Tag Archives: privatization

The Conscience of a Conservative, Explained

Due to the vagaries of composing blog posts at 4am, I do not believe the total irony of my previous post, The Conscience of a (Real) Conservative, was able to shine through.

The title, of course, was a play on Paul Krugman’s book The Conscience of a Liberal which was, in turn, a play on the title of Barry Goldwater’s book The Conscience of a Conservative. Taken together, these two men represent polar opposites in American political discourse.

I am not a conservative in the way that term is understood today. To make it easier to label me in the bizarro world of American politics, I am an avowed leftist. My support for Bernie Sanders and Marxist analysis of class struggle should have been dead giveaways.

But leftists today are conservatives. A conservative is someone who wants to see the return of old values and old modes of doing things. We live in an age of radical newness. It is a newness defined by the commodification of everything (including children as test scores), the explosion of financial services and unprecedented control over our lives by corporations. It is the newness of the Reagan Revolution, which is still running its course as we speak.

And Reagan might have been a self-styled conservative, but he was actually a radical revolutionary. Him and his acolytes in government today aimed at nothing less than the total restructuring of our society along corporate lines.

A conservative is someone who wants to turn back this revolution. A conservative is someone who wants to go back to the New Deal and Great Society and finish the work started back then.

I am what might be called a traditional teacher. It does not escape my notice that all of the new curricula and teaching fads that have infested our schools have had corporate logos. It is not lost on me that the obsession with testing, teacher evaluations, charter schooling and online learning are merely parts of the forward march of the Reagan Revolution, this time with the aim of corporatizing education. As a traditional teacher, I am arrogant enough to assume that I know better than the reformers about what ails poor children and their schools.

As Chris Hedges explains towards the end of this interview, the true conservatives are the people who want roll back what he calls the “Corporate Coup” of the past 35 years:

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Obama’s War on Knowledge

Obama reveals his plans to destroy all learning.

One of my favorite blogs is On The Edge. Susan, who is the author, usually chooses the right stance over the popular one. Yesterday, she posted an article about Obama’s plan for higher education reform. It is essentially Race to the Top for universities, where federal funding will be tied to whether or not universities will be able to lower tuition. This means, of course, slashing pay for professors and the proliferation of online courses as a way to cut costs. The article paints a grim picture of universities ending up totally beholden to private interests. Susan ends her post with a chilling comment, “watch them try to do away with tenure on the college level.”

Teachers, whether in grade school or university, are the guardians of knowledge for the young. Oftentimes, they are the only pipeline youth have into the world of important ideas. The standardized testing craze in public schools has already been taking knowledge out of the hands of teachers and putting it into the hands of private testing companies, which are usually owned by even bigger corporations like News Corp. What this will amount to, once education deform has thoroughly ravaged public education, is a very narrow elite deciding what is important for people to know and what is not. This is the same story with the media, where a handful of corporations decide what gets aired and what remains invisible. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which by no means has been defeated, promises to be a major first step in allowing corporations say in what remains on the internet and what gets disappeared.

Taken together, public schools, the media and the internet pretty much account for all of the ways people interact with the wider world. Our entire matrix of knowledge is shaped by these things. Those whose only knowledge of the world is gleaned from their public school education are usually not informed at all, especially since the relevance of that education wanes as people get older. Those that bury their heads in the television for news usually come away with a shallow understanding of what is happening, leaving them with little but flimsy talking points. The internet might be the best place of all for news, but it is only useful if the person doing the surfing is able to discern the small amount of good information from the vast amount of garbage. Although all of these things are either under attack or totally beholden to corporate interests, there was always a silver lining in the background: the college professor.

Even if every other source of knowledge has been bastardized by corporate interests, college professors hold out the hope of intellectual integrity. This does not mean that every professor is a bastion of reliability. Anyone who has seen the movie Inside Job knows that many professors are for sale and will hide behind the supposed intellectual rigor of their work in order to push a corporate agenda. Yet, on the whole, college professors at least have a pretense to rigor and a desire to help their fields of study evolve through solid research and analysis. Through journal articles and popular books, professors filter their findings down to the population at large. History professors provide a public service by researching recent history, interpreting their findings and shedding light on the politics of today. It is tenure that gives professors the freedom to value truth over fads. Unlike public school teachers, professors are not so pliable to outside interests, especially the interests of the rich and powerful. In certain cases, professors are able to speak truth to power in a way few others can.

Doing away with tenure for college professors will mean the total commodification of knowledge. There will be literally no way the average person can interact with the world around them without it being filtered through a corporate reality first. Hopefully, college professors across the country can overcome their traditional lack of stomach for pitched political battle and defend what promises to be the final frontier of free expression and the pursuit of truth.

Maybe they can start by becoming more involved in the debate over education reform. The ones not for sale need to shout louder and farther than the economists and education researchers who have whored themselves out to the corporate elite a long time ago.

Free Market Drivel

The Founding, as told by Libertarians

There is no good reason to support the current wave of charter schooling. The American education system is too Byzantine for anyone but insiders and a few specialists to know very well. When laymen cry in unison with the deformers about our schools being in “crisis”, it is not out of any intimate knowledge they have of schools. It is because the school system is run by the state and the state in their minds mean inefficiency. All of the bad press surrounding “incompetent” teachers and “underperforming” schools is just the continuation of a war against the public sector that began 30 years ago. Laymen who want to replace public schools with charters are largely uninformed about the school system and how it works. Like everything else, they have been brainwashed to assume that public sector is bad and the free market is good. Their concern with education reform is disingenuous, their opinions are merely reflexes conditioned by decades of propaganda and their role is merely that of shills for the hedge fund brats who profit from the chartering of our public school system. Defenders of public education who debate the facts with charter supporters are wasting their breath. Instead, we must attack the Orwellian contrast of “free market good, public sector bad” that too many Americans take as a matter of faith.

The propaganda campaign against the public sector started in earnest with Ronald Reagan. The Watergate scandal, the loss in Vietnam, the Iranian hostage crisis and a host of other embarrassments made the nation ripe for the Reagan Revolution. Reagan preyed upon the public’s disenchantment by blaming the government for all of the nation’s problems. If only the government would get out of the way, competition could flow freely and innovation would abound. Reagan and others did a remarkable job of painting small government and free competition as the American way. In true Orwellian fashion, they gained control of history in order to gain control of the future.

But this version of history is incredibly skewed. It is a quaint, elementary school version made up of frontiersmen and cowboys taming the wilderness. It is a mythic idea of rugged individualism that has never been anything more than a myth. For every Horatio Alger story of a poor boy making good through pluck and application, there are just as many stories of those same poor boys being helped along at some point by the government. Rugged frontiersmen often obtained land from the government for next to nothing and were protected from Natives by a string of western military outposts. Even the hero of many small government types, Thomas Jefferson, envisioned a stateless society only after all Americans had been given free government land and educated at free government schools. Of course, the Reaganites airbrushed all of these communist tendencies of Jefferson’s out of existence (after all, he was deeply inspired by the French, who were innovators in communism), leaving behind only a rabid libertarian. The libertarian myth of American history is merely groundwork meant to prepare us intellectually for a libertarian future. The charter school craze shows us that, for teachers and students, the future is now.

While rank-and-file Americans might be easily fooled by the myth of small government and rugged individualism, charter school operators suffer from no such delusions. Every spate of privatization has been preceded by Orwellian double-speak. Government-run prisons in the 1980s were assaulted by accusations of being ineffective because they were unable to “reform” their prisoners. Having corporations run the prisons would instill “competition” and make the prisons more “effective”. Now that corporations control the prison system, nobody bothers to ask anymore how well they reform their inmates. Considering that incarceration rates have quintupled since the 80s, it does not seem they have done a very good job. This is what the reformers have in store for the school system. They are bludgeoning schools with the same accusations of failure. They will then insulate themselves from those accusations once they gain control of the system. The reformers know what they are doing. Their aim is not the restoration of America to its true, libertarian purpose. No such purpose has ever existed. Instead, they wish to profit from taking over functions that have largely always belonged to the state. They seek not a restoration but a revolution. Privatization is a radical change away from citizenship and towards consumerism.

The neat little libertarian narrative of American history allows corporations to insert themselves into the place of the plucky young man who gets ahead through hard work and intelligence. Instead of the innovating individual, it is the innovating corporation that will save our schools, prisons, military and every other facet of the public sector. It has been the most successful propaganda campaign of the past 30 years. We will decry the government as an inefficient bureaucracy and then, in the next breath, exalt these large, clunky corporations as paragons of efficiency. And why would we not? Corporations have to provide high quality products for low prices. Despite the financial crisis where an entire industry colluded to provide nothing but air for sky high prices, despite that so many privately-run charter schools in Florida have committed some sort of financial malfeasance and despite the fact that charter schools nationwide have not outperformed public schools on standardized exams, we still persist in this idea of the hero corporation. At every turn we have seen corporations do nothing but cut corners so that their CEOs will profit, yet we refuse to shake this libertarian notion of the superiority of the private sector. Even in the face of disaster wrought by the private sector there are still a substantial number of people who believe that it can save our education system.

What people mean when they say “small government” is “big corporation”. They want to make the government irrelevant so that the private sector can step into the vacuum. It is disingenuous for worshippers of the “free market” to assume that all that needs to be done is to get government out of the way so that free choice may take over. Leaving private citizens to fend for themselves is just a scheme to allow those already with wealth and influence to run the show. Yet, where would any of the wealthy classes be without the state? Where would oil, agribusiness, banking, transportation or any other industry be without corporate welfare and favorable regulations? Now that a chosen few have gotten fat off feeding from the government trough, those chosen few now want the government to get out of the way so they may sit on and solidify their gains. Maybe free market ideologues could be taken more seriously if, before they call for the government to stand down, they order corporations to give back all the wealth made possible by government largesse.

This shows that, many times, the teacher bashing in the general public is nothing personal. We are just the latest target of an indiscriminate war against the public sector, as well as citizenship itself.