During the last four years, there have been many issues and concerns that have competed for the public’s attention: the Muslim ban, family separations, an impeachment, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, protests against police brutality and the recent election to name a few. Noted but perhaps less at the media forefront has been the implementation of specific policies both under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and within individual states that aim to "re-envision" public education through a very conservative lens. In terms of public education, many of the conversations in recent years have focused on the school choice movement and the increasing use of standardized test scores to hold schools “accountable” and label them “good or bad.” The re-envisioning (or dismantling depending on your vantage point), however, which has really solidified in the last few years is unfortunately much broader than that.
In A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of the School, authors Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider (hosts of the popular podcast Have You Heard) go beyond talking about the conservative agenda and public education solely in terms of privatization and standardized testing. A Wolf explores other aspects of this agenda: vouchers, the rise of (pre-COVID) virtual schooling, the idea of “unbundling education," deregulation, limiting the role of organized labor, the use of ratings and advertising in public schools, and, at the heart of it all, free market thinking. More than just positioning efforts to dismantle public education as only a conservative, Republican ideology, Berkshire and Schneider also acknowledge the ways in which Democratic lawmakers have also contributed to a climate in which some not only see education and the way it is currently delivered as something that needs to radically change but also an sector to profit off of at times to the detriment of the most vulnerable student populations.
Both in laying out the current state of public education and providing key historical context, Berkshire and Schneider provide an extensive yet well laid out and easily understandable assessment of the issues at play in light of the substantial funding and efforts being allocated toward a very specific re-envisioning of public schooling that relies less on the idea of public education as a public good meant to benefit the collective and more so on individual needs that prioritize choice, competition and cost cutting. A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door is a must read for anyone interested in the current state and future of public education in the United States.
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