The Quest to Eliminate Public Education

It’s summer reading time.

So please read David J. Blacker’s book, The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame

Blacker does a tremendous job of helping us understand the economic background behind what is driving the current mode of corporate education reform. It’s important to understand this because education reform is greatly affected by the context it exists within, and this context is neoliberalism.

Trying to summarize Blacker’s thesis in a short blog entry is impossible, but let me try. He argues that because of the technological changes affecting everything, combined with capitalism’s inherent internal structure, the ability to create profit is shrinking. Adjustment to this profit shrinking requires a shift from extracting from labor for profit to extracting from financial markets, a shift that is aided and abetted by technological advances. With this shift, not only is labor no longer needed to the same degree, but it becomes an obstacle to profit. As Blacker puts it, “In capitalism’s neoliberal phase, however, the ‘more is better’ mania for exploitation is replaced by a technologized ‘less is better’ mania for eliminating labor costs.”  People become dispensable.  Austerity rules. And thus students, who in the past were educated for positions in a labor economy, have no additive function.  Which makes an education, and schools, and educators, expendable according to neoliberal logic.

Got it?

You, educators and students, are at best superfluous and costly burdens on the back of a neoliberal economy.

Here is a more from his introduction:

“Not as many workers are needed to turn whatever profits remain and government largesse is reserved exclusively for ‘too big to fail’ financialized capitals which have, as a result, become state-corporate hybrids that exist as government-secured monopolies even while they spout neoliberal rhetoric about ‘freedom,’ ‘competition,’ and the like….the bulk of the population is no longer seen as a resource to be harnessed- as dismal as that moral stance once seemed- but more as a mere threat, at best a population overshoot to be managed by a self-perpetuating and therefore pseudo meritocracy.  If the peasants are no longer needed to work the fields, then why not go ahead and kick them off the estate?  The scenery will improve.” (pgs. 10-11)

So this is the economic context in which we exist.  An economy that once was able to extract profit through labor is no longer able to do so.  It’s searching recklessly for profit, and labor has become simply a cost with no value.  It must be cut- eliminated.

Public education must be eliminated.

Blacker continues:

“This is where the austerity kicks in.  It’s a one-two punch sort of situation: fewer human beings are needed for capital accumulation and the public coffers are urgently needed by elites in order to continue leveraging their insatiable cash cow financial sector (almost all of the sovereign indebtedness is due to tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations and, more importantly, the bailouts and federal guarantees that have been tendered to the banking sector).  Thus the ‘shit rolls downhill’ nature of austerity that requires teachers and schoolchildren to pay for the solvency of sinecured bankers and their political enablers.” (pg. 11)

I must admit- that’s depressing.

It gets worse.

Blacker describes what we are seeing now, “…the demise of the grand ideal of universal education that has animated enlightened capitalism since the nineteenth century.  What capitalism gives, it now takes away.  In the realm of education, this process represents a final coup de grace:  The abandonment of government provisioned and guaranteed schooling for all- after first ‘privatizing’ and channeling those commons’ erstwhile value into elite coffers.” (pg. 13. Emphasis added)

And, with this frame in mind, understanding the importance of how the Common Core Standards were developed and supported by Gates Foundation money becomes clearer. Understanding the impetus put on high-stakes testing, on the blaming of teachers when poverty is the issue, on Value Added Measurements, becomes a bit easier.  Understanding the complete elimination of all public schooling in New Orleans, the development of Michigan’s Educational Achievement Authority, etc. etc…. All of these reform attempts blame the individuals within the education system and therefore serve to take attention away from the broader context this system exists within.  At the same time, these approaches function to further serve the decimation of public education: A system that, within the one-dimensional, market fundamentalist approach of neoliberalism, serves no positive economic value.

It becomes abundantly clear that all of these educational reform measures are not put in place to help and support children.  They are natural functions of economic system that has no longer the same need for labor.  And thus the supplier of that labor, public education, is nothing other than a costly burden.

And so needs to be eliminated.

But not before a profit can be made by privatizing as much of it as possible.

Scared? You should be.

Read the book.



4 responses to “The Quest to Eliminate Public Education

  1. Am I missing something in neo-liberal economic theory?

    The neo-liberal economic theory is seriously flawed. This wrong-headed thinking leads to a lose-lose conclusion and the collapse of civilization.

    Once the neoliberal idiots gets rid of all the workers and replace them with computers and automation, then there will be no consumers to buy products from industries that are too big to fail, but with 99% of the people out of work and not paying tax, then the government collapses. The banks and real estate industry will go with them as they throw 99% of the people out of hundreds of millions of houses and apartments that no one can afford.

    Once industries go bankrupt because there are no consumers because no one can get a decent paying job, it won’t matter how wealthy you are because money will be useless.

    Once the collapse is complete and 95% of humanity has died off of starvation, lack of shelter and medical care, we will return to where we were a quarter million years ago without money and the survive rs will be hunter gathers. If all the animals are gone, then the survivors will eat each other.

    If there is one true element of society that’s too big to fail. it’s the middle class consumers because without them buying the products industry produces, everyone fails.

    Neoliberal economic theory leads to a dog chasing its tail.

  2. Lloyd, that’s what Marx called a ‘realization crisis’ and contemporary Marxists (including me in the book) call “underconsumption.” And you’re right, it’s a key element of crisis theory. There’s debate about what exactly is a cause and what exactly is a symptom. The rate of profit theorists tend to see underconsumption is a symptom–a huge one–rather than a cause. It sounds like a rather picayune academic debate except that “underconsumptionists” tend to be Keynesians in practice, which means they advocate New Deal-like government stimulus and spending as cure. So economists like Paul Krugman and, I think, Dean Baker. Piketty is kind of like that too (in his own way). This perspective implies there isn’t anything wrong with capitalism that can’t be fixed by better government economic policies. I’m of the school that suspects that there is something more deeply and unfixably wrong with capitalism. Especially if you factor in energy dependence and environmental destruction. So I think your larger picture is correct, unfortunately, though the political instability that may accompany the elimination/expulsion (Saskia Sassen’s term) of what you’re calling the 95% creates a huge element of uncertainty. I like your last line about the dog chasing its tail. When my golden retriever does that she actually catches it and then she falls over. At least she’s able to get up, shake it off and resume after. 🙂

    • I think that the best economic system is a balance between capitalism and socialism where there are public safety nets in place for the 95% who are not fortunate enough to be in the top 5% economically. In fact, I think it would serve all of us better if there was a cap on the size of corporations and the wealth of individuals while making sure that every job paid a liveable wage. The cap should be set at one billion dollars for individuals. Corporations could be limited by taking away all tax loopholes and the bigger they get, the more tax they have to pay for the privilege of being large.

      I have an old friend (we don’t talk much anymore since he went over to the dark side), who scorns everyone who isn’t wealthy. In fact, he worships the wealthy and powerful—even though he is closer to the bottom third and for decades actually lived on earnings that would label him as someone living in poverty—and has clearly criticized me for not living life like he did. This old, former friend failed several times at his shot for wealth as he lost playing the system and spent half of his life living off unemployment and avoiding paying taxes as much as possible.

      He preaches that we should “all” be capitalist entrepreneurs and not rely on unions, traditional retirement plans, Social Secure or national health plans while he collects from Soc8ial Security and relies on the VA for medical care while criticism both of the socialist systems that help him survive.

      When I challenged him to match his words to his actions and refuse Social Security and health care through the VA, he shot back: “I earned those.” As if no one less in the country earned them. It is arguable, that he didn’t invest as much into SS as most Americans did since he spent half of his working life on unemployment while playing tennis in the spring, summer and fall and skiing downhill winter. He literally lived the life of the idol rich for all those years and managed to do it off of employment which he scorns with his mouth.

      I think his reasoning ability is damaged to think that 100% of the people could all be successful competing in the world of the rich and famous.

  3. Reblogged this on The Withering Apple and commented:
    A excellent synopsis of the how and why behind the War on Public Education in America, as author David J. Blacker frames it. It’s a very illuminating post.

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