As the economic crisis and wars abroad deepen, the U.S. ruling class has moved toward more direct control of the schools nationwide. In New York, billionaire mayor Mike Bloomberg runs the city’s school system on a corporate model, with lawyers and business people in top leadership roles while teachers and school staffers are downsized. This structure attacks the students, the working-class of the next generation.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed a new school board full of corporate “movers and shakers” like board chair David Vitale, the former vice-chairman and director of JPMorgan Chase, and Penny Pritzker of the Hyatt Hotel dynasty. John Veasy, the Los Angeles schools superintendent, worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and completed an executive training program funded by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad.
In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, these billionaires and millionaires have no intention of creating policies to benefit students. Children who attend urban public schools are disproportionately black, Latino and low-income, the children of the same workers these bosses exploit. The racist segregation of housing and education in the U.S. makes poor black and Latino students the most likely victims of closed schools, empty test-prep curricula, and inexperienced teachers.
In this still-racist (not “post-racial”) country, children of the most exploited workers, including the unemployed, are the ones most likely to attend schools where rigid obedience is demanded and rote learning is the norm. The critical analysis skills that all students need are the last thing the rulers want most of them to learn.
The degraded conditions of these schools — and of an economic system that thrives on low-wage/no-wage workers — push nearly half of their students to leave without having graduated. The system needs only a handful of working-class students to be well-educated, for skills the bosses need and for use as misleaders of the mass of workers who are left behind by the school system.
Members of the ruling class are directly funding “reforms” in education through the Broad and Gates foundations, along with Walton Family Foundation and groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Educators 4 Excellence. The new Chicago schools’ CEO is Jean-Claude Brizard, who left his job as the Rochester (NY) superintendent of schools with a 95% no-confidence vote from teachers and a similar lack of support from parents and community members. Brizard is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, described by James Horn, of the blog Schools Matter, as “Eli Broad’s corporate training school … for future superintendents who… [learn] to hand over their systems to the Business Roundtable.”
This stepped-up corporate control is both about making money in the short run and trying to save capitalism over the long haul. A revolving door of new, lower-paid teachers saves public systems money, while attacks on teachers’ unions and pension funds are cutting wages and benefits for all education workers.
More fundamentally, the nationalization of education will prepare workers for increased fascism and war by defining the ideas taught to youth. Common Core State Standards and the accompanying battery of tests (now in development) will advance the centralized control of the content of education. By tying seniority, pay, and job security to teacher evaluation and student test scores, the ruling class hopes to develop a teaching force that shies away from independent thinking, both for themselves and their students. The end goal is a working class trained to be loyal to U.S. imperialism and willing to fight in wars to defend it.
All unions, including the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, work within the framework of a capitalist system that aims to destroy their members. The NEA leadership recently pledged to support President Barack Obama in spite of his implementation of Race to the Top, a policy that forces corporate-style reforms upon public schools. At its last convention, the AFT honored Bill Gates, the champion of larger class sizes — the key to massive teacher layoffs — in urban schools.
Both of these national unions have many members and local leaders who are fighting the attacks on education, like the “anti-billionaires” campaign of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Unions, however, are bound by the confines of the capitalist system. They negotiate contracts and lobby for laws that set the terms of workers’ exploitation. The CTU cuts deals with politicians when it should be organizing its militant rank-and-file to fight. Recent legislation agreed to by CTU leaders makes it harder to strike and undermines seniority protections for teachers. In reality, workers can never win in the legislative arena; any “victories” are short-term and can always be taken away by the class that rules.
The real value of class struggle doesn’t lie in the reform crumbs that workers may or may not win, but in the experience of fighting the bosses — an experience that too few workers have today. (In 2010, there were only 11 major strikes in the U.S., compared to more than 4,000 strikes in 1937.)
Communists advocate breaking the rules, and to fight back wherever we can. The mothers at Whittier School in Chicago did this last fall, when they took over a building to demand a library. In Brooklyn, students, teachers, and parents recently joined together to demand that the racist Department of Education withdraw its plan to insert an elite school into the John Jay Campus, where black and Latino students face prison-like security scanning and under-funding. Currently, students at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn are battling a trumped-up investigation of PLP teachers.
Militant fighting is insufficient; it needs to be coupled with a revolutionary communist outlook and a long-term struggle against capitalist ideology. We must understand how ideas like individualism, racism, nationalism, and class unity with the bosses are built into the schools’ curricula. To keep our students from killing and dying for capitalism, communist teachers must win other teachers and students to see through the rulers’ lies. We must learn and teach the skills of scientific analysis, the true history of workers’ struggles, and the multi-racial, international unity required for revolution. This is the role of a communist education, and the goal of PLP: to build an army of workers and students to destroy the profit system, once and for all