G.W., the Privatization of Education, and American Values

By Milam, Michael C. | The Humanist, May 2001 | Go to article overview

G.W., the Privatization of Education, and American Values


Milam, Michael C., The Humanist


As George W. Bush proceeds through his minority presidency, one of his supposedly chief areas of emphasis is education. Both he and his brother--Florida Governor Jeb--have expressed their desire to be remembered as "education" politicians. G.W. is now in a position to have enormous influence over the direction of education in the United States, so it is certainly time to ponder how he wants to improve schools and the implications of those "improvements."

A central feature of both G.W.'s and Jeb's agenda on education includes vouchers or so-called scholarships. The purpose of these government grants or tax credits, however they are provided, is dubious at best. Vouchers are a central feature of a wider educational program intended to improve education in the United States by allowing parents to remove their children from ineffective public schools in order to send them to private schools. Since voucher programs thus weaken public schools, one must believe that the Bush administration, in fact, has a clear but unstated objective: to turn the educational system in this country over to the private sector. This conclusion is entirely consistent with G.W. and Jeb's fundamentalist, laissez-faire capitalist philosophy, rooted in Social Darwinism.

If G.W.'s plan is implemented, the issues surrounding the voucher plan in Florida will come to the fore on a national scale. When Jeb pushed his policy through, the rationale for it centered on a "struggle for survival" among public schools. Proponents of vouchers claimed that poor schools would be forced--even with less funds--to improve. If they did not, it was argued, then they deserved to close their doors. At the same time, private schools would upgrade and expand in order to compete with public schools. Thus, the educational system would be improved through a sort of Darwinian survival of the fittest among schools competing in an environment of financial scarcity--a "level playing field" in the terms of the laissezfairests. Educational policy, the argument continues, is then left to the market jungle, and this struggle would end with better schools--proof of the efficacy of the free market.

No one should take this theory seriously. Less funds to public schools--where the majority of U.S. youth are educated --means fewer teaching materials, lower teacher salaries, inferior facilities, and a general lowering of already embarrassing standards. Inevitably, the poor and the disadvantaged, regardless of vouchers, will take the brunt in terms of an even poorer education. One looks in vain for any "level playing field" in the impending struggle and must conclude that better education for all is not the major motive behind the voucher system.

On the contrary, vouchers are intended as weapons to destroy the public educational system in order to clear the way for educational corporations to take over the nation's public schools. Pubic schools comprise the largest sector of society not privately owned. Therefore, as the profits to be gained are enormous, it only stands to reason that corporate America wants control over the educational system. And, of course, the Bush Brothers are only too willing to oblige them.

The basic principle of laissez-faire capitalism--the ideology of U.S. conservatism --is that private enterprise can always outperform government-run programs. Hence, according to this logic, private schools could do a better job of educating our youth. As more and more traditional functions of government--prisons, garbage collection, utilities, mental health facilities, and many others--are being turned over to the private sector, there is no reason to believe that U.S. conservatives have any philosophical objections to a vastly expanded private school system free of government "interference." As governors, the Bushes have been consistent advocates of privatization; as president, G.W. has already announced his intention to remain so. The intent of vouchers certainly becomes clear in this context. …

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