Monday, May 08, 2006


Dismantling public education at home and abroad

I really don't know the depths of what's going on and don't have the time to find out, but it's clear that the effort to destroy public education is transatlantic. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts toward creating "trust schools" in England mirror the American right's movement for charter schools and vouchers.

Blair is trying to push through an awful education bill by gaining the support of British Conservatives (Tories). The Press Assn. reports that members of his own party are rebelling—

Mr Blair's education and inspections bill, which gives private companies, faith groups and parents the freedom to set up and run "trust" schools within the state system, gained its second reading only with the support of Tory votes after a rebellion of 50 Labour backbenchers.

But even that doesn't satisfy the Conservatives—

The government's controversial education reforms have been labelled "timid" by right-wing Conservative MPs pushing for the break-up of the entire schools system.

Last month the retiring director of education in Blair's own constituency wrote eloquently—

"We are about to witness the beginning of the end of our public education system"....

"In education, when choice is only available to some, it will be seized by the better off who have the resources, the knowledge and the confidence to work the system in their favour."

Mr Mitchell also criticised the government for allowing the creation of more faith schools.

"Cohesion is New Labour's great hypocrisy," he wrote.

"Every utterance from government - from justifying 90-day detention to invading other countries [and] to curtailing civil liberties - is about the dangers of religious division and fundamentalism. Yet New Labour is approving new faith schools hand over fist.

"We have had the grotesque spectacle of a British prime minister, on the floor of the House of Commons, defending - like some medieval crusader - the teaching of creationism in the science curriculum at a sponsor-run school whose running costs are wholly met from the public purse.

"There is no widespread support for this bill, which is the product of a tiny crony coterie in Downing Street."

"Everything is to be done to keep middle England happy, to give them their choice of school - so they don't have to pay for private schools - to guarantee them the places that other children ought to have and, worst of all, to give their schools the powers to keep out those other children they don't want their own to mix with."

School choice

A word about "school choice"—also known as "parental choice."1 The other day I heard some politician ask rhetorically whether allowing parents to decide where their children should go to school was a good idea. In our "family values" society he knew everyone would be shaking their heads in the affirmative. But this was a coded message. The real question was "Don't you think parents should decide what is taught—and not taught—to their children?"

If we lived in a highly educated society, where parents could point to Iraq on a map or at least indicate the general direction of Canada, I might be inclined to agree. But in fact we live in a benighted, superstition-obsessed culture that resembles nothing so much as the Middle Ages electrified. What the God-swoggled parent wants taught is the Bible and what he/she doesn't want taught is evolution, paleontology, history, archeology, biology and astronomy, to name but a few. Blair and Bush would convert the bulk of the public schools into Christian madrasahs, with special provision made for Torah study.

This society has decided to require teachers to hold a 4-year college degree to teach first-graders. How is it, then, that the parent is viewed as an expert on education when the parent is not an expert on any other discernible topic?

Shouldn't we abandon the degree requirement for teachers? It's obviously not required to make profound decisions about the education of children.

But that is a rhetorical quibble. The struggle over education is ultimately a struggle over political direction and control. Conservatives, by and large, do not fare well among the educated classes. To obtain majorities they require a mass of people who may be led to vote against their own interests.

In the U.S. racism, sexism and religion have been the Three Keys to Success for Republicans. And conservatives need to maintain a body of voters motivated by these "values." Conservatives correctly perceive that a broad public education is not in their interests. Unfortunately the Left has been slow to recognize how essential public education is to the maintenance of any pretense of democracy.

Related posts
Encouraging wassatiya in the schools (6/10/04)
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to church... (8/18/04)
Dumb your child down the Republican way (8/18/04)
Bush's education legacy in Texas: More cheating and lying (12/21/04)
Addicting students to fascism (1/10/05)
More charter school failure—this time on Jeb's watch (3/10/05)
Scottish bishop, Australian school marm acting up (3/21/05)
Department of Defense teaches creationism in DoD highschools (4/15/05)
Lower education in Iraq (5/9/05)
The 15 most harmful people? (6/2/05)
No college graduate left behind (12/17/05)
Slippery Slope of the Day (4/18/06)


1Parental choice, properly understood, is a notion I support. Letting children choose their parents could lead to real educational reform. [back]

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