Monday, May 18, 2020

A Privatization Fever Dream for Post-Crisis Public Education | The New Republic

A Privatization Fever Dream for Post-Crisis Public Education | The New Republic

A Privatization Fever Dream for Post-Crisis Public Education
Millions of students are now learning from home, and pro-charter, anti-teacher forces are trying to seize the moment.

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his state will partner with the Gates Foundation to “reimagine education.” “The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state; all these buildings, all these physical classrooms; why, with all the technology you have?” he asked at the briefing. It was a revealing, troubling question.

Meaningful education is built on connection, and fostering relationships requires proximity. This is what a classroom does. It’s a space for students to establish relationships while experimenting with being in public. And while we don’t yet know the details of Cuomo’s plan, there’s reason to be suspicious. The Gates Foundation’s top-down approach to education reform, along with Cuomo’s history of supporting charter schools, inconsistency around unions, and exclusion of New York City educators from the project’s council, suggest a deeply undemocratic push to defund and privatize the public school system.

American public schools—“all these buildings, all these physical classrooms”—are cultural spaces as much as they are physical locations. Cuomo’s reimagining threatens to flatten public education into informational transaction, turning teachers into tech support in the process.

We have long struggled, as a country, to use technology to provide public education at scale. In the first half of the nineteenth century, an English schemer named Joseph Lancaster sold a system of mechanized mass schooling across the continent. Replacing all but one teacher per thousand children with older student “monitors” and teaching reading and writing through drilling, dictation, surveillance, and repetition was cheap, but it made education hollow. The system relied on conformity and demonstration of short-term results through testing. (Sound familiar?) In New York City, a Lancasterian school was the first in the city to be funded by tax revenue, in part because the Public Education Society, the Department of Education’s predecessor, was won over by the idea of a clean, efficient system for the masses. But Lancasterian schools lacked soul and, in turn, integrity. They relied on strict adherence to rules, behaviors, and mannerisms; as public interest in funding education grew through the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Public Education Society’s dominion waned. In 1916, after the Lancasterian system fell out of favor, one critic wrote, “What this experiment did especially exemplify is the insufficiency of CONTINUE READING: A Privatization Fever Dream for Post-Crisis Public Education | The New Republic