Privatizing Afterschool, and Privatizing Society

I just read about a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 3498, that will expedite the process of privatizing afterschool activities across the country. This greatly concerns me as a career-long youth worker, as an advocate for nonprofit social services, and as a lowercase “d” democrat.

Let me begin by suggesting that in addition to being aware of wholesale efforts to privatize public education, every single privatized area of public education needs to be strategically cataloged and made apparent to the Public. They range from curriculum to assessment to professional development to food services, now tutoring and teachers, and so many other areas. The process that got us to this point started in the 1950s, caught steam almost three decades ago, and is well underway.

This process was not the gateway into our possible future as a privatized society; it’s just the biggest door to indoctrinate young people. The original doors were utilities, the military, hospitals, prisons, and transportation. Once all regarded as public essential bastions of democratic living, now almost all these institutions are privatized across the United States.

Social services are one of the last great pillars holding up the roof of the so-called “public good”. Once a public service, most mental health services are privatized today. Social welfare management is increasingly private, as are services for developmentally differently-abled people. Libraries, public health, social security, and so much more sits squarely in the sights of private corporations and people committed to profiteering off a unconcerned and disengaged Public. Schools are high on their lists, and afterschool programs are next.

Young people are obviously the best objects for privateers to target, both because of their susceptibility, and because of the long-term impact of “teaching them right”. Since the decimation of public schooling is well underway, the battlefield for the next wave is afterschool programming. I am watching this unfold right now as standards for afterschool programming are emerging across the U.S. and internationally. As public schools proved, the process of standardization lends itself to professionalization, which in turn morphs quickly into privatization.

Unfortunately, The Radical Left has been largely useless in fighting the privatization movement. As demonstrated by what is happening in public schools, their voices have been co-opted by The Right to fight against the institution of public schooling, rather than the process of privatization. Even the non-radical Left has historically reduced school privatization to anti-unionism, which is a myopic perspective at best. By taking these stances, The Left is actually contributing to the further decimation of the democratic infrastructure that built the American middle class and provided a utopian ideal to motivate social mobility, particularly among the poor.

All of this critique examines the heinous nature of neoliberalism, which describes the process of privatizing all public services, including education, social security, water, prisons, public transportation, and welfare services. Neoliberals believe that when the government, acting on behalf of The People who vote for them through democratic process, is a bad manager of these services. They think all these institutions need fixed, and the only way to fix them is in through privatization. History has shown us there are very few benefits for The Public in privatization, while large corporations controlled by small groups of people make great deals of profit. I first learned about neoliberalism and its effects on young people from my mentor Henry Giroux, and I have continued to examine the ill effects of neoliberalism throughout society through the writing of many other writers, including Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen.

From all of this I arrive at the belief that we need a new conversation in our society that goes beyond revolution for the sake of revolution and “anarchism as hope”, because both of these fail. We have to make plain the mythologies of history. Let’s examine our social capital and the social contract. Take our afterschool programs, along with our schools systems, social services, community development activities, democracy building movements, and let’s critically explore their intentions, outcomes, and assumptions. Let’s peel this onion throughout our society in order to make meaning of the chaotic disembowelment democracy is experiencing today. However, let’s not abandon the positive powerful future we could all share together.

Who is to write that future? I have an idea that I’ve written about before – let’s start with young people.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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