Class Warfare: The Assault on Canada’s Schools by Maude Barlow and Heather-Jane Robertson, Key Porter Books, 1994, $19.95.
How ironic that the authors, on record as pro-reproductive choice, should be so anti-education choice.
The inconsistency is glaringly obvious to anyone whose vision of reality isn’t splintered, but apparently not to them. The authors of Class Warfare deplore the rhetoric and politics of “choice,” that is, a voucher system or charter schools, as a means of addressing widespread disaffection with publicly funded education, both secular and separate.
This contradiction notwithstanding, the authors have done a creditable job of documenting the effects of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade agreement and NAFTA, not only on education, but also on economic justice in this country.
The authors claim that the values of untrammeled capitalism have become the guiding principle of school reform.
After sketching a history of public education – in the 70s schools were child-centered and process-intensive; in the 80s they became the place to address all society’s ills, such as drugs, teen pregnancy, smoking, drunk-driving – we’re at the stage now where the public mind is divided and confused regarding the purpose of education and the nature of the child and his needs.
Consequently, a number of “myths” prevail regarding public education: schools are failing; the drop-out rate is the cause of unemployment; Canadians spend more on education than any other OECD country; our students perform poorly on interjurisdictional testing; Canadian graduates don’t have the skills to do the high-tech jobs business is creating; and finally, the public at large is disillusioned with the public school system.
The authors go on to debunk these myths, but argue that business, especially the large transnationals, has capitalized on them to justify its intervention in the public sector in preparation for a takeover to meet its own goals.
What are these goals? Besides the running of schools for profit, they are: to indoctrinate the young in the values of the free-market system; to gain access to the still largely untapped youth market; and to transform schools into training centres for the large transnationals.
Business achieves these goals, the authors say, by providing funds to cash-strapped schools on the condition they accept corporate curriculum resources – with corporate perspectives on the free-market system, labour unions, and environmental issues.
Some corporations already have the right to advertise directly to children in exchange for the funding. Goal three is achieved by the overproduction of a skilled workforce for a shrinking job market thereby driving wages inexorably down.
The authors lament the alliance of the “Christian right” with big business for the purpose of restructuring education.
Though their goals differ, they have agreed on some of the solutions to the system’s alleged poor performance – privatization, and charter schools. It’s at this point that the authors make their case against “choice,” which could result in schools run by business for business at the same time they continue to receive public money.
The question for the reader becomes whether public education can be saved, given the lack of a shared tradition and common values in Canada today.