Remade Pile of Words: Will ‘conscious’ charters fail?

About this time 16 years ago I was sitting on the lawn listening to Professor Ray McDermott talk about the work of bees in a hive and the application of their activity to education. It was a PERFECT spring graduate school course. Well, in that course, McDermott also used an interesting pedagogical tool. What Ray would do is encourage us to take complex texts and replace the nouns and other words with alternative topics to see how the work would read and provide a new meaning. I call this a textual interchange approach. For example, here is what I did with a Marx text as a graduate student in 2002:

Precisely because political economy (education policy) fails to grasp the interconnections within the movement (education), it was possible to oppose, for example, the doctrine of competition (school choice movement) to the doctrine of monopoly (school resource allocation) the doctrine of craft freedom (charter schools) to the doctrine of the guild (industrialists and elites) and the doctrine of the division of landed property (school funding formulas based on property values) to the doctrine of the great estate (school district boundaries), for competition (market-based school choice) craft freedom (charter schools), and division of landed property (school funding formulas based on property values) were developed and conceived only as accidental, deliberate, violent consequences of monopoly (school resource allocation), of the guilds (industrialists and elites) of feudal property (segregation of education resources), and not as their necessary, inevitable, and natural consequences.

At the time, I was contemplating how McDermott’s course readings on Marx and his ideas on political economy could be transposed/translated to school choice and education policy.

Fast forward to the modern day.

I read an article in The Guardian entitled Whole Foods represents the failures of ‘conscious capitalism‘ The piece got me thinking about the constant public conversation about charters as conscious. Betsy DeVos is a big supporter of charter schools and in Michigan more than 80% of charter schools are for-profit. Is this the direction that the conscious charter school sector is headed? What does this evolution toward for-profit portend for the future?

To ponder these questions, I have undertaken the McDermott textual interchange approach with The Guardian piece to portend how an article might read in 2020.

It’s hard to think of a better poster child for “conscious capitalism” than [charter schools]. These days, the [for-profit charters] are floundering and a potential buyout is on the horizon. What does that say about the conscious capitalism it championed? 

[Enrollments] have declined for six straight quarters, [millions of students] walked away during the same period. Last month activist hedge fund funds swooped in buying up 8.3% of [for-profit charters] and demanded an overhaul. The [for-profit charter chains] responded by reshuffling boards, bringing in a handful of big box retail stars and promoting [individuals] who hail from private equity.

A failing [school] isn’t exactly news. In the dog-eat-dog world of global capitalism lots of [schools] have their moment in the sun only to crash and burn a few years later.

But [charter schools] were supposed to be different.

[Charter school proponents] have long argued that [charters] are wired differently — that they runs on a “conscious capitalism” model that outsmarts the competitive pressures of our [neighborhood public schools] through creativity and innovation.

[There is a] growing consensus that [for-profit education] is doing irreparable harm to [communities] and the people who live in them. Our for-profit system is increasingly viewed as a zero-sum game in which [neighborhood] destruction and rising inequality are firmly linked to the rapacious behavior of corporations.

Free-market [choice], according to [charter school proponents], is actually a “beautiful”, “heroic” system that, properly harnessed, can operate “in harmony with the fundamentals of human nature” and communities.

We don’t need to rein in [charter schools] through onerous labor [agreements] and regulations, because the virtuous feedback loop of honoring stakeholders plus innovation will leave “unconscious” [schools] in the dust.

The conscious capitalism model is appealing. It’s simple, easy. We can avert looming [community] catastrophe by becoming conscious consumers who frequent conscious [charter schools]. After all, [attend school at charter] is a heck of a lot more fun than lobbying for regulations on [charter schools]. More [charters], less [neighborhood schools]. Problem solved.

[Charter school proponents] were right about one thing: people do love to [enroll their children] at [charter schools] – or at least, they used to. These days that demon called competition has caught up with the [community-based charters]. [Large, for-profit] behemoth [charter school chains] now offer [franchise schools in all fifty states].

The point of this dour appraisal is not to crow over [charters] misfortune. It’s to take a hard look at models that claim to solve the ills of capitalism without challenging the in-built drives of our for-profit system.

[Charter proponents] have loudly declared unions akin to herpes and state regulation little more than “crony capitalism” – that all we need to solve community crises are better, smarter, “conscious” capitalists. The crisis of [charter schools] belies this notion. There’s no way to “fix” corporations’ compulsion to produce ever more, ever more cheaply. It’s written into the DNA of global capitalism.

Attractive as the conscious capitalism model may be, we simply can’t rely on companies to deliver dignified workplaces, equitable models of [education].

All [students] are not equal in our global economy, and even the best intentioned [schools] run up against the implacable foes of profit and competition. Ultimately, the thorny problem of sustaining both decent livelihoods and a livable [communities] won’t be solved by [market-based approaches to schools]. It’ll be solved through political struggle and demands that put people before profit.

Does this textual interchange approach demonstrate what we will be reading in 2020? or even 2018.

Stay woke.

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