Public Education | Participatory Democracy: After Neoliberalism

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Public Education|Participatory Democracy is a 5-year ethnographic film project of the grassroots struggle to save, sustain, and improve neighborhood public schools from the perspective of the communities most disenfranchised. The project attends to the waning promise of better schools and student performance fueled by neoliberal policy--choice, competition, efficiencies, and privatization by investigating the ways communities respond with participatory democracy. It is a study of the impact of and resistance to neoliberalism and privatization as education reform. By this I mean the ways corporate ideology and economic theory have transformed ways of thinking about education in terms of

  1. competition, choice, accountability and marketing;
  2. opening school funding to private entities, transferring public resources (including money) to private entities; and
  3. shaping of an individualism that ignores the ways systemic and systematic processes privilege and disadvantage.
[It] is a discourse that wants… to eliminate democratic politics by making the notion of the social impossible to imagine beyond the isolated consumer and the logic of the market. Henry Giroux 
For those of you under 50 years, this is the world you like a fish knows water. For those of you over 50, you likely remember other ways of being in society.

With a national U.S. Perspective, this ethnographic film project focuses on five cities, Houston, Chicago, New York, Albuquerque, and Indianapolis, as well as national coalitions. This project shares the stories, experiences, and actions of people, who  struggle and fight to hold-onto and enhance their rights and access to public education. While the discussion of education is expanding exponentially in public and political media and discourse, the national movement that is the resistance to corporate education reform, is not yet and may very well not become mainstream national news. 

More specifically, since 2012 I have been investigating how the resistance to neoliberalism in education develops and takes shape though grassroots organization given the resources, options, and dynamics of the local urban contexts and the emerging national movement. The sites of this study â€‹offer unique local contexts, as well as coordinated national events. In Chicago the mayor appoints the school board and the teachers union adopted an unprecedented democratic organizing structure. The mayor also appoints the school board in New York where communities (parents, grandparents, students, and educators) organize while the teachers union maintains a more typical posture of attending to educators’ contracts as though they are customers. While organizing in Texas has gained national attention, efforts in Houston are more recent occurrences, collective union action on the part of educators is not possible given the at-will employment law, and the school board is elected. National political players influence local school board elections in Indianapolis, and Albuquerque has taken to grading schools and a coalition of educators work to transform their teachers union. Seattle is home to leading neoliberal policy-makers focused on education. In addition to the cities, this web-documentary explores the actions of national coalitions such as United Opt Out, Save Our Schools, and The Journey for Justice in Washington, DC and with the Department of Education.

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