Filmmaker Brian Malone has made a worthy addition to the catalog of documentaries about reformster shenanigans. Education, Inc is well worth your time (and your money).
The challenge for any documentary about the reformster assault is to show both the large picture of what powers and policies are fueling the privatization of public ed, and also the way these issues play out on a local level. Malone meets that challenge admirably.
He begins with his local focus-- Douglas County in Colorado. As we join them, they are in the midst of a hard-fought battle for control of the local school board-- control that was lost in previous election as a slate of members were swept in on a wave of outside money. Why would little Douglass County attract anyone's attention? Probably because they have a $500 million budget.
The clash between the reformster board members and the public school supporters is hard to watch; the board uses an escalating series of moves to silence public objections and to insure that they can meet in peace to do as they wish. It's ugly and it's not even masked in a cloak of politeness or rationalization.
Malone tells his own story as a local parent slowly becoming aware that the brutal impact on his own school system is just one local manifestation of larger forces in the nation, and so eventually he travels to other cities, including Chicago and DC. He learns about No Child Left Behind and the role of ALEC in producing the privatization policies that have popped up all across America. He learns about the role of testing in driving privatization. He takes a look at the differences in how all this plays out in a neighboring county, and what can be learned from the differences. I am not sure that he entirely gets Common Core (at one point he says that "the principle of Common Core is a good one") but that is a brief portion of the film.
What Malone does get is the power of politics soaked in an ocean of money, chasing an even huger ocean of money. Malone gets how that big soggy mess is turning into ugly and destructive policies on the local level. Malone gets how free-market ideology is destroying the fundamental idea of public education.
Much of this will seem familiar to readers of this blog, buy it's still worth watching. We've all read plenty about how combative and unresponsive reformsters can be, but watching still is a punch in the gut. And the portion of the film in which an activist discovers that a school district has actually set up a dummy charter school in order to launder money on its illegal path to fund a private religious school is astonishing in a "just when you think you've seen the most cynical and giant-balled reformster move ever" way.
Malone also underlines a sad truth, but one we have to confront-- none of what happened in Douglass County could have happened without the cooperation of the vast majority of the local voters, who just stayed home and didn't vote at all. We can talk all day about how Big Money is used to sway elections, but most elections in this country could be radically altered if the voters just showed up.
Ultimately Malone brings us back to the outcome of the hotly contested school board election; I'll leave that to the movie to tell you.
I will add Education, Inc to my arsenal of material to use in getting through to folks who haven't been paying attention. You can purchase a copy for $20, which is certainly a better use of a twenty than two big meals at McDonald's or a copy of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. I recommend the film both for your own use to share with friends and family; Malone has done a great job of connecting the larger issues to a local setting. And here's one last thing to notice-- this is not about some urban poverty center, but beautiful, comfortable Colorado. On top of everything else, the film is a reminder that reformsters have their eyes everywhere. Time to wake up.