Making Sense, Making Change, and Protecting Rebels

by Rich Gibson

August 2011


For well over a decade, a few professors, teachers, parents, community people, and maybe even more students, have made the now-tedious case against high-takes exams as racist, unscientific, class-based tools of segregation.


While often missing the point of the education agenda as an empire's war and class war agenda, which should be abundantly evident, test opponents have appealed with impeccable logic, passion, cleverness, and too few simple "F-you"s.

The Big Test issue involves power, money (always), and people as well.

Test boycotts are a fine form of people-power. They don't reach the level of the even-better actions of last school year (building seizures, bank occupations, student strikes, the library occupations in Chicago, and so on), but they would be a beginning, again. Sometimes the spiral of change arcs back on itself.


Rebels, though, need protective cover.


Test resistance happened in the past, from "be a hero take a zero" student-initiated actions, to entire districts opting out, as in Birmingham, Michigan, a wealthy Detroit suburb where one parent said, "these tests will make our children stupid." The Birmingham superintendent said to state test coordinators in a mass meeting of the community, “If you think the people of Birmingham are going to subject our children to your tests, you don't know how power works.” Not long ago, Birmingham was opting out at levels of above 90%.

Another wealthy suburb, Lajolla, California, checked itself out of current Obama Border Czar Alan Bersin's dictatorial San Diego "Blueprint," with remarkable ease. The latter two models demonstrate the power of money.

In each case that I know of, somebody had to go first--even in social network organizing.

Those who have gone first, who did not have wealth behind them, frequently faced retaliation-- and a few have not, or only been annoyed a bit.

For the most part, people who took the lead came under attack, much of it quite serious--loss of jobs, denial of college recommendations, systematic isolation, denial of tenure, faculty swarming, and more.

What I think is often missed by honest people who want the test frenzy, and its causes as well, to come to an end is that this is a very real fight. School workers and their likely allies are, well, too nice. 


Sure, we must reason with people and explain our case--and for my part that case will always connect the parts, tests, to the whole: class war. It's a redundancy (schooling and its social context) for me, mainly because so few people are willing to make it. In the US, where people, quasi-citizens, know so little history they cannot link cause and effect, the contextual relationship is vital to organizing which can be maintained and grown.

Reason is important, part of the crux of why we teach.

But it is unreasonable to think that making a good case is enough. This is a battle, one that will lead to others--I hope—one building on the next.

Since it is a fight already engaged in mass ways by a corporate state, the government, it can appear to be a fight that is de-personalized, coming from a system. That is a one-sided outlook.


Bad people initiate and propel the mis-education of children for a variety of reasons: profit (McGraw Hill), social control (Obama/Bush plus McGraw Hill), fear and opportunism (many teachers, principals, superintendents), racism (pro-test researchers), and sheer stupidity (Surprise! Merit pay attaches perfectly to the tests!).

Some of these bad people who really have no stake, material interest, in perpetuating what is actually the construction of their own oppression, like many students and teachers, can change their views when challenged by mere reason. Perhaps they should be called ruined people who can become better than they are at the moment.

The US education system is the central organizing point of N. American life.  Schools are missions for US capitalism and its empire.  The bosses at McGraw Hill or Obama, are never going to be reasoned out of a structure that protects and nourishes them.


Others have to be shown by rebel example.

From the time that the first slave launched a retaliatory slap against a master, it has been clear that action changes minds as well. Indeed, it is indispensable.

Those who initiate that action, as someone must go first, need to be protected by people who grasp the nature of a real fight and are prepared to take harsh measures against bad people who personify a rotten system. Those defenders probably cannot be public about what they plan or do, but harsh measures are not hard to imagine, take, and mask. People need not study Giap, Al Quada, Sun Tzu, or B.H. Liddel Hart. “The War of the Flea,” to come up with a grasp of specific conditions and ways for the dispossessed to hurt offenders.


The overseers who serve as puppets for very real masters are more vulnerable than they appear to be. Among the most vulnerable: upper echelons of the unions.


What seems to me to be ahead is a relentless assault, far more severe and rapid than what we have experienced to date, on daily life (income, jobs, benefits, hours, tuition hikes, the social safety net—now largely evaporated--more lost wars), and on reason too: class war escalated.


We know the No Child Left Behind waivers are a bait and switch maneuver, as Stephen Krashen aptly put it, designed to make the regulation of what is known, and how people come to know it, even more surveilled and restricted. It is the Race to the Top on adrenaline.


The current liquidity crisis (overproduction of goods and capital, collapsed income and hence demand, frozen markets, etc) and six failing wars invariably means capital, and the people who believe they run it, will hit at us unrelentingly, shaving people off with razor like precision, the poorest hit first and worst, usually a color coded method.

For America's power slingers, the casinos are closing. There are few places left to gamble in the world and the winnings are slim. It follows that they will turn on their “own” public, savagely. The more they win, succeed in driving down wages, the more their economy stalls. Capital must move, but it cannot move—proof of Marx's dictum that the limit to capital is capital itself.


The American boast and promise of the past, what they said all the world should ascribe to, “The Rule of Law,” is shattered. Contract law between the working class and the employing class, collective bargaining agreements, are routinely shredded—always in favor of employers. International law is regularly abrogated. The US bombing of Libya with no congressional approval, and little complaint, is only the most recent instance of the contempt the ruling classes have for constitutional composition.


It is a fast closing vice: necessity of profits and the good life on one jaw, no restraint on the other jaw, the stick replaces the carrot.


We are the turnip to be bled to soothe the greed fever.


The terrors of rough sacrifice have yet to really come home to the US. With a little more than one percent of the population in the US military, and probably an equal number of mercenaries, posing as contractors; dead in body bags and amputees have not shocked too many people. If they have, until recently shopping and spectacles offered surcease.

The US may be the world's chief arms-maker but technology replaced the Rosie the Riveter legions who helped end the last depression with factory jobs when war made work. War profiteering is not being shared out much.


Worse, the President will not make the early moves that Franklin Roosevelt undertook: the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Projects Administration and other money dumping maneuvers that provided a shred of hope, some jobs, and historical value: libraries, parks, sidewalks, and more.


Potent people fear inflation more than the social movement that might come after them—as it doesn't yet exist.


Thus, we see this counterfeit tight-rope act, balancing inflation and deflation which means, for the vast majority, steadily multiplying forms of misery. Those with abundant savings can dodge and evade. Those who live from check to check: trapped in a form of financial conscription, draftees in the class war.


Americans who are, now, probably the most deluded and potentially dangerous people in the history of the world, are more than well prepared to lurch to the right, making fascism a mass, multifaceted, popular movement—each section making no special sense but summing up to be a ruthless protection of capital and its government. This development is in place now.


Examples: the Tpartyites, union leaders who deny the contradictory interests of workers and bosses and their minions, Nazis and skins of the right, racists like the Klan and the intellectuals who back them, evangelicals, Catholic cultists (Opus Dei), committed Zionists, Republicans and Democrats alike, of the two-headed snake that is the electoral system, anti-immigration fanatics, xenophobes, and so on. Many of these people believe they are self-actualized, yet participate in the construction of their own oppression, typical of residents of pacified areas.


Weaponized themselves, or in the form of the police, military, intelligence agencies, or mercenaries,  these people are assuredly dangerous, as are their thoughts. But they have no answer to the crises at hand; the reason good ideas are so important and threatening. Correct ideas, linked to action, can turn around the guns of armies.


The demagogue, Obama, is not going to retreat unless his forced to do so. Neither will the assemblage of Republican nutcases and prudes: not Mitt, nor Michelle, nor Perry. They will slug it out among themselves as they have real philosophical and practical differences but, at sunset, they will unite and batter us, using their government as a weapon: debt ceiling nonsense; the bank vs auto bailouts, bi-partisan support for endless wars, etc.


In schools, this will mean more regimentation of the curricula (Common Core Standards), more high

stakes exams, more militarism—as well as layoffs, merit pay, wage cuts, and to some degree, privatization, although privatization is a third tier project; in fact, is conducted by the corporate state: the united government tops, union bosses, and business personnel.  Fighting privatization alone only means propping up that state and its schools.


Schools will portray false hope as hope. We should know that swindle by now. Kids, however, in recognizing the hustle only superficially, often choose to learn not to learn as what they are taught are lies. It's a success story of capitalist schooling.


Over time, only mass class conscious resistance can meet that challenge: a growing social movement for equality (against capitalism) and justice (against imperialism, racism, and sexism) using direct action tactics and harsh measures to Quislings. Reason would be part of that, even the fighting part: strategy and tactics. Absent such a movement, barbarism rises.


It may be that the moment for test resistance is gone by. Food on the table, the dignity of work, tuition driving students out, the economic military draft, all make the Big Tests seem to pale.


It may be that, rather than fight, typically nice teachers will persist in the pacification, and deception of kids. The empire's bribe, fairly good pay, may work. The recent NEA Representative Assembly's       decision to back Obama, by an overwhelming vote of local leaders, is a discouraging sign.


Or not.


That paycheck, the job security, decent benefits, some control of work life—all evaporates. It's commonsensical to suggest that people will dissent. In the balance: will people uncover why they must build a real opposing force, or missing the point, class war, lose? 


The Big Tests are still a crucial instrument of social control combined with profits. They may be a weak link worth another probe.


We can fight to rescue education from the ruling classes.


Everything negative is in place for a revolutionary transformation of society (distrust of leaders, collapse of moral suasion from the top down, financial crises, lost wars, massive unemployment, booming inequality, imprisonment of only the poor, growing reliance on force to rule, eradication of civil liberties, corruption and gridlock of government at every level, etc.) What is missing is the passion, generalization, organization, and guiding ethic to make that change.


Nevertheless, resistance must begin with someone, or a few someones. We know now those people need back-up. And the backup will need counter-plans too. The other side has surely considered what to do with the first sign of rebelliousness. In a lifelong fight, it is good to have many layered strategy.