First to Worst: LA ,CA, and USA---"Substance" Submission

by Rich Gibson,0,3848119.story?coll=la-home-headlines

The Los Angeles school system is ranked as among the worst, if not the worst, school district in the US.

Coming from Detroit, I have yet to see anything in California that is as bad as my hometown, and I have been in Chicago too, but I don't want to bicker.

On the whole, from what I have seen, the State of California's schools are the worst in the US. This is true from a variety of angles: books in libraries (see Steven Krashen's work), overcrowding, facilities, segregation---and the sheer ignorance that rules classroom life where soldiering through the day, tamping down expectations, and demolishing the imagination dominates what is called school work.

Conditions have changed a bit since September 11 2001. What once could be seen as a fairly passive failure in teaching lies to children using methods so incoherent that the lies are nearly impossible to unravel, and thus teaching kids not only to be apathetic toward learning, but to learn to not like to learn at all, within school conditions where kids are treated like Skinner's rats, is now clearly a form of violence: offering those kids up to a war machine that urges them to kill the enemies of their enemies, and to die in service to the rich.

At some point, one has to ask what is up with the teaching force that is centrally positioned to make change inside these schools. And, one also has to note where these teachers come from, the California State University system for the most part, where racism, ignorance, cowardice, and above all, opportunism, dominate the policies and programs of not only the liberal studies programs, where students rarely encounter post 1920 history, but also in colleges of education, where teaching methods are rarely criticized with the question: Toward what end?, making methods hollow.

The California university system has followed the path of the entire schools system where rising inequality is the motor. The UC system has remained an elite system, but the CSU systems policies and programs now reflect those of a bad community college, the community colleges are post-high school holding pens, and the k12 system is deeply divided in every way, depending mostly on the parental incomes and race of the kids in the school.

Rich kids' "public" k12 schools enjoy their own foundation grants, have swimming pools and science labs---and the teachers often have a lot of freedom since the locals realize that the Lexus waiting for the kids in the parking lot is probably more powerful than a classroom lesson on fairness. Those schools (as in Lajolla) are pre-law, pre-doctor. Poor kids schools have shoulder to shoulder kids, no books, and are pre-prison, pre-Walmart: Compton, parts of Oakland. Ruling class kids do not go to public schools. They have their own school systems where they meet, arrange numerous intense sequential marriages, and prepare to rule.

The teaching force in the CA schools themselves are now mostly grads of the worst school system in the US---for perhaps two generations. Those generations produced faculty in the CSU system, where the policies and programs promote hiring faculty with three degrees from the same CSU school. Smilar things are going on all over the US---as regimentation of what children know, and how they come to know it, deepens---with the full complicity of both teacher unions and their rank and file.

I doubt that teachers in the US will take the lead in making social change. I am happily surprised that to some extent educators are in fact fighting for change en mass in Oaxaca, not that far away, but my guess is that teachers in the US, where emerging fascism propels society, will follow what most teachers have done in similar historical circumstances: they collaborated and, in many cases, they took the lead. In Germany, the first sizeable group to ally themselves with the Nazis were teachers.

In California, by far the largest school system in the US, it is probable that most teachers and their unions will be silenced, if not purchased, by the Schwarzenegger buy-off, the pretense that millions of dollars will be delivered to schools in super-exploited areas, and their school workers. Those who believe in this kind of change have no understanding of how power works. They become instruments of their own oppression. The loot is never divided equally in this society.

I have no crystal ball, though. Some teachers somewhere, perhaps LA or Compton or Soutwest Chula Vista, could take the lead, shut down a school system, set up freedom schools, and spark a general strike that could spill into demands not immediately related to the particular needs of school workers, but to society, a tax system that targets unearned wealth (inheritance, property, and profits), a return to free schooling, health care and social services for all, libraries, freedom on jobs, swimming pools, opposition to imperialist wars, and so on. And when people recognized that capitalism in the US simply cannot provide that anymore, such a job action could open up a more real conversation about getting rid of capitalism itself, inside the nation which is the chief defendant in the charges against capital's crimes.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong, or barbaric, about wanting to shut down segregated schools and to replace them with freedom schools in the midst of social uprisings. Indeed, it is barbaric to blindly support, "public" schooling, which is not "public" but inequitable. And, more deeply, it is wrong to support not-public schools when it means, necessarily, to support the vile social conditions that create those not-public schools, that is, elites' demands for more racism, more resource wars, sharper exploitation, and more religious irrationalism. In these circumstances; it is right to rebel.

I do not think the overwhelming majority of teachers in the US are anywhere close to doing that, but there is always the possibility that a once-in-a-thousand-years flower will blossom.

Some teachers, however, will matter---perhaps people on this list. These teachers will need to recognize that they are centripetally positioned in one of the four key choke points for social change in the US: schools, prisons, the military, and to some extent the health care system. They will need to see that their traditional organizations, professional organizations or unions, are simply unfit to address the many crises at hand, and that to make gains they must act in solidarity with people who really are poised to lead the way, the people at the short end of the stick who probably best understand the stick: parents, kids, and students in poor areas, black and immigrant communities.

We have already seen the potential power of those communities in the massive May Day marches this year, what were likely to be the largest gatherings of people opposed to an imperialist war in the last 100 years. Schools and workplaces closed on May Day, and millions of people engaged in a huge lesson that was far more important than anything that was going on in any school, or at any work site. That, though, was only one day. Imagine a week of it, in every big city and rural areas as well. Imagine a month.

Where is hope in this context? I think it is partly in recognizing that we really do not know what is next. Who, in 1958, would have predicted 1968? It is reasonable to make projections, easy to see an oil war coming in 1997 (but not this oil war) and equally reasonable to know that history is humbling. As long as work sucks, and all wage work sucks, people will fight back in one way or another.

More important than relying on the luck of the draw though, is the fact that small things can turn into big things, and big things can turn into their opposite: handing out one leaflet at a time, having one friendly conversation after another, over years, can create a mass social movement, as the civil rights and anti-war movements of the past show. Huge, horrific, imperialist wars can become revolutions, as the Russian and Chinese revolutions demonstrate. At base, what we do counts.

In addition, constructing reason, and deftly linking that to power, can in itself fan the flames. Doing research on the conduct of schooling and work can help (assaults on creationism are important now, sad to say), but we are at a stage when writing one more paper will probably not have the impact that we may hope it will have.

More important, I think, is handing out the well-done leaflet, participating in the demonstration, building principled close personal relationships, ridiculing illicit power, attacking the racism of the colleague next door, storming the troop ship, or opening the anti-war GI coffee shop, building a base to shut down a school system and to open a freedom school. Direct action is key.

It is time to overcome being afraid of losing jobs, going to jail, and sacrificing to fight fascism. We should look to the courage of millions of people before us who made much greater sacrifices and halted the dual German and Japanese fascists with the measures it took to stop them. There is not a limitless amount of time available to make social change.

And we should recognize that they are every bit as afraid of us as we are of them--even more. They require us. We do not need them.

Still, change and social justice demand organization. The opposition, those representatives of capitalism, is well organized and ruthless.

Several organizations working in and around schools seek to address the clear linkage of the government (not democracy but the rule of the rich), the role of capital (profits, cheap labor, raw materials, markets),  capitalist schooling, and social change. Those organizations which do not now make these links, out of fear or opportunism, must either be seen as incredibly stupid, or dishonest. Indeed, they pave the way for emergence of fascism by disarming people of both knowledge and power.

Everything now exists for all the people in the world to live reasonably well. But today the near majority of people in the world live in favellas, shantytowns, without clean water, many rightly without hope. The reason for this is capitalism, which has given us the technology, systems of production, exchange, transportation, and communication that we could use for all---if we decided to share and took the actions that made sharing possible.

We could, imagine it, win. And school workers could be proud of what we did.

best r