Tag Archives: education

‘Small Schools’ Ploy Part of Bosses’ ‘Creeping’ Fascism

NEW YORK CITY — In discussions with friends, I’ve often mentioned that the working class is living under growing fascist conditions, but some disagree. They ask, “Are storm troopers kicking down the door to your house? If not, then we don’t have fascism.”

But the ruling class doesn’t want to control the working class by kicking down doors all the time (although sometimes it does. see Shades of Hitler, p.7). Some control is more subtle, slowly adding more and more fascist conditions over time so we’re deep in the middle of it before we know what hit us. For communists, it’s important to fight such trends.

Throughout the country there is a rush toward replacing larger schools with smaller ones. Among my friends with whom I work in our school I’ve raised the idea that this move is really “creeping” fascism. In New York City, the Chancellor has mandated the closing of large comprehensive high schools to be replaced by smaller ones, as is happening in my school.

They tell us the large schools are “not meeting students’ educational needs.” Although our school was improving somewhat, the bosses say it “wasn’t improving fast enough.”

The attack has a distinctly racist character since the majority of the school closings are in predominately black and Latino working-class neighborhoods. Currently the bosses feel they don’t have enough support or soldiers for their wars and think that one way to change this is to win these youth in the schools, and in the classroom, to patriotic support of their imperialist adventures.

I told my colleagues the rulers are closing the large schools to maintain more control, especially in the classroom. The students are their main targets.

Fascism in Schools Has Many Forms

This strategy is fascist for several reasons. These small schools have fewer students (although the same large class size) and so needed staff is also smaller, which is much easier to watch and control than a larger one.

Few veteran teachers are hired at the small schools. Mostly younger, newer teachers staff them. The latter aren’t tenured and usually are on probation, blunting their ability to fight-back against attacks on students and staff. A “55/25” proposal — allowing a teacher with 25 years of service to retire at 55 without penalty — is being dangled before more experienced teachers.

Small-school principals have greater power over the staff. At one Brooklyn school a principal rated 10 of 40 teachers “unsatisfactory.” At another school, union meetings are practically forbidden. When some staff did call one, they were ordered into the principal’s office to explain their action. The administration more easily knows everything occurring at these schools, making organizing more difficult.

The greatest fascist danger at these schools is the change in the relationship between the working class and the ruling class. Communists believe that the class interests of teachers, students and parents are opposed to the administration’s (bosses’) interests. These small schools spread a “we” philosophy, the “we” uniting the staff and administration. If one doesn’t follow the principal’s goal for student achievement, that teacher is ostracized from the rest of the staff.

For example, many teachers in these small schools work hours on their own time, without being paid overtime. If teachers refuse, they’re labeled “slackers.” Teachers go along with this anti-working-class thinking unwittingly, furthering fascism’s talons in the backs of the workers.

The majority of these small schools are housed — up to three or four — in a structure that used to contain one large school. The building is carved up into different sections to fit each school, often leading to a fight for space. Students who happen to wander down the “wrong” hallway may be considered “trespassers,” subjecting them to disciplinary action.

The fight over space forces students to share the little existing space. Gymnasiums and cafeterias that once served one school must now accommodate up to four schools. This not only pits staff members against each other, but also student against student.

School Closing Is Attack
on Working Class

The news that our school was closing devastated most of my colleagues. Many have been there 20 years or more. For some, this was the only school at which they’ve taught. The immediate response was depression, then anger (usually toward the principal or other administrators) and then fear — from not knowing where they’ll teach next year, not knowing what will happen next.

Many might not recognize this as growing fascism, but this is how it “creeps” into our lives, with workers concentrating on where to go next rather than on organizing. As workers “adjust” and get used to this level of attack by the bosses, it only enables the rulers to go further. This move to smaller schools is an attack on the working class, not “just another change in the schools.”

As we fight it, we must win teachers, students and parents not only to see it as growing fascism, but also to understand why the rulers are resorting to such attacks — the better to control us and win the youth, in preparation for unending wars against imperialist rivals. Ultimately, only communist revolution can defeat fascism because its source: capitalism.J Red Teacher

(Series continues next issue)

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PLP Youth Lead Anti-Racist Campaign At Brooklyn H.S.

BROOKLYN, NY — Students, mainly black and Latino, and teachers at a local high school here — located in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood — have been battling racist attacks inside and outside the school. Every day after school the racist NYPD quickly herds students out of the neighborhood.

Before Thanksgiving, when an underage female student and her friends tried to leave a subway car because they feared a fight was about to erupt, a cop in that car yanked her back in. Her friends defended her, saying she’d done nothing wrong, that the cop’s action was illegal. They wrote down his name and badge number. Seeing students stand up for each other angered this racist cop. When the train pulled into the next station, he ordered the young student out of the subway car.

Her friends, and passengers on the train, told her she didn’t have to go because she’d done nothing wrong. But she went, fearing arrest and further abuse. About a dozen of her friends followed her, which angered the cop even more. He called for back-up; almost immediately a dozen racist cops came running down the stairs. They maced and beat the students, arresting six.

Four were underage and taken to the precinct and then to a juvenile detention center for the night, where they were further harassed and verbally brutalized with racist remarks. Three are CHALLENGE readers, which partially influenced their will to fight back.

When PLP members at the school, heard this story, we responded immediately, first calling the parents of those arrested. Consequently, we were able to accompany the students and their parents to a court hearing. The students, never offered legal aid, were instead offered a “deal”: community service and a sealed conviction! Such is capitalist justice: get harassed, maced, beaten and locked up by racist cops — the “crime” being black or Latino.

PLP members encouraged and supported the parents to fight the case and demand a lawyer. Despite the DA’s scare tactics, and because the parents had a prior relationship with the teacher/debate coach of their children, the parents resisted the “deal” and await a trial date.

Back at school, a PLP youth club took an anti-racist petition to the Student Government Association. It linked the racist attacks on the Jena 6, the NYPD’s brutal murder of Kiel Coppin, the cops’ racist attacks on students to the racist pizzeria owner across the street. Hundreds of signatures were collected the first day!

During the petition campaign, a debate on metal detectors in the school occurred before the entire student body. One side argued safety required having such detectors. The other side exposed the racist nature of these detectors.

They eloquently explained that besides metal detectors being ineffective at catching many metal objects, the main reason to eliminate them was their use to teach control and obedience to authority.

One debater argued, “Although we all won’t get 95’s in all our classes or pass all the Regents exams needed for graduation, we will all leave this school knowing how to “assume the position.” This shows that the main reason school exists is to train us to follow orders, like prisoners.” (This fits in with the bosses’ need for obedient cannon fodder in imperialist wars and for cheap labor.) Another debater used statistics from the NYC Lawyers’ Union website revealing that 82% of students attending high schools containing metal detectors are black and Latino. Hundreds of students and many teachers wore stickers distributed at the debate, stating: “Students not Suspects! Fight Racism!”

This modest increase of class struggle has helped expand our CHALLENGE distribution, though inconsistent, to 75 per issue. Two new students have joined a study group. Since one student’s arrest and our response, she began meeting with a PLP study group again. She will attend the next PLP club meeting and has her mother’s full support. Four PL student members have led the campaign.

Still, we must strengthen our organizing. The anti-racism campaign must include the Apartheid pizzeria owner across the street from the school; he refuses to allow our students to eat there. We’re planning to more vigorously approach the building’s other two schools; the petition is being passed around in one. We’ve also taken the petitions to mass organizations, provoking political discussion that’s changed some of their thinking, increasing our experience in doing this.

The anti-racist campaign has not yet blossomed, but 2008 promises more opportunity to win these youths to the Party while advancing the class struggle within their schools.

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Student Anti-Racist Assembly Sparks Fight-back

BROOKLYN, NY, December 19 — “Asian, Latin, black and white; to fight racism, we must unite!” was a chant among 800 high school students attending our second annual anti-racist assembly. It centered on the theme of the “Jena 6” and students fighting back. Members of Progressive Labor Party — understanding that racism is a crucial weapon in the capitalist arsenal against the working class — see one way of building the anti-racist fight is organizing mass assemblies in the school to spread our ideas.

The assembly was exciting from start to finish, with original poetry, a skit about battling racism, some great speeches linking past struggles to today and lively routines by cheerleaders and steppers. It called on students not only to wear the Jena 6 button (see insert) but to become active in the fight against racism. The high point was a slam poet’s poem opposing the criminalization of students in the schools. It really hit home as students are increasingly treated like suspects and criminals.

The main lesson: always rely on the students and staff, especially the students. Everyone came through in a big way. Students had been meeting daily for over a month to plan every aspect of the assembly, from the program, the lighting, the music and the ushers to, most importantly, the message. We had lively discussions about the nature of racism, its history and what to do every day to challenge it.

A few teachers lent their support and attended all the discussions and planning meetings. Others were very enthusiastic about the program, thanking us for doing it.

But clearly, the students led this activity, armed with much determination and understanding. It was followed a week later by a debate in the cafeteria based on the Lerone Bennett article, “The Road Not Taken.”

We’ve taken some important steps, especially to make racism a mass issue. Our sharp assembly was even better received than last year’s program. Nationalism was minimal in organizing the assembly, but the administration’s fear was evident. One weakness was the failure to link racism here to the U.S. rulers’ imperialist wars which use racism to win GI’s to kill their class brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan

Those who run the school are afraid of our students and of PLP’s communist ideas. They understand their power and know that we can be a spark to lead rebellion. Our job is to continue this fight, explain the class nature of racism and our solution — and always rely on the working class!

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PLP Exposes Scheme to Use ‘School Reform’ in U.S. War Plans

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 12 — Last week at the L.A. teachers union House of Representatives (HR), anti-racists fought for the union to support the struggle of the ‘Jena 6’ (six black youth victimized by legal lynching); to condemn the racist immigration raids sweeping the country; and to join the struggle to re-open King/Drew Trauma Center, the only public hospital in south L.A. PL’ers distributed leaflets exposing the imperialists’ plans to use school reform to build patriotism for widening wars. One-fourth of the delegates received CHALLENGE. Teachers won $1,000 for the ‘Jena 6’ defense, but only lip service for supporting the struggle to re-open the hospital. The union leadership guaranteed no debate on these questions, trying to reduce these important issues to pieces of paper.

What was so important to prevent discussion of the immigration raids sweeping our city and terrorizing our students, or the lack of emergency medical care for black and Latino workers here? “School reform,” of course. The bosses are using the unions to win teachers to “restructure” the schools to prepare students politically and technologically for war.

The HR agenda included pages about charter schools. Instead of fighting them, the union leadership tried to make an accomodation with them, as Randi Weingarten did with “Green Dot” (charter-schools company that allows a union) in New York. Their main aim is collecting union dues from charter-school teachers. Merit pay — paying the teachers most effective in pushing the bosses’ patriotic agenda more — is not yet on the table, but it’s coming.

The main HR discussion offered the carrot and the stick in reorganizing inner city schools. On the one hand, the superintendent is threatening to put all junior and senior high schools with low test scores into a “Transformation Division” under his scrutiny; to lengthen school days; to institute teacher-proof scripted lessons; to place more arbitrary authority in principals’ hands; and reduce team teaching.

The “carrot” is the Innovation Division, supposedly allowing teachers and parents to “restructure” their “own” schools. The union leaders tried to sell this option not as the “lesser evil” but to get the teachers’ support for school reform — to do the bosses’ work for them. The ruling class needs the passion and energy of the thousands of teachers who work in the inner city schools and are committed to serving their students. The Innovation Division is the bosses’ plan to win these teachers to school reform and to the “diverse” patriotic agenda.

School reform is part of the U.S. ruling class’s preparation for what Foreign Affairs magazine calls the “inevitable confrontation” with China and a larger war in the Middle-East. The bosses must re-industrialize the U.S, particularly armaments production. They realize they must compete or risk decisive losses. Therefore, they need school reform: to win teachers and students to patriotism and to refit the schools to train young people to develop, produce and use the latest high-tech weapons. After decades of pushing racist terror, drugs, social neglect and mass incarceration, the capitalist class finds it absolutely necessary to change its educational plans and train a significantly larger sector of its inner city youth.

But, as Karl Marx said, capitalism creates its own grave-diggers. Teachers fighting to serve their students and to resist arbitrary, racist principals and superintendents can unite with their students in rejecting the bosses’ agenda of patriotic loyalty to the rulers and their wars. Teachers need to teach the truth about capitalism, to prepare students — who will be in crucial positions in society as industrial workers, soldiers and teachers — to fight to finally destroy this system and its wars for profit. As the school-reform struggle develops, teachers must build CHALLENGE networks to win students and their families to join the Progressive Labor Party and lead the working class to counter capitalism’s racist, imperialist wars with communist revolution.

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For a Better Contract, for a Better World:Fight Capitalism and Join Progressive Labor Party!

Negotiating within the vise of capitalism

Once again our union is fighting for a contract that meets the needs of faculty and staff, and once again the other side – CUNY managers, City Hall and Albany – has a tremendous advantage in negotiations. This advantage derives not from management’s negotiating skills, but ultimately from the fact that NYC is dominated by a business elite (Wall Street financiers, real estate tycoons, and the CEOs of scores of Fortune 500 companies, whose headquarters dominate the skyline of lower Manhattan). This elite has successfully pushed its pro-business agenda for decades, which includes keeping business taxes and commercial real estate taxes at a minimum, spending hundreds of millions on tax exemptions and abatements for office and luxury buildings, reducing the cost of social programs (including CUNY), and lowering the real wages and benefits of municipal workers. The decline in the real salaries of CUNY professors and staff and the increased use of adjuncts (whose miserable salaries are shameful) are two manifestations of the business elite’s success in realizing its agenda.

The process of negotiations is rigged in the following manner for the purpose of keeping both labor costs and taxes on business as low as possible.

(1) Pattern bargaining: The Mayor and the Governor pick the weakest city and state union with which to sign a contracts that grants wage increases no higher than the rate of inflation. These contracts are then said to “determine the pattern” for every other union. In NYC, the union selected to “set the pattern” has been D.C. 37, a fragmented coalition of locals, whose top leadership is renowned for its corruption and willingness to make deals with City Hall that sacrifice the interests of its members.

(2) Paying for our own contract: This concept states that any salary improvements beyond the inflation rate must be paid with concessions. So the UFT was able to “win” higher salary increases but only by making terrible concessions, including a longer workday and year, extra workload and assignments for teachers, and the surrender of due process rights.

(3) Taylor Law: Although we’re repeatedly assured by politicians that we live in a “free society,” city and state workers are forbidden from exercising one of our basic rights, the ability to withdraw our labor in order to press our demands. Even advocating a strike is illegal under the Taylor Law, and any union that’s courageous enough to strike – as the TWU was in 2005 – faces penalties intended to bankrupt it. The only way that workers can bargain from a position of strength is by breaking down the artificial barriers between unions, ignoring the Taylor Law and waging a general strike.

Another feature of labor contracts under capitalism is across-the-board salary increases, which only widen the gap between the highest paid employees and the lowest paid. This divides our ranks, and we believe that solidarity demands that we support higher increases for the lowest paid, including adjuncts. It also demands that we fight for lower class size for our students and more full-time jobs.

Business groups like the Citizens Budget Commission, the City Club, the Real Estate Board of New York, the Rockefeller-led Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, and the Partnership for New York (founded in 1979 by billionaire David Rockefeller) have aggressively lobbied for their pro-business agenda, which includes reducing the redistributive function of government. So has the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank that was founded and funded in the late 1970’s by denizens of Wall Street, and which found an enthusiastic advocate for its policies in former Mayor and now presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

For years following the fiscal crisis of 1975, unelected committees like the Emergency Financial Control Board and the Municipal Assistance Corporation controlled NYC spending and borrowing, and were headed by bankers like Felix Rohatyn and corporate executives like David Margolis of Colt Industries, who forced through mass layoffs, wage freezes and reduced pension benefits. Moreover, every Mayor in recent decades (Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani) has won office by procuring millions in campaign contributions from the investment bankers, real estate developers and corporate executives who form NYC’s “permanent government,” and who expect their interests to be advanced by City Hall. Bloomberg, who claims to be independent of special interests, is actually a leading member of the business elite and fully committed to its agenda. The Mayor, whose Bloomberg LP is the largest financial news and data company in the world, is a billionaire who spent $74 million of his own money on his 2001 campaign. Finally, when necessary, big business can always use its ultimate weapon – the threat to leave NYC and throw thousands out of work.

strong>Capitalism Works – But Only for the Rich!

If we determine the success or failure of an economic system by the well being of the majority of the population, capitalism would have to be considered a colossal failure. From Nigeria to South Africa, from Mexico to Argentina, from Russia to China, all over the world, the majority of people have trouble making ends meet. Most work in low-wage, boring jobs that sap their health and their intelligence. Many have no work at all and no access to health care or decent schools. Tens of millions die each year of hunger or preventable diseases.

What about NYC, the wealthiest city in the world? Consider:

• Despite the ‘90’s being a period of economic growth, four-fifths of NYC families saw their real incomes (adjusted for inflation) drop from 1989 to 1999. The poorest fifth of these families saw their incomes drop by 13 %, while the next poorest fifth lost 16%, the middle fifth lost 12% of their income, and the fourth fifth lost 5%. The fact that the wealthiest fifth gained 18% in income, while the wealthiest 5% gained 31% over the decade, led the NY Times to observe, “the rich are getting richer and the poor are growing in number.” Increasing inequality is one of the essential features of capitalism. By 2005, the top 20% of Manhattan earners made fifty-two times what the bottom 20% earned.

• The wealthy financial and corporate sector of NYC’s economy depends upon a large low-wage service sector, staffed by mainly black, Latino and immigrant workers, a contrast of wealth that reveals the racist heart of capitalism. In 2001, 20% of the city’s workforce earned $8 an hour or less, and 80% of these low-wage workers were black or Latino.

• With the wealthy sending their children to private schools, NYC’s public education system – which feeds CUNY – is a disgraceful failure. Overwhelmingly segregated, overcrowded and under funded, with class size considerably larger than the state average, NYC schools provide a quality education to only a select few. Most students, by the city’s own statistics, either drop out before graduating or are unprepared for college level work. Black and Latino communities have the worst performing schools, often with the most inexperienced teachers, and most students in those schools score poorly on state reading and math tests. Only a shocking 1% of black students in NYC pass a single Advanced Placement exam.

This failure to educate is deliberate, and reproduces the social hierarchy of capitalism. Spending on education fell from 29% of city expenditures in the early 70’s to 24% in 2005. Since large numbers of students are destined for dead-end jobs in the low-wage service sector, there is little motivation on the part of political and business elites to improve the school system, despite much rhetoric to the contrary.

Capitalism Has Failed and Should be Left Behind

It should be obvious that capitalism is a failed social system. It provides immense wealth for a privileged few and heart-wrenching poverty and insecurity for billions. A sixth of humanity, over a billion people, live in slums, without many of the basic necessities of life. U.S. capitalism, a dominant power for most of the 20th century, now faces increased competition from rivals in the EU, Russia and China. As these regional rivals grow in economic and military power, U.S. imperialism has decided to use its superior military might to secure control over much of the world’s energy resources, a control that it hopes will give it an advantage in future conflicts. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have perished for this reason, and there is little doubt that more wars and more death and destruction are on the horizon. With more and more money diverted from social programs in order to pay for military expenditures, federal, state and city workers are being pressured to accept inferior “war contracts.”

Why continue to support a system that produces poverty, inequality, racism, environmental ruin, and endless imperialist war? We’re told that the failures of Soviet and Chinese socialism “prove” that there’s no alternative to capitalism, and many believe it. But people didn’t stop building bridges when the first ones they constructed fell down. People all over the world are looking for ways to get “beyond capital,” to build an egalitarian society worthy of humanity.

The capitalists have their organizations. The working class needs its own, one that fights for its class interests. The communist Progressive Labor Party is trying to be that organization. Professors can play an important role by letting their students know the truth about capitalism, by exposing the tracking and ideological functions of schools under bourgeois rule, and by recruiting a new generation of revolutionary communist fighters. Join us!

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