Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Education, Business, and the State: Part 2


IN THE last post we noted that some observers of K-12 schooling oppose for-profit businesses running public schools, while other observers emphasize trying to get government out of education.  Kristin Rawls' "Who is Profiting from Charters? The Big Bucks behind Charter School Secrecy, Financial Scandal and Corruption," is a clear case of the first approach.  For example, about a third of the way through her piece, she writes that
Gary Moriello, an educator since 1970 and Chicago principal between 1987 and 2007, tells AlterNet of an alarming experience visiting a Chicago charter school in what he calls a "notorious housing project on the near North side." The school occupied what looked on the outside like a nice, shiny new building, but it wasn't really equipped to serve students properly.  Why?  The private company that had provided the construction had no real stake in serving students or making education better. Moriello remembers:
As soon as I went inside, I could see that it was built on the cheap.  There was no gym; students just had to go outside throughout the winter.  There was no lunchroom. Instead, tables were set up in a hallway, and lunches were brought in from outside the school.
It's no surprise that for-profit companies, which are motivated solely by maximizing profit, might want to keep overhead costs as low as possible.
The Cato Institute, on the other hand, notes problems with government control of schooling. For example,
government schooling often forces citizens into political combat. Different families have different priorities on topics ranging from academics and the arts to questions of morality and religion. No single school can possibly reflect the wide range of mutually exclusive views on these fundamental subjects. In a market-based education system, parents can select the school most closely aligned with their priorities. By contrast, when these questions are decided through a political system, such as elected school boards, parents with differing views must struggle against each other to have the school reflect their views. Inevitably, some parents will lose that struggle. To add insult to injury, all citizens are forced to pay for the government-run schools through their taxes, even when those schools are antagonistic toward their most deeply held values.
Other critics of government schooling observe that the "selection" of books and curricula necessarily entails censorship of other books and curricula -- that public schooling thus depends on government censorship determined by political bodies such as school board majorities.  Partly on that basis, Stephen Arons, Professor Emeritus of Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, points out in his book Compelling Belief that insofar as political bodies control the formation of belief, they significantly undermine the First Amendment's freedom of expression of belief.  Arons concludes that the First Amendment requires a separation of school and state, and that the state should continue to pay for education but stop calling the tune.  Every family, not just those that have economic resources, should be able to choose from among a range of independent schools, he argues.

If one is non-partisan, one might well conclude that neither the state, which tends to stifle teachers' and parents' cultural and spiritual freedom, nor business corporations legally bound to prioritize shareholder profits, should be controlling or running K-12 education.  Is there a way past both Scylla and Charybdis? 

In the The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, Gary Lamb, co-director of the Hawthorne Valley Center for Social Research, presents a way, summed up in the book's subtitle:  Independent, Privately Funded, and Accessible to All.

It will soon be possible to find out in person how Lamb envisions getting there.  He will be one of the panelists at an April 30th conference in Redhook, NY:  Enough Already! Saving the Soul of Education.

Stay tuned.

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