Dave Murray and I are having a great discussion about the future of public education in Michigan.

He has been interviewing conservatives about my blogs that describe the death of public education and local control in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park, Michigan, where emergency managers have decided in their wisdom and total control to close down the public schools and give the community’s children to for-profit charter operators.

He quotes someone from the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy who says he has no problem with for-profit charters taking control of the children and asks how that is different from buying textbooks or food from for-profit companies. Well, why not just sell the children? Some years back, Jonathan Swift had a modest proposal for the starving people of Ireland. He suggested that they fatten their children and sell them as meat for the rich. (Satire, in case you didn’t know.) In Michigan, conservatives evidently think it is just fine to hand them off to a profit making corporation that runs low-quality schools and makes money doing it.

I haven’t decided whether the embrace of for-profit schooling is reactionary or radical. I don’t think it is conservative. Conservatives typically respect traditions and institutions and small-scale human values. They are not, one supposed, amenable to wiping out traditions and institutions to satisfy the demands of the marketplace, otherwise we too would be selling our children.

One thing I know for sure: Michigan has an obligation to educate its children, even if the people representing their parents failed to balance the books. If the government of the great state of Michigan has determined that public education doesn’t work and that democracy doesn’t work, then the problems of Michigan run far deeper than the fate of these two small districts.