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Accueil du site > 20- ENGLISH - MATERIAL AND REVOLUTION > Public Education Under Attack

Public Education Under Attack

samedi 26 octobre 2013, par Robert Paris

Public Education Under Attack

We hear the constant discussion from both Democrats and Republicans about the need to reform our education system. Every day there are reports about the failure of education in the U.S. Many politicians point to the schools, trying to blame teachers for their methods and their low standards.

Funding the Rich and Gutting Education

In reality, the heads of corporations and banks don’t have any concern for the standards or quality of education for the children of workers. The only purpose mass public education serves is to prepare the next generation of workers for work. But for decades the number of available jobs have been steadily declining. Between 2007 and 2008, over 26 million jobs were lost. Currently about 12 million workers are unemployed, and tens of millions more have been forced to work only part-time jobs. Many of the jobs that remain don’t require years of formal education. So, the bosses through the federal and state governments have carried out a massive campaign to reduce education spending, along with most social services.

The Federal government, along with state governments across the country, have been decreasing taxes on corporations, banks, and wealthy individuals. As these groups pay less money in taxes, state and federal governments cut educational funding. At the state level it has been worse since state funding makes up over 85 percent of education funding in each state. About two billion dollars has been cut from education every year nationwide since 2000. In 2011 and 2012 it was about five billion dollars each year.

Closing Schools, Firing Teachers, Hurting Students

During this assault on education, federal laws imposed new restrictions on school districts. Under the Bush administration from 2001-2008, this was called No Child Left Behind. These policies were continued and expanded under the Obama administration under the program called Race to the Top. These laws changed the way public schools receive funding, linking funding to student performance on standardized tests. The lower the scores of the students, the less funds the schools received. Any school that did not meet the strict standards would undergo so-called “restructuring” : schools could be closed down, the staff fired, the administration replaced, extra-curricular programs eliminated, teachers forced to take pay cuts – in each case it means disaster for the school.

In 2007-08 thirty-five hundred schools nationally were forced to undergo this federal restructuring. In 2010 about 38 percent of schools were failing to meet the standards and were eligible for restructuring. Over the years this has meant a downward spiral for public schools in the poorest neighborhoods, leading to the closure of hundreds of schools throughout the country. Since the year 2000, school districts in major cities nationwide have closed an average of twelve schools each, totaling over 1,000 schools.

Elementary school teachers who used to teach 20 students today find themselves with over 25 students. High School teachers can end up with class sizes of more than 40 students but in many districts class sizes have reached 50 students. In California, K-12 schools have been cut more than $18 billion from 2008-2011, which is over 50 percent of the entire K-12 budget. California ranks at the bottom of all 50 states in the ratios of teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses to students. Overcrowded California schools enroll up to five times the number of students they were built to serve.

At the same time, schools are reducing the amount of time students spend at school. Across the country, 120 school districts have moved to four-day school weeks. Hundreds of school districts have eliminated summer school programs.

Fighting Against the Attacks on Education

Students and teachers have not accepted the attacks on public education laying down. In Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, Florida, and many other states, legislation was passed limiting state, municipal, and school employees’ collective bargaining rights to only cover wages and working conditions, eliminating bargaining over health care, sick time, or retirement, and in some cases the right to strike was taken away. In some states, workers have been able to push back and repeal these laws, but these fights are far from over.

In Wisconsin in 2011, Governor Scott Walker was proposing major cuts to education along with attacks on public workers’ unions, attempting to allow the state to restrict the rights of workers to negotiate labor contracts. Tens of thousands of workers mobilized to take over the state capitol building and eventually stopped many of the attacks.

In Chicago in 2012, former Chief of Staff for President Obama, and current Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, attempted a massive attack on the public school teachers and schools of Chicago, proposing major cuts to teacher salaries and school funding. In response, 26,000 teachers went on strike in September 2012 to defend public education in Chicago. They were able to restrict how severe some of these cuts were.

If the bosses had their way, they would throw every student, teacher, and school employee out in the cold – except of course for their own children at the few elite schools. There would be no education for working people at all because they need so few new workers. These attacks are not over. And it is going to take major fights that mobilize workers, students, and teachers throughout society to demand access to a quality education. There is more than enough wealth in this society to provide a free, quality education for all people.

What Could Education Be Like ?

What would education look like if it was designed to give human beings the possibility to develop all of their talents to the fullest ? Growing up, children want to be astronauts, teachers, doctors, musicians, and just about everything else they can think up. But instead children are taught that they are not good at most things. They’re taught they aren’t fast enough or good enough or smart enough, and so they stop trying. Imagine what it would be like if no child was told they aren’t good enough to explore their own talents. Imagine if every child could try every sport, play every instrument, do science experiments and art projects without being judged. A real education would provide every possible tool, instrument, piece of equipment or whatever else children need and let them see what they could do.

Education for teenagers could also be completely different. Why not give teenagers more ways to explore and use their energy rather than cramming them into classrooms ? We could make education more hands on. They could learn music with musicians, sports with the athletes, and biology with marine biologists. This learning could be incorporated into doing real work out in the world – building houses and roads, cleaning up neighborhoods, assisting skilled workers on the job and learning the real applications of education. Today this society sends teenagers overseas to die in wars. Why couldn’t we instead send young people around the world to do different kinds of work, to study, and to learn ? That would be a real education and a real adventure.

And why should education stop for adults ? If every child were given the chance to develop all of their capacities, then by the time they were an adult, they would have many skills and could still continue learning. There’s no reason everyone couldn’t be a scientist, a doctor, an athlete, an artist, a musician, or all of these things. It is a loss for society that so many people stop learning before they’ve even begun their adult lives.

There is no reason education could not be designed in a different way. What is stopping us ? Why don’t we build more schools, hire more teachers, and provide educational resources for life ? The price tag ? Look at the wealth that is wasted in this society. One trillion dollars every year is spent by the Federal government on making war. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is $32 trillion held by financial corporations in overseas accounts because they can’t figure out how to invest it in a way to maximize their profits. Let’s open the books and see what wealth this society really has, and then let’s decide what’s possible for education.

Albert Einstein On Education

In his article, “Why Socialism ?” in May 1949, Albert Einstein wrote :

The crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system stems from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for a future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are organized by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Student Debt : You Are Not A Loan

From early on, we are taught that education is a ticket to a better future. But the reality for many of us is much different than the promise. The costs of college are going through the roof, making it unaffordable to many young workers, and leaving many graduates with huge student loan debts. And after all the money, effort, and debt, today many graduates are rewarded with poor job prospects.

As states all across the U.S. cut their higher education budgets, universities make up for it by forcing the students to pay more. From 1975 to 2011, the yearly tuition for an undergraduate degree from a University of California school went up over 37 times, from $300 to $11,160.

Tuition has gone up even faster in the last ten years. From 2001 to 2011, tuition at the University of California schools has increased by over four times, from $2,716 to $11,160. During the same period, tuition for California State Universities has tripled from $1,428 to $5,472.

The average student that takes out loans now leaves school with $40,000 in debt for a Bachelors degree and $55,000 in debt for a Graduate or Professional degree. Ten percent of all borrowers owe more than $54,000 and three percent owe more than $100,000.

One in ten borrowers default on their student loans within two years. Over 800,000 students were in default in 2011. The Federal government has denied students the right to declare bankruptcy on student loans, and they can go after any income a student might have to collect the money owed. The government can charge a penalty of 25 percent the value of the loan if the student goes into default.

Currently, there is over 1 trillion dollars owed in student loans – more than the entire credit card debt in the country.

The government currently projects that it will make $185 billion from student loans over the next ten years.

Sit Down, Shut Up, Do What You’re Told

The purpose of public education has always been above all to meet the economic needs of the wealthy elite by providing the owners of corporations with a steady supply of workers. Public education was organized as a system not to educate children but to transform them into obedient servants of the corporations. And the architects of the system were always very clear about this goal.

In a speech to the New York City High School Teachers Association in 1909, President Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, explained the purpose of education for the working class :

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks…We are either trying to make liberally-educated persons out of them, or we are trying to make skillful servants of society along mechanical lines, or else we do not know what we are trying to do.

During the birth of industrialization in the U.S. between 1860 to 1900, the owners of factories needed workers. But before industrialization, most workers were raised on farms and were not used to a fast-paced factory, with a supervisor breathing down their neck all the time. Before factory jobs and wage labor became the most common form of work, most work was done on the farm or in an artisan’s workshop. Work was hard, but it was farmers and craftsmen themselves who decided when to rest and when to work. Often it was a family affair, with children working alongside mothers and fathers. Most education was done by the family itself and by the parents as they taught children how to work.

In order to create an obedient workforce, wealthy bosses in various cities started to organize forced schooling on a mass level. Wealthy industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller spent millions of dollars on so-called donations to public schools. Between 1902 and 1920 more funding for public education came from business owners than from the federal government. As John D. Rockefeller put it, “The task is simple. We will organize children and teach them in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way”.

Public education – with its system of bells, lining up before entering the classroom, permission to use the restroom, forced silence during class, punishment for disobeying the teacher, and sitting in rows – was designed to model the kind of obedience the bosses wanted of their workers. Most jobs today, as well as in the past century, require very little formal education – but they all require being on time, working fast, following orders, and obeying the boss.

Education has changed a lot since the 19th century. Social movements of workers and oppressed people have forced schools to change as they have forced society to change. Some teachers have been able to reshape the public school system from inside, making education a little more meaningful and creative rather than disciplinary and deadening.

But underneath the surface, the system is still designed to meet the same purpose. It is still based on the factory model, and that’s why the first lesson you learn is “Sit down, shut up, and do what you’re told !”

The Fight For A Real Education

In the U.S., the public education system has been shaped by different goals. On the one hand, the wealthy elite have required a disciplined work force with enough education to work. But the working class and poor also want education to enrich our lives, to give our children a better future, and ultimately to have the knowledge necessary to change society. Between these two goals there has always been a struggle over the quality of education workers receive.

Learning to Revolt

In the American South enslaved Africans were the main workforce. The only education slaves received was violence and the threat of death. But slaves resisted, organizing huge uprisings. There are 250 recorded major uprisings of slaves in the American South. Often these revolts were led by slaves who had found ways to educate themselves and others. For this reason, in the South, teaching a slave to read was a major crime punishable by huge fines or public whipping.

Learning to Be Free

After the Civil War, the ex-slaves of the South used their new freedom to organize. The Southern plantation owners were defeated and barred from holding political office. Poor black people and white people ran the South. Over 2,000 ex-slaves held public office from the local level to the U.S. senate. The former slaves and poor whites in power demanded public schools so that they could learn to read, write, and control their own lives. Public schools were established and operated for a few years. But quickly the wealthy Northern elite who controlled the federal government allowed the former slave owners to use the force of violent groups such as the KKK to regain control. By the 1890s, new so-called Jim Crow laws were put in place to deny black people rights, including the right to an education.

Learning to Organize

At the same time that the freed slaves were demanding public education in the South, a huge working class movement grew up in opposition to the harsh conditions of wage labor in the factories, mines, railroads and other industrial workplaces in the North. Education was a tool of these workers to learn how to build their own organizations, and fight for a better world. Workers demanded good public education, but the workers movement didn’t just rely on the government for education. Workers organized their own schools that met on weekends to discuss everything from politics to science and literature. At this time every union hall was also a library and a study center. Self-education was the fuel that drove the workers movement.

Learning Our Own History

During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, activists and organizers shook the foundations of racism in the U.S. The movement demanded more and better public education. One of the first fights was against segregation, which enforced inferior schools for black children. The movement fought for better schools, but it also created its own schools. One part of the movement was the creation of Freedom Schools, schools to teach the hidden history of African Americans, as well as basic skills and literacy. Just like the workers’ movement, these efforts had the goal of giving people the tools to change their world.

Whose Education ?

Sometimes the demands for the kind of education we want get integrated into the public education system. The workers movement, the civil rights movement, and many other struggles have forced the public education system to change. In some schools, education today incorporates a little bit of the history of oppressed people, and other perspectives. Some schools offer a chance for young people to learn music, play sports, and explore some of their talents. And the Community Colleges provide poor and working class young people and adults with access to continued learning.

But every one of these gains is being stripped away day by day. And there is only one explanation for these attacks. The ruling class and the workers and poor have different goals – they want disciplined obedient workers while we want to realize our full potential as human beings. We want a different education than they want us to receive. And we will have to fight to get it.

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