The Harthouse Exemplar: Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children

Jonah Edelman

As I’ve been immersed in Hard Times this reminded me of this bit regarding the character James Harthouse, Esq., from Book II, chapter 2

‘You are going to devote yourself, as I gather from what Mr. Bounderby has said, to the service of your country. You have made up your mind,’ said Louisa, still standing before him where she had first stopped-in all the singular contrariety of her self-possession, and her being obviously very ill at ease-‘to show the nation the way out of all its difficulties.’

‘Mrs. Bounderby,’ he returned, laughing, ‘upon my honour, no. I will make no such pretence to you. I have seen a little, here and there, up and down; I have found it all to be very worthless, as everybody has, and as some confess they have, and some do not; and I am going in for your respected father’s opinions-really because I have no choice of opinions, and may as well back them as anything else.’

‘Have you none of your own?’ asked Louisa.

‘I have not so much as the slightest predilection left. I assure you I attach not the least importance to any opinions. The result of the varieties of boredom I have undergone, is a conviction (unless conviction is too industrious a word for the lazy sentiment I entertain on the subject), that any set of ideas will do just as much good as any other set, and just as much harm as any other set. There’s an English family with a charming Italian motto. What will be, will be. It’s the only truth going!’

This vicious assumption of honesty in dishonesty-a vice so dangerous, so deadly, and so common-seemed, he observed, a little to impress her in his favour. He followed up the advantage, by saying in his pleasantest manner: a manner to which she might attach as much or as little meaning as she pleased: ‘The side that can prove anything in a line of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands, Mrs. Bounderby, seems to me to afford the most fun, and to give a man the best chance. I am quite as much attached to it as if I believed it. I am quite ready to go in for it, to the same extent as if I believed it. And what more could I possibly do, if I did believe it!’

So, below is a video of a talk given at the Aspen Ideas Festival that is about Illinois politics and rigging the game of charter expansion and private education, but it is instructive to all of us who don’t play politics and who are not vile and cruel in their absolute lack of compunction regarding the daily being of humans.  Here’s how Parents Across America described Edelman and his talk at “Jonah Edelman on outfoxing teachers’ unions.”

Jonah Edelman,  its founder and the son of children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman,  has raised millions of dollars in funds from the Gates and Walton Foundations, as well as many top business executives, and now pursues policies central to the corporate education agenda, including support of charter school expansion, the evaluation of teachers based on test scores and the elimination of  their seniority protections.

Edelman spoke on a panel at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival (June 27-July 3, 2011) about how the organization, aided by the millions of dollars they raised from top Chicago corporate executives, was able to influence Illinois state legislators to get SB7 passed, landmark legislation that severely curtailed teachers’ rights and job security, and that has been hailed by Arne Duncan and other corporate reformers as a model for the nation.

During his remarks, Edelman boasted that his organization and other well-funded allies will be able to replicate this success in states throughout the country.   After Aspen Institute posted the video of this session, so many people blogged and tweeted about it that it was taken down, though it is back up here.   In case they take it down again, a key excerpt is still posted on Fred Klonsky’s blog here.

It’s hard to choose what to excerpt because all of it displays the very ruin of human care and empathy.  Jonah Edelman sounds like a man who enjoys the machinations for the sake of the machinations.  This is a deep abyss where people fall and use the vast resources of wealth and systemic ratiocination in order to BE.  Jonah Edelman is making meaning of his skill at manipulating politics and people with little real concern for anything that happens next that isn’t politics and money and control.  Here’s a taste:

But our next proposal – next best, which was a very high threshold for strikes, for whatever reason – tactical miscalculation on her part — was palatable. Rahm pushed it; Kimberly Lightford pushed it; we’d done our homework – we knew that the highest threshold of any bargaining unit that had voted one way or the other on a collective bargaining agreement on a contract vote was 48.3%. The threshold that we were arguing for was three-quarters, so in effect they couldn’t have the ability to strike even though the right was maintained. And so in the endgame, the Chicago Teachers Union took that deal, misunderstanding, probably not knowing the statistics about voting history – and the length of day and year was no longer bargainable in Chicago. And we insisted that we decide all the fine print about the process – she was happy to let us do that.

He did it!  Wasn’t that magnificent?  I hope his mamma is proud.  At least he sure is; he did his homework and knew he could screw them just so!

Here’s another snippet from PAM, “Tom Olson, another former Stand for Children member, speaks out,” describing how what appears to have been a grass-roots organization dedicated to mitigating the effects of poverty on children via education systems for the benefit of those children became, through Jonah’s direction, to be a siphon for billionaire investors.  I’ve come to believe that billionaire investment through Foundations like Bradley and Walton and Gates is just a kind of money laundering scheme.  Oh well…the takeaway information is this regarding the evolution of the organization’s mission:

At the same time, we saw you edge out one of the most competent facilitative leaders I’ve ever known, Holly Pruett.  By this time, Holly was the Oregon Stand for Children Executive Director.   But, mysteriously, a new “player”, Sue Levin, arrived to begin help you firm up your top down “reforms.”  She initially served as the “coach” of the State Race to the Top Team.  When we asked if she was now a Stand staff member or a Stand consultant, staff members said that they simply didn’t know.   When we read a draft of the Race to the Top proposal, we attempted to provide constructive advice, which, again, was rejected out of hand—particularly by “coach” Sue Levin.

Abruptly, Holly announced her resignation as Executive Director, surprising all the volunteers.  We saw no open process to secure her replacement.  You did not engage the grass roots volunteers in advising about priority job criteria, no did you engage them in any search or interview process.

Then you anointed Sue Levin as Holly’s replacement.   We were appalled that she had virtually no experience leading grass roots organizations.  Instead, we were told that she had a truly impressive background as an “entrepreneur” (a phrase we began to hear you use quite frequently during your transformation during 2009-10).     Levin had been the founder and CEO of a womens’ apparel company, Lucy, Inc.  Prior to that, she had been a Women’s Sports apparel VP at Nike, Inc.    Grass roots leadership experience?  Absolutely none.  Connections with millionaires?  A whole bunch.

But let’s leave that for now as it is surely no surprise to you.

Maybe it’s more interesting to consider Edelman’s lineage.  You’ve heard of Jonah’s mom, likely–Marian Wright Edelman was in a previous generation (and still active) of education gurus and crusaders against poverty and injustice and is proclaimed to be a fine and caring woman.  As I said, I hope she’s proud of him.

This one’s hard.  It’s a brazen con.  And it’s hard to call out folks working their asses off to do good who actually WORK in the trenches of these organizations.  But, how can one not be deeply cynical of people like Jonah Edelman and anyone he draws to his bosom to make this machine tick?  It is hard not to be venomous towards Edelman and his corporate cohort when you see the populations upon which they prey; destitute Black men, women and children who have always been very nearly the “untouchables” in America’s caste system.  When folks as respected as Wright Edelman, and by extension her son, are involved in projects to help the impoverished, to help the Black community, the forgotten and if remembered negated and denigrated community, we want to believe their hearts are pure.  It is a deep and hateful betrayal discovering otherwise.  But not a betrayal by the billionaires–they’ve always used and abused people–by the faces of perceived justice and care who have turned out to be little more than minions of the devils among us.

Mr. James Harthouse of Hard Times is one of these minions, no, a very devil himself.  I think I perceive a decided resemblance…

    MR. JAMES HARTHOUSE, ‘going in’ for his adopted party, soon began to score. With the aid of a little more coaching for the political sages, a little more genteel listlessness for the general society, and a tolerable management of the assumed honesty in dishonesty, most effective and most patronized of the polite deadly sins, he speedily came to be considered of much promise. The not being troubled with earnestness was a grand point in his favour, enabling him to take to the hard Fact fellows with as good a grace as if he had been born one of the tribe, and to throw all other tribes overboard, as conscious hypocrites

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‘Whom none of us believe, my dear Mrs. Bounderby, and who do not believe themselves. The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or benevolence, or philanthropy-never mind the name-is, that we know it is all meaningless, and say so; while they know it equally and will never say so.’


    He had established a confidence with her, from which her husband was excluded. He had established a confidence with her, that absolutely turned upon her indifference towards her husband, and the absence, now and at all times, of any congeniality between them. He had artfully, but plainly, assured her that he knew her heart in its last most delicate recesses; he had come so near to her through its tenderest sentiment; he had associated himself with that feeling; and the barrier behind which she lived, had melted away. All very odd, and very satisfactory!

And yet he had not, even now, any earnest wickedness of purpose in him. Publicly and privately, it were much better for the age in which he lived, that he and the legion of whom he was one were designedly bad, than indifferent and purposeless. It is the drifting icebergs setting with any current anywhere, that wreck the ships.

When the Devil goeth about like a roaring lion, he goeth about in a shape by which few but savages and hunters are attracted. But, when he is trimmed, smoothed, and varnished, according to the mode; when he is aweary of vice, and aweary of virtue, used up as to brimstone, and used up as to bliss; then, whether he take to the serving out of red tape, or to the kindling of red fire, he is the very Devil.

So James Harthouse reclined in the window, indolently smoking, and reckoning up the steps he had taken on the road by which he happened to be travelling. The end to which it led was before him, pretty plainly; but he troubled himself with no calculations about it. What will be, will be.

I believe it must be James Harthouse who performs in the presentation below and “that he and the legion of whom he [is] one” are the impure tops of the vast icebergs that float below our cultural surface and that are sinking the ship of public education.

Find out more about how Stand for Children is worming the virus of corporate take-over into public schools via this podcast at Education Radio, “Stand for Children or Stand for Profit?

photo credit: Parents Across America

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