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Neoliberalism and the fall of education

Yesterday, I attended commencement and then a dinner for outstanding undergraduates. Each dean of each college and school called their candidates to stand and be recognized and each group would respond with a roar -- except for the School of Education. Only a few thin voices went up. For a moment, I was surprised and then I thought, "Duh. Who would want to go into education in the current climate?"

This morning, I see that similar things are happening in Britain. But this is the story of every teacher I've known over the past 10 years.

The neoliberals have waged a unparalleled war against the teaching profession for a generation. Rarely has an entire profession been so vilified. They have conducted a witch-hunt for "bad teachers" as being at the root of all of society's ills. They claim they want to improve education, but when you look at what they've done, it's clear that their agenda all along has been to destroy it.

In its place, they would create for-profit schools where students are imprisoned in a behaviorist wet-dream, supervised by robots while they fill out bubble sheets. The idea that education should be empowering -- or even involve contact with empowered, well-educated people -- seems absent from their plans.

In the past on these days in May, I would be attending the MTA Annual Meeting in Boston. But it's been depressing, year after year, to watch the gains for educators get clawed back by relentless attacks from the Right. Last year, it was Stand for Children assaulting teacher evaluations. Before that, it was a ballot initiative to eliminate the state income tax. This year, it's retirement health care: they're gutting the plan, making us work longer, pay more, and get less.

In a generation, people will look back and wonder why we did this. The worst part is knowing that it's not really mean spirited -- it's just business. Partly, it's that public education just doesn't matter for the wealthy -- even if they didn't actively believe that disempowering other people's children was a good thing. Mainly, it's just dollars-and-cents. They want to finish the job of destroying organized labor and they want to extract rents from yet another sector of the economy.