This past weekend I went to watch the new Matt Damon movie, Green Zone. The movie tells a story of US government conspiracy to manufacture a war in Iraq. Loosely based on the Bush II Administration’s lies to the US public (and the world) to justify its illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the movie follows Damon’s character in his quest to get the bottom of the US generated lies about Iraq’s supposed WMD programs. As viewers we buy the story that implies corrupt US interests lead government officials to deceive the world by concocting intelligence reports about WMD’s in Iraq. We buy this story because we largely know it to be true. The movie pits longtime Middle East CIA Agent Brown (Brendan Gleeson) against Pentagon official and White House puppet Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear). Brown wants to stabilize Iraq after US invasion and partner with Iraq’s Republican Guard, while Poundstone is peddling the Bush Administration’s search for WMDs and thus seeking to vilify the Iraqi military. Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is caught in the middle as his unit continuously comes up empty-handed when searching supposed WMD sites and turns to Brown when he suspects that the US intelligence reports are corrupt. When Brown tells him to do things contrary to Poundstone’s orders, Miller says, “I thought we were all on the same side.” “Don’t be naive,” Miller responds as moviegoers chuckle in the audience. Later, when Miller uncovers the US government conspiracy to falsify intelligence reports to justify invading Iraq even after finding out that there were no WMDs, Brown says something to effect of, “You mean they made up intelligence reports to justify their invasion of Iraq?” to which Miller replies, “Don’t be naive.” And moviegoers chuckle again, because the US public was naive enough to believe that the actual US invasion of Iraq may have been justified even though most of us should have known better.
Green Zone has grossed over $24 million in just two weeks at the box office. Enough people are going to watch, which means enough find the premise of story it tells to be plausible, or at least compelling. So, why is it that we, as a moviegoing public, so easily buy a story of US government corruption and a manufactured war that was not in any way related to the democratic values of freedom and liberty? We buy it because we know that things like profit and power drive our country’s decisions to go to war. We know that there are billions dollars to be gained by a few very powerful interests from the perpetuation of the military industrial complex, and that there are elections to win and policies to push through when you can distract the media and the voters from real issues with the blind patriotism produced during war time. Again, we know this because we’ve all so recently lived through it.
So, why when it comes to public education, do so many who will buy the story above, resist beliefs in the corrupt interests that drive education policy? Why do so many find it hard to stomach the notion that profit-driven US corporate interests would view urban and low-income youth as disposable a population as capitalist profiteers seem to find everyday Iraqi citizens? In August 2007, Jonathan Kozol wrote an article in Harper’s Magazine that should be read by anyone interested in education reform. In this article he notes how Wall Street financial analysts view the education sector as the largest market opportunity since the health-care industry was opened up to private profit interests in the 1970s (and we’ve all seen how well that turned out), and that the K-12 market in particular is the “Big Enchilada” for private profit. In little Rhody alone, public education commands $2 billion per year. Nationwide the figure is about $500 billion, and so one can imagine the amount of salivating in the mouths of private profit-oriented interests should the public education sector become fair game. So tell me, when so many power brokers line up to get behind public education policies promoting things like the mass proliferation of charter schools, the continued over-testing of students in as early as 1st grade, privately and mass produced curriculum packages, and the dismantling of one of the most highly organized sectors of our economy through the vilification of teachers’ unions, should those of us who are in education for the young people we serve, for the liberating power we know education holds for oppressed communities, and for the true realization of a democratic society, actually believe that we are all on the same side? Don’t be naive. Education officials wouldn’t peddle policy and research that are less than reliable, or that conveniently overlook many important variables, or that draw questionable conclusions at best, just to cater to the corporate interests that prop up their administrations, would they? Again, don’t be naive.
In Green Zone, Chief Miller began the movie acting in good faith, believing that he was sent to Iraq to rid the region of WMDs and to make the world a better, safer place. He soon woke up and realized that this was not the case at all and chose to search for the truth. When will more of us wake up? When will we search for truth? When will we stop buying the lies that education policymakers are peddling in the interests of those far removed from our communities and take control of a situation that is quickly spiraling out of control? How much more can we stand coming up empty-handed?