Tony Bennett and the Dark Night of Reform Ideology

young boy and school booksI’ll confess that I have trouble focusing when it comes to the continuing and constant aggressive onslaught by “faceless” capital against human beings.  I know that capital is not faceless–it shines in the face of Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction (a term of art if ever there was one) George Creel, er, I mean, Tony Bennett (that’s Doctor TB to you).  That face beamed out last night as the Indy Star’s Scott Elliot put it:

Bennett was triumphant about the state’s once-lagging education reform accomplishments in an emotional second annual State of Education address at the Indiana Historical Center before an invitation-only crowd of about 200 educators, lawmakers and others.

The only thing worth noting in the above is that this event, a la George 2, was by “invitation-only”.

The Star column hits the highlights and of course, there is no official oppositional response.  Where are the Democratic voices of Public Education as the State of Indiana offers itself as the brightest star in the firmament of totalitarian reform?  More of the column follows and I’ll highlight my favorite parts.

Bennett said legislative changes passed in April — limiting union power, revamping teacher evaluations, expanding charter schools and launching a new statewide private school voucher program — will better meet the needs of students.

He also hailed the state Board of Education’s push for more accountability for public schools, noting that six perpetually low-scoring Indianapolis Public Schools and one in Gary were paired with outside organizations in an effort to turn them around.  Five of the schools were taken over by the state.

He said the new laws remove the fear for great teachers…of losing their jobs just because they have low seniority….

In his address, Bennett asked lawmakers for even more tools. He called for new laws to grade school districts on an A to F scale, speed up the timeline for state intervention regarding failing schools, require every student to take at least one online class, match teacher performance to the colleges they attended [ed. I have no idea what this means] and allow for more enrollment counts during the year, so that funds can be shifted as students transfer.

“Looking ahead, we have a lot of ground to cover if we hope to truly give our students the education they deserve. But we have put in place a system that supports excellence and continued growth“…

Just take a look at the highlighted portion.  Can you hear the siren song of State Capitalism?  If so, you are fated for the shoals and the jagged, jutting rocks of inhospitable shores and drowning.  Really, Bennett is simply calling for more STATE control in order to “manage” the educational market, in order to offer “no-bid” contracts (in another parallel act viz George 2 and Halliburton) to private “learning” companies.  In other words, this is simply MORE bureaucracy instigated at the behest of the profiteers who wish to siphon off public dollars without risk.

This is not an original production, and as this age seems to prefer its entertainments be “remakes” we should try to think about it historically.  Folks like Bennett use the words of ideologues to confuse the effects of their privateering aspirations.  They wish to use the levers of government power to actually dismantle that power–to “contract it out” to private companies and then sit back and get paid.  It’s hard to imagine that with the recent housing crisis (a crisis of criminally fraudulent loan practices perpetrated by big banks) and the recent bailout of the same banks who created the crisis that the people of the country have not gotten wise.

It’s why David Harvey thinks that the class project of enriching the few and impoverishing the many is entering a crisis of legitimacy.  He believes, or rather, he believed in 2008, that the fiscal crisis in New York City in the 70s laid bare how this project would operate. The Banks would consolidate power by holding Democratic institutions hostage.  They did so, they won in NYC and Harvey believes the current crisis, , is NYC writ large, writ Global.  In other words, he believes the “market-driven” agenda to keep money in the “right” hands, is far too obvious to be plastered over with Free Market ideology.  He cites the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008” as clear evidence of the procedure that Andrew Mellon called “returning capital to its rightful owners” (not you).

Harvey feels the rhetoric of this “imaginary” that was employed in the 30-odd years between these events, “free markets”, “rugged individualism”, “American Exceptionalism”, etc., is no longer a believable con as the markets have come crashing down ONLY to allow for consolidation of wealth in the largest banks (see Mellon above).  In other words, in what way can anyone in the working class, or the impoverished “mythical” middle classes (the voting suckers), still believe that their attempts at being “ruggedly individual” will cause their pensions to reappear?

He believes the game is up…that the people can now clearly see the truth.

Apparently in 2008 he hadn’t been aware of the massive push that the Free Market ideologues would force on the public via the Educational System.  He hadn’t visited Indiana and he hadn’t met Tony Bennett.

What’s worse still is that our Democratic President and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, are in on it.   Duncan has recently called the same tune at a speech in northern Indiana in which he actually threatened the public with Chinese student Math scores.  How do we compete with another Yellow, or is it Red, Menace?!  No one asks, why in the world the US government doesn’t protect it’s citizens from this potential undermining of its own future.  I assume it’s because US industry (and so too the government) only cares about profit, not citizens; which is to say, cheap labor not secure people.

Besides, what’s the competition about?  Who can score the highest?  Are we to understand that the only way we are going to employ our citizens OVER Chinese labor is if they score 800 on the Math SAT?  Now there’s a “nationalism” for you.

This, finally, is about impugning American public education and encouraging further failure in order to open the market to “edupreneurs”; it’s about exploiting and manipulating a market; it’s about a “re-education” in the ideology of “free markets” and the exceptionalism of American innovation.  It’s about shining Reagan’s “morning” light into the dark night of our demise.  It is, in essence an attempt to remake the 80s mentality AFTER we’ve seen the massive failure of the 80s fiscal policies.

And so we get Milton Pinochet Friedman again.  We get Tea Parties claiming “libertarian” ideology–morning in America for Patriot Warriors (confusing as it is to see a group hold so many disparate ideologies at once).  We get “Choice” as a banner for the theft of our public dollars by private raiders.

It is hard to encounter all of this in what might be considered the country’s most sacred trust, caring for it’s children.  All that’s on offer in Indiana is an ideology of caring for markets and profits under the guise of the Friedmanian motto that Greed is Good and that an Honest Day’s Greed will lead to “equilibrium” in markets and if that is achieved then we have heaven on earth and all are fed and clothed.  Except it is an absolute lie

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There is nothing new under this particular sun but as it’s marked by the degrees of aggression (turning up the heat of reform).  I hope to offer a kind of Part II to this by looking at how this battle has been waged in the past, with not nearly the success, but with the same tools and the same propaganda.  The difference this time is that it seems to have become entrenched enough in the minds of those who have grown up in the last 30 years as to be as normal as claiming that “national security” is enhanced by the State’s claim of the right to kill you without cause.

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