I’ve been a critic of the institution of education in the U.S. for quite some time. Little did I know that in my lifetime I would see this institution be threatened with elimination. At this moment, I’m trying to contend with this radical change in status. Yes, we’ve had many problems, many of which were rooted in the politics of education. National standards and high stakes testing have been problematic. The ways in which teachers are treated, including low salaries, their systematic deprofessionalization, and their portrayal in the media and by politicians. But, now that we are faced with the destruction of the U.S. Department of Education and the massive defunding of public education, I wouldn’t mind going back to the way things were. An institution with all of its problems is better than no institution at all.
Without an institution of education, without a federal department of education, our children face a grim future. Those who will suffer the most are the poor and middle class. The wealthy can send their children to private schools. The rest of us, even with vouchers or other support, will not be able to access these schools. Just like public charter schools and public magnet schools, the vast majority of which cater to the wealthier families by making the process for applying and being accepted difficult and time-consuming to navigate. The parents in poor families spend their time trying to make enough money to survive and have little time for anything else.
Even going to private schools can be problematic. Many teachers have no academic preparation for teaching. Some private schools barely manage to act like baby-sitters. And, those private schools with some sort of brainwashing agenda can fail to provide the kind of education that is necessary for survival, let alone for thriving, in a world that is changing in ways that cannot be anticipated.
Children will be deprived of a basic education. For many children, schools provide them with the only healthful food they eat in a day. For many, school provides a rare safe zone, where they don’t have to worry about physical or psychological violence. And, as problematic as our education system has been, it did provide for these basic needs.
If some sort of free school arises from the ashes, they will be corporate run. The publishers and testing companies may step in to fill the gap. Then, they can control the very system that can rake in billions of dollars in profits. And, at the same time, these corporate entities can control what children learn, how they learn it, and what values children develop. As corporatized as we may have thought schools were, this will pale in comparison to the corporate schools that may arise. It will be brainwashing at its best. And, teachers will be forced into submission to the teacher-proofed corporate curriculum. Education for democracy will not even be a thought. Child-centered education may become a catchy phrase, but will have lost its essential meaning. Children will not be anywhere near to “center” of focus. They will be pawns to be manipulated for profit and for control.