Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Comrades,
I don’t want to interrupt the courageous student-led movement that has educated, agitated, organized, occupied, marched, and reflected on action in the last several months. This uprising is inspiring.
The March 4th actions and those that went before gave greater life to the current school workers’ strike in Capistrano and the coming strike in Oakland as well.
What’s next? I’ll take the course the collective determines but hope to toss in my two bits.
I offer a link (so nobody will be interrupted that doesn’t want to be) that asks us all to think twice about why things are as they are, who we are in relationship to others, what our greatest goals are, and what might be the strategies and tactics to get there.
The central issue of our time is the rapid rise of color-coded social and economic inequality coupled to the promise of perpetual war, this challenged by the potential of mass, class-conscious, resistance.
If the above paragraph is wrong, completely baseless, then save time, stop reading, as most of what follows flows from it.
What do we want? Well, that may be best left up in the air but perhaps the notion of a caring community where people can determine collectively what equality is, what its connection to democracy may be, where people can live reasonable and free lives because they are not thrown into a war of all on all, as with capitalism, will do.
Such a world is a long way off. How we get to it is set up by the question: Why are things as they are?
I see two slogans in use that seem to me to miss the point: Defend Public Education and Oppose Privatization.
Our core problem is capitalism and its state, the government, now little more than a corporate state where the rich iron out their differences, arm their forces, then allow the rest of us to choose which of them will oppress us more gently.
That means “Public” Education is a myth.
This is capitalist education, segregated mainly by class, then race, home language, to some degree sex/gender. Capitalist not-so-public education is stratified into five or six levels ranging from pre-prison or WalMart schooling (much of Detroit) to pre-clerical worker and soldier training (parts of South-side San Diego), pre-teacher and social worker training (many suburbs), and pre-law and pre-doctor training (rich suburbs like Lajolla, California or Bloomfield Hills, Michigan).
The ruling class sends its children to prestigious private schools, a la the education of George Bush, Mitt Romney, or, today, the demagogue Obama’s children.
These segregated systems teach different “facts,” using different teaching methods. On the whole, most of the system teaches youth that they cannot grasp and change the world. Indeed, schools teach with such incoherence and move with such cruelty, many kids learn not to like to learn. Curiosity, their birthright, is pounded out of them–a terrific success of capitalist education.
Not-so public schools are really missions for capitalism and the vast majority of teachers its missionaries. That is true at every level of schooling. The analogy is nearly perfect.
For the last decade and more, not-so public schooling was propelled by high-stakes standardized tests which employ a bogus form of science that deepens segregation as the test measure little more than class, race, and home language. They’re designed to do that, just as the SAT was first designed. http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~rgibson/SATFascistOrigins.htm
Only a handful of school workers have taken action to resist this systematic child abuse.
That is not surprising. Teachers do not have a proud record of resistance–not anywhere. Some school workers, however, can make a terrific difference. They are seated in the central organizing point of N. American life today (de-industrialization matters) and they work with youth–often the people who create change first.
But to want to “Defend Public Education” is to defend what is, or a myth about what was, and what is has nothing to do with what many of us want to win. Capitalist schools are only that. It’s all that they can be.
In fact, “Defend Public Education,” only demands that we deepen the power of the capitalist state, its schools. The demand tells people the government, the executive committee and the armed weapon of the rich, might be their pal. It won’t. It leads to schemes like CTA’s effort to tax working people to pay for the mis-education of their own children–a ballot measure voted down by a two-thirds majority even though CTA spent nearly $20 million of dues on it. What CTA managed to do was give more life to the idea that school workers are enemies of other workers.
On both counts, the role of capital, and the role of the state, “Defend Public Education,” doesn’t add up.
Rather, “Transform Education,” or “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes,” gets to the point.
“Stop Privatization,” doesn’t. Privatization is happening in some areas, but it is not the main thing going on in schools, not by a long shot. Why would elites who also control the tax system want to give up a deal where working people pay to mis-educate their own children? The partial answer is that some wealthy people, Eli Broad or Bill Gates for example, hope to turn a new kind of profit off schools and win social control at the same time—but they are small players in a much bigger game. Old ruling class organizations, the Rockefeller or Ford Foundation, are not hell-bent on privatization.
Like, “Defend Public Education,” the demand to “Stop Privatization,” leads people to the myth about not-so-public education and, again, to empower the capitalist state.
Rather, in schools, as with the current government, we see the merger of corporate and government interests integrated in nearly seamless ways. That is why, for example, Walmart is not privatizing Detroit high schools, but it is taking them over and using them as training centers (even though there is no Walmart in Detroit). Capitalism commonly trumps democracy.
The underlying question is: Why have school?
Let us be clear from the outset: The education agenda is a war agenda. It is a class war agenda and an empire’s war agenda. It is an attack on both life and reason itself.
Capitalist schools are huge markets (49 million kids–about _ of them draft eligible in the next five years), 5 million unionized teachers and their salaries, architects, booksellers, buses, food courts, etc). The dollar influences every breath of life in school. It is a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
Schools do some skill training (literacy, math–history is mostly abolished) that may or may not be liberating (fascist Germany and Japan were highly literate societies).
Schools do a lot of ideological training–promoting nationalism and racism: the Pledge of Allegiance fetish to the fact that US school are as segregated as they were in 1954 at the time of the Brown vs Board of Education case. Real segregation does not overwhelm a multi-culturalism class—usually a veneer for nationalism anyway.
Schools warehouse kids: babysit. They serve as a massive tax funded service to corporations that don’t pay their share. The warehouse factor becomes obvious when you consider the incredible amounts of time wasted in school.
Schools create the next generation of workers, as described above. Since the economic trajectory in the US is, for the vast majority of people, down–schools not only train people for bad jobs (the idea of teaching people to become citizens to participate in a democracy has vanished from school discourse) but they tamp down the expectations of youth so they won’t want good jobs—Walmart seems like a good deal. Detroit has four high schools, publicly funded, devoted to Walmart training. No kidding.
Schools fashion Hope: real and false. On one hand it is clear that societies where Hope is foreclosed foster the potential of mass uprisings: France in the summer of 1968 is a good example--uprisings starting in school and quickly involving the working classes nearly overthrew the government. Real hope might be found in showing kids we can comprehend and change the world, collectively, and teaching them how. Ask, “Why are things as they are?” every day. Or, in demonstrating that we are responsible for our own histories, but not our birthrights. False hope might be the typical school hype: Anyone can make it, all you must do is work hard. Nonsense. Inheritance is, more than ever, the key to understanding that.
Capitalist schools is, in the main, aimed at students. That’s one of many reasons students need to play key roles in organizing education resistance. Capitalist schooling is not a job bank for school workers.
Capitalist schooling mixes a real elite need for social control with profiteering. In many cases, social control through schooling will trump profits, if only briefly.
What are the Key Things Happening in School Today?
The Race to the Top (Ratt)program engendered by the demagogue, Obama, and his education “czar” Arne Duncan is nothing but the Bush, No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), thrown into hyper-speed. These are its parts.
*Standardization. The regimentation of the curricula and teaching methods, what people come to know and how they come to know it via, for example, reading or history standards. How these standards came to be is a good question, and the presenter should know the answer. The fact that the Ratt and NCLB are both bi-partisan projects supported by the majority of Democrats and Republicans who now insist in a national curriculum (unthinkable even ten years ago) demonstrates the nature of class rule through government.
*High Stakes Testing. Always racist, always anti-working class, measuring little but parental income, race, and subservience, behind a mask of science and equality. Those familiar with Marx’s Labor Theory of Value will find a useful analogy. A pretense of equality is established. Every child arrives to take the same test and, presumably, if they work hard they will win. But what of the kid arriving hungry, or angry, or abused, in a room with no heat?
*Merit Pay. Rooted in student test scores, this will assault school workers in poorer districts first, only to prove the old adage, “an injury to one only goes before an injury to all.”
This is like the “fair day’s work for a fair days’ pay,” myth of capitalism which throws the mass of people into ruthless competition for jobs, then never pays the full value of labor–thus the origins of profits. Each fashions an appearance of equality, and an essence of deepening inequality.
*Militarization. Since the September 11 2001, the military invaded schools with a vengeance. Their relentless recruiting is, not surprisingly, running along class lines, enforcing he economic draft, demonstrating that there is an inequitable schools-to-war pipeline. This is true, especially, in militarized California where much of the university systems is devoted to the military, intelligence agencies, etc., but it is true throughout the US.
*Privatization. This is a distant fourth, for reasons described above, but the reality of the privatization of New Orleans, as elites moved fast to wipe out poverty by vanishing the poor, cannot be ignored.
*Obama now promotes “National Service” which appears to be a planned syphon to strain off middle class resistance to the potential of a draft.
*Layoffs, cutbacks in libraries, books, supplies, etc. The working class in the US has been attacked piecemeal, the weakest hit first and hardest but others always to follow. First, the mental institutions were closed, throwing people on the street. Next, the welfare system was attacked. Then came air traffic controllers, industrial workers of all sorts.
Now, teachers are among the last people in the US with collective bargaining contracts, predictable wages, some due process rights, limited on the job freedom, and health benefits. That an injury to one, as with industrial workers, only goes before an injury to all is a lesson educators have taken a long time to learn. Education workers are next.
School workers are likely to fight back, as we see now in Capistrano and Oakland, Ca, because they must, to live. At issue is whether educators make sense of why they must fight back, the rule of capital and its relentless wars of all on all, or they take the narrow, unionite, stance and fight only for school workers, at base attacking the rest of the ruling class, as the CTA ballot measure above indicates.
School reform in the absence of radical economic and social reform (which demands a social movement) will not work. It is like washing the air on one side of a screen door as my friend Jean Anyon has demonstrated for a decade. But that is the claim of all education elites who are, on the face of it, either dishonest or stupid.
How can we fight back? I suggest we must connect reason to passion, passion to ethics, ethics to organization, and organization to direct action. For an extension: http://richgibson.com/edagenda_waragenda.html
But, specifically what can we do?
It’s is terrific that Capistrano and Oakland are going out. As an aside, this is not the best time to strike. The districts will not lose money because of these strikes. Best time to strike is during high-stakes exams or at the beginning of the year when all can be fully prepared.
Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to foresee how long Capistrano holds out. In that Capistrano is positioned so that they are being watched by both school workers and bosses all over the US, it's important to back them. The clearest way to do that is to not only send them a note, but send them real money--unless you can go join the picket line; better still. Here is a link for donations http://www.cuea.org/indexAlt.htm Even $5 dollars is a concrete way to say to the school workers that they are not alone.
Capistrano should be followed out on strike by Oakland on April 29: http://oaklandea.com/
Over time, it is difficult to defend school strikes from scabs (and internal betrayal). In some areas, like Crestwood, Michigan, scabbing and betrayal combined to wipe out an entire teaching force that courageously went on strike, then was told by their union bosses they would "win in court," while at the same time the union hacks told the rank and file that the school grounds were too big to really enforce a picket line (despite the fact that dozens of non-teachers joined the lines and held them fairly strong). The Crestwood teachers let the scabs in, and lost in court. Many of them never taught again.
What can we learn? The courts are not a place where these fights can be settled successfully. Scabbing cannot be tolerated. Union tops cannot be trusted. Direct mass action is key.
One way to stop scabs is to seize buildings. Teachers have keys to the buildings. They buildings are fairly comfortable places. People can bring the school workers food, etc. There are valuable things inside those buildings that bosses don't want destroyed. It's difficult for cops to go in and drag people out of buildings. With cell phones, etc, communication with the outside is easy. Other people can picket outside seized buildings, protecting those inside.
An extension on this tactic is to "reverse strike," that is, to seize the building and invite students inside to conduct real classes, not the daily rubbish that is capitalist schooling, but real education that examines why things are as they are. This is real Freedom Schooling. Why is society offering youth perpetual war and meaningless jobs, or no jobs at all? What can be done about that?
It is even more difficult for cops (one armed wing of the ruling class which never goes and hits superintendents on the head for provoking a school worker strike) to attack educators conducting classes with students.
The unions are unfit to meet the crisis at hand. Even if the unions were led by honest people, and they are not, unionism cannot produce the class-wide solidarity we must initiate on our own. For an extension on US unionism (of which I was a part for a long time): http://richgibson.com/USUnionism.html
This is a job action primer I wrote some time ago with several other people while working for NEA locals. Since several of us wrote it, it's far more restrained than I am, and it's a bit dated, but it might be helpful for those who are taking up the idea of fighting back in serious way. This little template is no substitute for a concrete grasp of real local, national, and international conditions, nor a substitute for the trusting personal relations that must be developed before and during a job action. Again, this is a fight not a chat. Those who do not want to fight only prepare others for losing. (http://richgibson.com/JOBACTIO.html)
The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of endless war coupled to booming color-coded inequality--met by the potential of mass, active, class conscious resistance.
If the happy possibility of a mass resistance is to break out, I hope it combines the true passion of the ethics and call for equality and freedom we outlined with the analytical tools of political economy and the study of things and people as they change: dialectical materialism. People can become whole, joyous, and free within a resistance movement that is making sense of the crux of current conditions and that seeks to change the world.
Everything is at hand for a full rearrangement of the social relations of daily life. Let us get to the real task connecting Reason to Power, to Ethics, to Passion, to Organization and Action.
Good luck to us, every one.
Rich Gibson for the Rouge Forum