Chris Guerrieri rules. Like everything the Duval County public school teacher writes for Folio Weekly, last week’s guest editorial, “Cooking the Books,” was a tour de force of actually caring about our kids. It’s a rare quality. Yes, I know: Everyone cares about their kids. But the rest, it seems, can go to hell.
Full disclosure: my partner and I aren’t breeders. There are, strictly speaking, no our kids, but we realize that your kids are our kids. In a few years, your kids will be our neighbors. They’ll help shape our world, breathe new ideas into our communities, vote for our representatives and fight our wars—or (dare to dream!) finally find better solutions to problems than violence.
That’s why we care how (y)our kids are educated. Because education isn’t just about your kids; it’s about who we are. And our recent pivot toward private, for-profit (and politically loaded) alternatives to public education (under the bogus, focus-group-tested euphemism “school choice”) will not end well.
Simply put, charter schools, vouchers and the like are depriving public schools of much-needed funding and support. It’s a zero-sum game and a self-fulfilling prophecy all rolled into one cynical culture war. You see, as our public schools die on the vine for want of attention, the same education profiteers who siphoned off support now triumphantly point to the slow-motion demise as proof positive that classic, accountable and open-to-all public education never worked in the first place.
In the meantime, a subset of erstwhile public-school students (and, most important, their voting parents) receive a shadow of anecdotal satisfaction in winning lotteries, receiving vouchers and otherwise being treated better than the rubes in their neighborhood schools. The story is old. Private schools have always pitted the haves against the have-nots; now charter schools and vouchers are cynically pitting the have-nots against each other. In 2019, education might well be the last socially acceptable space in which you can baldly declare, “FYIGM.” (Never mind. This is also what the immigration debate boils down to. Estoy correcto, mis amigos Cubanos?)
Let’s name names now. On one side are the Republican Party and an opaque, unaccountable network of lobbyists for the brave, new world of for-profit education; on the other side, the Democratic Party, elected (read: accountable) school boards, teachers and their unions.
Now, I know what many of you are programmed to retort here: “Oh, those ‘libtards’ just want ‘free stuff.’” To which I answer, “Free? We pay taxes, Hoss. We have to pay for your wars. We have to pay for Donald Trump’s golf vacations. We are well within our rights to demand that at least some of our hard-earned tax dollars be put to good use. Charter schools and vouchers ain’t it.”
As for unions, how dare the workers who fulfill the most crucial and challenging role in a democratic society—educating future citizens—how dare they organize and demand fair wages and conditions! (That was sarcasm. If we had our priorities right, we’d value teachers the way we value—nay, glorify—soldiers and first responders.)
For their part, the voting public is buffeted between these forces. “School choice” sounds good, doesn’t it? But the folks closest to the action know that it’s an end-run around accountability, equality and often, simply, quality. What began decades ago as a smear campaign against public-sector unions will end in a fundamentally unequal, two-tier school system, enriching uncredentialed entrepreneurs and impoverishing young minds—at the expense of tax-paying chumps like you and me.
It’s not like I don’t know a thing or two about education, either. Many of you know me as just a vaguely ethnic South Floridian (Puerto Rican, baby) or a vaguely socialist, artsy-fartsy European exile. I’ll cop. I’m all that—and more: I also worked briefly as a union teacher in Detroit. (I’m really ingratiating myself to the sh*tkickers in the hinterland here, ain’t I?)
I’ve seen how this sausage is made, folks. So gather ’round as I run it down, and unravel my pedigree in next week’s thrilling conclusion to this week’s editorial. It’s a cliffhanger!