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Is This Democracy

18. The War on Public Education Is Escalating – with Jennifer Berkshire

Is This Democracy
Is This Democracy

We are in the midst of an escalating rightwing assault on public education in America. It comes in the form of an attempted authoritarian takeover of schools and universities, in hundreds of bills establishing state censorship, banning books, purging anything that dares to dissent from a white nationalist understanding of the nation’s past or present from the classroom, the libraries, the curriculum – but also as a radical push for school privatization, a dimension that has received far less attention.

None of this is new – all of it is in line with the decades-long conservative fight against public education that has been central to the modern conservative political project since the beginning. And it also doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but is very much an integral part of the broader attempt to roll back the post-1960s civil rights order. In many ways, the struggle over public education is at the center of the overall political conflict right now.

I can think of no one better equipped to help us unpack all of this than Jennifer Berkshire. She is a journalist and teaches journalism at Yale and Boston College, she writes about education for many major outlets, including The Nation, The New Republic, and the The Baffler, and she hosts the wonderful podcast “Have You Heard,” in which she and her co-host Jack Schneider dissect all things public education.

We cover a lot of ground in this conversation: We dissect the Right’s current attack on public education, and what they want to replace it with; we talk about the underlying rightwing political project of maintaining traditional hierarchies of wealth, race, gender, and religion, which sees public education as dangerous, because it can potentially act as an engine of progressive change and contribute to questioning and leveling those traditional hierarchies; we tackle the combination of both state authoritarianism and radical privatization that characterizes the Right’s approach to education; we discuss the long history of modern conservatism’s attack on public education, from the 1950s through today; and we also, crucially, talk about the Democratic side of this story: How and why Democrats adopted a neoliberal idea of education primarily serving as an investment in “human capital”, and why that has opened the door for the kind of undermining of public education the Right is attempting.

Jennifer Berkshire on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BisforBerkshire

Have You Heard Podcast: https://www.haveyouheardpodcast.com/

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School, The New Press 2023 (paperback edition) https://www.wolfattheschoolhousedoor.com/

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This episode was produced by Connor Lynch

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