Can More Disinformation and Fresh Illusions Save Charter Schools?

These are some of the news headlines that appeared when searching for “charter schools” in GoogleNews in June 2017:

  1. Stop bashing charter schools. The Tennessean.
  2. Charter school parents to Legislature: Hands off. The Sacramento Bee.
  3. Here’s how charter schools ‘could’ succeed: Mac Gordon. The Clarion-Ledger.
  4. Guest Essay: Charter school overcoming barriers. The Democrat & Chronicle.
  5. Another success for the schools de Blasio detests. New York Post.

Such haughty headlines appear every day and reveal the intensification of charter school disinformation and desperation. Total irrationality has set in among charter school promoters.

Disinformation is not the same as misinformation, which is usually spontaneous, accidental, harmless, and unintentional. Disinformation is different. Disinformation is a deliberate attempt by the rich and their governments and media to conceal the real context of the problems plaguing society so as to disorient and confuse people about what is really happening. It is designed to obscure people’s objective interests, to pressure them to adopt ideas that are alien to their own interests, and to deprive them of the ability to develop their own outlook and advance their own independent agenda. Disinformation sabotages perception, undermines memory, and promotes anticonsciousness. It violates an individual’s conscience and consciousness, normalizes ignorance, and maximizes confusion and doubt, thereby hindering social consciousness, the human factor, social progress, and human-centered arrangements. In this sense, it is the most violent attack on humanity and progress.

Charter school operators and promoters continually take disinformation to new levels, ceaselessly fostering fresh illusions about them every day. They would like nothing more than to keep people confused about the real nature, role, and significance of charter schools. This is a main way they blunt opposition to charter schools, which are not public in any sense of the word and are far worse in many respects than regular public schools that have been mandated to fail by the state through permanent under-funding and educationally unsound policies.

Charter schools are one of the most Machiavellian pay-the-rich schemes concocted by the rich and their governments in the neoliberal period. For 26 years, charter schools, which now number 7,000 and enroll 3 million youth, have effectively deprived under-funded public schools of money, dignity, and authority, while consistently yielding poor results and wreaking havoc in numerous ways. Pound for pound, charter schools, which are deregulated, privatized, union-free schools, engage in more organized fraud and racketeering than any other arrangement created over the last 26 years. The deceit, dishonesty, and treachery in this sector are alarming and vastly disproportionate to the size of the sector itself, far surpassing the damaging corruption regularly witnessed in other sectors and institutions for more than two centuries.

Why do we have charter schools, my students often ask? Why don’t we just fully fund public schools, especially since we have more than enough wealth as a society to do so? Why are charter schools multiplying when there is so much damning and indicting evidence against them? Why does none of this make any sense? What does it mean when such retrogressive arrangements can take hold and expand? What can be done to change things in favor of the people?

The main problem is not a knowledge or information problem. It is not about gaining more facts and statistics about how problematic charter schools are, even though that is very important. Facts are always needed and myths and disinformation should not be tolerated.

The fundamental problem is that the 99% have no real political power and therefore they cannot give effect to their will for a fully funded, high quality public education system controlled by a real public authority and readily available to all students in the country. Privatization of schools is growing because the polity remains disempowered by a tiny ruling elite who have not been deprived of their power to destroy the natural and social environment.

Almost all economic and political power at home and abroad rests in the hands of several hundred individuals. Monopoly in economics means monopoly in politics. Concentrated economic power gives rise to concentrated political power. Those with the most wealth have the most power and influence. Decision-making power in capitalist society is wielded mainly by a wealthy privileged minority that grows more out of touch and superfluous every day. This fact alone, which is often easy to forget, explains most of what is going on in the world, why we have so many serious problems, and who is responsible for them. Major decisions that affect everyone are being made by the top one percent of the top one percent, depriving the vast majority of their sovereignty. The majority have no real decision-making power and are constantly fending off one neoliberal assault after another, even when resources are not scarce and people are eager to reorganize society along human-centered lines. The oligarchs and their state are determined to block social progress at all costs.

From the perspective of political economy, capitalists think and act in the ways that they do as a direct result of the coercive objective laws of capitalist development, laws that operate independent of the will of individuals. One of the most central and inescapable of these laws is the law of the falling rate of profit. Profit equals unpaid labor. The uncompensated work-time of laborers is the source of all surplus value in capitalist society. Profit originates in the production process, not in the sphere of circulation. Stock markets and banks, for example, produce nothing.

The law of falling profitability holds that, in their insatiable quest for maximum profits as fast as possible, capitalists must contend with the real pressures of competition or become extinct. They have no choice but to constantly strive to out-compete others who are struggling energetically to out-compete them. This is the dog-eat-dog, chaotic, and violent world of capitalism in which everyone fends for themselves like an animal even though society is capable of effortlessly meeting the needs of all many times over. Two hundred years from now people will look back at this period as the era of irrationalism, savagery, and barbarism.

A main way for capitalists to get ahead of others and accumulate greater profit is by constantly investing more in technology and machinery (constant capital) and less in workers and wages (variable capital). Over time, this results in a smaller rate and amount of profit because the only source of profit, workers, is being replaced by dead labor—machinery, technology, and automation. Only workers can add value to a good or service. Machines, technology, robots, Artificial Intelligence, and raw materials cannot add new value to a product or good; they do not create new value. As more is invested in machinery and technology, and less on wages and salaries, the more the rate of profit declines. Eventually the amount of profit declines as well, resulting in less investment, jobs, and growth, and greater poverty and insecurity. Less living labor and more dead labor reduces profits in the long run. For capitalists, new technologies, machinery, and techniques (“innovation”) must be introduced on a continual basis in order to stay ahead of other capitalists and not fall by the wayside. This drive to maximize profits is both dynamic and destructive.

Pay-the-rich schemes like charter schools are one of many ways major owners of capital attempt to destructively overcome the law of the falling rate of profit. It gives them a temporary means by which to raise their profits in the context of a continually failing economy. This may “work” in the short run, but neither charter schools nor other pay-the-rich schemes can overcome the law itself in the long run. The law is inescapable and affects the economy as a whole, not just this or that sector. Trying to avoid it necessarily wreaks havoc and destruction on society and nature.

From the perspective of political economy, it matters little what the intentions, personality, psychology, and ethics of a capitalist are because the real laws of motion of the capitalist system dictate what actually happens in the economy. The inner psyche of the human being who strives to be a capitalist is necessarily infected by capitalist logic. Capitalists are the personification of the logic, laws, and demands of capital. If they launch a business in order to maximize profit, then they have to contend with competition and do what they can to continuously accumulate profit. There is no way around this. This is why the general interests of society cannot be reconciled with private profit. The narrow interests of capitalists are antagonistic to the general interests of society. Private control of the socialized economy is inconsistent with modern requirements.

Either one stops being a capitalist or they stop being ethical. There is no such thing as “conscious capitalism,” “ethical capitalism,” “people’s capitalism,” or “responsible capitalism.” These are all oxymorons and disinformation designed to fool the gullible. They conceal how capitalism works and deny objective reality. They work exactly like a blind-fold. For example, believing that Nike, a major capitalist corporation that viciously exploits teen girls, stands for social justice just because they introduced the ProHijab, a scuba diving cap for Muslim female athletes, is perverse, confused, and sad. Like any corporation, Nike does what is pragmatic, self-serving, expedient, and unprincipled to amass profits under the veneer of high ideals.

From this perspective, all the information and disinformation surrounding charter schools about discriminatory enrollment patterns, high teacher turnover rates, authoritarian codes of student conduct, poor accountability, corruption and fraud, unelected boards of trustees, hostility to unions, and many other problems, is worth knowing, understanding, and discussing. These features and realities should not be ignored or trivialized. However, they are not key or decisive. In the end, they are but the natural expression of a decaying and outdated economic system based on maximizing profit instead of serving society and giving rise to institutions that support the extended reproduction of society on a sustainable crisis-free basis.

Charter schools are not about “putting kids first,” “reforming education,” “improving educational opportunities,” “providing choice,” “offering hope,” or “closing the achievement gap.” These are worn-out catch-phrases designed to fool the gullible. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, do not put the needs of students first. Experience shows that they disrespect and hurt students, teachers, principals, parents, education, and society. This is why controversy and conflict surrounding charter schools intensifies with each passing year. No amount of disinformation can justify them. Capital-centered arrangements cannot serve the public good and society; they just make some people richer. This is why it is unethical to support charter schools.

It is critical to be clear about the intrinsic nature of charter schools, so that one does not get diverted by issues such as the so-called “good intentions” of those who wish to operate a charter school, or whether or not charter schools are “good” or “bad,” or if they are “for-profit” or “non-profit.” The need is for a fully-funded, high quality public school system under genuine public control. Instead, we now have two education arrangements plagued by many big problems. Nothing has been solved.

Parasitism, decay, disinformation, repression, and retrogression intensify under the highest and final stage of capitalism because the outmoded economic system and the tiny few who benefit from it are historically exhausted and out of any real solutions. They offer only more tragedies, violence, and austerity for people. Every major problem has gotten worse in the recent period.

History has presented the working class and people with the task of replacing capitalism with a human-centered society, with the responsibility of building the new. Major owners of capital have become superfluous and a drag on the development of society. Society’s advancement depends on ensuring that this historically exhausted force is replaced by a modern alternative built and controlled by the working class and people. Experience repeatedly shows that the political parties of the rich, the democrats and republicans, as well as their companion parties in other countries, are an enormous block to a modern society based on new social relations free of exploitation, oppression, and insecurity. Society and its members will gain nothing by continually relying on them. They serve only the plutocrats while pressuring people to think this is somehow in their interest.

Social progress requires a resolute break with these retrogressive forces and their anachronistic outlook. Society requires a new economic orientation and social direction that results in a society fit for all and not just “for the fittest;” one that affirms a new and modern human personality based on modern definitions of personhood, rights, and identity. A modern society and economic system must be consciously organized so as to serve and benefit the actual producers of wealth and the entire society. The human species can no longer tolerate a society that lurches from one crisis to another. There is an alternative to endless stress, destruction, and upheaval. The current state of affairs nationally and internationally is untenable and indefensible. Humanity cannot flourish by hanging onto outdated arrangements.

While they will continue to wreak havoc on education and society, there is no frictionless path forward for charter schools and their wealthy promoters. Logic, facts, justice, and history are not on their side, no matter how many families they cynically organize to dogmatically chant pro-charter school slogans at rallies paid for by millionaires and billionaires. Charter schools will be met with opposition every step of the way and will slowly implode as a result of their own inherent bankruptcy and illegitimacy.

More disinformation and fresh illusions will only perpetuate violence against society and its members. Schools can serve the youth, economy, and society when they are rid of narrow private interests and controlled by a real public authority accountable only to the people. In such a world no one begs or pressures politicians to “represent” them because the legal will and the popular become one.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.