Neoliberalism, the economic doctrine that favors zero government regulation of commerce and other activities, is giving American education to the corporations, and well-meaning but deluded liberals are complicit in the takeover, New Jersey City University education professor Lois Weiner writes at Jacobin.
America’s school system is not without faults. But the belief, widely held among Americans, that education in the United States is broken has allowed serious-seeming individuals who appear to be on the side of right for advocating for the improvement of schooling to con people who are concerned with the social welfare into accepting and in many cases advancing the relinquishing of control over education from the once somewhat democratically controlled state to private companies seeking profits.
This shift comes most popularly in the form of charter schools. The culture war over education has been so seductive and successful that capitalists have recently made Hollywood movies depicting caring mothers paradoxically fighting for the right to surrender their children’s education to men in boardrooms. (Read Liza Featherstone’s criticism of the film “Won’t Back Down” in Dissent).
“The bipartisan education project,” described by Weiner, consists of “privatization, testing and attacks on teacher unions.” It has “subjected schools and teachers to ‘free market’ policies” taken “wholesale from right-wing think tanks and functions.”
Weiner is at times too charitable in her criticism of liberals—they are described as “confused” rather than knowingly and willfully being taken in by the Dark Side—but there are gems of judgment in her writing. For example: “… for way too long, liberals assumed that schools could be ‘fixed’ without tackling social and economic inequality,” and “Advocating charter schools to boost academic outcomes for poor, minority kids presumes that we can provide equal educational opportunity and simultaneously maintain a status quo of segregated housing and schooling. If you are unwilling to wage the unpopular fight for residential and school integration and equalized (and adequate) school funding, charter schools can seem a ‘good enough’ compromise. The controversy over charter schools is symptomatic of liberalism’s unwillingness to face racism’s embeddedness in almost every aspect of education.” (Italics added.)
And finally: “Because of their ideological confusion, liberals can’t imagine alternative social and political arrangements, so when their political friends betray them, they tend to either deny the reality or excuse it as inevitable and look for the new shining hope.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Lois Weiner at Jacobin:
Liberals couldn’t see this big picture, partly because as Bhaskar Sunkara writes, “American liberalism is ineffective and analytically inadequate.” But why? One reason is that they want to be non-ideological and practical, and without principles to guide them, they are pulled in the political direction exerting the most influence. David Steiner, currently Hunter College Dean and a former Commissioner of Education in New York State and Director of Arts Education at the National Endowment for the Arts, illustrates how liberals persuade themselves to support neoliberal policies. It’s essential, he argues, “to be non-aligned [ideologically]” and look at “policy recommendations, policy as executed based on its merits and not on whether it’s the darling child of the left or the right…”
When power relations are skewed, however, the “merits” are generally found in the right-hand column if one’s principles don’t configure the analysis. Steiner argues that teacher education should take up important questions like how often to make eye-contact with students and omit issues that are irrelevant for teaching, like schooling’s role in a democracy. Teaching about social justice is objectionable to Steiner because it challenges the status quo.
Confusion about whether they even have an ideology has allowed U.S. liberals to evade confronting the choice between “profits and people,” the contradiction embedded in capitalism at the heart of “free market” reforms. Liberals accepted making public schools compete with charters. They permitted outsourcing test creation and grading, teachers’ evaluation, professional development, as well as hiring to transnational corporations that are virtually unregulated. Many liberals persuaded themselves that corporations could make profits in the previously non-profit sector of education without hurting kids. But when is there ever enough money left over in school for profit? When do you not need the money for children?
John Mallon Iphoneography (CC BY 2.0)