Sunday, June 8, 2014

Capitalism, Market Forces, and Education Reform

Education is not "a market." And that may be the key to conflicts in the education reform world.

For far too long, earning potential has been the primary justification used for education and education reform in American society. It has driven the "College Degrees for All" push, and the emphasis of STEM subjects to the exclusion and diminishment of the Humanities, and the argument for Common Core State Standards, and the calls for accountability, and the extreme influence of billionaire philanthropists on the crafting of education policy on a local, state, and national level. And the application of capitalist tendencies and market forces to the education is "a disaster waiting to happen," argues Eric Levitz in his interview with education professor David Blacker who recently published his warnings in The Falling Rate of Learning and the NeoLiberal Endgame.

The primary target of my critique was large-scale educational reform, the systemic movement. The goals of which, my heart is with: unionization, desegregation, inclusion. But I think my conception of fatalism is that the institution of education is so deeply, structurally tied to a certain trajectory of capitalism that it’s not amenable to structural reforms. So that’s where my pessimism comes from. I think that that kind of mainstream liberal activism, at best, has the effect of softening blows that are almost inevitably coming.

The criticism of market forces in education was challenged by writer Matt Bruenig who warned that reformers' naive focus on education in Finland was a misguided approach to the problems of the American education system. A lack of understanding for how Finland applies egalitarian ideals to its education system and social welfare leads reformers to believe that Finland's emphasis on teacher quality will not only solve students' academic shortcomings but will also solve the nation's inequality issues. This is, of course, fundamentally not true. But that won't dissuade a billionaire like Bill Gates who has decided - with little evidence or reasoning - that 80% of Americans need bachelors degrees. In believing that because college-degree holders earn more money that simply increasing the number of degreed citizens will magically raise wages and decrease income inequality, Bill Gates has abandoned all the critical thinking that is supposed to be at the heart of the Common Core revolution.

Yet, the power of market forces has led to Bill Gates' ability to almost singlehandedly wage a "coup" in the education world.

No comments: