Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine & Charter Schools


Richard Moore

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In today’s excerpt – after the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, officials chose to engineer a wholesale shift to charter schools instead of fully rebuilding the public school system. For proponents of charter schools, this was a breakthrough victory. For opponents of these schools, it was an insidious development:

One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was Milton Friedman, grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hypermobile global economy. Ninety-three years old and in failing health, [he] nonetheless found the strength to write an op-ed for The Wall Street Journalthree months after the levees broke. ‘Most New Orleans schools are in ruins,’ Friedman observed, ‘as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.’


“Friedman’s radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the bil­lions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans’ existing public school system, the government should provide fam­ilies with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state. It was crucial, Friedman wrote, that this fundamental change not be a stopgap but rather ‘a perma­nent reform.’


“A network of right-wing think tanks seized on Friedman’s proposal and descended on the city after the storm. The administration of George W. Bush backed up their plans with tens of millions of dollars to convert New Orleans schools into ‘charter schools,’ publicly funded institutions run by private entities according to their own rules. Charter schools are deeply po­larizing in the United States, and nowhere more than in New Orleans, where they are seen by many African-American parents as a way of reversing the gains of the civil rights movement, which guaranteed all children the same standard of education. For Milton Friedman, however, … providing free educa­tion, was an unfair interference in the market.


“In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Or­leans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by pri­vately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4. Before that storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31. New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not.


“New Orleans was now, according to The New York Times, ‘the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools.’  ” 


Author: Naomi Klein  
Title: The Shock Doctrine  
Publisher: Metropolitan Books  
Date: Copyright 2007 by Naomi Klein  
Pages: 4-5   


The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

by Naomi Klein by Metropolitan Books
Hardcover ~ Release Date: 2007-09-18

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