NJEA Flags “The Cartel” as a Right-Wing Conspiracy

Last month, Bob Bowdon’s documentary “The Cartel” premiered at the Hoboken Film Festival. The movie criticizes American education, and New Jersey in particular, as over-priced and under-delivered. For example, the film notes statistics from the National Center of Education Statistics that shows that New Jersey spends the most in the country per pupil and ranks 37th in the country in SAT scores. Nationally, 35% of high school seniors are proficient in reading, 23% are proficient in math, and we rank 34th in the world, behind Latvia and Azerbaijian, in math skills for 15-year-olds.

It’s no surprise that such disclosures would put N.J. educational traditionalists on the defensive, and the film’s website addresses this:
Is “The Cartel” for or against traditional public schools?

This very question is out of date.

We're for schools that are effective and efficient, whether they be public district schools, charter schools or private schools. We're critical of schools that are dysfunctional, no matter what kind. Supporting all of any type of school, without regard to how different ones perform, is a way of picking one category of adults over another, at the childrens' expense.
Hard to argue with. Unless you're the NJEA, which has posted a screed (no author attached) that attacks Bowdon and the film’s producer, Moving Picture Institute (MPI). Here’s a few choice excerpts:
MPI is “the AV department for the vast libertarian conspiracy.”

“News accounts” note that MPI has backed films that are “pro-business, anti-Communist, and even anti-environmentalist.”

MPI “relies on some of the Right’s biggest contributors, major givers to the national voucher movement, Far Right think tanks and anti-NEA organizations – and New Jersey’s Excellent Education for Everyone.”

“One MPI board member is Elizabeth Koch, though it’s not immediately clear if she is related to the prominent Far-Right family with the same name.”
You get the idea. Just to test this, uh, fact sheet, we found one of those “news accounts,” a 2007 New York Times piece on Thor Halvorssen, a founder of MPI. It’s true: the Times does say that he’s backed “pro-business, anti-Communist, and even anti-environmentalist” films, though the context is that Halvorssen seems to eschew labels: “He’s uncategorizable,” Nat Hentoff, the journalist and First Amendment advocate, said [in the article]. “Thor’s the embodiment of the nonpolitically correct person.”

In addition to serving on MPI’s board, Halvorssen also is a co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and a board member of the Human Rights Foundation, which counts Elie Wiesel as a trustee.

Maybe "The Cartel" is a product of a right-wing hack. Or maybe the NJEA is just a tad bit defensive. Does it matter? Wouldn’t it be more useful for the NJEA to acknowledge that New Jersey has some educational problems that denial and vitriol will not solve? The leaders of NJEA would serve its members better by focusing less on contrived diatribes and more on legitimate conversation about how we can better serve our kids.