (a) the major shift of funding for special needs education from adolescents back into early education, and (b) the introduction of a mutant version of the bulk funding proposals that were defeated in the late 1990s, but that are now, evidently, back on the agenda. This perennial goal of right wing dogma is aimed at driving down teacher salaries – thereby setting boards against teachers and teachers against each other, in the scramble for scraps from the net funds (after inflation) that will be available. The longer term aim is to atomise the teacher unions that are standing in the way of the gradual privatisation of public education.

Teachers have overwhelmingly voted against a proposed change to the school funding system, unions say….Known as the 'global budget', the proposal would allocate schools funding based on their enrolments and then let schools decide how much of it to allocate to teaching staff. Schools will be able to cash in unused teacher funding for money to spend on other resources. It is one of seven funding changes to the school and early childhood funding systems the government is considering.

One could say a number of things about this reform aka demolition process. If a left wing government had sought to unleash its own pet ideas upon children you can bet there would be a media outcry and a public backlash – especially if, as in this case, the model had already racked up a 30 year track record of failing to deliver the promised outcomes.

Par for the course. Since the mid 1980s, the private sector has been almost entirely parasitic on the social and physical infrastructure previously created, funded and delivered by the public sector. All the market zealots seem able to do is take what was created by the many, and deliver it into the hands of the few. Education in particular, shouldn’t be treated that way. It is about the wellbeing of all children, and not simply those born to privilege. Here’s Quiggin’s excellent conclusion :

Sooner or later the advocates of reform will have to answer the Edison-Blair question: “What works?” And what works is traditional public provision. Through all of these failed experiments, the public sector, much-maligned and chronically underfunded, has carried on with the hard work of educating young people, treating the sick and providing the vast range of services needed in a modern society, on a the basis of an ethic of service to the entire community, and not merely those who can pay for premium service. The only other model with comparable success is not-for-profit provision by organisations with a charitable or service mission. Church-run schools and hospitals, and activist-run services like women’s shelters and services for the unemployed and homeless, have complemented the public sector, meeting needs that have been unrecognised or underserved.

The issue is not, in the end, one of public versus private. Rather it is the fact that market competition and the profit motive inevitably associated with it is antithetical to the professional and service orientation that is central to human services of all kinds. No matter how cleverly market reformers design incentive schemes, competition for profits will always find a way to subvert them. It is time we as a society recognised this, and returned to what actually works.

Joseph Parker, packaged.

Interesting that the New Zealand media is being invited to talk up the likelihood of local boxer Joseph Parker fighting Anthony Joshua before year’s end, with Joshua’s IBF world title on the line. Which is odd because this week, the British media has been talking about Joshua fighting Wladimir Klitschko in late November with Parker being only the second best, fallback option. Here’s Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn :

“This is a huge fight. I believe Klitschko against Joshua is a favourite for 26 November. This is a deal that would move very quickly. It has to, if we’re going to strike. I would like to get everything sewn up by the end of this week in terms of who [Joshua] is fighting next….The deal’s got to be right, of course. We’ve got Joseph Parker [the unbeaten New Zealander], our mandatory as well. That’s also a good fight for us if the Klitschko fight doesn’t happen.”

The Joshua/Klitschko fight – if it comes off – would also be a multi-title unification fight given the likely moves being taken to strip the patently unwell Tyson Fury of his belts. Again, the New Zealand media is being asked to tout the scenario whereby Parker flags his mandatory fight with Joshua, and fights a Mexican fighter ( and sometime Parker sparring partner) called Andy Ruiz and uses that as a platform to fight the winner of Joshua/Klitschko. Which suggests that Parker is losing ground right now, not gaining it – and will only be the option picked up if Joshua vs Klitschko fails to materialize.

Trumped

By now everyone is probably heartily sick of the first Trump/Clinton debate. Yet if you want to read the horrific details in their entirety, here’s the full transcript.

It would make a great piece of performance art. Assign friends or family members to read the part of Trump, memorably described by one of his fellow Republicans back in January as “a delusional narcissist and an orange -faced windbag.”

Or, you could pick a pal to play the cutting Ms Clinton.

Say what you will about her policies, but the attack ads that the Clinton campaign have been running are brilliant pieces of ‘less if better’ minimalism. As someone else - Stephen Colbert? – has said, they're devastating because they consist of Trump’s exact words, in the order in which he said them. Gosh, how mean is that? Here’s a sample:

And here’s one about Trump’s views on foreign policy, human rights, abortion rights, women, people with disabilities etc…

Amen, Brother

Every couple of years, a flurry of stories appears about the most sampled piece of music since the invention of recorded music. I’m talking about the so called ‘Amen Break.’ In 1969, a soul band called the Winstons had their one and only hit with a song called “Colour Him Father.” On the flipside was an instrumental track called “Amen Brother” a melody that had been an early 1960s vocal hit (as “Amen” ) for Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, to whose label the Winstons had once been signed, unsuccessfully. At the 1.26 point on “Amen Brother” drummer Gregory Coleman launches into the six second drum break that is his gift to posterity.

By last count – on Nate Silver’s 538 website last week the Amen Break is still far and away the world’s most sampled piece of music – on everything from NWA’s “ Straight Outa Compton” track to David Bowie to Oasis to Slipknot, Skrillex, Tyler the Creator, Jay Z, Lupe Fiasco, Salt’N’Pepa, Diplo, Janet Jackson, Prodigy, Drake etc etc to countless adverts, to the theme for the TV show Futurama, to the Sim City 4 video game… The full 225 page list of Amen Break samples starts here.

So ubiquitous did the Amen Break become in the mid 1990s that entire UK music genres (jungle, breakbeat hardcore) have been attributed to it. True, as the 538 article says, there may be a conscious hat tip going on by now, akin to how the Wilhelm Scream sound effect became a movie industry in-joke. Whatever. Here’s the original track. As mentioned, wait for Gregory Coleman to drop the Amen Break at about 1.26.

Here also, is a fascinating and well researched 2004 documentary which tells the story extremely well, and ends by contextualizing the Amen Break in the political debate over copyright, the development of art and cultural appropriation.

Finally, here’s a story about a funding drive carried out by a couple of British DJs last year, to try and (belatedly) give something back to the Winstons, who made no money from the global dissemination of their original snippet of work. Too late for Gregory Coleman. He died homeless in Atlanta, in 2006.

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