A specter is haunting America - the privatization of its public schools, and Big Money has entered into an unholy alliance to aid and abet it. Multi-billionaire philanthropists, newspaper moguls, governors, legislators, private investors, hedge fund managers, testing and computer companies are making common cause to hasten the destruction of public schools.
This assault also targets the moral and social vision that inspired the creation of public schools - the belief in a free and inclusive democratic society that unites all of us in a common destiny as we struggle together toward a just society and a better life for ourselves and our children.
Public schools were the welcoming gateway to equal opportunity for our nation's children. The fate of Old Europe with its assigned stations in life, its divinely-appointed places in the order of things, was not to be ours as Americans. Inspired by the stories of Horatio Alger, we would seek our fortune because this was America, the country where dreams came true; the land of promise, where pluck, hard work, and a bit of luck would carry the day.
This was the manifest destiny of the poor and marginalized who came to these shores, and public-school children were ushered into this grand tradition of exalted ideals. The poor and the homeless, the sick and the hungry could lay claim to our help because that is what a great nation did - took care of its own, especially those who through no fault of their own couldn't care for themselves. This was a radiantly humane vision in a dark and indifferent world, a belief that would insure our survival in mutual concern as a compassionate people.
Public schools were the flame-keepers of this national creed enshrined in FDR's New Deal, now under radical assault by corporate America and their neoliberal acolytes who would drag the 99 percent back into the Dark Ages of Social Darwinism, the law of the jungle where might makes right, and the poor and weak go to the wall.
The Gates, Broad, Walton, and Koch Foundations deserve special mention in unleashing Armageddon upon our public schools, all the while preening themselves hypocritically as angels of light. So intent are these Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in their class warfare against their own country that the sacrifice of millions of public-school children as collateral damage means nothing to them.
But in fairness it must also be said that the depredations they are visiting upon our public schools must be seen within the broader context of the universal misery and devastation they are raining down on America's economy, families, the environment, and even compromising our democracy itself! Their purchase of public officials, the institutions of government and the electoral process with Supreme Court connivance proceeds majestically forward as they silence criticism by lavishing billions in strategically targeted hush money.
Schools should not be about the making of profit or segregating poor and marginalized children. Schools should be about only one thing - teaching children, all children, no matter how poor they are or how poorly they test.
Schools should help children grow both as students and persons, enable them to discover the world and develop their mind, and to train them to think critically to face the world on their own. This should be the only purpose of schools, and the attempt to make a profit off children is obscene beyond words, and only those without shame would stoop to justify it.
Charter schools' discriminatory admissions policy is an affront to this moral vision of what a school should be about. A public school which would welcome only children who test well and turn away everyone else, would never be tolerated by the public, yet charter schools do this routinely, and the public is silent.
Charter schools are public schools by accepting public taxes, and no amount of denial or obfuscation can conceal that fact. Charters and the educational philosophy they embody are about one thing only - insuring their continued existence by producing higher test scores than public schools, which, let it be shouted from the rooftops, they fail to accomplish. And where is it emblazoned across the heavens that test scores are the infallible measure of students' future success?
Then there are the politicians who expect quid-pro-quo bribes for services rendered, and charter school officials keen on enriching themselves by engaging in illegal conflicts of interest and shady dealings under investigation by the FBI. We are dealing with an army of profiteers and lobbyists who will concoct any lie, buy any legislature, and stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
Such is the eloquence of money that reason, logic, and morality are as naught when this golden-tongued orator pleads the case of charters before state legislatures. Human nature is weak, and when billions are hanging on the vine of temptation, human nature is very weak. State houses around the country see get-rich-quick schemes they cannot resist and make sure that lack of oversight will give free rein to this Wild West of Charters, and the list keeps growing.
This is a new low for American Big Business in defiling even the hallowed precincts of schools, where children should be getting a real education, not sitting in telemarketer cubicles with Bill Gates' computers, as a return on his investment. This is a nightmare vision of education to come, hatched in the same brain that has already given us standardized testing and Common Core standards, a personal gold mine for him.
If the vaunted noblesse oblige of multi-billionaire philanthropists were the genuine article, they would quietly pour forth their abundant largesse upon all the public schools of the nation, with no strings attached!
The moral rot of unchecked influence peddling will continue unabated in this stealth war of charter secrecy against American children. For it is they who will be sacrificed upon the altar of this insatiable Charter School Moloch of Greed, which will glut its limitless appetite for money, power, and lasting control over children without any accountability. In the meantime, it's full steam ahead for these "new reformers" with their hidden agenda for two kinds of education - one for the rulers and one for the ruled in a Standardized America.
"Without justice, what else is the State but a great band of robbers," was Augustine's trenchant observation that goes to the heart of our times, and this briefest of chapters in his magisterial work should be mandatory reading for the political class of our country (The City of God IV, 4). Congressional hearings into this charter-school juggernaut are America's last hope for dragging this fraud out of the shadows.