By Shahbaz Shaikh
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Learning that you are an American, and learning how to be an American, sparsely has the study around it than other archetypal life events humanity is bound to. Though those events are bound to non-Americans as well, it is strictly an American illumination to imbue oneself with the knowledge of being American, and with that belief, to act to secure its emotion in the midst of the vicissitudes and serendipity in fate. To even describe it envelops the speaker in its inextricable link to the true nature of the life experience, and because it only hopes to embolden individuals to grip and harmonize with that feeling, it cannot do anything other than resonate as a major chord in the American community. Far more than acknowledging any of the aspects of one’s own implacable nature as living, is the capacity to be free to search oneself and know them. It is true that the American dream is the silence between the notes of the American working and waking life and the legacy that is left there by the various generations, but with the pluralist understanding of the antagonism to be had in being a practicing American, there is a certain discord that is necessary in arriving at the harmony that we as Americans ought dutifully to fight for and arrive at. Learning that you are an American, today, may be harder to tune into given the levels of chromatic discordance in government. It had been the case for 90% of American children, until the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos to the current president’s cabinet as Secretary of Education, that one of the venues the American social contract mandated that our leaders would maintain for them – public schools, there to assure the education of a student so that they can hone their capacity to learn for themselves, their society, and their capacity to engage in the economic affairs of their community, and those schools’ government interactions and internal structures designed to aid in understanding those schools’ processes and results in order to improve itself – was sure to be fundamental to America’s ongoing communal effort to educate its youth to live well as a nation. Teaching the youth about the fundamentals of living as an American made public schools into a bastion of American culture, and a venue for cementing the legacy of American progress. Today, public schools are less likely to be the venue for that American communal effort. Instead, the American government’s leadership suggests it is more apt to pursue bolstering a family’s capacity to choose where and how to educate their children, also known as school choice. School choice is the name given to the voucher program wherein instead of federal funding given to states to support their public schools in any way, that monies is instead distributed to individual families in states for them to choose to spend on anything having to do with education.
The reason why this transition from the general support of public schools to the support of school choice is being made is because the latter education policy is more aligned with Conservative political ideology of today’s leadership in America. This policy action manifested from adherence to a facet of the conservative ideology that espouses a belief in freedom and free markets being the key to true efficiency and fair outcomes. To conservatives, freedom and free markets are primary after the assurance of acting within the purview of what have historically been said as Judeo-Christian values but which can also be said in secular terms. Conservatism espouses an emphasis on self-reliance. It entails the use of government as a tool to assure an adamant proscription against the obligation of some to others in any manner that intercedes in the individual’s right to the product of their labor, as well as against social legislation that would either support or not deny a systemic right to anything contrary to Conservative moral values. A major structure of an ideal conservative government and society is to use the government purely to assure an incapacity in its people to act in ways that are contrary to what people ought to practice in their private domains and of their own accord by proscribing them whenever possible. All duties Conservatives believe ought to come from government prescription – those having to do with the support of free enterprise, a fair structuring of the court system, and public defense – are some of the few prescriptive actions conservatives deem fit for it to take. From this it should be easy to conclude that prescribing an education policy, thematically aligned with conservative beliefs which when typically applied only normally justify a proscription of action, is difficult without risking contradicting those beliefs. The antithesis of conservatism that is found in wasting money, plausibly abusable government oversight, and the denigration of the individual right to maintain their culture, are implicit in Secretary of Education DeVos’ theory of school choice policy and its previous and current manifestations as policy action in the states and as legislation in Congress.
What I posit is this – it is a bad government practice and immoral to structure school choice similar to any of its previous manifestations. This policy will kill the American dream for many, make the American waking life a strictly austere aural ongoing, and turn being an American into an isolated acknowledgement and not a communal bulwark of the nation’s culture. Subjecting American education to the free market presupposes that the profit motive can and always has aligned itself with the social welfare of the communities schools work in. In reality market conditions can manifest to make schools worse than today. To trust the free market with our children is an abnegation of any responsibility of the federal government to assure equitable treatment of individuals, and especially children, in this country. Given the high correlation between an American’s economic well-being and their education, and further, with their financial well-being and that of their community’s, the highly effective customer segmentation metrics of today can accurately project lower cost schools in lower income neighborhoods, predicting the conscription of students to a low-end school. Despite that outcome being acceptable to the conservative ideology given its emphasis on self-reliance and a subsequent acceptance of consequences, the predictability of that outcome likens the actualization of this policy to an intent to produce that outcome. Far more than growing pains or some equivocation with a frictional unemployment, the years of wasted education due to poorly structured and unregulated charter schools will severely impact the likelihood that these students will be capable adults. Conservative ideologies are undone by active deprecation of young students with government policy. With only proscription as a means to assure the American identity, on issues of the social and moral fabric alone, the support of school choice that historically cannot be said to have been conducted with sufficient measures of accountability lends credence to the claim that this policy is an active bolstering of crime and wastefulness. Conservatism acknowledges an archetypal presence of evil as a fundamental principle in supporting excellent public defense, but this Congress’ school choice policy fails to employ this same frame of mind when it ignores the innate capacity for greed and the possibility of abusive local programs, a common theme noticeable in each of the times this policy was tried by state governments . Another motivation for this policy is that government spending on schools has increased by 117% in the past 40 years with test scores remaining flat, but such a claim echoes the optimistic projections about the schools touted by proponents of this policy while at the same time proffering no capacity to maintain accountability differently than this policy’s prior failed manifestations, the latter criticism being especially true as per rhetoric in Secretary DeVos’ confirmation hearing wherein she declined to assure Congress about the existence and maintenance of accountability standards, stating only that she will measure them by the metric of a policy that has yet to be defined. Any inference to follow from the acknowledgement of the conservative ideals and free market principles that frame this policy might include a belief that accountability in education is best determined by these burgeoning corporate schools and resultantly elicit a further abnegation of responsibility of the American federal government to assure a culture and community by supporting public schools.
It is true that freedom is rung as the primary chord in the American identity, but with an increasing polarization of communities – in leadership, political ideologies, the voting booths and in gerrymandered districts – all paths that America can take that emphasize freedom only for freedom’s sake and not for the good of the nation should be treated with great skepticism. This metric for judging an expansion of freedom is of utmost importance when assessing claims about how to support the children of the nation. They are who bear the burden of bettering the community as time goes on. If the government is only a group of people, and all communities seek to leave behind a legacy for their children as well as their peers’ children, then why is the government not where individuals can make that dream a reality? Why does that circle of obligation not extend to the shared national identity? I acknowledge that it does not have to. People are more than encumbered by their immediate obligations and responsibilities. However, if people cannot aspire to raise the ground floor for everyone, then every fundamental American principle that was supposed to have followed from securing the blessings of liberty unto ourselves will be subverted by this mindless adherence to principle. The union will be less perfect, as schools will be structurally separate and unequal. Justice for people in lower income communities will be further stymied by their lack of access to the wealth necessary to assure an excellent education. Domestic tranquility will be undone by the unregulated scholastic establishments borne out of this policy. And while the common defense will continue to be supported by volunteers to the army like the ones from Michigan, it should be noted that those individuals oftentimes only volunteer because that is their only path to putting themselves in a part of the country with better general welfare than where they are from. Unaccountable, free-market based school choice will condemn many Americans to never living the American dream.
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