Education kills fear – Fear kills education

Illustration by Otto

The liability of truth

Reading between the lines in David Sirota’s article Ten Years Later, It’s Time to ‘Broaden the Context’, there’s an inherent human weakness being exploited today and limiting the flow of information to our students. When teachers and administrators fear harassment or job loss without the protection of collective action, coupled with the need to survive the long-run of a depressed economy, it compromises our American educational values. When they fear teaching “taboo truths” – whether they involve foreign policy, fossil fuels, or the benefits of marijuana – the result is biased information and ignorance. Who profits from that?

In the public school system, where our government still has a hand in enforcing the breadth of knowledge and the open mind of truthfulness, there is no place for the willful omission of critical information just because it’s unpopular, uncomfortable or inconvenient. Teachers should be willing and able to present all sorts of valuable information without fear.

Allowing the fear of parental ire in this case to influence the information covered in a public school is nothing less than cowardly political and religious pandering that feeds into a trend we should mistrust, even abhor. If we don’t offer comprehensive education about a tragedy like 9/11, how can we even consider that our children are being adequately prepared to participate in the discussions, decisions and creative solutions that will help shape their futures, our nation and the world.

This sort of information filtering is a symptom of a larger problem facing education. “School choice” is being hawked by neoliberals and the religious right as a way to improve our school system through privatizing. I think it’s a corporate profit driven plan that has less to do with improving schools than personalizing curriculum to appease parents. That’s the hook. But in the long run, choosing to have corporations market education to our children will result in nothing less than losing control over what our “young consumers” are being taught. As corporations tap into the trillion dollars of taxpayer money spent annually on primary education, we will see it destroyed.

The real school choice

Home schooling and a variety of private schools provide legal options for parents who wish to personalize or expand the knowledge base, self-teach, or handicap their children with a censored, more narrow view of our world and its people’s experiences. Opting out of the public school system is their right, but it includes opting out of the financial support provided to those who choose public education. We all pay into public education for a good reason: we all benefit by an educated public.


It is the same “saber-rattling ideologues who want 9/11 to serve only as a no-questions-asked rationale for more war and bigotry,” who are striving to privatize and alter the basic structure and regulation of America’s public schools. It’s a dangerous and insidious trend already clearly dominating in other areas where corporatist neoliberals have influenced the destruction of traditional American values. The monopolization and control of our mass media sources, the privatization of our prison system, our lack of environmental, energy, pharmaceutical and food safety regulations are all examples. Most recently, their efforts have been to suppress our right to vote, an absolutely sinister attack on the heart of democracy.

Our public school system, in all its stages of imperfection, is integral to the health of our society. Under the control of federal, state and local governments, the people’s laws and standards for education, including a healthy separation of church and state, will be enforced.

Neoliberal ideology, which pushes for less government intervention and more deregulation and privatization, is a challenge to democracy and the ethics and values of the American people like none we have known.

In a neoliberal world, for example, … It may be the case that run-off from my factory kills the fish in your stream; but rather than asking the government to stop my polluting activity (which would involve the loss of jobs and the diminishing of the number of market transactions), why don’t you and I sit down and figure out if more wealth is created by my factory’s operations than is lost as a consequence of their effects? … “The question to be decided is: is the value of the fish lost greater or less than the value of the product which the contamination of the stream makes possible?” If the answer is more value would be lost if my factory were closed, then the principle of the maximization of wealth and efficiency directs us to a negotiated solution: you allow my factory to continue to pollute your stream and I will compensate you or underwrite the costs of your moving the stream elsewhere on your property, provided of course that the price I pay for the right to pollute is not greater than the value produced by my being permitted to continue.

Notice that “value” in this example (which is an extremely simplified stand-in for infinitely more complex transactions) is an economic, not an ethical word, or, rather, that in the neoliberal universe, ethics reduces to calculations of wealth and productivity. ~ New York Times, Neoliberalism and Higher Education

A scenario for privatized education

We don’t need a crystal ball to realize that the control of information provided to our children in a privatized, voucher, “parental choice” system could result in – not better education, but pockets or bubbles of ideology among the citizenry, factions of bias, neighborhoods of closed minds battling each other in the all too familiar fashion of ineffectual gridlock – with no faction quite strong enough to match the power of those in control, those who are promoting this sort of “school choice” and its opportunity to divide the people. Splitting into “balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible” is already a big part of our problem.

At some point, I think we should foresee that mergers would take place to drive out competition and innovation, and to drive up the cost for consumers.

Schools of thought – privatized thought, with a corporate profit-oriented, need-to-know based curriculum without science, language and fine arts, for example, could eventually replace what we consider common knowledge taught to all students. Privately standardized information might prepare children for a desired end, but not necessarily one of their parents’ choice. When “ethics reduces to calculations of wealth and productivity,” an unreckonable entity with “personhood” corporate rights could be guiding their lives instead.

And the freedom to learn the truth would be long gone, along with those of us who knew it as the foundation for all freedom.

If that sounds like just so much drama, don’t forget (1) that corporate personhood is not new to education – its earliest judicial precedent, set in 1790 by the Supreme Court of Virginia in favor of the College of William and Mary, was (ironically) for Thomas Jefferson to change the school’s theology curriculum to one rooted in science, language and fine arts; (2) or that in corporate affairs, government interference has always been controversial at best; (3) and that today, since the Citizens United decision, we are contending with neoliberalism and corporate personhood as an uncontrolled force clearly set on undermining the will of the people for corporate profits.

People power

Corporate profit-based solutions of the neoliberal persuasion are not the creative solutions we need in order to solve our problems. But if no one else can be heard over their shouting, that’s what we’ll get. The media are not much help with sharing better ideas, and internet news and searches are now filtered, bubbled and based on previous searches. But the ideas are out there and the people should be the ones who vet them. We can improve the school system without turning it over to private corporate control.

The old Cedar Falls post office now houses the Cedar Falls high school. (photo Matthew Putney)

This idea, for example, was recently noted and disseminated online with positive results. Why not consider converting more of the “New Deal” Post Office buildings that we already own all over the country into neighborhood schools. (“The USPS has announced that it will be closing as many as 2,000 of its 32,000 post offices and auctioning off the buildings.”) That could reduce class sizes, employ more teachers and serve as a temporary jobs program for a variety of professionals. It would also serve to help save historic buildings and possibly help subsidize the Post Office workers’ pensions which are due to default at the end of this month. It’s more complicated than that, but why not take a closer look at it?

Political pressure to diminish the power of the people and enrich corporations is suffocating America. It stifles innovation and removes our collective voice from the processes of government. Destroying the foundations of a nation only to rebuild it in “one’s” own image, is a noticeable neoliberal pattern and a strategy clearly employed by our military and its corporate contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, curses, like young chicken, always come home to roost.

What our children learn will determine the future of America, and in that respect, there’s just nothing more important. They should have access to schools and teachers unhindered by political ideology and religious indoctrination, and who are proud to teach the truth even as it challenges power. They should be enriched and empowered with a full understanding of government procedure and taught to realize their responsibility as citizens for its success or failure.

Again: “… in the neoliberal universe, ethics reduces to calculations of wealth and productivity.”

(Post updated here.)


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