Monday, February 12, 2007

The Fraser Institute and Drowning Public Education in a Bathtub

So the other morning, on my TTC ride to work, I noticed something about the ads for Children First: School Choice Trust.

Maybe you've seen them, the ads with this cute little cartoon dude with his hand up. The ads encourage people to apply for partial scholarships for their kids to private schools (K-8) based on family financial need.

Children First: School Choice Trust is Canada's first privately funded program to help families improve their educational choices. Children First offers tuition assistance grants, so that parents who could not otherwise afford it can choose an independent elementary school for their children.

Despite seeing these every day, I had never before noticed this project is funded by the infamous Fraser Institute (cue Darth Vader music). Of course, they have an Agenda. The Fraser Institute wants to discredit the institute of public education. They seek to blame problems with our underfunded public system on the "public" part, rather than the "underfunded" part.

In an article on their website, The Fraser Institute asks the multiple choice question:
Does the educational failure of the world’s poor reflect the impossibility of achieving lofty educational goals, or does it reflect misguided reliance on public financing and provision? Increasingly, the evidence suggests not that poor families are impossible to educate, but that free, state-run schools may not be the best way to deliver education to them.
What's that you say? Poor families are not impossible to educate? How very charitable of them to say such a thing. Well, since it isn't impossible to educate the poor, our only other explanation is that public education results in educational failure.

This is not an unusual right-wing tactic. It is one of their main techniques for privatizing public services. If you starve a public service long enough, it will no longer be able to perform. Then, once it is small and weak enough, you can "drown it in a bathtub".

Because the Canadian people are very committed to public education, the F.I. has to be careful. They frame the Children First grants as a "hand up" for poor families trying to improve their kids' education - this sits well with Canadians. But it does nothing to improve the real problems with our educational system. Private charity is no substitute for widespread social policy. It's like putting a band-aid on a hemorrhage. Only a very small number of lower middle class families can be helped through this type of program, and it diverts public attention away from the real issues. It's the same problem with two-tiered health care. When those with money and influence do not inhabit the same world as those without, they forget about that world. When the upper and middle class parents no longer have an interest in the public education system, they stop advocating for its improvement.

I'll confess, the concept of private schools is somewhat foreign to me. Growing up in the West, I don't remember any private schools at all, yet somehow I managed to receive a fabulous education in all of the schools I went to. The quality of education at some for-profit schools may be better than that of some public schools. Quality of education notwithstanding, it is still no surprise that those who graduate from elite schools like Upper Canada College are so successful. It's all about class - as in which one you are in. It's like being in an elite club, with lots of opportunities for networking and nepotism.

Introducing a few proles into that elite club is not social justice. A few women or black CEOs does not solve sexual and racial discrimination. All it does is allow those in the club to sublimate their guilt, and delegitimize the important struggles for justice.


Rosie said...

hey, great post! Some points I had never thought about.

Erik said...

excellent post!

The Mound of Sound said...

terrific piece, Jenny, thanks.