Today’s blogger is Chris Gilbert, who is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. His article, “Creating Educational Destruction: A Critical Exploration of Central Neoliberal Concepts and Their Transformative Effects on Public Education,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.
Since the election of President Trump in 2016, the phrase “school choice” has rapidly become commonplace in popular and political discourse. Through sheer repetition and careful messaging, supporters of school choice have worked to sterilize the phrase in order to make it appealing and ultimately normal.
For instance, during a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (2017) compared school choice to a selection of food trucks surrounding the Department of Education. “Now,” she remarked, “if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business? No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.”
In other words, school choice is akin to choosing where to eat. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Despite this attempt, and others like it, to downplay the significance of school choice, abundant evidence suggests that it is anything but inconsequential. As I discuss in my article in The Educational Forum, a body of research has shown that school choice mechanisms such as charter schools and school vouchers have had a number of negative educational and social impacts (Carey, 2017; Ravitch, 2014; Strauss & Burris, 2017).
Additionally, I discuss the larger ideas that have produced school choice, primarily those concepts of competition and individualism. In the educational reality produced by these concepts, schools function as competitive entities, families compete for voucher money and limited spots in charter schools, and teachers work against one another to receive paltry raises.
When I worked as a high school English teacher in North Carolina, I experienced this reality firsthand. As I discuss in my article, in 2014 I joined a campaign to push back against policies that sought to inject competition into schools and pit teacher against teacher. Through a statewide effort, teachers and other activists fought to replace notions of competition and individualism with collaboration and collectivism.
It is important to note that the competitive and individualistic reality we struggled against did not manifest by chance. Rather, it resulted from neoliberalism, the dominant social, economic, and political ideology of our time. Neoliberals believe that the logic of the market should dominate all aspects of our lives, and they seek to create an educational system that mirrors the corporate world.
While neoliberalism is certainly not new, and its effects have been apparent in the educational realm for some time, neoliberal notions of competition and individualism now have an unprecedented level of political support and threaten to become the new normal. In the present moment, it may be more important than ever before to step forward and dissent. I hope this message serves as an invitation to do so.
Carey, K. (2017, February 23). Dismal voucher results surprise researchers as DeVos era begins. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html
DeVos, B. (2017, September 28). Prepared remarks by Secretary DeVos to JFK Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/prepared-remarks-secretary-devos-jfk-jr-forum-harvard-kennedy-school
Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Strauss, V., & Burris, C. (2017, July 26). NAACP sticks by its call for charter school moratorium, says they are ‘not a substitute’ for traditional public schools. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/26/naacp-report-charter-schools-not-a-substitute-for-traditional-public-schools-and-many-need-reform/?utm_term=.5f179b7ef7f7