by Danny Weil
[Note: This piece concludes the two-part essay. For Part 1, please see: Link]
Ted Forstmann and private advocacy philanthropy as a social movement
When there is an obvious financial pay-off for those promoting public policy changes through ‘advocacy philanthropy’, it behooves citizens to critically examine those advocates, their agendas and the implications of their claims. Sadly, this is not the case in America today nor was it at the time the leverage buy-out of public schools was being driven by those who posed as charitable individuals but whose real agenda was and is the incessant accumulation of profits. However, in the spirit of critical examination, let us begin with entrepreneur, Ted Forstmann.
Forstmann was not an unfamiliar face at the time he was first advocating for the privatization of education. Besides being a multimillionaire venture capitalist, Forstmann considered himself, “a pioneer of the leveraged buy-out” . This is not surprising. He served on the boards of, or was a spokesperson for, many conservative organizations. His interest in school privatization and educational commercialization was born long before he founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund.
According to Forstmann, his educational pursuit was governed by what he had supposedly learned about schools. For example, he suggested that before the American Revolution and for one hundred years of our country’s history, education was widely available and diverse. He went so far as to argue that competition kept the quality of educational experiences high and education was then a voluntary act. Further, he claimed that during this period literacy was high – in fact, he stated it was higher than in some states today.
Many other right-wing market fundamentalists echo the same rhythmic mantra. Andrew Coulson, a darling of reactionary neo-liberals, has stated:
Early colonial America was arguably the freest civil society that has ever existed. This freedom extended to education, which meant that parents were responsible for, and had complete control of, their children’s schooling. There were no accrediting agencies, no regulatory boards, and no teacher certification requirements. Parents could choose whatever kind of school or education they wanted for their children, and no one was forced to pay for education they did not use or approve of.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, the majority of American schools were organized and operated on a laissez-faire basis. There were common schools (often partially financed by local taxpayers, but primarily funded through private means) and specialized private schools of every sort (church schools, academies that prepared students for college, seminaries, dame schools for primary education, charity schools for the poor, and private tutors). Free schools were established by philanthropists and religious societies throughout the country to meet the educational needs of the very poor .
Of course, what Coulson, Forstmann and other market fundamentalists refused to acknowledge is the fact that in colonial America only the Anglo population was considered in literacy estimates. Native Americans, African Americans, slaves and indentured servants were excluded from any statistical rendering. In Virginia alone, an entire 40% of the population who were slaves was simply disregarded in literacy estimates. Slaves were largely illiterate and prohibited from learning to read as a means of racism and social control .
Never mind the facts, for Forstmann and his ilk, a combination of competition, charity, and private and semi-public institutions “worked” in the past and thus the conclusion is that they will work now. The problem, Forstmann has argued, is that starting in the 1850’s with the state of Massachusetts, America began a dramatic shift from free-market and charitable education to “government-run schools” . And even though America today cannot be compared to the America of the pre-Civil War era, Forstmann’s position remained clear during his life – America needed to replace public schools with charitable choice and privatization.
If all this sounds familiar, it should, for Forstmann’s position is little more than an echo of conservative economist Milton Friedman’s position and the ideological echo chamber he was part of has managed to collar many erstwhile advocates with their views dominating the corporate media. Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman argued for the modern concept of vouchers in the 1950s, stating that competition would improve schools and cost efficiency. The view further garnered popularity with the 1980 TV broadcast of Friedman’s series Free to Choose for which volume 6 was devoted entirely to the promotion of “educational freedom” through programs like school vouchers.
There is little doubt that comparable to Milton Friedman, Forstmann’s ideological educational vision was heartfelt and deep pocketed. However, there is no escaping the fact that Ted Forstmann was an entrepreneurial venture capitalist with a market driven agenda for education that seems more commercial and self-interested than altruistic. For Forstmann, like all capitalists, profits come before people and if this means circling the ideological wagons around this grim reality then so be it. Forstmann himself, claimed at the time of his launching of Children Scholarship Fund (CSF), that his interest in privatizing education through the use of philanthropic private school scholarships was driven by beneficence, not profit. As late as 1998 he commented in a speech to the Washington Press Club: “This is a real moral issue. I hate talking about the economics of it” .
To read part one and more of part two, please go to: Philosophers for Change:(http://philoforchange.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/advocacy-philanthropy-and-the-leveraged-buy-out-of-public-schools-part-2/).
I inserted and ascribed the following quote to Andrew Coulson from his 1999 book, “Market Education: The Unknown History”, published by The Social Philosophy and Policy Center and by Transaction Publishers:
“Early colonial America was arguably the freest civil society that has ever existed. This freedom extended to education, which meant that parents were responsible for, and had complete control of, their children’s schooling. There were no accrediting agencies, no regulatory boards, and no teacher certification requirements. Parents could choose whatever kind of school or education they wanted for their children, and no one was forced to pay for education they did not use or approve of.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, the majority of American schools were organized and operated on a laissez-faire basis. There were common schools (often partially financed by local taxpayers, but primarily funded through private means) and specialized private schools of every sort (church schools, academies that prepared students for college, seminaries, dame schools for primary education, charity schools for the poor, and private tutors). Free schools were established by philanthropists and religious societies throughout the country to meet the educational needs of the very poor ”.
Mr. Coulson wrote to my editor on May 21, 2013 and stated:
“I never wrote the quotation that you ascribe to me above. It is false to claim that this text appears on p. 75 of my book “Market Education,” on any other page of that book, or indeed anywhere in anything I have ever written. Please correct the record” (May 21, 2013 e-mail).
Andrew Coulson is the current Director, for the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. He has been Senior Fellow in Education Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and he’s editor of School Choices. (http://www.newmedia.ufm.edu/gsm/index.php/Improving_Educational_Services_for_the_Benefit_of_the_Poor).
I researched Coulson’s claim that he did not write the quote and found that indeed, he did not. Thus, the quote cannot be attributed to him and for this I apologize to readers.
However in my research regarding Coulson’s claim disavowing the quote, I also found out that his former employer, The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has also used this quote, word for word and they too have attributed it to him over 12 years ago. Funny, it took Coulsen less than 12 hours to contact my editor but in the last twleve years he has done nothing about his former bosses at Mackinac! This is all about the right wing thought police monitoring website and often then engaging in Dos attacks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial-of-service_attack).
In a January 9, 2001 paper written for the Mackinac Center entitled: Early Colonial Period to
the American Revolution: A Free Market Education, by Mr. Matthew J. Brouillette, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and former Director of Education Policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/about/page/staff-2) repeated the quote word for word and he too attributed the words to Andrew Coulson (http://www.mackinac.org/3254). This seems odd, as Coulson was a Senior Fellow in Education Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for years. Surely he must have been aware words were being ascribed to him falsely?
Brouillette’s citing of the quotation, which he incorrectly attributed to Coulson, was once again repeated in an article written on July 26, 2010, entitled: The Evils of Public Education; Why UP and All Public SUCs Must be Privatized?from the Vincenton Post: Promoting Honesty, Ojectivity and Integrity (http://fvdb.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/the-evils-of-public-education-why-up-and-other-sucs-must-be-privatized/).
Here, the author not only quotes Brouillette and the passage he attributed to Coulson, but the post goes on to speak of government “education camps” — key right wing language (ibid).
The Association for Waldorf Schools for North America in a 2007 report entitled: Independent Schools And School Choice Legislation in the United States September 2007 The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America The Institute for Social Renewal also repeated the same quote falsely attributed to Andrew Coulson (http://thecenterforsocialresearch.org/sites/default/files/assets/csr/about/schoolchoice07.pdf).
One can only assume that either the quote was written by Brouillette and attributed to Andrew Coulson, or written by another unknown person and then handed to Brouillette and then spread through various organizations.
Either way, Coulson certainly did not write these words and I admit the mistake made in the article. It is odd, however, that Coulson would not want to correct the record where ‘right wing’ reactionary sites also use the reference and then attribute it to him which they have been doing for years. This is especially true when one finds that Coulson was intimately connected to the Mackinac Center that falsely quoted him.
So, let this be seen as a god faith attempt to clean the record for Mr. Andrew on all accounts.
What we do know, is that Andrew Coulson has recently remarked in the Journal of School Choice, Vol. 3, No. 1, February 2009: pp. 1–46:
“I have previously presented evidence and arguments to the same effect (Coulson, 1999). After surveying alternative school governance and funding systems in more than a dozen times and places from classical Greece to contemporary Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, I found that school choice and direct payment of fees by parents, autonomy for educators, minimal regulation, vigorous competition among schools, and the profit motive for at least some portion of schools were associated with the most effective and responsive education systems. The lack of even one or two of these characteristics was associated with inferior outcomes” (http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/10.1.1.175.6495.pdf).
Readers should also note that:
“The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Murray Rothbard, Ed Crane and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries. In July 1976, the name was changed to the Cato Institute. According to the 2011 Global Go To Think Tank Index, Cato is the 6th most influential US based think tank, ranking 3rd in Economic Policy and 2nd in Social Policy” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato_Institute).
Thus, when it comes to my statement in the article that “Andrew Coulson, a darling of reactionary neo-liberals….” — this can hardly be refuted and for this reason this illustrative depiction of Andrew Coulson will remain as will the words attributed to him by his reactionary buddies at Mackinac and friends.
Keep the web open and free! We have a world to win!