ESL Students Know the Language: A Class Analysis of Capitalism

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to adult immigrant working-class students at a community-based organization that works in the Democratic Party/union-led Coalition for a Strong Economy for All. To prepare their members to participate in Occupy Wall Street, the directors of the organization wrote guidelines about the economic crisis for teachers to use in the “organizing” committees and classes.

The guidelines negated class analysis and said the 1% are the bankers and everyone else belongs to the 99% — the “yes-we-can-people” who want democracy, patriotism and unity, where everyone believes in the American dream and “pays their fair share.” The organization’s campaigns focus on four very limited reform Democratic Party demands — a living wage act, a state law which is a mini-version of the Dream Act, federal and state legislation for a “millionaire’s tax” and Obama’s “job plan.”

By bypassing the reformist propaganda, my students and I created our own lesson about OWS and the economic crisis (in English). First I asked my students what they knew about OWS. Some students responded using words like poverty, unemployment, wealth and equality to explain what the movement is about. I then asked who they think is the 1%. They came up with the following:

Politicians, bankers, landlords, bosses, judges, army generals, professional actors, artists and athletes.

Then I asked who they think is the 99%. They said “workers.”

“Anyone else?” I asked.

“Well, no.”

I wrote economic crisis on the blackboard and below three more words: consequences, causes, solutions.

I asked students to talk in groups about each word. Around each of the three words, the students wrote more words in a circle:

Consequences: low wages, no jobs, rent, bills, family problems, and cuts in education.

Causes: corrupt politicians, bad government, exploitation, racism, greed, and war.

Solutions: change system, unity, fight back, revolution, jobs, no education cuts, no war, end discrimination against immigrants.

Using English vocabulary and without being prompted, the students came up with a basic analysis of class society and the nature of capitalism. They expressed their desire for systemic change. I then asked students to expand their ideas in English. Finally, we switched to Spanish to add more details and debate our ideas in more depth. “Hey, my friends, you need English to talk to workers who don’t speak Spanish and to build the unity and struggle we need,” I concluded.

The class process allowed me to assess which students to talk with more about CHALLENGE and the Party. Five students in the class receive CHALLENGE, one takes four extras. Three former students are taking extra papers as well. Four students are in one of our four study groups at our organization/workplace, where we can talk fully about capitalism and communism, reform and revolution, and recruit new members to PLP. This is what the “road to communist revolution” looks like.

A comrade teacher

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