George Orwell Would Have a Field Day with “Reform” Movement’s Expropriation of Civil Rights Language
Late last month Empower blogger Denish Jones posted an essay describing how conservatives, neoliberals, and even Glenn Beck have expropriated the language of the civil rights movement to suit their own ends. One sentence in particular flagged the way the ideas of civil rights leaders of the 1960s have been twisted by politicians today:
King’s famous line “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” has led some to claim that King was promoting a color-blind society that ignores race and that he would not have supported Affirmative Action policies.
While King’s support for Affirmative Action may be arguable to some, Denish Jones is very confident that Dr. Martin Luther King would roll over in his grave if he knew that corporate education advocates were using his language to “sell” their product. She identifies three areas where “…the corporate education reform movement undermines the struggle for educational equality for all”: privatization; school choice; and alternative paths to teaching like TFA. A summary of each of the undermining that is taking place:
- Privatization: Based on the premise that in a capitalist system the best products thrive and the worst ones fail, the collateral damage in this movement is not just a failure of a particular business, it is the failure of a particular group of students: those who are raised in poverty. To quote Jones directly: “…when the business model of winners and losers is applied to public education, the losers tend to be children who struggle academically and families without the social capital needed to advocate for their children. The winners are CEO’s and stock holders who earn high salaries with public money but can use their private status to shield themselves from public accountability.”
- School Choice: Jones cites studies and provides links to relevant articles illustrating that school choice fails to deliver on its promise to offer a high quality education for ALL students and instead skims the highest performing group and dismisses those students who fail to pass muster in classwork and behavior. Despite this skimming, only 17% of the charter school students did better than their public school counterparts. Meanwhile charter operators and their shareholders did VERY well.
- Alternative Certification: Jones singles out Teach For America (TFA) for particular criticism because TFA has made the most blatant use of civil rights metaphors… As Jones notes: “…hidden behind these nice quotes is the assumption that other people’s children deserve underprepared “saviors” as their teacher… If the model of TFA is what is needed to improve teaching and learning, why are TFA recruits not sent to suburban schools or wealthy public school districts? Could it be that those parents would never allow someone with five weeks of training to experiment on their child? What the richest and most educated parent wants for their own child should be what we aspire to give all children.”
Jones conclusion: privatization, school choice, and programs like TFA are dis-equalizing… and the only ones who benefit from these purported “civil rights” issues are shareholders.
Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post that drew heavily from Peter Greene’s blog post reacting to David Brooks’ NYTimes op-ed piece on Hillary Clinton’s supposed conversion from “…human capital progressivism to redistributionist progressivism.” Brooks didn’t mention it explicitly in his column, but IF Hillary Clinton is abandoning “human capital progressivism” her conversion mirrors that of Larry Summers.
Here’s Brooks’ definition of “human capital progressivism”:
For many years, Democratic efforts to reduce inequality and lift middle-class wages were based on the theory that the key is to improve the skills of workers. Expand early education. Make college cheaper. Invest in worker training. Above all, increase the productivity of workers so they can compete.
Brooks then suggests “populist progressives” do not agree with this line of thinking:
The real problem, some of them say, is concentrated political power. The oligarchs have rigged the game so that workers get squeezed. Others say the problem is stagnation. It’s not that workers don’t have skills; the private economy isn’t generating jobs. Or it’s about corporate power. Without stronger unions shareholders reap all the gains.
People in this camp point out that inflation-adjusted wages for college grads have been flat for the past 14 years. Education apparently hasn’t lifted wages. The implication? Don’t focus on education for the bottom 99 percent. Focus on spreading wealth from the top. Don’t put human capital first. Put redistribution first.
There is one major problem with Brooks’ premise: more and more economists, including Larry Summers, are realizing “human capital progressivism” is a dead end street. They look at the fact that “… inflation-adjusted wages for college grads have been flat for the past 14 years” and are coming to the conclusion that more education will NOT lead to better jobs, the jobs need to be in place first… and Summers is not looking for a direct transfer of funds from the 1% to the 99%: he’s advocating more government spending on infra-structure and higher pay for all workers.
As noted in yesterday’s post, Larry Summers’ change of thinking on this issue is a big deal for education because he has been the go-to economist for the neoliberals and they— as much as the conservatives— have been the driving force behind the test-and-punish model. Because neoliberal economists and conservatives believe our economy can only be “competitive” if we provide “college for all” AND believe that schools must be subjected to the “competitive” forces of the marketplace, this political coalition promoted the development of a “Common Core” curriculum based on the premise that everyone MUST be ready for college AND endorsed the use of standardized tests based on that curriculum as the yardstick for “competition” between “government” schools and “charters” of all kinds. Consequently members of this coalition were able to sidestep the whole question of poverty because their premise was that if students could not pass these new rigorous tests TEACHERS in the “government monopoly” schools were to blame: THEY needed to work harder to get ALL children ready for college and if they failed to do so the whole economy would continue to decline.
Larry Summers looked at the facts— inflation-adjusted wages for college grads have been flat for the past 14 years— and adjusted his thinking. When will “reformers” look at the facts— test scores have remained flat for the past 14 years despite the test-and-punish regimen— and conclude a new line of thinking is necessary?
This article shows how privatization has failed in the military and failed in prisons… the conclusion applies to ALL public functions including schools:
For all the rhetoric about public-private partnerships, our society works better when we keep public functions public and private ones private.