"More than machinery, we need humanity."

Liberate our education, please.

I’m really tempted to stop coming up with witty post titles and instead call everything “Fuck all y’all.”

I’ve said this recently, I know, but, hot damn is neoliberalism a clusterfuck.

Today’s clusterfucktastrophe* is about mayors and school boards and other powers-that-be closing schools in major cities such as New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

Now that I’ve said “fuck” three times in as many sentences (oops, four [sorry, Mom {not actually that sorry}]), let’s get down to it.

Bloomy, Rahm, their cronies, and their counterparts elsewhere have come up with this brilliant (brilliant!) strategy to “reform” the school systems in their cities.  They’ll close “failing” (sorry, y’all, I can’t help the scare quotes, these people aren’t using words that mean things) schools.

In DC, for example, there are 15 school slated for closure; out of all those schools only two students are white.  So don’t even try to tell me this isn’t racist.  If it isn’t by design, it certainly is by results.  The road to hell and all.

Chicago is closing 54 schools this year.  Students, teachers, staff, parents, union members & supporters have spent the past weekend taking it to the streets in opposition to the closures.  My pals from the A Team Media Collective (no, not that A Team) drove out  to cover it, so do them a heavy and give a follow on Twitter, along with @ChiStudentsOrg.

Philadelphia‘s been all a-stir lately, where 23 schools are on the chopping block, as hundreds of students have walked out a few times.

In Newark, NJ, students walked out in April in response to Governor Christie’s budget cutting & privatization.

Here in NYC, there’s been less visible protest going on; perhaps we’ve become complacent and resigned to the city’s continuing elimination of decent universal public education, which has been done bit by bit, school by school, for years.  Right now, of the two dozen schools that might be closed this time around, I’m paying the most attention to Boys and Girls High School, which is in my own neighborhood in Brooklyn and which is Brooklyn’s oldest public high school. It’s at risk for closure, despite it’s long history, and the great successes it produced in the 1980s & ’90s, which proved that, with proper attention, a “failing” school doesn’t have to be.

Racist, classist school closings aren’t the purview solely of large urban school districts.  In my suburban hometown out on Long Island, the award-winning elementary school I attended in the 1990s was closed by the district a couple years ago.   The official reason is that the neighborhood is unsafe; children who would have been going to that school have been going to another elementary school across town, which had to undergo expensive renovations to accommodate them.  The neighborhood, which includes a housing project and is populated mostly by working class & poor, black & brown families, is no less safe than it ever has been, as my mother, who was the school’s crossing guard before it closed, can attest.  It’s just that the lily white school board doesn’t want their precious snowflakes in that neighborhood.  (That neighborhood is, by the way, nicer than it was when I was going to school there; the over-grown, trash-strewn lot with the falling down house — now a community garden.)  And for the children who live in that supposedly violent neighborhood, closing their school doesn’t make them any safer, since they still live there.  It does, though, mean that those kids have more difficulty attending after-school activities, and that their parents have a harder time participating in their children’s education.  Lest you think this is not a racist act, this is the same school board that would not provide translators for non-English-speaking parents (of which the district has many, most of whom speak Spanish) at parent-teacher conferences.  That the white, wealthy school board of this district has little interest in the success of the district’s black & brown students is clear.

In New York City, Chicago, Newark, and elsewhere, closed public schools mean facilities and funds that school boards and city governments have increasingly been funding into charter schools.  Sometimes they don’t even wait until the first school has closed; co-location means that a public school and a charter school will share a facility but otherwise not share resources, and there are usually stark differences to be seen between the two entities, both in terms of available resources and in terms of student body.

The official reasons for the drive towards more charter schools is that they supposedly produce better results, cost less money, and can be more flexible & innovative.

What we’ve been increasingly seeing over the last couple years, though, is that this is a load of bullshit.

On the odd occasion when charter schools produce better results, it’s often because they either attract a more privileged student body than the general population, or actively exclude at-risk students, which they can do because they are not public schools, despite being funded on the taxpayer dollar.  The students found in many charter schools are whiter, wealthier, and have more support and resources at home than the average student — they’d succeed anywhere (ditto the students at the magnet public high schools in NYC).  And then because the charter schools have siphoned off public funds (same goes for private school voucher systems), there are fewer resources left for the students who need those resources the most and who remain in the public system.  This is enclosure of education.

And in places like NYC, the city government also uses the proliferation of charter schools as a union-busting tool.  Teachers’ unions can organize and fight, not only for some of the conditions of their labor, but also, as we’ve seen in Chicago, for better education policy generally and for the welfare of their students.  Charter school teachers are often outside the unions, and so may be paid less and have less job security than union teachers, which administrations spin as being able to more easily fire “bad” teachers.  Furthermore, non-public school teachers are often not required to have the training and certifications that public school teachers have.

I know I go on and on about neoliberal policies, but here we have a perfect example of soft, slippery racism in supposedly color-blind policy.  Nowhere in the plans for all these school districts does it mention that resources will be taken away from black and brown students and funneled to white students, or from poor ares to wealthy areas.  But the outcome of these policies created predominantly by rich white men — entrenchment of existing institutional racism and classism — is the same, and that’s not an accident.

*By the way, I owe a lot of the irreverent vocabulary I use, as well as the nuggets of some of the thoughts I express, to the blog Shakesville and Melissa McEwan’s fabulous leadership of it.

About oneofthelibrarians

Respectable mid-career librarian by day, dirty street librarian by night & other days.

3 comments on “Liberate our education, please.

  1. midatlanticcooking
    May 22, 2013

    I can’t speak for many of the areas, but in DC, the Mayor and entire city council are all black, so the racism point doesn’t fit in there, I think it has more to do with the fact that the politicos do not want a black mark on their education records and this an easy solution, just close the bad schools and consolidate them with other schools, it does nothing for the children that the schools are failing, but it waters down the statistics that blemish the political education environment. Now the mayors can say that their schools have improved statically in the short term. This is nothing more than a political stunt at the expense of the students that the system is failing. it is the political equivalent of sweeping them under the carpet. This same thing was done in Maryland a decade ago and now they are listed as #1 in the nation in education with the lowest percentage of dropout. Nothing changed in the actual number of dropouts, but the percentages of larger classes and schools make it appear that way. This is not race, but politics. They do the same thing with crime statistics by redistricting areas to make it appear that the crime rate has dropped.

    • worldtake
      June 1, 2013

      Just wondered if you were aware that your use of the term “black mark”, is in itself ethnicist (a term I coined to replace racist, because morons of the world, there are no races). But I agree with the basic premise of the article. Bigotry is at the core of this issue.

  2. Pingback: Liberate our education, please. | City of Newark Delaware

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