Mike Caulfield and I have been having some fun thinking about questions of reform and the state of public education. I freely acknowledge I am out of my element, but I left a long comment on Mike’s post here, and I figured I would re-post it here for the record because it frames some things I haven’t said on the bava before, but are dear to me, like, for example, becoming a fascist High School teacher at an inner-city school in Brooklyn, which really frames my deep distrust of our educational system, period.
I’m not sure if this is rarefied or not, but I’d don’t necessarily understand how public education right now, and it’s divestment, isn’t part of the problem. In many ways I agree with you that the system is being gutted, my issue is that comes as much from inside pressures as outside pressures. In effect, making the question of access and equity a mission that moves outside of the current channels of reform and good will to something a bit more drastic.
I’m not sure you are quoting me, but I actually do believe the “current education model does more harm than good.” I think the equation of education with security is entirely problematic. Let’s face it, if given a choice security would always win out over freedom—just look at the 9/11 track record—and what we have here is an idea of security and financial possibility wrapped up with a sense of access and equity. Fact is, the two are often at odds with one another, and the idea of freedom remains and democracy remains a carrot to some degree, how can we call ourselves a democratic society when we fail to freely and fairly educate the whole population. Well, because we aren’t, and the education system is an amazing spoke in the flat tire that is our institutions.
Now, I hate to turn to a TV show in a conversation like this, but I can’t help myself. Season 4 of The Wire frames for me just how insane the idea public education—which I absolutely believe in because I can’t see anything else so clearly yet, and luckily I live in a wealthy enough city that I can say this without having to wonder how I’m going to afford my kids education beyond my taxes—as not being more harmful than good for the majority of the students who come from inner-city schools that are simply institutional factories of bullshit tests and the worst kind of socilization. I worked as an English teacher in a Brooklyn High School, Clara Barton HS to be exact, for almost two years. It was a school with a predominantly Black, West-Indian, and Guyanese student population, and there is no question that a majority of them were amazing in so many ways, I don;t think I ever laughed so hard, but that had nothing to do with either me or the school. In fact, I think where we came together was just how similar an innercity school like that was to a prison. It bred mistrust, absolute disrespect for authority (which may be one of its strengths ), an inane and oppressive curriculum, mindless petty acts of control and subordination, and a general feeling that is all but antithetical to an sense of freedom and democracy. Our institutions at the level of immediate and intimate experience are often as far as possible from any of the ideals we abstract out from them—liek the noble pursuit of public education.
Pragmatic calls for reform and better education seems to elide the fact that reform is premised within a system that has made it a priority of distinguishing these low-income students from high-income students through an insane idea of local, tax-based funding that perpetuates the very ideas of inequality along economic lines. And this is where I am done with reform and some institutional idea of universal access and convinced we have many of the tools already, and simply have to frame a movement outside that tax base, or at least beyond it. I don’t know how, and I can only dream—but I believe there will be a way and it is important to work within the systems we’re given to survive—although I had to leave Clara Barton because I increasingly was feeling more and more like a fascist and it was truly horrifying for me—and strive for as much equity as we can, but always knowing that their has to be a tidal wave of change along class, race, and gender lines. And it won’t be comfortable or secure—it will be frightening and most probably highly contentious.