By Thomas J. Fiala
I think America, and in particular New Yorkers, need a more exact definition of New York Governor Cuomo when it comes to public schools and education reform. I think that in spite of his supposed political mantle seen by many as a champion of liberal thought and action, when it comes to America’s democratic institution of locally controlled public schools, he is certainly a neoliberal conservative loyalist. Clearly, Governor Cuomo loves the conservative neoliberal ideas of Milton Friedman when it comes to dismantling America’s democratic institution of public education. What might even be scarier for those who support locally controlled democratic public schools, is that Cuomo is continuing the tradition of “third way governance” by Democrats begun by the Bill Clinton Administration. As Diane Ravitch stated in a speech in 2014 , “I am absolutely furious that the Democratic Party has merged with the Republican Party around a bipartisan agenda that is actually a Republican agenda.”
Four years earlier in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, Ravitch had explained how “Bill Clinton and the New Democrats championed a ‘third way’ between orthodox politics of the left and the right.” So what is this ‘third way’ of governance, and how does Governor Cuomo, a political clone of this Clintonesque approach to running society and who seems intent on proceeding along the neoliberal path of education reform, go about making his pact with Milton Friedman and the billionaires of corporate Wall Street when it comes to privatizing America’s democratic institution of public education at the expense of Main Street?
If you want to begin to get a simple handle on his notion of the ‘third way’ check out the writing of William Black. As Black explains “Third Way is not a liberal think tank. It’s not even a ‘think tank.’ Third Way (at least in America) is a creature of Wall Street.” The goal is to privatize what is now public. Often third way devotees choose to take a liberal position on certain issues such as gun control or gay rights, but when it comes to Wall Street, privatization and making cash, in the case of education reform the ‘third way’ devotees are able to put a price on the head of every child while claiming that their approach to school reform also demonstrates how making cash can also help those students who just do not measure up academically. Cuomo is, indeed, a Clintonesque ‘third way’ type of guy!
Now understand he is also a devotee of the conservative libertarian economist Milton Friedman when it comes to education reform. He may not say it outright, but when one looks carefully at his views and comments about public schools and education reform, it’s almost impossible to conclude otherwise. What we find is that the NY Governor, when it comes to school reform is a Friedmanomics Neoliberal!
Neoliberalism is something for which everyone should become familiar. It’s complex when you start looking into it, so if you’re just beginning this educational journey, think about it as an intellectual imperative all Americans should understand – a least a little bit! There are many many, sources that discuss neoliberalism and in particular the education ideas of Milton Friedman, although my bias comes out when I suggest reading “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free market Became Public Education Policy,” and particularly Chapter Three, “Friedmanomics, School Vouchers, and Choice. Nevertheless, when it comes to public schools, conservative neoliberals (like Milton Friedman and Governor Cuomo) believe that the institution of American public schools is a government monopoly and a reflection of a socialist state. Therefore, it needs to be destroyed through privatization – or at the very least, challenged by creating a perverse competitive environment in which the supposed free market creates a raft of often unregulated alternative approaches to educating America’s children, regardless of whether the efficacy of these approaches have actually been substantiated. So what neoliberal thought rests upon as Milton Friedman made clear, always understanding that neoliberal is actually conservative in nature, is that you take advantage of a crisis, and then make radical changes to address it. In the case of education and public schools, a neoliberal like Milton Friedman, and his followers like Governor Cuomo, base their actions on the “manufactured” crisis that the entire public school system in America is failing. This all started with the infamous report A Nation at Risk in 1983. Now if you want to get a handle on why this report is really an obfuscation of the truth, and in particular if you actually believe what has been promulgated about public schools since 1983, then you have to read stuff! Blogs are OK, but real analysis is better. This takes some work and intellectual dexterity – but overwhelmingly most Americans can do this if they put their minds to it! Again there are some good books out there that begin to destroy this myth, for example Berliner and Biddle wrote a book in about 1995 called the “Manufactured Crisis,” and again my bias leads to me suggest reading “The Origins of the Common Core: How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy.” There are other books out there that address this topic to one degree or another, but as they say – Knowledge is Power. However, gaining knowledge does take a little effort.
Now let me be clear. I do not believe this neoliberal take on public schools – so I do not agree with people like Milton Friedman, who passed away a few years ago, and Governor Cuomo who carries on the education ideas of Friedman. I believe that America’s locally controlled public schools are a manifestation of democracy in the best sense of the American experience through which efforts are made to help all Americans get a good education. These schools, as we all know, take on the challenge of overcoming many of the hurdles that have stood, and continue to stand, in the way of a child getting a good education. Yes – we are talking about those factors like social class, race, lack of jobs, crime in neighborhoods, drugs – well – I’m sure everyone reading this can add to the list! Now let’s get down to the “nitty gritty” of Cuomo’s assault on the institution of locally controlled public schools!
The fact that Governor Cuomo claims that his $150 million or so tax credit now being proposed is somehow a reflection of what is in the best interests of the profound notion of the American public is a cunning political ploy. That’s what I believe and I am not alone in thinking this.
It seems that when the educationally conservative, neoliberal, Wall Street devotee Governor Cuomo makes claims such this, for many, it is like putting “lipstick on a pig.” It is a shameless attempt to hoodwink America – and in particular New Yorkers – into believing that the Governor is the great Democratic egalitarian – fighting for the rights of Main Street over Wall Street. Unfortunately, when a person takes this approach to education, once again we see, in the case of preserving the democratic institution of locally controlled public schools, it is hard to serve two masters – making money and helping public schools. This is getting to sound a bit Biblical, but that is not my intent. Somehow the Governor believes that New Yorkers – and the rest of America – are going to believe that his “choice approach” to education reform would make him Mr. Egalitarian when it comes to education. I, for one, do not believe that the majority of New Yorkers – let alone Americans in general – are going to buy his education snake oil. By now everyone should know that the Conservative Cuomo – a person I believe is a neoliberal conservative when it comes to following the money and education reform – sees public schools as a monopoly that needs to be “busted.”
He said this even before he was re-elected last November – and God knows why so many teachers, teacher union leaders, and supporters of public schools are now shocked by his current actions! Take a look at this video. What is really indicative of his loyalty to Milton Friedman’s ideas about education is his view that locally controlled public schools are a monopoly. If he is NOT an anti-public schools ‘third wayer’ who does NOT see locally controlled public schools as a pillar of our republic – and if he is NOT a devotee of Milton Friedman neoliberalism – then I must be a guy smoking my Crayola’s! Trust me – I am militantly against smoking Crayolas no matter what the color! That’s what I am seeing in this video anyway! Most shocking is that I also see an important defender of America’s public schools passively sitting as Cuomo assails this long honored American institution! As a former public school teacher and a former member of the AFT governing board within the school district in which I taught, this kind of inaction both saddens me and infuriates me. Do some teacher union leaders actually believe that America’s democratic institution of locally controlled public schools is nothing more than monopolistic entities that need to be destroyed? Do locally controlled public schools need competition to meet the challenges these schools face on a daily basis? Challenges such as those associated with social class, money, and the historical reality of racism in America, poverty, and lack of jobs in many communities where historically marginalized individuals and groups often reside, communities in which good families and their children must face the daily challenge of crime and drugs that impede their daily lives? Do these public schools need competition from charter schools that can easily send those students and their families back to the public school when they cannot measure up – or do not live up to the contracts they sign before being allowed into the charter school? Do these public schools need competition from private schools who will be able to take public tax money away from public schools and use the funds to finance their curricular and social views – without public scrutiny? I support the right of private schools to exist and flourish! Does it make sense, however, to send one’s education tax money to a private school – whether non-sectarian, Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever other kind may pop up as a result of “free market entrepreneurship,” without some kind of public control over what is taught in these type schools? Everyone needs to think about this, including the private schools who might think about taking public money for their private school. Do New Yorkers really want to support school vouchers in their state even if it is disguised as a tax credit for billionaire donors? This is what Governor Cuomo wants!
One thing is sure. Governor Cuomo, when it comes to education, is a neoliberal conservative that sees locally controlled public schools as a monopoly that needs to be “busted.” He takes a Clintonesque ‘third way’ governance approach to running education in the State of New York. He favors Wall Street over Main Street under the guise that big money folks must be allowed to engage in making even more money as they supposedly go about helping New York’s children. Now if only the media can get Governor Cuomo to acknowledge all of this, and in the process do their job in helping inform the democratic electorate about what is really at the root of Governor Cuomo’s course of action when it comes to New York’s locally controlled democratic institution of public education. However, I am not holding my breath that this will happen. In any case, that is my definition of Governor Cuomo when it comes to public schools in New York. One thing must happen Governor Cuomo, if a school is publicly funded, then it MUST be transparent in all they do and held up to public scrutiny! Or is this just too “democratic” for your political ‘third way’ of governance?
Mmmm? I wonder how Hillary feels about all this – let alone those dozen or so Republican presidential hopefuls that seem to be sprouting everywhere like dandelions this time of year?