Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Colonial Education and Neoliberalism

Throughout the United States, teachers unions are currently renegotiating their contracts due to the budget shortfalls on the local and state level caused by the global crisis of capitalism. Although teachers are often blamed for the failures of public education, the problems can be traced to the origins of the American education system. For example, in the September 2003 edition of Harpers magazine, educational historian John Taylor Gatto writes that the American education system was modeled on the Prussian system.

Prussian education was designed to socialize its population to submit and not question the authority of Prussian military and political leadership. After learning about the Prussian system in the early 19th century, Horace Mann, the father of American education, traveled to Prussia and would later base America education on the Prussian model. The current negotiations of teachers unions contracts are extremely significant for recipients of colonial education such as Africans in the U.S.

The current capitalist generated crisis is the result of economic changes since the 1970s. At that time, capitalism entered a new phase called global capitalism or “globalization.” One feature of this new phase is neoliberal economics. Dr. George Wright identifies the five characteristics of neoliberalism as 1) deregulation, 2) reducing the public sector, 3) cutting taxes for the wealthy, 4) privatizing public services, and 5) smashing unions. These changes have greatly benefited organizations such as the U.S. Business Roundtable (BR).

Founded in 1972, the BR is composed of the CEOs of the largest corporations in the US. In 1989, the BR dedicated their entire annual meeting to public education. Similar to northern industrialist in the late 19th century who saw the US economy transitioning from an agrarian to an industrial economy, the BR foresaw the current transition from an industrial to an service based economy. Therefore, they united with policy makers, think tanks and non-profits to reorient public education toward standardized tests which culminated in the No Child Left Behind Act. Standardized tests and charters are now hallmarks of public education in the U.S.

President Obama has made charter schools a central part of his education policy. To help his cause, he hired Arne Duncan the former CEO (yes, not superintendent but C-E-O) of Chicago public schools, as Secretary of Education. Charter schools receive public funding but are privately operated. Charters amount to the privatization of public education that allows hedge funds, private equity firms, and financiers to profit from investing in charter schools.

As part of the economic stimulus, the Obama administration instituted a program called “Race to the Top.” The program allocates $4.3 billion to eligible cities and states. One criteria for eligibility is the removal of caps on the number of charter schools in the state. Former Congressman Newt Gingrich, Arne Duncan, and comprador elite Al Sharpton have teamed up to ‘reform’ (i.e. privatize) public education in NYC. New York Daily News reporter Jaun Gonzalez writes that for their assistance with the ‘reforms‘, Al Sharpton and the National Action Network received $500,000 from a Connecticut based hedge fund called Plainfield Asset Management, where the former chancellor of NYC schools is the managing director.

In Washington D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty has tapped, Teacher for America alumnus, Michelle Rhee to renegotiate the teachers contract. Since entering her post as chancellor, Rhee has had a contentious relationship with teachers unions. In 2009, she laid off 266 teachers in the DCPS ostensibly because of budget shortfalls. It was later discovered that, in fact, there was a budget surplus of $34 million.

In addition, to finance the new pay increases for teachers under the new contract, Rhee raised $64.5 million from private foundations (Broad, Walton, Robertson and Arnold). She is currently under investigation by the Office of Campaign Finance for stipulating that the leadership of the school district must not change or the donations will be discontinued.

Ultimately, the above information demonstrates that the education of African children must be in the hands of Africans themselves. During the Black Power Movement two important movements occurred concerning African education: 1) the creation of the Council of Independent Black Institutions and 2) community control of school movement. Both offer exemplar models for African education. The education of our children is central to the success of our movement for national liberation and self determination.

Brill, Steven. “The Teacher’s Unions Last Stand” New York Times May 17, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/magazine/23Race-t.html.

Emery, Kathy. (2002).The Business Roundtable and Systemic Reform: How Corporate-Engineered High-Stakes Testing Has Eliminated Community Participation in Developing Educational Goals and Policies. UC Davis, PhD Dissertation.

Gabriel, Trip & Medina, Jennifer. “Charter Schools New Cheerleaders: Financiers.” New York Times May 9, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/nyregion/10charter.html?pagewanted=1.

Gatto, John Taylor. “Against School:How public education cripplesour kids, and why.” Harpers September 2003.

Gonzalez, Jaun. “Rev. Al Sharpton's $500G link to education reform.” New York Daily News March 31 2009. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/04/01/2009-04-01_rev_al_sharptons_500g_link_to_education_.html.

Turque, Bill. “D.C. Agency to Probe Rhee‘s Critics Complain Over Ethics of School Funds Clause.” Washington Post June 8, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/07/AR2010060703046.html.

Turque, Bill. “Rhee’s Budget Surplus Revelation Angers Teacher’s Unions” Washinton Post April 14, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2010/04/13/AR2010041302834.html?sid=ST2010041303665.

Wright, George. “Neoliberalism and the Assault on Public Education: A Brief History.” The Advocate May 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting breakdown. Looking at all these things in my thesis. the privatization of the public school system is one of those things that will affect Afrikan peoples for litterally 50 plus years.

    Many thanks