Do “We” All Really Want What’s Best “For The Kids”?

Charter School Supporters Versus Public School Supporters

As evidence against charter schools increases, charter school supporters have started to assert more frequently that charter schools are not a panacea, they cannot fix everything. And even though they have many problems, they should always be supported nonetheless. Charter schools are said to be a “viable option” for some and people should have “choices.”

After all, at the end of the day, “we” are all supposedly working for the same thing, “we” all want what is best “for the kids.” That is what is important according to charter school advocates, not all the serious problems plaguing charter schools and the harmful effects these schools are having on education and society. Both supporters and critics of charter schools supposedly want what is best “for the kids.” They allegedly do not have profoundly different and irreconcilable visions of education and society. If anything, they have only reasonable and harmless differences of opinion over secondary issues.

This is straightforward disinformation, which is more harmful than misinformation or hype. Charter school supporters do not want the same thing as supporters of public schools. Proponents of public schools and champions of charter schools want different things because they have different aims and interests. They are on “different planets” as the saying goes. They do not actually share the same interests.

Among other things, charter school promoters never offer any deep analysis of education, social relations, and social conditions. They seldom investigate fundamental questions about the nature of education in a modern society based on large-scale industrial production. Disciplined intellectual inquiry into major concepts and their meaning and significance are routinely avoided by charter school supporters.

Instead, charter school supporters continually overwhelm people with facile answers, ready-made views, and self-serving tautologies that block discussion, elaboration, and analysis. Anti-consciousness prevails. All sorts of irrational assertions are made about families, students, education, and society by charter school supporters in order to hide the privatization, marketization, and corporatization of education. Such assertions usually involve buzz phrases with words like “parents,” “kids,” “innovation,” or “choice” in them. Charter school supporters even characterize evidence against charter schools as “propaganda.” For charter school supporters, everything rests on an expedient capital-centered approach to education and society.

More than a century of study of social class relations, and life itself, confirm that there are antagonistic and irreconcilable class interests in society, and that these historically defined incompatible interests are often self-servingly concealed by those who have usurped power by force so as to create the illusion that “we” are “one nation” or “one people” with the same interests, supposedly striving for the same things (e.g., “equal opportunity,” “serving the kids,” a “free” society). In this no-class ahistorical outlook, the top one percent and bottom 99 percent have the same interests. There is no sharp contradiction between them. They supposedly share the same values and destiny.

In reality, the narrow antisocial interests behind the privatization and marketization of education have nothing in common with those defending public education and the general interests of society. They represent antagonistic and irreconcilable interests. Public and private even mean the opposite of each other.

The privatization of education directly harms public schools, negates the public interest, and undermines modern nation-building. Under the veneer of high ideals, charter school proponents are determined to transfer as much public money, facilities, infrastructure, resources, and authority as possible to major owners of capital. To cynically characterize the privatization of education as an “innovation” to “improve schools” and provide parents with “choices” and “opportunities” is irrational and diversionary. It is designed to fool the gullible.

Students, teachers, parents, education, the economy, and society do not benefit from more segregated, deunionized, deregulated, unaccountable, and privately owned-operated charter schools constantly plagued by waste, fraud, nepotism, corruption, scandal, frequent closures, poor performance on a broad scale, and very high student and teacher turnover rates. Such phenomena are a drag on education and society, they move life backward and contribute to anti-consciousness.

Privatization is an assault on individuals, our economy, our health, education, society, and democracy. Funneling more social wealth to the rich means less social wealth for society, infrastructure, and social programs millions depend on. Privatization in all its forms should be condemned and opposed everywhere and at all times. The public interest and narrow privatization interests are contradictory interests that cannot be harmonized.

Instead of approaching education as a modern social responsibility that government is duty-bound to guarantee for all, charter school promoters want as many major owners of capital (“service providers”) to operate schools on the basis of the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” They embrace a system of winners and losers, along with the behaviorist “punishment-and-rewards” psychology that accompanies such an outmoded system. Charter school promoters believe that the constant opening and closing of deregulated nonprofit and for-profit schools—charter school “churn”—is a virtue even though it ensures instability in the education sector and causes stress, dislocation, and anger for millions of families, the same families charter school supporters claim to want to serve.

The problem is not a simple difference of opinion over what is “best for the kids.” The intense differences between charter school supporters and defenders of public schools are part of the larger struggle over the future of education and society. It is part of the protracted fight between those who represent outdated capital-centered interests versus those who represent a modern human-centered approach to life, education, society, and the human personality. These two worlds, the old and the new, the neoliberal and the pro-social, are in combat and have nothing in common. One is slowly decaying and dying, while the other is gradually rising. This is the harsh reality in class-divided society.

More important than how charter school proponents present their vision, agenda, and activities, is the actual aim, content, and results of their vision, agenda, and activities. Deeds matter more than words. Through relentless disinformation, desperate over-promises, an anti-intellectual orientation, many astroturf groups, and millions of dollars, charter school promoters have managed to confuse millions. They have taken advantage of an anti-inquiry culture to mislead parents, educators, legislators, and others.

Understanding requires an act of conscious participation of the individual, an act of finding out. Charter school supporters do not embrace “conscious participation” or an “act of finding out” because this would expose their narrow antisocial interests and open the door to greater opposition to charter schools and privatization. By definition, informed views require disciplined conscious investigation. The last thing charter school supporters, privatizers, and neoliberals want, is people affirming their rights—their interests—through actions with analysis.

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