When Naomi Klein first published The Shock Doctrine about a decade ago, she began her narrative about the rise of disaster capitalism in post-Katrina New Orleans by zeroing in on comments about the school system made by free-market champion Milton Friedman in the Wall Street Journal:
“Most New Orleans schools are in ruins,” Friedman observed, “as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”
Corporate reformers and privatization advocates seized the opportunity. Klein notes that in less than two years “New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools” while the teacher union was decimated and thousands were laid off.
This was a pattern that repeated itself in 2010 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and it’s a pattern that public school and union supporters now see arriving in full force in Puerto Rico.
On October 26, about a month after Hurricane Maria first hit the mainland, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher tweeted photos of school construction in New Orleans with the caption, “Sharing info on Katrina as a point of reference; we should not underestimate the damage or the opportunity to create new, better schools.”
Sound familiar? It does to teachers and union leaders in Puerto Rico, too.
“The government of Puerto Rico neglectfully has denied more than 150,000 students their right to education. Capitalism and its shock doctrine is being implemented against our people,” Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, told Rethinking Schools.
“This is not happening without a fight, without resistance. Teachers, mothers, students, and community members have united to fight back. They’re fighting and requesting their schools to be opened. They’re occupying schools . . . and providing workshops to children, they’re blocking trucks that want to take school equipment and empty the buildings,” she said.
Nearly two dozen educators were arrested in San Juan in November for protesting at the education department headquarters and demanding schools that are structurally sound be opened, and Martinez said rallies are happening on a daily basis and that the teacher union is taking the issue to court.
The recipe for what comes next with disaster capitalism is fairly clear. We know they’ll go after teachers and try to get rid of as many of them as possible. As educators, we must stand with them.
Anyone can send donations to:
Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, 1572 Ave Ponce de Leon, San Juan, PR 00926. Other teacher unions can also help by “adopting” a school and sending students school materials.
“This orchestrated plan, that wants to privatize all public services, that wants to lay off more than 250,000 workers, that cares nothing about the needs of the poor people that lost everything after Hurricane Maria, is not going to prevail,” Martinez said.
“The shock doctrine is being fought back with shock from the oppressed. . . . We believe in the power of the people, in a just world, in ending colonialism and capitalism. We will prevail!”
Ari Bloomekatz is the managing editor of Rethinking Schools.