Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Death of Schools and Society

Dick Morris, a self-serving commentater who has managed to advise both the Clinton and Bush White Houses, is now pushing an apocalyptic vision for public education. The states, he claims in a new book, will shift strongly to the GOP in 2010 and will assert their 10th amendment constitutional rights. Their Attorneys General will take action against all Federal encroachments on State powers in domains left to the states under the reserved powers clause.

As a federalist I also think this is long overdue. Connecticut, my adoptive state, contemplated a 10th amendment suit against NCLB. California has been struggling to assert some control over its natural environment and has been blocked by weak federal environmental protection laws that pre-empt state legislation.

Morris's claim is that once the states successfully get out from under federal educational policy initiatives they will open the spigots on charter schools, vouchers, and homeschools, and will completely tear down the public school system.

This movement to replace the public schools with charter schools is already a trend, as witnessed in New Orleans. If this spreads it will be on a regional basis; some states will lead and others will be very reluctant to follow.

Marc Lilla has a fascinating article in this week's NYRB on the Tea Party and the New Jacobins. He says that the current political climate is the outcome of two successful revolutions: the 1960s revolution of individual self-expression and the 1980s Reagan revolution of privatisation. Combined, these two shifts have left individuals to act as they choose and to free themselves from large institutions, now discredited as corrupt and ineffective, to do all manner of things for themselves that they don't have a clue how to do -- including, educate their children and care for their own health.

I am not as dismissive as Lilla about the capacities of ordinary people, and I am not nearly as enamoured by the institutions whose collapse he fears. maybe I am just an unconscious product of this double revolution myself.

But Lilla has a very important point: once these institutions are de-composed, then given the double revolution it will be difficult to put them -- or successor institutions that we will badly need --back into place.

A few charter schools and homeschools is one thing; a nation state without the means to create society is quite another.

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