Sunday, January 6, 2008

[LCSD] Another View of Sand Ridge and PIE

(This might be of interest to those readers who normally ignore my Lebanon posts.)

I attended a gathering of friends today. We talked about social change and anarchism. A lot. We - I - also played with kittens quite a bit. (Hey, some things are important.)

We talked strategy and tactics. We talked about diversity, co-optation, resources, the environment, hierarchy, and a whole host of other things.

We talked - and I talked about Sand Ridge Charter School.

I was surprised as anyone else. After all, what could Sand Ridge have to do with any of the above?

Well, it turns out I fleshed out another way to look at what PIE has done. I'm not sure how well this analysis will hold up, but I'm going to put it out there and see what happens.

First, the basic argument:

Democratic Socialists often propose to reform society by transforming existing institutions - political parties, local offices, civic groups.

Anarchists, on the other hand, often (but not always) propose to build alternative institutions that disregard existing power structures entirely (the old IWW saying of "building the new society in the shell of the old").

These two positions, as you might suspect, are often opposed. I suggested at one point that they needed to work together.

I did so because it seems to me that people interested in activism are often to busy keeping their lives together to have the free time or resources to devote to activist projects, and if people didn't have to struggle so much just to get by, they/we might be more inclined to raise some hell.

In other words, I suggested that local institutions - say, city councils, school boards, watershed councils, etc. - be taken over and transformed not with the intent to transform society (see co-optation, danger of) or even with the intent to be run successfully if traditionally, but instead used to create an environment in which activism can flourish and stands a greater chance of being successful - the idea being that this is where people interested in building alternative institutions can begin to work.

After all, the master's tools can't fully demolish the master's house... but they can remodel it quite nicely and make it quite dysfunctional by normal standards if need be. (See, for example, the Bush Administration's all-out war on competent governance - it's the one war they are winning.)

So that is the argument in abstract. I used as an example of the first part of the argument - taking over a local institution with a different goal than simply doing a good job running the place - what has happened in Lebanon with Sand Ridge, PIE and Rick Alexander. And for the record, I'm not at all convinced this was a conscious plan or effort on their part; rather, I am hoping this will offer another way to explain recent events.

So the goal in this case is to create an alternative to the HS with the explicit belief that doing so will meet with official disapproval/resistance (a belief I happen to think is completely false, but whatever).

I'm going to try and explain this in steps:

1. Get one or more member elected to the school board. In this case, Rick Alexander, Josh Wineteer and half of Debi Shimmin. (It also helps that a charter school is, in the abstract, a good or at least decent idea.)

2. Get some folks to apply through official channels to create a charter school. Use existing laws. Don't let on that you have goals or will use methods that will run afoul of existing regulations or are otherwise unacceptable.

(Steps one and two can be done in any order or at the same time.)

3. Get approval for your charter school. Proceed to using your influence with the official arm of the state - in this case the LCSD School Board - to bend the rules in your favor.

4. When someone points out that what you're doing is wrong or illegal, proceed to use the institutional power you've gathered as a club against any opposition. Communicate illegally with other board members. Feel free to ignore laws that might hinder your pet project from being successful. Motion and vote to renew the charter without even discussing dozens of potential and real contract violations. Try to get anyone who might get in the way of your desired outcome out of the way (like getting Robinson and other administrative personnel out of the negotiations for contract renewal). Deny you're doing anything wrong and accuse your opponents of dishonesty until you are blue in the face. Rinse. Repeat.

5. That's basically it - I think this is just about where we're at in the process.

Of course, this whole strategy is based on flying under the radar of anyone with the authority to come in and override one's friends on the local board. In this case, that means the State of Oregon - as in, if the ODE gets wind of all the contract violations, there's not going to be a damn thing Rick Alexander or Jay Jackson can do about it. PIE and Sand Ridge will either comply or simply disappear.

I was pretty amused by this little thought exercise. I'm still not entirely convinced of its accuracy, but at first glance it seems disturbingly on target. (I'm also not really pleased that it seems to apply so well to something I think is a disaster of process and procedure.)

But there it lies. Please ask questions or comment =)

One last note: I am leaving out a few evaluative details; this is meant to be a somewhat charitable explanation in regards to PIE et al. I might come back later and add my conclusions (and what I think is wrong with PIE's process under this model).


Anonymous said...

Check out the school board agenda. Looks like the state is already getting into the mix.

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