Charter Schools--A New Form Of Colonialism
Manifest Destiny and Charter Schools—two seemingly disparate phenomena with no obvious parallels. Yet, that didn’t stop New Mexico’s Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski from extolling the virtues of both, as quintessentially American. “This is a country built over the last 250 years on things like freedom, choice, competition, options, going west, Manifest Destiny — these are the fundamental principles of this country,” he was reported as saying by the Albuquerque Journal and The Answer Sheet in the Washington Post. “That’s why charter schools make so much sense — high-quality options — in the context of where we are as a country.” Now, if you are an Arapaho or Cheyenne whose ancestors were slaughtered at Sand Creek—or, perhaps a human with empathy—you might not celebrate Manifest Destiny and all that it entailed. But maybe Ruszkowski has a point. In fact, I think he does; “Manifest Destiny” and Charter Schools do have quite a bit in common.
At base, both seek the dispossession of local, community resources to be liquidated and/or turned over to private entities seeking profits. Both promote a neoliberal agenda—shared by elites in both of our major political parties—that removes the public from any meaningful decision-making about the allocation of public resources. Students, families, teachers, schools and communities are treated like economic resources to be colonized, rather than respected as sovereign, human entities. When the Treaty of Fort Laramie was disregarded by the US –after gold was found in the Black Hills—Lakota Tribal sovereignty and resources were brazenly taken, with no regard for people, only profits and land possession. Unfortunately, public schools are among the 21st Centuries’ newer frontiers for colonization.
Today’s colonizers are hedge fund managers, who “invest” in charter schools as real estate, playing an insiders speculation game at the expense of our local taxpayers and the students they support. They are Charter School “entrepreneurs” who see public education as a cash cow. For example, ECOT, an online charter school with a low graduation rate and shady accounting practices, managed to drain over $8,000,000 dollars from the Columbus City Schools alone, money that should have been spent according to community needs and priorities—school nurses, music programs--rather than profits for founder William Lager to partially “reinvest” in state representatives. ECOT diverted $294,420 from the Lakewood City Schools last year, and total losses to charter schools were $1,196,974. (https://knowyourcharter.com/?view=searchDistrict&term=Lakewood%20City)
Within this context, today’s locally elected school boards lose their “sovereignty”’--lost to the God of the neoliberals: the mythical “free market.” In fact, both Charter Schools and Manifest Destiny present a grand ideological imperative to justify the theft of land/community resources. Evoking a self-serving interpretation of God’s will, the “Manifest Destiny” mantra justified slaughters, treaty violations, etc. Has Mr. Ruszkowski ever heard of the Trail of Tears? The Dawes Act sought to eviscerate tribal life, an act of cultural genocide, an implementation of the “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” approach that replaced outright extermination. These grand narratives have one goal--the justification, even celebration, of community dispossession.
Public schools are now planned for extinction, dispossessed from the public. Yet, ultimately, the colonization wrought by Manifest Destiny and Charter Schools goes deeper than valleys, hills, sacred lands, budgets, the school nurse or a music program. It aspires for more than simply stripping communities of their resources. Our minds are targets of colonization, the goal being the replacement of any sense of a common good and shared responsibly with the neoliberal axiom that economic self-interest is the only right and natural course of action. You are to think like consumers, not citizens. You are to shop for the best schools for your student, not invest your time and effort in improving them for everyone.
This system of community disengagement is antithetical to the mission of public education, and is especially in conflict with our Lakewood values and traditions that have been nurtured by our ancestors. Yes, Mr. Ruszkowski, there are indeed parallels between Manifest Destiny and Charter Schools: the settler colonial imperative to “remove to replace” --in this case our school board, our votes and our agency as citizens. The only role left for the public and their elected representative is to fund privatization.
It’s up to all of us to reject this impulse as “quintessentially American” and instead commit ourselves to the “beloved community” that Dr. Martin Luther King imagined during the Civil Rights movement. As he stated, "There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right."
Dr. Chuck Greanoff is an LHS graduate, 1977. He teaches History and Psychology at LHS.
LHS graduate, 1977. Teach History and Psychology at LHS