Local Control of Education & Democracy is a Myth
By: Todd Smekens
BLOG – Many Muncie residents are still upset over the state takeover of Muncie Community Schools (MCS). The teacher union is obviously upset since they recently won a state ruling over their contract dispute, but the victory was short-lived. It lasted less than a weekend. The union knows teacher jobs will be lost. What’s even more interesting is listening to the “conservatives” or local Tea Party caucus applaud the takeover by Republicans in Indianapolis. Conservatives have a very old history of sponsoring and supporting local control, and if you listen to them in Indianapolis, they abhor the “federal government overreach”. However, when the state takes over a local school district, the same conservatives are applauding. Why is that?
A simple answer would be politics, but it’s more complicated when you consider public education and democracy within the U.S. However, the powerful Ways and Means Republican in Indianapolis, Tim Brown, added Muncie to the takeover list with Gary Community Schools because of “their poor financial condition”. He referred to the State Board of Accounts audit indicating negative account balances. The funny thing was our local newspaper discovered the school in Tim Brown’s home district also suffered from negative account balances, but it wasn’t on the state’s list. And yes, Crawfordsville is mostly a conservative white district.
Let’s go beyond the obvious motivation of politics. According to a recent article written by Tim Scott titled, “Local Control of Schools: A Fanciful Democratic Endeavor”, he explores the myth of public education being a democratic bastion:
Simply, local control of schools (and other public institutions) is often viewed as one of the last bastions of American democracy. Yet, it is important to remember that the local control versus state or federal control argument occupies a complicated history and structural landscape that is embedded within myths about American democracy. These myths are often perpetuated by public education advocates and union leaders who commonly invoke the mantra of “saving our public schools” for the sake of “our democracy.”
I recommend reading the entire article several times to fully grasp the entire issue, but the essence of his point is centered in what our U.S. Constitution actually says. You can summarize his legal point with this one sentence, “Ultimately, it is the undemocratic cultural political economy (white supremacy, capitalism, settler-colonialism, heteropatriarchy) that is preserved by the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court and imperious cultural scripts of U.S. nationalism that averts democratic control of public schools.”
When folks on a national stage say, “We’re losing all the progress made in the past 50 years!”, this is what they are referring to. Federal lawmakers and presidents added rights that weren’t originally there. Those are now being eliminated. This is exactly what the goals have been for Charles and David Koch – the famed billionaire Libertarians. They want to erase all the progressive legislation granting rights to the government – more specifically, they want to eliminate the New Deal from the 1930’s era which took away power from the Oligarchs and gave it to the government. This is why the Koch’s have spent trillions establishing “think-tanks” and buying access to universities like Ball State, Florida State, and George Mason. They’ve built a political Libertarian movement which now runs 23 states with direct access to the federal government via Mike Pence.
Trump’s national budget and Betsy DeVos’s education budget reflects the principles of negating and eliminating all the recent positive rights bestowed upon the government and returning the central government to its original place – one that supports, “white supremacy, capitalism, settler-colonialism, heteropatriarchy”.
Tim captures the “corrective mode” behind the Koch brothers and their political reach now in the Whitehouse and firmly planted in Indiana:
The nation’s founding governing contract – the U.S. Constitution – and the infrastructurally powerful institutions that operationalizes it (including education) are designed to self-correct and bring the founding social order back in line when it is diverted from its intended aims. This is one of the underlying purposes of current education reform policies, which (along with other neoliberal programs) were instituted in response to major cultural shifts tied to emancipatory social movements from the 1950’s through the 1970’s that were challenging public education’s original nationalistic and social efficiently function. Current education policies also seek to update education to better meet the demands tied to global financialization. This trajectory is taking schooling into the unchartered terrain of full on privatization, marketization and high-tech data mining surveillance systems that promise to do away with any potential for holistic models of teaching and learning.
Tim mentions “neoliberal” programs which are basically the privatization of all entities operated by the government for the public – healthcare, parks, schools, roads, police, fire, etc. Both corporate owned political parties have been used by capitalists to ensure privatization programs are fully implemented.
The general public has little or no awareness of this transformation, but they sense it is happening. It’s why populists are finding and supporting candidates outside the corporate run two-party system. Citizens rightly claim, “The people we’ve been electing aren’t listening to us.”
As Bernie Sanders has repeatedly claimed, “The economy is rigged against us!”
It has been since the day our country was founded. It’s why the Electoral College elects a president versus popular vote (democracy). The rich white property owning founders wanted to make sure they maintained control.
I could continue with this topic, but I’ll let Tim have the last word about the myth of local control for all communities:
It is the built-in structural inequalities and accompanying cultural myths generated by U.S. society at large which guarantee that affluent communities – primarily white, with higher tax bases and ample social agency – can sufficiently fund and have some level of influence in their local public schools; while subordinated and impoverished communities (especially Black, Brown and Indigenous) cannot.