Monday, June 2, 2014

To Answer Her Question


If you're anything like me, you frequently have the perfect come back…twenty minutes too late.
In this case, was 24 hours too late.
Friday night, my husband and I were at a banquet where we knew no one, so when we noticed a couple searching for a seat, we welcomed them to our table, hoping for some scintillating conversation from strangers.
Conversation inevitably led to “What do you do?” and when she found out I am a teacher,  she asked me what I thought of Governor Walker and all that’s happened in Wisconsin on the educational front these past few years.
“Do you really want to know what I think?” I asked/warned her. “Yes,” she said with sincerity.
I told her budgets are tight, red tape is thick, and morale is low. I told her that I’m not typically one for conspiracy theories, but with the educational legislation being passed (like course choice) it’s hard not to believe that the powers that be are attempting to dismantle public education, to privatize it.
Her response was “And what do you think of that?”
I was  a bit taken aback her question. Was she suggesting privatization would be a good thing? I was about to ask her to clarify when the emcee chimed in and our conversation ended.
And so, now, 24 hours later, I’d like finally to answer her question.
What do I think of privatizing public education?  
  • It’s exclusive. The aim of public education is to benefit all; the aim of privatization is profit for the few. Many charter schools, online academies and for-profit colleges have demonstrated this phenomenon by accruing enormous profits at the expense of their students (high dropout rates and astronomical student debt).
  • It’s elitist. Privatizing education would increase the already existing problem of inequality among schools: the wealthiest areas have greater per student spending and superior resources for their schools. Privatization would exacerbate this problem: the have’s will have the means to attend the best schools and the have-nots will not. Marketplace 101: businesses cater to their wealthiest clientele.
  • It’s dehumanizing. Progressive movements in education strive to individualize the learning experience of each student; for-profit institutions are likely to treat students as widgets and strive to turn out the greatest possible quantity of widgets at the lowest possible cost.
  • It invites corruption. Privatization could result in an increasingly biased and unbalanced curriculum:  Should evolution be taught? the holocaust? human growth and sexuality? religion? All this and more could be decided by the highest bidder, the most influential corporate voice.
  • It’s dangerous to our democracy.  James Madison said “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Taking the public out of public education will jeopardize a knowledgeable electorate and the foundation of our democracy.
It’s true that public education needs reform, but privatization is not the answer.
So don’t throw the baby out, just the bathwater.
And that, 24 hours later, is my answer to her question.