The Education Agenda is a War Agenda: Fight Back on October 7th!

By Rich Gibson (

Emeritus Professor, San Diego State University


As schools began to open for the 2010-11 year, two lies that need to be connected were kept apart in the for-profit media.


On August 30, 2010, ABC News “This week,” chaired by Christian Amanpour offered the usual tripe about educational reform, virtually praising the White House Race to the Top (RaTT) project. Washington D.C.’s school tyrant, Michelle Rhee, joined Obama errand-boy Arne Duncan and the American Federation of Teacher’s boss Randi Weingarten in a celebration of reform under the guise that we are all in this together for the children.


While some differences appeared, the reality of the education project, and the union’s complicity, became clear enough. Weingarten routinely joins Obama, privatizers, public education specialists, treasury operatives, and others, in order “to have a seat at the table.” She enjoys the food. Her members become lunch. Rhee demolished tenure in DC, then began firing teachers with joyful vengeance in 2010, while Weingarten stood aside, appearing to wring her hands.


Weingarten then took her traveling salvation show to Detroit where she led the negotiations for the worst contract in fifty years of teacher bargaining; giving up tenure, merit pay, teacher evaluations of teachers, massive cuts in health and retirement benefits, as well as $500 per pay check, in order to “prevent layoffs.” When the contract was signed, the district initiated layoffs.


The following the ABC News hustle, the demagogue, Obama, declared the “end of combat operations in Iraq.” Nobody had the nerve to openly state: “That’s an outrageous lie. There is no such thing as a non-combat troop. The US is not going to leave Iran, nor the region, nor the oil.”


There are at least eight huge bases in Iraq, staged in the key population areas and near the oil fields. Obama failed to mention the illegal invasion, based on an endless series of lies (WMD’s, Democracy, Against the Tyrant, for the Kurds, Al Q, etc) nor the massive destruction the US carried out against Iraq before the invasion (remember Madeline Albright’s comment about “collateral damage” when challenged with the death of ½ million Iraqi children) nor the ruin of Iraqi culture when US troops guarded the oil ministry but let Iraq’s libraries and museums be looted, what one archeologist called the “greatest cultural disaster in 500 years”–and Donald Rumsfield said, “freedom’s untidy.”


Obama failed to mention the other 100,000 Americans in Iraq: mercenaries, camp followers, teachers, etc. Nor did the demagogue note the fact that, everywhere, children of the poor fight children of the poor, on behalf of the rich in their homeland. He missed, as well, the $13 billion arms deal the US just cut with Iraq, or the coming fight for the oil that the Russians, Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans (remember Saddam’s threat to switch to the Euro?) must have just as much as the US—not so much for fueling cars for family vacations, but because oil moves every military—and every major economy depends, largely, on military might. Indeed, that’s all that is left of US power.

On the day that the education project is declared a “civil rights” issue, for the good of us all,” and war is declared over by the demagogue Obama, elected by liberal saps (as, in education, the Mothers Superiors of capitalist missionary schooling like Linda Darling Hammond, and Debra Meirs; fake left political organizations like the Communist Party USA, Move On, or the Democratic Socialists of America; farcical “activists” like the millionaire Tom Hayden, journalists like Katha Pollit and Barbara Ehrenreich; and media opportunists like Michael Moore) whose analytical abilities should be recognized as nil, who should be silenced until they have published extensive self-criticism about why they have been incapable of grasping why things are as they are, and thus what to do--on this day we should recognize that the education agenda is a war agenda.

The war is not only not over, but US society is absolutely dedicated to the perpetuation of war and empire: class war and imperialist war. There is a direct line from the Obama/Duncan/NEA/AFT education project to the economy and war.


How profound it the national dedication to imperialist war, that is, not just militarism and hubris, but the relentless search for markets, cheap labor, raw materials, and regional control? The US military budget for 2009 is, more than $1.1 trillion (the military budget is muddled by secrecy the CIA’s black budget-- coupled with bureaucratic moves like paying for the Iraq and Afghan wars with “supplementary” budgets, or boxing the costs of wounded vets outside the Defense budget). The US has more than 800 bases and facilities in 40 countries; 100,000 troops in 46.         

This incredible mis-investment means the US, on the one hand, didn’t have the capital or will to reinvest in either its industrial or public sectors, leaving the nation a consumerist swamp, 2/3 of the economy propelled by consumerism. On the other hand, war spending, which creates nothing of value but destruction (somewhat like cigarettes; addictive, profitable), drained the public treasury, forcing wages down (not war profits, though) and helped to set in motion the Great Financial Crisis, caused more by under-consumption than Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi schemes.


The US has been at war for nine years and promises the world, and its children, endless warfare.


Imperialism, as Chalmers Johnson says, “rots the brains of imperialists, is driven by hubris, racism and arrogance.” Coupled with greed and fear, such is the psychological make-up of too much of capitalist schooling today.


That is, regimented national curricula (patriotism), high-stakes exams (segregation), militarization (in poor and working class areas), merit pay and attacks on tenure (fear, an assault on the last people in the US with predictable jobs and health benefits)--all those taken together mean preparing students for bad jobs or soldiering--or both-- and turning teachers into missionaries for capitalism, schools into its imperial outposts.

Schools, not industrial work places, are now the centrifugal organizing point of North American life. There are at least 49 million youth in public schools, ½ of them draft eligible in the next five years. There are 4 million unionized school workers, the most unionized people in the USA, the last people who have predictable tenured jobs, wages, and health benefits–proof that injuries to the rest of the working class merely preceded impending injuries to this sector of workers.


The government is an executive committee and armed weapon of the rich. Government schools are capital's schools.

Al Szymanski, more than 30 years ago, described the nature of what is, in fact, capitalist democracy, the former dominating the latter when he wrote, now flatly ruling the latter in the form of a true corporate state (bank bailouts, the takeover of the auto industry, endless war–add it up):

1.      To guarantee the accumulation of capital and profit maximization and make it legitimate.

2.      Preserve, form, and temper, capitalist class rule.  

3.      Raise money to fund the state.

4.      Guarantee and regulate the labor force.

5.      Facilitate commerce.

6.      Ensure buying power in the economy.

7.      Directly and indirectly subsidize private corporations.

8.      State sanction of self-regulation of corporations.

9.      Advance the overseas interests of corporations.


Democracy does not command capital. Democracy submits, atomizes voters to individuals huddled in ballot booths asking capital’s favorite question: What about Me?


The Obama school effort (which cannot be called an Education Program, because it isn’t, and while it is indeed Obama’s, it was also Bush’s, and probably would have been McCain’s) can be summed up as a class war and empire’s war agenda.


Leaders of both teacher unions, the National Education Association (largest union in the USA by far) and the American Federation of Teachers assist the Obama project at every turn; AFT President Randi Weingarten said the union would “embrace the goals and aspirations outlined” by Obama in his 2009 speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, NEA’s leaders manipulated the Representative Assembly to guarantee the question of war, connected to education, never got to the floor. To the contrary, one NEA top official made a 75 minute speech praising Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, while never mentioning Vietnam.


Coming from another angle at the NEA RA, the vacillating reactionary, Diane Ravitch, who destroyed careers and spent nearly a decade promoting the rancid No Child Left Behind Act, was given NEA’s “Educator of the Year Award” because she now opposes high-stakes exams–on patriotic grounds. She’s all for God and country, differs on the methods to get there. She’s often wildly applauded by people who want to make the disconnect of war/capitalism/education for their own opportunistic, or stupid, reasons.


Union leaders play this disjunction game, in part, because they know their own incredible salaries ($686949 to NEA’s past president Reg Weaver in 2008) are rooted in the empire’s “successes” in attacking workers elsewhere, and in part because they know that most union members think of democracy almost reverently, religiously, and propelling them into the voting booth keeps them in line, diverted, away from the kind of class conscious direct action that would make those union mis-leaders irrelevant. Such action would liquidate the sale that union tops make: labor peace for dues income (their pay).


Disconnecting capitalism, imperialism, racism, and perpetual war from the bi-partisan school project is no longer merely a mistake, it's flatly dishonest; self-seeking taken to a new level.


The task at hand is not to defend capital’s fake schooling, but to rescue education from the ruling classes, to transform education, not merely by teaching well (so hard today), but by building a social movement which gives youth and school workers alike a “why to learn.”


The students, school workers, and community people who led the mass actions last March 4th, actions that included strikes, building seizures, sit-ins, teach-ins, freedom schools, guerrilla theater and more, engaging tens of thousands of people connected to schooling, have called for more mass actions on October 7th. We should take their lead.


Schools closed by civil strife, matched by some form of freedom schooling,  are superior to open schools.


Shut them down, October 7th.

good luck to us, every one.




US Bases in Iraq:

Al Szymanski. (1978). The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop.

Chalmers Johnson (2010) Dismantling the Empire, Metropolitan NYC.

On the NEA RA

On the Detroit Contract: