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June 12, 2007

Getting Rid Of Public Schools - They MEAN It

-- by Dave Johnson

I've said before that when you try to tell people about the right's agenda, they think YOU are the crazy person.

I've said before that when I try to talk about the stuff that the Republicans are up to, to people who don't really follow the news, they think I'M the crazy person!
I remember a few years ago telling my liberal aunt that the right wants to get rid of public schools. She's STILL mad at me for saying such an extremist, ridiculous thing. I MUST be an exaggerator, making up these things I say about the conservatives...

Today, another example. In the LA Times: Do away with public schools talks about "government-lovers" and "political correctness" and "bureaucrats" and mocks public schools for teaching about the civil rights movement. And there it is in the LA Times.

The right uses a tactic called "The Overton Window". This is the Overton Window at work. In a talk to an education group recently I discussed how this works:

The Overton Window is a sophisticated tactic to help move the Right’s self-described “unthinkable” ideas all the way to becoming policy.

The strategy is to make radical ideas seem acceptable and comfortable.

They describe a “ladder” of steps – degrees of public acceptance. They say they work to walk the public up this ladder step by step.

According to the Overton Window concept, when the public FIRST hears ideas like getting rid of public schools, they consider them unthinkable, but with time and repetition, these ideas begin to be considered only radical, then with familiarity they become acceptable, and eventually sensible and worth putting into policy.

This is another example of the use of this tactic. It is intended to shock us. Then, we get used to it. Watch this video clip I used in my talk to introduce the topic. As I said in my talk,
Anything LESS extreme sounds almost moderate by comparison – in the window of “thinkable.” THIS is why they say those outrageous things. They’re walking people up the ladder. It’s part of the long-term strategy.
These people are serious.

A few years ago I worked on a report titled, Responding to the Attack on Public Education and Teacher Unions, describing the organized effort to attack public education, and making some suggestions for countering this effort. Countering this effort requires more than just informing some people about facts and issues. The effort to privatize schools is part of a larger, coordinated attack on community and government itself. They MEAN it. It is past time that we understand what we are up against here.

Posted by Dave Johnson at June 12, 2007 9:01 AM

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Comments

Our K-12 schools in this country are generally deplorable. Meanwhile our, Pre-K, colleges and universities are the best in the world. Why is this so? It has to do with who is in charge and who is subsidized.

The way to encourage better education is to subsidize the student, NOT THE PROVIDER. This simple fact is the reason why our higher-education system is the best in the world, while our K-12 education generally sucks.

I'd like to see the higher-ed model used in K-12. Public schools would have a role similar to public universities. Basically, they would all compete for students' education dollars. Students with financial need would get vouchers, with which they can purchase education from any provider they want.

As far as "outside the box" ideas go - this one isn't even that dramatic. What's shocking to me is that people see this as a radical idea. It's straightforward, really!

Posted by: jaymuntz [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 12, 2007 10:58 AM

I have to make another comment. The headline of this post is "Getting Rid Of Public Schools - They MEAN It" and then you go on to talk about the Overton model. From Wikipedia:

The technique relies on people promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous "outer fringe" ideas. That makes those old fringe ideas look less extreme, and thereby acceptable.

So, here's my question - do THEY REALLY mean it. Isn't it more likely that they DON'T MEAN IT, but really they're hoping to move society towards a policy like I described above.

Do they MEAN IT?

--OR--

Is the Overton Model being used here?

I don't think you can have it both ways.

Posted by: jaymuntz [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 12, 2007 12:53 PM

Our K-12 schools in this country are NOT 'generally deplorable. That's exactly the kind of myth being spread by the right wing, and sadly over the years it's become acceptable to believe this crap. Some of the big city schools don't have a statistically outstanding track record, but there are lots of reasons for this, most notably immigrant students who haven't mastered English yet don't test well. In communities whose citizens have been willing to invest in the public schools, and this is actually the majority of schools, the schools can be truly outstanding, with resources very few private schools can equal. A friend was telling me about his daughter's senior thesis. I was astonished; it was worthy of any college graduate. I asked what school she attended, expecting him to name a private school. She goes to the local high school and has been accepted by a major private college with plenty of scholarship help.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 12, 2007 3:35 PM

MJ - Compare the US in any international ranking of student achievement. The performance of the US is disgraceful.

But you make a good point: schools for the well off (including public schools for privleged kids) are generally very good or excellent. Yet our average performance is pretty bad. This means that our below-average students are WAY BELOW AVERAGE. I believe this is THE MOST disgraceful thing about American society today.

Most middle class people exercise school choice, either by paying tuition or buying their way into the right communities. I couldn't care less about them.

It's the poor who are trapped in failing schools. It's a national tragedy. Helping those kids get a ticket out should be national priority #1 in my opinion.

Posted by: jaymuntz [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 12, 2007 6:12 PM

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