Weekend Reading

The Weekend Reading keeps going! Let’s start with a bunch of education links:

The ability of universities to raise tuition fees at will (without any fear of institutional default) is the basic collateral requirement for securing a good credit rating, which makes it much cheaper to borrow money to service existing debts and finance large-scale construction. In turn, this capital-intensive construction generates more space per capita, which is a key metric in the US News and World Report’s college rankings.

Despite scapegoating teachers’ unions, Won’t Back Down is not an anti-teacher movie. Most of the teacher characters—especially Nona, played by Viola Davis—are heroic. That’s because one of the film’s messages is that busting teachers’ unions is better for teachers. In one scene, a meeting to discuss the possible takeover, Nona argues that losing the union will be worth it, “because we’ll be able to teach the way we want.” (The movie is vague on Nona’s pedagogy and why the union prevents it. In real life, charter teachers certainly don’t have any more control over curriculum than public school teachers do.) It is a ruling-class wet dream: workers who are happy to help destroy their own institutions. By giving up the organization through which they wield power, the fictional teachers reason, they will gain more power.

We have wandered deep into the swamp of Upsidedownlandia. Yet the same paradox colors the film’s view of parent power. The movie celebrates parents rising up and taking control of their children’s education—in order to rid themselves of all representation. Though the film does not discuss such pesky governance matters, a “takeover,” in real life, usually means that the school is run by a private organization with limited accountability to the public. While the state does decide ultimately which charters to shut down, there is no oversight by the school board, nor the city government, and certainly not the parents.

I had asked Bea, after the day of the two dead mothers, if she still wanted to go to the club. I had been prepared for her to reconsider, but she answered resolutely that she still wanted to go. She also mentioned the popcorn again. Then she looked at her hands and said quietly, “It got me through your cancer.”

When I posed the same question to my 12-year-old daughter, Lucy, she too gave the same answer. Yes, of course she wanted to keep going. “It makes me feel normal,” she said. “It makes me a better friend.” It really does. When a classmate she hadn’t even been close to lost a parent to cancer last year, she instinctively reached out to the child. She didn’t make the kid talk about her feelings. She just sat with her at lunch, asked her about her locker. She wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t awkward. Because she’d been there before.

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