Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, here analyzes the origins of neoliberalism and its attack on the public sector.
The “rhetoric of economic freedom” has put a price tag everything. Self-interest and me-first have become the ideology of the day, and anyone who dares to think of what is in the best interest of society or how to raise up the poor is scorned as a Marxist or collectivist.
“In effect, “the invisible hand” behind the push to create new education markets is coming from Wall Street investors who are flush with capital for investment. Wall Street bundlers and investment firms are buying up stock in charter school companies and big education vendors. These bundlers not only fund both party’s campaigns, they also sell stock, betting on the futures of big education vendors, start-ups, charter schools, and vouchers. They “encourage” political leaders to pursue policies that will hedge their bets on education products and to view all schools as portfolios that will increase in value as long as the Feds and the states pursue policies that encourage privatization.
“But Wall Street bundlers are far from the only group that embraces a radical version of libertarianism as a way to legitimate opening new markets in education. “Hardcore libertarianism has been making inroads among a younger set of tech entrepreneurs, who see its goals of limited government as being compatible with their general hatred of innovation-stifling regulation. And as more and more tech founders become phenomenally wealthy, many are naturally drawn to the right-wing political ideologies that help them preserve more of that wealth,” according to Kevin Roose in an article for New York magazine.
“Not surprisingly, this same set of Silicon Valley and Seattle billionaires has teamed up with Wall Street bundlers to push neoliberal attacks on public education by pushing an agenda that supports charter schools, computer driven learning, and assessment schemes that are designed measure success of students and teachers in “real time.” Value added measures (VAM) for teachers based on student test scores are designed to reduce the power of unions by making it easier to get rid of ineffective teachers. Charter schools are created both as competition for public schools to give parents “choice” and as a way to hire nonunion teachers at cut rate salaries–teachers who can be hired and fired with no job protections or due process.
“This neoliberal-libertarian agenda for education violates the values of the American Revolution that affirmed that promise of public education in the Northwest Ordinance that reserved the proceeds from the sales of public lands to build public schools and the later Morrill Land Grant Act (1862) that used the proceeds of public land sales to create public universities that would serve the interests of the public.
“Neoliberal corporate education reform is nothing short of an attack on the political DNA of the United States. This agenda makes a mockery of Jefferson’s idea about a school as an “academical village” designed to create leaders to serve the commonwealth. Corporate education reform also disgraces the legacy of the fight for integration and equal funding during the Civil Rights movement by encouraging the resegregation and the resource starving of public schools to create more “choice” in the form of charter schools.
“The Tea Party might rant on and on about liberty and taxes these days, but Republicanism, or the idea that we have to “rise above faction” to serve the commonwealth was the glue that held the American revolutionaries together…..”
“Nothing is sacred: public servants, those who promote the humanities and the arts, and those focused on caring for others are viewed by neoliberals as naïve at best. Public servants deserve little or no respect because only the market can truly establish value. They are contemptuously seen as the new “welfare queens,” or the “forty-seven percent” because the very idea of the public is emasculated, shorn of value, a heavy drag on a fine tuned and lean market system. Neoliberals believe that almost everything public should be strangled and flushed, to use Grover Norquist’s intentionally crude image.
“Toward this end, public schools and public teachers have been subjected to a relentless barrage of negative propaganda for almost thirty years. Many corporations want to force open education markets, Microsoft and Pearson Education to name two of the largest, demand “free markets,” “choice,” and “free enterprise.” Public schools are defunded and closed, so that parents can choose among competing charter schools supported by city, state, and Federal policies. Politicians of both parties at every level are funneled campaign contributions from charter school investors for their support of “school choice.”…….
“The privatizers want us to forget all of this history; they want us to forget the idea that public anything is a good idea. Parents who demand quality public neighborhood schools are as American as apple pie. The corporate education reformers are motivated by ideas that have no respect for tradition or for common human decency. They devalue the aspirations represented in the Declaration of Independence. We need to push back and demand a limit to privatization and a defense of the Commons.”