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Can Public Education Survive in a Country Dominated by Privatizers?

The democratic mission of public education is under assault thanks to a right-wing reform culture that treats students as human capital rather than as future citizens.
 
 
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Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

Public education is under assault by a host of religious, economic, ideological and political fundamentalists. The most serious attack is being waged by advocates of neoliberalism, whose reform efforts focus narrowly on high-stakes testing, traditional texts and memorization drills. At the heart of this approach is an aggressive attempt to disinvest in public schools, replace them with charter schools, and remove state and federal governments completely from public education in order to allow education to be organized and administered by market-driven forces. 1 Schools would "become simply another corporate asset bundled in credit default swaps," valuable for their rate of exchange and trade value on the open market.2 It would be an understatement to suggest that there is something very wrong with American public education. For a start, this counter-revolution is giving rise to punitive evaluation schemes, harsh disciplinary measures, and the ongoing deskilling of many teachers that together are reducing many excellent educators to the debased status of technicians and security personnel. Additionally, as more and more wealth is distributed to the richest Americans and corporations, states are drained of resources and are shifting the burden of such deficits on to public schools and other vital public services. With 40 percent of wealth going to the top 1 percent, public services are drying up from lack of revenue and more and more young people find themselves locked out of the dream of getting a decent education or a job while being robbed of any hope for the future.

As the nation's schools and infrastructure suffer from a lack of resources, right-wing politicians are enacting policies that lower the taxes of the rich and mega corporations. For the elite, taxes constitute a form of class warfare waged by the state against the rich, who view the collection of taxes as a form of state coercion. What is ironic in this argument is the startling fact that not only are the rich not taxed fairly, but they also receive over $92 billion in corporate subsidies. But there is more at stake here than untaxed wealth and revenue, there is also the fact that wealth corrupts and buys power. And this poisonous mix of wealth, politics and power translates into an array of anti-democratic practices that creates an unhealthy society in every major index, ranging from infant mortality rates, to a dysfunctional political system. 3

What is hidden in this empty outrage by the wealthy is that the real enemy here is any form of government that believes it needs to raise revenue in order to build infrastructures, provide basic services for those who need them, and develop investments such as a transportation system and schools that are not tied to the logic of the market. One consequence of this vile form of class warfare is a battle over crucial resources, a battle that has dire political and educational consequences especially for the poor and middle classes, if not democracy itself.

Money no longer simply controls elections; it also controls policies that shape public education. One indicator of such corruption is that hedge fund managers now sit on school boards across the country doing everything in their power to eliminate public schools and punish unionized teachers who do not support charter schools. In New Jersey, hundreds of teachers have been sacked because of alleged budget deficits. Not only is Governor Christie using the deficit argument to fire teachers, he also uses it to break unions and balance the budget on the backs of students and teachers. How else to explain Christie's refusal to oppose reinstituting the "millionaires taxes," or his cravenly support for lowering taxes for the top 25 hedge fund officers, who in 2009 raked in $25 billion, enough to fund 658,000 entry-level teachers.4