Saturday, November 17, 2007

Disaster Captialism (The Shock Doctrine) Meets Education "Reform"

Jack Welch, Klein's selection for leading new principals, was proud of and known for creating a climate of fear at GE by firing 10% of employees to keep the others on their toes. This kind of culture is the exact opposite of what we need in our schools. The fact that Klein chose Welch to set the tone for the principals' training school should have sent alarm bells throughout the school communities.

As a social studies teacher I make it my business to study larger trends of societal transitions. There’s a new book called the “The Shock Doctrine” by journalist Naomi Klein ( that may be informative regarding the goal and intentions of the NYC DOE's plans for the schools. While the goal in The Shock Doctrine theory is to create a new order, it must do so by placing the population in a state of shock, much as a psychiatric patient is through electro-shock therapy, to make him/her pliable to change. The shocks can be contrived or provided by nature. An example of the former would the coup in Chile, and the destruction of the Soviet economic system to introduce radical free market capitalism (referred to as "Disaster Capitalism"). Hurricane Katrina provides and example of the latter, allowing the push through of charter schools and gutting of the teachers union there. Klein goes on to mention in her book numerous other examples.

I think it’s plausible that what Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg are trying to do is an adaptation of that Shock Doctrine light policy on our schools. Welch setting the tone for fear and intimidation, teachers losing due process rights and seniority transfers, new budgeting rules that will discriminate against experienced teachers, the summary firing of BOE staff to erase institutional memory, the movement toward merit pay schemes (currently in the school bonus phase); when taken collectively have put teachers in a state of shock. For the kids we have seen the end of social promotion, increased testing in the name of “accountability”. Parents have never seen an education regime that was as unresponsive. Add to this an effective PR machine of the DOE of cooking graduation numbers and having phony town hall meetings where the Chancellor is not taking questions and parent/teacher feedback is ignored and you have the softer side of this policy of destruction.

It’s apparent to this teacher that a new education paradigm is emerging for NYC kids. Not all kids, as those in the elite schools will be protected. It’s a paradigm that fits a nation with a shrinking middle class; where the new schools system of scripted teaching temps and test-driven curricula are to produce citizens without the capacity to think critically but instead follow orders and carry out narrow specific tasks to fulfill the roles of: clerks, ground level law enforcement, military and other lower-level technical jobs. You won’t see such a paradigm shift in the affluent suburbs, nor for our elites in Stuyvesant High School or the other institutions elites send their children to.

What will be interesting to watch is if the new regime that will take over from where the Mayor has left it will continue this march toward developing a lower caste educational system; where the assault on the teachers union and weakening of the public school system will produce a mechanistic and reductionist “free market” model of education. Could this happen under a Democrat mayor?

I think this leads us to the obvious conclusion: Mayoral control cannot be "fixed" (as the AFT tries to call for NCLB), it must be replaced with a democratic system of control.


NYC Educator said...

Shock and awe from Bloomberg and Klein--but it wouldn't be possible without the implicit cooperation of the UFT leadership. They're all getting away with murder.

John Elfrank-Dana said...

Yes, it's sad to say the UFT must have made a deal somewhere - like a no layoff clause in the teachers contract (as laid off teachers don't pay union dues) in exchange for open season in chasing teachers out of the system with punitive evaluation systems and psychopathic principals.