Learning Experience – Neoliberalism in Education

Jason Blakely tackles the issue of neoliberalism in education in his piece,  “How School Choice Turns Education into a Commodity.”  Blakely uses real examples and quotes from reliable sources to present the reality of the “school of choice” initiative that has become increasingly popularized in the United States. He emphasizes the negatives of this marketization of education and highlights the need for academic reform.

Blakely incorporates a variety of themes and perspectives in his article. The first major concept is how neoliberalism, a political movement which supports the creation of markets as a means to uphold individual rights, fits into the educational system.  Blakely affirms, “The goal of neoliberalism is thereby to rollback the state, privatize public services, or (as in the case of vouchers) engineer forms of consumer choice and market discipline in the public sector” (Blakely, 2017). In other words, neoliberals desire schools to be redesigned to resemble a market. This is done through a voucher system that is greatly supported by the Secretary of Education in Arizona, Betsy DeVos. The marketization of the academic sector will, in theory, fuel reform because it will inspire competition amongst schools similar to the competing products in a market. Neoliberals support this type of system because it promotes individualism and personal responsibility. However, what many fail to acknowledge is that this will always result in winners and losers.

Furthermore, the second main idea presented by Blakely is the reality of implementing the Neoliberal concept in schools leading to the disadvantagement of those who are not financially sound. Blakely offers an ideological perspective in favor of the poor or less fortunate. He claims that in Detroit, the economically disadvantaged parents are burdened with finding their child adequate schooling nearby. Two long decades of the neoliberalization of schools has diminished Detroit to a state with large areas where no educational facilities can be found, thus forcing students and guardians to drive unreasonably long distances because of the defunding of various public schools. Nevada’s attempt to implement the “school of choice” system has also disadvantaged the poor. Blakely exclaims, “Market competition in the context of schools thus opens the possibility for a vicious cycle in which weak and low-performing communities are punished for their failings and wealthy communities receive greater and greater funding advantages” (Blakely, 2017). Therefore, neoliberalisation leads to the diminishment of funds and benefits for the poor, and the increase of money and advantages for the wealthy. Many advocates of the neoliberal model of education support this concept because it fuels individual choice; however, as Blakely points out neoliberals are opposed to any person’s democratic decisions that are against the market system.  

In addition, the author emphasizes that although the marketisation of schools is not the right method, education is in dire need of reform. Blakely takes a political standpoint in support of democratic participation over market choice. He urges his audience to spark conversations about the improvement of schools centered around democratic freedom. People should discuss how each child deserves the right to education and how much of their education should be controlled by distant outsiders like the federal government. The public school system is in constant need of rejuvenation so these debates will hopefully lead to constructive and innovative solutions. 

I have not personally experienced this marketization during my time in public school; however, I will say that as I aged, I noticed that my education had become increasingly competitive as testing becomes more and more prominent. Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly agree with Blakely in his stance on the neoliberalization of education. I do not believe in the idea that children should be labeled as “winners” and “losers” in the academic sector.  The school of choice concept will only help the already wealthy and high-performing schools do better, while the poorer and low-performing schools, which typically contain impoverished students or scholars that are a part of minority groups, continue to struggle. The implications of this marketization are extremely unfair for the young adults who do not deserve to be excluded from receiving an education. I see the need for, as Blakely suggests, a higher rate of democratic participation to help fuel the needed reform in education. His article does raise the question of what is the correct solution for educational reform? Is there a true correct path in academics or will we always disagree?

My LC chose to highlight the three themes listed above, the neoliberalization of education, the disadvantages of this marketization of schools, and the need for reform in the academic sector. We felt that these main ideas worked to not only summarize the article, but also provide our students with an adequate understanding of the situation so they could ask questions, answer inquiries, and apply their knowledge to their personal experiences. I worked with my group to decipher what we wanted our students to learn. We concluded that our learning objectives were to develop an understanding of neoliberalism and its effects on education, as well as provide our students with enough information to apply their comprehension of the material to their own understanding and perspectives on the subject. 

Our lesson consisted of three parts. We first presented a slideshow to the class, giving them an overview of the article, the facts on neoliberalism in education, and preparing their minds for future discussion. For this part of the lesson, I was in charge of introducing the topic and ensuring our audience felt engaged and intrigued. I did so with a short example where the students were a fresh fruit and vegetable store owner who had lost in competition with a neighboring business. I then related this winning and losing concept to the school system to highlight the unreasonable injustice that  neoliberalization is creating for students. In addition, I made sure to highlight that as current students and future teachers, we should all be aware of the changes being made in education. I was also tasked with defining neoliberalism, and presenting its effects in the school system as laid out by Blakely. My slides touched on the aforementioned themes, specifically the negative impacts the marketization of education has on the poor. I was sure to include both examples mentioned previously to provide the audience with a true understanding of how neoliberalism is affecting schools. The next part of our lesson was a discussion in small groups. We each went into a breakout room with two to three students  in which we asked a variety of discussion questions about the presentation, a video discussing neoliberalism in general, and an excerpt detailing how this marketization is negatively affecting certain racial and ethnic groups in the schools of Cleveland, Ohio. For this part, I wrote the majority of the questions and found the article from which the excerpt was taken entitled, “Neoliberalism, and Racial Inequality: How Black and White Parents Manage Schooling in the Cleveland, Ohio, Metropolitan Area.” I felt that this piece helped to highlight the issues that neoliberalism creates for certain minority groups, as well as, emphasize that turning schools into a marketplace is not an outlandish idea, instead it is happening to educational facilities nearby. Our discussion questions helped to lead the students along so that they could discover how to apply their ideas and thoughts about this concept to their own experiences and the experiences of others. The final part of our lesson was a quick group discussion at the end of class. This is where we worked to summarize our ideas and give our classmates an opportunity to provide us with any last thoughts about the lesson. 

Overall, I felt that this was a successful learning experience. I believe that I was able to provide my classmates with useful information about the neoliberalization of education and they were able to give me new and interesting ideas on the subject that I had not thought of before. One member of my small group spoke with such passion about the concepts we presented that I felt glad to have been a part of sparking this cry for educational reform within one of my students. I look forward to the next learning experience to be able to share my knowledge and gain the insight of others.

References

Blakely, J. 2017, 17 April. How School Choice Turns Education into a Commodity. The Atlantic. 

Garcia, E. (1997, January 01). What is neoliberalism? Retrieved February 16, 2021, from 

https://corpwatch.org/article/what-neoliberalism

HarvardX (Director). (2018, July 26). Pros and Cons of Neoliberalism [Video file]. Retrieved

from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t41rFqVp1I

Kean Birch Associate Professor. (2019, December 11). What exactly is neoliberalism? Retrieved February 16, 2021, 

from https://theconversation.com/what-exactly-is-neoliberalism-84755

Simms, A., & Talbert, E. (2017, April 7). School Choice, Neoliberalism, and Racial Inequality: How Black and 

White Parents Manage Schooling in the Cleveland, Ohio, Metropolitan Area. Retrieved

from https://www.soc.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/HPHK_Paper_D3Abr_April2017_pdf.0

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