“A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King

Six police officers to be criminally charged in Freddie Gray’s death

“I heard your call for no justice, no peace,” the state’s attorney said.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/05/freddie-gray-death-homicide-baltimore-117551.html#ixzz3Yu7mwxN9

The Baltimore Riot: A note to an idealistic young friend

My Dear Friend,

The Baltimore uprising has prompted you to ask, “How is rioting and looting going to solve the problem?” My colleague Jeff Langstraat offers a concise answer: “No, burning down a CVS won’t solve the problem. Neither does focusing solely on the folks burning down the CVS, to the exclusion of other protesters, or to the simmering issues of economic disinvestment and ongoing police brutality.”

“A riot is the language of the unheard,” Martin Luther King.

Many public officials and a majority of Americans still think that African Americans themselves are the problem. You argue that riots and looting “are an insult to human intelligence and dignity.” That assertion is one that only privileged bystanders have the luxury of making. Perhaps you need to re-examine your idea of what is an insult to dignity. For those who are murdered, brutalized, humiliated, exploited, and segregated by American Apartheid, riots are the terrifying scream of a people living in 21st-century bondage. Think of these actions as latter-day slave revolts.

You speak of “human rights.” In these times, that concept is an empty abstraction. In occupied and oppressed urban neighborhoods, mere survival is the first order of business. These riots are the visceral voices of a long-silenced people. Remember, you cannot solve a problem until the majority population and public officials recognize what the problem really is—and it ain’t rioting.

The last time this centuries-old problem was officially acknowledged was during the 1965-68 riots in Watts, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Tampa, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Washington D.C., Baltimore, etc. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission. Its report was scathing: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

What Martin Luther King said in a 1968 speech, “The Other America,” still echoes true today.

“Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence . . . But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.

“These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

Make no mistake, I neither condone nor condemn the Ferguson and Baltimore riots. I seek only to awaken the sleepwalkers among us. As the Old Testament’s Jeremiah admonishes us, “Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see; Who have ears but do not hear.” When called upon to seek justice, all too many of us have a self-satisfied response—I am not my brother’s keeper.

Your steadfast friend, Monte


Six police officers to be criminally charged in Freddy Gray’s death

“I heard your call for no justice, no peace,” the state’s attorney said.”


There’s a Riot Goin’ On–I’m interviewed about the antiwar street battles of 1972

Historic street battles took place for four days during the May 1972 antiwar protests at the U of Minnesota. Britt Aamodt of KFAI interviews two who were there: A reporter, Bill Huntziker and an activist, Monte Bute. Her outstanding 27-minute radio show has great stories of riot police, helicopter tear gassing, National Guard troops and, most importantly, 5-6,000 determined antiwar activists. Save it to listen later.

I’m one of the characters chronicled in the world premiere of a documentary that was 45 years in the making.



The year is 1970 and the disastrous Vietnam War keeps escalating. Protests are erupting all over U.S. campuses. But in Minneapolis, word that the national Red Barn Restaurant chain wants to erect a new fast-food franchise in old, venerable Dinkytown, the “war at home”  takes a different turn. This stunning documentary chronicles the unprecedented 40-day, 40-night continuous Dinkytown “Occupation” to prevent construction of an unwanted hamburger joint.

From film programmer-turned-filmmaker Al Milgrom, the story is recounted by seven participants whose varied reminiscences about defending the neighborhood becomes a microcosm of the memorable ‘70’s Generation. Music featured in the film by Bob Dylan, Willie Murphy.

The Redemptive Power of Community Colleges

March 20. 2015

Monte Bute

At age 16, I stood outside my local high school and extended my left arm, displaying my middle finger in salute — I was dropping out. That act of defiance, coupled with a history of petty crime, led to my being sentenced me to a juvenile prison.

After graduating high school at the prison, the state paroled me early. While I was working in the Twin Cities at a couple of mind-numbing jobs, someone suggested to me the harebrained scheme of going to college.

I called up my father and told him of my latest delusion of grandeur. He was unimpressed; college was not on my family’s radar screen. I asked if I could temporarily live at home to earn some tuition money. He was skeptical: “Do you remember how badly things went when you last lived with us?”

Eventually, he relented. When I arrived home, there was only one job opening, and I soon discovered why. The job was at the local turkey factory. My job was to pull the live turkeys out of the delivery truck, lift them upside down and hang them eye-high by their feet as they went in on the conveyor belt for the kill.

I persevered, and within a couple of months I landed at Austin Junior College. Even for a longshot like me, it was a bet worth taking. They had open admissions, and tuition was the semester equivalent of $7.50 per credit hour. I had enough of a bankroll to pay tuition, rent a $7-a-week room and find a part-time job.

It was, at best, a mediocre school with maybe 250-300 students and 15 faculty members. Perhaps appropriately, the college occupied the third floor of the local high school.

Nonetheless, it was a college — something that had seemed unattainable just six months before.

Even here, I was badly overmatched. I always had a textbook balanced on one knee and a college dictionary draped over the other, as I navigated a rudimentary understanding of American and European history, literature, psychology, and humanities. At the end of my first term, I received a B- and two Cs. Truth be told, it was close to Christmas and those two C grades were gifts.

Despite that early lack of promise, I soon became the reclamation project of Rod Keller, an erudite sage with contrarian impulses. He saw in me a potential that had escaped the notice of my parents, my K-12 teachers and, most importantly, myself.

He prodded, he cajoled, and he flattered: after a couple of years, the liberal arts awoke me from my slumber. I came to realize that for my first 18 years, I had been little more than a sleepwalker: The lights had been on, but nobody was home.

Looking back, that junior college experience reminds me of the cataract surgery I had at age 60. Suddenly the gray, speckled fog that hung over the world metamorphosed into a brilliant, and almost blinding, array of vivid color.

After a long circuitous journey, I eventually became a professor at a public university. Today my students work far too many hours, usually at low wages, face conflicting family obligations, take more credits than they can handle and, given the hyper-inflation of tuition, end up with debt that seems as insurmountable as that of Greece.

A good share of these students fit Saul Alinsky’s social category of the “Have-a-Little, Want Mores.” Even though the odds are against them, most will get through and some will flourish. However, America also has millions of “Have-Nots.” Many in this lowest stratum will never get the chance for a post-secondary education.

Income inequality in the United States today is the greatest since 1928. Given that the “haves” dominate policy debates, legislation redistributing income is hardly possible today. The only politically feasible means of reducing inequality is making higher education more accessible and affordable. That said, the have-nots need skin in the game as well. Increased educational opportunity is meaningless unless the students are also all in.

Fifty years ago, I was hardly college material. Rock-bottom tuition rates gave me a chance to develop my aptitude. That was true for many in my generation. We made it because our government made an investment in us. In turn, we made significant personal investments in our own education. The dividends of that joint venture were substantial — both for ourselves and our communities.

We should do no less for our children and our children’s children. In America, higher education should not be limited to the more fortunate. We need to believe, once again, in the redemptive power of community colleges.

Monte Bute teaches sociology and social science at Metropolitan State University


Faculty unions defeat nation’s 5th largest higher ed system

Faculty, leaders end feud over MnSCU reform plan

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2015 – 4:43 PM

After a five-month standoff, faculty and administrators have agreed to settle their differences over a controversial plan called Charting the Future to reform Minnesota’s 31 state colleges and universities.

The two sides announced Tuesday that they “have agreed to move forward cooperatively and collaboratively” in a way that appears to give a bigger role to faculty and students on the planning teams.

Since October, two faculty unions have been in open revolt against Chancellor Steven Rosenstone over his handling of Charting the Future, a fledgling master plan that is supposed to modernize and streamline operations at the sprawling system with 410,000 students on 54 campuses.

Faculty critics had accused Rosenstone of ignoring their concerns that sweeping changes might harm the quality of education. Within a matter of weeks, the faculty groups at all seven Minnesota state universities passed no-confidence votes against the chancellor.

The feud had threatened to cost the system tens of millions in potential state funding, which it has been seeking to extend a tuition freeze. In January, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would not recommend any extra funds for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU) until the two sides made peace.

Last week, Dayton signaled that the dispute was nearing an end, and that he would restore some MnSCU funding in his upcoming budget.

In Tuesday’s announcement, MnSCU officials, trustees and faculty unions agreed to include “increased input” from faculty, staff and students in the planning process. The agreement also appears to shift some of the control away from central headquarters to the campuses, noting that Charting the Future “will become a campus-based regional process.”

Monte Bute, a union activist and sociology professor at Metro State University, described the agreement as a victory for the unions. “This is what we fought for for 17 months,” he said. “It literally is taking Charting the Future out from under Rosenstone and out of the central office.”

But Kim Olson, a spokeswoman for MnSCU, said it’s a merely a way to get more input from the campuses. “Although we’ve had that in the past, I think you’ll get even more,” she said. “We’re just all really pleased that we’re going to be working together and moving ahead.”

Resistance from the start

Rosenstone had launched the Charting the Future project in 2012, saying that MnSCU had to change with the times to better serve students and help them graduate with less debt.

But the plan has run into resistance from the start. A first draft, in 2013, was blasted by the Inter Faculty Organization — which represents the state universities’ instructors — as a blueprint for “Soviet-style” central control of the campuses.

Last October, both of MnSCU’s faculty unions announced that their members would no longer participate in Charting the Future because they had lost trust in Rosenstone.

The dispute was fueled, in part, by the discovery that Rosenstone’s administration had quietly paid a private consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., $2 million to help jump-start Charting the Future. Faculty leaders complained that McKinsey was promoting a corporate mentality that would threaten the quality of education and cut programs and staff.

Rosenstone has said that McKinsey is no longer involved, and that he is seeking recommendations from a wide range of faculty, staff and students.

Some of the proposals floated so far would allow students to get credit for prior knowledge and experience, and to transfer among campuses more easily. Rosenstone has said that some programs or campuses could be consolidated, but that no decisions have been made.

My 70th birthday and 5th anniversary of a terminal cancer diagnosis

I am way, way past my expiration date. That news has not always been meet with well wishes. I received this malicious and hateful letter last spring:

“Dear Monte . . .

I will be blunt and get right to the point. I have heard from several members of the Metro State community that there is a widespread belief that you have faked your illness for these many years. When I was told this by one person she said you had done it for all of the awards and recognition that you got because people thought you were going to die soon. When I asked another person about it, they said that everyone at Metro knew your illness was a lie for a long time. . . .

I am very sorry to tell you of such a thing, and to have to be anonymous about it. I hope you will understand that there are sometimes important reasons for this. And even though I know this news may hurt deeply, I felt you had a right to know about this.


A Friend”

After five years, I too sometimes forget that I was once near death. Yesterday I re-read a newspaper column that I had written about my illness in 2010. Here is a excerpt:

“Autumn and the Dying of the Light”

“T.S. Eliot thought that April was the cruelest month. I disagree. For me, spring is a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. I would argue that autumn is the most cold-hearted time of year.

Last fall I was afflicted with a mysterious neuropathy that baffled my neurologist. A couple of months later I had hip replacement surgery and a fortuitous x-ray revealed tumors on my lungs. They diagnosed me with stage 3 granular pulmonary lymphoma, a cancer so rare that there are only 500 to 600 cases in the medical literature. It turns out that neuropathy is a symptom of the disease. Who knew?

The prognosis is poor. The median survival from diagnosis is 14 months. More than [90] percent of patients die within five years. I completed chemotherapy in July and the cancer was in remission. However, within a month troubling symptoms appeared. I was increasingly short of breath, gasping after 15-20 paces.  Pulmonary embolisms formed. Most days I took two naps. I had no energy; the smallest tasks were beyond me. Walking became a precarious adventure.

Heart function is one potential victim of chemotherapy. Mine has declined to 20-30 percent. The neuropathy has also worsened. My legs are numb from the knees down and I have minimal feeling in my feet. The outlook is grim. For me, autumn is akin to what Dylan Thomas called ‘the dying of the light’.

. . . The cancer is back. It has re-appeared in my lungs and spread to my liver. I feel no urge to ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ Nevertheless, I am not yet ready for a calm acceptance of the coming darkness. I will rejuvenate soon, in spirit if not body. I look forward to opening my cabin in the spring and watching the Yellow River flow, where one day my ashes will be scattered.”

Here is something I wrote for Minnesota Public Radio in 2011, and it’s still true today:

“I have been in remission for 10 months. While I appreciate this hiatus, I am also somewhat ambivalent. Remission from terminal cancer is, by definition, a temporary reprieve. I had made my peace with death, when suddenly I was expelled from the land of the dying. It is not easy to return to the land of the living and, once again, play an active role in the human comedy . . . But perhaps that is the point: None of us have anything more than a temporary reprieve from our terminal condition.”

Carpe diem . . . 


A truth-seeker redeemed from hell: David Carr, R.I.P.

While I had only fleeting encounters with him, David Carr’s death hit me particularly hard. Perhaps it was due to the eerie similarities of our life trajectories: Early success pissed away because of personal demons; episodes as violent thugs; alcohol and drug additions; long struggles for redemption; ravaged by cancer; and most of all, pursuing truth regardless of consequences.

A bouquet for David Carr . .

Tom Waits on Writing

Union’s letter to trustees calling for chancellor’s dismissal goes public

The story and the letter.



Nicole Helget, novelist and teacher, pens an impassioned case against McKinsey & Co. and corporate “reform” of higher ed

Nicole Helget

INTERVIEWER Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them? FAULKNER Read it four times.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Charting the Future

For going on 8 years, I taught as an adjunct at South Central College (SCC) in North Mankato. While I was aware of and agreed with the national outrage on the use (and misuse) of adjuncts in higher education, I was somewhat immune from it, too, as I was treated very well at SCC. I had the luxury of being supported by an administration that appreciated my commitment to learning and supported me in my classroom endeavors. I was welcomed and encouraged to participate in discussions and committees on everything from college readiness to the creation of the Secular Student Alliance. Even though I sometimes wasn’t sure when/where my classes would run up until the day before they began (normal college chaos, I think), I was confident that they would, and they did. For years, I taught a full-time course load at a school that understood its community and its student population and endeavored to put in place the best people to help those students and its community. I felt secure, and I was able to pass along the investment I felt to the disciplines, the students, SCC, and the community.

I did not question whether or not my hours in the classroom or online with my students mattered. I knew they did from the quality of my students’ works and my interactions with them. I honestly believed that the last, best equalizer we had in this country was education, and I approached my job with that sincerity and severity. I meant to help people, many of whom came from extremely challenging backgrounds, develop a lifelong desire to learn and improve their lives. And, I felt that my colleagues and the administration meant to do the same.

On a swift wind, things began to change. A new administration came in and number of concerning moves were made with seemingly little real research or thought or care.

History is one of my amateur hobbies. So, even as the gales swept through the halls and classrooms and offices, I accepted that sometimes drastic measures are needed to repair real problems, institutionalized sexism or racism, for instance. I also understood that sometimes even the most well-meaning people can become part of a system that forwards these embedded blights on society. I sincerely sat back, thought, and asked myself if that’s what had happened at SCC. At the time, I thought I’d ride these changes out with my head down and wait and see if the changes, while painful in the present, were going to create a better future. I taught, I thought, and I read, and I researched.

The answer was no.

These measures have nothing to do with lifting up our disadvantaged students. Instead, they reek of mismanagement, ignorance, and frankly, corruption.

I’ve seen good teachers and good programs eliminated with the most contradictory language and nonsensical reasoning. I watched beloved classes, which were consistently full, get eliminated (then reintroduced after student protests but at the cost of a good administrator being scapegoated and then terminated). The new administration refused to support, neither financially nor personally, SCC’s annual global conference, which, this year, was a celebration and appreciation of the Hmong population. This administration seems to have a very narrow definition of what cultural diversity is and demonstrates very little curiosity about the varied backgrounds of our particular student body. A student senate member was told to remember his place and not rise above it by the new president. Many, many colleagues were told to basically sit down and be quiet or risk being labeled a racist. I’ve seen a concerted effort to divide and conquer faculty members. I’ve witnessed the sterilization of the union. I’ve seen and heard intellectual fraud and financial mismanagement.

For too long, I sat on it.

The end of last semester, I quit. I now write from the perspective of a former employee, an alumnus of MnSCU, an advocate of MnSCU students, a friend to many MnSCU teachers, and a mother to a future MnSCU student. Frankly, aside from a lot of backlash and potential problems with future employment, there’s nothing in the following rant that really serves me financially or career-wise.

I must be serious.

This new administration has instituted a full frontal assault on the arts and intellectual curiosity. The implementation of “Charting the Future,” which has begun at SCC, abolishes the right of every Minnesotan, including rural Minnesotans, to enjoy a full education, including trade and liberal arts courses. SCC seems the beginning of the plan, but the strategy will spread to the rest of the MnSCU campuses with direction from Chancellor Rosenstone, prodded by special interest groups. In fact, it’s likely that the strategy has begun in Rochester and Worthington already. Our state college system will be turned into job training centers that benefit no one except the already wealthy and powerful.

First, a defense of the liberal arts, which have been identified as a “problem” by the forces behind “Charting the Future.”

Access to and choice of art and history and photography and race relations and geography and creative writing and psychology and history and philosophy and speech classes don’t distract students from carpentry and mechatronics and agriculture and nursing classes or, for crying out loud, graduation or future, gainful employment. Rather, the liberal arts enhance those classes and vice versa.

Filling the community with workers who also entertain thinking, reading, understanding, musicianship, artistry, creating, inventing, and criticizing is a positive undertaking. Not only that, but our students want courses that develop these attributes. Of course they require good employment, but they also aspire to enjoy their lives and think deeply and be constructive assets to their families and communities. The students desire a complete experience.

Our goal in higher education, even in community college education, is not simply to produce workers for the present demands of fickle CEOs of billion-dollar industries, as this administration intends to do with the “Charting the Future” initiative. Rather, the goal of higher education is to develop citizens who can work, yes, but also adapt to changing stimuli, to be skilled and interested in many areas so that WHEN the economic needs change, those individuals can move and bring their knowledge and craftsmanship to other careers. Higher education isn’t about landing an entry-level job only. It’s about a lifetime of inquisitiveness, empathy, healthy living, healthy relationships, and productive citizenry. The liberal arts foment those goals.

“Charting the Future” intends to disable these classes and the programs.

Despite the claim that the original tenents of the “Charting the Future” initiative were not influenced by the Itasca Group or McKinsey and Company (as though the exact same ideas and language spontaneously erupted at the very same time, like the pyramids of Egypt and Mesomerica!), this is obviously a misremembering of events. If you really want to raise the hair on the back of your neck, read one of the documents that sheds light on the ideas that shaped “Charting the Future,” the McKinsey and Company report, “Game Changers: Five Opportunities for US Growth and Renewal” to the National Governor’s Association in which they identify five areas of opportunity, the first being fracking and the fifth being higher education and in which they discuss all the political maneuverings they’ll have to put in place to develop these areas for optimal financial gain. McKinsey has been delivering variations of this plan throughout the country since at least 2011.

In the meanwhile, they, Chancellor Rosenstone and crew, have to convince us that nothing in higher education is currently working because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them. Therefore, “bold” change is needed, implemented by “strong” leaders because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them. They have to convince us that our graduates aren’t skilled enough for the present needs of industry because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them.

Really? Everywhere I turn I see a glut of highly intelligent, highly skilled individuals.

Perhaps these CEOs, McKinsey’s very narrow sample group, need to keep better company.

Perhaps if the CEOs raised their wages, the resumes from qualified individuals would crash their computers and crush their desks.

Or, perhaps the CEOs hope to flood the state with even more workers, all skilled in the exact same way so that corporations can keep wages suppressed and thwart any attempt at new inventions, new ideas, new small businesses, new competition.

Who, exactly, was McKinsey’s sample group? Who, exactly, did they interview? Since when is a question such as “Are you concerned about the skills of potential employees” considered real research? Since when do you change an entire education system based on the close-ended responses of a self-interested sampling group? We don’t even allow composition students to get away with that kind of shoddy research. Administration can package this crap up in tidy powerpoints and binders, get some suit who appropriates our own language to deliver it, but those gilded trappings don’t make the research credible.

With some real research, McKinsey might have noted that a major component of “Charting the Future,” giving students credit for skills they already possess, is already in place. Every semester, many of us at SCC assess the incoming skills of students and sometimes forward a deserving student onto the next level. Heck, MSU was doing this back in the early 2000s, when I was a six-months-pregnant undergrad passing out of physical education by taking a swimming test.

That said, I must add that even when a student comes to a higher-level course with mastery skills, good instructors (of which MnSCU is fortunate to be drowning in) adapt the curriculum to further challenge the student. The syllabus should never be a “one-size-fits-all” stone tablet. We do and should always adapt curriculum to the knowledge, the needs, and the learning styles of our students. For high-functioning students, more to investigate exists and can be discovered with guidance from a teacher who invests in him or her. These kinds of adaptations can’t take place in the system proposed by “Charting the Future” where uniformity and cold objectivity is the way.

In another flawed bit of logic, this administration and “Charting the Future,” again guided by the findings of McKinsey, place the blame for dragging degree-completions and too-high drop-out rates on the curriculum, on the classroom methods, on teachers, and on schools’ selfish noncooperation and competition for students.

I don’t think so.

With some real research, perhaps McKinsey might have learned that present financial suction is at the heart of our students’ college fatigue. Nothing would do more to improve the learning and skill-development and degree-completion of the present college population than food-secure and housing-secure lives and an immediate raise in wages, which would buy the students time to concentrate on developing their minds and their abilities rather than splitting their days between long-houred, low-paying jobs, school, and family.

Although no one needed to spend two million dollars for them to do it, Chancellor Rosenstone, with McKinsey’s enlightenment, did stumble upon a real problem in higher education: student loan debt. But, they misidentified the solution. Racing students through standardized tests delivered electronically is not a solution. Interestingly, that strategy will only boost the profits of corporations who create standardized tests, corporations like, say, McKinsey. Student loan debt is a cultural problem. Student loan debt is a symptom of our collective messed-up priorities. Since we, as a state and nation, have decided to cut subsidies in the form of grants, students have had to take on larger loan burdens. Since we, as a state and nation, have decided that we don’t want to provide universal health care for all of our citizens, colleges have passed the rising costs of health care for their employees onto their students in the form of rising tuition. We need to reconsider what we care about in this country. Do we want our tax dollars to continue to be poured into defense and write-offs for special interest groups? That’s a decision we have to make with the ballot.

Another thought on completion rates: I wonder what would happen if students were encouraged to pursue scholarship that interested them. Hm. Here’s, admittedly, a heart-tugging scenario for you: let’s say it’s 3 am, and your child erupts in red pox and seeps from every orifice. You rush him to the emergency room, of course. Who would you rather have help him? The nurse who chose nursing and skated through with a B- average because that’s where the jobs were even though what he really wanted to study was the migratory routes of orcas? Or the nurse who chose nursing because she loved the health sciences and loved helping people and earned top notch scores in every preparatory course?

I wonder if McKinsey accounted for the fact that “employees” actually have desires and preferences, minds and hopes of their own.

OK, for a minute, let’s just humor this administration and McKinsey and their brainchild “Charting the Future.” Let’s say their research is solid (*choking cough*). Fine. But, since when do we implement drastic changes based on the requests of corporations without requiring some reciprocation from these corporations, one that translates into REAL benefits for our students, one like “we promise to provide paid internships” or “we promise to pay entry-level employees x% above minimum wage,” for instance?

In the past, McKinsey’s brand of leadership and research has contributed to insider trading prosecution (Pavlo “Former McKinsey and Co. Boss, Rajat Gupta, Guilty of Insider Trading”), the Enron fiasco (Chu “McKinsey: How Does It Always Get Away With It”) and the AOL-Time Warner merger (Sternbergh “Book Review: The Firm by Duff McDonald”). The American talltale of epic failings is charged with guiding a “bold” plan for education reform to correct “failing” schools? At the very least, this is ironic, right? I’m sure there are some success stories, too, guided by McKinsey. But, as Sternbergh, in his Bloomberg Businessweek book review of McDonald’s expose on McKinsey and Company writes, “For every positive McKinsey achievement—its consultants urged the newly elected President Eisenhower to create the position of White House chief of staff—there are at least as many failures.”

The point is, McKinsey routinely suggests risky gambles with other people’s money. Are we going to turn higher education into a casino with taxpayer dollars and student loans?

I could go on. I haven’t even broached the link between McKinsey and Company and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But, you can google that frightening relationship at your leisure.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that McKinsey was chosen precisely for their nefarious strategies and connections. Perhaps someone or something else is behind this swift and opaque change? Because of the density of the implementation, it’s difficult to go down that road without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. However, I only have to look at our neighboring state to the east to get a shiver.

In its defense of “Charting the Future,” administration claims to have consulted students and faculty about its tenents.

None of my colleagues was consulted before the implementation began. In fact, they’ve been told to sit down and shut up time after time. Which they’ve mostly done because they fear for their jobs and their ability to continue their good work in their classrooms.

No one in my classes was consulted either.

If they had been, administration might have learned that many of my Somali students come from agrarian backgrounds. Might they not have had something to say about their skills for potential employers, perhaps to one of Minnesota’s hugest corporations mentioned in the McKinsey and “Charting the Future” reports, Cargill? About how to grow crops in very, very challenging conditions, for instance?

Might not have my many, many children of Latin American immigrants known a little bit about food production, too, as their parents are the backbone of this country’s agricultural and food production labor force, as they come from the people who domesticated our most profitable, subsidized, and ubiquitous commodity, corn? Might they might not have known something about how to adapt when political freewheeling and corporate gluttony annihilate your livelihood in the blink of an eye causing a mass economic catastrophe and a subsequent exodus from your country?

Perhaps my droves of low-income students feeding families on the barest of necessities could have provided some insight into the ingredients they need and want to put on their dinner tables. Might not have Dr. Parker and Chancellor Rosenstone and McKinsey and Company and any of the businesses consulted benefited from talking to these students?

Any idiot should understand that not only are these students the next economy’s employees, but they are also its consumers.

Ask them what they want the world to look like. Don’t tell them what you require from them to keep your coffers full. Your presumptions stink of pretention and entitlement and classism and elitism.

Teaching is not only about preparing students for job skills and throwing money into the economy. Oftentimes, the classroom is about providing a safe place for conflicted or wounded people to begin reflecting and healing for the benefit of families and communities.

Bear with me. Here’s a long story, but it does have a point:

This past semester, full of interesting events, culminates in this: two Somali students both wrote their final persuasive argument papers on female circumcision. One was a young woman of 18 who experienced the procedure at seven. She was very skeptical of me in the semester’s beginning. Gradually, though, I earned her trust. Finally, toward the end of the semester, my students had to choose a persuasive argument topic. She couldn’t decide, so I sat with her after class one night and probed her about her interests outside of school. And, then, she looked at me and said, I think I’d like to write about circumcision.

The other paper came from an elder Somali gentleman who confided that he was interested in broaching this topic but that it was taboo for him to do so and that he was embarrassed. This was his second, different class with me. And, because I had developed a good rapport with him over a couple of years, I challenged, and I pushed him to write the paper. I told him that it was his responsibility to make bold proposals when he sees wrong in the world. I told him he was in a position of power within his community. He did.

Because of my own liberal arts education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, which included courses in Postcolonial African literature, women’s studies, and Geography, I knew how to help these students. Also, in my time at SCC, I had developed a strong relationship with one of my colleagues and officemates, an adjunct like me, who had spent years working with Sudanese and Somali immigrants. Through her, I gleaned a wealth of information about the challenges these populations face in Mankato.

As a student, I took many practical pedagogy and curriculum instruction courses at MSU, which were intended to help me get a job, but it was my liberal arts courses, those frivolous flights of fancy according to McKinsey and “Charting the Future,” and my work-place relationship that prepared me for helping these particular students.

I hear stories like this one from my colleagues all the time, ones that prove to me over and over again that schools and teachers have to understand the needs of their particular communities, their particular students, which will be eliminated with the implementation of “Charting the Future.” What works in Worthington, where my teacher friends might have to develop specialized knowledge on the unique challenges of student athletes, does not necessarily work in North Mankato.

Tell me the kinds of strategies employers have in place to deal with the many, many trials this generation of the poor, of the PTSD-laden, and of demoralized immigrants possess. Corporations don’t even want to train their own employees anymore. They want schools to do it. They want students to take out student loans to get job training. That is not in the best economic interest of students. That is not a cost-saving measure for students. That is a cost-saving measure for companies. Remember when employees used to get paid for job training on the job? Are we just going to shuffle these students through school without real, compassionate teaching and feed them to business lords who care nothing for them?

I do not want to do that. I did not become an educator to do that.

Schools are for communities. Schools are not for corporations.

Something has gone bad.

“Charting the Future” isn’t really about students and higher learning. It is not about what’s best for Minnesota. What this administration and its CEO advisory committee have implemented is a system that is perfectly poised to get as many people as possible into students loans, privatize education as much as possible, suppress organized labor, further corporate agendas, dumb down citizens, develop curriculum with industry-supporting propaganda, move students away from areas of potential environmental exploitation, get their hands on and extract the life out of our two most valuable resources in Minnesota: our young people and our environment.


Nicole Helget


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