Hayes chronicles how the wealthy elites are so deep into their meritocratic story of worth--being the "best and the brightest", being the smartest people on the planet and therefore the only ones capable of making decisions--that they are immune to outside criticism or blame for mistakes. And our elites have made many many mistakes. Hayes picks the example of the disaster following Hurricane Katrina where the elites were so far removed from the reality of the people living in the Ninth Ward--such as the lack of access to a car, the lack of money (especially at the end of the month for those living on a fixed income), the sickness and immobility that comes with a lack of access to health care--that they simply were not capable of planning appropriate evacuation procedures. After all, telling people who cannot physically leave to leave and expecting them to somehow do so, is ridiculous.
Hayes also follows the grave mistakes leading up to the financial collapse of 2008. To this day, the elites have not had to pay for their mistakes. Meanwhile, far away from the millionaire bankers and hedge fund managers, millions of average Americans' homes are being foreclosed on and families are falling into bankruptcy. He also discusses how the elites in Washington allowed themselves to be duped into two long, expensive, and deadly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hayes notes that almost none of the people making the decision to go to war would ever have to risk their own son, daughter, husband, wife, friend, or relative's life. They make their poor decisions from a safe place far removed from the repercussions of those decisions.
When looking at the actions of the elite over the past decade, Hayes writes, "All the smart people fucked up, and no one seems willing to take responsibility" (Kindle location 230).
Also interesting is when Hayes mentions Karen Ho's book entitled Liquidated which looks into the dysfunction on Wall Street. Ho talks about how the "elite educational institutions and Wall Street have fused into a sort of educational industrial complex." (Location 753). She also calls those who believe the current status quo of privilege and elitism have
...A kind of neo-Calvinist logic by saying that those at the top, by virtue of their placement there, must be the most deserving. [She] describes this "meritocratic feedback loop" as common on Wall Street, where the finance industry's "growing influence becomes further evidence that they are, in fact, "the smartest." (location 788)These are the elites of today: uber-rich, unaccountable, greedy, self-righteous, drunk on power, and completely isolated from the vast majority of humanity and their suffering.
These elites-the wealthy, the powerful, the Wall Street tycoons, the members of the "educational industrial complex"-are the very same people pushing corporate education reform. It is Wall Street and its hedge fund managers, the billionaires, the socialites, the wealthy politicians (for only truly wealthy individuals can afford to run for top offices anymore), and students and graduates from elite universities which make up the EdReform crowd. I want to make this very clear, the same people who callously crashed the economy with little personal consequence while sending millions into poverty and distress, the people who ignorantly and wantonly left thousands to suffer in the flood waters of Katrina, the people who call for tax breaks and corporates subsidies for themselves and their friends while social programs and education are gutted, the people who remorselessly sent young Americans into battle, trauma, and death on foreign soils, taking thousands of in-country civilian lives along the way, are the same people who are telling us how to reform education.
The reformers, these elites, are so deep into their "meritocratic feedback loop," so very sure of themselves and their ideas, that they simply cannot hear dissent. When teachers and parents tell heart-wrenching stories of the cruel consequences of Ed Reform, telling about beloved schools being shuttered, children treated like lifeless commodities, growing segregation, the spikes in youth violence in the midst of the chaos of opening and closing schools, Ed Reformers literally cannot accept that their actions might be wrong. After all, the people in the trenches, families from low-income areas, teachers, communities groups all have not proved their worth by entering the elite upper-echelons. Parents and teachers do not have "merit" in the EdReformer eyes. Only the "Masters of the Universe", as demonstrated by accumulation of money and power, could possibly be smart enough to fix a problem as complicated and convoluted as education. The Billionaire Board of Education in Chicago is a prime example of the disconnected coldness of the elites and why the fight for an elected representative school board is so important to the parents and teachers of Chicago Public Schools. The board does not just seem distant, they actually are living on an entirely different social plane of existence.
|Chicago's Board of Education, Graphic designed by CPS teacher|
It is this social distance, which has grown exponentially in just the past few years, which allowed the space for the growth of horrible ideas being promoted by the elites: merit pay (naturally in a meritocracy), evaluations based on test scores (show your merit through bubble tests--getting ranked and sorted is oh so very meritorious), charters (the wealthy and elite can certainly figure out a better way to run a school than those working-class union thugs), and the end of tenure and LIFO (if you are still teaching after 20 years, you are clearly not competing hard enough), and of course Race to the Top (we'll give you money, but only if you prove your worth.) Social distance allows reformers to make edicts from on high without ever having to hear the consequences of excessive testings, or school closures, or ruined careers, or lifeless, dull curriculum. Neither they, nor their children, nor-importantly-their circle of friends will ever have first-hand knowledge of the bad policies being put in place.
To real educators, corporate education reform ideas are simply insane. They don't work and we have research to prove they don't work. But there was plenty of evidence that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that sub-prime mortgages were dangerously precarious long before the housing bubble burst, and that the levees were not going to hold as Katrina rolled in. But the "best and the brightest" refused to listen to anyone but themselves. And the results were disastrous, just like we are seeing in education.
Hayes calls for a massive shift in our social order. He recalls that meritocracies often go in cycles and that we are at the end of the current swing toward massive inequality and an elite class that is out of control. He contends that these elites are right now at their very worst.
The extreme inequality of the kind that we have produces its own particular kind of elite pathology: it make elites less accountable, more prone to corruption and self-dealing, more status-obsessed and less empathetic, more blinkered and removed from informational feedback crucial to effective decision-making. For this reason, extreme inequality produces elites who are less competent and more corrupt that those in a more egalitarian social order would. This is the fundamental paradoxical outcome that several decades of failed meritocratic production has revealed: As American society grows more elitist, it produces a worse caliber of elites. (Location 2351)Are these the types of people we want to entrust the lives of our children and the future of our schools with? Hayes ends his book by asking us to direct the...
...frustration, anger, and alienation we all feel into building a trans-ideological coalition that can actually dislodge the power of the post-meritocratic elite. One that marshals insurrectionist sentiments without succumbing to nihilism and manic, paranoid distrust. One that avoids the dark seduction of everything-is-broken-ism. One that leverages the deep skepticism of elites into a proactive, constructive vision of a moral, equitable, and connected social order. (Location 3482)The only way forward is the creation of a more moral, equitable and connected society? Sounds good to me....