Chaos, Anarchy, and Violence in the Charter School Sector

Chaos, anarchy, and violence are inherent features of the free market.1 Instability, uncertainty, disequilibrium, unevenness, imbalance, volatility, turmoil, impulsiveness, alienation, greed, anxiety, jealousy, risk, irrational behavior, and “animal spirits” are fellow-travelers of advanced commodity production and exchange, especially in the final and highest stage of capitalism.

The free market abhors security, predictability, certainty, stability, and harmony—the very things modern humans need in today’s complex and evolving society. Hourly fluctuations and dislocations in the economy and society are considered good, desirable, and normal by free market fundamentalists. Such disruptions are not seen as a problem or something that belongs to a bygone era.

The “invisible leviathan” also guarantees winners and losers, hierarchies and inequalities, rewards and punishments. In addition, it constantly “innovates” more exotic and toxic forms of financial parasitism and decay that further enrich the top one percent while wreaking havoc in the productive sector and broader society.

The free market has been revealed time and again to be an anachronistic and damaging way of organizing society and the economy. It has failed millions for generations and simply does not meet the needs of the present or the future.

It is comical and tragic to hear and read the views of free market ideologues like former long-time chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, regarding how their free market worldview was shattered by the Wall Street-engineered economic collapse of 2008 that no one went to jail for—a fiasco that continues to stunt growth, degrade economies worldwide, and confuse economists and “leaders.” All major free market ideologues have long been members of the know-nothing club, which is why they have never been able to find a way to extricate the outmoded economic system from recurring crises that always leave millions unemployed, underemployed, impoverished, indebted, miserable, and insecure. No “policy,” “regulation,” or “reform” has stopped the tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer. Few laws, if any, have actually empowered those who produce society’s wealth.

Free market ideology and categories have long distorted social consciousness, and now, once again, both stand discredited and lack any explanatory power. The main role of free market ideology is to apologize for the status quo which privileges a tiny elite and marginalizes the majority. People are supposed to believe that the free market is supernatural and stands above society, the human factor, and social consciousness. The free market is allegedly a mystery that does not lend itself to comprehension and control.

Charter school supporters and promoters have long gone out of their way to parade their free market loyalties, commitments, and credentials. Their perception and cognition are objectively conditioned by a capital-centered outlook, not a human-centered perspective. Consequently, they are unable and unwilling to cognize and understand that the free market is precisely what is wreaking havoc in education, society, and the economy.

Charter school supporters and promoters come undone every time someone exposes the basic truth that charter schools exist mainly to enrich a handful of individuals who self-servingly claim to “value choice” and “care about the kids.” Charter school boosters would rather have people believe that the free market magically (invisibly) gives rise to the best of all worlds for “the kids” and that nothing sinister or nefarious is ever going on.

It is worth noting here that none of the highest-performing nations in the world have charter schools. And in late 2017, the government of New Zealand launched an organized effort to rollback its relatively new charter school program because it is harmful and ineffective. Many in New Zealand oppose school privatization and do not want schools treated as commodities that enrich a handful of wealthy individuals at the expense of “the kids.” In the U.S., six states still have no laws enabling the creation of charter schools. Charter schools remain largely a U.S. phenomenon. No other nation comes close.

The idea of “here-one-day-gone-the-next” is one of many that appears natural and normal—even healthy—to those influenced by free market ideology. Charter school supporters and promoters claim that under-performing charter schools (and there are many of them) should not only be closed (in the name of “accountability”), but that they should be “closed ruthlessly” so as to quickly enable another “entrepreneur” to scramble in and launch a new, more “innovate” and more “successful” charter school to serve “consumers”—the same way one shoe store quickly replaces another out-of-business shoe store at the mall. Schools, in this antisocial view, are nothing more than commodities; they are a business, just like any other business preoccupied with maximizing profit as fast as possible.

For privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers,” education as an organized collective social responsibility and basic right free of the corrosive effects of competition is an alien idea.

It is no accident that more than 1,000 charter schools have closed over the last five years. The free market, as noted earlier, is inherently unstable and destructive—the opposite of what modern humans need. Well over 3,500 charter schools have closed in 28 years. Currently, about 200-250 nonprofit and for-profit charter schools close each year, leaving thousands of families feeling stressed, angry, and violated. This is stunning in its own right, but it is extra striking given that there are currently only 7,000 charter schools across the country. Charter schools have always had a high rate of failure and closure; they have never been the panacea that its advocates have regularly claimed they are. Closely related problems like endless scandals, low transparency, persistently high student turnover rates, and underpaid, overworked, deunionized teachers across the charter school sector are topics for another article.

This relentless normalized churn, wrecking, and upheaval in the deregulated, non-transparent, deunionized, poorly supervised, segregated charter school sector is deemed acceptable, even a virtue, because this is how the free market “works”—through chaos, anarchy, and violence. It is “natural,” in other words, that schools, which are meant to be a large-scale socially-organized human responsibility, should close and open like any store at the mall.

And the free market is great because it supposedly works so well in other spheres of life. Regular economic booms and busts, many recessions and depressions, and the endless failures and crimes of thousands of corporations are apparently not part of the normal daily functioning of the free market and should be ignored.

The wrecking activity and callousness in the charter school sector are so severe that it is not uncommon for nonprofit and for-profit charter schools, even ones that have been around for years, to close abruptly and with little or no advance notice to parents, leaving them shocked, appalled, and betrayed. So much for “empowering parents” and giving them “better alternatives.” Besides being rife with fraud, racketeering, and waste, charter schools have been disempowering parents every year of their existence. And they have kept thousands of others on a never-ending roller-coaster of hope and despair in other ways. In New Orleans, parents do not even have the option of sending their child to a public school because all schools in that city of 400,000 residents are now charter schools. “Choice” becomes a form of coercion in this context.

It is no surprise that unprecedented public school and charter school teacher strikes that have been sweeping the nation for many months have consciously and deliberately targeted charter schools. People are openly rejecting privatized education arrangements that annually siphon billions of public dollars from public schools that serve 90% of the nation’s youth. Equally unsurprising is the large number of parents, students, women, activists, and workers from other sectors who have stood shoulder to shoulder with striking teachers to affirm their rights and to oppose the fleecing of public schools by wealthy private interests. People are increasingly combatting loud and incessant charter school disinformation. They do not want millionaires, billionaires, and their retinue to decide and control educational affairs. People want to control their own institutions without the influence of extremely wealthy cartels and monopolies who act in the narrowest, most retrogressive, and most self-serving fashion.

A modern society based on mass industrial production must provide its members with world-class, fully-funded, locally-controlled public schools open to all, at all times. No one should have to worry about receiving a great education in a society drowning in an overabundance of wealth and resources.

Education is a right and should never be based on geography, competition, consumerism, performance, the ability to pay, or the narrow aims of major owners of capital. As a basic human social responsibility, education cannot be left to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the free market. It can and must be organized in a collective responsible manner to meet the needs of individuals, the economy, society, and life.

If charter schools wish to exist, so be it. But they must never receive any kind or any amount of public property, wealth, funds, resources, facilities, assets, or authority. They have no legitimate claim to public property.

By definition, public property belongs only to the public and no one else.

Public and private are antonyms. They do not mean the same thing and should not be mixed up. Charter schools are not public schools, no matter how often privatizers, neoliberals, and corporate school “reformers” ignorantly, belligerently, and self-servingly claim they are. Something does not become public just because someone calls it public over and over again. Nor does something become public just because it receives public funds or is allegedly “tuition-free.” Being public requires much more.

Legally, politically, economically, and educationally charter schools differ fundamentally from public schools that have been around for more than 150 years. Deliberately misequating antonyms like “public” and “private” is itself a long-standing feature of the irrationalism, chaos, and wrecking within the Wild West charter school sector.

The very idea of public schools and charter schools competing for funds and students is one that people 50 years from now will find obscene, backward, and bizarre. Many already recognize how irrational and detrimental this is. They reject the commodification of education and the view that parents and students are mainly consumers and shoppers who may or may not “get into” a “good school.”

There is a pro-social alternative to this outmoded irrational state of affairs. It begins with consciously and repeatedly rejecting the current antisocial direction and working with others to reorganize society on a human-centered pro-social basis, free of the influence of owners of capital.

This means intentionally discarding a capital-centered outlook and taking responsibility for investigating society, the economy, and education. It means engaging in a conscious act of finding out so that one does not end up being a hapless victim of disinformation all the time. Such inquiry has to be serious, disciplined, deep, and uninterrupted. It cannot end.

Patient and focused study and analysis are needed to cut through the thick fog created by an anachronistic capital-centered outlook. Skim reading and digitally-induced literacy styles are useless here. They will not contribute to coherence and enlightenment. Shooting from the hip or talking off the cuff also fail to develop consciousness. Quick and clever one-liners or blind repetition of isolated facts are also unhelpful. None of these approaches will shed light on what is going on. None of these approaches help people to reject the false solutions put forward by the rich, their politicians, their cheerleaders, and their media.

With the massive never-ending onslaught of disinformation coming from those with class privilege and power, a conscious life-long commitment to questioning and investigating phenomena so as to avoid confusion and serve human-centered interests is an urgent necessity. The natural instinct to reject anything that comes from the rich needs to evolve into a full-fledged well-fortified social consciousness that further unleashes the human factor to usher in changes that favor the general interests of society.

  1. The “free market” has long been monopolized by large corporations, monopolies,  and oligopolies; it has been far from “free” for more than 150 years. Markets are rigged in endless ways. “Pure competition” has largely been a fantasy. Furthermore, college economics courses routinely present the capitalist “free market” in its most abstract and prettified form, divorced from its harsh realities. []
Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.