(COMMON DREAMS) Kristen Steele — I’m no education expert. Having worked in the environmental and new economy fields for the last two decades, my main concern when it comes to schooling has been what children learn. Along with most activists I know, I’d like to see kids get outdoors more, learn about the intricacies of ecosystems, understand the urgency of climate change, experience growing their own food, and acquire the knowledge and understanding essential to becoming environmentally-conscious citizens. I’d like school reform to be a part of rebuilding vibrant local economies and sustainable communities. This is what I thought was at the heart of the struggle for better education. But there’s a battle being waged on a different front. One that will overwhelm and undo any improvements we’ve made if social and environmental activists don’t join in the fight.
Over the last thirty years or so, private corporations have been steadily taking over school systems all around the world. Going hand in hand with “free” trade and development, the privatization of education is simply another step towards corporate control of the entire economy. If you’re tuned in to education news in the US, you may be familiar with the public school closures in Chicago, the so-called Recovery School District in New Orleans, and the proposed budget cuts in Milwaukee that have brought parents, students and teachers into the streets. But few of us hear about how students in Chile have been protesting for nearly a decade against rampant privatization that has increased economic inequality. Or how the UK government recently passed an education act allowing the conversion of all state schools into privately run “academies”. Or how Structural Adjustment Programs and development aid have paved the way for privatization of schools across Africa, which has resulted in reduced enrollment of girls and exclusion of the poorest children. Or how similar takeovers are happening in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, India, and many other countries.