The power of stories to destroy public education as we know it
by Dennis Sparks
Just as stories can instruct, provide guidance, energize, and help create a desired future, they can also provide a narrative for destruction that becomes so broadly accepted that it is viewed as an unquestioned truth. Here’s an example.
A few enormously wealthy individuals and organizations such as ALEC that are ideologically opposed to government services and/or who see the privatization of government functions as an essentially untapped profit center focus their resources and efforts on remaking public education for their benefit.
Through an unrelenting litany of criticism they have convinced many Americans that their public schools are failing and that they must be radically changed. If these “reforms” are not implemented with urgency, these ideologues say, the United States’ world dominance will fade as “government schools” deprive American’s of their freedom.
The storyline and the plan:
What business does is good. It is efficient and effective. What government does is bad. It is inefficient and ineffective. With a small number of exceptions, everything government does can be better done by private enterprise.
Public schools are government schools. They are therefore inefficient and ineffective. Education, therefore, can be better provided by charter schools and online providers, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Demonize public education, teachers, and teacher unions. Use the imprimatur of “reform” to shift public resources to for-profit companies.
Exploit this country’s financial crisis to achieve ideological ends. Blame public education for economic problems, including the outsourcing of jobs.
Begin with low-performing schools because of the long-standing challenges they face. Then expand “reform” to suburban schools using low standardized test scores and teacher evaluations as evidence of their ineffectiveness.
Transfer public money with minimal public oversight and accountability to corporations that manage for-profit schools and provide standardized testing, among other services.
Consign to “traditional public schools” students whose high-cost special needs make them less profitable. Then blame resource-starved schools for not succeeding with those students and begin anew to find new ways to drain those schools of their remaining resources.
Money that would benefit students is siphoned off as corporate profit.
Public money is spent to serve non-public purposes (for instance, schools that promote an ideologically-driven form of science education) without transparency and public accountability.
The “traditional” schools that remain continue to serve the neediest students, and they do so with even fewer resources.
In Michigan and other states the narrative I’ve describe is the rationale for a wholesale, ideologically-driven assault on public education that will affect a generation or more of students in virtually every school system. It is ideologically-driven because its proponents have not offered a shred of evidence—scientific or otherwise—to support this massive, destructive experiment.
Those of us who value and whose life prospects were expanded through public education can only express our outrage and lament its passing in the face of a lame-duck Republican legislative juggernaut which will destroy in less than a month what it has taken decades to build.