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  • Bahraini Repression Against Teachers And Health Care Workers

    Written on November 30, 2012

    The Kingdom of Bahrain, a small island nation in the Persian Gulf, is a perfect political stew, situated as it is at the confluence of political, religious, economic and international tensions simmering in the Persian Gulf.  A majority Shi’a Muslim country ruled for hundreds of years by Sunni tribal chieftains with family ties to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is a dictatorship whose people have regularly demanded political reform and seen their aspirations crushed.

    Today, with strong support from the oil-rich Saudis, the Kingdom’s hard-line Al-Khalifa regime enjoys absolute powers, although the day-to-day political reality is often complex.

    Bahrain is also the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols those volatile waters, largely to keep an eye on Iran. The U.S. considers the port a critical element of its military posture in the Gulf. This consideration drives U.S. policy toward Bahrain. The centuries-old Bahraini-Saudi connection has, predictably, deterred the U.S. and other democratic countries from applying significant pressure to the kingdoms’ rulers. Stability is the byword.

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  • The Educational Attainment Of Girls And Boys: Two Sides of the Same Coin

    Written on November 7, 2012

    Last month, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl, was shot in the head, in an attempted assassination by Taliban militants. Her “crime” was daring to advocate for girls’ education. In a New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof observes that we in the West find it “easy to dismiss such incidents as distant barbarities," and uses the example of sex trafficking to illustrate that we “have a blind spot for our own injustices." I agree. However, I am not sure we need to go so far to find domestic injustices.

    How about a close look within this very area: The education of girls (and boys) in the U.S.? Stories about how girls have surpassed boys in educational attainment have become common, and are often linked to statements about how boys are forgotten and/or lost. This rhetoric is troubling for several reasons. First, it can be read to imply a zero-sum equation; that is, that the educational advancement of girls is the cause of boys’ educational neglect. Second, stories about girls’ “successes” and boys’ “failures” may obscure more than they reveal.

    There are the "lost boys" of higher education and the "missing girls" of STEM. We worry about boys and reading and girls and math. Recurring questions include where are the women in technology? Or, are there enough novels that cater to boys? Women have sailed past men in obtaining college degrees but, importantly, continue to concentrate in different fields and need Ph.D.s to match men with bachelor’s in the workplace.

    When issues are addressed in this fragmented manner, it’s hard to tell if it’s girls or boys that we should be worrying about. Well, both and neither. What all these pieces of the puzzle really say is that – at least in this day, age, and nation – gender still matters.

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  • Voter Suppression: An American Political Tradition

    Written on October 25, 2012

    In her new book, The Politics of Voter Suppression Defending and Expanding Americans' Right to Vote, Tova Andrea Wang tells readers that voter suppression is one of our nation’s political “traditions," arguing that the U.S. has “an election system that’s exquisitely designed for low rates of participation."

    And Wang has reason to know – a fellow at Demos and The Century Foundation, she worked as a consultant to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission established by Congress in the aftermath of the “2000 Florida election debacle”. Mandated “by law to study voter fraud and intimidation," the commission hired bipartisan consultants and charged them with investigating both and writing a draft report. According to this 2007 article by Wang, little evidence of fraud was found, but there was lots of evidence of persistent intimidation – findings that were later turned on their head by the political interplay of Congress and George Bush’s Justice Department.

    So, it’s not really a huge surprise to find that a big story in the 2012 election cycle is “voter suppression” – meaning attempts to intimidate and deny the franchise to citizens who are legally eligible to vote – presented under the guise of a defense against virtually nonexistent incidents of voter fraud.

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  • Looking Backwards Into The Future

    Written on October 15, 2012

    This is an adaptation of a recent message to AFT staff and leadership from Eugenia Kemble, on the occasion of her departure as the Albert Shanker Institute’s founding executive director, a position she held from March 1998 through September 2012.

    I hope you will accept a few reflections from an old-timer as I leave the Albert Shanker Institute, which was launched with the support of the American Federation of Teachers in 1998, a year after Al’s death.

    I started in 1967 as a cub reporter for New York’s Local 2 and have worked for the AFT, the AFL-CIO, and the Albert Shanker Institute since 1975, so I have been on duty for awhile. I was particularly grateful for the decision to create the Shanker Institute.  It has become a very special kind of forum – directed by an autonomous board of directors to ensure its independence – where, together with a broad spectrum of colleagues from both inside and outside the union, core ideas, positions, and practices could be discussed, examined, modeled, and debated.  Its inquisitive nature and program attempt to capture a key feature of Al Shanker’s contribution to union leadership.  As a result, the Institute’s work has helped many, including me, to reach a clearer understanding of the essential character of the AFT, unionism, public education, and of democracy itself, as well as what about them we hope will endure.

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  • Attempted Assassination In Pakistan

    Written on October 12, 2012

    What would drive armed gunmen to open fire on a bus full of schoolgirls, with the express aim of assassinating one talented young teenager? That’s the question on the minds of many people this week, following Tuesday’s attempted assassination of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai in northwestern Pakistan. A refugee fleeing Taliban violence and oppression in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Malala had already won a following for her precocious and courageous blog posts, written when she was really just a child, arguing that young women have a right to an education, and indeed, to a life free from discrimination and fear.

    She is also a hero to many Pakistanis. In 2011, the Pakistani government awarded her a national peace prize and 1 million rupees (US$10,500). In 2012, she was a finalist for the International Children’s Peace Prize, awarded by a Dutch organization, in recognition of her courage in defying the Taliban by advocating for girls’ education.  

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  • Jobs, Freedom And Mr. March On Washington

    Written on August 28, 2012

    Today is the 49th  anniversary of the historic 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” in a year that marks the centennial of the birth of Bayard Rustin, the march’s principal organizer and chief strategist, referred to at the time as "Mr. March on Washington." Here, we reprint Albert Shanker’s 1987 eulogy to Rustin, who served as a mentor to both Shanker and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    The death of Bayard Rustin last week is an incalculable loss to our country and the world. He was the last of the great giants - A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Roy Wilkins - who brought us a grand, humane social vision and a dream of an integrated, democratic nation. I have lost a dear personal friend and inspiration.

    Bayard was a gifted leader, but he headed no mass organization. His extraordinary influence came not from numbers and money but from his intense moral, intellectual and physical courage. He was a black man, a Quaker, a one-time pacifist, a political and social dissident, a member of many and often despised minority groups, yet he always believed in the necessity of coalition politics to enable minorities to build majorities in support of lasting progress.

    He was a penetrating critic who had no use for those whose criticism merely destroyed and did not present a constructive program for change. He was an intellectual who could act and a visionary for whom no organizational detail was too trivial if it moved dreams to reality. Over his lifetime, Bayard was called everything from a dangerous revolutionary to a sellout conservative. The truth is that Bayard was a true democrat in a world of pretenders. Unlike those who lived by double standards and expediency, he remained constant to the principles and goals of democracy no matter what forces or insult were hurled against him.

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  • The New Middle East: Democratic Accountability And The Role Of Trade Unions

    Written on August 10, 2012

    Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli.  She has 25 years of experience in the promotion of democracy, independent trade unions, political and economic development. She has worked with institutions and leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to challenge authoritarian regimes. Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

    Since the shock of 9/11 and the tragedy that ensued, many policy analysts have questioned whether or not Islam is compatible with democracy, while  ignoring countries such as Indonesia (the largest Muslim nation in the world) as well as  India, Turkey, and  others with large Muslim populations.

    Now, in the aftermath of Arab Spring, Islamist political parties have gained political power through elections in the Middle East and, for many analysts, the jury is still out: Can Islamist governments be responsive to the people who elected them? Will it be one person, one vote, one time?  It appears that these questions are about to be answered:  The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which governs Turkey, has been in the forefront for many years. In Morocco, a majority of voters also handed power to the Justice and Development Party (PJD), a party inspired by Turkey's moderate Islamists. Tunisia’s Al-Nahda (Renaissance) party and its prime minister were elected to office after free and fair elections.  In Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) established by the Muslim Brotherhood, won the Presidential elections and his new prime minister has formed a cabinet.

    Against this background, the fundamental challenge to these governments in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region is economic and not religious. The newly-minted Islamist governments are going to be tested daily and this time held accountable by voters who are no longer afraid to speak out.

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  • A Chance To Help Build Grassroots Democracy In China

    Written on July 12, 2012

    Our guest author today is Han Dongfang, director of China Labor Bulletin. You can follow him on Weibo in Chinese and on Twitter in English and Chinese. This article originally appeared on the China Labor Bulletin, and has been reprinted with permission of the author.

    The first of February this year was a historic day in the Chinese village of Wukan. Several thousand villagers, who had chased out their corrupt old leaders, went to the polls to democratically elect new representatives. A few months later, on 27 May, there was another equally historic democratic election in a factory in nearby Shenzhen, when nearly 800 employees went to the polls to elect their new trade union representatives. These two elections, one in the countryside, the other in the workplace, both represent important milestones on the road towards genuine grassroots democracy in China.

    Just like in Wukan, the Shenzhen election came about a few months after a mass protest at the ineptitude of the incumbent leadership. The workers at the Omron electronics factory staged a strike on 29 March demanding higher pay and better benefits and, crucially, democratic elections for a new trade union chairman.

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  • Measuring Journalist Quality

    Written on April 1, 2012

    Journalists play an essential role in our society. They are charged with informing the public, a vital function in a representative democracy. Yet, year after year, large pockets of the electorate remain poorly-informed on both foreign and domestic affairs. For a long time, commentators have blamed any number of different culprits for this problem, including poverty, education, increasing work hours and the rapid proliferation of entertainment media.

    There is no doubt that these and other factors matter a great deal. Recently, however, there is growing evidence that the factors shaping the degree to which people are informed about current events include not only social and economic conditions, but journalist quality as well. Put simply, better journalists produce better stories, which in turn attract more readers. On the whole, the U.S. journalist community is world class. But there is, as always, a tremendous amount of underlying variation. It’s likely that improving the overall quality of reporters would not only result in higher quality information, but it would also bring in more readers. Both outcomes would contribute to a better-informed, more active electorate.

    We at the Shanker Institute feel that it is time to start a public conversation about this issue. We have requested and received datasets documenting the story-by-story readership of the websites of U.S. newspapers, large and small. We are using these data in statistical models that we call “Readers-Added Models," or “RAMs."

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  • Public Schools Create Citizens In A Democratic Society

    Written on February 22, 2012

    Our guest author today is Jeffrey Mirel, Professor of Education and History at the University of Michigan.  His book, Patriotic Pluralism: Americanization Education and European Immigrants, published in 2010 by Harvard University Press, is available in bookstores and online.

    How do you get people who hate each other learn to resolve their differences democratically? How do you get them to believe in ballots not bullets?

    What if the answer is “public schools” and the evidence for it is in our own history during the first half of the twentieth century?

    In the years spanning about 1890-1930, two institutions—public schools and the foreign language press—helped generate this trust among the massive wave of eastern and southern European immigrants who came to the U.S. during that time. This is not a traditional “melting pot” story but rather an examination of a dynamic educational process.

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