Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Posts Tagged ‘choice

Markets, Efficiency and Choice: Wall Street and the School House Part III

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This is the last of three posts on Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street and education reform. See also Part I and Part II.

Ho traces the rise of shareholder value beginning in the 1980s as the dominant ethos for business. It became “the central explanation and rationale for corporate restructuring, changing concepts of wealth and inequality, and the state of the America economy.” (122) She argues that the phrase was uttered constantly by her informants, and that “it shaped how they used their ‘smartness’ and explained the purpose of their hard work.” (123)

Shareholder value was premised on the notion that financial analysts knew more about what these firms needed than those with expertise and experience. And it also meant dismissing any concerns for stakeholders other than shareholders. Any money spent on others—whether that was employees or the communities that depended on these businesses—was seen as a waste. This stance justified and encouraged “hyperexploitive labor practices.” (146) The destruction such practices inflict are justified by the idea that it brings about “efficiency.” As one analyst said:

If I’m an employee, then there may be some temporary dislocations in the economy, but long-term, with a higher employment rate because at the end of the day, the most efficient, the most imperative industry should survive. The best operation should survive. (157)

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Written by David Kaib

June 9, 2014 at 5:34 pm

No, Jeb Bush, Schools are not Like Milk

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[Update 7-3-13 Steve Hinnefeld addresses Albert Hirschman vs. Milton Friedman and education reform. “Here’s another way of saying it: The contempt that school choice advocates commonly express for public schools is, at its root, contempt for democracy itself.”]

At the GOP convention, Jeb Bush argued in favor of voucher and school choice using the frame of civil rights.  Bush, brother of failed president and education reformer George W. Bush, went further, offering an even more inapt metaphor.

“Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose,” he said in a prepared version of his remarks sent to reporters. “Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk— chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.”

“Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?” Bush said.

This perfectly encapsulates what’s wrong with the corporate ed position.  It conflates something as important, complex and far reaching in its consequences as an education with milk, a simple consumer good.  That frame justifies turning public education into a profit making opportunity.  It supports the deprofessionalization of teachers.  It focuses our attention on individuals instead of the ways we systematically provide a different quality to education based on class and race.  Choosing 2% one week and whole milk the next is no problem, but shifting your child between schools even once is a huge decision. The choice of milk depends purely on taste while education is a skilled profession.  While the analogy has surface appeal, its implication are gross and  most people would recoil from them it they were made explicit.  Most people, that is, who believe that providing a quality education to all is a basic requirement in a democratic society that is committed to the idea that all people are equal.

How can you say on the one hand that education is a civil right and at the same time it’s like shopping for groceries? Read the rest of this entry »

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