Are liberals finally ready to oppose neoliberal education reform?
An eloquent call to “reclaim the conversation” challenges leading liberal educators to repudiate their involvement in what’s being called “corporate school reform.” We finally see liberal activists opposing the bipartisan education project that has subjected school and teachers to “free market” policies. Liberals are starting to contest privatization, testing, and attacks on teacher unions, rather than accepting neoliberal assumptions and policies taken wholesale from right-wing think tanks and functions.
Since last fall’s Chicago teachers strike, we’ve seen an acceleration of critique in traditionally liberal media about school reform — from Teach for Americato charter schools and Michelle Rhee. There’s even been a whiff of real reporting in the New York Times on the common core curriculum. Why did liberals urge teachers unions to back down on contractual issues that protect kids and miss what the unions should have been doing, like mobilizing their members?
And why do liberals who expose what’s wrong with standardized testing, asJohn Merrow has, continue to propagandize for charter schools, ignoring compelling research about the educational devastation in New Orleans because of “charterization”?
To be fair, liberals have not been alone in their confusion about policies cloaked in the rhetoric used by the civil rights movement about equalizing educational opportunity. The pace of change in education has been breathtaking, schools and teachers battered by the speed and force of mandates. The most profound changes in education were made more enticing with the carrot of increased funding. Cash-strapped school districts and states couldn’t turn down extra money they received as a quid pro quo for adopting the stranglehold of testing and privatization required by “No Child Left Behind” and, more recently, “Race to the Top.” Still, for way too long, liberals assumed that schools could be “fixed” without tackling social and economic inequality
Liberals couldn’t see this big picture, partly because as Bhaskar Sunkarawrites, “American liberalism is ineffective and analytically inadequate.” But why? One reason is that they want to be non-ideological and practical, and without principles to guide them, they are pulled in the political direction exerting the most influence. David Steiner, currently Hunter College Dean and a former Commissioner of Education in New York State and Director of Arts Education at the National Endowment for the Arts, illustrates how liberals persuade themselves to support neoliberal policies. It’s essential, he argues, “to be non-aligned [ideologically]” and look at “policy recommendations, policy as executed based on its merits and not on whether it’s the darling child of the left or the right…”
When power relations are skewed, however, the “merits” are generally found in the right-hand column if one’s principles don’t configure theThe Liberal Education Reform Revolt | Jacobin: