There's a Major Assault on Democracy and the Public Good in Chicago, Led by Rahm Emanuel
Photo Credit: By Brad Perkins (Flickr: Fair Contract Now) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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This article first appeared on TruthOut.
Across the globe, predatory capitalism spreads its gospel of power, greed, commodification, gentrification and inequality. Through the combined forces of a market driven ideology, policy and mode of governance, the apostles of free-market capitalism are doing their best to dismantle historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, define the accumulation of capital as the only obligation of democracy, increase the role of corporate money in politics, wage an assault on unions, expand the military-security state, increase inequalities in wealth and income, foster the erosion of civil liberties and undercut public faith in the defining institutions of democracy. 1 As market mentalities and moralities tighten their grip on all aspects of society, democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing. As these institutions vanish - from public schools to health-care centers - there is also a serious erosion of the discourses of community, justice, equality, public values and the common good. One does not have to look too far to see what happens in America’s neoliberal educational culture to see how ruthlessly the inequality of wealth, income and power bears down on those young people and brave teachers who are struggling every day to save the schools, unions and modes of pedagogy that offer hope at a time when schools have become just another commodity, students are reduced to clients or disposable populations, and teachers and their unions are demonized.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s current attempt to close down 54 public schools largely inhabited by poor minorities is one more example of a savage, racist neoliberal system at work that uses the politics of austerity and consolidation to further disenfranchise the unskilled young of the inner city. The hidden curriculum in this instance is not so invisible. Closing schools will result in massive layoffs, weakening the teachers unions. It will free up land that can be gentrified to attract middle-class voters, and it will once again prove that poor minority students, regardless of the hardships, if not danger, they will face as a result of such closings, are viewed as disposable—human waste to be relegated to the zones of terminal exclusion. Not only are many teachers and parents concerned about displacing thousands of students to schools that do not offer any hope of educational improvement, but they are also concerned about the safety of the displaced children, many of whom "will have to walk through violent neighborhoods and go to school with other students who are considered enemies." 2 This is not simply misguided policy, it is a racist script that makes clear that poor black youth are disposable and that their safety is irrelevant. How else to explain the mayor's plan to produce a Safe Passage Plan in which firefighters would be asked to patrol the new routes, even though they have made it clear that they are not trained for this type of special duty. That many of these children are poor black children trapped in under-resourced schools appears irrelevant to a mayor who takes his lead from politicians such as Barack Obama and Arnie Duncan, two educators who have simply reproduced the Bush educational reform playbook, i.e., more testing, demonize teachers, weaken unions, advocate for choice and charter schools, and turn public schools over to corporate hedge-fund managers and billionaires such as Bill Gates. Emanuel’s passionate zeal to downsize schools in impoverished black neighborhoods is matched only by his misdirected enthusiasm to lay out $195 million "on a basketball arena for DePaul University, a private Chicago university." 3
Emanuel’s policies are symptomatic of a much larger war against teachers, public goods and the social contract. We increasingly live in societies based on the vocabulary of "choice" and a denial of reality - a denial of massive inequality, social disparities, the irresponsible concentration of power in relatively few hands and a growing machinery of social death and culture of cruelty. 4 As power becomes global and is removed from local and nation-based politics, more and more individuals and groups are being defined by a free-floating class of ultra-rich and corporate power brokers as disposable, redundant, and irrelevant. Consequently, there are a growing number of people, especially young people, who increasingly inhabit zones of hardship, suffering and terminal exclusion. Power has lost its moorings in democratic institutions and removes itself from any sense of social, civic and political responsibilities. Mayor Emanuel, along with his neoliberal political allies, occupies the dead zone of capitalism—a zone marked by a ruthless indifference to the suffering of others and self-righteous coldness that makes human beings superfluous and unwanted. At the same time, this zone of capital accumulation and dispossession destroys those public spheres and collective structures such as public and higher education that are capable of resisting the logic of the pure market and the anti-democratic pressures it imposes on American society. Peter Brogan sums it up well in his analysis of the forces behind the current attacks on teachers and public education. He writes that the neoliberal agenda behind such attacks has: