Getting an education

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I’ve been following the whole saga of education reform in the USA off and on but have never really written about it. It’s a kind of hot spot where the retail politics I’ve previously mentioned, and it’s a fascinating mixture of class warfare, ideology, greed/ambition, and ill-fated good intentions. It’s that latter I want to focus on, mostly, after reading this long New Yorker article a couple of months ago, which I meant to write about but never got around until now.

The article describes an attempt to “turn around” a failing school district (Newark) that involves a $100M personal investment by Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and how the whole thing crashes and burns. I know that there’s an automatic (and sometimes justified) tendency to view everything a big rich guy does as part of some kind of nasty greedhead corporate trick, and, well, Facebook, but in this case I’m happy to give Zuckerberg the benefit of the doubt. A lot of well-off nerds actually do worry that there are a lot of diamond-in-the-rough kids-like-them stuck in failing schools, that there’s lots of wasted potential for building The Future, etc, etc.

But the problem is that education isn’t entirely a measurable product; the children in question are embedded in a network of social/economic relations that have deep effects on how much impact better instruction can have. These is where ideology comes in: it’s quintessentially neoliberal to believe that school funding and school structure can be simply be turned into a matter of developing the right incentivization system. The pushers of these reforms have a “no excuses” doctrine—that the poverty of communities with failing education should not be a reason why the children do not learn well. (Contrary to what we know about social stress and cognitive ability, I should add.) This doctrine is tailor (Taylor?) made for those who wish to justify inequality as a natural outcome of existing human capabilities and want to avoid larger-scaled social reforms.

(Similarly, I am partially skeptical of the popular claim that more education will solve the problems of “Third World” countries. Less poverty is often required to establish more education…)

In the USA, these reform attempts have torn communities apart. It turns out that even the most-blamed aspect of the system, teacher seniority-based job security, serves a purpose and is not lightly uprooted. It has also created a kind of target for corporate raiders, in the form of charter school chains, to Walmartishly gut local school systems. And it’s a case in point about the ideological bias hidden in our lionization of technocracy/meritocracy, even possibly well-intentioned philanthro-capitalism.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on July 20, 2014 2:12 PM.

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