Tag Archives: Market Fundamentalism

Accountability and the Erasure of Democracy

We hear a lot about the need for “accountability” in education, but I’m not sure anyone knows what this word means in practice, or what an authentic means of being accountable might look like.  If this word is going to be thrown around so much, then it’s time for those throwing it to think deeply about how it functions.

And in thinking deeply about the role of accountability in education, we need to recognize the increasing, and mostly unconscious creep of economic utilitarianism beyond the bounds of economics and into all aspects of life. Essentially, this spread is represented by the ideology of market fundamentalism, which says that all value is reduced to the single value of economics. That is, all is commodified, has a price, and can thus be measured in terms of its efficiency, which is translated into its ability to reduce costs, to add monetary value as the ultimate value that can then be measured as profit.  As an example of this, see this recent editorial in the Detroit Free Press, which fundamentally uses the ideology of the free market to ask the question, ““Is a College Degree a Lost Cause These Days?” Within the article as part of its set up, the author quotes President Obama, and develops from there.

“Even President Barack Obama has poked fun at the humanities, observing in a 2014 speech that ‘folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.’

Obama later insisted his ‘glib’ comment wasn’t meant to throw shade on liberal arts majors. But it reflected an emerging consensus that U.S. colleges and universities are failing to provide many students with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st-Century workplace.”

The underlying assumption of this thinking is that the purpose of a college degree is reduced to its value on the market, its ability to translate into a job for the holder of the degree, and its ability to propel the economy.  I don’t want to go too far into a richer vision of college of higher education here, other than to note the hidden assumptions of this kind of language. (And to be fair,thankfully the author of the article does go on to, at least,  gently critique these assumptions, first of all within the parameters of economic utilitarianism, and then by suggesting, almost as an afterthought, that education may have an impact on a democratic citizenry.)

The language of accountability is language which unconsciously and uncritically propels these assumptions. And because it does so in a way that is unconscious, it serves to continue to hide these assumptions.  It presents the world of economic utilitarianism as an unquestioned given.

And it is well past time to question.

conditionsecosystem for market fundamentalism

Thankfully, in Education, Accountability, and the Ethical Demand: Can the Democratic Potential of Accountability be Saved?, Gert Biesta has done a lot of this questioning and should be trusted as a guide. (See the link below to the full article.)

Biesta starts with a paragraph that shows that the current mode of accountability has reconfigured the relationship between the state and its citizens from a political relationship to an economic relationship, that is, “..state as provider and the taxpayer as consumer of public services.”

This seems subtle, but nonetheless, this shift is crucial to understand.  A political relationship is one where citizens work together in a mutual relationship. A consumer relationship, one determined by economics, is one in which a consumer is recipient of services, and therefore to be served in ways that are measurable so that consumer choices can be made clear.  It thus becomes necessary for the provider of those services (the state in the case of education) to quantify its services in order to provide information to the consumer so that proper choices can be made.  A political relationship, on the other hand, is one that suggests accountability and responsibility are mutual.  A teacher has accountability in this relationship to a context of mutual relationships- the students, the parents, the community and the ways that the community is served by the education of its members. In an economic relationship, the consumer is a passive recipient, and one imagined as outside of the bounds of community. The single consumer is to be served, and the values of this service are inherently economic values. That is, the consumer is a recipient of the state’s services, one with the need for “choice of” state services, and whose “vote” and democratic responsibility is reduced to his/her choices. The implication is that as a recipient of services, the consumer is not engaged as a member of the state, and determines the values of these services within the context of the value of how he/she will economically benefit from these services.  The connection between the consumer and the broader community is obscured, and the value of the education to the broader community is wiped clean. Along with this, because of the importance of the availability of consumer information in a market of choice, the value of an education must be quantifiable. As a result, the “accountability” of education to its consumers is reduced to the single, but easily measurable, dimension of test scores. Why do students want to “do well” in school? In order to receive the grades and test results to that will allow them into a “good” college so that they can earn a marketable degree.

Pure economics.

Pure individualism.

Biesta writes, “Crucially, the language used is an economic language that positions the government as provider and the citizen as consumer. Choice has become the key word in this discourse. Yet ‘choice’ is about the behavior of consumers in a market where their aim is to satisfy their needs; it should not be conflated with democracy which is about public deliberation and contestation regarding the common good.”

It is important to recognize that in this shift from citizen to consumer is the fact that the purpose of education is completely obscured and uncontested. There is little room, if any, for the conversation of outcome. Why should someone be educated? In ways does the broader context of relationships benefit, not just the relationship between consumer and the state, but the relationships of a community? These questions disappear because outcomes are assumed and the focus thus becomes on the process of acquiring these easily quantifiable outcomes of economic value.

Biesta again: “To put this point differently, according to the logic of the market, the relationship between the state and its citizens is no longer a substantial relationship but has turned into a strictly  formal relationship. This reconfiguration is closely connected to the rise of the culture of quality assurance, the corollary of accountability….Quality assurance is about efficiency and effectiveness of the process itself, not about what the process is supposed to bring about. In this light, it is easy to see why the …government’s constant emphasis on ‘raising standards’ is ultimately vacuous: it lacks proper (democratic) discussion regarding which standards or ‘outcomes’ are most desirable. The same problem underlies much of the research of the ‘school effectiveness and improvement industry.’ These studies mainly focus on the effectiveness and efficiency of processes, without addressing the far more difficult normative and political question regard what these process ought to bring about.” (Emphasis added)

So we have a situation where consumer “choice” is “driving the market” of education. At the same time, this current shift allows no place for the most important question of purpose. There is no discussion of what we hope to bring about with an education, and, because of the unquestioned assumptions and constraints driven by an “accountability” system which can only measure efficiency and limits the purpose of education to the attainment of test scores, we have created an education that has as its purpose the creation of consumers.

Is this what we want?

And just as importantly, is democracy being lost as a result?

Biesta suggests that democracy is being lost. (And the evidence of current zeitgeist would certainly do the same.)

“The role of parents and students in the ‘accountability loop’ is indirect: they can ultimately hold the government accountable for the ‘quality’ of the public services it delivers. But this relationship is itself apolitical in that it positions citizens as consumers who can ‘vote’ about the quality of the services delivered by the government but who do not have democratic say in the overall direction of content of what is being delivered (if delivery is an appropriate concept in the first place).” (Emphasis added)

So there is input through “choice’ that parents have in the processes of education, and the efficiency and quality of these processes. (However, I would go further in saying that the processes of education, that is the pedagogy, is also obscured when the information used to determine such choices is reduced to the dimension of easily quantifiable test scores.) Importantly, though, what is lost in the shift from citizen to consumers, is the choice of purpose, what is the direction we want to education to go? For what purpose do we want our children to be educated? This question is no longer available for contestation.

“The core problem is that while many would want the culture of accountability to emphasize accountability to the public, it actually creates a system focused on accountability to the regulators and the like, thereby removing the real stakeholders from the accountability loop.’ In this respect, the current technical-managerial approach to accountability actually produces economic relationships between people and makes democratic relationships difficult if not impossible to establish.”

What does this look like? What’s the end game of the language of accountability? It creates a system that conflates economics and democracy, and, in doing so, privileges economics at the expense of democracy. It allows democracy to be sacrificed to the god of “economic efficiency” with the allowance of little to no contestation of such shifts. It allows, for instance, the democratically elected Detroit Board of Education to be completely marginalized and replaced by an Emergency Manager. In a very real way, the voice of the people is eliminated and replaced with the voice of consumers and profiteers who are alienated from the context of political community.

According to an analysis featured by Diane Ravitch, this is ultimately what this shift to accountability looks like in Detroit:

“While falling enrollment is often cited as a reason for “right-sizing” the district, the loss of students is the inevitable outcome of starving the schools of funding and relentless attacks on teachers’ jobs and conditions by the Democratic-run city. In the past three years alone, the district cut over a half billion dollars in operating costs, including increasing health care premiums, cutting per-student funding, freezing pay steps for teachers and closing schools. This is not enough, however, and Snyder and his Democratic Party accomplices aim to fully convert the new district into a system of charter schools, which remain outside of public oversight and are a lucrative source of income for politically connected business hucksters.”

Unless we all quickly take responsibility for democratic spaces that are disappearing under the illusion of accountability, this will also be what your local school district looks like.

Please take the time to read all of Biesta’s piece here:

Click to access Biesta_-_Accountability.pdf

For a richer alternative view of the purpose of higher education, see William Dereshiewicz’s Excellent Sheep.

Photo from here

Same As It Ever Was: Achievement Data and the Language of Opportunity

Consider Paul Verhaeghe’s discussion of neoliberalism, social Darwinism and the fallacy of meritocracy.  (From  Verhaeghe’s excellent What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market Based Society):

“The analogy is plain to see: just like social Darwinism, neo-liberal meritocracy is aimed at ‘survival of the fittest’. whereby the best get precedence and the rest are selectively removed…Crucially, social Darwinism also discounted such factors as upbringing, social class, and, more broadly, environmental influences. Only factors determined by heredity were deemed important.  If you replace genes with talent, the similarity is clear: it’s all down to the individual; effort and innate characteristics will allow him or her to succeed.” (Emphasis added.)

The current zeitgeist of market fundamentalism erases all factors outside of the individual, which now makes it safe for the right to focus so much on the language of opportunity. (E.g., Michigan Governor Snyder’s recent State of the State’s  theme of “A River of Opportunity.”) I don’t think anyone is going to argue against opportunity, but it’s important to understand how it is used and what it can hide. Opportunity is a word that faces forward into the future. Opportunity says that we all need the same options as we progress.  The problem with this is it erases the past, as if the starting point for this opportunity is equal.  And if we are focusing on the individual- if we take away the context that each individual exists within as if this context is irrelevant- then opportunity sounds great.  If two people of equal social capital start at the same point, then they both have the same opportunity for success.  Right?  (If you haven’t yet, please read Ira Socol’s relevant thoughts on how this plays out in education via the language of “grit.”)

Of course,  context can’t be erased.  If we don’t consider how context and social conditions affect the starting line for opportunity, then we simply propagate the privilege of those who already have a head start.  If we only consider opportunity from the standpoint of the individual, then we can continue to blame individuals for their poverty, for their lack of success.

Ponder the case of Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan, who has taken on the mantle of being a champion for the poor and a brand new promoter of opportunity.  What does that look like in terms of actual policy recommendations?

“On the Republican side, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) has taken the lead in arguing that conservatives should focus on opportunity. But his approach largely consists of cuts to the safety net…Helping the poor by cutting the programs they rely on is, to say the least, a risky theory of uplift. It’s easier to see what Ryan’s plan does to impede sufficiency of opportunity than to spread it…This is why it’s wise to keep debates about principle grounded in actual policies. Changing principles requires little more than changing rhetoric. It’s the policy where you can see if anything is actually different.” (From No One Really Believes in Equality of Opportunity.)

In other words, in spite of the rhetoric, and in the words of the great educational philosopher David Byrne, it’s the same as it ever was.

Verhaeghe provides exactly the lens needed in order to understand how this is analogous to the way “achievement data” functions.  Achievement data is put forward as an objective means of measuring learning.  In fact, it simply is a marker of privilege that is used to reinforce privilege.

Verhaeghe continues:

“This analogy exposes the weak spot in the reasoning.  Social Darwinism and neo-liberal meritocracy create the impression that they favour the individual who is naturally the best. He or she would have made it anyway; we are just giving nature a helping hand to speed the ‘fittest’ up the ladder.  But the reality is somewhat different. Both social Darwinists and meritocratists themselves determine who is the ‘fittest’ and, crucially, how that is to be measured.  In practice, they create an increasingly narrow version of reality, while claiming that they promote ‘natural’ winners.  They then preserve that ‘reality’ by systematically favouring those winners, thus keeping them on top.  The fact that they remain there is advanced to prove the validity of this approach.

…on the basis of figures, decisions are made over people’s heads. And ultimately, those figures create the reality on which they are supposedly based.” (Emphasis added)

Achievement data measures a reality as a means of recreating it. Whose opportunity is that?

 

Public Education in an Econocracy

Is there hope in fighting the neoliberal agenda for education?  Is there a chance of pushing back against a one-dimensional, market driven approach to everything, one that most certainly includes education?

An answer lies in Paul Carr and Brad Porfilio’s,  The Obama Education Files: Is There Hope to Stop the Neoliberal Agenda in Education?   This article has been around since 2011. I just stumbled on to it, and it goes a long way in helping to understand some of the underlying forces that are working to dismantle public education- and the bigger picture of how these forces are working to dismantle anything labelled “public.”

The article rests on the assumption that, “The political economy of democracy must, we argue, foreshadow any serious discussion of the role of education in contemporary times.”

And what is the current state of this “political economy”?  The authors refer to this as an “econ-ocracy,” a word which another scholar defines as “…a society where economic efficiency take precedence over all other policy decisions…”  A very fitting definition.

So the context for political decision making occurs within a neoliberal econocracy, which means that the primary value that determines anything is economic efficiency.

“According to Hursh (2011) neoliberal ideology is grounded in the belief that economic prosperity and improvements for segments of the social world, such as health care, education, and the environment, emanate from ‘unregulated or free markets, the withering away of the state as government’s role in regulating businesses and funding social services are either eliminated or privatized, and encouraging individuals to become self-interested entrepreneurs.'”

Now, you may be wondering, where does this place concerns about democracy?  Poverty? Income inequality? Educational inequity? Questions of race?

Um….nowhere.

Not only does neoliberalism not consider other values, it erases them.

Consider the context that Obama is operating within:

“Since Obama has been in office, Wall Street bankers have had free reign over the economy (Taibbi, 2010). Obama’s continued support of Wall Street has not only allowed many investors to ‘thrive right now’ (Harvey, 2010), but, importantly, has put the banks and their leaders in better financial position than before the financial collapse of 2008.  Unfortunately, catering to the financial elites has done little to eliminate poverty, homelessness, provide jobs, rebuild the infrastructure, of develop ‘sustainable energy technologies’ (Hursh 2010).  The situation is even bleaker when one considers that African-Americans and economically-marginalized groups, who were considered to form a part of his base, are most affected by the lack of attention paid to them in favor of bankers and stockholders.  The argument goes that Obama cannot speak out on behalf of those groups most affected because they would deflate his support from the wealthiest people, which elucidates the conundrum we’re facing: if he does what he said he would do, he will have only one term as President, and, if he does what the elites want, he will lose support, credibility and ‘hope’ for ‘change’.”

Got it?

The market wins at the expense of democracy.

In other words, we all lose to  the current hegemony of the free market. And in this context, democracy, the environment,  issues that affect those in poverty and of color and all others without status or power, are non-existent.

As a simple example quite close to my home: Since Carr and Porfilio wrote their article, Detroit has been taken over by an Emergency Financial Manager and then guided into bankruptcy.

Think about that.

Very simply put, the value of economic efficiency has taken precedence over the messiness of democracy.  The citizens of Detroit have had their vote trumped by a neoliberal, right-wing governor who has come to save the day.  Never mind the history behind the bankruptcy, a history which includes white flight, corporate abandonment and a state that has failed to rightfully support the city.  (Note that in this Detroit, even public pensions have been privatized.) These things aren’t relevant in a econocracy.  (For more on the history of Detroit that led to the bankruptcy, see Thomas Sugrue’s important work, The Origins of the Urban Crises: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit.)

I know all of the arguments for the EFM and bankruptcy-  “…it had to happen…”

Sure.

This is exactly the logic  of neoliberalism.

And the same logic is dismantling our public schools.

In referencing the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, Carr and Porfilio rightly call it “…a $4.35 billion dollar ‘competitive incentive program’ that is designed, we contend, to further gut public schooling in the US, structure schools on market ideologies and practices, and provide the corporate elite an additional avenue to profit off of children.”

Yes, as I’ve written previously, under the corporate, market driven approach, “Students become objectified as workers for the purpose of increasing profit at the expense of the welfare of these children. Tax dollars, ostensibly spent for the public good, become corporate profit at the expense of our children.

Under the logic of neoliberalism, where the free market trumps all, it is natural that our children become a capital investment.

Carr and Porfilio do point to some hope. They argue that the educational alternative to decimation of these spaces of democracy is:

“Education predicated on the ideals of love, democracy, and justice, as well as what Freire (1973) called conscientization, and geared to fostering students’ understanding of the larger forces responsible for injustice in schools and society, has the potential to stop students from dropping out of schools, and being alienated from the formal educational process, unlike any of the Obama administration’s aforementioned policies to improve the US educational system.”

I agree.  (And  Carr and Porfilio’s book, The Phenomenon of Obama and the Agenda for Education, for which this article serves as an introduction, goes a long way to addressing this.)

But maybe even more importantly, because we hope for an education that promotes democracy, and because we are all swimming within the deep waters of neoliberalism, we first of all need to recognize ALL of the spaces in which democracy is becoming constrained or disappearing as a result of these forces.

Neoliberalism is a freight train that is leaving all other values behind.

And in this case, behind means not at all.

 

On Turning Public Spaces Into Forces of Consumption

The common spaces traditionally provided for the public are slowly being eroded in the name of economic efficiency, victim to the ideology of pervasive market fundamentalism that serves as the scourge of our age.  On the front edge of post industrialism, those in Detroit are experiencing this first hand.  A non-elected, state appointed Emergency Manager is slowly selling off city services, cutting what were constitutionally guaranteed pensions, and ignoring an emasculated, but fairly elected city council. Shea Howell calls this a “state of siege.”  With Detroit now under emergency management, half the blacks in the state of Michigan are now without a say in their local government.

All of this parallels a privatization of public education that is occurring simultaneously.  Major urban cities like Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and others have had their public spaces of education privatized into for profit charter schools.  School closings have run rampant, decimating disproportionately communities of color, a process that Kristen Buras calls “accumulation by dispossession,” in which people of privilege dispossess what was once commonly held, as a means of accumulating for their own benefit.

So what?  What does this loss of the common good as expressed through “the public” matter?  Why not let the market allow for so-called better options?  What are we losing?

Henry Giroux correctly connects the loss of the “radical imagination” to the conversion of public spaces, including schools, into “forces of consumption.”  He suggests that a privatized form of education is an education of acquisition.  That is, learning is reduced to the process of acquiring content knowledge, what Paulo Freire names the “banking concept.”  Such a way of imagining learning fails to consider the place of imagination, and of what Ron Ritchhart and others call “thinking dispositions,”  and it fails to acknowledge connections between individuals and their broader community.  Under this conscripted view of learning, the purpose of an education is to individually attain greater status, which will thus allow for greater consumption.

By way of example, Neil Gaiman connects the privatization of the public, and the bias of utilitarian information over fiction, in the same way in  Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.  Libraries have historically been valued in a democracy as a public space that protected the common good of literacy.  As literacy is a commonly held foundation of democracy, libraries have been protected institutions.  Now they are disappearing.  Gaiman connects the need to protect libraries to the need to protect the reading of fiction, and overtly links the growing privatization of prisons to the need for literacy.  I also argue that he alludes to the “slack” provided through the  imagination vs. a world of cold, hard, utilitarian “grit” and economic efficiency .  (For more on “slack vs. grit,” please see the important writings of Paul Thomas and Ira Socol.)

Gaimon writes:

“I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.”

The closing of libraries closes access to literature to those who don’t have the privilege of creating their own libraries.  The closing of libraries, the public commons of literacy, reduces the space allowed for anyone to read- and reading becomes a privatized act of pleasure only available to those with the privilege of access to their own private store of books.  But reading, and particularly reading fiction, is more than an act of pleasure.  It is an act that develops literacy, and that, as Gaiman writes, allows us to learn that, “…the world doesn’t have to be like this.  Things can be different.”  This knowledge that things can be different is an affront to the status quo.  We begin to see why who has access to this knowledge matters.

In this world of increasing privatization, Giroux’s radical imagination becomes an act of privilege rather than a right of democracy.  Are fewer libraries more efficient?  When reducing efficiency to a short term economic value- yes.  Are we better off with fewer libraries?  I think Gaiman provides a convincing argument that we are all far poorer without them.

This is one example of the loss incurred through privatization.  And it also provides an example of the kinds of questions we need to be asking in addition to the all too simple one of,  is it more efficient?  (And efficiency is always code for market fundamentalism.)

All of this is a way for me to the lay ground for an extended excerpt from Henry Giroux’s article, Reclaiming the Radical Imagination.  Here he connects the privatization movement to our culture of consumption as a one-dimensional, purely economic way of imagining what it means to be human together.

When civic literacy declines and the attacks on civic values intensify, the commanding institutions of society are divorced from matters of ethics, social responsibility and civic engagement. One consequence is the emergence of a kind of anti-politics in which the discourses of privatization, possessive individualism and crass materialism inundate every aspect of social life, making it easy for people to lose their faith in the critical function of civic education and the culture of an open and substantive democracy. The very essence of politics has been emptied of any substantive meaning and is now largely employed as a form of anti-politics legitimating a range of anti-democratic policies and practices ranging from attacks on women’s reproduction rights and the voting rights act to a war on unions, public servants, public school teachers, young people immigrants and poor minorities. As public spaces are transformed into spaces of consumption, the formative cultures that provide the preconditions for critical thought and agency crucial to any viable notion of democracy are eviscerated. The conditions for encouraging the radical imagination has been transformed into the spectacle of illiteracy, repression, state violence, massive surveillance, the end of privacy, and the ruthless consolidation of power by the ultrarich and powerful financial interest. The imagination is under intense assault and increasingly is relegated to the dead zone of casino capitalism, where social and civil death has become the norm.   Under such circumstances, civil society along with critical thought cannot be sustained and become short-lived, fickle and ephemeral. At the same time, it becomes more difficult for individuals to comprehend what they have in common with others and what it means to be held together by shared responsibilities rather than shared fears and competitive struggles…” (Emphasis added.)

The movement towards privatization, and the correlating loss of public spaces, means that we lose access to both imagining how we are to live together, and to the means of developing a life together.  It fundamentally shifts the purpose education away from the civic foundation of democracy, towards a privatized notion of individual acquisition and consumption.  It privileges the value of economic efficiency, a value that economically (but not in any other way) benefits those most well placed to take advantage of their wealth, over the value of a democratic way of imagining life together.

Very scary.

Giroux again,

As I have often argued, the educational force of the wider culture, and the sites where it is delivered to the public, demand a radical rethinking of modes of civic education, if not politics itself. Democracy begins to fail and political life becomes impoverished in the absence of those vital public spheres in which civic values, public scholarship and social engagement allow for a more imaginative grasp of the promise of a future that takes seriously the demands of justice, equity and civic courage. Democracy should be a way of thinking about education, one that thrives on connecting equity to excellence, learning to ethics, and agency to the imperatives of social responsibility and the public good.”

Corporatist Ed Reform as Symptom

Two recent pieces came out that insightfully show that the current push of corporatist education reform is actually a symptom of something much more ominous, the destruction of all that is held for the common good, all that is “public.” Both the recent Commonweal review of Diane Ravitch’s important new book, Reign of Error, and the Bill Moyers’ interview with Henry Giroux connect many important dots.

First of all, Reform of the Reform, the review of Ravitch’s book, serves as a primer of the neoliberal movement in and of itself. Jackson Lears starts by grounding his piece in a history of the damage done by “creative destruction.” Lears tells the story of the phrase as it runs from Harvard economist Joseph Schrumpeter, through Schrumpeter’s current and well-known disciple of innovative disruption, Clayton Christensen. Lears writes:

“Policymakers and business gurus have endowed the word ‘disruption’ with almost fetishlike power in recent years. And Christensen himself has pioneered the application of ‘disruption theory’ to social institutions outside the market: government agencies, public-health organizations, schools. The Americanization and expansion of Schumpeter’s concept—the transformation of creative destruction in the economic sphere to creative disruption everywhere—is another symptom of our most serious social malady: the hollowing out of the public sphere, the reduction of nonmarket institutions to market-driven ‘profit centers,’ the monetization of everything.”

Lears shows us that this “disruption” is actually market fundamentalism run amuck, and he continues in the next sentence to begin to show, through Ravitch, how this fundamentalist approach is used as a sledge-hammer against all that is “public,” including, and especially, schools.

“Nowhere is this sickness more apparent than in the world of education, where ‘reformers’ like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein have promoted privatization in the guise of the pursuit of excellence. The consequences have been disruption that is anything but creative.”

The narrative is that market fundamentalism is value free, that the invisible hand of the market is what guides decisions, and this invisible hand transcends human values, it is a mysterious, all-knowing force that knows better than we do. Lears and Ravitch show that, in fact, the market simply ignores the values of democracy in its conflation of capitalism with democracy. And in doing so, it values capitalism over democracy. All of the public institutions required for the maintenance of democracy are disrupted by these market forces, and therefore democracy itself is disrupted.

Henry Giroux calls this casino capitalism because this type of capitalism chooses winners and losers merely by the luck of the draw as determined by birth. Giroux says, “This casino capitalism as we talk about it, right, one of the things that it does that hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t just believe it can control the economy. It believes that it can govern all of social life. That’s different.

That means it has to have its tentacles into every aspect of everyday life. Everything from the way schools are run to the way prisons are outsourced to the way the financial services are run to the way in which people have access to health care, it’s an all-encompassing, it seems to me, political, cultural, educational apparatus.”

The inertia of the corporatist movement focuses on public education as symptom of the common good, that which is intentionally designed as a safe haven from the market. The common good is a place of protection, where all are served, not just the rich. Where voice is determined by participation, not the size of a bank account. As such, the common good is an affront to the neoliberal movement. And, by focusing on public education, (and all connected to it- i.e., unionization, the rights of women, health care, etc.) the debate around schooling allows for the continued ignoring of the fundamental aspects of a society that cares for all of its members. Lears writes, “What’s left out of these debates is as important as what’s left in. Complaining about failing schools is a way of avoiding the structural issues of systemic poverty, inequality, and racial segregation. Celebrating better schools as a panacea is a way of not mentioning unmentionable policies that might challenge existing power arrangements. Never have these ideological exclusions been clearer than in our contemporary neoliberal moment.” (Emphasis added)

All of this is to say that as people who care deeply about our schools, and the children who are served by them, we must continue to see that we must not work only for the continuation of public education, but in support of all of that makes up the common good. We must address divisions of class, work to alleviate the conditions of poverty, we must argue against drone warfare. We must support the connections of community and work against any attempt to, as Giroux says, “..individualize the social…which means that all problems, if they exist, rest on the shoulders of the individual.”

We are all in this together.