THINKING FOR OURSELVES
New Year Reflection
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Jan.2-8.2011
The turning of the year invites reflection. It is a time when past and future flow together.
2010's end will bring no respite from the yearlong assault on Detroit. The effort to mold our city and its people into some grand design fostered by businesses and bureaucrats shows no sign of concluding. Instead, politicians, corporations and the foundations supporting them seem more determined than ever to impose their will on the people of the city.
Many Detroiters refer to 2010 as a version of the shock doctrine. Wave after wave of attacks on basic public services were aimed at destroying the very foundations of shared community responsibility. We have seen the gifting of our public hospitals to a private corporation, efforts to sell the water department, and now, the announcement of a closed-door deal to provide tax breaks to another company intending to run the incinerator for the next decade.
This assault on the public sphere and the hopes of so many Detroiters was most concentrated in the struggle between the elected School Board and the Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. In the name of budgetary responsibilities, EFM Bobb produced a plan to reshape the public school system on a business model. He announced schools closings, increasing class sizes and an increase in for profit charter schools.
Bobb was supported in these efforts by Mayor Bing and by the foundations that are driving the reshaping of the city. After months of emotional meetings, protests and court fights, Judge Wendy Baxter ruled against Bobb in his efforts. In December she decided in favor of the official responsibilities of the elected school board.
Her decision is worth reading, both for its indictment of Mr. Bobb's limited knowledge and for her rejection of the business model of education he tried to push on our children. Judge Baxter points out that Bobb was "empowered to figure out how to pay for education fashioned by the Board. Instead he created education products he proposed to implement." His fundamental plan was a "business paradigm" that "envisions competitive marketplace schools where parents shop like consumers for the best schools with best being dictated by survival of the fittest principles."
Judge Baxter reflected on this idea, noting, "Dr. Lipman warned that this competitive business approach to teaching and learning is shortsighted because competition among teachers and schools kills sharing pathways to successful teaching methods for educational professionals and consequently decimates widespread learning across the district."
The judge concluded that Mr. Bobb does not know much about what he tried to impose. She said, "While the current governance structure has not succeeded in quality control, academics or finances, the unauthorized EFM's vision… lacks education expertise, leaving it subject to criticism as a short-sighted business patch, short on teaching and learning wisdom, a short term fix where some stand to profit shielded to some extent from the eye of public oversight."
So we go into the New Year with the Mayor and Mr. Bobb pledging to work along with the school board, especially if Mr. Bobb can keep his outrageous paycheck for another few months.
What should be plain to everyone here is that the claim of Mayor Bing and EFM Bobb to know what is right for the rest of us and the need for bold action because of some kind of so-called crisis cannot stand the test of dispassionate, reasoned inquiry.
The Mayor, corporations and foundations who claim expertise should use this New Year's moment to reflect on how they came to stray so far from what the rest of the city saw so plainly.
Make A Comment ___________________________________________