Saturday, May 19, 2012

No Place To Raise A Kid

In Philadelphia the five year plan is to essentially privatize the entire school district, closing 64 schools (25 percent of the system), move nearly half of the kids into charter schools, cut administrative staff by 20 percent, and divide the rest of the district into privately-operated "achievement networks." This is being done, apparently, because the district is in "near collapse" according to very serious people, who are attempting to ram this through because URGENT CATASTROPHE DON'T THINK FOLLOW TRUST US WE KNOW WHAT WE'RE DOING IT'S ALL FOR THE CHILDREN AND KEEPING UP WITH THE CHINESE (cap lock typing and fear-mongering word salad intentional).

This is what author Naomi Klein calls "The Shock Doctrine." Practiced by doctrinaire free-market types who attempt to take advantage of a crisis to step in and implement, wholesale, their brand of "supply side" idealism (other aliases include Reagonomics, trickle down, Friedmanism, Chicago School, laissez fair, and neoliberalism). Again and again during the past 30+ years, we've seen these disaster capitalists, casting themselves in the role of white knights, racing to the scene of "crisis," (e.g., the Falkland Islands, the nations of the old Soviet Union, Iraq, New Orleans after Katrina) where they attempt to use the supposed "clean slate" to impose, while the people are distracted and against popular opinion, their vision of economic Darwinism in which the weak are essentially killed and eaten. 

And if there is no actual crisis, they're not above creating one by simultaneously hyperventilating in public and playing the part of stern patriarch, just as Philadelphia's "chief recovery officer" Thomas Knudsen is doing when he says that those who are opposed to his plan need to "grow up and deal with it."

Do not buy their "wise daddy" stance. These guys do not know what they are doing other than to put themselves and their buddies in a position to make buckets of money. Their economic theories may look pretty on paper, but they have failed tragically everywhere they have been tried in the real world. The nation of Iceland is currently in full on citizen's revolt against the neoliberalism that tanked their economy. Iraq was going to be a free market paradise. Somalia is a prime living example of what a low tax, small government, unregulated economy looks like. The end result is always to enrich a few and leave the rest as an empty shell of their former selves.

Now they want to privatize our schools and they're not going to leave us time to think, debate, understand, or look at alternatives because THE WHOLE THING IS ABOUT TO FALL DOWN AROUND US OH DEAR HELP US DEEP POCKET PRIVATIZERS!

I'm not saying our schools can't be improved, nor even that some of them aren't failing, but just as unregulated capitalism has failed everywhere it's ever been tried, there is absolutely no real evidence that privatizing our schools has ever worked to improve educational outcomes. (In fact, the real data indicates the opposite.) Nor is there a lick of proof that doing so will even be cost-effective: Philadelphia officials have even sheepishly admitted that their shock doctrine plan will not save the taxpayers a penny.

For a full dismantling of the Philadelphia plan, please read this excellent, excellent piece by parent activist Helen Gym.

The part about democracy that people often forget is that we don't elect leaders, we elect representatives, at least in theory.  That puts the pressure on us to tell our representatives what we want them to do, because if we don't, if we leave a vacuum, our elected officials will listen to someone else and it's quite likely to be someone out to make a buck. This seems to be what's happening with our schools . . . Or at least what the so-called education reformers hope. They hope that we buy their analysis of "crisis." They hope that we look to them as saviors. They hope that we don't question, push back, or offer up inconvenient things like facts based upon research and experience because disaster capitalists can't make money off schools that actually deliver a high quality education. They hope we buy into their shock doctrine.

In fact, the drill-and-kill, Tiger Mom approach favored by these guys and their privatizer buddies actually "harms children" and inhibits creativity and inventiveness in the name of cramming children's heads full of trivia to be regurgitated on standardized tests because that's the most cost-effective way to measure "learning," actual education be damned. It's a model that turns teachers into a kind of burger flipper charged with cranking out the lowest common denominator product. It's an entirely unproven approach, an experiment that doesn't even show promise, that their own acolytes admit can't be supported by data, but from which enterprising disaster capitalists can chisel off chunks of our education dollars for themselves, so they're going for it.

Our elected "leaders" are listening, but not to parents and teachers.  Our schools can be better, much better, but disaster capitalism will only gut public education while making a few guys richer, doing, at best, nothing to make our children better educated. Don't fall for the shock doctrine: Somalia is no place to raise a kid.

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Carrie said...

Charter schools so badly try to show that they have higher test scores and blah blah blah to "win over" the competition (children). The problem is it's not comparing apples to apples. Charter schools are able to pick and choose which children attend their schools - school districts can't. You'd be hard pressed to find more than a small handful of children with special education needs, and when you do I'd bet they are minimal needs. So of course these schools will have higher test scores.

Hannah said...

The actual truth is so much more terrifying then the hyperbole dished up to us...
Even after this movement is proved a failure by all reasonable measures and as you say it has been, we (Australia) will follow in the big, sad, foot steps, of our international leaders.....

Claire T said...

Oh this sounds like what has started to happen in New Zealand. The government is trialling charter schools in several poorer areas including ( let's really kick em while they are down) the part of Christchurch worst effected by the recent run of earthquakes. In the past week they have announced a plan to increase class sizes in primary schools by, on average, four additional students per class. This is purely a cost cutting measure and the government has now foreshadowed performance pay for teachers. Needless to say the teacher unions are pointing out the issues but they are portrayed as having a vested interest in the status quo. It makes me sad and grateful that we are currently living in Singapore and my daughter has access to first rate international education.

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