Opposing Charter Schools Without Really Opposing Them

Many individuals, groups, newspapers, and organizations claim that they oppose charter schools. But, revealing ongoing confusion, they also say, often in the same breath, that “there are some good charter schools out there,” that “not all charter schools are rotten,” that “charter schools are not a ‘panacea’ but can be part of the solution,” that “charter schools may provide a good alternative for at least some students,” or that “charter schools should be given a chance” (even though they have been around for more than 25 years). Such contradictory statements are not uncommon, keep many intellectually disoriented, and undermine social progress.

Typically, such forces effectively describe several damning and indicting problems inherent to charter schools, usually enough for the average rational person to rapidly conclude that charter schools should be eliminated immediately, but then instantly equivocate and insert some statement directly or indirectly supporting charter schools. This normalized indecisiveness has been haunting people for years because the analysis, outlook, and consciousness behind it are limited and outmoded.

Even though there is no justification for the existence, let alone expansion, of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools in America, it is nearly impossible to find forces who resolutely answer the call of history to oppose the entire neoliberal concept and practice of charter schools from beginning to end. Instead of defending public schools unequivocally and rejecting all attempts to loot them, we get hedging and ambivalence; lots of fence-riding, often cast as a “balanced view” or “reasonable position.”

Objectively speaking, pay-the-rich neoliberal schemes like charter schools will continue to harm thousands of public schools in many ways, especially as they continue to multiply freely. They will continue to damage society and the economy as well, mainly due to widespread crimes, scandals, waste, fraud, corruption, and racketeering. Charter schools will also continue to under-perform, practice discriminatory enrollment, fight unions, remain unaccountable, operate with impunity, practice authoritarian student discipline codes, dodge endless public governance standards, offer fewer services than public schools, and force many poorly-paid, overworked, and deunionized teachers to quit their job within the first five years of work, ensuring instability, discontinuity, and anarchy in a profession that needs the opposite. Hundreds of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools will continue to close each year, often suddenly and spontaneously, leaving thousands of families disillusioned, abandoned, angry, stressed, and victimized—and with no ability to seek real redress for the harm inflicted on them by charter schools. So much for “choice” and “parental power.”

A culture that is capital-centered, anti-investigation, and constantly reinforces anticonsciousness, individualism, narcissism, and consumerism prevents the brain from perceiving phenomena correctly and making connections in an intelligible way so as to form a coherent, integrated, human-centered, pro-social perspective on what is actually unfolding. The result is contradictory, confusing, choppy, and disorienting statements about charter schools that keep funneling billions of public dollars to private interests. This does not serve the public interest in any way.

Charter schools are part of the multi-faceted neoliberal agenda of the rich launched in the late 1970s. There is nothing grass-roots, pro-social, or progressive about them. For more than 25 years they have proved to be a textbook expression of the financial parasitism inherent to the final and highest stage of capitalism. They are a regressive phenomenon effectively contributing to the further concentration in fewer private hands of social wealth. Prettifying them will not change this fact.

The endless problems with these privatized marketized schools highlights the necessity for a new human-centered direction and outlook in education and society. “Market reform” has done nothing but deny people their rights while producing fabulous profit for the wealthy few.

A fresh new human-centered direction cannot be established by the rich and their political and media apparatus. They are part of the old and outdated. Narrow private interests and their representatives are not concerned about the needs and well-being of the people. They are incapable of humanizing the natural and social environment. Only organized pro-public grass-roots forces can take up the social responsibility to bring into being through their own independent analyses, actions, and practical politics the kind of education system needed by modern society in the 21st century.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.