one room schoolhouseIn a recent “rant” about Indiana’s “testing regime” and its instrument of student “achievement” measurement, the I-STEP, posted on the blog page of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, the Chair of the Monroe County and Southern Indiana chapter, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer , wrote something that struck me as extremely instructive and worth discussing.

First though, it’s a good rant and I’d recommend you read it.

As regards making a school market, Rohwer said this:

Choose your schools, privatize the system so the markets can improve everything. Try charters (where only engaged parents can transport kids and get on lotteries and no democratic accountability to the people exists because there is no voting for a board to run them and they are proven to be no better and no worse, but way more open to corruption and harm for kids). Try your voucher (then you don’t have to go to school with those kids. Except, of course in your private school doesn’t want to keep you or deems you a behavior problem). Where these have existed, public schools have not improved. What of the kids in those schools?

Let’s leave most of that aside but focus on just this little bit, “where only engaged parents can transport kids and get on lotteries…”

That’s the crux right? That’s the “inequality” that public schools might address. It sounds like parents make a choice here, be engaged or be disengaged, but I’m fairly certain Fuentes-Rohwer (who was a guest on WFHB’s Interchange, which I host, back in June of last 2014: Interchange – Public Education: Dividing the Conquered) did not intend to accuse any parents of disengagement. Though, sure, some parents don’t care about school–it’s a thing that we do in society…it’s a matter of course. But this is a somewhat realistic response from many of our citizens. What did school do for them and what can it do for their kids?

Literally, almost nothing. Which is to say that for the most part schools do nothing but re-enforce the status quo of social and economic hierarchies. I would link here, but c’mon, part of learning is doing the work yourself, so go at it. If you’re born into poverty, you’re likely to stay there. If your parents are educated to a certain level, so will you be, and so on.

So what in the world is education FOR? Cynically, always cynically, it’s for maintaining the social norms. That’s it. Plus, I think it’s little different than when some kind of institutional “baby-sitter” became necessary when farming labor shifted to factory labor and women joined the workforce. No one was at home anymore. Better keep those kids busy until they can be sucked into labor markets (which thankfully no longer employed 7-year-olds)–or keep them out of the labor market cuz pappy and mammy need jobs too…Sorry, distracted.

Which is to say, finally, who thinks about schools? People who work there; people who study them; people who see them as a source of profit; people who want to manage social order. Really, that’s actually a pretty small number of folks.

Most folks vote, if they vote, and then forget about the offices that manage our education system.

Now, who are the “engaged” parents that Fuentes-Rohwer points to? Anyone who decides their kids are better off outside the normal system of education. Why is this wrong?

Well, it may be, it may not be–and this depends on the seat your sitting in or the line your standing on one side of.

See, the point I don’t know how to make here is that we are all, for the most part, disengaged from the way our social systems act upon us. I mean, we just live…we operate within the framework of accepted social being. Some of us don’t. These people still find themselves becoming wards of the state in some manner–that is to say, we are all institutionalized in some way.

There are problems with trying to understand this issue. Some folks don’t want to be “told” what to do. Well, school always does that…but if you can choose the school that indoctrinates kids into your worldview, that’s the school for you! Normally this is a religious institution of some kind; but let’s be honest, this is also the role of elite private education. “Everybody wants to pass as cats.” Some folks want tolerant socialization. I don’t know where this idealized version of school lives but this is the other side of the Charter proposition.

Religious and elite private schools want to educate a population that toes the party line. Charters that are “locally” oriented–ie, not corporate businesses that have no interest in the community–idealize the “community” of kinder, gentler human interaction. Of course their charges have to go get jobs too.

Finally, and why we are in this mess–there is a real propaganda campaign against the state by the very people in charge of the state (this is the GOP way) who believe the state shouldn’t protect anyone from their rapacity. Yep, I said that. This translates into all manner of “me” propositions. My religion, my business, my taxes. It’s really an interesting realization of that much-maligned “me generation” that was at the time, the selfish off-spring of the hippies, right?, turns out to be the Right and the “me” is usually white and wealthy and well, a member of that downtrodden group, the Christians.

I don’t know how best to think about government–I tend to think it should only exist to ensure fair play. But I can’t say as that’s ever been true.

I am at a loss…Why can’t schools be organized and managed by parents and teachers and not by business owners and politicians (who are business owners working to ensure favorable legislation for their businesses)? Oh, I know, parents are business owners sometimes, but on the whole, most of us are labor. Can’t you social winners just leave the rest of us and our kids alone?

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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