In two Monthly Review special issues, “Education Under Fire: The U.S. Corporate Attack on Students, Teachers, and Schools” (July-August 2011) and “Public School Teachers Fighting Back” (June 2013), we sounded an alarm regarding the rapid restructuring and privatization of U.S. K–12 public schools. In terms of the scale of nationwide restructuring, the corporate takeover of education is unprecedented in modern U.S. history. The closest comparison we can come up with is the destruction of the street car systems across the United States and the building of the interstate highway system—in which freeways went right through cities for the first time, often in the face of neighborhood and community resistance. With respect to K–12 education, unimaginable amounts of private funds have gone into pressuring and corrupting government at every level, while the control mechanisms of the new educational system are increasingly left in private, not public, hands. The Common Core Standards and related high-stakes tests are at the center of this new system, and are the product of private corporate groups outside the direct reach of government.
Forthcoming in December 2015
In the United States today, the term “terrorism” conjures up images of dangerous, outside threats: religious extremists and suicide bombers in particular. Harder to see but all the more pervasive is the terrorism perpetuated by the United States. itself, whether through military force overseas or woven into the very fabric of society at home. Henry Giroux, in this passionate and incisive book, turns the conventional wisdom on terrorism upside down, demonstrating how fear and lawlessness have become organizing principles of life in the United States, and violence an acceptable form of social mediation.
John Cassidy, who writes on economics for the New Yorker, is in our view one of the most interesting anhd creative commentators on economic analysis and trends writing in the mainstream today. His perspective might be best characterized as institutionalist-realist, in the tradition of thinkers like Thorstein Veblen, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Hyman Minsky.… Cassidy’s latest critical contribution is an online New Yorker news item published on December 12, 2014, carrying the rather prosaic title, “The Winner of the Spending Bill Vote: Jamie Dimon.”… [In this piece] Cassidy…explain[s] how the spending bill passed by the House of Representatives included a rider that rolled back regulations that had been imposed after the Great Financial Crisis on some of the riskier activities of banks. Such speculative activities were to be transferred to the unregulated bank subsidiaries not covered by the federally guaranteed bank insurance system. This has now been reversed and banks are again allowed to engage directly in such high-risk speculative activities, with the losses being picked up by the general public.… There is no doubt that Cassidy is correct, and that the analyses of “left-left” thinkers like Sweezy, one of Monthly Review’s founding editors, and Chomsky, an MR author, have been generally on the mark in pointing out that such outcomes are to be expected in the state management of the economy.
There are two diametrically opposed conceptions of reading and dyslexia, each with loyal advocates. This analysis will clarify some of the important categories that are needed in order to participate knowledgeably and critically in current discussions about dyslexia.… The first conception is dyslexia as biological disease—medicalized dyslexia. By the medicalization of dyslexia is meant that dyslexia is considered to arise from a pathologic condition of the human brain and mind.… A very different conception of why some people fail to learn to read can be found in the transactional sociopsycholinguistic model of reading, whose most widely cited figure is educator Kenneth S. Goodman. Rather than looking inside the poor reader for the source of the problem, this model looks to the surrounding social context.
In this beautifully written memoir, Bill Ayers recounts his bizarre and unsettling experience as a “public enemy” during the 2008 presidential election. An unlikely grouping of right-wing web sites, Fox News, liberal foundations, George Stephanopolous, and even university faculty and presidents did their part to portray the then-Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago as a veritable mad man, someone profoundly immoral whom any self-respecting public figure or institution should immediately disavow. This suggests the salience of two phenomena: first, the perennial appeal of demonizing the U.S. left (especially—but not only—its militant wing), and the ready availability of a variety of tropes to do so.… Second, the incidents reveal a dark region of U.S. political culture striving to influence the mainstream. Many Americans were unsettled at the prospect of a black president, and they have displayed their fears, hatreds, and anxieties in various ways ever since.
The biggest threat to education today is the corporate education reform movement—what many of us call “Ed Deform.” It is also the biggest threat to teachers’ working conditions. Changes in education legislation are creating new government-funded markets for education entrepreneurs. Spending is being shifted away from teacher salaries, benefits, and pensions and into standardized tests, curriculum, and technology. To maximize this investment opportunity teachers must be reskilled away from deciding on content, assessing students, and tailoring education to meet diverse students’ needs and interests. This reduces the room for teachers to implement, for example, the demands of anti-racist advocates and concerned parents for “culturally relevant curriculum” or, indeed, anything that deviates from relevant test-prep skills. Standardized test scores provide a simple metric for measuring “productivity” against teacher labor costs. One example of this Taylorist dynamic is New York City’s new “Advance” Teacher Evaluation system.
Once you were children. If you did not read The Carrot Seed or Harold and the Purple Crayon, probably your children or your friends’ children did. You might have learned internationalism from The Big World and the Little House, or cultural relativism from Who’s Upside Down?, or freethinking and obstinacy from Barnaby. If you did not, it is likely your friends and future comrades did. What you might not have learned is that all these children’s books (and many other progressive favorites) were authored by one or the other or both members of a couple whose left politics inflected their work.… Philip Nel—the editor, with Julia L. Mickenberg, of Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature…—has devoted himself to rescuing twentieth-century radical children’s literature and its authors from relative oblivion.
One of the more remarkable public relations successes of the past two decades can be seen in the way neoliberals, and other supporters of an unfettered market economy, have portrayed their school reform efforts as in the interest of people otherwise excluded from the economy and the political process. A widely viewed film like Waiting for Superman, with its vilification of educators and public schools, suggests that only through the expansion of competition and privatization can the children of black and Latino working-class families be given learning opportunities that will allow them to participate in the American Dream. Thirty years ago, it was progressive educators and policymakers who stood by this constituency, arguing that schools were not fulfilling their social responsibility in providing an equitable education for all children. Now such educators and policymakers are portrayed as the defenders of a status quo that has failed to meet the needs of lower-income and non-white students.… Pauline Lipman’s 2011 volume, The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race, and the Right to the City, with its careful, on-the-ground examination of recent school reform efforts in Chicago, provides a comprehensive and illuminating analysis of how this has happened along with ways to circumvent policy initiatives that are eroding the integrity of an educational system that for a century-and-a-half has been a defining feature of U.S. life and democracy.
The U.S. working class was slow to respond to the hard times it faced during and after the Great Recession. Finally, however, in February 2011, workers in Wisconsin began the famous uprising that electrified the country, revolting in large numbers against Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to destroy the state’s public employee labor unions. A few months later, the Occupy Wall Street movement spread from New York City to the rest of the nation and the world. Then, in September 2012, Chicago’s public school teachers struck, in defiance of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempt to destroy the teachers’ union and put the city’s schools firmly on the path of neoliberal austerity and privatization.… One thing that these three rebellions had in common is the growing awareness that economic and political power in the United States is firmly in the hands of a tiny minority of fantastically wealthy individuals whose avarice knows no bounds. These titans of finance want to eviscerate working men and women, making them as insecure as possible and totally dependent on the dog-eat-dog logic of the marketplace, while at the same time converting any and all aspects of life into opportunities for capital accumulation.
For nine days in September, Chicago belonged to the teachers, school paraprofessionals, and clinicians. On September 10, 2012, 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike. It was the first teachers’ strike in Chicago in twenty-five years. While public and private sector unions have taken concessions and capitulated to cuts in wages, benefits, seniority rights, job protections, and much of what was won by the labor movement in the twentieth century, the CTU stood up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Commercial Club of Chicago, and the billionaire hedge-fund managers who have set out to break teachers’ unions and dismantle public education.
The success of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike in September 2012 was a stunning rebuke to the forces of privatization and corporate education reform.… Three years ago when the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) ran for leadership of the CTU, few would have predicted their ability to turn the union around from six years of do-little leadership into a force capable of taking on a nationally funded, bipartisan “education reform” movement that seemed likely to achieve its goal of weakening and possibly destroying the largest remaining union sector in the United States—public education unions. CORE and the CTU’s success was not due to replacing a weak leadership with a militant one willing to strike, but rather to the creation of a layer of union members in the CTU who saw the struggle as one for what CTU president Karen Lewis calls “the soul of public education.”
As Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis made her Sunday late-night announcement that the city’s teachers and paraprofessionals would stage their first strike in twenty-five years, my husband and I were waiting to be interviewed by a local television station to capture our live reaction.… The reporter asked us what were going to do with our kids during the strike. We said that we were bringing our children to our school’s strike line the next day to support our teachers and to teach our children what it means to stand up for yourself in a democracy. We criticized the mayor for supporting test-based pay since tying teachers’ performance to high-stakes tests forces them to narrow the curriculum and teach to the test. We also trashed the mayor’s assertion that class size doesn’t matter and asked if the mayor would want classes of thirty-five or more for his own children.… The interview was absolutely nerve-racking, but when it was over, we were happy that we were able to send that message. As soon as the camera was turned off, the reporter got word from his producer that he “blew it.” Apparently, we were supposed to portray the inconvenienced parents upset with striking teachers. The news producer wanted us to blame the teachers for this impasse in this contract fight, but we did not. We did not play by the rules of their blame game.