Charter School Disinformation About Families Being the Most Important “Stakeholders”

Since day one, advocates of privately-operated charter schools have tried to convince everyone that segregated charter schools “empower parents” and that parents are not only “stakeholders” but the most important “stakeholders” in education. Everything in education is supposedly all about parents first and foremost. Parents are the end-all and be-all. Education apparently serves no one else or 10 other broad functions. Education exists mainly to serve parents. Everyone and everything else is secondary at best. Oddly enough, while the “parent empowerment” theme is central to charter school disinformation it is actually charter schools that choose parents and students, not the other way around.

Such a narrow notion of parents-first-last-and-always deliberately degrades and debases the historical, cultural, social, political, and economic role, significance, and importance of public education in a modern society based on mass industrial production. The days of petty production, small estates,  small farms, and feudal manors are long gone. Humans today are born to a complex modern society in which all production is highly technical, scientific, advanced, large-scale, and cooperative. Everything is interdependent and impossible without millions of skilled working people. The problem is that this modern mass production system is based on outdated relations of production, that is, it is owned and controlled by competing private owners of capital whose only aim is to maximize profit as fast as possible no matter the damage to the natural and social environment. Such a set-up reinforces old ideas such as consumerism, individualism, competition, and a fend-for-yourself culture. It renders education a commodity and parents become consumers who individually shop for schools the way they shop for a car. If things work out, that’s great, but if they don’t work out, then you are screwed. “Buyer Beware” is the only defense you have against getting ambushed in a “survival-of-the-fittest” society. In such a society, government abdicates its responsibility to people and nothing is guaranteed. Privileges, competition, and opportunities replace rights. Education is never upheld as a right that must be provided a guarantee by government, it is simply a commodity and an opportunity.

Neoliberal “Stakeholder”

The core idea behind the neoliberal notion of a “stakeholder” is that there are no social classes. We supposedly live in a “no-class” society. In this way, the 50 problems that exist in class-divided societies magically disappear. All that exists is isolated, abstract, allegedly equal self-interested calculating consumers with an “equal stake” in capitalism. We are to casually ignore massive and constantly-growing inequality and the fact that only the top 1% have a stake in capitalism and that the majority of humanity urgently needs an alternative to this crisis-prone economic system that leaves millions behind every year. The neoliberal idea of a “stakeholder” is a way to apologize for capitalism and to block any thinking that considers a modern alternative to this obsolete system.

Parents are not stakeholders. Nor are students, teachers, and principals. Women, workers, and senior citizens are not “stakeholders” either. They are human beings and citizens with basic human rights, not consumers, shoppers, or “market citizens” who fend-for-themselves in a chaotic and insecure “dog-eat-dog” world. Parents are members of the polity, just like everyone else, and they necessarily share the same objective interests as students, teachers, principals, and others. Education serves parents, as well as students, teachers, principals, society, the economy, and people who are not parents. The value of education is not based on parenthood. A modern society based on mass industrial production would not be possible without a modern mass public education system that is world-class, fully-funded, and locally-controlled.

The role of education is to pass on the accumulated knowledge of humanity to the next generation so that society can progress. Everyone has a “stake” in education. The same can be said about healthcare, transportation, postal services, food production, municipal services, and more. Everyone needs these services—parents and non-parents. Education must serve everyone in a modern society, not this or that “stakeholder” or “special interest.”

Government must take up its social responsibility to provide the rights of individuals and collectives with a guarantee in practice, not leave everyone to fend for themselves in a society that perpetuates insecurity, poverty, debt, unemployment, and inequality. Everyone should reject all attempts by narrow private interests to impose neoliberal ideas and arrangements on people, institutions,  public enterprises, and different spheres of life. Defend the right to an education that serves all individuals, collectives, and society.

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