Reason’s Ongoing Love Affair with Educational Cronyism

On the libertarian Right — including Reason, the magazine for “free minds and free markets” — you hear a lot of lip service to opposing something called “crony capitalism.” And they periodically trot out the Ex-Im Bank or federal insurance for beach homes as their standard throwaway examples. But for the most part they love it. Reason writers enthused over crony capitalist water utility policies by the “emergency managers” in Michigan — until after the Flint scandal erupted, when they backpedaled faster than Michael Jackson (“that’s crony capitalism, not privatization”). They defend oil and gas pipelines, which couldn’t exist without stealing land via eminent domain and imposing regulatory caps on liability from spills. They defend corporate-owned “charter cities,” straight out of a cyberpunk dystopia, build on stolen peasant land (with the help of regimes established by right-wing military coups). And of course, they absolutely love charter schools (Nick Gillespie, “Why We Need School Choice,” Jan. 23).

Let’s get something straight. If charter schools don’t meet the definition of “crony capitalism” — politically connected, for-profit corporations getting their revenue stream from the taxpayers — then nothing does. Charter schools are about as “free market” as private prison corporations. Or as Blackwater, the notorious mercenary corporation whose founder Erik Prince (also brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education) became a billionaire commiting war crimes against Iraqis and against the people of New Orleans after Katrina. Reason‘s Ed Krayeski (“White House Hasn’t Announced Any National School Choice Week Events,” Jan. 23) tap dances around Democratic “grandstanding” against DeVos because her family (AHEM!!!) “supports various political and social causes.” Reason has been feverishly kissing DeVos’s bee-hind ever since she got the nod from Trump.

Even using the weasel term “school choice,” like Gillespie does, is a flat-out lie. Krayeski touts the high percentage of Americans polled as favorable to charter schools, and right-libertarians like to frame them in populist terms. Odd, then, that the charterization movement was drawn up largely in the bowels of corporate lobbyists like the Gates Foundation and Walton Family Foundation, or that charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where normal democratic procedures have been suspended and sleazy outfits like the above-mentioned foundations can work behind the scenes in cahoots with de facto local dictators. Charter schools are usually imposed from above in highly undemocratic circumstances of the sort Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism”:  the all-out corporate looting of New Orleans after Katrina and subsequent ethnic cleansing; Detroit under the state-appointed Emergency Managers (about as democratic as Bremer’s puppet regime in conquered Iraq); Chicago under authoritarian dirtbag Rahm Emanuel; Little Rock after the Justice Department supplanted the school board.

And the Waltons and Gateses aren’t interested in “empowering” anyone besides corporate employers like themselves, and the national charter school corporations in league with them. Like “Core Curriculum,” charterization is all about serving the real clients of the state:  capitalists who need a technically trained, but docile, work force.

It’s especially disingenuous for a magazine with “free minds” on its mastheads to endorse charter schools. If you’re genuinely sympathetic to human freedom and interested in applying that principle in the educational realm, you’re probably most familiar with ideas like unschooling or deschooling, and writers like Paul Goodman, Ivan Illich, Paolo Freire and John Taylor Gatto. Charter school educational models, for the most part, are about as far from such ideas as you could possibly get. On the other hand, if you like the kinds of quasi-military “boot camps” Dr. Phil used to send teens to on his TV show, you’ll absolutely love charter schools.

Charter schools are an abomination to genuine ideas of freedom in another way. They’re about increasing the top-down authority of administrators at the expense of those engaged in the actual work of teaching kids. If you claim to believe the stuff Friedrich Hayek wrote about distributed knowledge — basically, that those in direct contact with a situation know more than pointy-haired bureaucrats and bosses — then you should know how stupid that is. But apparently school administrators are the one kind of government bureaucrat whose power right-libertarians love to increase.

Charter schools are not about freedom. Period. They’re just another development in the history of collusion between the state and big business that gave rise to the public schools in the first place. If you claim to believe in freedom, or claim to oppose “crony capitalism,” and you support charter schools, you should just shut up.

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