Wells discusses how, as a nation, we have reconceived democracy in economic rather than political terms. In the U.S., we have a narrow conception of democracy as a means to maintain capitalism and promote independent economic success. A notion of democracy primarily concerned with ensuring deregulated free-markets to allow for independent capital accumulation fundamentally undermines democracy as a means to pursue common, collective goals and reduces human relations to market transactions (340). Egalitarian ideals have been subordinated as the private sector wields increasingly greater power in the political sphere. Wells elaborates on the depth of this reconceptualization by articulating the discursive limitations that result from this narrow idea of democracy. Because capitalist ideas about free-markets are framed as common sense, there is no space to critique capitalism. This hindrance of critical reflection and debate is at odds with notions of democracy that promote deliberation among a collective citizenry. We only know how to discuss “democratic” schools in market terms, and offering alternative models is often perceived as idealistic or nonsensical.
Importantly, the idea that citizens can assert their democratic voice via market transactions privileges those with greater social, cultural, and human capital. This is apparent in Fabricant and Fine’s discussion of social stratification in charter schools. Wells explains that charter schools serve disproportionately low numbers of ELLs and students with disabilities. Additionally, the charter school movement allows for white flight and has served to further stratify already highly segregated public schools. The idea that parents can assert their democratic voice via choice in a free-market is flawed because not all families have access to equal information. Those students who come from families with greater social and cultural capital are able to more effectively navigate the school system to benefit their individual child. The exclusion of the highest needs students form charter schools is noteworthy for a number of reasons. These students often perform poorly on culturally-biased high-stakes tests. This suggests that, were charter schools serving students representative of the larger population, they would perform even more poorly on standardized tests than they currently are. Additionally, it is incredibly problematic that schools that exclude the neediest students are being appraised as replicable models. In stark contrast to the discourses used to promote them, charter schools are emerging as a means to return to separate and unequal schooling practices.
Fabricant and Fine’s articulation of the disconnect between rhetoric surrounding charter schools and these schools’ actual performance is incredibly ironic given the movements obsession with accountability. This raises issues we’ve previously discussed regarding the lack of accountability to the public on the part of private corporations and wealthy philanthropists who support charter schools. Charter schools, instead of developing innovative practices, are recreating and furthering many of the shortcomings of traditional public schools. They are emerging as an alternative and even more flawed model for public schools. Fabricant and Fine describe the tension this dual system has created within schools. Charter schools are privileged by policy-makers and take funds and space away from public schools, the resultant tension of which was apparent in the public school we visited in NYC. As the reading substantiates, charter schools, despite all of the advantages they receive in terms of funding and political support, are still failing to deliver results. Policy-makers failure to consider the accumulation of evidence against these schools’ efficacy exemplifies how corporate influence undermines evidence-based policy-making.