The Shock Doctrine Case Study: Pennsylvania Public Schools

Lately, it has been argued that the "financial crisis" is being used by market-driven reformers to undermine the public services sector.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein pushes the concept of how the public can be manipulated during times of catastrophe or perceived crisis. Lately, it has been argued that the "financial crisis" is being used by market-driven reformers to undermine the public services sector. Specifically, if we look at public education, lawmakers are explicitly telling public schools that they will need to deal with less in the future because of state budget deficits. All of this is done with large support from the citizens because they are "shocked" and believe there is an economic crisis and that any publicly-supported service should be drastically cut to help bring back balanced budgets. Simultaneously, "the shockers" offer rewards in corporate tax cuts and in some cases implement new programs that end up costing the taxpayer more than the proposed cuts.

The citizenry is repeatedly told that the only way out of this budget crisis is to cut spending and that individual citizens (taxpayers) should not take on any of the burden. In fact, the propaganda leveled at the taxpayers also paints them as helpless victims that have been milked by greedy public-sector unions. In turn, the general public becomes very supportive of any promise to lift their burden and somewhat celebratory in watching their neighbors (public sector employees) lose, at a minimum, basic benefits.

However, what if the "financial crisis" was not real? Now, I'm not saying that states and local governments aren't actually in debt; however, what if the proposed solutions (that are being accepted without any critical analysis because of the Shock Doctrine effect) end up (as stated above) costing more money than the proposed cuts? For example, in my home state of Pennsylvania, newly elected governor Tom Corbett has proposed cutting 586 million dollars from K-12 public schools to help cover a projected $4 billion deficit. And of course, with a hefty dose of "greedy teacher" rhetoric from right wing radio, he has been able to convince a large population in Pennsylvania to actively support these cuts in the name of helping the "financial crisis."

But one only need look at Corbett's proposed plans for public education to actually find out that Corbett is indeed using the Shock Doctrine to dupe the citizenry into supporting deep cuts to public schools. For example, State Department of Education spokesman Steve Weitzman was quoted as saying, "The presumption of steady, unbroken revenue increases year after year no longer is feasible. The day of reckoning has come." Sounds shocking, right? What exactly does he mean by the day of reckoning?

Well, it has nothing to do with actually spending less on education. Yes, the Corbett administration plans on cutting $589 million from public school appropriations. And these cuts are devastating local school budgets and turning neighbor against neighbor in local communities. However, between maintaining the worthless PSSA system (NCLB) and implementing a set of new initiatives, the Corbett administration may end up actually spending close to one billion dollars.

The Corbett administration supports funding a voucher system that has been demonstrated not to raise achievement test scores and ends up costing taxpayers more money. Voucher programs are not funded by some magical pot of money. Taxpayers pay for them!

Corbett also wants to develop a grading system for public schools that has the ability to wreak chaos on property values. The governor plans to implement the Keystone exams (exit exams) that national research has shown add nothing to a child's education, and in the state of California is estimated to cost over $500 million dollars a year to administer. Additionally, Corbett wants to create a merit pay system for teachers that will narrow the curriculum, end teacher collaboration and cost taxpayers even more money. As Diane Ravitch recently pointed out, "when the Vanderbilt study of merit pay was published, the U.S. Department of Education immediately released nearly $500 million for -- what else -- more merit-pay programs, and promised that another $500 million would be forthcoming. Data mean nothing when your mind is made up." Therefore, Corbett's plans for public schools will end up costing taxpayers more than the initial $589 million cut.

Communities need to speak up and recognize the "shock." Local schools are making significant cuts to programs that benefit children and the communities they serve. But why should they if the Corbett administration plans on actually spending more for it's own politically-driven initiatives that are specifically designed to dismantle the public school system? I guess the "day of reckoning" is really facing the fact that the Corbett administration is using the "financial crisis" as a way to push a market-driven reform strategy that will destroy local community-schools (Shock Doctrine).

This is just an example from Pennsylvania. The Shock Doctrine and market driven reforms for community public schools are being pushed all over the country. How do we (supporters of public schools) challenge the "crisis" narrative when the major media outlets continue to provide the "reformers" a forum devoid of any credible counter analysis? Will supporters of community-based public schools that recognize poverty's devastating influence on learning (supported by research) ever be given an opportunity to debate and deconstruct the reformers' "shocking" proposals to "fix" schools and teachers? Am I delusional to imagine a national boycott of the major media's advertisers? Are there enough supporters of public schools to even be considered a threat? Or is the "shock" so thorough that the citizenry has been lobotomized?

Before You Go

Popular in the Community