Friday, November 25, 2016

Exposing the real reasons behind the attacks on our public schools

Reform is not new to education. But never has the type of reform advocated by today's billionaires and their lap-dog politicians been so destructive and divisive. Presidents over the last fifty years have frequently called for improvements to our educational system, but none have quite advocated the steady erosion of our local public schools as Bush (NCLB) and Obama (Race-to-the-Top) have.

And now comes Trump and his new public school executioner, Betsy DeVos. The policies they support, if enacted, will likely make us long for the days of NCLB. Nothing they propose will be good for ALL kids. Equity and inclusion are not a part of their lexicon. Neither have even a thimble-full of experience with the complexities of teaching and learning.

Gene V. Glass (2008) did an excellent job (as he always does) foretelling of the forces at work in the continuing destruction of one of our most important institutions. Unfortunately, I fear that with most writings about the battle for our schools, few citizens (and even fewer educators) take time to read them.
In an earlier time, reformers called for change within the existing structure of public education.
Today's reformers, overwhelmingly representing a conservative political philosophy, call for nothing less than radical change.... choice financed by public monies.... [and schools required to] compete for students.
No longer is the assumption made by would-be education reformers that our nation must have a universal system of free public education.... The form they propose would better serve the interests of one special group, the majority class [emphasis added]. These same advocates of reform have learned to cloak their proposals and legislation in the mantle of concern for the poor so as to make their efforts appear less self-interested. "Choice" is claimed to be for the benefit of the poor who must escape the failing urban schools. But for a variety of reasons, the poor can seldom take advantage of choice; the suburban middle class can. Freedom and justice, liberty and equality are in constant opposition, and conservatives opt for liberty.
The inequalities of American education mirror the inequalities in American life more generally. They are, as Jonathan Kozol described them, savage; and they appear to be getting worse. 
 Proposals advanced by would-be reformers travel under false colors.... these actions stem largely from economic and material interests colored strongly by class conflict and racial suspicion and animosity.
Indeed, the claim that "classism" and racism underlie much of contemporary education reform efforts goes to motives of which the reformers themselves would be offended to be accused. And yet, in our ordinary daily lives, we see and hear the evidence again and again that one group wants nothing to do with the other: not to live by them and not to send their children to the same school. (pp. 7-10)
These are harsh accusations but Glass supports them with evidence as to how the current educational debates have been "shaped by powerful economic and demographic forces that have been over a century in the making." These forces are not going to go away anytime soon and more than ever it appears the White affluent class is in the driver's seat.... for now.

I strongly encourage anyone interested in a more critical analysis of the forces at work get hold of a copy of Glass's Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America (2008). I guarantee after reading it, you'll have a better position in which to understand the attacks on our neighborhood public schools, and you will see the reformers for what they truly are. It will help move the energy of our education reform debate away from the surface issues and symptoms, focusing instead on the root of the reform disease.