Marching in Chicago: Resisting Rahm Emanuel’s Neoliberal Savagery
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Monday, 20 May 2013 10:16
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s current attempt to close down 54 public schools largely inhabited by poor minorities is one more example of a savage, racist neoliberal system at work that uses the politics of austerity and consolidation to further disenfranchise the unskilled young of the inner city. The hidden curriculum in this instance is not so invisible. Closing schools will result in massive layoffs, weakening the teachers unions. It will free up land that can be gentrified to attract middle-class voters, and it will once again prove that poor minority students, regardless of the hardships, if not danger, they will face as a result of such closings, are viewed as disposable – human waste to be relegated to the zones of terminal exclusion. Not only are many teachers and parents concerned about displacing thousands of students to schools that do not offer any hope of educational improvement, but they are also concerned about the safety of the displaced children, many of whom “will have to walk through violent neighborhoods and go to school with other students who are considered enemies.”
This is not simply misguided policy, it is a racist script that makes clear that poor black youth are disposable and that their safety is irrelevant. How else to explain the mayor’s plan to produce a Safe Passage Plan in which firefighters would be asked to patrol the new routes, even though they have made it clear that they are not trained for this type of special duty. That many of these children are poor black children trapped in under-resourced schools appears irrelevant to a mayor who takes his lead from politicians such as Barack Obama and Arnie Duncan, two educators who have simply reproduced the Bush educational reform playbook, i.e., more testing, demonize teachers, weaken unions, advocate for choice and charter schools, and turn public schools over to corporate hedge-fund managers and billionaires such as Bill Gates. Emanuel’s passionate zeal to downsize schools in impoverished black neighborhoods is matched only by his misdirected enthusiasm to lay out $195 million “on a basketball arena for DePaul University, a private Chicago university.”
What these three days of demonstrations must address is that without power over the conditions of their labor, teachers become pawns in a neoliberal politics in which they are deskilled, reduced to security guards, and work under conditions that transform education into a form of training. High-stakes testing and its corresponding tactic of promoting cheating among administrators, putting into play the most degrading forms of competition, and its killing of the civic imagination is both a debased form of instrumental rationality and a reification of method – put another way, a kind of methodological madness.
The war being waged against Chicago Public schools, teachers and students is the product of a corporate ideology and pedagogy that numbs the mind and the soul, emphasizing repressive modes of learning that promote winning at all costs, learning how not to question authority, and disdaining the hard work of learning how to be thoughtful, critical, and attentive to the power relations that shape everyday life and the larger world. As learning is privatized, depoliticized, and reduced to teaching students how to be good consumers, any viable notions of the social, public values, citizenship and democracy wither and die.