Tag Archives: Commons

The Ignored Arm of the Commons and the Invisible Hand of the Market

Education Week has posted a new report on charter school funding, the blog titled “Charter Schools’ Funding Lags, Study Finds”:

Charter school students receive about $4,000 less in per-pupil funding than their regular public school peers according to an analysis of five regions across the U.S., a new report has found.

The report, conducted by the University of Arkansas and funded by the Walton Family Foundation, compared per-pupil funding rates between charter and regular public schools in Denver, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Newark, and the District of Columbia from 2007-2011.

The Walton Family Foundation has been a major backer of school-choice, including charters and private school vouchers. (The Walton Family Foundation also supports coverage of parent empowerment issues at Education Week.)

…Many of the same researchers that conducted the Ball State University study participated in the University of Arkansas research.

What should anyone make about a report coming from the Department of Education Reform Walmart housed at the public University of Arkansas?

First, the charter school movement, good or bad, depends on the existence of public schools—a fact of the Commons often ignored.

The Invisible Hand of the Market sits at the end of the Ignored Arm of the Commons.

Try running your great new business without public streets and highways, public law enforcement, or public schools educating the vast majority of workers and consumers in the U.S.

As Bruce Baker has shown [1], the charter shuffle and its dependence on public schools must never be discounted; note this graphic:

Figure 1. The General Model

—–

As Kelvin Smythe notes:

The education situation is dire, western economies are struggling, with one of its manifestations being the rich and powerful acting to undermine public schools. Charter schools not being about charter schools is emblematic of that dire situation.

Charter schools and charter school reports coming from thinly veiled free market think tanks housed inside public universities are about unfairly discrediting public schools and the wider Commons as well as misrepresenting the power and importance of the free market.

The Invisible Hand of the Market can never conduct its magic without a powerful but Ignored Arm of the Commons to guide it.

[1] See also COMPARING CHARTER SCHOOL AND LOCAL PUBLIC DISTRICT FINANCIAL RESOURCES IN NEW YORK, OHIO, AND TEXAS, Baker & Wiley (2012); and FISCAL DISPARITIES AND PHILANTHROPY AMONG NEW YORK CITY CHARTER SCHOOLS, Baker & Ferris (2011)

“Expect Nothing, Get Nothing”: Common v. Standard

In Chapter 7 (a “hard-boiled wonderland” section) of Haruki Murakami‘s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, the narrator details:

I wound up my purchases and pulled into my convenient neighborhood fast-food restaurant. I ordered shrimp salad, onion rings, and a beer. The shrimp was straight out of the freezer, the onion rings soggy. Looking around the place, though, I failed to spot a single customer banging on a tray or complaining to a waitress. So I shut up and finished my food. Expect nothing, get nothing. (p. 72)

As an English teacher, my mind immediately thought of Meursault in Albert Camus’s existential classic The Stranger:

Soon after this I had a letter from [Marie]. And it was then that the things I’ve never liked to talk about began. Not that they were particularly terrible; I’ve no wish to exaggerate and I suffered less than others. Still, there was one thing in those early days that was really irksome: my habit of thinking like a free man. For instance, I would suddenly be seized with a desire to go down to the beach for a swim. And merely to have imagined the sound of ripples at my feet, the smooth feel of the water on my body as I struck out, and the wonderful sensation of relief it gave brought home still more cruelly the narrowness of my cell.

Still, that phase lasted a few months only. Afterward, I had prisoner’s thoughts. I waited for the daily walk in the courtyard or a visit from my lawyer. As for the rest of the time, I managed quite well, really. I’ve often thought that had I been compelled to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but gaze up at the patch of sky just overhead, I’d have got used to it by degrees. I’d have learned to watch for the passing of birds or drifting clouds, as I had come to watch for my lawyer’s odd neckties, or, in another world, to wait patiently till Sunday for a spell of love-making with Marie. Well, here, anyhow, I wasn’t penned in a hollow tree trunk. There were others in the world worse off than I. I remembered it had been one of Mother’s pet ideas—she was always voicing it—that in the long run one gets used to anything.

The corporate education reform machine (think the machine of justice within which Meursault finds himself and comes to get used to, just as he would living in the trunk of a dead tree) demands a standard curriculum and then a series of standardized tests to hold students, teachers, and schools accountable for the passive transmission and acquisition of state (and corporate) endorsed content.

CCSS and the tests to follow, then, are simply the dead tree we are being told to live in, and like the narrator in the Murakami novel, to shut up and do as we are told:

Expect nothing, get nothing.

Content in this corporate ideology is a fixed (dead) set of knowledge to be ingested, uncritically, passively, compliantly.

In a free society, one dedicated to democracy and individual freedom, such a process serves the needs of the corporate world, seeking as it does the compliant worker.

Education as a central aspect of the Commons and a mechanism for democracy must offer content as something to be confronted and challenged, not something to acquire.

A class may have a text in common, but the reading, studying, and discussions must be about wrestling with the text and the wide array of interpretations of that text.

Trying to raise the test scores of students in order to evaluate teachers (all driven by the new CCSS) is an act of living in a dead tree, asking for nothing, and getting nothing.

And this may be why the CCSS advocates (Coleman, et al.) are so eager to shift the classroom texts to non-fiction instead of fiction.

Imagine their horror, among the ruling elite, at the thought of teachers making decisions and students confronting Murakami or Camus to realize that the shrimp is straight out of the freezer, the onion rings are soggy, and it is past time to bang their trays on the table and complain to the waitress.