Occupy School Reform: Against Stealing Our Public Schools

I don’t know how to tell you this; we’re getting our asses handed to us on a platter.  By we, I mean those of us who are against the corporate school reform movement.

My friend Brian recently challenged me to simply offer one thing I could do in a “protest” fashion that would have a goal that I might achieve by my actions.

This is not easy to do.

I’ve posted a few times on Occupy Wall Street over the past couple weeks:

Hedges’ CBC Interview on Occupy Wall Street: 7 Minutes of Media Anatomy

Occupy Wall Street: A Sit-in Defining Being Against the Doing

The Draft, the War at Home, and Occupy Wall Street

I think Brian’s point, and he might need to correct me, is one I agree with; what can you change if “capitalism” is your target?  What can you change if “economic justice” is your goal?  Capitalism is our very way of thinking in the US and the expanding “western” mind and economic justice is always in the eye of the beholder be he/she social scientist, philosopher, educator, corporate CEO, president, scholar, jihadi, outcast, and on and on.

I think for me economic justice is equal access to real food and clean water.  Period.  That would likely fall under political justice as well; religious justice.  Just plain justice.

I don’t know how to make that happen.

Another friend forwarded me a blog post from the website “GOOD” detailing a rise in “millionaires” who want to say they’re not evil and who want to be taxed appropriately; acknowledging their millions are either inherited or often just an accident of a stock market uptick in their favor.  “They” are We Are the 1%.  I can’t help but be more than a bit skeptical about this kind of thing.  Sorry, but I don’t care if you attempt to alleviate your social guilt by protesting yourself.  Jesus suggests (shit, requires) you give all your money away anyway and if you haven’t done that I guess you’re just not quite feeling guilty enough.

But still something could be done right?  I suggested we occupy the local Walmart.  Brian asked, which aisle?  This seemed willfully contrarian to me, but again it was a good point.  How does that make a difference?  He even suggested the Pharmacy department but I acknowledged that this would only bring scorn on me as the person interrupting necessary services.

Back to square one.

Let me suggest that there is possibly one institution that really needs to be “occupied” by people concerned for economic justice; public education.

It is here where we are getting our proverbial asses handed to us.  Indiana is one among several states who have adopted legislative measures aimed at raiding the budgets and “markets” of our public schools.  Others are Florida, Georgia, Utah, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona.  These are the folks infiltrating our lives and these are the folks who are funded.

This group, The Foundation for Educational Excellence, is high profile and is headed by Jeb Bush and funded by folks like the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation.  They recently had a “summit” attended by Rupert Murdoch and Bill Simon (Walmart Pres).  Their goal is simple and it in no way has anything at all to do with our children or with human learning for the advancement of human caring and understanding; it has nothing to do with justice.  It is simply this: they want to create an exploitable market out of educational systems; you and your children as consumers of learning content.

And here’s the thing–their summit would likely satisfy my friend Brian’s query; the goal of their meetings, their panel discussion, their “brainstorming sessions,” is to send these “reform warriors” back into their states armed with the knowledge of how to manipulate their legislative agendas in such a way as to seed this reform.  Our friend Karen at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette posted some tweets that came out of some of these sessions (Tony Bennett’s heart is in San Francisco).  They are truly revealing.

They want to get rid of local governance altogether.  A School Board is an ineffective anachronism to these folks only serving as a speed bump to market efficiencies.

I’d argue that’s the good of a school board!  We need INEFFICIENCIES in our lives.

I’m about fed up with the myth of efficiency.  Efficient at what?  Taking your money; taking your children and turning them into a market for profit NOT education; taking your schools and “wiring” them to be more capable to sell the myth of progress via electronic markets.

We need to Occupy School Boards; We need to Occupy School Reform.

They are becoming smug in their successes.  Let’s funnel the Occupy movement into an actual social movement with a goal that can be achievable.  Human education for the benefit of social and economic justice.

It’s well past the time for us to redefine our human goals. In some ways the “school reformers” are just trying to put the public schools in the same frame that the rest of our lives operate within.  This is why public schools are important.  They are not entirely beholden to the corporate ideology.  There is real opportunity to teach a different way to envision a life of work and play and of equal rights and economic justice.  There is real opportunity to oppose the black-is-white idea that “Freedom” can only be had if you are being manipulated into buying things.  Consumer choice is not freedom.  Schools can help teach a different way to see the world.

I’m fairly certain it’s our only hope.  And that this is the reason it has been infiltrated so relentlessly in this season of economic catastrophe for so many.  This is the climate where up-is-down can make very real sense to people in pain and in the depths economic depression.  We are ripe for the picking.

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10 Comments

  1. Tammie October 21, 2011 at 7:00 am

    Public schools have never been anything other than a feeder program for industrialists. It was the stated goal 150 years ago and it is the hidden goal now. Unfortunately, 4 generations into the program, the industrialists have taken their business offshore and we’re all blinking at the sky asking who’s going to save us. An educated, clear thinking populace would be pointing fingers at the schools and sounding a death knell for the status quo. Hell, an educated, clear thinking populace wouldn’t have allowed the rape of American industry started 20 years ago. However, and this is why the occupy movement has no unified voice, 99% of us are neither educated nor clear thinking. For that we have to thank government schooling. So before you go to OCCUPY a flawed system, you might consider ditching it and starting fresh.

    Reply
    1. Douglas Storm October 21, 2011 at 7:45 am

      Hi, Tammie,

      I’m happy to agree that public education has a history and that history is filled with the ideology of the “governing” class. But we are not ignorant of our world because of a “flawed” system. We’re ignorant because we are all under the rule of that ideology in and out of school. There is no cure for that blindness. Finding ways to live and think and care that are human and that honor and dignify learning as a thing we do to deepen our humanity rather than serve as a labor farm system should be our clearest goal.

      But even this flawed system of social management is preferable to a market-based ideology wherein children are only serving and being served within a market dynamic. Schools become like any product then and Tide becomes TidePlus becomes Tide with Fresh Scent and so on.

      School is currently a battleground where corporations haven’t yet absorbed it as a market. Of course, we already “lose” to the content industry–textbooks, databases for research aimed at schools, etc., but we have a public place where ANY public can come together and agree on the goals in education, in learning, for their schools.

      What’s happening now is that our primarily Republican governors and legislatures are MAKING programs in our states that create a measure of failure and then proclaim they are trying to do what’s best for children by defunding the public systems as a “consequence” of that failure. Then they play the competition card–competing makes you stronger!–but public schools can’t “raise” more money after its removed from their budgets and so our governments weaken our schools to a purpose. This is called “liberty” and “choice” but it’s only in the end “profit”.

      First you and I would need to decide on the role of school. Religious institutions have a goal of educating children to become followers of a faith first and anything that follows is somewhat arbitrary.
      The best private schools have children that in reality don’t need the education to gain employment after their education, the social strata will already provide for them.

      Public education is for what then? We need to redefine work; redefine economic living; redefine progress; redefine human values if we’re going to create a school that has learning as it’s primary goal–learning to deepen or most human attributes. Those attributes are not confined to being corporate fodder for bottom-line consumption.

      Reply
  2. Tammie October 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    You are right that we have to agree on the function of school, but first we have to agree on the definition of school, and on that we might have a fundamental disagreement.

    I understand you to believe that government schools are society’s last holdout against capitalist greed and corporate corruption, while I believe that they exist for the sole purpose of churning out workers for the machine – always have. As the Queen doesn’t need to battle the hive so that bees make more workers, modern corporations don’t need to coerce government schools to mold a workforce trained and tailored to do their bidding.

    Contrary to what you write, the education obtained by children in the best private schools is very much needed for them to gain employment…just not the same employment reserved for the rest of us. Choate and Exeter prepare the next generation of corporate and political leaders by offering a rigorous, classical education proven to create clear thinkers who will naturally excel at the best universities and corporate institutions. You will not find this level of academic rigor at any government school, and not because the public is intellectually incapable of working at such lofty levels, but because provision of such an education would be antithetical to the true purpose of government schooling.

    To continue the metaphor: The hive can’t stop making workers and start churning out a bunch of Queens, but that’s exactly what we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking over the past 30 years or so. Work hard, pay your money, go to college and you’ll be as prepared for success as every other titan of industry. Then when we’re faced with the reality that leadership roles in any society are limited and that they are often occupied by people far better groomed for the job than we are, we claim that the system is flawed when actually, it’s working perfectly.

    So finally, to the function of public schools: Certainly not education, at least not in any classical sense beyond basic literacy and middle-management skill sets. As the workplace and its needs have changed over the century and a half of compulsory schooling (compulsory being an important issue because it means that if you lack the means to provide a private education for your children, you are compelled to surrender them to the state) so have the schools and their curricula. But their function has changed little. They exist to homogenize a heterogeneous population, weaken the influence of family culture, dissuade curiosity and dissent, and provide skills needed to enter the workforce.

    The program has been more successful on some points than on others, but I believe its most stunning achievement has been keeping its obvious and clearly documented objectives from the rabble, thus ensuring that we don’t grab our pitchforks and torches.

    Reply
    1. Douglas Storm October 21, 2011 at 5:48 pm

      Well, I will agree with you wholly, BUT what then? “Homogenizing” a population is what corporations do as well, just in a different way. You mention family, curiosity, dissent–well, in what ways do we cultivate those in the current world?

      I suppose not going to school and not participating in cultural, social, and commercial activities would be the way to start. Is this possible?

      Reply
  3. Tammie October 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Not to belabor my point, but the social homogenization by corporations hasn’t happened ‘as well’, it’s happened BY MEANS of public schools. Your article suggests that we have to save our schools from corporate control, and my point is that we can no more do that than save a servant from his master. We can take steps to ensure that the master treats the servant well, we can intervene against coerced servitude, we can even outlaw servitude itself, but the relationship between public schools and corporate America is, and always has been one of service to a master.

    You make the illogical leap from ‘not going to school’ to ‘not participating in cultural, social, and commercial activities’. Why is that? Surely people can be trusted to participate in their culture, be curious, and engage in dissent and commerce without compulsory state-run institutions of learning. If I’m not mistaken, our country’s early history is proof of that. A continent full of unschooled colonists were able to not just read, but internalize the writings of Paine, Jefferson and the like. I’m afraid you’d have to find an Exeter alum to do that today.

    Reply
    1. Douglas Storm October 21, 2011 at 7:05 pm

      I think I asked “what then”: if there is servant and master? How do you propose to upend this dynamic?

      Reply
      1. Tammie October 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm

        Well, if anyone were to ask me to tackle the problem, my first action item would be to remove the element of force and ask the government to stop mandating school at all.

        Provide a free public k-12 education to families who want it and stop harrassing families who don’t.

        Separate academics from babysitting. As a professional, I’m sure you’d appreciate that. I know I would have when I was in the trenches. You would be expected to deliver content and pedegogy and have the power to remove the disinterested from your class. Whatever their age.

        Remove the age restrictions and let citizens of any age take courses as they are offered. Not ready for trig at 17? You might be interested at age 34. And we can afford to pay a qualified professional what she deserves to teach the same course in the morning and again in the evening because we aren’t asking her to do any babysitting.

        Remove age restrictions from the bottom too. Need a place for the infant to go while you re-enter the workplace 3 days a week? Here’s a stimulating, safe nursery provided free of charge. Of course, we don’t need a certified teacher to cover this. It is daycare for crying out loud.

        Now, what about all these disinterested students who’ve been relieved of their academic tasks by professionals no longer forced to babysit? Again, we are talking about daycare, and we needn’t pay qualified experts to oversee their safe activities while the parents are working (or taking a trig class).

        Special needs students (my personal specialty) are still provided least restrictive environment. Provided their behaviors in no way hinder the educational pursuits of the rest.

        In this way, parents are forced back into the role of active participant in their children’s education. They will eagerly side with the teachers in their children’s best interest…the teachers are the respected professionals after all. Can you imagine a parent calling out their pediatrician because their kid didn’t like getting a needle? Now imagine a world in which you received the same level of respect.

        Teaching positions are sweet fruits over which the best and brightest would compete. Students who are ready for Shakespeare get to consume Shakespeare no matter what their age, and citizens who decide to opt out of the system altogether are free to do so…provided they pay their taxes in support of free education for all.

        If it sounds Utopian, it is. It would require the government to trust the governed, including teachers. It would also require the dismantling of teachers’ unions so we could start behaving like the professionals we are instead of like teamsters needing protection — when is the last time you heard of lawyers or engineers striking for wages or benefits?

        So, in a nutshell that’s my plan. Not ready for wide publication, though. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Douglas Storm October 22, 2011 at 5:46 am

          I certainly like what you’re saying and coercion to attend is a problem. I suppose that is what we might consider real “freedom” and “choice”.

          Actually, I think you’re channeling Paul Goodman’s Compulsory Miseducation, which is a good thing.

          This will require more than I think we can bear systemically. In a sense we operate on autopilot.

          I propose we “occupy” a small town and make it happen.

          There will be no understanding of “what to do” without school if you choose not to go.

          Will we recreate an apprentice system for skilled craft labor?

          Reply
  4. Pingback: Occupy Learning: Saying No to Institutions of Coercion | B-town Errant

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