by Bruce Dixon, BAR
There are many things upon which elite corporate Democrats are in complete agreement with elite corporate Republicans. Often enough they are far more important to the way we live our lives than the cultural rhetoric and stylistic fluff that separates the two parties. Both Republicans and Democrats agree on empire and the wars needed to preserve it. They both agree gentrification, stadiums, and tax breaks for the wealthy are the only way to economically develop cities. They both know that poor and working people ought to subsidize a new round of predatory accumulation with lowered wages, plundered pensions, fiscal austerity and the privatization of public education.
Democrat Paul Vallas has spent the last two decades dismembering and dismantling public schools, lying about deficits, unjustly blaming and firing public school teachers across the country. In 1995 Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, began the reversal of the bottom-up school reform of his predecessor Harold Washington, by assuming direct mayoral control over the city’s public schools. Chicago fired its school superintendent, a professional educator, and sent in the mayor’s chief of staff, an accountant unqualified to teach half an hour in any classroom to run the nation’s third largest school system “more like a business” with the business title of “CEO. That man was Paul Vallas.
If neoliberalism is the economic and social doctrine that all human interactions ought to be disciplined and mediated by the market, then Paul Vallas is the neoliberal chainsaw man on public education. He eagerly set about undermining bottom-up reforms in Chicago that empowered neighborhood councils of parents and rank and file teachers. A 1988 law had given these local school councils veto power over principals’ contracts and title one funds in each and every one of Chicago’s public schools.
Paul Vallas hit upon the expedient of disbanding and dissolving whole schools and reconstituting them as private entities, charter schools. He closed one south side Chicago high school across the street from an old National Guard armory, and gave public funding to a military academy in the armory building. With no nearby public school to attend, many parents and children felt compelled to enroll in the new military charter school. Paul Vallas terminated dozens of black administrative staff without cause and hundreds of black teachers before leaving the Chicago Public Schools and staging unsuccessful campaigns for Cook County Board President (Cook County includes Chicago and has a population of 5.5 million) and Illinois governor. He was succeeded by Arne Duncan, now US Secretary of Education, who took Vallas’s “innovations” in running schools like businesses to new heights first locally, and then nationally.
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