School systems across the globe serve two related purposes: an economic goal of churning out the next generation of workers to exploit, and the political purpose of building loyalty to the capitalist system. The teacher unions worldwide accept this two-fold mission and the attacks on students it requires. These unions are part of the problem, not the solution!
Capitalist school systems are giant sorting mechanisms that absorb, train, rank and spit out millions of young people each year. From the supposedly great school systems of Finland or Shanghai to the pits of racist neglect in Detroit, this relentless labeling and ranking of our youth — each one of whom is brimming with potential — maintains a “tight” labor market at every skill level, from fast food to PhDs. As a result of this forced competition, fear becomes the rule on the job. Fight-back all but vanishes.
Under communism, the masses will be liberated from the terrorizing prospect of unemployment and the drudgery of wage slavery, and also from capitalism’s dream scenario, the “career.” Communist work develops a diverse set of capacities within each individual in its aim to meet society’s needs, with a mix of mental and manual labor for all. It is work motivated by social, not material, incentives.
Communist education means a lifetime of socially meaningful learning, both in and out of the classroom. We have seen glimpses of this kind of work and education when workers held power in Russia and China. It is just the opposite of what now prevails throughout the world.
Education Reform: Why Now?
The bosses’ assault against students and teachers in the United States has reached epic proportions. The capitalists are using standardized curricula and tests for more direct control over what is taught. They attack wages and conditions for school workers even as they blame teachers and their students for the system’s decay. In large and overcrowded urban districts, where students are predominantly black and Latino, dress codes, rigid discipline, and metal detectors are the norm. Students are treated like criminals, with no time off for good behavior.
In this climate, terrorized teachers help the bosses lay an ideological foundation for intensified fascism. It’s now the norm to intimidate and militarize youth for the inevitable broader wars against the bosses’ surging imperialist rivals like China. The U.S. rulers use the schools to protect their profits and shore up their dominant but declining position in an increasingly competitive world economy.
Both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, which contain 30 percent of all U.S. union members, have willingly collaborated with the bosses in the new evaluation systems.
The leaders of these organizations are loyal to the capitalists, not to the workers. Writing for the Council of Foreign Relations, finance capital’s most influential think tank, Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice worried that more than 75 percent of U.S. students are unqualified to enter the military. (Klein is the former chancellor of the New York City public schools; Rice was George W. Bush’s national security adviser.)
As competition heats up with China, Japan, Russia and the European powers, the U.S. needs to be able to field a competent mass army. The billionaires’ true concern is not quality education, but preparation for imperialist war. It’s no coincidence that Obama’s education reforms include the reestablishment of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs at a number of colleges.
Trillions for War, Zero for Schools
The bosses’ economic crisis and the trillions sunk into Afghanistan and Iraq have led to a wave of racist budget cuts and layoffs in public schools throughout the U.S. The results have been devastating.
• In New York City, the graduation rate hovers around 60 percent. Most graduates require remedial work before they can take college-level courses.
• In Philadelphia, under state stewardship for nearly a decade, district officials estimate it would take until 2123 to get all students up to grade level in reading and math.
• In Detroit, fire marshals have responded to complaints of kindergarten classes of 53 children. In the upper grades, district rules allow for as many as 61 students per class.
In recent memory, nobody has attacked education workers worse than Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education. Supported by billionaires like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, Obama and Duncan are now pushing for an all-out emphasis on “teacher quality.”
In fact, teacher evaluations are based mostly on student performance in standardized testing, where the margin of error is so high, they are statistically useless. But as the bosses’ political tool, the evaluations are invaluable. They give the rulers easy scapegoats for the failure of their schools: “bad teachers” and the unions that “protect” them.
Strikes: Schools for Communism
Short of revolution, nothing demonstrates the power of the workers like a strike. A strike opens up the potential for teachers’ union members to feel their power and build multi-racial unity of the parents, students, and school workers against the capitalists who control society. A strike of education workers can be a great opportunity for a militant, united, anti-racist fight against the children’s exploiters who run the school system. Class struggle has erupted in the form of school sit-ins and disrupted policy meetings in New York, Oakland, Kansas City and more over the past year.
Chicago teachers are leading the way in opposing anti-student education reform with a bold strike authorization vote. A pro-student strike in Chicago would be an important advance in the class struggle. Push the AFT to support a strike in Chicago! Push a strike in Chicago to unite with students and parents to break the bosses’ laws! Shut the schools and shut them tight!
But in every struggle against racist education reform, teachers must aim for more than a return to schools that perpetuate illiteracy and peddle lies. Only a communist revolution led by Progressive Labor Party can smash capitalism and organize society for the workers. Only communism can allow students to flourish in schools designed to meet their needs.