A new documentary will be released in community-based screenings across the country on August 14th. This film could provide a powerful boost to local efforts to organize resistance to the corporate takeover of public schools. It is called Education Inc, and it tells the tale all too familiar to many of us – that of the drive to privatize one of the few public institutions left in our withering democracy.
If you are frustrated by what you see happening in your local schools, if your school board is beset by billionaire-sponsored candidates, and charter schools are starving neighborhood schools of funding, this film might give you a much needed rallying point. The film’s creator is making it available for community showings, and is building for a one-day national release on August 14. A film showings can provide a focal point that brings people together and inspires further actions. Details for booking the film are here.
But first, a bit of background on this story. I met Brian Malone a couple of years ago, when some parent activists brought me to Douglas County, Colorado, to talk about what was happening with corporate education reform. It was just a week or two prior to a major election that pitted those who supported public schools against a pro-privatization slate backed by ALEC and big money from outside of the area. There was all sorts of skullduggery in this election. The District used taxpayer funds to commission a pseudo-academic “white paper” by the head of the American Enterprise Institute, Rick Hess. His paper, and accompanying blog post, described Douglas County as “the most interesting district in America,” because it was a wealthy district experimenting with school choice. This paper was released in the middle of the campaign, and put a rosy glow on the candidates who supported this approach. It came out later that the school district paid Hess and his co-author $30,000 for their praise.
This money was just the tip of a much bigger iceberg that threatens to sink public education in communities across the country. Teacher friends who worked in film maker Brian Malone’s community began telling him that things were awry a few years ago. At first he could not believe things could be as bad as he was hearing. He explains:
I agreed to attend some school board meetings and even videotape them out of curiosity. It wasn’t long until I began to see things differently. I watched this new school board systematically dismantle every part of what made Douglas County Schools great for more than 50 years. School board meetings sounded more like corporate shareholder meetings. Student fees multiplied, while at the same time the board was holding back almost $100-million from classrooms. And for the first time ever, my kids had to pay to ride the school bus. There was a lot of talk about encouraging competition, letting market pressures decide the direction of schools, and so on. And after a 50-year healthy relationship with the teachers union, suddenly they were enemy number one. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how arrogant and off-limits the public school board behaved. Any parent or citizen who questioned the reforms, or simply wanted to know more information was ignored and often, publicly ridiculed by the board itself. Where was all of this coming from?
Malone decided to find out and began his quest. Education Inc. is the result. Here is a synopsis:
Americans pay almost $600-billion every year in public tax dollars to educate public school children. But for free-market ideologues, private investors and large education corporations, those tax dollars are too tempting to resist. Education, Inc. examines the free-market and for-profit interests that have been quietly and systematically dismantling America’s public education system under the banner of “school choice.”
Education, Inc. is told through the eyes of parent and filmmaker Brian Malone, as he travels cross-country in search of the answers and sources behind the privatizing of American public education, and what it means for his kids. With striking footage from school protests, raucous school board meetings and interviews with some of the most well known educators in the country, Malone zooms out to paint a clear picture of profit and politics that’s sweeping across the nation, right under our noses.