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This Empire Has No Clothes: In the Classroom That Zoom Built

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/05/11/empire-has-no-clothes-classroom-zoom-built


Each day, fewer of them show up to class. Sometimes, students turn off their videos, and I speak only to a sea of black rectangles, the white text of the student’s name the sole indicator of his or her presence in my new classroom.

Here I envision the students resisting digital/ performance based learning… and turning to social media to attempt to fill the absence of bodily contact i.e. “the silence”.


For a long time Establishment Democrats and Republican railed over how much the government spends on . . . no not the military . . . but, Education.

Now some, such as the Democrat’s beloved Rock Star, Andrew Cuomo, are using COVID-19 as a pretext to chisel away at public schooling and replace it with private, or Gigified KhanAcademy type learning:

Cuomo questions why school buildings still exist — and says New York will work with Bill Gates to ‘reimagine education’


The only way to stop efforts such as these is to build grassroots organizing efforts and to protest - which is much more difficult now that Democrat Bill DeBlasio has outlawed the 1st Amendment right to protest, under any conditions, in NYC:

De Blasio, NYPD commissioner: No protests allowed in NYC



Here is Naomi Klein on Covid-1984:

Remember what Rahm Emmanuel said about not letting a serious crisis go to waste…


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What an excellent article! You should also qualify to teach English, Writing and Composition classes, and Philosophy and Social Studies as well (sadly, all on-line of course)! Thank you.


This type of threat has been around for quite a while. At the elementary level, schooling is first a form of daycare so that workers work. I believe at the upper levels gr 7-12 of ed., the desired outcome is to keep students off the streets and outta trouble. And of course then there’s “structural unemployment” argument.

Now if Cuomo can stroke Gotchies ego and swindle some cash/ charity… well that’s just s…wank/y/ ers Capitalism!!

The closure of our buildings also poses a huge barrier to the normal support of students struggling with mental-health issues. Our children are already suffering from alarming rates of depression and anxiety. Isolating them from their friends, peers, mentors, caregivers, and teachers will only compound their mental-health challenges.

Since 2017, we’ve heard the news inscribed on California forests, filling the sky with smoke-signals lasting for weeks. This Summer and Fall, with our megadrought back on-track, and record warm months ahead (from cleaner skies), the return of town-obliterating firestorms in the midst of unknown contagion in our state is all-but certain. The news being: It’s all gone now, that world we used to know.

The exact same ecological destruction, in the same places at the same times, has led to both global heating and global pandemics. Now, to decline with no bottom in sight, battered back and forth between the latest superstorm and the latest mutational viral surge. It’s now a grotesque understatement to say we older folks are stealing our children’s future. How are we supposed to explain: Oops, we just lost your future right up to the present moment? Sorry about that, kids.

I can only weep. It doesn’t help.


Excellent article Belle. Many of us just look at surface and don’t know all the systems that need to be put in place to make a successful policy, program, bill, educational system, governmental systems that work for all.

So many of our systems are broken in this country and it just didn’t happen under Trump, the republicans have been trying to replace our good governance with bad with the help of neoliberalism democrats.

As a fellow Oregonian, happy to have you supporting a better system and explains all the systematic failures.


I second that comment! It is worth repeating, well said 1Nall.

This is a superb article----thank you!


There have been times in my life when I could not cry. When the tears finally came— after years of a persistent unhealthy wall that kept them at bay crumbled— it was a huge relief.

So Aleph Null . . though not much of a consolation, it is good you can cry.

However this is a kind of grief humanity has never experienced for it is constant and there is more to grieve every day.

People try to put this 2020 grief into terms our heads can get around by outlining various “stages of grief”. I don’t think pat stages neatly apply to and assuage this level/depth/width of grief. This is new grief terrain.

And if you have children . . there can be grief coupled with shame.


We have already lost much of the Vietnam generation because of the volatility of the times.
Are we going to lose another generation to the destructive nature of the trump agenda?

We can do education right, but the greed that be, will try to kill public ed.
Tax payer funded education for all, or good education for the rich and screw the rest?

Public education is a lesson in social interactions, personally, in small groups, regular and occasional large gatherings. Some if not most courses of study certainly improve with immediate and personal interaction. How then to imagine social interaction away from public classroom is the question. Community Center classrooms with library, field and playground.
Neighborhood Intersection Repair ala SE Sellwood to go.

Portland’s defining document is the 2040 Regional Plan - to “disperse” development equitably throughout the region rather than construction materials to central city per profit motive. Clear cutting forest canopy and street trees to put up concrete towers and miles of hideous highway buttress wall on Barbur is IMO inexcusably bad engineering on the part of Mayor Ted and his buddy Doug at Tri-Met.


What a great piece. I teach adults for a living, who are better able to project their identities and articulate their needs than children are, and yet . . . some of them still disappeared or did a lot less than they could have under normal circumstances, because of obligations to family and to try to patch holes in their leaky finances with new jobs. NO WAY IN HELL can we let Gates and privateering profiteering class convince us that this is the way things ought to be.


Talk about your teachable moment:

“It is scary to go to work,” said top White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing. It’s a small, crowded place. It’s, you know, it’s a little bit risky. But you have to do it because you have to serve your country.”

Yet Kevin and his pals in the White House have appeared not to take even the simple precaution of wearing masks at work, seemingly because masks are a symbol of bad news, and nobody brings bad news to the boss. Not wearing a mask has become a twisted form of loyalty oath to Donald Trump, and that galloping folly has now exposed the entire building to a deadly pathogen that gives not a single damn who you voted for or what you believe.

Trump and His Staff Wouldn’t Wear Masks. Now the White House Is a COVID Hotspot.
by William Rivers Pitt

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While I very much sympathize with you, Belle- (I’ve been teaching for close to 40 yrs) I’m afraid that speaking out will have zero effect. The privatization of our entire public education system has been very much in Wall St.'s sights since the 2008 meltdown. It’s viewed as the natural replacement to the home mortgage lenders market, as well. Greed, combined with fundamentalists who view public education as Satan’s lair, is a powerful mix that can only be fended off by major strikes and acts of civil disobedience. OF course, those gatherings would be illegal during the cv19 shutdown- conveniently. The trials and tribulations you describe are the main tenets of the ‘Starve the Beast’ kingpins who want to dismantle public education. [BTW- StB is an excellent documentary on this topic!] Communities like yours need to build a grass roots movement that begins by re-capturing control of school boards, and local political positions that control school surcharge taxes. Those things, however, will take pretty much an entire community to buy into them. The next level would be to retake control of critical state positions. This would require strong coordination across communities. Yet another nontrivial task. And then we have the education geniuses such as Bill Gates to contend with. I dunno, Belle. But I do know how you feel. Even at the university level that I teach at, I see many of the problems you describe. Public universities have totally embraced the corporate model of education; i.e. $$$$$. There’s a strong feeling that come August, they will remain virtual. And then proceed to move rapidly to a predominantly on-line format. Perhaps ultimately, we will have to appeal directly to the students; asking them to make the case en masse for decent public education. About 12-15 years ago France tried to starve public education. I was there at the time, and was duly impressed by 10s of 1000s of high school students who walked along San Michelle between and on top of stopped cars. They were really pissed. It was a great thing to see. Take care, p


I read something once, and I am sorry that I can’t remember where I read it, but here it is:

A king once wondered what created language—and then he wondered, what if all of these children in the kingdom without families----what if we fed them and clothed them and housed them, BUT no one spoke to them? Perhaps then we could find the first language of the world! And so, no one spoke a word to the babies ever, and the servants waited to hear them speak the first language of the world.

So day after day, the servants fed them and cared for the babies ----except no one spoke a word! Then one day, the first words came----and the excited King ran to hear what the world’s first language sounded like , and —as we all know that babies learn by imitation----the first words from the children were the bleat and the baa of the sheep—and no one should be surprised because they were raised far from the city and surrounded by farms and fields----and children learn by interaction, and so if a kingdom wants to raise children they should speak to them in the language of their nation-------------otherwise any kingdom that doesn’t interact with real people will raise a nation of sheep. : )

I think we will have a nation of dependent sheep children if the computer people take over the world----we truly will have a nation of children who do not interact with others----and when children lack the HUMAN connection----they lose everything. PLease don’t let this happen to schools! : (


I teach at the college level and I experienced everything the author discusses.

We’ve had a full scale experiment in virtual education and it failed.

I doubt that will dampen the neocon and neolib push for more. Failing schools make for more compliant servile workers. Plowing school funding into virtual technologies rather than on site facilities is also much better for Microsoft and Amazon profits.


Dead right, Alan. I posted on another article about food distribution being decimated to the point where farmers are dumping milk and veg. I said that it was entirely about control. A way to define control is to split groups into the controllers and those who serve the controllers (the servile class).

Lack of food generates servility - and the atrocities that the servants will do in order to survive boggles the mind.

Add lack of human interaction and lack of education to the mix and you’ve got the beginnings of the controllers dream world.

Add in a bit of religion (god’s will bullshit) and robbery of women’s rights and the Dark Ages are here again.

History does indeed repeat. Sadly.

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What is happening to public education is merely an anecdote of what is happening to the USA (as we like to believe it is). The empire is slowly having its masquerade as an empire removed, piece by piece. The Revolution is coming and there will be no winners. However, there may be some satisfaction in seeing the elite torn from their high perches and extinguished by the flames of history.

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I hate to think in such pessimistic terms but all the sign posts seem to be pointing in that direction.