From metal detectors, cameras and police presence to eroding union protections for teachers, trends in education point to a tightening control that is part of a growing fascism in society. Workers and youth organizing in movements to oppose an accelerating cascade of budget-cut assaults will come up against these physical and coercive elements of the police state. Through sharp, vigorous and patient organizing inside such movements, communists can win masses of workers and youth to see growing fascism not only as cause for despair but as cause for revolution.
Capitalist education always serves to teach the big ideas needed so that the ruling class can pursue its aims with minimal resistance from the workers. The Cold War education of the 1950s produced a society that mostly accepted a vicious anti-communist war in Vietnam at considerable cost in lives and absorbed its costs for ten years. As the Cold War heated up again under Reagan in the 1980s, brutal wars in Central America and huge cuts in social spending ensued. A U.S. population won to anti-communism tolerated these attacks. The (unexpected) reward for U.S, imperialism was the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main competitor. During the Cold War U.S. schools taught young-people anti-communism so they would not protest the rulers’ war plans.
Today U.S. imperialism faces a situation that is both similar and different. New competitors are rising, and as CHALLENGE has emphasized, control of Mid-East oil is key to dominance in the coming period. What teachers are asked to teach about the Mid-East matters. The ruling class needs U.S. schools to win over future workers to U.S. imperialism.
In New York State all high school students must take Regents exams in several subjects to graduate. In Global History students have been asked to write about the “positives and negatives” or the “differing viewpoints” on imperialism. These topics do more than force thousands of students to argue for imperialism on test day. Because topics tend to be recycled, these questions also exercise enormous influence over teachers who care deeply about preparing their students for examination and graduation. Teachers frame their treatment of imperialism in similar terms. Teachers are pressured to avoid teaching imperialism as the racist and genocidal system that it is. Like slavery and the Holocaust, imperialism has no positive characteristics. This moral stance is impossible when teaching to the test.
This past June, question #41 reads:
“In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The United Nations response led to the Persian Gulf War of 1991. This response is an example of:
In classrooms, where the struggle for literacy is desperate, teachers tempted to speak about U.S. imperialism are discouraged by such a question. The “correct” answer was choice #4. The test’s writers want Americans to understand Desert Storm not as an exercise in U.S. imperialism but “collective security.” But even more alarming than the right answer is the wrong one, specifically choice #2. Teachers who focus on actual history are in trouble. The history is clear:
The U.S. developed relations with the Saudis after World War II, calling the oil reserves of the Mid-East “a stupendous source of strategic power and the greatest material prize in the history of the world” Carter proclaimed his doctrine of U.S. dominance in the Mid-East in 1980 and created a “rapid-reaction force” designed to invade the area. Reagan transformed this force into Centcom, which has grown under every president and directed three major wars in fifteen years.
This history points to choice #2, imperialism. Teachers who speak in terms of U.S. imperialism run the risk of “confusing” their students and maybe even costing them the one point they need in order to graduate. The prospect is terrifying enough, especially to new teachers, to dampen a real critique of U.S. imperialism.
Additionally, the teacher-training taboo of never “sharing your view” finishes off many a good lesson about the true role of the U.S. in the world before it ever begins. No doubt the rulers have the good old-fashioned witch-hunt in their arsenal for teachers who refuse to toe the line of U.S. patriotism in class, and they will use it again as they have in the past. Next to these exams, however, the Cold War persecution of teachers was crude and perhaps even less effective in terms of the levels of conformity achieved.
Luckily, working class students can and do respond to real history teaching. Facts, a veteran PLP member used to say, are stubborn things. Several students informally surveyed on this question after the exam knew to stay away from choice number two even though they knew it was correct. In class, the teacher led discussions to ensure they understood the purpose of the test and what the testers were looking for. In fact deconstructing an exam this way actually makes test prep easier: “always pick the choice that makes America look good.”
When the “positives-of-imperialism” question reas its ugly head, we have an opportunity to raise important ideas among teachers and students about growing fascism, the role of education and the needs of U.S. imperialism. This article was discussed with several teachers and students in the base of PLP at a school where we’re active for suggestions prior to publication. We must take every chance the rulers give us to build our movement for communist revolution.