BOULDER, CO (January 19, 2020) – In this month’s episode of NEPC Talks Education, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire about their new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. Professor Schneider (University of Massachusetts Lowell College of Education) is a historian. His research examines how educators, policymakers, and the public develop particular views about what is true, what is effective, and what is important. Jennifer Berkshire is a freelance journalist. She has published articles on education and politics in the Nation, the New Republic, and the Baffler. She teaches aspiring podcasters in the journalism program at Boston College and the Labor Studies program at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Schneider and Berkshire are also co-hosts of the Have You Heard podcast.
In A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, the authors discuss the political actors who have advocated for market-oriented policies in order to privatize public schools. They explain that the goal of the book is to examine powerful but less well-known state-level groups who have sought to influence and shape the governance of schools, educational policy, and educational practice. The authors argue that it is these state-level interest groups that have consistently and meticulously undermined the public-ness of public schools.
According to Schneider and Berkshire, the desire to make individual choices about education private, as opposed to collective, is at the heart of the privatization agenda. They argue that advocates of privatization seek to narrow the purpose of schooling to the accumulation of human capital for individual gain. Within this approach to schooling, parents decide where their child should learn, what they should learn, and how they should be taught. Like a market for cars or groceries, parents as consumers – not the larger public – determine what are successful schools. The authors explain this approach strips away the democratic purpose of schools. Where democratic schooling is designed to ensure all children receive equal educational opportunities and do so in an environment that integrates students of different backgrounds, a system that relies purely on parental choice – such as universal school vouchers – is designed to segregate students solely by parental preference.
Schneider and Berkshire see signs of hope in the collective movements organized by teachers unions and communities. In their view, if public schools are to survive and thrive, they require a well-organized collective to identify and push back against the contradictions inherent in market-oriented policies. They recommend that readers and listeners familiarize themselves with the groups advocating for privatization and consider how these groups work to influence policy in order to develop long-term strategies that successfully oppose privatization.
A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May.
Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.