Just as stories can instruct, provide guidance, energize, and help create a desired future, they can also provide a rationale for destruction that becomes so broadly accepted that it is viewed as an unquestioned truth. Here’s an example that is having a profound effect on public education in the United States.
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:
1. 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.
2. Public schools are government schools, which means they are inefficient and ineffective.
3. Exploit this country’s financial crisis by blaming public education for economic problems, including the outsourcing of jobs.
4. Blame the alleged failures of public education on teachers and teacher unions.
5. Use the imprimatur of “reform” to shift public resources to for-profit companies who run charter schools and are online providers.
6. Begin “reform” with historically low-performing schools because of the long-standing challenges they face, which are closely linked to poverty and discrimination. Then expand “reform” to suburban schools using the results of new standardized tests and systems of teacher evaluation as evidence of their ineffectiveness.
7. Transfer public money with minimal oversight and accountability to companies that manage for-profit schools and provide other services.
8. 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.
The narrative I’ve outlined 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 remains to be seen whether the forces that are beginning to coalesce in response to this threat can gain traction before irreparable harm is done. The stakes are high, and I remain hopeful.