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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Your child is "product"
by Tom Sullivan

Robokid via Technabob.com.

Officer Lewis: I asked him his name. He didn't know.
Bob Morton: Oh, great. Let me make it real clear to you. He doesn't have a name. He's got a program. He's product. Is that clear?
— from RoboCop (1987)
Let me make it real clear to you. Your child is product. It doesn't even matter if she/he is good product. By the time Education, Inc. is done with them the company has already made its money. She/he is no longer useful.

Via our friend, education writer Jeff Bryant, Alex Molnar explains how school privatization puts money that should be going into educating American children into corporate pockets. RoboCop's mega-corporation, Omni Consumer Products (OCP), was fiction. Education, Inc. isn't.

But to illustrate how perverse the push is to treat children as consumer products and schools as a business, Molnar begins with comments from a New York Times story on the Green Bay Packer's victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional playoff last January:
  • I became a Packers fan because they are owned by the people and not some entitled billionaire!

  • Let’s hear it for the PUBLIC OWNED gb packers. as a part owner (2 shares) i take immense pride in knowing that a team that doesn’t have to suffer an obnoxious, cynical billionaire in the owners’ box can do these great things. overall aaron rodgers is a better quarterback than tom brady.  and the packer franchise is better than the rest of them, not threatening to move every time a one-percenters gets a greedy itch. let’s talk them ALL public, get rid of the racist nicknames and have a truly democratic sports network in this country.

  • During the TV broadcast, the camera cut to the sky booth of the billionaire owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, as he celebrated his team advancing. Howeverthere was no camera shot of the Packers’ owners during Aaron Rodgers’ magic or Mason Crosby’s kick—because you have to do a satellite shot of the entire state of Wisconsin celebrating. And that’s why the Packers are truly America’s Team—they are owned by your everyday Joe and Jill, not a greedy billionaire.
And yet, commercial interests have succeeded in convincing people (even Packers fans) that publicly owned means less democracy and more Big Government. Singing the siren's song of "choice," school privatization advocates promote handing public tax dollars to unaccountable commercial interests thirsting for that steady, recession-proof stream of public money that is the largest portion of the annual budgets in all 50 states. Sophia Rosenfeld, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, observes that widespread notion that expanding choice is always a positive good "willfully ignores the way that, in any society, the choices of some necessarily affect the choices available to others." That fetish for more choice is undermining the traditional public education in America. Molnar writes:
Public education in the United States has from its earliest days been structured to embody and strengthen representative democracy by inculcating democratic values and by providing the knowledge necessary to secure economic wellbeing. As wave after wave of immigrants entered the U.S., public education was one of the principle mechanisms by which they were to be “Americanized.”
At a time when xenophobes allege that new immigrants are not assimilating (as every other past wave has), they champion voucher and charter school (many for-profit chains) that undermine the very public system that promotes just that. "[B]attles over public education," Molnar writes. "are struggles over how society should be organized." The world being called into existence is one "in which the poor must be judged by the rich to be 'deserving' of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare."

That's not how the founders of this country thought at all, as I wrote five years ago:
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 (for admitting the same Ohio that Santorum visited on Saturday) 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. 
All that is disposable in securing for investors the tax dollars spent to educate the next generation and to inculcate civic values. Principle be damned. There's money to be made. Five years ago, then-North Carolina House Majority Leader Paul Stam introduced a private school scholarship bill that died in committee. At the time, I wrote:
At a rally organized to support the bill, Stam told several hundred people, “It is a beginning and it will be funded by corporations that believe in educational access for everyone.”

There’s the money quote. If you believe corporations contribute because they believe in “educational access,” watch how many turn up as investors in for-profit private schools, charters and virtual schools — partaking of both the middle-man profits and the corporate tax breaks. Now that’s the kind of government reform conservatives can get behind.
Molnar in his essay writes:
In Robocop every aspect of human life — every need, every sorrow, every hope — is an opportunity for profit in a corporate-dominated world in which even crime has been privatized. The main character, Murphy (Robocop) is literally transformed into a product to be sold. I used Robocop in my urban education classes in the late 1980s to discuss the future of public education in a world dominated by neoliberalism’s privatizing ideology. For many of my students, the idea of a privatized education system was, at the time, so alien that they found it difficult to see the connections I was trying to make. I doubt that would be the case today.
But the school "reform" movement was never a partisan affair, Molnar goes on to say. Even Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy supported George W. Bush's “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) legislation.
Education reform was now firmly in the hands of people for whom, doing well by doing good, was axiomatic. “Strategic philanthropy” became their modus operandi. I doubt the world has ever produced such a large pool of rich education “visionaries,” “disruptors,” and “revolutionaries.” These are the people whose world is represented at the Davos World Economic Forum under a banner that reads “Committed to Improving the State of the World.” The New York Times reported that the 2017 Davos meeting yielded insights such as the need for people to take more ownership of upgrading themselves on a continuous basis and the need to free the “animal spirits” of the market. According to the New York Times article, there was, however, not much interest in inequality or redistributionist policies. The Davos class is fast losing even the appearance of providing a social benefit that justifies its enormous wealth. Its neoliberal ideological fig leaf is slipping. What is now on display is something more primitive and feral: avarice and greed. They do what they do simply because they can. And, they will keep doing it until they are stopped.

Over the past two and a half decades, the poor in privatized urban schools have been successfully harnessed to the delivery of reliable profits to investors and munificent salaries to executives. At the same time, the working class has discovered that schools in their communities often cost more than they can afford to pay. The decades of wage stagnation, unemployment, and tax shifting have taken their toll. Teachers and the unions that had won them the relatively high wages, job security, and benefits that are a distant memory for many blue collar workers became a useful target for the ideologues and politicians pursuing neoliberal reforms.
Public education in America is a birthright. Private school is a choice, one available to those with means. But the kind of choice peddled in the halls of Congress today undermines the American birthright once meant for all simply to line the pockets of those already born right. All the happy talk about choice, innovation, and competition — the song of the market — barely conceals efforts to turn American children into cash cows the way OCP turned Murphy into product.