Heather-jane Robertson: The Many Faces of Privatization

Heather-jane Robertson: The Many Faces of Privatization
Public Education: Not for Sale II
February 18, 2005, Vancouver, B.C.

There are times that I worry that privatization conferences are starting to feel a bit like high school reunions. Nostalgia events: familiar issues, familiar people, but with more wrinkles, and not just on our faces. We are facing wrinkles in the whole issue of privatization, especially privatization and education – and we have not yet discovered the ‘political botox’ to make them disappear.

Since Maude and I wrote Class Warfare in 1994– a book that predicted many of the struggles we’re experiencing - some things have unfolded pretty well as we imagined, and others haven’t. (We Told You So! may be the next book.)

Ironically, some kinds of privatization have spread more quickly than we imagined, but on the whole, the privatization of education has had to be ‘rebranded’ to slip through under the radar. Privatization has had to go underground because it turns out that Canadians feel quite passionately about public education – especially the ‘public’ part – at least they do in theory. Unfortunately, privatization has adapted to a hostile environment, and figured out how to mutate. It’s been able to exploit several depressing and converging trends: a culture of consumerism and superficiality, drastic spending cuts, general anxiety about the future – but privatization has also been able to capitalize on some good things – people’s deep attachment to children (at least, to their own children, if not other people’s) and the recognition that, in a difficult world, education matters more than ever.

I will talk here about the many faces and deceptions of privatization and, most importantly, how we strengthen our resistance to its impact. CityTV just asked me, in the hallway, ‘So, exactly what is privatization anyway?’ Well, my old Webster’s dictionary links privatization to commercialization, which it then defines as something done mainly for gain or profit. But it also says that commercialism means ‘practicing the spirit of commerce.’ In other words, privatization means becoming part of the market, but it also means acting like the market, or thinking like the market.

Much as we personify markets –(You hear business reporters ask ‘what is the market thinking? What will the market do?’ And they’re full of sympathy: ‘Oh, the market had a bad day. Will it be happier if we cut taxes?’ Cut interest rates? or maybe raise them? Maybe sacrifice a fatted cow? Or kill Kyoto? Kill ourselves? The most revealing line about the positioning of commerce in our culture is ‘the market is always right.’) No wonder Thomas Frank called his book on propaganda One Market Under God. He argues that when the market gets turned into a belief system, instead of a mechanism, by default we accept one of two false ideas: either that when everyone takes care of themselves, it adds up to everyone taking care of each other, or else that the quality of your life doesn’t affect mine. I’m ok, you’re irrelevant. We can see the fallacy of these ideas in relationship to the environment, of course – actually, your SUV addiction does affect the quality of my life - but these premises are equally fallacious applied to anything that is part of the commons: security, health, water, schools.

Applying the logic of the market to anything of shared importance merely guarantees that it will not be shared equally. Yet the privatization of other areas of ‘the commons’ can’t proceed unless this truth is disguised, which is why education is such a vital link in the privatization chain. Public education is a target for all kinds of privatization – not just as a component of the competitive marketplace, but especially as the place where the ‘spirit’ of the market can be taught. Or, she adds hopefully, where it can be challenged.

Within this context, I want to talk about four kinds of privatization. Privatization by design – intentional, purposeful, sometimes ideological, often greedy. Privatization by stealth – sneaky forms of privatization that call themselves something else, and hope that you won’t recognize them underneath the disguise. Third, privatization by default, the result of a real or perceived weakness in the public system. And, finally, privatization from the inside out, the kind that happens when privatization looks like the solution, not the problem. This kind is looking for mind share, not just market share.

So, first, privatization by design – the intentional, concerted effort to undermine public education, either to chip away at the system or gobble up large parts of it whole. Its main players fall into three camps. The ideologues, who believe that everything public is mediocre, wasteful, intrusive, and offends the freedom of individuals to do whatever they damn well please. Because they believe that private is always better than public, the evidence be damned, ideologues of this type don’t stop at public education – which they call government-run schools. This crowd also likes private health care, private pension schemes, the abolition of unions, small and ineffectual governments, low taxes and so forth. Privatization as the solution to everything is a pretty uncomplicated world view, well summed up by the old slogan of the Fraser Institute: “Private sector solutions to public policy problems.” One size fits all.

But it isn’t just ideologues. The private-by-design crowd also includes folks who just want to get rich - privateers. They may not have a sophisticated understanding of public policy, but they know a business opportunity when they see one. To them, every dollar not spent in a public school could be spent on a private school, or service, or other business opportunity, with a tidy profit going into their pockets. A weakened public education system is just a good climate for business, one that an outfit like Sylvan Learning Systems can exploit. Sylvan has become quite adroit at marketing to unhappy parents, even leasing empty classrooms in some Alberta schools to get closer to their customers. Their goal is the ‘normalization’ of for-profit tutoring as part of a full education diet. Some privateers are part of a consortium of developers rubbing their hands together at the prospect of P3 schools in British Columbia. The privateers see almost endless possibilities in the education market: tests, textbooks, teacher testing, childcare, teacher training, distance education, virtual schools, language schools, private universities. They are dizzy with excitement, and never cease to remind us that education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. To quote Industry Canada’s deathless prose, the education market isn’t just for the good times. It’s actually ‘counter-cyclical’: the worse times are, the more people will pay for an education.

Sometimes privateering is subtle, but sometimes it is really obvious. In Wisconsin, one of the states that has had a voucher system for 10 years, confidence in the whole privatization thing was shaken – well, really only wobbled, - when one of the private voucher schools, ‘Alex’s Academy of Excellence’, turned out to be run by a convicted rapist. That would be Alex, I guess. Nearby, the ‘Mandella Academy for Science and Math’ collected $330 thousand in state funds for 200 students who never showed up. The principal and vice-principal were last seen driving new Mercedes out of town. The state governor has refused to bow to pressure to require felony background checks on voucher school staff, although, of course, these are required in public schools.

But for others in the private-by-design camp, motivation comes neither from ideology nor greed, but from theology. Sincere – although, in my opinion, misguided – individuals, congregations, lobbies, and so forth – see public education as a tool of Satan, and see public schools as dens of iniquity that are value-less, at best, and at worst, a threat to individual (i.e. private) salvation. (It seems to me that fundamentalism is a very privatized version of religion. It’s all about my salvation, my personal relationship with the deity, my god. And after all, if you are among the select entitled to get into the gated community called heaven, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that you’re entitled to your own schools. But I digress.)

As I’m sure you realize, the influence of what is often called the Religious Right is no longer marginal in the United States, and its influence here is like a dark cloud on the horizon. When its agenda is getting George W. Bush elected, or getting same-sex marriage rejected, the Religious Right cut their political teeth on public education in ways that aren’t often recognized, including fuelling the debate on phonics vs. whole language instruction, charter schools and voucher schools. Their loyalty to George Bush has been rewarded, and will yet be rewarded, in significant ways including entrenching government funding of religion-based social services, ‘abstinence’ education, a likely reversal of Roe v. Wade, re-instituting prayer in schools, challenges to any science curriculum that isn’t religion-based, and so forth. George W. Bush’s Education czar in his first term, Rod Paige, often said that if he had his way, every American child would be in a private school. And it isn’t just Republicans: the education legislation that entrenches privatization, called No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was endorsed by John Kerry as well as President Bush. Education Secretary Paige had taken the position that with respect to No Child Left Behind, ‘you’re either with us or against us. He also referred to the NEA as a terrorist organization. Ultra right-wing thinktanks– sorry, perhaps we should now call them American mainstream thinktanks– such as The Reason Foundation are delighted with NCLB, because of the direct benefits they deliver to private charter and voucher schools, the testing industry, and technology corporations.

It’s the linkages here that are interesting. Because of the religious right’s tireless, well-organized and well-funded lobbying efforts, the religious lobby is often used as the mouthpiece for both ideologues and privateers, who are content to stay in the background and reap the profits of privatization. This conservative alliance – ideologues, privateers and ‘theologues’, an alliance that Maude and I actually predicted in 1994 – has shown that it can co-operate very effectively on political issues. Their success raises the question of whether we have done our work in creating a sufficiently effective ‘progressive alliance’ that can turn back their influence, whether the issue at stake is public education or energy policy or same-sex marriage.

Because the conservative alliance has pushed all governments, whether or not their political ideology is explicitly pro-privatization, to shrink government, to reduce spending in ways that generate the most political gain at the lowest political cost. Education is an attractive target because of its relative size in provincial budgets and because quite a lot of privatization can be accomplished through stealth. Yet, with very few exceptions, in the last decade no party has campaigned on how great it would be to privatize schools. In fact, politicians who, despite their words, have a certain ‘eau de privatization’ about them have been defeated. And that’s a good thing. But I’m not so sure that education has been the deciding issue in many elections, which helps explain how all governments face temptations to target education.

Still, public opinion has not driven any of the education trends of the last decade. There has been no massive outcry to make class sizes larger, hallways dirtier, to increase the dropout rate, or to shorten the school week, or to drive out good teachers. Governments weigh the political gains and the losses not just in terms of public opinion, but the intensity of public opinion. We’ve done some good work on maintaining the regard the public has for our schools, and some good work mobilizing people to resist cuts. But I’m not always convinced that we’ve developed a public appetite for better schools, a keen sense of what a great public education system should look like 10 years from now. We’ve drawn and defended some lines, but we haven’t provided much of an alternative vision, something that governments can use and sell to reap political rewards. This leaves politicians vulnerable to seek their political incentives elsewhere – from the conservative alliance, for example. We rarely deliver praise when governments do the right thing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m no apologist for any provincial government, and there’s much to hold every one of them accountable for - but if we want public by design, not private by design, we have to incorporate vision and reward as well as critique and punishment into our strategies.

So, from privatization by design to privatization by stealth. Earlier I said that privatization includes being part of the market, acting like the market and/or thinking like the market. Privatization by stealth, to me, is part of acting like the market. The core characteristic of markets is competition, competition to gain the most for the least. Picking a stock to go up or picking slave labour to manufacture your product – the same principal is at stake: the most for the least. In today’s jargon, this is called ‘productivity’ – a focus on outcomes. To be productive, you invest in winners and get rid of losers – closing a Walmart in Jonquiere follows the same, inexorable gravity of the market as closing 131 schools in British Columbia.

Business management books will tell you that to succeed, modern business has to measure more, increase standardization and enforce ‘quality control,’ especially of the workforce. In education, professional accountability, which should mean taking responsibility for decisions informed by professional judgement, has become an exercise in proving that you are doing what you are told to do. There is no professionalism where there are no alternatives. The centralization of curricula, the standardization of evaluation and reporting, efforts to enforce teacher quality control through pre-service or in-service certification and the general loss of teacher autonomy are predictable results of treating education as a market.

School choice, after all, is a business model. Businesses within all sectors are expected to find their niche, distinguish themselves from the competition and demonstrate their superiority within that niche. Now, as I see it, whole segments of the public education system have been busy demonstrating that they can act like the market, even though they’re ostensibly public. They must be really good because they’ve taken on the core characteristics of the private system - in effect, they have become private below the radar.

Indeed, public schools increasingly compete with each other for students, having decided that they will create ‘boutique’ schools to appeal to ‘niche markets’ , including French Immersion, International Baccalaureate schools and pre-professional magnet schools. Schools and systems compete with each other for enrolment, for partnerships with corporations, for foreign students, in fundraising, and, of course, in student achievement. Here the most important marketing tool is standardized testing, of course. I am resisting the temptation to launch into another speech, called 27 ways standardized testing leads to privatization, but if you want to stay another couple of hours I’d be happy to give it. NO? OK. I’ll skip to the conclusion. Standardized testing forces both private and public schools to value some kinds of students – some kinds of customers – more than others. The kids who are the easiest to teach, who perform well on tests, whose parents are really involved, who don’t have any special needs – well, maybe they’re allowed to be gifted – these kids on the A-team become highly desirable because they make a big contribution to the school’s bottom line – test scores.

The kids who need school the most, the ones who will never make the A-list, will always be considered liabilities. They drive down the school’s scores, and thus drive away new customers into a downward business spiral. Inevitably, the distance increases between what are seen as ‘good’ schools and ‘bad’ schools within the system…the quality of teachers follows. (Now, this tendency can be reinforced, as it is has been in many American states, where schools, principals and individual teachers are rewarded and paid based on the school’s test scores. Schools performing poorly, which are predictably teaching the neediest kids, are penalized financially – fined, in essence – while the schools doing well get extra funding and their teachers and principals get big bonuses. After all, isn’t this how the market works?) No, we aren’t there yet. But think about the laws of market gravity, and what’s just a little further downstream. Just because something is unthinkable doesn’t necessarily make it unlikely

Other kinds of privatization by stealth include ‘partnerships,’ On this subject, I thought that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s comments to the Gomery Inquiry were quite perfect. He was asked exactly when ‘sponsorships’ were introduced. He scratched his head, and said that he wasn’t sure, because the same stuff used to be called advertising, but then when corporations wanted to attach their name to a place or an event, they started calling it a sponsorship. “I guess they thought it sounded better,” he said. Bien sur, Jean. Corporations like ‘soft advertising,’ and associations with children and schools are warm and fuzzy, slip under the radar, and provide great social marketing opportunities. And, don’t forget, a tax write-off. The duplicity is absolutely astounding. One arm of the corporation sits around with the big guys at the Council of Chief Executive Officers – what used to be the Business Council on National Issues – demanding corporate tax cuts, more privatization and lower standards of public services – while the other arm, the ‘philanthropic one,’ tries to launder its image through partnerships with schools. Walmart is a great example of playing both sides of the street, but they’re not alone. I note that Bill Gates personally contributed $300 thousand to try to get a charter schools initiative approved by referendum in Washington State, along with donations from The Gap and Walmart. Just good friends of public education, right?

One of the aspects of this dynamic that interests me most is how frequently schools adopt the language, values and practices of their corporate partners, and the nature of the unconsciousness this requires. The examples go on for ever – the school principal who told me that he no longer viewed his ‘partner,’ IBM, as a corporation, but as a member of the family. The principal who handed out ‘free’ coke T-shirts to the kindergarten class because he wanted them to believe that they were ‘The Real Thing.’ The teacher who told me proudly that the culture of his school had changed, that now his school had a business plan, and they had dropped the education words from their vocabulary in favour of business books, which they were all reading for professional development.

Privatization by stealth? Parent fund-raising, and teachers paying for supplies out of their pockets. I really think we should stop calling it fund-raising, and name the problem for what it is. We could call the money kids and parents ‘donate’ user fees. Tolls or a head tax, maybe. Deterrent fees? Or, better yet, we could refer to this as the B3 funding model: begging, bingos and bottle drives.

This leads me to the next type of privatization – privatization by default, or maybe it should be called privatization by denial. Privatization by default happens when circumstances converge to weaken public education to the point that it can no longer live up to its goals, or is perceived as no longer valuable. Here privatization succeeds not on its own merits, but because public education is seen as a failed experiment.

Here, again, I think the parallel with Health Care is really useful. Those in favour of privatized health care no longer condemn Medicare per se, they just say mournfully that it isn’t working, and therefore there is no choice but to allow more room for private health care. Sound familiar? There’s a telling indicator of how successful this approach has been. When pollsters ask the public about the general state of health care, respondents typically answer that it’s in really bad shape, people are routinely dying for lack of care, or lack of hospital space, or necessary tests.

However, when asked about their own experience with the system, the same people report that they received rather prompt and very caring, competent care. They explain the discrepancy by saying that they were just lucky. The marketing message that ‘Medicare is failing’ has trumped people’s own experience with the system. Well, the same is true in education. People who have direct experience with schools rate their quality much higher than those who are far away from a real school. But like people who just had a hip replacement, parents who have had more than a decade of experience with good schools still think they ‘just got lucky.’

Directly discrediting public education, in the way that The National Post and The Economic Council of Canada and several premiers – oh, and of course, the Fraser Institute - did in the 1990’s has fallen out of favour in most circles – it’s become more subtle. But no less intentional. After a recent national public opinion poll on education, Helen Raham – a name well known to you, of course – was asked by the National Post to explain why parents in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were substantially more positive about school quality than respondents in the rest of the country. Well, she said, that’s because The Fraser Institute hasn’t got around to ranking schools in those provinces yet. Very interesting, and very revealing. Obviously, despite what the Fraser says, the purpose of ranking schools isn’t to provide the public with ‘information’ – it is to encourage hositility, to build dissatisfaction and to defame public education.

Because it really doesn’t matter how much the public loves the idea of public education in theory, if Canadians believe that schools have deteriorated to the point that they can’t be fixed, we will have privatization by default. Unfortunately, it is easier to make schools worse than to make them better. Cutting funding is the fastest way, of course, because the quality of our system depends in large part on having the resources to make schools effective. On the other hand, the same thing can be accomplished by simply redefining what schools are supposed to be doing, measuring them against unattainable goals. (Here, the American NCLB act is a good example. It requires every school to demonstrate progress towards perfection – unless every single child demonstrates proficiency on every single indicator by the year 2014, the school can be put into ‘educational receivership’ – in effect, turned over to the private sector. By this standard, some states now report that 80% of their schools are failing and thus fodder for privatization.)

There are so many ways for schools to fail, by setting unreasonable expectations, or contradictory ones. Schools can be seen as failures if they are held responsible for keeping struggling kids in school, but not given the flexibility to modify curricula to meet their needs. Or they can be seen as failures if obesity rates are too high, if graduation rates are either too high or too low, if they allow a lippy kid to disrespect the Governor General or if they punish him for doing it.

But there’s another source of privatization by default that is even more difficult to address. I was web-searching Sylvan, looking for a good, critical corporate profile (which I didn’t find, but Sylvan stocks are down, you’ll be happy to know) when I ran across this article in Today’s Parent – not a hotbed of ideology, I should add, just a nice Canadian magazine. In an article about tutoring, there’s an interview with a BC parent who has enrolled all three of his (high-achieving) children in Sylvan programs. According to the article, ‘Spiro’ – the dad – says that he has no problem paying $300 a month to Sylvan if it means that his 3-year-old will do better than the other kids. “It’s very competitive out there,” he says, “I think if children start at an early age, they get accustomed to a certain stress level. They develop good routines…and that gives them an edge over their peers.” Spiro will see public education as a failure so long as it resists the idea that stress is a desirable part of life for 3-year-olds. Can public education make this parent happy without selling its soul?

So, do we have a problem with saboteurs, a quality problem, or a public relations problem? Or are schools just out of touch with the ‘privatized’ values of their communities? I think, frankly, it’s some of each. I think that we’re naïve if we expect the good work of schools to speak for itself, or to expect the corporate media to shower attention on us for our accomplishments. We do far too little to boast about our successes. Let me give you just one example. Not only have our results on international tests been quite remarkable (Canada rates 3rd or 4th in math, science and reading, routinely), despite the incredible diversity of our system and the kids in it, we register one of the smallest gaps between the typical performance of low-income students and high-income students.

One province registered the smallest gap among all OECD jurisdictions tested.
A couple of years ago, I crunched some numbers provided by StatsCan to find that according to five separate measures of the link between socioeconomic status and math scores, it appeared that in Saskatchewan, family income no longer showed any statistically significant impact on math performance by 15-year-olds. This is an absolutely astonishing finding. But Saskatchewan’s teachers and administrators didn’t trumpet the results – although I did find my article read into Hansard by the Minister of Education of the day. Right across the country, our ‘equity gap’ is remarkably slight compared to that of the US, and smaller than most of the few countries for which average achievement scores are marginally higher. Nor have we made much of the findings of Douglas Willms, who also crunched the numbers to conclude that in Canada, once income is accounted for, private school students do not out-perform public school students. This too is a remarkable accomplishment, given the ‘boutique’ nature of most private schools.

At the same time, I also believe that we do have problems of quality. I continue to think that our schools are doing remarkably well, under the circumstances, but regrettably, the examples of success I just gave rely on measuring a very narrow band of what public education is all about – and I even have questions about the validity and reliability of these tests. This is a dilemma – do we use the results of something that is flawed and possibly destructive to claim that we’re doing a good job? Or do we condemn the tests and the agenda that they represent? To a large degree, we haven’t resolved this issue, so we’re just mumbling instead.

And too often we mumble quietly about other problems. When I think back to the leadership shown by teachers in criticizing their own system, and the reforms these criticisms produced, I often wonder how the profession has been silenced, or silenced itself. There is some systemic criticism of education by teachers, of course, but today it tends to be criticism of others, of imposition, of limits, of cuts. Of course these are warranted, but – and I speak as an outsider, of course – the sense that the profession is constantly revising its own vision for public education and the contribution it can make to this vision is missing from the landscape.

This makes us vulnerable to the fourth kind of privatization – privatization from the inside out. Because privatization isn’t just about market share, it is about mind share too.

Mindshare isn’t just about products, it’s about ideas. As Thomas Frank wrote in One Market Under God, the role of corporate propaganda is to impair our ability to think, to render us superficial and unconcerned with what is taking place around us. The role of corporate propaganda is to protect corporations from democracy. This reminds me of a recent poll reported the other day by CNN, which asked 10,000 high school students what they thought of the First Amendment to the American constitution – the one that is intended to guarantee freedom of religion, speech, of the press and of assembly. When shown the actual wording, a full third of American high school seniors thought that the First Amendment went 'too far.' Way too liberal. Less than half these students thought that newspapers should be allowed to publish material not approved by the government. The phrase “You’re either with us or against us” comes to mind.

Other presentations and workshops this weekend will talk a lot about marketing to children, sometimes through schools, and its impact on our students – one of the best examples of chasing mindshare and marketshare simultaneously. But when I was doing the research for No More Teachers, No More Books, I kept running into anomalies I couldn’t blame entirely on marketers and privateers. Like the guy who wrote a math textbook that was full of products – dividing Oreo cookies, or multiplying the day’s profits at Walmart. The author pointed out that he didn’t receive a cent for all the publicity he was giving these corporations – he just wanted to give kids examples they could relate to. One of the schools my children attended launched a whole-school project on ‘just-say-no-to-drugs’ that was - wait for it – designed and sold by the Church of Scientology, which described their product as a key recruitment vehicle. No teacher, no parent – other than me – expressed any concerns at the time. Then I think of the young man who called in to a talk show I was doing about commercialism in the classroom, and he said “Well, miss, I don’t get your point. I went to a Coke high school, and now I’m in a Pepsi university, so it all evened out. So what’s the problem?” And for a moment I had no answer. Do I blame Pepsi or Coke for colonizing his brain?

And whom should I blame for this story? I ran across an item in the newspaper about an Ontario decision to add something called ‘money management’ to the high school curriculum. Many hours of forensic web searching later, I had pieced together a story that lead from CanWest Global through the Toronto Stock Exchange through the Harris government and into the classroom. The curriculum in question – which has since been exported across the country, I believe – was a thinly-veiled combination of privatization propaganda and marketing for the stock exchange. Students were taught – explicitly, because it was stated in the turn-key, scripted lessons - that ‘in the future’ all Canadian health care would be private, that there would be no more public pensions, and that everyone would pay for their own education. The solution, of course, was for students to start investing early in the stock market. Yes indeedy, it is public education’s job to make sure each kid learns not only about the relative merits of strip bonds and derivativesbut also believe the world-view, the ideology of privatization.

But whose minds are the target? Would someone here please explain to me exactly what the projects’ ‘advisory board’ was thinking? It was made up of teachers, superintendents and directors, principals, professors – including one with national name-recognition for her outstanding work on anti-racist and inclusive education – as well, of course, representatives from the investment ‘industry.’ In effect, by producing and promoting this curriculum, these education professionals performed money-laundering for the Toronto Stock Exchange. For privatization. And nobody peeped.

Who is to blame?

Who are the idiots?

Well, let me close by talking about idiocy.

Here I’m borrowing from a recent article by Walter Parker, called Teaching Against Idiocy. Parker reminds his readers that the root word of idiot is the Greek idios, which means ‘private, separate, self-centred’ – selfish, in other words. So, to the ancient Greeks, idiotic behaviour consisted of acting as if only private interest mattered, acting as if one’s well-being was independent of common interest. Again, in Greek, the word ‘polites’ means citizen, or public, the realm that the ‘idiot’ dismisses or ignores. Today the term ‘idiot’ has come to mean ‘stupid’ precisely because to the Greek philosophers, it was almost suicidally stupid to believe that self-interest could be advanced without a strong common, public realm.

The Greeks thought of idiots as deeply immature. They called the process of growing up, of making the transition from idiot to citizen ‘puberte.’ Unfortunately we have come to associate puberty with the worship of Brittany Spears, not an appreciation of our interdependence. We no longer treat puberty as the crucial process of leaving the self-centredness of childhood for the commons-centredness, the consciousness of citizenship that the Greeks saw as the hallmark of the mature adult.

When the market becomes our only way of relating to each other, we are choosing a system that guarantees our perpetual idiocy. When we apply the market to schools, we violate their responsibility for puberty, for guiding our students from the idiocy of self-interest to the wisdom of public citizenship. This is something that privatization – by intent, by stealth, by default or by idiocy – cannot achieve.

This is a wonderful anti-idiocy event. I believe that we must challenge the privatization of schools by building the publicization of schools. We must devote our public schools more explicitly to helping more students to reach the maturity of public citizenship. For unless we do that job well, our short-term successes in stemming the privatization of schools will not survive into the next generation. Once they are lost, it won’t matter if it happened by design or default. But if we do that work well, we will have safeguarded not just public education, but all the commons.