Faculty Excellence Speaker Series concludes with Julie Gorlewski

The inaugural Faculty Excellence Speaker Series came to a close on Feb. 25 with a lecture from Professor Julie Gorlewski, of the Secondary Education Department, who was one of five recipients of the 2012-13 Provost Awards for Excellence.

Gorlewski was awarded the Provost Award in the Outstanding Pre-Tenure Faculty category. Awards for Teaching Excellence went to Aaron Isabelle, associate professor of elementary education, and Andrea Varga, associate professor of theatre arts. Philosophy professor David Appelbaum garnered the Excellence in Scholarly & Creative Activity award, and psychology professor James Halpern was awarded for Excellence in Professional Service.

In her Feb. 25 lecture, titled “Questions, Stories & Truths: Teacher Education in a Neoliberal Age,” Gorlewski drew several parallels between the American culture of corporate competition and the state of today’s education. “The story of neoliberalism is not a new story,” said Gorlewski. “It is more like one of Grimm’s fairy tales: Ancient, resonant, and scary.”

The principles of neoliberalism – i.e., when “the social collapses into the private, part-time labor replaces full-time work, trade unions are weakened, everybody becomes a customer, and the exchange of money takes precedence over social justice,” Gorlewski said – have had a less-than-ideal effect on the education system, she asserted. The proliferation of charter schools and vouchers has caused parents and children to be treated as “consumers who, by definition, get what they can pay for.”

Gorlewski also referenced President Obama proudly referring to his proposed college rating system as a “shopping sheet” or “scorecard” as another example of how corporate interest in education has turned students into nothing more than customers.

“When public resources are diminished, the rich get richer. It also results in de-professionalization, lower wages, fewer benefits – all of which belie President Obama’s claim that the corporations are interested in making our jobs and our lives better,” said Gorlewski. “Deregulation of private entities coupled with increased regulation of public entities is an insidious component of neoliberalism.”

Gorlewski cited several examples of the education system using “public funds for private profit,” including the Department of Education awarding $330 million to support two independent test development companies; Bill Gates devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to Common Core standards; teacher candidates paying Pearson $300 per EdTPA assessment; telecommunication companies like Verizon and AT&T investing more than $750 million worth of products and services in schools; and “education management organizations” like K12 Inc., an online charter school company, raking in $19 million from 2009 to 2013 despite the fact that a mere 28 percent of its students met state standards.

“Neoliberal principles seek to replace the concepts of the public good and community with beliefs in individual responsibility,” said Gorlewski. “From this perspective, humans and institutions exist in competition to one another. In education, competition is evident in our reliance on false positivism to rank students, teachers, and institutions on the basis of standardized criteria.”