Sunday, January 15, 2023

Time To Get Your Copy Of Wolf At The Schoolhouse Door

Perhaps you just didn't get around to it at the time, or maybe you're not one to spring for hardback copies of books (I get it--for extra money you get a book that takes up extra space on your shelf). But if you never got your copy of Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, now's your chance, because the paperback edition is now available to order (release date March 7).

The book came out in November of 2020, and in the interim it has become only more trenchant. Every trend and threat identified by authors Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire has only become more pronounced, more active, more shamelessly aggressive.

They end the book with a clear alarm:

The threat to public grave. A radical vision for unmaking the very idea of public schools has moved from the realm of ideological pipe dream to legitimate policy.

The book identifies a four-pronged push against public education (I'm going to crib here from my Forbes review). First, the notion that education is a personal good, not a collective one. Reformers have suggested that public education is not a public service to society, but an individual consumer good, like toasters and automobiles. Therefor, schools “belong in the domain of the free market, not the government.” And while society should bear a minimal cost for minimal education for the poor, education “consumers” should mostly pay their own way. Finally, collective groups like teachers unions need to be quashed, both to allow more “efficiency” in the marketplace and to nullify their political weight.

The rise of vouchers and neo-vouchers, the development of techniques to make education profitable, the rise of computer-centered education, deregulation of the education sector (both directly and via charter schools), the development of reductive school ratings, edvertising, breaking teaching into fast food style Uberized gig work, and the “unbundling” of education so that school itself is no longer even necessary—Schneider and Berkshire trace all of these developments through the various tactics used and successes or failures achieved.

The result is a stark and alarming picture of the movement to dismantle public education (currently getting a further boost from the nation’s pandemic response). But the writers handle all sides fairly and clearly; this is not a book that paints the ed reform crowd as evil monsters, and readers will come away understanding the rationales and beliefs behind various wings of the movement to disrupt public education. These are old ideas, but they have neither gone away nor tired of trying.

This is an eminently readable, thoroughly sourced book that puts all the various threats to public education into a single picture. For someone who is trying to figure out what the heck is going on, or who has heard vaguely that there is some kind of education related fuss, this is a clarifying read. 

And while this book predates the recent rise of critical race theory panic, the rising attacks on LGBTQ+ students, gag laws, and suspension of the right to read, once you understand the ongoing attempts to tear down public education and learn who some of the players are, the current maelstrom makes much more sense. 

Plus there's a new preface, and a bunch more blurbs (including one by me), so there's that to look forward to. Seriously-- if you didn't get around to ordering a copy last time, now's the time to hop on the paperback version. 

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