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Privatization or social control?

Publication Date: 2006-02-23

Comment from Annie: In this essay, the system of public education was ?designed to legitimize and reinforce the inequalities of capitalist society? and suffers as ?as US society becomes more dramatically unequal and less democratic.?

"We need not apologize for the failure of schools that are poorly supported and staffed by unprepared teachers. We need to expose the politicians who blaming the teachers and the kids for their failure to give public education the priority it deserves."

--Ken Goodman
from:ARN-L Daily Digest http://www.fairtest.org/arn.htm

Privatization or social control?

The answer to this debate about the goals of NCLB--privatization or social control--hinges, I think, on our critique of the public education system.

Is the problem with the public schools that they are insufficiently and unequally funded, not given the political support they deserve, expected to solve problems such as socio-economic inequalities that are beyond their power to solve, are racked by draconian reforms, and are under threat from privatization? Or do the problems lie deeper, in the goals, policies and practices of the public education system itself?

In my view NCLB and various state-based reforms represent a systematic intensification of the problematic nature of the public education system itself. The public education system is designed to legitimize and reinforce the inequalities of capitalist society. NCLB and the host of corporate-led ed reform plans of the past 20 years or so are intended to intensify the stratification and competition which are at the heart of the public school system and are essential to the mission envisioned for it by policymakers.

Why intensify these already-existing traits of the system? There are three principal reasons:

1) as US society becomes more dramatically unequal and less democratic, the education system must be reshaped to sharpen its powers of social control;
2) as the economy is reshaped by automation and outsourcing to yield fewer and fewer jobs that require skilled workers, the self-confidence and potential of countless students must be crushed so that they will accept their place in society;
3) the active resistance--which takes multitudinous forms--of teachers, parents, and students to schooling as social control must be beaten back and undermined.

The question of whether there is money to be made in education reform seems to me beside the point. There may or there may not be. But entrepreneuers like Chris Whittle or corporations like Harcourt Brace would never be able to effect such a massive development in US domestic policy as NCLB represents. These are bit players compared with the Business Roundtable and the other major forces behind these developments--such as the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Where we come down on this debate has very significant practical implications, some of them already pointed out by Pete Farruggio and Kathy Emery. The effects of the public schools on our children and grandchildren is decidedly mixed. The mix of effects come about because of the conflict over goals at its heart. On the one side are the structures of official school policy and practices, designed to sort students out and reinforce the inequality of American society. On the other side are students, parents, and teachers, who want to see students educated to the fullest of their abilities and who work in the ways they can to succeed in this goal.

To be effective champions of public education, we cannot simply defend the schools against false or misleading information, low funding, and carping politicians. The people who are in the public schools often have very real and reasonable complaints against them. We need to be the most reliable allies of these people. As defenders of the schools, we have also to be their severest and most insightful critics.

To do this we must differentiate between the system and the people in it. The problem is not demoralized teachers or lazy students or indifferent parents. The problem is a system that is designed to undermine the hopes and self-confidence and critical thinking and abilities of the people involved in it.

This is why any serious movement for school change must be a revolutionary movement. Public schools do much that is good and irreplaceable. The damage which they do they do as instruments of social control wielded by the rulers of our society to reinforce their rule. It is that rule--which would be mortally threatened by our young people achieving their full potential--which is the source of the problem.

Dave Stratman
printed with permission from Dave Stratman

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