Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote a new department-wide memo directing the Department to no longer intervene in the event that charter schools levy fines against what she called “smelly poor kids” for any instances in which they might “distract the clean kids from the good side of town.”
The directive has generated much controversy on social media, and has also attracted high profile civil rights lawsuits from groups such as the ACLU and the NAACP. The thinly veiled racial aspect is palpable.
Amidst the outrage, Seventy-six former federal judges jointly wrote and signed a letter to the Department of Education arguing that, while Ms. DeVos is technically right that the Constitution does not explicitly dictate the governmental responsibility for protecting poor children from socio-economic discrimination, the spirit of the Constitution foundationally directs the government to not act like a total dick.
The controversy has been wide-ranging, with state and municipal governments across the nation contemplating how to pick up the federal government’s slack in promoting educational equality.
Local D.C. Democratic Socialist Party member Adam Denver described the issue as being indicative of much greater governmental corruption and failure.
“This is exactly why the public and democratic government need to exert more guidance and assistance in society. It’s the classic recipe for Republican politics: add a middle man. It’s straight-up chicanery. Societal solutions that aren’t profitable to pursue—and shouldn’t have to be profitable—like education, can be done in two ways: the government does the work itself with our tax dollars, or we cover the expense ourselves, individually. Two options.
Now, in an ideal world, taxpayers pay the government to fix problems because our government in particular famously prides itself on being of the people for the people and by the people. The issue in this case is that we as a society don’t want to have ignorant, stupid children, and we don’t want to begin producing generations of unprepared and incompetent citizens too unmotivated to solve the world’s problems, right? Like, we can all agree that we have a communal responsibility to help give our children every opportunity to have good lives and progress human civilization further, right?
So we have a great democratic government that we run ourselves, in theory, as equal citizens, and the solution to stupid kids is to organize and operate public schools. This is an achievable goal, right? To have a good public education system that stays efficient with at least minimum attention on our part as civic participants? But somehow conservatives have been brainwashed by envy of those who earn obscene profits from the schooling of children. They can’t guess why we bother making the government solve the problem of illiteracy, and ask why we don’t just have private charter schools to do all the work just because taxes can be a little lower that way. They don’t want the government involved in almost anything, save the military, and think the government is the root of all their problems because public governance means public taxation.
The issue of tax paying in America has been framed around the idea that taxation is theft and that the government steals our money to waste it, but no wants to identify all the benefits that come from operating a public government that effectively serves us, the people. They especially don’t want to imagine potential benefits that could come from a more efficiently, and any thinker caught imagining such a dream is labeled a communist with ignorant enthusiasm. The Obama era idea of raising the tax rate for the richest people by 3% to help pay off the debt that every American acknowledges is a pressing national security threat earned President Obama the designation as a communist: a mere hike from 35% to 38% is communism. But that’s the kind of pavlovian resistance the concept of quality government is up against.
Yet the idea of socialism is accepted in many areas of public life. For instance, no one advocates the government getting out of the military protection business and reverting to free-market, capitalistic personal mercenary corporations. Everyone is willing to pay for roads, and bridges, food and water safety regulators, and FDIC banking insurance of our life savings. America used to take education very seriously like it does these other issues, but we have practically given up on the idea that public education and intelligence is a public good worth investing into. We have profited from the efforts of past generations in making sure Americans were better educated than much of the rest of the world, but we are slipping and it’s going to take a revolution in schooling to give the United States a better opportunity to thrive in the 21st Century. But no one wants to pay for it! This kind of thing should be a national effort!
The alternative to governmental idealism is for the government to say, ‘fuck it, you and your children are on your own,’ and let private enterprise organize the schools so all parents have to pay private schools to teach their children. Now obviously this will exacerbate societal inequalities and economic disparity. Of course it will. But it stands to reason that we as a society would be paying roughly the same amount of money to educate the next generation on a family by family basis for private schooling than if we just paid taxes to a government to do it as a societal mission. But in the second case, the money to educate the next generation is going to an entity whose premier motive is profit. It’s true that private enterprise can sometimes outcompete the government financially and operate more cheaply, but only because the government intrinsically intends to adequately give the whole nation the same opportunity, or at least should strive for that. A government’s goal in public education is the outcome of quality education for the public, as in everyone. A private company’s goal in private education is profit. If financial gain wasn’t possible, no person would strive to do what the government could just as well do. But, even though the government obviously will struggle to provide perfect education that is equally accessible to all, a government is at least held accountable by a free press clawing public information into day light and held accountable personally by democratic elections to elect, reelect or abandon civic leaders and organizers.
A private company, however, is kept rigidly separate from the people, and is not forced to comply with inconvenient laws regarding public oversight like the government is. No wonder private enterprises typically always do a worse job than the government would do—i.e. mine safety, oil spill prevention, and anything else that should ethically be taken care of—because governments are less obsessed with adding coins to a personal bank account. Meanwhile, once settled in to our society and after private enterprises are fully placed in charge of what should be mutual, public obligations of the people’s self-government and are fully out-monopolizing and excluding the public government, those private companies are free to destructively pursue higher profits and end up costing the citizenry even more money than the government would collect in taxes for a more society-wide approach. And again, there is no legal public mechanism for mandatory improvement of private companies, save public shame. But this is where contemporary conservatism has successfully brainwashed the very victims of this public theft: conservatives welcome the de facto robbery by agreeing that the government is still the problem even when the problems arise necessarily from the government’s conspicuous absence. We blame government for subpar education results, and act like charter schools will get better national results. But its not like people are anxious to found charter schools in the inner cities. There’s no profit there. So charter schools aren’t really the society-wide solution, are they?
Currently, in the macro view of things, we as a society are getting to a point theorized as ‘Late-stage Capitalism’ where private enterprises have failed us so drastically that a sudden pendulum shift back toward involved, public, socially democratic self-governance is both required and inevitable. Viewed in this way, it literally makes no sense to pursue laissez-faire governance in an area of public concern such as general education. Betsy DeVos is entirely on the wrong side of history in her whole perspective of education. Quite frankly, such a private-minded, free market ideologue has no business being involved in public government at all.”
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