Lois Weiner gave a speech recently that helped me understand, and chilled me. Lois' response to Diane Ravitch at a panel at NYU spells out details Diane has left out of her popular new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Doug Noon, at his Borderlands blog, transcribed her talk. Here are the parts that struck me most:
... if we are going to defend public education, we need to have a very different analysis. And so the analysis that I’m going to offer tonight, I think, takes two sets of blinders off – that we have to take off. The first set of blinders separates educational reform from what’s going on in the economy. The other set of blinders says that we can look at education in this country separately from what goes on in the rest of the world. Because what I’m going to lay out tonight for you is a perspective that says NCLB, all these policies that Diane just described, are neoliberalism coming home.
I want to unpack for you this neoliberal ideology. And if you really want to understand it, you ... have to go to the way that the World Bank talks about it. Because in the World Bank documents, they present it in it’s unvarnished form. So I’m gonna quote for you from something called... The World Development Report 2002. And, of course they don’t use this exact language, but this is the analysis: The market is the best regulator of all services, and the state, the welfare state causes problems by intruding on free choice. Next, the global economy requires that workers from every country compete with others for jobs. And since most people will be competing with workers in other countries for jobs requiring little formal education, money spent on a highly educated workforce is wasted. In other words, most jobs are in Walmarts. ...we’re all going to be competing for these jobs that require a seventh or eighth grade education.
And think about this, because we don’t need a highly educated workforce, we don’t need highly educated teachers. Therefore, we can have a teaching force that’s a revolving door. Teachers will use standardized scripts.
You can read the rest at Borderlands, or you can read what she says at her blog, where I was struck by this:
Education is the last service that is still mostly public – and unionized. Teacher unions are the most stable, potentially powerful foe of the neoliberal project and are therefore frequently and viciously attacked as impeding school improvement.She's also helped edit a book on these issues. I'd rather be thinking about how to teach math, but if we're working in the schools, we should know who's pulling the strings.