Thursday, September 23, 2010

Public Education Is Under Attack Around the World

A couple of weeks ago or so I posted on a rousing discussion Democracy Now had on Washington's latest education "reform" offerings. You never can tell what's going to happen on the internet. A couple days later, one the discussion participants, education professor Lois Weiner, dropped by and left a comment about my skepticism that federal education reforms are part of a larger, consciously intended, neoliberal attempt to "deprofessionalize" teachers. I mean, I conceded that the net result is the same, whether deprofessionalization is the explicit intent or not, but on Democracy Now she made the assertion without really backing it up, and because I had never heard of such an idea, I branded it a conspiracy theory. In her comment, Weiner referred me to an article she had written on the subject.

From New York Indypenent:

Known outside the United States as neoliberalism’s project in education, this package of “market-friendly” reforms includes privatization of schools and services; charter schools, public-school closings, fragmentation of the school system’s administrative apparatus; budget cuts, high-stakes standardized testing and the destruction of the teacher unions as a significant player in education. Given the state of the financial system, it’s ironic that the economic crisis has accelerated and intensified efforts in the United States to push this package of reforms.

In developing countries, the architects of these reforms are quite explicit that they aim to make education produce workers who are minimally educated and will compete for jobs that require no more than a seventh or eighth grade education. This new educational system will better serve transnational corporations and their quest for increased profits. A small number of workers will require the ability to think and be the new leaders of finance, industry and technology. They’ll receive a high-quality education, in expensive private schools or in privately-run public schools — that is, charter schools.

But in neoliberalism’s educational plan, most workers do not need much schooling, so they do not require teachers who are well educated. In fact, teachers with lots of formal education and experience are a problem because they will ask for higher wages, which is a waste of government money. Teachers for most kids need only be “good enough,” to follow scripted materials that prepare students for standardized tests, and these teachers can be put into schools through “fast track” programs, like Teach For America.


When I speak to audiences of teachers and teacher unionists about my research about this package of reforms, already implemented by the World Bank in Africa, Asia and South America, invariably someone argues that I’m portraying a conspiracy. Not at all. A conspiracy is secret. This project is quite public, if you look for information about it in the right places. One place you would have found these reforms touted a decade ago was on Wall Street. A Merrill Lynch report issued in April 1999 titled “Investing in the Growing Education and Training Industry” informed potential investors that “A new mindset is necessary, one that views families as customers, schools as ‘retail outlets’ where educational services are received, and the school board as a customer service department that hears and addresses parental concerns.”


I stand corrected.

It's pretty clear that the time constraints of radio programming made it difficult for Weiner to do much more with the idea than mention it--it was, after all, a densely packed exploration of current education issues; under such circumstances it's impossible to hit on everything. Noam Chomsky runs into this problem all the time: he'll make some kind of assertion well supported by facts, but because such support isn't the kind that's on the front page of the New York Times, it's outside of the sphere of "common knowledge," which makes the old linguistics professor come off, again and again, as a conspiracy theorist, which he is most certainly not.

Same thing here with Weiner. She's got the goods on this, and, really, it's not so surprising. This World Bank and IMF shit rarely makes it into the public discourse, despite the fact that it's published material, freely available to any journalist who wants to read it, even though they never do. Indeed, there's almost total media silence about neoliberal influence on education. It's almost as though these ideas sprang forth from the forehead of Zeus fully grown, just like the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena. But of course, that's just mythology. We live in the real world, and ideas come from real places and real people, who usually have some kind of agenda to pursue. In this case, that agenda is, ultimately, to turn the US into a third world country. And education, or rather lack of education, is an excellent vehicle with which to achieve such an end.

It really is difficult for me to imagine a public education system worse than the one we have now. But there is, indeed, something worse, and it's waiting in the wings to take center stage as soon as it gets its cue. And when that moment comes, the entire US establishment will be applauding it as good "reform."

This is all so horrible. I'm really starting to wonder why I even bother anymore.