What's left of our schools once the Midas cult moves on?
by Tom Sullivan
What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?
Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.
The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.
But first, the "risk takers" must remove anyone that stands between them and that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars. Teachers, and state and local boards of education, for example. The Midas cult won't stop until it turns our daughters and our sons into gold, and maybe not then. If there is anything more addictive than wealth, it's the power it brings.
Henry Giroux has been writing about that power for some time. He is back this week at Truthout with "Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education." Giroux writes:
Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people.
The shortsightedness of the investor class is as stunning as its avarice. And its fickleness. Once the Great Eye looks elsewhere, what will remain of public education and public infrastructure past generations paid for in taxes and sweat to make America a world power? Once demolished, how will we rebuild when the Midas cult inevitably moves on to its next shiny, new investment opportunity? Of these "dangerous times," Giroux continues:
The struggle for public education as a crucial civic resource and public good must continue through the large-scale organizing of teachers and labor unions, students and groups outside of education who are also struggling against a range of injustices. The struggle over public education cannot be removed from wider struggles against student debt, funding for public goods, the elimination of massive inequalities in wealth and power, the elimination of the military-industrial-security state, the abolition of police brutality, and the eradication of the punishing-mass incarceration state, among other struggles. These struggles all share underlying interests in restoring and reclaiming a notion of radical democracy that puts power in the hands of the people rather than in the hands of the ruling elites. They also intersect around the need to elevate social needs over the narrow interests of the market and those elites who benefit from the financialization of society.
Because what the privatization of public education is leading to, Giroux believes, is "a new form of authoritarianism," a democracy stripped of agency, a kind of "totalitarianism with elections." It is a betrayal of the founders' vision, one we are meant to forget. As I have written before:
John Adams (a tea party favorite) wrote in 1785, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
To that purpose, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (passed under the Articles of Confederation prior to ratification of the U.S. Constitution) called for new states formed from what is now the American Midwest to encourage “schools and the means of education,” and the Enabling Act of 1802 signed by President Thomas Jefferson ... required — as a condition of statehood — the establishment of schools and public roads, funded in part by the sale of public lands. Enabling acts for later states followed the 1802 template, establishing permanent funds for public schools, federal lands for state buildings, state universities and public works projects (canals, irrigation, etc.), and are reflected in state constitutions from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The practice continued up to and including the enabling act for the admission of Hawaii in 1959 as America’s 50th state, for example (emphasis added):
(f) The lands granted to the State of Hawaii by subsection (b) of this section and public lands retained by the United States under subsections (c) and (d) and later conveyed to the State under subsection (e), together with the proceeds from the sale or other disposition of any such lands and the income therefrom, shall be held by said State as a public trust for the support of the public schools and other public educational institutions, for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians, as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920, as amended, for the development of farm and home ownership on as widespread a basis as possible for the making of public improvements, and for the provision of lands for public use. Such lands, proceeds, and income shall be managed and disposed of for one or more of the foregoing purposes in such manner as the constitution and laws of said State may provide, and their use for any other object shall constitute a breach of trust for which suit may be brought by the United States. The schools and other educational institutions supported, in whole or in part out of such public trust shall forever remain under the exclusive control of said State; and no part of the proceeds or income from the lands granted under this Act shall be used for the support of any sectarian or denominational school, college, or university.
Just a half-century ago, that is what America valued, and what we believed in. That centuries-old tradition and American birthright is now being plundered by people whose threadbare code seems to be, "Well, a man’s got to believe something, and I believe I’ll have another million."