June 4, 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the first charter school law in the United States. Privately-operated charter schools are now legal in 45 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont have no laws enabling the creation of charter schools.
About 3.3 million youth are currently enrolled in roughly 7,400 charter schools across the country. By comparison, about 50 million students are enrolled in 100,000 public schools in the U.S. The U.S. public education system has been around for more than 150 years and educates 90% of the nation’s youth.
While charter schools, also known as contract schools, have grown rapidly over the last three decades, so have the endless serious problems associated with them, including the closure of more than 3,000 charter schools, usually for reasons such as financial malfeasance, mismanagement, or poor academic performance. Scandal, corruption, and controversy have been the main fellow-travelers of these segregated and outsourced schools operated by unelected individuals.
From the perspective of major owners of capital and their representatives, there is much to celebrate about the 30th anniversary of charter schools, namely the neoliberal restructuring of the state to undermine the American public education system in order to funnel tens of billions of public dollars from public schools into their private hands. Not surprisingly, the rise of privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools has been a disaster for public schools, the public interest, society, the economy, and the national interest. The only thing “innovative” about charter schools is their ability to develop new forms of transferring public funds to narrow private interests under the banner of high ideals. Charter schools have always been pay-the-rich schemes that take socially-produced wealth out of the economy and leave the public worse off. As “private-public-partnerships” they represent another form of state-organized corruption to pay the rich. This has been the norm since 1991. Charter schools never started out as a humble, virtuous, organic, pro-social, benign, grass-roots “experiment.” Charter schools are a textbook example of neoliberal arrangements in the sphere of education. Their different forms, shapes, profiles, locations, and sizes do not change their neoliberal essence.
The public should not forget that charter schools are not public schools and that many, if not most, are not really “tuition-free” or “open to all kids.” It is well-known that charter schools choose parents and students, not the other way around. Charter schools routinely cherry-pick students and engage in discriminatory enrollment practices. It is also the case that many charter school authorizers are not really public in the proper sense of the word either. It is also worth noting that deregulated charter schools are created by private citizens.
Charter schools have not closed the “opportunity gap” or the “achievement gap.” Thousands have a poor academic track record. Their “autonomy” and “flexibility” to deliver “results” in the name of “accountability,” “choice,” and “competition” is another way of saying that they do not follow the same public standards that apply to public schools and that they operate with impunity. Coast to coast, the gap between charter school hype and charter school realities remains as wide today as it was 30 years ago. Charter schools are notorious for over-promising and under-delivering.
Charter schools are segregated, deunionized, unaccountable, non-transparent, deregulated schools that spend lots of money on advertising—just like a private business. They usually over-pay administrators, are run by unelected individuals, and cannot levy taxes. They hire more inexperienced and more uncertified teachers than public schools, generally pay teachers less than their public school counterparts, and also tend to have fewer nurses than public schools. Many charter school teachers are not even part of an employee retirement system.
Charter schools also tend to offer fewer full-fledged services and programs than public schools. Many do not provide transportation or proper food services and sports programs. On top of all this, hundreds of charter schools open and close every year, ensuring chaos, instability, and anarchy in the sphere of education, which is terrible for teaching, learning, and community.
Importantly, charter school promoters openly and publicly embrace “free market” ideology even though recurring economic crises have thoroughly discredited such an antisocial ideology. It is generally recognized that there is little that is “free” about the “free market” in a highly monopolized economy with a fine-tuned revolving door between government and rich individuals. With no sense of irony, charter school promoters casually talk about students and parents as consumers and shoppers instead of humans and citizens with basic rights that a modern government is duty-bound to guarantee in practice. Charter school promoters believe that a social Darwinist outlook based on winners and losers—competition—is wonderful for education. They think this is a good healthy thing. They endorse the idea and strategy that “edupreneurs” should use public dollars to run segregated schools governed by unelected individuals. They loathe the American public education system which has produced millions of educated individuals who have built the nation. They have no conception of education as a social responsibility and a human right that must be guaranteed. In the context of a modern socialized economy, charter schools increase social irresponsibility and anarchy in the sphere of education.
Charter school advocates are also averse to grasping the critical difference between public and private. They prefer to blur this distinction for private financial gain. Charter school advocates believe that if they assert 50 times a day that a charter school is a public school, then this will cause people to not recognize their privatized, marketized, corporatized character. They think that no one can see charter schools for the pay-the-rich schemes that they are.
There is nothing to celebrate about neoliberal education arrangements called charter schools. They have not solved any problems, just created more. Charter schools cannot be prettified no matter how hard their supporters and promoters try. They are terribly inequitable and do not meet the nation’s needs. Thirty years later all we have is even more controversy and scandal surrounding charter schools. Cyber charter schools and so-called “no-excuses” charter schools are especially scandalous. Is this what a successful “education experiment” looks like? What evidence is there that the next 30 years will be any better?
Charter schools have changed the American education landscape for the worse, which is why opposition to them is steadily-growing, not diminishing. This is bound to happen as the many problems with charter schools become more exposed and analyzed. The public gains nothing from funneling socially-produced wealth into the hands of narrow private interests concerned with cashing in on kids. Neoliberal arrangements in education are a big step backward, not something to rejoice.
One of the ironies in this entire saga is that one of the oldest charter schools in Minnesota, home to the first charter school law in the U.S., was recently shut down for the usual litany of serious problems affecting most charter schools. Many charter schools have a short shelf life. Hundreds close every year, leaving many minority families feeling angry and abandoned. Not surprisingly, charter school promoters rarely highlight, let alone openly and honestly discuss, the many grave problems plaguing the crisis-prone charter school sector. They prefer instead to present a Disney-esque portrait of charter schools, something akin to a fairy tale.
The next 30 years can be much better and much different. We can have a public school system free of the influence of privileged private interests. We can and must have a public school system controlled by a public authority worthy of the name.
Moving forward, it is critical for defenders of public education and the public interest to keep developing and strengthening the movement against privatization in general and school privatization in particular. This is an exciting time to keep galvanizing more people from all walks of life to keep public funds, resources, and facilities in public hands. History and justice are on our side.
Capital-centered interests will always oppose human-centered interests. Fortunately, there is a growing recognition that privatizers and neoliberals are historically superfluous and a big burden on society.
Sold under the pretence of a quest for optimising well-being and ‘happiness’, capitalism thrives on the exploitation of peoples and the environment. What really matters is the strive to maintain viable profit margins. The prevailing economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption and needs a certain level of annual GDP growth for large firms to make sufficient profit.
But at some point, markets become saturated, demand rates fall and overproduction and overaccumulation of capital becomes a problem. In response, we have seen credit markets expand and personal debt increase to maintain consumer demand as workers’ wages have been squeezed, financial and real estate speculation rise (new investment markets), stock buy backs and massive bail outs and subsidies (public money to maintain the viability of private capital) and an expansion of militarism (a major driving force for many sectors of the economy).
We have also witnessed systems of production abroad being displaced for global corporations to then capture and expand markets in foreign countries.
The old normal
Much of what is outlined above is inherent to capitalism. But the 1980s was a crucial period that helped set the framework for where we find ourselves today.
Remember when the cult of the individual was centre stage? It formed part of the Reagan-Thatcher rhetoric of the ‘new normal’ of 1980s neoliberalism.
In the UK, the running down of welfare provision was justified by government-media rhetoric about ‘individual responsibility’, reducing the role of the state and the need to ‘stand on your own two feet’. The selling off of public assets to profiteering corporations was sold to the masses on the basis of market efficiency and ‘freedom of choice’.
The state provision of welfare, education, health services and the role of the public sector was relentlessly undermined by neoliberal dogma and the creed that the market (global corporations) constituted the best method for supplying human needs.
Thatcher’s stated mission was to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit by rolling back the ‘nanny state’. She wasted little time in crushing the power of the trade unions and privatising key state assets.
Despite her rhetoric, she did not actually reduce the role of the state. She used its machinery differently, on behalf of business. Neither did she unleash the ‘spirit of entrepreneurialism’. Economic growth rates under her were similar as in the 1970s, but a concentration of ownership occurred and levels of inequality rocketed.
Margaret Thatcher was well trained in perception management, manipulating certain strands of latent populist sentiment and prejudice. Her free market, anti-big-government platitudes were passed off to a section of the public that was all too eager to embrace them as a proxy for remedying all that was wrong with Britain. For many, what were once regarded as the extreme social and economic policies of the right became entrenched as the common sense of the age.
Thatcher’s policies destroyed a fifth of Britain’s industrial base in just two years alone. The service sector, finance and banking were heralded as the new drivers of the economy, as much of Britain’s manufacturing sector was out-sourced to cheap labour economies.
Under Thatcher, employees’ share of national income was slashed from 65% to 53%. Long gone are many of the relatively well-paid manufacturing jobs that helped build and sustain the economy. In their place, the country has witnessed the imposition of a low taxation regime and low-paid and insecure ‘service sector’ jobs (no-contract work, macjobs, call centre jobs – many of which soon went abroad) as well as a real estate bubble, credit card debt and student debt, which helped to keep the economy afloat.
However, ultimately, what Thatcher did was – despite her rhetoric of helping small-scale businesses and wrapping herself in the national flag – facilitate the globalisation process by opening the British economy to international capital flows and allowing free rein for global finance and transnational corporations.
Referring to the beginning of this article, it is clear whose happiness and well-being counts most and whose does not matter at all as detailed by David Rothkopf in his 2008 book Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making. Members of the superclass belong to the megacorporation-interlocked, policy-building elites of the world and come from the highest echelons of finance, industry, the military, government and other shadow elites. These are the people whose interests Margaret Thatcher was serving.
These people set the agendas at the Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg, G-7, G-20, NATO, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.
And let us not forget the various key think tanks and policy making arenas like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institute and Chatham House as well as the World Economic Forum (WEF), where sections of the global elite forge policies and strategies and pass them to their political handmaidens.
Driven by the vision of its influential executive chairman Klaus Schwab, the WEF is a major driving force for the dystopian ‘great reset’, a tectonic shift that intends to change how we live, work and interact with each other.
The new normal
The great reset envisages a transformation of capitalism, resulting in permanent restrictions on fundamental liberties and mass surveillance as livelihoods and entire sectors are sacrificed to boost the monopoly and hegemony of pharmaceutical corporations, high-tech/big data giants, Amazon, Google, major global chains, the digital payments sector, biotech concerns, etc.
Under the cover of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, the great reset is being rolled out under the guise of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ in which smaller enterprises are to be driven to bankruptcy or bought up by monopolies. Economies are being ‘restructured’ and many jobs and roles will be carried out by AI-driven technology.
The WEF says the public will ‘rent’ everything they require: stripping the right of ownership under the guise of a ‘green economy’ underpinned by the rhetoric of ‘sustainable consumption’ and ‘climate emergency’.
At the same time new (‘green product’) markets are being created and, on the back of COVID, fresh opportunities for profit extraction are opening up abroad. For instance, World Bank Group President David Malpass has stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet after the various lockdowns that have been implemented in response to the Covid-19 crisis. This ‘help’ will be on condition that neoliberal reforms and the undermining of public services are implemented and become further embedded.
Many people waste no time in referring to this as some kind of ‘Marxist’ or ‘communist’ takeover of the planet because a tiny elite will be dictating policies. This has nothing to do with Marxism. An authoritarian capitalist elite – supported by their political technocrats – aims to secure even greater control of the global economy. It will no longer be a (loosely labelled) ‘capitalism’ based on ‘free’ markets and competition (not that those concepts ever really withstood proper scrutiny). Economies will be monopolised by global players, not least e-commerce platforms run by the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook and Google and their multi-billionaire owners.
The so-called ‘green economy’ will fit in with the notion of ‘sustainable consumption’ and ‘climate emergency’. A bunch of billionaires and their platforms will control every aspect of the value chain. Of course, they themselves will not reduce their own consumption or get rid of their personal jets, expensive vehicles, numerous exclusive homes or ditch their resource gobbling lifestyles. Reduced consumption is meant only for the masses.
They will not only control and own data about consumption but also control and own data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved. Independent enterprises will disappear or become incorporated into the platforms acting as subservient cogs. Elected representatives will be mere technocratic overseers of these platforms and the artificial intelligence tools that plan and determine all of the above.
The lockdowns and restrictions we have seen since March 2020 have helped boost the bottom line of global chains and the e-commerce giants and have cemented their dominance. Many small and medium-size independent enterprises have been pushed towards bankruptcy. At the same time, fundamental rights have been eradicated under COVID19 government measures.
Politicians in countries throughout the world have been using the rhetoric of the WEF’s great reset, talking of the need to ‘build back better’ for the ‘new normal’. They are all on point. Hardly a coincidence. Essential to this ‘new normal’ is the compulsion to remove individual liberties and personal freedoms given that, in the ‘green new normal’, unfettered consumption will no longer be an option for the bulk of the population.
It has long been the case that a significant part of the working class has been deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ – three decades ago, such people were sacrificed on the altar of neo-liberalism. They lost their jobs due to automation and offshoring. They have had to rely on meagre state welfare and run-down public services.
But what we are now seeing is the possibility of hundreds of millions around the world being robbed of their livelihoods. Forget about the benign sounding ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and its promised techno-utopia. What we are witnessing right now seems to be a major restructuring of capitalist economies.
With AI and advanced automation of production, distribution and service provision (3D printing/manufacturing, drone technology, driverless vehicles, lab grown food, farmerless farms, robotics, etc), a mass labour force – and therefore mass education, mass welfare, mass healthcare provision and entire systems that were in place to reproduce labour for capitalist economic activity – will no longer be required. As economic activity is restructured, labour’s relationship to capital is being transformed.
In a reorganised system that no longer needs to sell the virtues of excessive individualism (consumerism), the levels of political and civil rights and freedoms we have been used to will not be tolerated.
Neoliberalism might have reached its logical conclusion (for now). Making trade unions toothless, beating down wages to create unimaginable levels of inequality and (via the dismantling of Bretton Woods) affording private capital so much freedom to secure profit and political clout under the guise of ‘globalisation’ would inevitably lead to one outcome.
A concentration of wealth, power, ownership and control at the top with large sections of the population on state-controlled universal basic income and everyone subjected to the discipline of an emerging biosecurity surveillance state designed to curtail liberties ranging from freedom of movement and assembly to political protest and free speech.
Perception management is, of course, vital for pushing through all of this. Rhetoric about ‘liberty’ and ‘individual responsibility’ worked a treat in the 1980s to help bring about a massive heist of wealth. This time, it is a public health scare and ‘collective responsibility’ as part of a strategy to help move towards near-monopolistic control over economies by a handful of global players.
And the perception of freedom is also being managed. Once vaccinated many will begin to feel free. Freer than under lockdown. But not really free at all.
Currently, New York State limits the number of charter schools allowed in the state to 460. In 1998, when the state passed its charter school law, the numerical limit was 100. The law has been amended three times since 1998 to not only increase the number of charter schools allowed in the state but to also further lower the standards of accountability and transparency required of privately-operated charter schools.
Putting aside the issues of inflated charter school waiting lists, widespread corruption, discriminatory enrollment practices, high teacher turnover rates, and the fact that 50 charter schools have closed in New York State over the past 20 years, this dramatic neoliberal expansion in the number of charter schools allowed in the state has produced serious problems for public schools and charter schools themselves. The biggest problem has been charter schools depriving public schools of billions of dollars in public funds, resources, and facilities while delivering unimpressive results on several levels. It is also worth noting that with black and Hispanic students making up more than 90 percent of the students enrolled in New York City’s charter schools, these schools are some of the most segregated in the country. Such a setup not only undermines public education but also harms the economy, society, and the national interest.
While nearly 400 charter schools have been authorized to date, about 325 were open in 2020-2021. New York City alone is home to about 265 charter schools. The City reached its charter school limit in March 2019. About 92 open/unused charter school slots remain available outside New York City. There are other statistics pertaining to charter schools in New York State that account for why these numbers don’t always round up evenly (e.g., the number of “conversion” charter schools established in the state over the years), but these are reliable numbers to go by. The main issue is the statewide cap on charter schools and how this is currently affecting New York City in particular.
Not surprisingly, major owners of capital are once again deploying a pitch fork mentality to bully legislators, leaders, and state and city officials to override the public interest and increase the cap on charter schools allowed in New York City. For neoliberals and privatizers there are few pay-the-rich schemes more profitable than deregulated charter schools run by unelected individuals. Owning and operating more segregated charter schools is critical for owners of capital desperately trying to counteract the law of the falling rate of profit. The neoliberal restructuring of state laws is critical to maximizing profit as fast as possible, regardless of how damaging this is to the natural and social environment. Neoliberals and privatizers want laws changed in order to advance their narrow private interests at the expense of the common good—and all of this ruinous activity is carried out under the veneer of high ideals (e.g., “empowering parents” and offering “choices”).
While preventing a rise in the number of charter schools allowed in New York State is a good thing, it would be immensely better if no public funds, resources, and buildings found their way into the hands of charter school owners and operators. These public resources are produced by working people and belong to the public, not narrow private interests. Capitalist firms like Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) and Education Management Organizations (EMOs) should not have access to public funds and resources that belong to the public. Ending the flow of public funds, resources, and facilities to the private interests that operate non-profit and for-profit charter schools would greatly benefit public schools, society, the economy, and the national interest.
The public should remain vigilant about the non-stop effort by pro-privatization fanatics to push for an increase in the number of charter schools allowed in the state and city. No one should be fooled by their grandstanding and twisted logic. Now is the time to declare a moratorium on all new charter schools and to ensure that public funds, resources, and facilities remain in public hands only.
School privatizers and their political representatives are relentless in their efforts to restructure the state along neoliberal lines so as to restrict democracy and funnel more public funds into private hands. Privatization is a main mechanism for enriching major owners of capital, eliminating democratic arrangements, and degrading the public interest in the context of a continually failing economy. Privatization allows neoliberals to temporarily avert the law of the falling rate of profit under capitalism.
Recently, the Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, signed a law that significantly increases the ability of major owners of capital to siphon public funds from public schools by creating more charter schools while also eliminating long-standing democratic arrangements, namely local school control over what happens in local school districts.
Under the new law, neoliberals seeking to privately appropriate public money can circumvent local public school boards and apply directly to the State Board of Education to start a charter school operated by unelected individuals.
The public has no say over this or what happens to the taxes they pay.
The new law no longer requires the approval of privately-operated charter schools by local school districts and sets the stage for even less accountability and transparency from charter school operators. The new law will further deprive Iowa’s public schools of much-needed funds produced by working people.
Through such top-down actions, the governor and other representatives of the rich refuse to take action to fully-fund and support Iowa’s public schools and have instead decided to make families and students fend-for-themselves when it comes to getting an education. This chaos and anarchy will be unleashed in the name of “choice” and “empowering parents.”
Currently, there are only two charter schools in Iowa. This number will increase rapidly now that the door has been opened to more effortlessly establishing neoliberal school arrangements. It is much easier for privatizers to get approval from one high-level state authority (e.g., the State Board of Education) than it is from trying to get approval from one of dozens or hundreds of local state authorities like public schools.
There are 100,000 public schools in the U.S. and they are governed by school boards comprised of publicly elected individuals. School boards are a main form of elected governance that neoliberals and privatizers are desperate to eliminate because “too much democracy” hinders privatization and the elimination of the public interest. Neoliberals and privatizers want the public to believe that the triumph of their capital-centered will over the public will is in the best interest of humanity.
Far from solving any problems though, privatization intensifies inequality, reduces efficiency, lessens transparency, increases corruption, raises costs, diminishes workers’ voices, lowers the quality of services, takes money out of the economy, and undermines the general interests of society. It is through these antisocial arrangements and methods that owners of capital are able to seize large sums of public wealth to temporarily counteract the law of the falling rate of profit under capitalism.
It won’t be long before the public begins to hear of the scandals, poor performance, segregation, arrests, fraud, and corruption that invariably accompany charter schools. Speaking up now and planning new forms of action with analysis to advance the public interest are critical. Privatizers and neoliberals are not invincible, they can be defeated. But even when they are defeated people must be vigilant to ensure that privatizers and neoliberals do not succeed in any future attempts to violate the public interest.
What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.
― John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
We used to research the cup of coffee. School. Mostly community colleges, but at two universities — UT-El Paso and Gonzaga. A lot of evening classes I taught. Even on military compounds, and in prisons, and in the bowels of twin plants in Juarez.
In the old days, sleeves rolled up, adults and young people in classrooms, computers, paper and white boards at our ready, would get comfortable and uncomfortable. It was not an easy class, those Composition 101 and 102 mandatory (sometimes ONLY) writing classes for college students (I am so for mandatory 12 classes on writing, thinking, media, rhetoric, propaganda, etc.). Food and drinks, music during essay writing, and face to face consternation and confrontation. Cooperation.
That cup of coffee from the earliest look at where that bean came from originally intrigued the students. Who would have known (we talked about the Colombian exchange, the Doctrine of Discovery, food, animals, other things that came to the Imperialists). Think of the spice islands on steroids:
The original domesticated coffee plant is said to have been from Harar, and the native population is thought to be derived from Ethiopia with distinct nearby populations in Sudan and Kenya. Coffee was primarily consumed in the Islamic world where it originated and was directly related to religious practices.
Fun stuff, this sort of research and writing, and deep dive. We turned these assignments into poetry, poster illustrations, research papers on the diseases of coffee, on the power of coffee like so many thousands of other foods and products, crossing oceans. Many a product of empire and racism, and the coffee paper also turned into “Is There Slavery in Your Chocolate?” essays.
In recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public. In 2004, the Ivorian First Lady’s entourage allegedly kidnapped and killed a journalist reporting on government corruption in its profitable cocoa industry. In 2010, Ivorian government authorities detained three newspaper journalists after they published an article exposing government corruption in the cocoa sector. The farms of Western Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé—revealing the industry’s direct connection to the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and slavery. (Source)
So much has happened since I first hit the streets as a newspaper journalist in 1977, and so much has changed since I started teaching college classes in research writing and writing and journalism (1983). The “see, speak, hear no evil” paradigm is the destiny of capitalists. It is the way of who we are every waking nanosecond of our lives. Boycott Divest Sanction my ass. This is where I also pretzel myself into contradiction after contradiction. I should be on an island, or just on 20 acres I have near Mount Adams. Eating mushrooms and stitching moss and bark clothing.
Capitalism is the cancer, virus, prion, the tapeworm, the carrot and the stick. It is the blood sucker of all concepts. Slavery is Capitalism. We talked about this, in so many ways, not always me railing overtly with my anti-Capitalist thesis. I would bring to class small business owners, restaurant owners, ex-military, nonprofit directors, friends who were homeless, living in garages, artists, and dissidents of many kinds. Another thing that is DEAD in the water.
Now, you have to get people vetted and approved to come to a classroom. This is the sickness of our lefty culture. The rightwing has already played this card, too. “Why the hell are you bringing a person from Planned Parenthood to your class? Illegal. Stop. I’m calling the president.”
That coffee, now, looking at a cup, the ecological footprint, the energy used to get a cup of coffee to say, my Spokane students. Because Spokane loves its coffee. The amount of water used to grow a cup of coffee. We’d look at the coffee in Central America, or Colombia. Where that plant is grown. What was bulldozed to bring that plantation there. Who works the finca? Which indigenous group of non-Spanish speakers in Guatemala work these plantation, tends the bushes, picks and dries the cherries. Species lost, pesticides used. Water diverted. And, food crops denied.
Again, young and older adults, blown away in my classes, since I was teaching them to look deeper at any number of topics, and develop critical thinking and discourse skills, in whatever watered down version I’d get with many students who were coming to college ill-prepared to really write “essays.” Variations on a theme. Just the cup of liquid, first grown and processed in poor countries, takes about 38 gallons of water to grow.
We’d try and research more and more on the life-cycle of a ceramic cup or Starbucks thermos, and the life cycle and life span of a coffee maker. Embedded energy, waste, mining, slave warehouses, metals, all that fossil fuel to move those metals, cook them, mill them, ship them around the world. Sure, we could look at at sack of dried but not roasted coffee cherries coming from the Guatemala Highlands, and then where it gets shipped by boat, and then moved by truck, and then the actual cleaning and roasting of the coffee. Packaging, and then, that journey is crossing back and forth, over land, in the air, over seas.
The assignment blows many students’ minds, as it should. In the classroom, and I’d bring in a coffee person, with coffee and snacks, and she’d talk about farms in Mexico and Africa she’s visited. Talk about the flavor, the various types of coffees.
We’d look at Fair Trade, Beyond Fair Trade, Shade Grown and the like. Socially responsible coffee. I’d talk about how Vietnam — where I had gone and worked — was cutting more and more forests down to grow coffee. Coffee pests and diseases, and soil enhancements with fertilizers. The entire life cycle analysis of as many things we could extract from the coffee history and production, well, it blows students’ minds, and it only works in person. Don’t fool yourself with the fucking mouse, keyboard and Zoom camera/mic.
We need to talk about the environmental and human and ecological costs of plantation, mountain-razing coffee:
This pathetic Zoom and remote learning (sic) formula is the deadening of the brain. Recall, Americans already have three quarters of their brains (or more) colonized by lies, propaganda, hate, myth, plain stupidity, largely from terrible K12 (prison with smiling teachers) and all the marketing, and a government whose job is to fleece the masses for the company men, and fleecing includes culling thinking and deep analysis.
All this work, for coffee? Nope, because the students then do some of their own research on any manner of things. Cause and effect, solutions, pro-con, classification, expository, digital rhetoric, and deeper position papers. Research, and while we share sources and do all sorts of things at home, in groups, the big thing is getting the classroom energized, talking, arguing. Debate every minute. We even meet out of class in a, well, coffee shop, and coffee roaster.
Thinking about origins and perspectives. This is a full-time job as an instructor, in the class with all sorts of human beings there taking in and reacting to the work, the talks, the learning and the discourse. This Zoom shit is the death of humanity as I knew it. Radical Pedagogy, 2003 article!
Always with food, something in the class, mostly evening classes.
In 1960, the University of Missouri published a short “Guide for Television Teachers.” Across the country, over 100 different colleges offered nearly 500 televised courses to a half a million students. So professors needed pointers about the best way to teach in this burgeoning new medium.
“Relax,” the Missouri guide underlined. “Try to be yourself.” Male professors should wear “conservative” ties, the guide added, while women should avoid necklines or hemlines that might “cause discomfort or embarrassment” if they leaned over a counter or sat in a low chair. Once they were properly attired, they could loosen up and let their real character shine through. “Remember that the TV camera projects your natural personality best,” the guide urged, “and the more relaxed and natural that you are, the better you will reach your viewers.”
Who are these children forced to work the cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast?
Shit, those were the days. And here I am, suffering at age 64. I am feeling the burn, the beat-down burn, of more and more people around me stupid, mean, see-speak-hear not evil when it comes to this fucked up Empire, This War Machine. Those were the good old days? Is that my new mindset and refrain?
It is the contradiction to be an American totally — North American, Canadian or citizen of the USA. Every waking and sleeping minute we are covering the world in blood, exploitation, penury, death. Pain and misery is the way of the land. The hollow media, the celebrities in music and film, oh even more viral than the politicians. They are the elite, or the elite’s house boys or house girls.
“So what can we do but go with the flow? Just let it go. They have all the power, so just live your life as best you can. It’s not that bad. If we don’t bomb the world, steal the minerals, colonize space with weapons, then someone else will. What about China, Russia? I want a family, a job, and just a chance to live on weekends and kayak and smell the moose dung.”
I am down — really depressed — because of what that cup of coffee assignment represents: I am old. I am no good as a teacher because it is a digital and PC and cancel culture study body. I am down because most of the people I would have worked with years ago on political issues, as artists, well, they are either dead, or brains deadened by the struggle and the losing. I am depressed because that cup of coffee assignment is not lauded. The entire Western Civilization or Western Culture is in various forms of mental illness. That illness grouping includes a million wrong ways to medicate or mediate the illnesses of the minds.
I am not that, but I am alone, it seems. Now, the coffee, and where it comes from. Do I invest in Folgers Coffee (a division of J.M Smucker Company)? This is what’s depressing me now — my spouse and I are moving some money saved into some investments. Now I have to decide how to put some of it away, or as they say, to invest it. Because there are no interest rates, the average person can’t go to a state bank or any institution and put money into a municipal bond to do some good for society and make a few percentage points above zero. What’s wrong with 4 percent or 5 percent interest? That is the crime, zero or negative interest rates. Criminal. Imagine, there is not one thing on planet Earth, planet Wall Street, planet Retirement Fund which is not heavily tainted with DDDD: death, disease, destruction and destitution. We have been relooking at Socially Responsible Mutual Funds, or ESG’s, and the picture was never pretty:
Oh, you can say, “Broker, find me a fund that isn’t into war, weapons, mining, prisons, guns, germs, exploitation, banks, insurance companies.” It is virtually impossible. You might not want Walmart stock in the mutual fund, but then Amazon and Facebook and Kraft Foods might be in it. Microsoft, Boeing. Any amount of honor or commitment to NOT engaging in investing that gives money to the murderers, the exploiters, the ocean-soil-jungle-forest-wetland-river killers, it is all lost because they all are wrapped up into one big fat thievery corporation — BlackRock and Blackstone and the top 100 banks, hedge funds, and so many other “if-you-can-make-6-or-12-percent-on-yearly-return” investment products are so embedded in the master slavers in Fortune 1000 circles, and even within the 10,000 largest corporations.
[Modern-Day Robber Baron: The Sins of Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman]
The system is rigged for brokers to use brokerage houses, big ones, and those fees — buy, sell, trade, manage — more money and profits made for NOT producing one potato or bicycle. Yet, MBAs and the others in this crew believe that they don’t want their precious children to work the slave fields of Ivory Coast, or to be soccer ball stitchers, or to be at the wrong end of a toxic waste discharge hose. But invest in Hershey’s, or Nike, or Smithfield, well, out of sight, out of mind. Yep, they would not want their precious families bombed with the amazing number of components tied to an amazing number of businesses wrapped up in one missile. Screws, wires, capacitors, metal shrouding, telemetry, paint, seals, nuts and bolts, precision metal parts, tubes and coils and electronic guidance systems and batteries and, well, you get the picture. But goddamn, you can make bank on investing in defense (sic) companies because there is an endless demand by governments to have that shit in stock. We the taxpayer pay for those Hellfire’s:
Lockheed Martin, Boeing (previous second source), and Northrop Grumman (seeker only for AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire) Unit cost US$150,000 (FY 2021)!
It’s much more than just those three companies making bank for these missiles. There is an entire contingent (armies) of companies and service economies tied to this murder weapon:
In the past, I have studied mutual funds I have invested in, to squirrel away some savings, and the picture is pretty ugly. There are no SRI’s that are nothing more than just market washing. Socially Responsible Investing, NOT:
Look at what Warren Buffett owns as part of Berkshire Hathaway. Products — Diversified investments, property and casualty insurance, Utilities, Restaurants, Food processing, Aerospace, Media, Toys, Automotive, Sporting goods, Consumer products, Internet, Real estate, Railroad
So the average Joe and Jane, if they get a mutual fund or two for some long-term investment, this is the reality — you might be a social justice warrior, an anti-racist campaigner, an anti-war proponent, an environmentalist, community crusader, a socialist, an anti-capitalist, but if you stick your toe just a bit into the pond for minimal investments, just to protect a few thousand dollars here and there, this is what you get — money into the pockets of madmen: school to prison pipeline experts, war lords, surveillance capitalists, drug pushers, bad loan chieftains, medical fraudsters, real estate thugs, polluters, mountaintop removers, river toxifiers, land thieves, propaganda priests.
I am so serious about this now — where does the money go, and which company is being supported by stockholders shoveling money into their companies? Look at the union busters, at the price gougers, at the political lobbying arms, all these giant corporations and their networks of bunkos!
You can turn blue in the face decrying Monsanto (Bayer) for its pesticide poisons or Exxon for climate change propaganda or Sackler/Purdue Pharmacy for opioid addictions, but if you have a mutual fund, there is a chance that somehow those companies are entwined somewhere in the formula of a “strong mutual fund.”
The corporate giants are also demanding that Congress allow the repatriation of about $2.5 trillion stashed abroad without paying more than 5% tax. They say the money would be used to grow the economy and create jobs. Last time CEOs promised this result in 2004, Congress approved, and then was double-crossed. The companies spent the bulk on stock buybacks, their own pay raises and some dividend increases.
There are more shenanigans. With low interest rates that are deductible, companies actually borrow money to finance their stock buybacks. If the stock market tanks, these companies will have a self-created debt load to handle. A former Citigroup executive, Richard Parsons, has expressed worry about a “massively manipulated” stock market which “scares the crap” out of him.
Banks that pay you near zero interest on your savings announced on June 28, 2017 the biggest single buyback in history – a $92.8 billion extraction. Drug companies who say their sky-high drug prices are needed to fund R&D. But between 2006 and 2017, 18 drug company CEOs spent a combined staggering $516 billion on buybacks and dividends – more than their inflated claims of spending for R&D. — Nader
We all are sinners in capitalism — just paying our tax bill: death and destruction raining down on Palestinians, for example:
“Seven deadly sins: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Science without humanity, Knowledge without character, Politics without principle, Commerce without morality, Worship without sacrifice.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Oh, we all think we have found the formula for living in this insane and murderous country. Oh, we have to put nose to the grindstone. Follow the leaders. Get the jab. Do as you are told. You home is not your castle. There are no 40 acres and a mule. No handouts. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Pinch your nose, cover your eyes, plug your ears, muffle your mouth!
So, you end up throwing in the towel — no purity test, no selective boycotting of this or that product or service. No true anti-Imperialist leaning, when tax filing time comes. Nothing free in this un-Democratic land of thieves, murderers and thugs. Almost every step you take in America is full of landmines, cow pies, toxic puddles and electrified fences. The horizon is one theater of the absurd after another. The amount of nonsense and self-congratulatory verbiage from all manner of people who think they are enlightened or vaunted or above the dirty, scab-sucking, ripoff fray of capitalism, well, that is the self-delusion, the big lie.
So, the role of k12, and of higher education? One of the key foundations for a society — good education, robust, and deep learning, deep thinking, and systems thinking growing. Under capitalism and consumerism and conformist ideology that is US of Amnesia, there are so many broken things about face to face education, and I have written tons on this. Taking it to Zoom, to televised classes, remote learning, well, all the bad gets funneled into this new normal-abnormal.
In addition to education, colleges and universities provide indoctrination in the values and shared beliefs that our society deems important. These commonly shared values and tenets must be instilled, importantly beginning in grade school and before (the Jesuit boast, variously stated, is “Give me the first seven years and you can have all the rest”), and continued and reinforced through high school and college.
It is at the university where young men and women of indoctrinated conviction are most typically apt and able to respond to what is going on in the world around them, perhaps even take to the streets. Indoctrination can be overt or subtle. — George Heitmann
Public money comes from the new value workers produce. It does not come from somewhere else. This value is presently controlled not by those who produce it but by the financial oligarchy and its state. When socially-produced wealth is not controlled by those who actually produce it, endless problems arise. There is no way for the economy to benefit all individuals and serve the general interests of society when it is dominated by a handful of billionaires.
Socially-produced wealth belongs to the public and must be used for social programs and public services that benefit the socialized economy and the general interests of society. This includes education, healthcare, municipal services, and more. This can be achieved when major economic decisions are made by a public authority worthy of the name. A government beholden to the rich and their political representatives leads only to more retrogressive developments.
Since public money does not come from, or belong to, narrow private interests, it must not be used for privatized education arrangements such as charter schools. That is socially irresponsible.
Privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools are contract schools run by unelected individuals. They are not state agencies like public schools. They differ significantly from public schools, legally, organizationally, ideologically, and otherwise. Besides being governed by unelected individuals, charter schools cannot levy taxes, frequently hire uncertified teachers, and do not operate according to the same laws, rules, and regulations as public schools. Many courts have ruled that charter schools are not public entities. In addition, charter schools support fewer high-needs students than public schools and lack the transparency of public schools. Charter schools intensify segregation and are often plagued by instability and corruption as well. Further, more than 150 charter schools close every year, usually for financial malfeasance, mismanagement, or academic failure. Between 1999 and 2017, more than one-quarter of charter schools closed after operating for only five years. Such instability has left hundreds of thousands of minority students out in the cold. Many other problems could be listed.
Although they are not public agencies, privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools siphon tens of billions of public dollars every year from the public purse, which leaves public schools worse off. In cities like Rochester and Buffalo, New York, charter schools collectively siphon over $225 million a year from under-funded public schools. And it does not help that the “results” delivered by privately-operated charter schools, especially cyber charter schools, are often unimpressive, if not abysmal.
All of this is inevitable when schools are run on the basis of “free market” ideology. Social responsibility and the “free market” simply do not go together. “Good business sense” and social responsibility negate each other. They are oxymorons, and attempts to blur the distinction between them should be opposed. Corporations pursuing maximum profits as fast as possible—unlimited greed—has nothing to do with serving the general interests of society. Social responsibilities like education must not be subjected to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” The modern idea that humans are born to society and have rights by virtue of their being is alien to “free market” ideology.
Contrary to what neoliberals and privatizers claim, privatization does not serve the common good or improve “outcomes” for everyone. It just funnels public wealth produced by workers into the hands of narrow private interests, leaving fewer funds for the public and the economy.
The public, not narrow private interests, must have the first and last say over the use of public funds. Wealth produced collectively by workers must not escape their control. Socially-produced wealth must remain in public hands and not find its way to private entities. Publicly funded private entities and so-called public-private “partnerships” distort the socialized economy, increase inequality, diminish the voice of workers, and exacerbate a range of other problems. Around the globe, privatization in its many forms is intensifying problems in many sectors and spheres.
A modern economy and society cannot develop in a healthy, balanced, and self-reliant way when decisions are made mainly by competing owners of capital seeking to maximize profit as fast as possible. Education and all the affairs of society must be determined by working people, not by those who strive to use the new value produced by workers to enrich themselves.
Fight for public funds for public schools. Stand for social responsibility and oppose the flow of all public funds to charter schools. The powerful private companies that run charter schools must not receive any public funds or assets. Society needs a government that takes up its social responsibility to meet the broad educational needs of a modern society based on mass industrial production.
Charter schools are legal in 45 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Currently, about 3.3 million youth attend roughly 7,400 charter schools across the nation. This is a small fraction of all students and all schools in the United States.
Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have become a regular feature in news cycles. SpaceX succeeded in landing a team of astronauts on the International Space Station in November 2020, in partnership with NASA. The next month, the company lost a rocket in an explosion while attempting to land after a test flight. Another rocket exploded during landing in early February. In mid-February, SpaceX launched sixty satellites as part of the Starlink program to provide broadband internet access to the globe, and is now working to double the speed of this internet service and extend it to most of the planet by the end of 2021. Additional crewed missions to the International Space Station are planned for the coming months, as is a four-person civilian-only space voyage.
These accomplishments and setbacks from SpaceX and the world’s richest man are the most recent in a long series of launches by the first private company to engage in spaceflight. SpaceX is pushing many new boundaries to popular acclaim, but they are also simply the most recent continuation of a decades-long effort to privatize space travel, albeit an effort that is accelerating in recent years.
Yet, while SpaceX may be developing beneficial new technologies and finding ways to lower the costs of space travel, their free-market perspective on space exploration will not provide the benefits they claim. Such privatization will only reproduce the Earth’s current exploitative economy and environmental destruction in outer space.
Our climate and economic crises today are not inevitable outcomes of human existence, or of human population growth as other space-obsessed technocrats like Jeff Bezos have argued. They are instead the result of a particular set of social and economic forces, mostly arising during the last five centuries, which constitute capitalism. Capitalism requires the exploitation of both nature and people, leads to outward expansion and colonization, and is really the root cause of climate change.
Yet instead of working to develop new social and economic structures here on Earth, Elon Musk is planning the colonization of Mars explicitly as a backup plan for Earth. He is not alone, as Jeff Bezos’ own aerospace company, Blue Origin, operates with the long-term goal of outsourcing destructive manufacturing to space in order to save Earth by shifting the exploitation of nature and people into orbit. With plans such as these, SpaceX and related companies are advocating escapism instead of dealing with the reality of deteriorating conditions on our own planet. By failing to acknowledge that privatizing industry and taking advantage of workers and the environment are the true causes of these Earthly crises, SpaceX will inadvertently reproduce the same conditions that are destroying the Earth in space.
We need not engage in speculation informed by science-fiction to know this, either. History is full of examples of privatized, for-profit exploration and colonization that have caused more harm than good. For some of the clearest lessons, we can look to the colonization of what is now the United States, just a few hundred years ago.
This past autumn marked the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing on the shores of what is now Massachusetts. Stories of this ship and its Pilgrim passengers are familiar to many people who were educated in the American school system. As the common narrative goes, these Puritan settlers sought freedom from religious persecution in England, and thus set sail to the “New World.” The Mayflower arrived in North America, and finding the land beautiful and productive, the Pilgrims “fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven” for delivering them to safety and freedom.
Yet key details of this story were not emphasized in our elementary school educations, such as the motivations behind the actual owners of the Mayflower. The Pilgrims did not own the ship they sailed upon, nor could they have afforded the voyage on their own. They needed investors, and the financial backers of this journey were not religious separatists seeking freedom, but some of the modern world’s first international venture capitalists. They funded the Pilgrims in the hope that they could reap the rewards of a profitable colony in North America capable of yielding cheap goods for European markets: largely fish, timber, and furs. The Pilgrims who established a colony at Plymouth may have been seeking liberty, but the financiers who backed them hardly cared. They were just in it for the money, and there was a lot to be made.
There was also a lot of damage to be done. Within fifteen years of the Mayflower making landfall, epidemic disease had decimated the Indigenous population of New England. Wars and genocide followed, with Indigenous peoples being killed and enslaved across the continent, before largely being forced onto reservations which still experience shockingly poor conditions today.
All the while, the land of New England was gradually being divided into privately owned parcels of land in a process known as enclosure. When European colonists arrived in New England, they entered into a variety of agreements with Native peoples pertaining to land rights. European settlers often paid Indigenous tribes or leaders for the right to limited use of tribal land, but the colonists often interpreted these transactions as wholesale, permanent purchase of land. These lands which were often communally owned by the tribe and managed as a “commons” – land or resources collectively owned by a community – were slowly carved up into privately owned parcels over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.
This privatization of land ownership and the incorporation of colonial New England into a globalized market economy led to profound environmental destruction nearly immediately. Settlers cleared forests for timber and farmland, nearly deforesting much of New England by the early 20th century. Beaver and deer were all but exterminated in the region by the 19th century, hunted for their pelts which were sold for profit in European markets. As early as 1646, Portsmouth, Rhode Island established the first prohibitions on hunting deer out of season, recognizing that the species’ population was dwindling. All of this local extirpation and deforestation occurred within a few decades of European arrival in New England, while the Indigenous peoples of the region had hunted deer and beaver and managed their forests sustainably for millennia prior.
Exploitation of labor arose alongside this exploitation of nature. European settlers in 17th century New England exploited Indigenous hunters to acquire beaver furs, obtaining these pelts at little cost to themselves through the exchange of cheap cloth, metal trinkets, and shell beads. Merchants then in turn exploited these European settlers, paying only a small fraction of what these furs would be worth, and manufacturers back in Europe exploited their workers, paying them less than their labor was worth to produce products like fashionable felt hats for sale to the high-society aristocrats of the time.
This exploitation of nature and labor is not a bug, but a feature of privatized, for-profit capitalist ventures. It is inherent in a capitalist economic model, as history has shown time and again. If profit maximization for the benefit of investors and owners is the goal, as it was for the owners of the Mayflower and as it is for SpaceX, the necessary materials and labor must be cheaply obtained. If they are not cheap, earnings will suffer.
Colonization is a short-sighted solution to this problem. Colonialist companies and nations incorporate peripheral locations into their global economic system, where resources and labor can be cheaply obtained. The mercantile capitalism of the 17th century Atlantic world reflected this economic structure, with abundant timber, furs, and fish being obtained at low costs in New England and returned to European markets where they had greater value. Whether in the form of colonialist extraction of raw materials or the contemporary outsourcing of jobs, this search for cheap labor and resources is necessary for the perpetuation of capitalism, and remains the structuring force behind the global economy to this day.
This same outward expansion in search of cheap raw materials and labor is exactly what will end up driving the colonization of space. The Moon, Mars, and even asteroids may all become the peripheral, privatized, and exploited locations that permit corporations on Earth to profit. Similar to Indigenous understandings of certain land rights in precolonial New England, space is currently viewed as a global commons. This means that all people have rights to it and none should be able to claim exclusive rights over it. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prevents any nation from claiming territory in space, although the treaty is known to be vague concerning the power of corporations in space and will certainly be challenged legally in the coming years. The enclosure and privatization of space may therefore lead not only to the direct and immediate exploitation of the environment and of people, but may also lay the groundwork for long-term systems of exploitation and dispossession.
Elon Musk intends to colonize Mars as soon as possible. Thankfully, there is no potential for genocide of indigenous Martians as there was for Indigenous “Americans” and other Indigenous peoples around the world under European colonialism. Yet because the endeavor is privatized and operating under centuries-old colonialist mindsets, exploitation and destruction will assuredly manifest in other ways.
Mining and resource extraction is one avenue for profit, although Musk acknowledges that it is unclear if the natural resources on Mars could be extracted for the profit of companies on Earth. Even if the costs of transporting raw materials back to Earth are too great, natural resources extracted in space could be manufactured in space and shipped to Earth. Colonization of Mars may therefore differ slightly from cases of colonization on Earth, but the fundamental exploitative relationship remains.
Plus, there are other ways to profit besides the extraction of raw materials. Space tourism by wealthy thrill-seekers is poised to be a cash cow for companies, and a relatively autonomous SpaceX colony on Mars could also have a potentially great degree of freedom to profit from all sorts of business ventures, especially if they are legally independent of the United States government as has been hinted. Musk has also alluded to other “extraordinary entrepreneurial opportunity” on Mars, ranging from manufacturing to restaurants to tourism. However, it remains to be seen just how the financing, ownership, and taxation of these enterprises will be handled in what may be a semi-autonomous colony. In the case of English colonists arriving in North America, it was often the case that the company financing the colony claimed ownership over all property and all economic products of the settlers for a set number of years. Any colonists on a settled Mars will certainly be exploited as well, in one form or another, for the profit of shareholders and company executives. More than a colony of Earth, Mars may become a colony of SpaceX, and this is a troubling thought.
Resisting exploitation is exceedingly difficult in a privately funded, owned, and operated colony because such a colony is, by its very nature, undemocratic. Private companies like SpaceX are not democracies. CEOs are not elected representatives of the employees and business decisions are not voted upon by all workers. Thus, with a corporation calling the shots, settlers on Mars may have disturbingly little input in decision-making processes concerning their businesses and lives.
Fundamentally, the privatization of space exploration is not the beneficial solution that many think it is. It will simply result in a continuation of the colonial exploitation of nature and people as our capitalist global economy transcends our own atmosphere. Exploitation is an inherent part of such for-profit ventures in a capitalist system, and this will carry over into space. Privatized exploration of our solar system will be biased towards profitable ventures instead of those with public benefits and will certainly have numerous detrimental environmental impacts.
As private corporations begin to stake claims and enclose the commons of space, the rest of us lose our rights to it. We must avoid this outcome at all costs. Studying the repercussions of historical and contemporary colonialism on Earth permits us to engage with questions of space exploration from a decolonial and democratic perspective. Space cannot be privatized or exploited for profit, but must remain a commons for the benefit of all humanity.
Every year billions of public dollars and assets flow into the hands of private businesses like charter schools, leaving public schools, the economy, the public interest, and the nation worse off. This is due to the fact that competing owners of capital are using deregulated charter schools to atomize the socialized economy for private gain. As pay-the-rich schemes, privately-operated charter schools drain the large-scale socialized economy of a huge amount of social wealth produced by working people and meant for the public interest.
When public funds leave the public sector and end up in the hands of deregulated private entities like non-profit and for-profit charter schools, that means narrow private interests are benefitting at the expense of the public. It means less added-value is used by and benefits the public. It means all public wealth is not reinvested fully and directly back into the public sector. Instead, a large portion of social wealth produced by workers is illegitimately claimed by external private claimants whose aim is to maximize profit as fast as possible.1 This distorts the economy and undermines public schools and the public interest. It is a net loss for society. It is socially irresponsible. Funneling public funds to private interests undermines modern nation-building that relies on a diverse, self-reliant, balanced, and pro-social economy under public control.
It may be asked: Why don’t public funds stay in public hands? Why aren’t public funds used for public enterprises and for public purposes only? Why do public funds have to go through the private circuit and still leave society with poor results? Why are narrow private interests even permitted to access public funds in the first place? Why do so many social programs and public enterprises have a pay-the-rich component to them? What legitimate claim do owners of capital have to wealth produced by workers?
Public and private are antonyms and should not be confounded. Public is the opposite of private. They do not mean the same thing. They should not be casually mixed up and used in intellectually lazy ways. It is problematic to mix them up because it denies the distinct properties of each category. There is a world of difference between the common good and exclusive private interests. What is good for major owners of capital is not good for the general interests of society. The aim of maximizing profit as fast as possible clashes head-on with the aim of serving the common good. These aims cannot be harmonized because one negates the other. Pursuing one comes at the expense of the other. There is no middle-ground or “safe mixing” of the two. Blurring the contrast between public and private is self-serving and invariably results in antisocial consequences. This is why so-called “public-private-partnerships” (PPPs), for example, are really pay-the-rich schemes that undermine the public interest instead of advancing it. There is little that is public about PPPs. The public does not need private “partners” to serve the economy and society; private “partners” are a big drain on both.
Public funds for public schools must not flow into the hands of narrow private interests; this does not solve anything, it just destabilizes education and the economy. Now more than ever public schools need more public funds and greater investments. This is especially true given that at least $600 billion has been cut from public education since the 2008 recession.
Public schools have been educating 90% of America’s youth for more than 150 years and must be fully funded, not continually starved of funds, over-tested, over-controlled, set up to fail, demonized and discredited, and then handed over to narrow private interests as a source of profit in a continually failing economy. Deliberately and persistently starving public schools of funds, over-testing them, demonizing and punishing them, and then letting neoliberals and privatizers privatize them only serves the rich and garbles the economy. It does not improve schools. It leaves the majority worse off.
The “starve-them, test-them, demonize-punish-them, and privatize-them” strategy is straight out of the neoliberal playbook and has been used in dozens of cities across America. It is a deliberate setup for failure. Neoliberals and privatizers are now directly responsible for thousands of failing charter schools and for mandating public school failure. Society is now stuck with two failing education arrangements thanks to neoliberals and privatizers. How is this helpful? Instead of solving anything, neoliberals and privatizers have made a mess of everything and humiliated the personality of society. An August 6, 2020 article from the Washington Post titled “New report finds high closure rates for charter schools over time” reported that:
A comprehensive examination released Thursday of charter school failure rates between 1999 and 2017 found that more than one-quarter of the schools closed after operating for five years, and about half closed after 15 years, displacing a total of more than 867,000 students.
How is this a good thing? In what sense can this chaos and instability be called a success? Is this what students, teachers, parents, the economy, and society need? Is this what charter school promoters mean by “success”? Over the past 30 years more than 3,000 segregated charter schools have closed, usually for financial malfeasance and/or poor academic performance. This is staggering when considering the fact that there are currently fewer than 7,500 privately-operated charter schools in the country. Charter school promoters are consistently silent on these damning and indicting facts.
Wealth is produced by workers who must have first claim to it. Wealth is not created by owners of capital. Owners of capital mainly control the wealth produced by workers. Workers do not control the wealth they themselves produce; they are alienated from the fruits of their labor, which means that the social product cannot be used to serve the general interests of society.
The state must be organized to advance the public interest using the social wealth produced by working people. Instead, the state is increasingly being used to pay the rich using the wealth produced collectively by working people. When the state prioritizes narrow private interests over the public interest in this way the socialized economy, workers, and nation-building suffer. The ability to reproduce the economy on a healthy sustainable basis is undermined. It means socially-produced wealth cannot be used to develop a diverse, self-reliant, and balanced economy that upholds the rights of all and provides a crisis-free life. This puts the future in peril.
The egocentric rich are only interested in expanding their class power and privilege, not the public interest, the socialized economy, or nation-building. Their objective position in the economy makes them blind to anything other than their private unlimited greed. They see the world only from their narrow business-centric perspective. The antisocial consequences that result from their seizure of social wealth for private gain does not concern them. This wrecking of society and the economy is presented as a “natural” and “normal” feature of a dog-eat-dog world that we are all apparently helpless to overcome.
Great strides can be made by blocking neoliberals and privatizers and by advancing a pro-social agenda that recognizes the need for new human-centered relations in society and the economy. Pay-the-rich schemes are socially irresponsible and make life worse for everyone except the rich. Enlarging the private fortunes of owners of capital at the expense of the entire society must be opposed in order to open the path of progress to society and strengthen and balance the socialized economy. There are much better ways to organize people, the economy, and society.
Socially-produced wealth must be plowed back into public schools and public enterprises, not handed over to private interests to do with as they please. If private businesses like segregated charter schools wish to exist and multiply, that is OK, but they must not have access to a single public dime, asset, or resource. Public funds and assets belong to the public and public enterprises. There is nothing public about charter schools.
Owners of capital must not be permitted to cannibalize the state for their narrow private interests. Education is not a commodity or “market opportunity” for “investors,” it is a public good, a social responsibility, and basic right that must be provided with a guarantee in practice.
This is true for both non-profit and for-profit charter schools.
Recent news articles claim that Arizona is a “leader in innovation” when it comes to private businesses like charter schools. Arizona is said to be amazing because it is ensuring “freedom” for parents to “choose” from an exciting array of charter schools to send their kids to, and this is all thanks to a legal environment that strongly supports deregulated charter schools. This is another way of saying that there is little accountability and oversight of charter schools in Arizona and that charter schools can generally operate with impunity. Charter school promoters call this “a friendly regulatory environment.”
It is worth observing that Arizona’s charter schools, much like charter schools elsewhere, are rife with fraud and corruption. In fact, some of the most egregious forms of corruption come from Arizona. Further, in the recent period privately-operated charter schools in Arizona have seized about $100 million in PPP funds from the CARES Act. These funds are not available to public schools because public schools are not private businesses.
In 2017, the ACLU slammed hundreds of charter schools in Arizona for practicing discriminatory enrollment practices even though charter schools are ostensibly “public” and supposedly “open to all students.”And like other privately-operated charter schools across the country, Arizona’s charter schools spend more on administration than teaching and learning.
In 2019, an Arizona news station reported that, “More than 100 charter schools in Arizona are in danger of closing, due to financial mismanagement, declining enrollment, and mounting debt.”
In 2020, charter school researcher Jeff Bryant had this to say about the high failure and closure rate of privately-operated charter schools:
Parents who live in Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and Michigan should be especially wary. At the ten-year mark, charter school failure rates in Wisconsin were at 55 percent; in Arizona, 48 percent; in Florida, 42 percent; and in Michigan, 41 percent. Three of those states—Wisconsin, Arizona, and Florida—are joined by Ohio at the top of charter closures at the five-year mark.
The severe harm caused to public schools and the public interest by charter schools and vouchers in Arizona is also laid out in Curtis J. Cardine’s 2018 book titled Carpetbagging America’s Public Schools: The Radical Reconstruction of Public Education. What makes this book about the horrors of “free market” education arrangements interesting is that Cardine used to work in and support charter schools but quickly realized how unethical and corrupt such schools are.
Sadly, the problems with Arizona’s charter schools could fill several pages. So much for replacing “failing” public schools with the silver bullet of deregulated and segregated charter schools. Society is now stuck with two failing education arrangements—both engendered by neoliberals and privatizers.
Promoters of privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools have long duped many people by hiding their pay-the-rich schemes behind words like “innovation,” “freedom,” “accountability,” and “choice.” Such language is meant to appeal to those who investigate nothing, casually reject research, and blindly accept what someone else tells them. Such individuals question nothing and “just go along” with everything. It is textbook anticonsciousness which blocks people from recognizing that “innovation,” “choice,” “parental power,” and “accountability” are worn-out code words for more neoliberal wrecking. Treating parents and students as consumers and school shoppers is retrogressive, not progressive.
Charter school promoters have also relentlessly promoted the antisocial narrative that the situation in education is “urgent” and “we must do something” when it comes to “failing” public schools. We simply “must do something!” scream charter school promoters and privatizers. It does not matter what we do, even if it means going from bad to worse, we just “must do something.” “The faster the better.” We shouldn’t even “waste time thinking things through.” “We need something different now!” A great sense of false desperation is cultivated in order to act in the most pragmatic and destructive fashion. All of this violent disinformation is designed to cover up the nefarious role of neoliberals in setting public schools up for failure and then privatizing them by creating charter schools which fail and close every day. None of this benefits the public.
School privatization is not “innovation” or “freedom;” it is a straightforward mechanism for owners of capital to seize public funds through restructured state arrangements. It is state-organized corruption to pay the rich under the banner of high ideals. It is not something else, nor can it be prettified. Charter schools are segregated, governed by unelected individuals, have high teacher turnover rates, over-pay administrators, close frequently, lack transparency, engage in embezzlement, and have nothing to do with improving schools or “serving kids” who have “fallen through the cracks.”
Privatization, whether in the sphere of healthcare, education, transportation, infrastructure, or prisons, leads to more waste, inefficiency, and corruption. It also increases costs and lowers the quality of services while enriching a handful of people. Privatization has nothing to do with improving services and programs needed by the public.
Privatization distorts the economy, increases inequality, and further marginalizes the polity. It puts more power in the hands of narrow private interests. It is a step in the wrong direction and means more suffering and humiliation for the public.
“Authorized Carpetbagging,” to use an apt phrase from Cardine’s book, makes things worse, not better. A more precise rendering of this phrase is state-authorized carpetbagging. Public schools do not need to be looted, demonized, or privatized, they need to be fully-funded and placed under public control worthy of the name. They must be free of the influence of narrow private interests.
About 213,000 Arizona students are enrolled in roughly 550 privately-operated charter schools.
Imagine this scenario if you will… You are the head of a small family of 5 people, including your 3 children, you live in a small street in an average house, and drive 2 average Ford or Chevy cars. You have a normal mortgage, credit card bills, which you manage to keep on top of, just about, as both adults work in average jobs.
In this make-believe situation, one of your children, when you return home from work, reveals that they have run up a $5 million gambling debt. What is worse is that the debt is with Mr Big, the local gangster who will not send letters, but send around the heavies to kick you out of your home, take your cars and anything of value, if you don’t pay up.
In despair you go to see your best friend, who lives 2 doors down the street. To your utter dismay you discover that your slightly richer friend has been thrown under the bus by their kids, for an even more ridiculous gambling debt. Both of you sit down on the lawn and cry your eyes out, in frustration and anger that there is nothing you can do – except run away, make a violent last stand or wait for Mr Big and his goons to evict you!
Clearly this is a ridiculous scenario that is extremely unlikely in real life, except that it is a perfect metaphor for what your national government has done to your country. With the exception of a handful of countries, the same thing has happened all over the world. Governments, like the kids, have gambled the nation’s tax revenue and lost – running up debts that are so gigantic that they can never be repaid.
The level of national debt across the world was catastrophic before the 2008 crash, which resulted in more corporate debt being mopped up by governments (at the expense of tax payers, of course). So here we are again in the same situation as 2007 – Mr Big has temporarily gone away with an interim payment, but is absolutely guaranteed to return, looking for the rest of his money – knee-caps could be lost.
Sadly, most countries in the world are technically bankrupt as they owe so much money that not only can they never repay the principal loan, but they are struggling just to maintain the interest payments, while still increasing their borrowing on an ongoing basis.
If your teenage kid behaved like this they would be grounded, given a stern lecture on financial accountability and banned from access to finance until they had grown up a bit. Unfortunately, the public of the country you live is not a parent and has little or no control over the wayward behaviour of its government. To make matters worse, everyone is at it, pretty much every major government and economy is over-leveraged and just hanging on until the moment of reckoning.
As with irresponsible teenagers that expect parents to step in and clear up their mess, the governments of the world will not want to take responsibility for the imminent financial crash caused by this tsunami of debt, trillions of which is reaching maturity (pay back time). Once again, if the debt cannot be kicked down the road and deferred for another few years, it is the public (like dismayed parents) that will foot the bill.
We will foot the bill in higher taxes, loss or reduction of government services, loss of jobs, collapse of small businesses and property repossessions. To make matters worse, once again the governments will probably look to bail out the ‘too big to fail’ corporations, once more paid for by the tax payer. Once stabilised, the corporate sector will be able to mop up the casualties – a plethora of cheap domestic and commercial property, land, undervalued businesses etc.
This is exactly what happened in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. This time it is going to be much, much worse as the fundamentals are worse than they were then. While Wall Street appears strong, Main Street and the real-world fabric of society is far weaker now than back in 2008.
So what happens when it hits? Will it be so bad that the whole crazy system will collapse – ushering in the Great Reset, or will we have a nastier repeat of 2008? At this point in time it’s hard to say, but either way it is bad news for individuals who have any significant debt and/or an insecure job. Ask yourself – are you okay with getting ripped off by your government yet again? Are you okay with vulture funds buying up your street, your local businesses, your town, all for half-nothing?
This is not just a horrific tsunami that is going to hit, it is a process of depriving the public of its wealth and further enriching the top tier of society. This is, in truth, a rinse and repeat process that happened not just in 2008, but in 1989, 1973, 1929 and beyond. Are you okay with that? Or is it time we just refused to cooperate?