Class War: The Privatization of Childhood
By Megan Erikson
Verso Press (2015)
Megan Erikson’s 2015 book provides an elegant class analysis of the current push by Wall Street and Silicon Valley to privatize US education via voucher programs and private publicly-funded charter schools. Class War provides an in-depth examination of the dismaying effects of systematic privatization on the teachers and low income students who struggle on in brutally underfunded public schools.
Erikson’s basic premise is that the current purpose of the US educational system isn’t to educate but to permanently entrench social class divisions by sorting students into winners and losers.
For me the three basic points Class War puts across are
- US public schools are increasingly run like prisons, complete with metal detectors, cops, surveillance, attack dogs and random sweeps,
- Teachers are unfairly blamed for severe social problems that are beyond their control. Five decades of research conclusively concludes that classroom education accounts for less than 30% of a child’s education success and teacher performance only 7.5%. Achievement levels relate much more closely to exposure to complex language, access to medical care and a “healthy” home environment that provides access to books and challenging games.
- Claims by the CATO Institute and other conservative that increased federal education funding* won’t help are dead wrong. Research consistently shows that increasing the funding level per student**and reducing class size,*** increasing teacher pay, and providing better instructional materials (many New York City public schools fail to provide a textbook for every child) all improve achievement levels.
Erikson points to the irony of neoliberal billionaire reformers (like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg) calling for an increase class sizes in public schools (currently 40 students per teacher in New York City, while they send their own kids to exclusive private school with class sizes of 10-16. Likewise Silicon Valley executives push for early access to tablets and laptops in public schools, while sending their own kids to Waldorf schools that ban classroom computer access prior to age 13.
*In most industrialized countries, 50% of funding comes from national government. In the US the federal share is only 10-15%. This means most public school are mainly reliant on local property taxes for funding. This translate into major financial problems in poor districts.
**In public school districts with high funding levels per student, results on global achievement tests are equal to those of high performing countries like Japan and Hong Kong.
***In most European countries, administrators reduce class size to increase achievement in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the US, the exact opposite occurs.