by David Safier
This is one of the best distillations of the birth of the conservative "education reform" movement and the demonization of teachers and public schools I have read: How a Crackpot Education Reform Theory Became National Policy.
In future generations, historians are likely to tell the following story. Some time during the early 21st Century, a cross section of the top leadership of American society began to panic. They looked at the growing chasm between the rich and poor, the huge size of the nation’s prison population, the growing gulf in educational achievement between blacks and whites and poor and middle class children and decided something dramatic had to be done to remedy these problems.
But instead of critically examining how these trends reflected 20 years of regressive taxation, a futile “war on drugs,” the deregulation of the financial industry, the breaking of unions and the movement of American companies abroad, America’s leaders decided the primary source of economic inequality could be found in failing schools, bad teachers, and powerful teachers unions.
No serious scholar, looking at the economic and social trends of the previous 20 years, or the major innovations in social policy that unleashed the power of big capital, would have given to slightest credence to this analysis of the sources of inequality, but the idea that educational failure was the prime source of all other social deficits took hold with the force of a religious conversion. Corporate leaders, heads of major foundations, civil rights leaders, politicians in both major parties, bought this explanation hook line and sinker and so began one of the strangest social movements in modern American history- the demonization of America’s teachers and the development of strategies to radically transform education by taking power away from them.
My only criticism is, the author isn't nearly cynical enough. Education has been a conservative/corporate whipping boy for decades. It's been used to excuse bloated corporations and poor business practices, justify low wages and ignore pressing social issues. It's the schools' fault, don't look at us! Fix the schools, and everything will be just fine.