The following piece is by Michael Holzman. I have worked with Michael over the past eight years in his role as a researcher for the Schott Foundation for Public Education, which I chair. To me, Michael's most amazing research has been on how Black Boys are given "Half the Chance" or half of the opportunities of their white counterparts. His most recent book is Guy Burgess: Revolutionary in an Old School Tie, forthcoming.
Education is always political. It can be overtly political as indoctrination. It can be implicitly political in the way that it is structured. The latter may be the more efficient.
An education system that provides lavishly for the children of the highly privileged and hardly at all for the children of the poor and near poor (today, as in the 1930s, one-third of the nation is poor) is an efficient political system for maintaining the relative positions of the 1 percent and the 99 percent.
The way that this is done is hidden in plain sight. School finance, like one of the alluring handmaidens from Bram Stoker's Dracula, appears fair. Based on property tax, with some attractive clothing of state and federal supplements, it provides those whose children go to their local schools with--something of--the power to decide the extent to which those schools are funded. Just as, in the words of Anatole France, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread," so our system of property-tax based school funding allows the rich as well as the poor to determine how much they will pay for their children's education.
In Connecticut, the wealthy Westport school district has $19,000 from local revenue to spend on each student, while students in Bridgeport benefit from just $2,500 in local revenue. In Florida, five districts spend less than $2,000 per student from local revenue, while five others spend more than $10,000. In Illinois, 36 districts with more than 1,000 students benefit from less than $3,000 per student in local revenue, while seven above the same cut-off make do on more than $20,000 per student.
What could be fairer than that?
The Occupy movement and the Lesser Depression may be indications that the time of illusion is coming to an end and that soon we will face with sober senses the real conditions of our lives.
Michael Holzman is a researcher for the Schott Foundation and other organizations. He is also the author of a biography of James Jesus Angleton, published in 2008.