Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let's Drop "Privatization"

As we continue the struggle with reformy stuff, we should always keep a close eye on our vocabulary. I think we need to stop talking about "privatization."

I understand the word's appeal. It seems to speak to a movement to move schools out of the public sphere, to make education policy and financing captive to the whims of our new corporate overlords. It is also a relatively shiny new word. Google ngram shows trace elements of it from 1920 on, but it doesn't really take off until the early 1980s with a peak in the mid-90s. That would suggest a word without much baggage, but I don't think it's the word we want.

"Privatization" suggests a neat, complete takeover. It makes it sounds as if the Masters of Reforming Our Nation's Schools just want to buy up all the schools and run them themselves. It certainly conjures up a scary picture-- slick, gleaming, soulless schools where uber-standardized children are stamped into uniform blank-eyed Stepford students.

But that picture, horrifying though it may be, is seductively wrong. It allows us to assume two comforting things-- 1) that privatized schools might be awful, but they will still be functioning which means that 2) there will still be hope of a revolution in which we recapture the front office and return the school to its rightful function. Maybe it will be like a private school, and many of those are quite fine. We imagine that the school is a big machine and privatizers will capture it and turn it to manufacturing ugly hamster cages. All we'll have to do is find a way to get the machine back and reset it to make pretty handbags.

But that's not what the MoRONS have in mind at all. From Philly to New Orleans to Chicago to LA, they've demonstrated that they no more want to privatize school than a junkyard wants to privatize your car.

What we're seeing is nothing new in the business world. One business often buys out another simply to get at inventory, a brand name, a customer base, or manufacturing capacity. They buy the company, take what they want, and discard the rest.

None of these MoRONS want public schools. In some cases, they want the branding (TFA uses the word "teacher" to help brand itself as some great humanitarian enterprise). In some cases, they want free use of real estate (e.g. the now-very-nervous charter schools of NYC). But mostly they want just one thing-- money.

Money. Government grants. Revenue streams from programs. Income from the Right Students. Money. Money moneymoneymoneymoney money MONEY!

Everything else about the public school system is unimportant to the MoRONS. The parts of the system they care about are the parts that keep the money flowing. Everything else is unimportant. It's a business decision. Anything that keeps the money coming in is good. Anything that costs money without providing ROI is bad.

So MoRONS are about dismantling the system, keeping what makes them money, throwing out the rest. Given the chance, they will gut schools like you scoop the seeds out of a cantaloupe. They are not interested in privatizing. They are interested in dismantling the machine, selling the parts, and scrapping the rest.

Teachers too expensive. Find a way to scrap 'em. Some students provide bad expense-to-income ratio? Get rid of them. Some schools too hard to get ROI from? Abandon them. Make sure that curriculum, programming, materials, and evaluation all work in a perfect circle, each buddy handing money off to the guy next to him, around and around and around. We don't need an education system; we just need a revenue transfer system.

All the MoRONS really need is enough of what looks like a school system to convince government to keep giving them money. And since they generally get to help government write the rules about how money is handed out, they can make that process completely streamlined.

And it's not just an urban fight. The big money is in urban schools, so that's where the MoRONS have focused so far. They may never turn their attention to rural schools (though in PA, cyber-charters are sucking small districts dry already), but even if they don't, they will redirect school tax dollars to the profit centers in big cities, leaving rural schools to sip fruitlessly at ever-drying pools of spare change.

"Privatization" is a seductively dangerous word because it suggests we're in a fight over who runs the public school system. I'm thinking we're actually in a fight over whether that system will continue to exist. We're not talking takeover; we're talking destruction. So let's all stop using the word "privatization." However, if you want to keep using the acronym MoRONS, you have my enthusiastic permission to do so.


  1. I frequently say that the "reformers" are out to MONETIZE public education to their own advantage, people be damned.

  2. I use "corporatize" myself. It's about making public schools into money-makers for corporations.