The Trap Of Neoliberal Educational Free Choice

In 2002, the never-developed Organic Law on the Quality of Education introduced a “new” and surprising formula in educational legislation by referring to “parents” as “first responsible for the education of their children.”

Expression recovered by the LOE in 2006 by modifying the still in force Organic Law of the Right to Education. Later, the LOMCE would reinforce that same notion by transferring it to the principles and purposes of education.

These changes may appear neutral or harmless. At the end of the day, who is going to deny the role that fathers, mothers or guardians should have in the education of their daughters and sons?

However, if until then the educational laws insisted on the “shared effort” that implied, therefore, a certain horizontality between families and other members of the educational community, this type of formulas seemed to draw a sort of hierarchy where opinion or desire individual parents begins to prevail over any other criteria and educational interests of the community.

In fact, in the course of parliamentary debates, both the LOE and the LOMCE, expressions similar to those incorporated in the law would appear. In some cases, they would even reach a hyperbolic tone.

An association of mothers and fathers would go so far as to affirm in parliamentary committee that “the first rights that must be respected are obviously those that correspond to the families” who would be “the recipients of education . “

Placing families as the main recipient of education, not the minor or society and their general interest, represents a radical break with the traditional meaning of educational institutions, with profound consequences.

It implies, in some way, conceiving education not as a social right, whose development is part of the common good, but as a private interest or a commodity subordinate to the interest of the client, the family, in this case.

On the other hand, article 27 of the Spanish Constitution recognizes the right to education and the freedom to create educational centers. Not the supposed “right to free choice of center”. What it does require of public powers is that they guarantee the right to education through general programming and planning of education.

The problem was created with the LODE, which introduced “freedom of individual school choice”, although limiting it only to cases where the number of applications for a place in a public school exceeded the available places.

What is surprising is that research repeatedly shows that, behind many invocations to the “freedom” of choice of center, what is hidden is the rejection of social mixing , to educate children with those who are not from the same class: “freedom of choice of center does not exist, it is a fallacious term to justify a system that segregatesthe student body and that serves the middle and upper classes to get away from foreign students and the lower classes ”.

In short, that so-called “freedom of choice of school” actually becomes school segregation. “What the statistical evidence supports is the belief of parents that social contacts and classmates can influence educational outcomes and the socio-occupational future of their sons and daughters, which is why they tend to prefer subsidized centers ”, where the average socioeconomic characteristics of the students and their families seem to provide them with more advantages in future relationships.

We are, therefore, before a neoliberal reformulation of the concept of “educational freedom”. It is intended to restrict this notion, originally conceived as a social right linked to the common good, to a private interest associated exclusively with the possibility of choosing a center and education based on private convictions or interests.

This mutation of educational freedom has led, as the OECD has already warned, in a progressive process of school and social segregation where the students with the greatest difficulties and the most disadvantaged are concentrated in certain centers, which bring together immigration and indigenous students at risk and social exclusion.

Meanwhile, other centers, mostly subsidized but also some public, select certain students who do not have functional diversity, who do not have behavioral difficulties, who are not absentee, etc.

Furthermore, despite the fact that families tend to believe that they are the ones who select the educational center, in reality it is these centers that select their students in different ways: locating their centers in certain neighborhoods and urban areas; selecting those who guarantee the center results and be at the top of the rankings ; hindering or expelling those who can put these results at risk due to their poor performance; establishing “voluntary” quota mechanisms so that only those who have resources that guarantee economic stability can access; implementing programs that turn into opportunities to segregate and select their clients , be it bilingualism, excellence programs or international baccalaureate degrees.

Obviously, this peculiar construction of “freedom of teaching” has ended up becoming the defense of privileges: from the freedom of certain concerted centers to impose economic and cultural barriers to many families, to the freedom of the Catholic Church to condition the system educational, passing through the freedom of certain families to demand that their “social demand” be attended to in order to avoid plurality and coexistence with those who are not of the same class or of the class to which they aspire to reach.

But showing those privileges does not prevent us from recognizing that this new common sense has permeated a good part of the social body, even among sectors that do not even enjoy them.

This discursive displacement was neither accidental nor spontaneous. Rather, it obeyed the adaptation of educational culture to a new neoliberal era. A time where the conception of freedoms, rights and social duties built in common has been progressively destroyed and displaced by the idea of ​​private goods selected or “chosen” in and from the private sphere, by those who could do it.

Focusing the entire agenda of the public debate on negative freedom that, for educational neoliberalism, is reflected in the individual ability of parents to decide how, with whom and where their sons and daughters should be educated.

This educational neoliberalism has thus been encapsulated in the defense of negative freedom, that which considers that an individual is free to the extent that nothing or no one restricts his action of choosing or that he can exercise his individual will.

But it hides and denies the positive freedom that refers to the collective capacity to establish the means and mechanisms that allow and make it possible for everyone to exercise it, by having the possibilities to do so.

In a Social and Law State, it is the social community, through the public powers and educational administrations, who establish the laws, norms and rules that generate the conditions of possibility to guarantee everyone the right to education in equity, planning and programming the educational system publicly based on the common good and not on individual interests.

To do this, they restrict the negative interest of individuals (for example, in road driving, prohibiting driving in the left lane or skipping the red lights) in order to preserve and guarantee both the positive freedoms of all and all, and also the freedoms of those who do not have the same resources and means in a society as unequal as that which is structurally maintained in a system like the capitalist one.

In this sense, the hegemony of the neoliberal educational ideology has been such that the trap of confusing freedom with the particular desire of fathers and mothers has been naturalized .

This dangerous confusion invites us to perceive educational equity, that is, the role of public powers in the allocation of resources or the defense of a common educational system, as uncomfortable limits to the “educational (neoliberal) freedom” of individuals.

The truth is, however, that these “limits” to freedom are, quite the contrary, the necessary condition to guarantee common law and a shared and just freedom. The social community must respond not to individual wishes, but to collective needs, guaranteeing the right to public education for all minors in conditions of equity and justice.

Breaking the false dilemma between public education and freedom involves claiming the right of the social community to positive freedom, which the Spanish Constitution itself raises, to rebuild a participatory, democratic public education, capable of taking charge of a diverse society and where the The involvement of families in the educational process is more intense, committed and democratic.

An education that revolves around the right of families to choose school institutions according to their private preferences and systematically impose their criteria against that of other agents of the educational community, does not in any way imply an extension of the freedom and right to education of all of them, but rather the defense of a neo-Darwinist system of struggle and competition to manage to impose the private interests of those who have more resources or possibilities, to assert “their freedom” against others.

This framework leads us to an increasingly segregated education, devoid of the mechanisms for future generations to fully develop their personal and collective autonomy in a plural and fully democratic society.

The great neoliberal paradox is that it “gives us” the fiction of greater decision-making capacity in the private sphere and of private interests at the cost of narrowing the freedom to deliberate and collectively decide on how to guarantee the common good in an equitable way.

Moreover, this perverse logic reverses the terms of the problem and, the popular classes end up financing “freely” the exclusive educational concerts of the middle and upper classes, reproducing school segregation and social inequality with public money .

In short, the trap of neoliberal free choice in education is based on the individualistic logic of the “ethics of the fittest” and not on the egalitarian logic of plurality and coexistence based on the common good and the guarantee of the right to education. education of all minors in the social community.

Thus understood, freedom of choice is a privilege and not a right, as well as a strategy to place education within the process of market privatization.

The State must ensure the common good and not promote an educational market with rankings of schools, where families compete to get the best offer, as if it were a large supermarket.

The development of an inclusive, plural, democratic and equitable public system, far from canceling educational freedom, generates its substratum. Therefore, a public education is the best place to remember that we are not free in front of, but with others.

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