I just finished reading the review of Reign of Error in Commonweal, a magazine edited by independent lay Catholics, and I am speechless (almost). Written by Jackson Lears, a cultural historian at Rutgers University, the review brilliantly explains the underlying effort to transform public education through “creative disruption” and turn it into a commodity.

Why have our society’s leaders fallen in love with the idea of “creative destruction” or “creative disruption,” he asks.

Like journalists praising war from the safety of their keyboards, economists celebrate the insecurities of entrepreneurship from a comfortable distance. The prototype was the Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter. In the bucolic solitude of his Connecticut estate, he coined the term “creative destruction” to refer to the role of entrepreneurial innovation in capitalist development: the inevitable mass firings and factory closings that accompanied the adoption of labor-saving technology.

Yes, indeed, it is “creative,” because it is not their jobs that are lost, not their sons and daughters who are suddenly unemployed.

Ah, but forget the job losses and the human devastation. Just focus on the “creative” aspect.

Lears writes:

Everyone wants to be creative, especially our destroyers. Free-market ideologues celebrate the freewheeling entrepreneur and dismiss any concern about the social ravages of unregulated capital. Worried about the catastrophic impact of plant closings? It can’t be helped—protracted joblessness, ruined families, and abandoned communities are the necessary price of progress. Capital must be free to flow where the investment opportunities are; any constraints on it obstruct the creative entrepreneurship that drags us, despite our doubts, into a better future.

“Creative destruction” is often awkwardly allied with techno-determinism—the belief that “technology” is reshaping our society and there is nothing human beings can do about it. Hence the headline in InformationWeek reporting the takeover of the Washington Post by Amazon.com’s CEO, Jeff Bezos: “Creative Destruction of Internet Age: Unstoppable.” Somehow this bleak vision is conveyed in a rhetoric of dizzying personal possibilities. It remains to be seen how creative anyone can be in a world where fundamental changes are engineered by (allegedly) impersonal forces. The entrepreneurial notion of creativity is confined to half a dozen techno-visionaries (such as Bezos and Steve Jobs) and defined in narrowly monetary terms, while the destruction that so often accompanies it is wide, deep, and real. “Creative destruction” is the perfect euphemism for our neo-liberal moment. Schumpeter must be smiling, somewhere.

Having read many reviews of Reign of Error, I must say that this was the one that startled me by its deep understanding of the underlying forces that are destroying the public sector. This review nailed the banner of neoliberalism to the so-called “school reform” movement. Critics of the book like to say that I painted with too broad a brush. They say that some of those pushing the agenda of school closings, mass firings, charters, vouchers, and incessant disruption really do have good intentions.

Jackson Lears sees something else. He sees what I see.

Please read this brilliant review.