Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Reigning Bourgeois Ideology

Doug Henwood:

Before playing the interview (with Diane Ravitch), recorded earlier in the week, I want to underscore a couple of points. First, while the whole testing and choice agenda, one that ultimately tends towards the privatization of the public school system, was once a Republican obsession, it’s now become a bipartisan affair. The Obama administration hasn’t merely continued the Bush education agenda—in many ways, they’ve intensified it. With the Republicans, it’s all-too-easy to be scandalized by the notion of eduation policy being set by absolute yahoos, who not only don’t read books, but are suspicious of those who do. (And by that I don’t mean to deny that there are serious conservative intellectuals—there are. I’m thinking srrictly of politicians like George W. Bush and his cabinet, and most of the Republican Congressional delegation.) But Obama is far from a yahoo, and so too most of the people who surround him. So why are these non-yahoos pursuing such a yahoo agenda?

Though not yahoos, they are a bunch of centrist technocrats. Technocrats are usually obsessed with what they like to call “metrics,” but they’re pushing policies, like school choice, charter schools, and vouchers, that have absolutely no support in experience. There’s no evidence that they imrpove educational outcomes. The only reasons I can think of for this now bipartisan consensus is that privatizing schools is a way of saving money, and that the whole notion of choice and competition fits in nicely with reigning bourgeois ideology. Note that the business and political elite that is pushing this agenda doesn’t, for the most part, send its own kids to these public schools. They send their kids to private schools, with rigorous traditional curricula, and, in many cases, a “progressive” approach to education. A regime of basic skills and military discipline isn’t good enough for their kids—just for the masses. Maybe that’s another reason for this agenda: producing better cogs for the economic machine. But it’s going to make us dumber...

And second, Ravitch writes and talks about the central role played by a handful of very rich foundations in pushing this agenda. The sinister role of foundations, unaccontable bodies run by rich people and their hired hands, in public life, is rarely talked about. Part of the reason for that is that many of the people who might talk about them, and many of the forums that might publicize their talk, are on the foundation dole, or would like to be. I’m not. And I’ll never miss an opportunity to point out how toxic these things are.

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