The “libertarian” war against public schools: what does it mean?

Source: What the ‘Government Schools’ Critics Really Mean – The New York Times

Katherine Stewart, an investigative journalist, published an opinion piece in today’s New York Times for which I am grateful.

Because it relieves me of the necessity of emphasizing what Nancy MacLean, in her new, powerful history, Democracy in Chains, taught me: the root of “libertarianism” is racism: its poison tree was seeded by the Civil War and Emancipation, and put out its 20th century tentacles as a violent and vile reaction to Brown v Board of Education.

Here are the first paragraphs of Stewart’s piece. I’ve bolded some key sentences:

When President Trump recently proposed his budget for “school choice,” which would cut more than $9 billion in overall education spending but put more resources into charter schools and voucher programs, he promised to take a sledgehammer to what he has called “failing government schools.” That is harsh language for the places most of us call public schools, and where nearly 90 percent of American children get their education. But in certain conservative circles, the phrase “government schools” has become as ubiquitous as it is contemptuous.

What most people probably hear in this is the unmistakable refrain of American libertarianism, for which all government is big and bad. The point of calling public schools “government schools” is to conjure the specter of pathologically inefficient, power-mad bureaucrats. Accordingly, right-wing think tanks like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Heartland Institute and the Acton Institute have in recent years published screeds denouncing “the command and control mentality” of “government schools” that are “prisons for poor children.” All of these have received major funding from the family of the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, either directly or via a donor group.

But the attacks on “government schools” have a much older, darker heritage. They have their roots in American slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation, anti-Catholic sentiment and a particular form of Christian fundamentalism — and those roots are still visible today.

Before the Civil War, the South was largely free of public schools. That changed during Reconstruction, and when it did, a former Confederate Army chaplain and a leader of the Southern Presbyterian Church, Robert Lewis Dabney, was not happy about it. An avid defender of the biblical “righteousness” of slavery, Dabney railed against the new public schools. In the 1870s, he inveighed against the unrighteousness of taxing his “oppressed” white brethren to provide “pretended education to the brats of black paupers.” For Dabney, the root of the evil in “the Yankee theory of popular state education” was democratic government itself, which interfered with the liberty of the slaver South.

Read the whole piece. I’m seeing this, as well as Professor MacLean’s book, as a forthright, finely researched, and strong foray against “libertarianism”–which is, as you all know, the Koch Bros Final Solution to Democracy.

Nothing to do with liberty, at least not for us in the majority.


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