With their school voucher plan, House Republicans followed the lead of Chile’s old autocracy. Like Pinochet, they’re obeying the instructions of hard-right intellectuals–in the GOP’s case, Art Pope; in the Chileans’, the infamous “Chicago boys.” On the theory that children “consume” education like adults buy WD-40, they plan to shift money to private schools and let capitalist wizards cast their spells, just like on Wall Street. Moreover, both Pope and Pinochet dispute whether education is a right.
Each right-winger planted dynamite on the foundations of tremendous progress. Chile was a caste-ridden society in which the descendants of Amerindians toiled in ignorance and white plutocrats ruled the land. The pre-Pinochet educational expansion gave birth to a middle class. Likewise, as C. Vann Woodward noted in Origins of the New South, North Carolina’s illiteracy rate stood at the dawn of the twentieth century at 19.5%. A century of progressive leadership later, though, our education system is–for now–a source of pride.
From similar beginnings, I fear an identical end will come. Chile’s “competitive” education system restricted quality learning to the wealthy and left the rest in mediocre private schools or, far worse, underfunded public ones. Educational inequality staged a forceful resurgence, so that a rambunctious student movement has emerged to protest tuition prices. In fact, the NC Student Power Union cites Camilla Vallejo’s movement as a model. Social unrest, declining education and a beleaguered middle class: This is what voucher advocates will import from Chile.
No, despite their disdain for the democratic process, North Carolina Republicans are not a junta. That said, the parallels between their education vision and Chile’s recalls Josh Stein’s famous comparison. Is a Banana Republic in the cards?