Jelmer Evers, Dutch scholar and teacher, draws together the seemingly disparate strands that connect the rise of neo-fascist movements, attacks on democracy, growing inequality, and the oligarchs’ determination to privatize public schools.

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He writes:

“Rent-seeking and privatization are not just confined to the prison system. Almost every aspect of society has been opened up for markets and investors. In ‘The Privatization of Education: a Political Economy of Global Economy Reform’ (full text) Antoni Verger et all show that this is a global phenomenon in many guises, and that everywhere “individual and positional goals start to overshadow social and collective goals” These policies spread throughout very deliberate informal policy networks and more formal international frameworks.

“A telling example are the PISA tests. In the excellent ‘The Global Education Race: taking the measure of PISA and international testing’ Sam Sellar, Greg Thompson and David Rutkowski delve into the complex world of international testing. Many questions should be asked about what is actually being tested and what kind of conclusion can acutally be drawn from the data. They make clear that it these tests are not just about the tests, but just as much about the stories being created around them. And with the advent of ‘Big Data’ this is something we have to deal with. As they state: “the future of public education will depend on the creation of publics who understand enough about these technologies to debate their benefits, dangers and impacts on the collective project of teaching the next generation”.

“We must take that one step further and call for ‘publics’- and certainly professions- who understand the philosophies, histories, political economy and sociology around public discourses and for teachers around public education specifically. That is also the case in what I would deem the most important book about education that I’ve read the last year, Dennis Shirley’s ‘New Imperatives of Educational Change: achievement with integrity’. We should aspire to do the best for our children, but we also should do what is right and virtuous. And privatization, top-down accountability, casualization of the teaching profession, an infantile narrow look on ‘what works’ damage our children, our schools, our profession, and most importantly they do untold damage to our society and our democracy. As Yong Zhao states in a very good- and hopefully influential- article ‘What works might hurt: side-effects in education’ you have to look at side-effects and opportunity costs.

“And the opportunity costs of privatization and marketization of education are huge, and have big repercussions beyond education itself. If you are serious about education as a force for equity you have to take into account what your parties’ policies are doing to society and its children. You have to take into account that policies that undermining public education as a public institution- governed for and by the people- will damage everything that you stand for. So if you see a call for further flexibility, shortening, practice of teacher education, and call it ‘training’ be wary. Yes, teaching is a practice, but it is also a profession informed by science, philosophy and reflection.

“Sadly there are many forces undermining public education. From Silicon Valley, venture capitalists to right-wing politicians, sometimes under different heading: free-markets, pro-choice, efficiency or religious freedom. But it was the ‘New Left’- Democrats, New Labour, European social democrats- who have started us on this road. One could say they’ve softened up public education for the state that it is in in many countries around the world. This is now being exploited by right-wing governments, corporations and the 1%. It’s ironic that parties that were originally founded in the interest of labour have been the vehicles in it’s destruction.

“But this didn’t happen overnight and by itself. There have been deliberate and long running attempts to capture the state by moneyed interests, rent-seeking. In her book ‘Dark Money: the hiden history of billionaires’ Jane Mayer uncovers the strategies and overlapping policy networks, think tanks, “charities” of the Koch Brothers to revamp the United States into their right-wing image, through organisations like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, and numerous super-PACs. This has only accelerated after the ‘Citizens United’ ruling, which gave corporations and rich individuals unprecedented possibilities to buy influence in the political process. The capture of the state, the rent-seeking that van Bavel, Rodrik and Scheidel warn us about, has turned America increasingly into an oligarchy. As the final quote of Charles Koch in the book painfully illustrates: “I just want my fair share — which is all of it.” This is why North-Carolina is not a democracy anymore. Institutions are failing and the oligarchs are winning. And it isn’t restricted to the other side of the Atlantic.”

With the appointment of Betsy DeVos, he writes, the oligarchs have captured control of the federal government.

My view: Our present dire situation is far from terminal. Resistance is growing. Betsy has stripped the veneer from the so-called reform movement. She is all-in for privatization. There is nothing liberal, progressive, or even modern about her worldview.

It is only a matter of time until the marauders and oligarchs get their comeuppance.

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