I am reposting this rant from my Facebook wall so that I can share it more broadly. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
You can’t tell the story of modern conservatism and the neoliberal project without discussing the all-out attack on public education. It’s been there from the beginning and has taken many forms. Today’s confirmation of Betsy DeVos fits into the long struggle to dismantle not just New Deal programs, but major Civil Rights accomplishments. It represents a decade long effort to dismantle essential public democratic institutions and hand them over to the an ill-equipped private sector so they can profit off legally required public goods.
Seriously, read Dochuk, Kruse, Lassiter, Farber, Hartman, Rodgers, Moreton, Mehlman-Petrzela, Delmont, and tons of other historians of modern conservatism and the culture wars. These movements come through in each of their books and articles. You have the fundamentalist “Save Our Children” movement, Georgia threatening to end public schools rather the de-segregate, the so-called bussing crisis, the school voucher movement, the never-ending textbook wars, the battle over bilingual and sex education, the prayer in school movement, the home school movement as well as many others — all aimed at undermining, weakening, and de-funding public education. And that’s just K-12! It has been done with phrases like “choice” and “local control” that are code words for the neoliberal market ideology that funnels tax money into private corporations that subvert federal regulations meant to ensure equality. Charter schools and the complete bullshit Teach for America program are among the biggest offenders of this. They rebuild class and racial barriers, promote unqualified and unproven teachers and teaching methods, all in the name of an anti-American ideology where the myth of hyper-efficient corporatism and so-called choice matter more than an educated public. Indeed, education has been shown over and over again to be an important factor in improving your quality of life, in upward mobility, yet under the corporatist structure, a good, equitable education becomes harder to access and afford. This re-inscribes existent structures that sustain widespread inequality along race, class, urban/suburban/rural divides.
This is why the DeVos nomination mattered. This is why so many of us our outraged. This isn’t some kind of leftist conspiracy, this is well-documented history. And I’m sad to be a part of this movement. My parents were duped like many average Americans. They believed in vouchers and homeschooling. They tried to trick me into agreeing at a young age, encouraging me to write my Senators about it. They were naive, wrong, and misguided. Democracy demands strong public education. The American Dream requires it. I don’t want to live in a country where we treat our children — our future — like a commodity that we can sell to the highest bidder, and those who can afford it are screwed. I don’t want to live in a country where education is a corporate product watered down by the customer is always right mentality. I don’t want to live in a country where universities brag about what kind of salary their graduates get rather than quality of education they receive and the impact they are making in the world.
Education is a public good. It is a central component of a civilized and modern society.
Today’s vote undermines that. It is a failure to uphold the basic tenets of our social contract. It represents a selfish oligarchy that values money and power over equality, and millions of the nation’s schoolchildren.