Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

Part 3 of a 3 Part Series: Q and A

QUESTION: We have choices in other areas of life. Why not in schools?

RESPONSE: Choice and rights are not the same thing; they are distinct categories with different properties and should not be conflated.

Education is a right, not a privilege, opportunity, or choice. A right is essentially a need, something indispensable for the existence or development of something. Rights belong to humans by virtue of their very being and for no other reason whatsoever. Rights cannot be given or taken away. They cannot be waived, sold, transferred, or forfeited in any way. Nor are they earned, deserved, or based on “merit.” Rights are also not based on skin color, language, religion, nationality, or gender.

Choice refers to the simple act of selecting something from a list of alternatives. Under capitalism, choice means being a consumer who decides what goods or services to buy or sell. Choice in the capitalist “free market” sense rests on the idea that humans are mainly individualistic proprietors, consumers, and entrepreneurs, not humans or citizens. Among other things, choice and consumerism fetishize the “me” while citizenship and being human address the “we.” Choice and consumerism are part of the old antisocial outlook that views humans as reward-seeking “rugged individuals” who bravely fend for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world and owe nothing to anyone else. Risk and peril are built-in features of such a world.

Needs are essential and cannot be selected or unselected. They cannot be chosen, bought, sold, or forfeited. Like food and water, for example, education is not something one can choose to go without, especially in the twenty-first century. No education almost always means no future—in more ways than one. No human chooses to be hungry, homeless, unemployed, uninsured, and uneducated. Indeed, one can only be human when their need for food, shelter, clothing, education, work, and healthcare is satisfied in a way that is commensurate with the level of development of society. You may be able to choose what kind of breakfast cereal you subjectively prefer, but you cannot avoid food because it is a human need.

The right to fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to be consumers who shop for a school, cross their fingers, and hope it all works out. Modern education should not be a lottery or a gamble.

Modern society based on large-scale industrial production cannot leave education to chance and personal choice. A society based on fending for yourself, “survival of the fittest,” “might makes right,” “rugged individualism,” consumerism, and behaviorism needs to be replaced by a society fit for all—one that provides dignity, prosperity, peace, stability, and security for all. Society can move forward only if the accumulated knowledge of humanity is passed on to the next generation in a conscious, organized, and humane manner.


The choice today is not between privatized, marketized, and corporatized charter schools that operate on the basis of the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market,” verses under-funded, over-tested, constantly-demonized public schools deliberately mandated to fail by the neoliberal state. These are false and harmful choices. Neither serve education and society well.

It is no secret what is needed to ensure world-class schools in every community. Thousands exist already. Given the level of development of society and its productive forces, it is more than possible for a government truly accountable to the people to guarantee fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code. Our society does not lack the resources to ensure this. Scarcity is one of many self-serving and harmful capitalist myths that go unexamined every day.

Fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to shop for a school. Why should humans have to do this in 2018? It is absurd. The havoc wreaked on education and society by the so-called “free market” and charter schools can be avoided altogether and a big measure of security, reliability, and quality can be attained. It is far from impossible.

Progress cannot happen, however, by remaining silent, being passive, conciliating with the neoliberal agenda, relying on wishful thinking, resorting to careerism, being an opportunist, or hoping “someone else” will figure it out. These are not solutions. They just prolong and exacerbate the pain for everyone. Everyone must become activated in these increasingly dangerous times and play their role at their level. Reality is making itself felt more forcefully. Combating charter school disinformation and raising social consciousness is part of affirming the modern human personality and creating new arrangements that favor the people.

Where to begin? An important starting point for bringing about change that favors the people is by actively implementing the following conclusion: understanding requires an act of conscious participation by the individual, an act of finding out. The prevailing culture blocks serious disciplined investigation in endless ways and rejects scientific theory. Actively resisting this pressure and investigating the world is indispensable at this time. By simply resolving to start everything by investigating, by taking nothing for granted, by rejecting conditioned thinking, and by avoiding facile answers we can all take a big step forward together. This is not small potatoes. Such a disposition is priceless and requires continual cultivation. It is key to unleashing the human factor. The overwhelming disinformation, dogmatism, lies, illusions, and retrogression of the rich and their outdated system only increase anticonsciousness and block the path of progress to society.

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