Monday, July 20, 2015

Charter Schools Are Stepping Stones To A Grim Future

I've been writing here about federal education policy for the past six years, mostly as a critic of the Dickensian corporate-style standardization of public school curricula, the scrounge of high stakes standardized testing, the ineffectiveness and punitiveness of "accountability" and "rigor," the de-professionalization of teachers, and the corrosive influence of big money. My views and opinions, at least judging from the feedback I receive from the people who choose to read here, are shared by many, but the one place I tend to receive pushback is when I write about the efforts to privatize our public schools, and specifically charter schools.

As Daine Ravitch details in her book Reign of Error, the endgame for many of the corporate reformers is to destroy public education as we know it, to be replaced by a competitive marketplace of privately run education enterprises, funded by taxpayers, but free from democratic control, in order to unleash "powerful market forces" (to quote Bill Gates, one of their leaders) on our children who will provide free child labor for what will be primarily for-profit businesses. As Ravitch points out, charters are seen as a stepping stone on the way to the grim educational dystopia they've planned for our children.

The pro-charter pushback comes largely from people who have first hand experience with a charter school they love. And admittedly, there are some good ones out there, few and far between, and usually of the small, non-profit variety, embracing the sort of progressive principles I write about here. The problem is that the way powerful market forces work is that the game is always eventually won by those with the deepest pockets, which is why these progressive gems are getting increasingly rare as giant charter school chains, with their greater efficiencies and marketing muscle, and despite their failure to outperform traditional public schools, come to dominate the marketplace, taking over entire school districts in some cases (see New Orleans or the state of Tennessee).

If you're still not sold on the downfalls and dangers of what has become the charter movement, I'll point you to Peter Greene's "Privatization Primer" over on his Curmudgucation blog, where he details what is happening, how it is happening, and why it matters.

And Greene's piece doesn't even touch on the con games, the racism, and corruption that have characterized far too many of these unaccountable schools. Powerful market forces are fine, I suppose, if the goal is simply to make money, but they also bring out the worst in people. And of all the horrifying examples of how public education is being perverted by private operators in the name of a greasy buck, perhaps the worst news is that one of our nation's largest charter chains admits that its approach is grounded in the theories of a psychologist whose work inspired the CIA's torture program . . . I want you to let that sink in for a moment . . . The guy whose work was used to justify things like water boarding, sleep deprivation, and forced feeding, is also one of the guiding lights of the KIPP charter school chain. It says so right there on their website.

The relentless Dora Taylor who writes on the invaluable Seattle Education blog, quotes from a post on Schools Matter:

Dr. Martin Seligman is the man to see if you have questions about how to turn human beings into compliant automatons with persistent positivity. His experiments torturing dogs in the late 1960s was seminal to the development of "learned helplessness," whereby subjects are pacified by repeated and unpredictable electric shocks that cannot be avoided . . . The subsequent "learned helplessness" exhibited by torture victims is countered by another Seligman invention, "learned optimism," which turns compliant human subjects into persistent, self-controlled, and gritty go-getters who will not let any amount of abuse or degradation interfere with beliefs in self-heroic capabilities . . . The Seligman treatment has been used by David Levin at KIPP to behaviorally neuter children and then to have the same children self-administer heavy does of No Excuses positivity in order to maintain high test scores regardless of children's home life marked by pathological economic conditions.

Seligman's work was central in the CIA torture program, a program, by the way, that didn't work.

So, you may know of a good charter school. You may teach at one or your child may attend one. When we write about charter schools and the plan to privatize public education, we are not talking about you. But please know that you are extraordinarily lucky and those schools are unlikely to survive for long in the dog-eat-dog free-for-all future that charter advocates envision. And also please know that your experience is not indicative of what the hundreds of thousands of American children who are now being "educated" by these soulless corporate chains must endure, many under the guidance of a man who taught America how to torture.

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MissFifi said...

All that went through my head as I read this was "Holy shit."
Our three year old is in a co-op and he is thriving, but I admit I get nervous as we approach entering the public school system in a few years. I am fortunate to have choices like public, private and home school if need be, I fear for those who have no choices. What then??

Anonymous said...

Tom, I love this post. Careful though, I did some reading up and I think you're referring to a sum of 31 million, not billion, for the army contract, involving work on a different project.

Teacher Tom said...

Right you are, Anonymous. Fixed. Thank you.