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Getting It Right

Posted By: Robin Goodman on August 3, 2001
Kevin Kosarís response to Roslyn Arlin Mickelsonís review of Kenneth J. Saltmanís book Collateral Damage is clear testimony that Kosar has neither read Saltmanís book nor understood the issues. Saltmanís book is important, and it is original. It is the first book to treat the relationship between corporatism and militarism in schooling, and it contributes to the growing body of literature on how new educational policy is contributing to the creation of popular consent for a neoliberal agenda that includes privatization and other anti-democratic initiatives. As well, Saltmanís book sets off an alarm. To dismiss it as but another leftist rave is to fuel current rightist assaults on public culture and democracy.

One of the points that Kosar misses is that privatization is not the same as private schools. Saltman is talking about a widespread assault on the public, an attack that includes the privatization of parks, jails, healthcare, childcare, and even the outsourcing of parts of the federal government and defense. If Kosar had read the book he would have known that Saltman does not attack private institutions or religious schools. Rather, Saltman shows how the trends of corporatization and privatization mean a widespread inability to think in terms of a public good. Saltman couldnít make it clearer: "The current war on public schools resonates with a broader language in other public spheres that advocates social containment over social investment. For example, the championing of the death penalty, the building of prisons, and the attack on civil rights such as habeas corpus, public gathering, and automobile passenger privacy symptomatize a growing social logic that seeks to remedy social problems by limiting rights and freedoms rather than addressing social and structural causes of social ills such as poverty, the decimation of urban social services, and growing disparities in wealth and access to institutions" (77-78).

If Kosar had read Saltmanís book, he would have learned that not only private schools, but also public schools are subject to the effects of privatization initiatives. Again, Saltman is succinct and direct: "Efforts to turn public school students into a captive market have succeeded with the continuation of KIIIís Channel One, corporate-written curricula, partnerships, contests, exclusive contracts on vending, as well as the transformation of school hallways, school buses, book covers, and advertisementsÖ The corporate tax drain caused by successful corporate lobbying against taxes and social spending has contributed to public schools Ė particularly urban and nonwhite public schools Ė being incapable of raising sufficient funds. The result of the depleted tax base has been the defunding of those areas already hardest it by corporate firings and the flight of business from the urban center and from the nation. The most injured parties of the corporate pursuit of profit are the first to be targeted for profiteering in the form of "partnerships" and other privatization initiatives. In short, then, the issue of corporate involvement in public schooling cannot be considered separately from the history of the corporate evasion of social responsibility" (58-61). Saltman is clearly not claiming the current organization of public institutions as any kind of panacea.

If Kosar had read Saltmanís book, he would have known the problems in reducing education to a language of the market, as Kosar does when he says that the left asserts that the government "should hold a monopoly on the education of youth." Yet again, Saltman is unrelenting: "All of the previously mentioned arguments for privatization rely upon the metaphor of the market for their force and even for their intelligibility. Prior to the shift to the language and logic of the market in policy and academic circles, the reform debates were characterized by a concern with equity and universal education. ĎUntil the 1980s concerns about equal educational opportunity for all students still dominated the national dialogue.í In fact, early privatization initiatives were framed in this language. The emergence and consequent triumph of the market metaphor and the shift in the educational reform debates mark the success of a broader redefinition of democracy and democratic citizenship as fundamentally economic rather than social, individual rather than communal, and a matter of technique rather than collective vision" (4).

Most importantly perhaps, if Kosar had read Saltmanís book, he would have known that even if Saltman is aware that public schools often reproduce social class, Saltman never loses hope for a critical citizenry: "It is imperative that past failures of public education, such as the failure to properly invest in it, form the basis for a renewed effort to transform a cynical politics of containment in the urban spaceÖ, and transform the increasingly lottery-like politics of upward social mobility into a democratic politics that invests in youth as shapers of a more just, equal, and fair future in all social spheres" (118).

I think Saltmanís book is essential reading for everybody. I highly recommend it to people like Kosar who are caught in an ideological blindness. It gives important tools for unraveling neoliberal ideologies which are creating wealth for the few at the expense of public power, social justice, and democracy.
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 Getting It Right by Robin Goodman on August 3, 2001
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