2020 Medley #8: Public Education, Disaster Capitalism, and COVID-19

UPDATE: A version of this blog entry appears in the Friday, March 20 edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, titled: Coping in the time of COVID

DISASTER

Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, described how natural and man-made disasters open the door to privatization. During the COVID-19 disaster, we must ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen to public education.

Schools have been starved over the last few decades. The lack of funding for public education, and other public institutions and public infrastructure, have opened up schools to vulnerability under the Shock Doctrine. Klein wrote…

When it comes to paying contractors, the sky is the limit; when it comes to financing the basic functions of the state, the coffers are empty.

and…

The American Society of Civil Engineers said in 2007 that the U.S. had fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure — roads, bridges, schools, dams — that it would take more than a trillion and half dollars over five years to bring it back up to standard. Instead, these types of expenditures are being cut back. At the same time, public infrastructure around the world is facing unprecedented stress, with hurricanes, cyclones, floods and forest fires all increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disasters and then are left to rot, their core services never repaired or rehabilitated. The well-off, meanwhile, will withdraw into gated communities, their needs met by privatized providers.

COVID-19

As of this writing, schools are closed for more than half of America’s children. But, as we’ve discussed in these blogs over the last fourteen years, public schools, and public school teachers, are about more than academics.

Teachers care about their students. Friends of Betsy DeVos may think that we’re only in it for the money, but public school teachers care about the whole child…and as Nancy Flanagan writes below, teachers are First Responders when it comes to taking care of the nation’s children.

The following articles describe what public school teachers and public schools are doing to help children and their parents thrive during this stressful time. I recommend that you read all of them in their entirety…

ED-TECH

HEWN (Hack Education Weekly Newsletter), No. 344

Ed-tech is ready to dump their items on schools (for a price, of course)…especially now when those schools that have closed are using technology to connect with their students. Remember that computers, phones, iPads, and similar digital devices are tools, not ends in themselves.

…an assertion that rests on the assumption that ed-tech is good, that it can replicate at home what happens in the classroom. “This may be our moment,” ed-tech folks exclaim, giddily sharing lists of their favorite digital learning tools (with little concern, it seems for questions of accessibility, privacy, or security) and tips for quickly moving “to the cloud.” Of course, education technology — as a field, an industry, a discipline, a solution, what have you — has had decades and decades and decades to get this right. It still hasn’t. So when you hear “this is our moment,” you should recall perhaps the thesis of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. What we’re poised to see in response to the coronavirus — and not just in education, to be fair — is more disaster capitalism, and “disaster capitalists share this same inability to distinguish between creation and destruction, between hurting and healing.”

TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS STEP UP

Coronavirus Has Shown Us the Vital Role Schools Play, But Will America Listen?

Schools feed and house (and sometimes clothe) students every day. Those students who have little or no home resources will suffer most from the lack of open school buildings.

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare something that educators have always known. Schools, side by side with hospitals, are the most important institutions in our country’s social safety net. Of course, we’ve said this since the era of school shootings, where teachers have placed their bodies (literally) in front of students to keep them safe.

But the coronavirus pandemic has put this into even sharper focus, as we grapple with the domino effects of closing entire school districts for prolonged periods at a time. Some public schools will be closed anywhere from a day to a month. Yet, others, such as the New York City system, are still, at this writing, open.

Thus far, dealing with the coronavirus has highlighted four important things about our nation’s schools:

Schools are key to keeping the economy running…
Schools provide respite housing for homeless students during daytime hours…
Schools help to prevent large-scale child hunger every day…
Schools are the primary source of public health information for many families.

Once Again Teachers are First Responders

Schools and teachers have stepped up to help their students.

…Teachers are like those firefighters in Kirkland, Washington who came to transport extremely ill nursing home residents to the hospital, without gloves and masks. Just doing our jobs, just following directions.

Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of teachers who organized take-home packets and figured out how to get coursework online, even if they didn’t have a clue about how to do it before last week. And thank you to those who pointed out, with considerable asperity, how incredibly inequitable virtual instruction will be, but went ahead and made plans to do it anyway. Thanks to all who sent home food or arranged for food pickup—or even made a single call to a single household, to make sure an adult was home.

Nobody knows how to do this well. Nobody. But schools and teachers are still trying.

Disaster Capitalism, Online Instruction, and What Covid-19 Is Teaching Us About Public Schools and Teachers

Nancy Bailey’s blog entry was the catalyst for this post.

We’re reminded of disaster capitalism, a concept highlighted by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, how Katrina was used in New Orleans to convert traditional public schools to charter schools. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. (p. 5-6). Who thought that could happen?

The transitioning of technology into public schools, not simply as a supplemental tool for teachers to use at their discretion, but as a transformative means to remove teachers from the equation, has been highlighted with groups like Digital Promise and KnowledgeWorks. Both promote online learning and it’s difficult to find teachers in the mix.

Combining this with the intentional defunding of public schools, shoddy treatment of teachers including the unwillingness to pay them appropriate salaries, inadequate resources and support staff, crumbling buildings, and the destruction of public schooling in America, should we not question what placing students online at this strange time will mean in the future to our schools?

👩‍🏫🏘🧑🏽‍🏫

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