The Death of American Education?


(<——— Bonus points for anyone who can identify what this is, and how it connects to the post.)

Heavy, heavy post title for what I intend to be a pretty small post– more of a kickstarter to conversation than anything else.

My friend Joe Henderson sent me this piece on public education on Twitter last week, where it was immediately favorited by such blogging greats as Michael Doyle and Nancy Flanagan. It comes from a collectively written political blog, Permanent Crisis, that focuses on neoliberalism; it’s wonky, but excellent fodder for thinking.  If you take a look into neoliberalism, you’ll see that its tenets are spookily reflective of much of school reform rhetoric– or perhaps not so spookily, as many people believe it is the driving force behind an impending collapse of public education.

With mass closings of schools, entire districts declaring bankruptcy, the strings attached to the funding of Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, the disappearance of public higher education in other countries, and the rise of charter schools here, it’s an easy conclusion to draw. The article itself, which also draws this conclusion, is tightly written and linked as well.

I think that’s why I hated it.

I’m not saying it doesn’t discuss a credible view, or discuss it well. I’m mostly saying there are holes to poke in it, both on the side of those who espouse the neoliberal view, and those who label and reject school reform because of it.

Two quick examples, one from each side.

COMPLETE TRANSPARENCY/CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE NOT EVIL: I am currently hired as a consultant writer for Expeditionary Learning, which in turn has been hired by the state of New York to write some Common Core curriculum. These are, definitively, the smartest, kindest, most collaborative, kid-centered, motivated, and dedicated people I have ever worked with. Period.

SKILLED TRADES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER: If Mike Rowe testifying before Congress doesn’t convince you, try this March 2013 reporting from Forbes. While Permanent Crisis’ article seems content to lay the disconnection of education and trades employment directly at neoliberal school reform’s feet, I don’t think this is the case. Neoliberalism in and of itself doesn’t give a damn about what it commodifies, as long as it is commodified. Whether it’s a college degree or a trade doesn’t matter in the end.

Rather, this disconnect, I propose, is more directly the result of the increasing stratification of our economic classes. How can you know the need for someone to pave a road, or run the computers running your auto factory, when you don’t live, work, or talk to anyone who lives those lives?

(Don’t be that person, by the way. Get out and meet some of them– some of the parents of your kids, for example. For the definitive texts on blue-collar work in America (and, scarily, how some white-collar work is exactly the same), check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch).

Mainly, here, I am simply concerned about the trend to cull, versus surrender, in conversations about education. It’s so much easier for us to dismiss whole swaths of information instead of looking for the places where the individual story changes the theme…the cracks where the light get in. It’s in the cracks, I have come to understand, where we find hope.

If you do nothing else with this post, check out (again) Mike Rowe in this TED talk, where he gets at the exact same idea.

I’d love for other folks to read The Permanent Crisis article and leave comments on what they think is happening in American public education today, and why– or not, and leave comments on what they think is happening in American public education today anyway.





One thought on “The Death of American Education?

  1. I would only note here that NL is not a totalizing force. Instead, like other ideologies, it’s import is varigated and uneven. Better to focus on the processes of neoliberalization and the resistances they produce. That is awl.

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