Tim Wise recently wrote an essay, Whiteness, NSA Spying, and the Irony of Racial Privilege, in which he argued that, though highly condemnable, the revelation of the NSA spying on ordinary citizens should really not be much of a surprise to those paying attention.
“The idea that with this NSA program there has been some unique blow struck against democracy, and that now our liberties are in jeopardy is the kind of thing one can only believe if one has had the luxury of thinking they were living in such a place, and were in possession of such shiny baubles to begin with. And this is, to be sure, a luxury enjoyed by painfully few folks of color, Muslims in a post-9/11 America, or poor people of any color. For the first, they have long known that their freedom was directly constrained by racial discrimination, in housing, the justice system and the job market; for the second, profiling and suspicion have circumscribed the boundaries of their liberties unceasingly for the past twelve years; and for the latter, freedom and democracy have been mostly an illusion, limited by economic privation in a class system that affords less opportunity for mobility than fifty years ago, and less than most other nations with which we like to compare ourselves.”
His argument is that there should be no shock when we discover that the circumscription of the boundaries of freedom that has always been experienced by the underprivileged also comes eventually to those of privilege.
Applying his argument to education, we should not be surprised when the deep effects of corporate education reform movement come to all of us.
So far this movement has decimated geographies of class and color. Chicago, New York and Philadelphia have closed schools at an alarming rate, disproportionately affecting black and low-income students. It is clear that a history of structural racism and classism has made these geographies ripe for profit. Michigan is only one state that continues to disinvest in the common good with a neoliberal agenda run amuck. Wisconsin continues to fight its assault on public education. (These links are only from the past 2 months.) Etc., etc., etc. Those paying attention have been warning of this for some time.
And this is now coming to all areas, rich, poor, and all colors. I don’t believe that the corporate reformers are necessarily racists and classist, although they have taken advantage of these unjust systems for their own gain. I do believe they are interested in increasing their profit through privatizing the common good, and this includes decreasing access to “government schools.” Their tool is a plan of simply casting doubt on the ability of public schools to educate students through a formula of increasing rigor, measuring that increased rigor via high stakes testing, calling them a failure as a result of increasing cut scores until most schools fail, and then using this ‘failure’ as an excuse to defund and/or to turn over to corporate operated charter schools. Combine this with the ramping up of common core assessments, a blame the teacher, “no excuses” mentality, an artificially imposed funding crisis, and bingo, the foundation of public education is fatally eroded.
Note that this erosion is no longer limited to those of certain geographies, color or class. Wise points out the spread of the loss of freedom that those marginalized have always experienced. This is part of a larger pattern. Suburban public schools are now beginning to undergo the same damage that those in marginalized public schools have been experiencing for years.
It’s time to wake up. And waking up doesn’t mean only fighting for our suburban schools of privilege, it means recognizing and fighting for all of our communities. It means acting in recognition that we are all inter-connected, and that the common good is important to all of us.