The Useful Fools of “Reform” Movements

Matt BruenigFor a long time, I’ve been harping on a particular thing in the education “reform” movement: that it isn’t natural. People in it always claim that while they may not be doing the obvious things to improve primary education in this country, they are at least doing something. What’s more, they claim that the things that I think are important are “politically impossible.” But it just so happens that the things that they have “chosen” to do — the things that are “politically possible” — are the things that rich people are willing to pay them to work on.

As a result of this, there is really only one thing that the education “reform” movement is all about: breaking teacher unions. Everything else: high stakes testing, charter schools, and all the rest are just the means to that end of depriving teachers of basic worker protections. And whether the useful fools who work in the “reform” movement know this or not, the ultimate result of this will be to make teaching a worse paying, less stable form for work. And that will mean that it will be that much harder to find qualified teachers, not to mention the great teachers the “reformers” are always yammering on about incentivizing.

All of this is obvious if you follow the issue at all. But in general, it isn’t discussed. Maybe it is because opponents of this “reform” don’t want to be seen as questing the motives of “reform” supporters — who after all seem to be genuine in their desires. But the issue isn’t primarily about the people on the front lines. The primary issue is who is supporting them and why. And they are the plutocrats who have a very different end in mind for education “reform.” But I do blame those on the front lines who are clearly more interested in listening to people who know nothing about education but who offer up piles of cash than they are to actual teachers.

It’s because I feel so alone on this issue that I was glad to see that Matt Bruenig had written, The Left Wing of the Fundable. It it, he talked about one very telling example. Conor Williams recently made the case that those in the education “reform” movement are the true warriors against inequality because they are against segregated neighborhood schools. Hooray for charter schools because they wash away decades of segregated schools!

Except they don’t. Neighborhoods are segregated because white Americans are racists. And they are helped along by a racist system where educational funding in most areas dependent upon local property taxes. So the (mostly white) people who can afford it are incentivized to move to (mostly white) areas that have better schools. Are charter schools designed to solve the problem of segregation? No. Is it likely that racist white Americans would figure out ways to game the system anyway? I think so.

Bruenig noted that busing is the obvious answer to school segregation. We know it works. But Conor Williams isn’t running around telling everyone that we should be using busing to integrate the schools. Williams and other reformers would claim that busing is not a political possibility whereas charters are. And this is where Bruenig gets his title: “practicality is defined here in terms of what you might call the Left Wing of the Fundable.” He’s singing my tune:

You can get money to push for charter schools and privatization and breaking teacher/public unions… You can get a fellowship at a think tank to push for those types of things. They are thus practical in the sense that there are enough rich people and institutions with somewhat mixed interests that are willing to pony up the money necessary to push them through our hilariously undemocratic political system and to fund a healthy number of advocate jobs. The same money doesn’t exist for busing advocacy.

This is one of the biggest ways the the power elite have to keeping the conversation always on their own turf. This is why we are always talking about cutting Social Security and not raising the payroll tax cap — because Pete Peterson pays hundreds of millions of dollars to the liberal class to talk about what he wants. And it is the same way that Bill and Mindy keep us us from talking about using the taxes they pay on their $123 million house and spending them on poor children in Lakewood. So don’t listen to the jerks like Conor Williams. They are just useful fools. Look at what the interests are of those who fund people like him. It ain’t school integration, that’s for sure.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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