Profiting on our Children

On one level, it’s called privatization. The overt justification for privatization is always an increase in efficiency and higher quality. But the real reason lies in the fact that public officials don’t savor being actually accountable to the public. Shoving their obligations off to private enterprise via contracts strikes them as an opportunity to retain influence without having to actually do anything. And private enterprise is willing, regardless of the likelihood of failure, because American enterprise has a long tradition of exploiting public resources and assets, suckling at the public teat. So, the prospect of exploiting their own kind, whether they’re juveniles or the elderly or incarcerated or sick as an enterprise that’s perhaps best described as “human husbandry,” recommends itself as a matter of historical consistency. That privatizing public education conflicts with the commitment to “free enterprise” is merely a consequence of the fact that American enterprise, free of legislative privilege and support, has always been a myth.

The effort to hand the education of children over to profit-centered enterprise in Chicago can also be seen as a continuation of a decades-long effort to “thin” urban populations and atomize ethnic communities by relocating them temporarily or permanently to the suburbs. Since their religious centers cannot be easily dispersed, relocating the schools is perceived as the next best thing. And that’s been going on in American cities large and small for four decades. People actually inhabiting the spaces where industry and commerce and finance seek to reign is almost universally decried by people who presume to judge how people ought to live. We need only note the reaction by the NYPD to people perambulating in the financial “district” on their own two feet to see evidence of that. Having people actually live in a park ’round the clock simply could not be countenanced.

The impulse to segregate humans persists. However, the persistent insistence on connecting the impulse to segregate with specific ethnic or cultural populations blinds us to the fact that, absent the most visible victims, the impulse to separate humans into groups and distinct residential enclaves goes on regardless. In Baghdad, the American military set up segregated neighborhoods on the basis of religious affiliations, for which there was no historical precedent at all. It’s as if separation were the universal solvent to all social issues. But, that’s just the excuse. The real objective is to exercise control. So, human communities are atomized/individualized/divided because that makes them easier to manage.

If much of America’s industrial, agricultural and commercial enterprise has atrophied, it’s largely because the focus has shifted from managing our assets and natural resources to manipulating people. Moving people around, whether on a daily basis in cages on wheels, or periodically, by relocating their employment and/or housing, has become our dominant enterprise. Human husbandry is its ultimate manifestation.

What’s the motivation? What I’m inclined to argue that this fixation on manipulating/managing people is largely a response to the potential of self-government being realized as a consequence of universal suffrage, easy access to public information and public accountability provisions. People on the move have less opportunity to associate and organize and insist that their interests be satisfied. So, keeping everybody moving is the logical authoritarian response to the challenges posed by “populism” or popular government. And, it turns out, occupation is its antithesis. Which seems sort of ironic when one considers that the U.S. military turned itself into a target in Iraq by becoming an occupying force.

Perhaps occupation needs to be organic to be a success and an imposed occupation, such as the proposed takeover of the Chicago Public Schools seems to be, is doomed to failure, regardless of any immediate monetary profit, simply because it is coerced. But, aside from the evidence that much American enterprise has been designed to fail of late, what’s perhaps most important to note is that relying on legislation to mandate or coerce the people’s behavior is illegitimate because it is unjust. That is, the law is supposed to support justice. When it is used to enforce behavior or coerce, the law becomes an instrument of abuse and the whole system of justice is undermined.

The rule of law is good when the object is justice; it is bad when the object is to rule. When public officials, who are elected to serve, opt instead to rule, they are being insubordinate. Apparently, that’s a malady which can afflict almost anyone from the NYPD to the Chicago Board of Education. The remedy, as Justice Anthony Kennedy points out, lies with the people. When agents fail, it is up to the people to enforce the law and insure justice.

Note: Click here for a good summary of the situation.

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Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."