Adapted from a PPTA media release
The keynote speech at The Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) conference earlier this month was given by American education activist Karran Harper Royal. Royal is a native of New Orleans and the founding member of advocate group Parents Across America. Her speech was entitled, ‘From New Orleans to New Zealand with Love: A Warning About Disaster Capitalism and Public Education’
Royal shared the story of how the introduction of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina decimated the New Orleans public school system, saying that New Zealanders have an opportunity to stand up against an attack on public education that the New Orleans community never saw coming.
Royal sees a parallel between the way charter schools are being forced on the New Zealand population” particularly in quake-stricken Christchurch” and the situation in New Orleans and hopes similar mistakes will not be made here.
“I am honoured to be here to share with you what has happened in New Orleans as we struggle to survive after our own educational disaster. I can’t go back in time and fix that, but what I can do is share our experience with the rest of the world so they don’t have to suffer the plight that we have.”
“We were so shell-shocked after Katrina that we never saw it coming but you have a chance to put a stop to it. Through our shared struggle we will be able to save our children as our education system is attacked,” she said.
Royal wants to counter the misinformation being spread by charter school proponents, including that they help those who are most vulnerable and provide parents with choice. Charter schools have been touted as a way of helping struggling Maori and Pasifika students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, but Royal disputes this. “That was the sales pitch they used on us, but it is the African American and poorer students that find themselves shunted from school to school.”
Rather than providing parental choice, New Orleans charter schools took the power from parents and communities and placed it in the hands of corporations, Royal said. New Zealand parents already had a voice through their schools’ boards of trustees and the introduction of charter schools would mean the loss of the power that they already have.
Another prong to the charter sales pitch is that the schools will be able to provide ‘innovation’ that is not possible in the state sector. However Royal says New Orleans charter schools are nothing more than regimented ‘test-prep factories’. She has seen innovations in New Zealand public schools that would only exist for selected smart and middle class children under the American charter schools system.
The term ‘Disaster Capitalism’ was coined by Naomi Klein in her book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ which looks at how neoliberal economic policies are implemented when the public is recovering from a disaster or other upheaval