Dec 11, 2013
In the Dead Zone of Capitalism: Lessons From Chicago on the Violence of Inequality
Posted on Jun 6, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
That many of these Chicago children are poor black youth trapped in under-resourced schools appears irrelevant to a mayor who takes his lead from politicians such as Barack Obama and Arnie Duncan - two educators who, despite being Democrats, have intensified the George W. Bush educational reform playbook. The ill-fated consequence of this so-called educational reform movement is that equity is removed from excellence. The apt neoliberal moniker given to Obama’s Race to the Top educational policy supports more testing, demonizes teachers, weakens unions, advocates for choice and charter schools, and turns public schools over to the market-based ideology and values of corporate hedge fund managers, conservative billionaires and right-wing foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Bradley Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell foundation. In Chicago, Emanuel’s passionate zeal to close public schools in impoverished black neighborhoods is matched only by his misdirected enthusiasm to lay out $55 million on a hotel that will benefit the University of Chicago and $300 million on a basketball arena for DePaul University, both of which are private Chicago universities. Emanuel claims he is shutting down 50 schools because the city is broke, but as Ben Joravsky points out in The Chicago Reader,
Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who is helping lead the campaign against school closings, has argued that Emanuel’s claims that school closings are necessary to save money and will better serve students are a sham. According to Sharkey,
Other critics of Emanuel’s approach, such as Justin Panon, have pointed out that Emanuel solidly hangs his hat in the corporate boardroom and kneels at the altar of big corporations and the ultrarich and powerful, “so much so that Chicago residents presented his office with a golden toilet after he handed over $15 million in tax rebates to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. This slush fund money had originally [been] earmarked for the renewal of public infrastructure.” What is also hard to miss in Emanuel’s educational policies is “that many of the targeted schools exist in areas deemed ripe for gentrification,” which may explain why Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has made clear that “since 2001, 88 percent of students impacted by the CPS School actions are African American, and this is by design. In many ways, Emanuel is just intensifying the neoliberal strategy started by Arne Duncan who initiated the neoliberal policy of closing schools in Chicago as part of his corporate-driven Renaissance 2010 plan. As Diane Ravitch points out, while Duncan’s plan for Chicago did “close lots of schools and open many more - it did not improve education.” Also hard to ignore, given Emanuel’s infamous penchant for revenge and the fact that there will be little cost savings, is that the closings largely serve as payback against the teachers’ union for having waged a strike that generated by negative publicity for the mayor in September 2012.
Unfortunately, Emanuel’s actions in Chicago also mimic neoliberal policies that are playing out in other cities across the United States. The violence of inequality and the culture of cruelty produced by the advocates of neoliberalism represent the Wild West of finance capital and are creating vast zones of suffering, terminal exclusion, and disposability. Emanuel would rather protect the wealth of corporations than invest in public schools. No democracy can survive under such circumstances. Emanuel’s educational policies are just one more indication of the violence being waged on young people, teachers, the poor, racial minorities and others who believe in public values, the dignity of democratic institutions and an ideology in which sharing, trust, justice, and individual and social empowerment should not be regulated by the market. Resisting Emanuel’s policies in Chicago has to be connected to resisting other institutions that support casino capitalism and a broader politics of rampant and depoliticizing consumerism, a culture of cruelty, and the rise of the punishing state.
Politics and educational policy are not disconnected from wider market-driven relations of power, governance, and ideology. Democracy, when measured by the yardstick of profit, turns in on itself and eats away the formative cultures, spheres of dissent, and social relations that make it possible. What Emanuel is doing in Chicago is just another version of the ruthless ideological and economic forces at work in the United States that display a deep symmetry with an updated form of authoritarianism now dominating the American landscape. Catherine Clement has stated that “every culture has an imaginary zone for what it excludes.” She is right, and the class, racial, and power relations that create such zones have to be made visible through a new understanding and claim to democratic politics, pedagogy, and collective struggle so that the institutions, ideologies and power relations that currently dominate the United States can be properly reformed or identified as the rightful candidates for disposability.
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