I bumped into an old friend and former colleague a couple of days ago. She's on loan as acting head to a school converting to Academy status.
Academies are intended to address the problem of entrenched failure within English schools with low academic achievement, or schools situated in communities with few or no academic aspirations. Often these schools have been placed in "special measures", a term denoting a school that is "failing or likely to fail to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education".
Academies are established in a way that is intended to be "creative" and "innovative" in order to give them the freedoms considered necessary to deal with the long-term issues they are intended to solve. Each academy has a private sponsor who can be an individual (such as Sir David Garrard, who sponsors Business Academy Bexley) or an organisation (such as the United Learning Trust or Amey plc).
My friend sees that part of the hidden agenda is to tear up teacher's contracts and save money by employing and bullying dull functionaries.
Before those who think themselves libertarians strop their hard hearts on this, may I ask them to pause and consider the liberty not just of the educational employees, but also of the students, and providers of instructional materials?
The excellent graphic site Cartoon Brew reveals interesting developments in America, where the chain of Art Institutes Colleges is beginning to show the true colours of large "private" enterprise. Last week's story was about forcing teachers to use certain texts:
Animation artist Mike Tracy claims that his school, the Art Institute of California—Orange County, judges teachers by another criteria: how many e-textbooks each teacher sells to their students.
Tracy, who has taught drawing and digital painting for eleven years at AIC—Orange County, felt that his class didn’t require the textbooks he was suddenly being asked to sell and told the school that he would prefer to teach without them. Tracy’s reward for working in the best interest of his cash-strapped, loan-burdened students was a termination notice from the school.
This week's is about preventing teachers from using other texts. Popular author Ed Hooks explains:
My book Acting for Animators was published late last year in a revised third edition by Routledge/London. Not too long after it came out, I received an e-mail from an Art Institute animation teacher in Texas. He told me that the headquarter of the AI schools, located in Pittsburgh, had established a new textbook policy. From then going forward, all text books must be e-books. No more hard or soft cover. He was worried that my book might not be available in e-book format, explaining that it was one he recommended to all of his AI students.
As it happened, Routledge was at that moment in between E-Book distributors. They were in the process of vetting a new one and expected to announce E-Book available for all of their titles shortly. I passed this positive message along to the teacher in Texas. [...] In the end, Routledge went with some other e-book distributor, and the man in Pittsburgh said he was sorry but that was that. It was out of his hands. No more Acting for Animators book at any of the Art Institutes.
The Art Institutes chain is owned by the Education Management Corporation (why am I suddenly thinking of Robocop and the Omni Consumer Products corporation?). EMDC (as it likes to term itself) says:
Our schools are dedicated to giving students the skills, tools and confidence they need for a lifetime of success. From preparing graduates for their first, exciting foray into the business world to helping busy professionals broaden their career possibilities...
Who defines success, and how?
Business world... careers... I have this sense of square pegs being banged efficiently (and cost-effectively) into round holes; of the spiritual death of daily life in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Just wait until the British (sorry - Team GB, the nation that dares not speak its name) Government awards a major contract to, say, K12 (which my acting-head friend also mentioned).
There is no greater foe to liberty than the large corporate enterprise.
There should be some other term than "private enterprise" for a business over a certain size, so that lovers of liberty are not driven from Big Brother into the arms of Big Manager. The two work together - look at "Chinese" Murdoch.
When England was a nation of small shopkeepers, it was, perhaps not a free nation, but a more nearly free one than today's. And across the water, we are still fighting the intellectual heirs of Napoleon.
Yet in opposing the tyranny of associations of rich men, I am mischaracterized as illiberal. When, for example, I said that Prohibition was ended by big business, its captive unionised workforce and a big government that wanted more funds, and when Isuggested that "liberalisation" of intoxicants was a money-earner for governments and big business and a trap for individuals, I got not only sharp opposition but even - God knoweth how, as More said - calls for my voice to be banned from a liberal website.
My libertarian friends, think more carefully about liberty.
Otherwise, like the Diggers and Levellers of the English Revolution, like Mao's Hundred Flowers, like the oppressed peasants that Luther emboldened to revolt and that he then denounced and betrayed, you will be sold a tin with Liberty on the outside and Slavery within.
The modern chains may be encased in velvet, perfumed with heady mind-altering chemicals and (what subtlety and irony) sold to you with honeyed persuasions rather than wrapped round you by diktat, but you will find they are still very functional as chains, even if (particularly if) they are commercial chains.