Every September, parents send their children back to school in the hopes that they will learn, grow and prepare for bright futures. But the capitalists who run the public school systems have their own racist plans for our children. As the economic crisis deepens and inter-imperialist rivalry over the worlds’ resources expands, the capitalist bosses become more and more entrenched in their own problems. Desperate to bail out their crumbling financial system and to prepare for more military conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the U.S. bosses spend billions. Shamelessly they continue to steal from the working class to save themselves and their system.
The current budget crises affecting U.S. school systems is a clear statement of capitalist priorities. These cuts are strangling a school system that was already failing our class’s children. In big cities where the majority of students are black and Latino, and families are already disproportionately suffering from unemployment and low wages, the cuts will be the worst.
In Los Angeles, classes will average 42 students. In NYC the school budget has been slashed by billions. This is forcing larger class sizes and cutting anything the Dept. of Education considers non-essential: art music, foreign language, sports, and after-school programs. In Chicago, where Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan honed his skills at cutting services to black and Latino students, many reading coaches, after-school and tutoring programs were eliminated. In San Antonio, schools full of black and Latino students are being shut down.
Washington, D.C, with a nearly all-black public school system, has been in the forefront of the bosses’ reform experiments, even as students continue to suffer. There, cuts are leading to layoffs of teachers as well as less money for vouchers and charter schools. While the schools are slashed, not a dime has been cut from the billions of dollars in interest going from the education budgets to the banks.
The attacks on working-class students are driven by the current crisis of the capitalists. In the 1950’s, the U.S. had emerged victorious from World War II and was launching the Cold War. U.S. bosses had the money to build huge factories that produced steel, autos, airplanes and factory equipment. After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space, the U.S. bosses drove to invest in education for the “Space Race.” Now the U.S. is a power in decline. Those higher-paying industrial jobs are almost all gone. And the school systems with working-class students, always the poorest, are being gutted.
Capitalists view our children only as fodder for the bosses’ system. To the extent the bosses do care about educating working-class youth it is to have a politically loyal, skilled workforce to exploit. Technical education and patriotism are being pushed for black and Latino students. The advocacy for technical education reflects the growing need the ruling class has for skilled workers like engineers, drill press operators, and machinists, jobs needed for war production. Developing curriculum for the schools to create a workforce prepared for war is often masked by rhetoric saying the U.S. “needs to compete” with international rivals.
President Obama’s speech to school children on September 8 urged them to “set high goals, knuckle down in their studies and persevere through failure.” (NYT 9/9/09) Many parents embrace hard work and perseverance for our children but the subtext of the speech is that if children don’t succeed in life, it must be their own fault because they did not work hard enough. This idea ignores the reality of the capitalist world. No matter how hard school children work, they will not be allowed to all become doctors or lawyers. They will not even all have jobs. Capitalism relies on a pool of unemployed workers to keep wages low. In the current crises, unemployment is even higher; teaching workers to blame themselves prevents them from blaming the true cause of unemployment — capitalism.
Capitalist schools spend much time dividing students into different groups. Tests are designed to magnify differences and assign arbitrary cut-offs, so children get sorted into different programs from gifted and advanced placement to prison-like dumping schools. Capitalist schools prepare a select few to steer towards the elite professions. The majority of students are left to fight for low-paying jobs or join the military (see letter, p. 6).
“Tough Choices, Tough Times,” the report of the rulers’ New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, proposes that capitalism’s divisions be further entrenched in the schools by forcing students into a defined path after the tenth grade, either college-bound or vocational. Obama wants school children to knuckle down in their studies and persevere through a system that is failing and that fails to offer them the future they deserve.
This latest economic crisis and the quagmire of constant war have left the rulers in a political bind. Individualism is a cornerstone of capitalism and since the anti-war and anti-racist rebellions of the 60’s the U.S. bosses have championed the politics, the art, the music and the philosophy of “me-first.” Schools collaborated with a curriculum rich in the stories of individual success and national progress as the result of individual “can-do” spirit or single-minded pursuit of individual success in the face of great odds.
The fact that the Nazis were defeated by the Soviet communists has been written out of history books. The bosses rewrote the truth of racism in the United States as the fiction of enlightened individuals struggling to champion the ideals of individual freedom. Slavery became an unfortunate “mistake” rather than the conscious policy of 250 years of racist rule codified in colonial law and the Constitution and enforced with ruthless violence that continues to define U.S. society today.
Obama tried to shift the message of individual success when he told students, “Don’t give up on yourself, because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.” National service has been a part of the Obama campaign since the beginning and now Obama is calling on schools to teach children to serve their country and to be inspired to sacrifice for the good of the nation. But it’s not “their” country, it’s the bosses’.
Obama and the rest of the ruling class know that the schools have been failing our children for a long time. They cynically use their own failure to meet workers’ needs as a rallying cry for reforms. Many of these reforms have won the support of parents and teachers who hope that they will improve education; but none of these reforms will change the fundamental problems of a system that doesn’t care about working-class children. After years and years of education reform plans, 39% of children in the U.S. live in families earning less then the amount needed to meet their basic needs. (Center for Children in Poverty) Capitalism cannot educate the majority of children, and for the bosses it is not a principle whether students learn to accept inequality in a large school or a small one.
Reading CHALLENGE in the last few years, one can see many examples of fighting against anti-working-class attacks in the schools: from high school students protesting budget cuts and walking out against police brutality, to college students demonstrating against a pro-torture professor and developing a Freedom School when summer session is cancelled. The Progressive Labor Party is not training students to calmly accept the life capitalism has in store for them. We want students to learn real history and real skills, to learn to organize, to learn to fight back and to learn to serve our class by building the fight for communist revolution.