FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Class Bludgeoning and Public Education

U.S. public education has always suffered a crisis of culture because it mirrors dominant class values and beliefs.  It’s an institution with the purpose of socializing citizens into the drudgery of the capitalist workweek (compartmentalized school subjects) and the, albeit now diminishing or entirely absent, enjoyment of vacation time (recess). In the U.S., alternative schools for the wealthier (Waldorf and Montessori), and homeschooling/ un-schooling groups, offer utopian visions of active learning integrated with daily living and true valuation of individual curiosities and learning styles.  But the majority of American children attend public schools, where they learn, from an early age, how to follow orders and separate work and pleasure. (“Why are you daydreaming? Finish your assignment!”) Obedient, flag-saluting labor is the school system’s universal motivation.  If you don’t get to work on something in here, you have no future out there.  (“Cooperate with the status quo or die.”)

There’s an unavoidable underlying threat built into the American education system, and that threat has shifted for the worse in recent years while we have all sat back and helplessly watched.  Something we may have been able to psychically endure (and secretly kind of enjoy) as a dominant feature of childhood—annoying school– has morphed into something that is now making children literally sick.  We speak plainly.  If this wave of corporate education reform continues, anyone whose hands are in this business will have more than chalk on them.

The latest education crisis will have you nostalgic for the older (albeit authoritarian) school days right quick; nostalgia already looms large in the public education movement’s rhetoric about renewing recess along with art and music classes.  People already feel defeated.  Last week’s suspension of  five Newark, New Jersey principals for publicly speaking out against local school closures is highly emblematic of this repressive climate of corporate “education technification.”  They have come for the children, so don’t get in their way.  That means you too, principals.  School administrator displacement is the new normal.

Most public school teachers feel this sickening corporate technification at work. Outlandish expectations, unfair evaluations, and a lack of workplace support causes stress and psychological trauma that is transferred to children—our emotional weathervanes.  There’s low morale all around.  Call it the politics of defeat, or learned helplessness.  But, as most social crises go these days, it takes a decade or so for enough people to realize the magnitude of the thing. For the 99 percent, political consciousness grows slowly.

When G.W. Bush became president and started tinkering with the public schools, many already knew it was going to result in a ruling class-victorious two tiered system that catered to the lottery winners of family bank accounts/city and neighborhood locations/ skin color fortune.  All (astonishingly) using public funds!  Why else would you grade an entire school but to declare a Social Darwinist style attack on it?  Corporate sponsored curricula (Los Angeles’ public schools have iPads loaded with Pearson educational software that’s aligned with Common Core State Standards), technological fetishism (yes, we see the child-friendly laptops), over-testing, and the general technification of teaching and learning sound like abstract practices to those not teaching through this transition.  Trust vocal and pissed off teachers’ union members, frantic parents, and the students themselves: it really feels wrong now—unconscionable.  (And Common Core State Standards is the icing on the corporatist education cake.)

Technification is the only word Teacher Michelle can use to describe the feeling she had when her well-schooled (she has an Humanities doctorate), rule-bending (her students sometimes listened to dub step and free wrote) yet rigorous (she gave difficult vocabulary assignments using real dictionaries with accompanying worksheets/quizzes), special education high school English (award winning) teaching style was first challenged by her principal. He sent in an outsider to observe her.  The outsider inquired about her teaching “rubrics”—and the battle between Michelle’s unique teaching expertise honed over decades and her administrators’ inexperienced and insecure championing of entrepreneurial education paradigms began.  Michelle left teaching (momentarily, until sensible people regain control?) to fight them, full time.  Do you know how many others exist like her?

We can draw a parallel between public education’s entrepreneurs and the rhetoric of monopoly finance capitalism: where there are new markets there is always new language.  Words try to hide which social classes win and lose.  What “evidence” is to education, “derivatives” (investments that derive from invested capital) are to finance. And there’s an entire subterranean world of real profit awaiting the class invested in this new corporate/ language game. Government intervention—copyrights, patents and subsidies—propel this rule of the one over the 99 percent.  But it’s all too real, as the owner of a foreclosed home or the parent of an over-tested anxiety ridden child knows well.  People are getting sick (and rich) over this.

One sickening practice is “creaming.”  New, publicly funded, charter schools appear in areas enduring school closures and admit the best students through an application process.  They take the cream of the crop; they are creaming off the top.   This is what the Newark principals are speaking out against, too.   School closure/ reassignment takes our diverse array of children’s personality quirks– budding, yet awkwardly expressed, talents, pre/adolescent “sturm und drang,” geeky seriousness, airheady carelessness, childish dreaminess, all of the qualities that render childhood so fun to be in and around–and forces them into a convoluted race to the top.  We had trouble justifying standard school practices before this wave of reform, and it was already difficult to keep school relevant to young people (hence the high drop-out rates) during these War on Drugs, school to prison pipeline paving decades.  Now, the ones refusing to go, refusing to participate in this adult charade of concern for anything but pornographic profiteering will be the smart ones.   Also, the time is quickly approaching for society to consider teachers as less the predatory school reformers’ sympathetic and heroic victims and more the agents of standardized corporate repression/ corporeal possession of our youth.

How to interpret the brave actions of our suspended Newark principals?  A swan song for a public education system already defeated?  Or a confident battle cry reminding us it’s not over until the testing ends?  We need new language for new times, as linguistic change reflects changing social relations.  The term “class war” is too optimistic to describe the defeat inherent in the corporate capture of our public education system (optimistic because “war” implies a notable and unpredictable element of struggle between two competing groups.) This feels more like “class bludgeoning.”  It’s an accelerating attack on public services and labor unions, especially public school teachers.  And it’s sickening.

Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. is an independent scholar conducting education research in the Florida panhandle—of all places.  She can be reached by email michrenee@gmail.com

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist in Sacramento. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail