School Is Back! Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!

School Is Back! Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!

By Rich Gibson, September 2017


It’s all over, all over–back to school, again. Sing along, if you remember.

Otherwise, what is now my other yearly ritual: the rarely asked question–why have school?

But first, that ever-present school ice-breaker: What did you do on your summer vacation?

Well, instead let us ask about the semi-vacations held at the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly (RA), an annual event held, this time, in Boston.

Leaders at what they call the largest annual “democratic” gathering in the US had a headache.

The problem?

How would the NEA top officials divert the 7000-member body, most of them rank and file school workers, from what those people already knew:

  1. That wikileaks revealed NEA President Lily Garcia had rigged NEA’s own internal, traditional, small “d” democratic processes to offer an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton,
  2. that Garcia, who made $512,504 last year while representing thousands of people who live in trailers, then joined Randi Weingarten, a millionaire and President of the American Federation of Teachers to waste $40 million on the failed election and then the pair
  3. endorsed the losing candidate to be chair of the Democratic National Committee? What to do?

It’s unclear whether most NEA members would have preferred the man who later came out as Clinton’s fishhook, Bernie Sanders (many, many NEA members are Republicans), but there can be no doubt a sizeable, and angry, minority did.

above. Lily Garcia with her friend and ally, Arne Duncan, feited at an NEA RA

NEA with Garcia as a Vice President, had wildly backed Barack Obama, meaning support for what most teachers bitterly opposed: the regimented curricula and high-stakes standardized exams of Race to the Top, an extension of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind. Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary, was featured on posters all over a 2012 NEA RA, but later NEA’s bosses set him up as a whipping boy–letting Obama and, most importantly, imperialist wars off the hook.

Another problem: Some NEA staff threatened to picket the assembly, feeling underappreciated. Indeed, the California Teachers’ Union staff did set up an informational picket line and distributed a leaflet to delegates which, in part, charged:

“CTA Management’s salary proposal does not match the cost of living increases in even some of the more affordable locations in California,” the flier states. “This, despite the fact that CTA continues to fund full-time release for Board Members as well as allowances for yard maintenance, house cleaning, child care, and more perks that CSO and CTA members do NOT receive.”

Secretaries working for the NEA national office typically make more than the average teacher, with vastly superior benefits. The teacher average was $56,383 in 2016.

Rigging, losing, exposed-not a good year for highly paid NEA bosses.

The greater requisite ruse: How to keep the realities of perpetual war and booming color-coded inequality out of sight.  That one was easy to achieve: habituation to war, racism, and is endemic.

And, the NEA officers had their usual, commonplace in American unions, undertaking to promote:

  • Nationalism of all kinds,
  • Ethnic separation and identity politics,
  • Racism, no mention of a fully segregated capitalist school system,
  • Indifference to perpetual imperialist war–never mentioned,
  • Calculated ignorance of the obvious reality of class warfare, in schools and out,
  • Worker disunity.

How to rush the rubes back to the voting booth for Democrats when the charge that the government is an armed weapon and executive committee of the rich is quite apparent (undeclared wars, bailouts, and no workers’ vote counts at the key source of worker power-work)?

And more:

  • Cowardice, herding the members into a pretense of action–vote Dem, again– that is no action at all,
  • A demagogic slogan, “Defend Public Education,” which has never been public but always segregated in service to capital and imperialism in the main,

It all worked in Boston this year.

above, the huge California NEA delegation

NEA caucuses opened the RA with a boisterous singing of the vile jingoist ditty, “God Bless America,” and the “National Anthem” on the convention floor, followed by a salute to the flag–pledging allegiance, “under God.”

Nobody howled, “people make gods–gods don’t make people–it’s a life and death reality!”

American flags draped everywhere. Red-white-and-blue decorated the walls.

Later, in closing caucus sessions, they sang, “Solidarity Forever.” Go figure.

No one in top leadership had ever led a strike, nor even negotiated a contract in a bargaining state (Garcia is from Utah). Most, certainly, had never heard of the song’s author, Ralph Chapin, and his Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) roots.

And, if confronted with the beginning words of the IWW preamble, “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common,” the daily lives of the entire room prove they have nothing in common with the Wobblies or Chapin.

President Garcia’s con game began months ago.

Her effort: ignore the critics of her corruption, the exposure of her shockingly high pay, and dangle a false flag issue–devilish Charter Schools–and their personifications–Donald Trump and Devos–and watch the rubes take the bait. Oh for the Dems!!

At the RA, she ladled out this pap, “We take them all. We love them all…We give the world the American Dream. We give the world the future.”

The delegates leaped for the charter bait and cheered the American Dream.

Image result for weingarten clinton

above, Clinton and Weingarten huddle

Days after the close of the NEA RA, the AFT’s Weingarten took the same tack. She claimed that charter schools’ supporters are motivated by segregationist racism.

Weingarten has two homes, both in some of the toniest and most segregated areas on the east coast.

She oversees a union that led, with then AFT president Al Shanker, the most racist teacher strike in American history; the 1968 Ocean-Hill Brownsville strike.

Above, Al Shanker

Shanker, who was one of the most open originators of the idea of “Partners in Production,” that is, the unity of government, corporations, and unions (especially with the New York City bailouts) also quickly moved to destroy any measure of democracy inside the AFT, now one of the most un-democratic unions in the U.S.

As bad, Shanker solidified the relationship of the AFT and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Shanker is still honored by the AFT. An institute is named for him.

And, both NEA’s Gacia and AFT’s Weingarten boss school unions which have done nothing to prevent the re-segregation of American schools beyond the levels of before the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

It’s hard to say which union bares greater responsibility. Michigan serves as a good example.

Detroit is an AFT local (number 231).  It is an 85% black city.

The Detroit Public School system, once widely recognized as the finest urban school system in the US, completely collapsed over three decades and more of mismanagement, corruption and sheer stupidity. Students left faster than the city lost population, a total from nearly 2 million to around 600,000 now.

Above, eventually mushrooms grew out of the books in the Detroit school warehouse.

New shrink-wrapped books sat in empty warehouses and rotted. A dozen new schools were opened, while students left. The schools were abandoned, looted by local scrappers. Fences were place around the schools. The scrappers stole the fences.

DPS suffered several state takeovers. Suburbanite board members wasted millions. But locally elected school board were disasters too. One top administrator, Otis Mathis, was outed as a habitual public masturbator, yet retained the support of one board member who said, “Well, men do have these urges.” Other elected board members openly fought–sometimes with grapes.

Teachers, after a heroic wildcat in 1999, repeatedly elected sellouts to top posts in the Detroit local, and didn’t report the corruption that was rampant throughout every level of the system.

In 2017, a dozen principals were convicted of stealing more than a million dollars–from the poorest of the poor–children they saw every day.

Now, DPS doesn’t exist. The name was changed; the substance the same: a schools-to-prison-and-war-pipeline.

In reading and math scores, Detroit students rarely score over 7% proficient. Arne Duncan rightly called it the “worst school system in the US.”

Local 231 lost about 2/3 of its members when right-to-work hit Michigan.

In 2012, every teacher in DPS was fired and forced to re-apply for a job. DFT did nothing but sue for the right to continue to collect dues.

The Michigan Education Association, MEA, represents nearly all of the rest of Michigan. The overwhelmingly white union did nothing while fully-segregated Detroit fell into ruins. But MEA forgot the old IWW saw: An injury to one is an injury to all.

Now, the nearby Detroit suburbs, MEA locals, turn into Detroit north. Oak Park, once the top high school in Michigan, is threatened with closure due to terrible test scores.

But, even if the Charters=Segregation claim has no more convincing basis in fact than capitalist schools=segregation, it played well with NEA delegates and AFT members. They focused on little else of import at their RA. Surely not war, nor the inequality that capitalism fosters, in schools and out.

Why? Among the most educated people in the world–are they stupid, cowardly, opportunistic, witlessly nationalist, racist, superstitious, and conscious agents of a fascist state?

That goes to the initial question: Why have school?

Now, vacation is over. Let us get to the heart of the matter.

In the Trump era, when so many equate one man with a social system nearly a decade in place, fascism, it’s reasonable to step back a moment in order to put school in its proper, social, perspective.

Schools are the centripetal organizing point of de-industrialized North American life, and much of life elsewhere.

Evidence: School workers, not industrialized workers, are by far the most unionized people in the USA, nearly four million union members.

School unions are slowly losing members, a snail’s pace, while industrial unions collapse, evaporate, because, in part, industry evaporates, and because industrial union leaders abandoned the heart of unionism-the contradictory interests of workers and employers. The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Associations’ top officials did the same.

(The Bureau of Labor Statistics disputes NEA and AFT membership claims: “In 2014, about 49% of teachers, or about 2.5 million, were covered by unions, down from 50% in 2013 and 53% just a decade ago, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1984, teachers union coverage was 64%. A teacher in a unionized school district can get some benefits without joining the union.”)

Nearly all of the 15 million youth in grades nine to twelve today will be draft-eligible in the next five years. And nearly every one of them is registered.

What is going on in schools?

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

With Betsy Devos at the Education Department, it’s unclear what the Trump project for schools is, even 9 months into his term. Perhaps we can look forward to paralysis–currently the Trump administration’s strong point.

Even so, the apparent threat of “privatization through charters,” is, on one hand, just a continuation of the past, and on the other hand, a diversion from the greater realities of perpetual war, inequality, segregation, and the necessity to build a national action-oriented resistance–as in a national school strike matched with freedom schools.

In the recent past, the demagogue, Obama, invaded US schools with his Race to the Top (RaTT) project personified by Chicago’s education huckster Arne Duncan. The RaTT sped what was already happening in capital’s schools and added a few factors for spice.

The RaTT’s predecessor, a bi-partisan project touted by Democrats and Republicans alike called the No Child Left Behind Act had at least these key factors:

  1. The development of a regimented national curriculum to promote patriotism; and illusions we can all make it–Obama as proof.
  1. High stakes standardized tests to promote segregation and ignorance through a falsified pretense of scientific backing; and;
  1. the militarization of schools–at every level, in every social class. In World War One, a U.S. general called for schools to become “Human munition factories.”

The RaTT made logical extensions:

  • Sharpened demands for a national curriculum, now buttressed by the “Common Core,” in more subjects (beyond literacy and math),
  • merit pay based on student test scores,
  • attacks on all forms of tenure (made palatable to the public because they know through experience that there is no shortage of incompetents in schools),
  • Layoffs, hits on pay and benefits, increases in class size,
  • Tuition hikes driving youth out of college with razor-like precision, plunging others into lifetimes of debt, effects measured by inherited wealth.
  • Some privatization, but hardly only privatization (the corporate state reflects both the unity and contradictions internal to the ruling classes who have different short term views of profitability).
  • Calls for national service setting up a syphon for middle class opposition to a draft.
  • Intensified “civic” takeovers, really re-colonizing, into cities and schools in crisis, like Detroit, demonstrating the contradictory goals of social control and profiteering. In 2017, as noted above. the Detroit Public Schools, one the finest urban school system with 299,000 students, no longer exists.
  • Ruthless competition between school districts and states for limited RaTT reward dollars with for-profit charters sucking up critical resources. In Katrina’s New Orleans, all the schools are chartered; workers’ pay cut, unions out.
  • Capitalist school was always about the money, and every kid personified a dollar figure, but the commodification of education enters nano-speed. One North Dakota teacher, Kayla Delzer, turned herself, her kids, her classroom, her school, and parts of her district into brands, which include her clothes, space in her “Starbucks classroom,” and much more.
  • A harsh rule of fear and intimidation sweeping across all of capitalist schooling.
  • Corruption is endemic in capital’s schools, as it is in society. More than a dozen Detroit principals pled guilty to embezzling seven figures of dollars from the poor children of the bankrupt city. John Deasy, a Broad Foundation creation, attempted to buy an i-Pad for every child in the Los Angeles system at retail price, minus the software. Deasy was released, another in the richly rewarded Music Man shuffle of passer-by superintendents.

In wealthy Poway, California, the superintended conned the school board into a bond deal that gave the district $105 million, but would eventually cost $1 billion. He then embezzled nearly $350,000 from the district. The deal was kept secret from the public until it was done.  This while pocketing a salary of $308,900 a year.

University of California Davis Chancellor, Linda Katehi, was forced to resign from that position in August, 2016, for nepotism (oddly promoting her son and daughter-in-law) and lying about her connections…(she) “had shown poor judgment, violated multiple university policies and misled, even lied to, her superiors, the public and the media.” Katehi was chancellor during the infamous mass macing of sitting students shown in a viral video here:

Katehi later hired a public relations firm to attempt to wipe the internet of any record of the incident.

Like so many of her kind, “Katehi will remain on administrative leave for a year as chancellor emeritus, receiving her $424,360 annual pay with the promise that she will return as a faculty member.” The president of the UC Davis academic senate heaped praise on Katehi. (

Florida has been a hotbed of teacher union corruption, convictions ranging money from embezzling hundreds of thousands from the teachers’ union accounts–many teachers in Florida live in trailers, to child molestation. The list is bottomless.

Fear seems to be the core emotional value in schools today.

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, “a staggering 2.5 million kids” in the US are homeless. Given that schools offer them, and many others, a safe place to be during part of the day, food, a roof, limited medical care, connections with other kids, some caring teachers, and a sense of stability. (

Even so, in a society dedicated to endless warfare (the Central Intelligence Agency’s special forces teams project at least 20 to 30 more years of war while other analysts project a slog to World War III), the role of ideology is as important as technologicial capability–even if the top brass seems incapable of grasping that simple rule of warfare. (

What is the social context of school?

The education agenda is a war agenda: class war and an imperialist war. One begets the other.

Let us tick off the emerging realities of our times; the results of the hollow promises of democracy contradicted by the many crises of capital.

A nauseating Sophie’s choice in the last election–the Clinton/Trump imitation contest.

Hillary Clinton, Wall Street’s deary, as responsible as Obama (hope and change forgot Detroit) for starting seven (losing) wars during his term, the creator of millions of refugees, and promoter of WWIII, offered a dismal future. Now, she blames the Democratic National Committee, whose top leaders cheated for her, Bernie Sanders who endorsed her, and Barack Obama who campaigned for her, for that stunning electoral college loss.

Above all, Clinton promised more war! More children of the poor killing their counterparts on behalf of the rich in their homelands. Recent surveys indicate that working class voters rejected her for that position, for her ties to robber barons, and industrial oligarchs, far more than the racism her allies insist upon.

Donald Trump, daddy-made billionaire, opposed to immigration unless she is hot, openly racist, a flag waving sub-Huey Long with a base of fanatics–and lumpen fascists–that bows to abhorrent lies. No less crazy, and no more, than Clinton.

Either way, endless war. Now, the Korean peninsula looms with nuclear potential–and remember how many times Curtis Lemay and Lyndon Johnson considered nuking Vietnam and Korea alike.

As we have seen, both teacher unions, the National Education Association and the smaller American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Clinton early, to the despair of many members who were never polled–rooting for her surrogate.

Today, Sanders still dodges the inherently nationalist matter of bellicose foreign policy and claims he is a political, but not economic, socialist.

Both unions’ leaders, as with the entire “labor movement” continue to work tirelessly to cajole members into volunteer campaigns and, later, voting booths, rather onto picket lines that might be embarrassing to Democratic Party candidates at every level.

And the NEA and AFT will continue to promote war. It’s not insignificant that NEA reveres and highlights high school ROTC classes in their widely circulated magazines.

The recent elections should not only be studied as how voters chose who would most charmingly oppress the majority of the people from the executive committee and armed weapon of the rich–the government.

The elections should be studied, more importantly, as how an element of capitalist democracy, the spectacle of elections, speeded and consolidated the emergence of fascism as a mass popular force; that is:

  • the corporate state, the rule of the rich, near complete merger of corporations and government ;
  • the continuation of the suspension of civil liberties (as with renditions);
  • the attacks on whatever free press there is–Obama versus the whistle blowers, Trump Tweets;
  • the ascent of more racism and segregation (in every way, from Charlottesville to the immigration policies);
  • the promotion of the fear of sexuality as a question of pleasure (key to creating the inner slave), and the sharpened commodification of women (Sarah Palin to pole dancers);
  • the governmental/corporate attacks on working peoples’ wages and benefits (bailouts to merit pay to wage and benefit concessions);
  • intensification of imperialist war (sharpening the war in Afghanistan sharpens war on Pakistan while the Libya/Egypt/Syria fiascos created ISIS which provokes war on Russia, as China is encircled, and the US is NOT going to leave Iraq’s oil–toss in the Koreas);
  • the promotion of nationalism (all class unity) by, among others, the union bosses;
  • teaching people the lie that someone else should interpret reality and act for us, when no one is going to save us but us;
  • trivializing what is supposed to be the popular will to vile gossip, thus building cynicism-especially the idea that we cannot grasp and change the world, but also debasing whatever may have been left of a national moral sense;
  • increased mysticism (is it better to vote for a real religious fanatic or people who fake being religious fanatics?). Connecting with the military–nearly every regiment has a Christian patron saint–Michael for the 82nd Airborne; and;
  • incessant attacks on radicals, isolating, discouraging, surveilling, and in some cases jailing those who not only practice radicalism, but who theorize to-the-root analysis;
  • Notable militarization of all of society, but especially the police: Ferguson, Trump’s rearmament with military equipment, etc.;

Capitalist schooling exists within these social rising circumstances

Whose schools are these?

These are capital’s, not “public,” schools. Democracy never dominated capitalism.

This is, again, a capitalist democracy in which capital rules democracy at every turn (bankster bailouts, the auto-takeover on behalf of stockholders while auto workers’ lives were gutted; empire’s wars matched by the failures of socialism, mistaken for Marxism, thus forging the ground for rising forms of imperialist and religious, 5th century, barbarism, etc.).

Schooling is not education, the latter a “leading out;” the former, schooling, a fetishized form of mis-education.

The capitalist market necessarily creates pyramid-like inequality, not only in the pocket, but in the mind.

Is there a single public school system in the US? Actually, there is not. There are five or six carefully segregated school systems, based mostly on class and race.

The image of education in the minds of philanthropic economists is this: “Every worker should learn as many branches of labor as possible so that if he is thrown out of one branch, he can easily be accommodated in another.” (Marx).

There is a pre-prison school system in much of Detroit, Michigan or Compton, California; a pre-Walmart system in National City, California; a pre-craft worker system in City Heights, California; a pre-teacher or social worker system in Del Cerro, California; a pre-med or pre-law system in La Jolla, California and Birmingham, Michigan; and a completely private school system where rich people send their kids, like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney (Cranbrook)-or the Obama kids (Sidwell). Barron (sic) Trump is enrolled at St Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, at $38,590 per year.

Rich schools teach different realities using different methods from poor schools. In truly rich schools the outlook is: “This globe is ours; let us see how we can make it act.” In the poorest schools, the outlook is, “Tell me what to do and I will do it.”

We must remember the Council of Foreign Relations, led by war-hawk Condoleeza Rice (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,”) issued its Education Task Force Report, demonstrating in clear terms that the education agenda is a war agenda: class and empire’s wars. “Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security. Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”

What are the social practices of capital’s schools?

Schools are huge multi-billion dollar markets where profit and loss influences almost everything.

“Current expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools were projected to be $634 billion for the 2015-16 school year. These expenditures include such items as salaries for school personnel, benefits, student transportation, school books and materials, and energy costs. The current expenditure per student is projected at $12,605 for the 2015-16 school year.” (National Center for Education Statistics: NCES).

Schooling is always connected to the triplets: profiteering, capital, and empire.

Consider the buses, the architects, textbook sales, consultants, the developers for the buildings, the upkeep, the grounds, the sports teams, salaries, lunches, etc. Cost is always an issue in school.

Children are complex commodities in schools. In California, every child is worth about $10,329 pro-rated on hourly attendance. (NEA Rankings and Estimates 2016).

As much as crusader George W. Bush was an agent of god, in his mind, so are school workers meant to be missionaries for capital and imperialism in reality.

The average salary for public school teachers in 2011-12 was $56,383. Salaries of public school teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation since 1990-91. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2009). Pay varies a good deal, state to state, but the overwhelming majority of school workers have health benefits, pensions, vacation time, and, often, paid tuition.

Multiply $56,383 (add the benefits’ cost) by the total number of just unionized school workers, almost 4 million. That’s a tidy sum.

These relatively good salaries, in comparison to the crash of industrial wages and jobs, served as a bribe to educators, winning them to conducting the child abuse that is high-stakes exams and regimented curricula, or to rarely complain about school segregation, or nor raise hell about wars, for example.

But, as economic break-downs, stagnation in finance and production caused by overproduction and war evaporated at least some of the ability to make the pay-off, and as school workers became more and more alienated from each other, their communities, and students, through those same processes, the bribes and jobs began to vanish-as we witness today.

Proof of the bribe? Since the benchmark year, 2001, the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, held yearly “Representative Assemblies.”

NEA is, the most small-d, democratic, union in the US. Certainly, rank and file members are gulled, time and again, by top officials, but the ranks still have a secret ballot and, on some issues that the tops considered vital, like merging the NEA and AFT with the AFL-CIO, the members voted “No.” (

Year after year at the NEA RA’s, concerned members brought forward motions “to discuss the wars.”

Year after year, they were voted down, 95% to 5%. The vote is not “to discuss,” but on a peculiar NEA rule, “Object to consider,” nowhere in Roberts’ Rules. It means that the assembled educators might become collectively upset. (

And, in 2017, as we saw, war didn’t even make the agenda.

That is the bribe from the empire, an inseparable bond of opportunism and imperialism.

Don’t discuss the wars which destroy your students’ future in every way, killing some, and cause your salaries to vanish. It may be a chimerical bribe, but a payoff it is.

Blood money.

There is, in schools unlike most factories, a tension between elites’ desire for social control and profitability. This can be seen in the contradictions within elite groups about the privatization of schools.

It can also be seen in the liberal and unionist response to the current school milieu: “Defend Public Education!”

This is to defend a myth, on the one hand, to wish to harken back to non-existent halcyon days of schooling when it was not teaching lies, not segregated, and truly public.

On the other hand, the false demand is designed to treat schools like middle class job banks, to lure school workers into attempting to tax the rest of the working class to “win,” the further mis-education of their children-as did the California Teachers Association in 2009 with a ballot measure that failed, deservedly, by 2/3rds.

Better to “Transform Schooling!” or “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!”

More answers to why have school:

  • Skill and ideological training. Under skill training we might list, of course, “the three r’s,” along with music, art, athletics, theater, science, etc. That list comes fast and easy in classroom dialog.

But ideological training is another thing. Ideological grooming would include nationalism (the daily salute to the flag, school spirit, etc.) as well as the training in viewpoints established by teaching distinct curricular substance in the segregated schools, using different methods.

Beyond nationalism, one clear purpose of most schooling is to make the system of capital and empire natural, almost invisible, and to present it as the highest, last, stage of human development.

Above, endless war made normal. Student day at the Miramar Air Show celebrates the US’ ability to bomb “enemies” into oblivion, and children are urged to participate–gleefully.

Nobody howled when failed General William McRaven, former leader of the Joint Strategic Operations Command, an assassinations squad featured in the film, “Dirty Wars, was appointed to lead the prestigious University of Texas system. Disgraced General David Petraeus whose “surge” in Iraq, a counter-insurgency scheme was, “Bribe ‘em or kill ‘em.”  That, predictably, fell apart when the bribes stopped. He’s is a professor in New York (serving on many corporate boards) and not in prison for giving his paramour, Paula Broadwell, top secret classified information. And, to beat this live horse, former Homeland Security boss, Janet Napolitano, whose job was rooted in segregation, is now the chancellor of the University of California system.

Further, students must become so stupefied that they see no real contradiction between nationalism and the other central tenet of capitalist thought: individualism. Me! Education, necessarily a social effort, becomes an individual commodity, often in the form of test scores, used as a weapon for merit pay and, by Realtors, to fix home values.

The upshot of capitalist schooling is that many students, surrounded by the unsystematic, incoherent, mystical world-views of both the curricula and most teachers, come away learning not to like to learn.

Curiosity, a birthright of all children, is crushed. Parallel to that dubious success, children in exploited areas learn they cannot understand or alter the world. So, people in pacified areas become instruments of their own oppression.

  • Baby-sitting and warehousing kids.

Babysitting is a key role played by capitalist schools. One way to find out, “Why have school?” is to experiment: close them.

In our case, teacher strikes serve as a good test subject. In school strikes (no sane union shuts down a football program), the first people to begin to complain are usually merchants around middle schools-who get looted. The second group is the parents of elementary students, quickly followed by their employers. (These realities can help demonstrate to elementary educators their potential power–along with setting up kids’ entire world views).

The baby-sitting role is funded by an unjust tax system and serves as a sizable boon to companies that refuse to provide day care for their employees-but are able to duck taxes as well.

  • 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 of what can happen – 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. Must we be lambs among wolves? Does what we do matter?

Each year, the Miramar Air Show ends with the “Wall of Fire.” More than 500.000 people attend the spectacle, bringing babies. The wall of fire is NAPALM.

False hope might be the typical school hype: Anyone can make it, all you must do is work hard. Trumpery. Inheritance is, more than ever, the key to understanding social mobility, or immobility.

  • Schools create the next generation of workers, warriors, or war supporters–or the indifferent.

Automatons or rebels, or something in between, a process with some witting direction.

Those workers need to be taught to accept hierarchy, to submit, to misread realities like class war and endorse nationalism (school spirit) or racism (products of segregated schooling). They need to accept their lot, to be unable to notice why things are as they are; why some live in abundance while others have no work-when there is plenty of work to do-why drudgery is so much part of most jobs. Why do empty homes outnumber the homeless?

The core project here: obliterate the possibility of class consciousness.

What, after all, cannot be taught in most schools?

  • Rational knowledge beginning with the Enlightenment’s: “People make gods. Gods do not make people.”
  • Labor and exploitation. Neither the labor movement nor the kernel reality of exploitation can be taught because both lead straight back to Marx. It is illegal to teach favorably about Karl Marx in California, and many other capitalist state schools.
  • Love and sensuality as sex is commonly taught, again by law, as a matter of fear and repressed desire–disease!
  • Freedom as without practice, freedom is meaningless and there is very little if any freedom in capitalist schools.

These, importantly, are central issues of human life. Outlawed.

To the contrarian: there is nothing unusual about elites picking off children of the poor, educating them, and turning them back on their birth-communities as a form of more gentle rule. Obama would be one example of such a success. Or the multi-culturalism of Bishops around the world. Skanderberg, the Albanian rebel trained by the Turks, would be a failure.

What of the resistance?

People will fight back because they must. But the traditional organizations of resistance failed both the pedagogical project at hand, that is, teaching people why things are as they are, how to develop strategy and tactics on their own, and the practical project of direct action, control of work places and communities.

While people must resist, it is vital they grasp: Why? Absent that reasoning, losses pile up.

Let us make another tick-list, this time about the school unions:

  • No leader of any major union in the US believes that working people and employers have, in the main, contradictory interests, thus wiping out the main reason most people believe they join unions. The bosses (for that is what they are) of the two education unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-AFL-CIO-by far now the largest unions in the USA) openly believe in what former NEA president Bob Chase called “New Unionism,” the unity of labor bosses, government, and corporations, “in the national interest.” There is nothing new about company unionism, nor the corporate state. Company unionism produces spectacles like the AFT, the smaller of the school unions, inviting Bill Gates, dead-set on capitalist schooling, to be the key-note speaker to the 2010 AFT convention.
  • Union bosses recognize their own opposing interests to the rank and file. The union tops, after all, earn a lot more than school workers. Past NEA president, Reg Weaver, took in $686, 949, in his last year of office. Past president, Dennis Van Roekel, made $465,000. Current president Lily Garcia got a raise to more than $512.000. Power in the unions is vertical, top-down, perfectly clear in the structure of the AFT, somewhat disguised, but every bit as real in NEA.

These mis-leaders who move up fairly slowly through a hierarchy learn a variety of strategies to manipulate people and, “protect the contract.” These maneuvers, like grievance procedures, move workers away from the locus of their power, the work place, to geographically distant spaces where “neutral” arbitrators decide on vital issues.

The unions rarely file cases to arbitration and, nevertheless, lose about 2/3 of the cases they file.

Union bosses also divert member action to the ballot box-any place away from the job site-where, in the words of one top NEA political action specialist, “if voting mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it.”

But electoral work keeps member volunteers busy and it reinforces false notions school workers have about professionalism (professionals set their own hours and wages, they determine the processes of work-teachers typically are called professionals by people asking the workers to buy textbooks for their kids), allowing educators to win vacuous “respect,” the chance to dress up and rub elbows with Important People, away from school.

  • As noted above, but repeated for emphasis, corruption is everywhere in the AFT where a steady stream of leaders have been jailed, not only for looting the treasury (Miami, D.C.) but also for child-rape (Broward, Florida). NEA hasn’t suffered the kind of dramatic jailings AFT suffers, but, for example, my own boss in Florida, where I worked as an NEA organizer, was convicted of embezzling about $1/4 million from the union.
  • The school unions draw on a member base that is about 85% white and reflect the racism that such a base inherently creates. Rather than fight to integrate the teaching force, the unions urge more and more “education” classes, adding on expenses for students, meaning those with the least get shaved out with razor sharp precision-by class and race.

Colleges of education, typically commanded by incompetent gatekeepers who value form over substance and promote “multi-culturalism” as a veneer for nationalism and their own structural racism, weed out many of the best candidates who realize it may be impossible to keep their ideals and still teach.

  • The unions, like all US unions, do not unite people, but divide them along lines of job, race, years of tenure, staff and leaders from rank and file, that is, down to the narrowest interest-capital’s favorite question: What about me?
  • Since the mid-1970’s, union bosses have supported every measure that elites used to regain control of schools which were, in many cases out of control. The NEA and AFT bosses today support curricular regimentation, high stakes racist exams, the militarization of schooling, merit pay, and charter schools (a key new source of dues income).
  • The AFT organized the decay and ruin of urban education in the US, while the mostly suburban NEA let urban schooling be devastated, failing to recognize the truth of the old union saw, “an injury to one only goes before an injury to all.” That both unions steeped themselves in volumes of forms of racism (racist exams, racist expulsions, racist segregation, etc.) should not go unnoticed or excused.
  • The education unions serve to peddle the wage labor of education workers as a commodity to employers and to guarantee labor peace. In this context, there is a direct trade off: no strikes or job actions in exchange for guaranteed dues income–the check-off. That is precisely the historical origin of the agency shop. It is also a big reason why union bosses obey court injunctions against job actions; threats to the union’s bank account, that is, the union staff salaries.
  • School unions attack the working class as a whole. For example, in May 2009, the California Teachers Association and the NEA initiated a series of ballot propositions that would have dramatically raised the taxes of poor and working people while leaving corporations and the rich off the hook, again. NEA and CTA combined spent more than $12.2 million dollars on the campaigns, and lost overwhelmingly. CTA-NEA demonstrated to poor and working families that organized teachers are enemies-yet those same people are educators’ most important allies.
  • These are the empire’s unions. Top leaders are fully aware that a significant portion of their sky-high pay (that $465,000 and expense account) is made possible by the empires’ adventures.

NEA and AFT bosses work with a variety of international organizations on behalf of US imperialism. These adventures are frequently deadly as with the AFT’s unwavering support for Israeli Zionism, support for the recent oil wars, and, precisely to the point, work throughout the world with the National Endowment for Democracy, a Central Intelligence Agency front, in wrecking indigenous leftist worker movements.

While the AFT has been the spearhead of US imperialism inside the wholly corrupt “labor movement,” NEA has also been deeply involved. There is a long history to this, back to World War I and the AFL’s support for that horrific war. The theory behind it: US workers will do better if foreign workers do worse.

Unlike the private sector where less than 10% of the people belong to unions, school workers are the most unionized people in the country. It follows that it is important for change agents to be where the people are. But one must keep one toe in and nine toes out of the unions.

There are some indications that resistance inside the unions, and out, is rising.

In Chicago, an election four years ago threw out the past, sold-out, union leadership. The “CORE caucus” organized for months, inside schools but, importantly, in communities among students and parents. But new president Karen Lewis failed to serve as a beacon for future union reformers. She succumbed to the temptations of office, the hierarchical union structure, the patch-work nature of the CORE foundations, and the full-scale attack that was launched from without by Obama’s Goebbels, Rahm Emmanuel.

South Africa, a true class battle that includes the entire public work force (educators too) versus the Quisling African National Congress government might serves as an inspiration, if any US media covered it. They do not. Word, however, does slip out.

On March 4th, 2010, in the US, masses of students, school workers, and community people organized under banners that said, “Educate! Agitate! Organize! Strike! Occupy! Teach-in!” Their actions, which included building seizures, express-way sit-downs, walk-outs, rallies, marches, and freedom schooling, varied from area to area but the connection of capitalism/war/racism/class war was made in every case I saw.

The organizers then called for similar actions on October 7th and a national conference in San Francisco in late October.

In the interim, the expert dis-organizers from the unions, the Democratic Party, and the usual sects showed up. As I write, with radical students only now returning to campuses, the movement veered from its radical beginnings to the reactionary call, “Defend Public Education,” and mobilizing to get out the vote-rather like urging people into church where they know their children will be raped, where they are expected to tithe, but it’s all for the common good-some day.

The same process ensnared Occupy Wall Street, as it will Black Lives Matter. And it will co-opt the movement growing around the DACA deportations.

What can be done now? Connecting Reason to Power.


What defeats men with guns?


That’s one reason why the struggle in education is vital.

People can be told that this is capitalism–exploited labor;

  • that there is a connection between capitalism and imperialism;
  • imperialism is the relentless, necessary, search for cheap labor, raw materials, markets, and regional control–hence war;
  • racism, the Achilles’ heel of every US social movement, was born in tandem with capital and empire;
  • that the key reasons for the attacks on working people and schools are rooted in those;;
  • the education agenda is a class war agenda and an imperialist war agenda;
  • that the government is an executive committee and armed weapon of the ruling class and within it they work out their very real differences, allowing us to choose which one of them will suppress us best;
  • that the overwhelming majority of union bosses have chosen the other side in what is surely a class struggle and the union hacks gain from the wars and capital by supporting those wars, winning high pay and benefits, and betraying workers, they’re a quisling force;
  • that we can build a social movement that rejects the barriers US unionism creates, from job category to industry to race and sex and beyond.

The core issue of our time is the reality of endless war and rising inequality met by the potential of mass, active, integrated, class conscious resistance.

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, reasoning, generalization, organization, and guiding ethic to make that change.

We can rescue education from the ruling classes but time is short.

Rich Gibson ( is a former organizer for the NEA and other unions. He is professor emeritus at San Diego State University and a co-founder of the activist, education-based, Rouge Forum.