Thom Hartmann: How Dismantling Public Schools Further Divides Americans Into A Caste System
Thom Hartmann is political commentator with books published in a variety of fields. Sometimes he looks into the world of education, as with this piece from the fall of 2022. It’s a look at the foundations of the school privatization movement.
In many ways today’s conservative war on public education dates back to the 1950s when, in 1954’s Brown v Board decision, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools must allow Black children to sit in the same classrooms with white children.
This so outraged white conservatives that public schools were shut down altogether in some states and counties, and private, all-white “academies“ were opened, many by religious figures, across the nation.
It was the beginning of a concerted, 75-year-long assault on public education.
The Republican war against public education moved from being purely about race to incorporating an ideological rationalization or excuse with the 1980 effort by billionaire David Koch to run for vice president on the Libertarian ticket.
Koch’s platform said of public schools:
“We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
Thus was set the formula that billionaires from David Koch in that era to Betsy DeVos in this era used to push for the destruction of public (racially integrated) schools.
- Privatize public schools through charter schools and by offering vouchers.
- Withhold funding from public schools while pouring cash into these new, private entities.
- Expand the nationwide propaganda campaign that public education is failing and/or is an instrument of an oppressive state.
- As public schools become starved of cash, use that crisis to destroy their teachers’ unions and ultimately to shut them down altogether.
- Once most primary and secondary schools have collapsed and only private schools are left, begin to dial back money available through vouchers, so poor people must use special “cheap” schools designed just for them.
- Over time cut back voucher funding and amounts so, just as Reaganomics has done with our colleges, low-income people have to borrow from banks to send their kids to good schools.
This is not a new model: Reagan began the process with colleges, from substandard junior colleges for low-income people to throwing average Americans who wanted to attend a good college into a $1.8 trillion debt hole.
It is not even a unique model just for education: we are halfway through it with Medicare. George W. Bush introduced the Medicare Advantage scam in 2003, and now half of American seniors are on these private plans.
Hartmann already sees the effects on K-12 education. Just as seniors pay for their own medical care and students shoulder a greater part of college costs…
Parents are already starting to borrow money to pay for their children to go to elementary and secondary school: today it is 10% of parents going into debt for their young children’s education. Within a decade or two it will probably be closer to the 68% of students attending private universities who have student debt.
And he reminds us what’s at stake:
There are few systems in America that are as accountable to local public sentiment — local, grassroots democracy — than our public school system. They are also almost universally unionized, which, like their democratic nature, represents another strike against them in the eyes of white supremacist and neoliberal billionaires.