Your Bullshit Capitalism Is Killing Education (Series Part 4: True and False)
(Note: This was eaten by the Blogger machine during its recent mad robot breakdown. And, well, now it's back.)
Here's the most liberal thing that the Rude Pundit can say about how we should approach education in the United States: some children get left behind. It's just the way it is, as much as the conservative supposed school reformers want you to believe the opposite, that we can achieve universal success if only we make public schools "accountable," which really means "accountable to politicians looking to base their education street cred on the false 'miracles' that never really happened." Remember: it was the myth of the alleged turnaround in student achievement in Texas that helped burnish George W. Bush, launched Rod Paige into the Secretary of Education position, and gave us the soul-crushing No Child Left Behind legislation. The reality, of course, was that children got left behind. And they will. Sorry.
And the reason that's a liberal statement is that a true, real liberal understands that you can give kids vouchers, school choice, and charter schools. You can shut down "failing schools," give principals the ability to fire teachers at a whim, destroy tenure, and crush teachers' unions, the entire wish list of conservatives, and children will be left behind, no matter how much legislation says that, by 2014, none of them can be. You could let every school be taken over by the Koch brothers and make the curriculum all about how to be good little automaton consumers that should shut the fuck up and listen to their betters, and kids would still get left behind. That's because liberals understand that the whole fight is as fake as the test scores that Rod Paige and, later, Michelle Rhee touted to make their cases.
In order to even get your brain around any part of the current state of public education, with the constant attacks from Republican governors and, as usual, Democrats buying into the thinking that generic assessment-based education is the solution, you have to grapple with the fact that people who have no business going anywhere near a classroom keep making policies about how kids should be educated. Sorry, but schools ain't corporations. And no matter how much you made USA Today and New York magazine turn a profit, Cathie Black, you were a bullshit pick to be the Chancellor of New York City's schools and it's great that you were run out of office on a rail. Hiring someone like Cathie Black to run your school system is like hiring LeBron James to do brain surgery.
Let's get theoretical here: instead of dividing things between conservative and liberal, let's instead say that you can support the competitive society or the compassionate society. If you believe in the competitive society, then you see everything in crass goals of win or lose, as individual betterment with easily-recognizable markers to demonstrate it. You view government as a business that serves consumers of a product. When it comes to schools, you see the student and his or her parents as customers of the school system. Of course the customer must be pleased. Of course, in the competitive society, you need to be able to make schools compete with each other. Of course, your mantra has to be that the customer always comes first. And, as customers, especially when it comes to your kids education, you want to be able to choose something better.
See, this is where a little good Marxism comes into play: What if we think of the public school system as something we own? Proprietors instead of consumers? Then we want to make it better because, if we do, the whole society is improved. If we think of it as something that serves us, like a restaurant, then all we're gonna do if we get a shitty meal is go to a new joint. But if we own it? Then, yeah, we wanna make it better, rather than just abandon it for the new Cheesecake Factory down by the mall, which may suck as much, but at least the portions are bigger.
In the compassionate society, we recognize that competition is way the world works. But we understand that the classrooms in school exist as a way to prepare one to go out and compete, not as competition itself (even if, yes, there's lots of competitions in school). And we understand that childhood is more than just school. We know that in order to leave as few children as possible behind, we need to provide anti-poverty programs, childhood health programs, housing programs, daycare, counseling for parents, after school programs, nutrition programs, and on and on. In other words, like anti-choice people who abandon fetuses as soon as they're out of the womb, conservative education reformers abandon children at the school house doors. And, ultimately, the compassionate society knows that, no matter how much we do, some children are gonna fail, they're gonna fuck up, they're gonna fall through the cracks. So we make sure there are safety nets there.
Of course, we don't live in a compassionate society. We live in a nation where the federal government's latest education program is to make states dance for cash with the Race to the Top, the American Idol-like competition for a pool of money for jacking up kids' test scores, among other things. No wonder there's an urge to keep scores high, no matter how that's achieved.
So we get caught up in bullshit solutions that don't work, but they fit into an easily understandable capitalistic emphasis on easily-apprehended sales charts. And they certainly help make the case to privatize education so someone can make a real profit off it. It doesn't matter what the truth is: Charter schools are no better or worse than non-charter public schools. Testing hasn't made a difference. And demonizing teachers and tenure and their unions, for a group of people who, in most states, make shit wages for an enormous fucking job? That's just bullying and viciousness of the lowest order.
You wanna know the solution? It's easy: just let teachers teach. More on that soon.