Saturday, December 18, 2021

Robert Asen's "School Choice and the Betrayal of Democracy"

Robert Asen is Stephen E. Lucas Professor of Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of numerous books, including Democracy, Deliberation, and Education.

Asen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, School Choice and the Betrayal of Democracy: How Market-Based Education Reform Fails Our Communities, and reported the following:
Although it does not tell the whole story, page 99 of my book School Choice and the Betrayal of Democracy: How Market-Based Education Reform Fails Our Communities reveals important aspects of the push to reform public education in terms of the market. On this page, I begin a discussion of how former US Education Secretary DeVos argued for private school vouchers by contending that this option would advance civil rights by giving more choices to low-income families and families of color. However, even as she raised the important issue of educational inequality, Secretary DeVos discussed this issue in strictly individualistic terms. She did not acknowledge the larger structures that sustain unequal opportunities and disparate educational experiences for diverse children across the nation.

Debates over US public education have always broached broader topics about the values we want children to learn, the identities we construct for ourselves and others, the relationships we experience and imagine, and the future of ourselves, our communities, and our nation. In School Choice and the Betrayal of Democracy, I consider the prospects for vibrant public discourses for a democratic education in an era of expanding education markets and local modes of resistance. In the contemporary United States, a coalition of politicians, private foundation officers, business executives, academics, and others have argued that education works best when subjected to market rules that force schools to compete for students and position families as consumers. Against these pressures, networks of grassroots advocates have retorted that only public action for public schools can foster vibrant relationships that position public schools as keystones of local communities. These grassroots advocates have asserted an essential, multilayered relationship of education and democracy.

My book explores market-based and democratic visions of education over a series of case studies. I begin by considering the work of John Dewey and Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman as conceptual case studies, respectively, of democratically oriented and market-oriented visions of education. I then turn to the advocacy of former Education Secretary DeVos, who emerged as a high-profile critic of public education and an enthusiastic supporter of technological innovation directed toward expanding education markets. At the state level, I investigate legislative efforts in Wisconsin to implement publicly funded vouchers to support private education markets. I conclude with interviews of local grassroots advocates for public education in Wisconsin, who explain the importance of relating and critically engaging education, democracy, and community.

Exploring different visions of education, I argue that public schools need democratic communities, and democratic communities need public schools.
Learn more about School Choice and the Betrayal of Democracy at the Penn State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue