Sunday, August 11, 2019

Privatization of America's Public Institutions...a hopping-mad review

I seem to be using #FFS a lot recently...Well, if you know me, I am screaming it, with my face crimson, smoke coming out of my ears. We are in deep...doodoo. Buy this book and give it to every policy maker you know. Stand over them while they read it. And demand a book report. 

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Our public life is being eroded by privatizers right under our noses.

Lawrence is a friend, a fierce advocate for public schools, their students and teachers. He can research a topic to get to the very essence of the issue. This book is organized around four insidious efforts to privatize American institutions…cornerstones of our democracy: the military, the corrections system, PreK-12 schools, and higher education. Each chapter is exhaustively researched, with over 100 citations for each chapter. Every statement in this book is backed up by research!

What are the dangers to a democracy when our institutions are privatized? Turned over to people with questionable motives beyond making as much money as possible? Turns out the dangers are real, and they are here…looking us in the eye.

A privatized military has no ultimate loyalty to our country, to our elected leaders. Military contractors owe allegiance to their bosses…the corporations taking over services in the military, to ‘free up’ our soldiers to do the dirty work…for less money than the contractors who are cooking and doing the laundry. These corporations raid the ranks of the military, hoping to buy not only the expertise of these trained military, but also their secrets. ROTC is now privatized. HALF of the military allocations our Congress sends off go to PRIVATE CONTRACTORS. These corporations are under no obligation to train their workers, to share intelligence, to offer the benefits available from the military (this is a common thread through the book…these privatizers do not offer job security, living wages, or benefits to their workers…that means more profits for the stockholders, and questionable service to the public).

Private prisons and juvenile facilities and facilities currently holding immigrants have been privatized for a while…on the cheap…with no effort to provide a safe workplace for employees or for the detainees. When a private prison contracts with a state to build a facility, part of the ‘deal’ is a occupancy guarantee. Usually 90% -- the state is obligated to pay for 90% occupancy, whether or not the number of inmates equals that. Sweet deal for contractors…Workers get less training, fewer benefits, and lower wages. Injuries and abuse of both workers and inmates is not unknown. Baines points out that crime rates are falling, but the number of private prisons and incarceration at these facilities is rising. He discusses the specific dangers to young people in these facilities…and says 21% of young inmates have committed no crime, but they find themselves in the system.

PreK-12 schools have been fighting the effects of privatization for a long time, and this was the chapter that I understood the best, since the information was not new, but the facts, the research, the figures, were astounding. Baines discusses various for-profit charters that have been all the rage, and points out the appeal for parents: less bureaucracy, self-segregation from ‘those kids (my words),’ and having the state help pay for their religious education…must be nice! He explains the difference between Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which send state money as vouchers directly to parents, and Tax Credit Scholarships (TCSs) which send money to a partner institution that administers the funds…for a cut! The opportunities for fraud and abuse when for-profits try to teach our children is sickening.

I attended the Save Our Schools March and Rally in DC years ago, and met two teacher-prep professors from a nearby college…we all agreed that when reformers and privatizers where finished picking the bones of public education clean, they’d be coming after higher education. Privatizers didn’t wait. They are now outsourcing services at universities, and outsourcing DEGREES. All of this is made possible, as with public education, by the fact that state legislatures have systematically cut funding to state and land-grant institutions. My state is right there near the top of the culprits who cut funds, requiring colleges to raise fees and tuition…The use of adjuncts who receive no benefits (I know…I am one), reduction of major choices as departments are closed down, a de-emphasis on services, and a de-emphasis on the ‘community of learners” that on-campus college experience allows, all are results of the privatization of our public higher education institutions.

Most heartbreaking was the discussion of how teacher preparation is now outsourced…online classes that require NO field experience, no internship…NO face-to-face work with young people at all. Just ‘write us a check and click your mouse to your way to a teaching certificate.’ Texas, ABCTE, and now in OK, Tulsa Schools, can ‘credential their own.’ For $5K-$10K, you too, can become a teacher, sometimes without ever having to set eyes on a real child until you're hired. This will lead to more churn in our PreK-12 classes, more calls for charters and Tax Credits and Ed Savings Accounts. More privatization.

If we don’t wake up NOW, our children and grandchildren will be facing a world where soldiers-for-hire take orders from corporations, where our prisons create the overcrowding, recidivism, self-fulfilling prophesy of failure, where our children are taught by less-and-less qualified teachers coming out of poor-quality but profitable teacher preparation companies whose entire goal is profit.

We are selling not only our own souls…we are selling our children’s future.

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