Justice Demands Organization
A Note To California Resisters, October 10 2004
Rich Gibson San Diego State University
There are many,
viewpoints on this list. That is its strength. Over time, it may also
prove to be a weakness, as there are not, in my eyes, many, many ways
out of the crises in schools and society, and, again in my eyes, the
route out has to be guided by the fact that we must overcome
capitalism, which can produce
nothing but perpetual war, exterminationist racism, nationalism and
other forms of barbarism--which is why schools look like they do.
schools and they, mostly, serve capital's needs. It may be that getting
out of capitalism is like going through the proverbial eye of a needle,
not many many ways out, but only a few, as justice will require
discipline and organization. Those seeking an expansion on how
capitalism works might go here http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/gateways.htm
or here http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/whyexams.html
Some of the views
recently posted suggest that
1) there is a legal and
more or less orderly way out of this, in schools and society, and if we
rely on elected leaders in unions, in political parties, rely on the
courts, the press, etc, to act for us, perhaps engage in some mild
civil disobedience, then we can influence leaders, and find a way out
through school reform.
2) the only way out is for a
mass shutdown of the schools, now, and if teachers are not going to do
this, they have no guts.
3) If we teach well, over a long
time, we will find a way out of this by constructing reason.
I share some of
the views in number 2 and 3, but I think we must reject 1
Only a mass class
conscious movement of people willing to take direct action in the
streets, factories, schools, and military will be able to make social
now. Electoral work, the courts; these are cul-de-sacs. School reform
without social reform or revolution is not possible, nor desirable, as
the only schools that
are likely to get reformed are in wealthy communities, while reform
will be defined as deepened regimentation in working class schools.
anything that teaches people that anything will save them except for
their own responsible, collective, and quite possibly illegal action
(boycotts, strikes, school seizures, etc) is just leading people into a
I believe people
learn, at least, that they themselves must make change through direct
action, and that they will face, on the other side, a government that
not a potential ally, but clearly an organized weapon of violence in
the hands of the rich.
This is class war,
very intense international war of the rich on the poor. That war. an
imperialist war led by the ruling class of the US which has no
intention, nor any possibility, of calling it off, is going to make odd
demands of schools. Indeed, preparation for this war, which was an
inevitable war and
foreseen both by the ruling class and by radicals, began with curricula
regimentation more than twenty years ago. China, Russia, Europe, and
capitalists of each of these powers MUST have the oil. They have no
choice. They must war for it.
In every nation on
earth, new forms of fascism are rising and taking power.
We see on the
distinct choice : either social change for some kind of a mixture of
democracy and equality, or barbarism.
even if we win quickly, only a truly mass class conscious movement will
be able to retain whatever gains are made over time, to defend
what is won. What people need to know, and how they need to come to
know it, in order to lead reasonably free, creative, communal, ethical
lives is a question
of pedagogical theory and practice.
I think teachers
North America are better positioned to make, or initiate, movements for
social change than anyone else, in part because we construct reason,
and in part because we work with youths who are not just facing racist
tests, but because they are going to face military recruiters trying to
lure them into oil
wars, fighting enemies of their enemies.
Now, it is
ever that what educators do counts. My area of work, social studies, is
no longer about the constitution, legislative/judicial/executive,
citizenship, etc, but about killing people. At issue is who, how many,
and for what?
This goes to every
field. In literacy, for example: Who cares if you can read if it only
helps you be a fascist? Graphically, the pride and joy of my university
2000 was blond and beautiful Suma Cum Laude Valedictorian Chemistry
grad Kristy Rossum --a meth addict as she gave the valedictory address
murdered her husband.
We educators are
among the only people who have some freedom on the job. While many of
us self-censor a lot, it is still true that if we can make a fairly
reasonable case about what we are doing, and why, we have a fair shot
at doing it. We can, as Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian have suggested,
tests, and offer ways of understanding that will last far beyond the
bubbling of answers. We can, despite administrators, promote test
boycotts, lead wildcat
strikes, even encourage the demolition of capitalist schools, and get
away with it. I know people doing all of this right now. Will that
relative freedom last,
without consequences? Surely not. But those struggles are settled by
power, and educators must learn where their power comes from.
and school workers now sit in the same position that industrial workers
sat in during the last depression, ie, the centripetal point of
when those workers, led by reformers and communists together, won the
Social Security Act, the right to join unions, freedom of speech, child
labor laws, etc--by fighting in the streets, seizing factories, and
organizing as a class. The industrial working class is out-sourced.
This task is now ours. We can stand on their
So, while we
construct reason, as in number 2 above, we are going to need to connect
reason (like research critical of the tests in both their social
context, ie, why the testing is being done in this way in this
historical moment, and in their internal contradictions, ie,. they
measure little but social class, race,
and subservience) to power---find smart, patient-yet-urgent, ways to
fight back, just as teachers use a patient sense of urgency to teach
It makes no sense
to stand in front of the school house door beating your breast against
standardized tests, getting fired, and becoming another Walmart
worker. It makes more sense to get the power to make a fight that can
really win. It makes sense to get tenure.
Even so, at a
point, when you are asked to do child abuse ("I order you to give that
child, whose mother died yesterday, that high-stakes test") , then you
will have to make your own decision about when you become, not what you
say you are, but what you do. Good judgement applied to specific
situations (key to
teaching) answers that. Sometimes you can ask, "What would Mario Savio
do?" Other times, "What would Kim Philby do?" helps.
It is. sadly, true
that we teachers and all school workers appear to have no guts, on the
I do note
counter-tendencies, like the Detroit teachers wildcat strike, the
recent Kentucky teachers strikes for health benefits, the refusal of
SDSU profs to align their syllabi with the California mandated
curriculum, the massive sit down strikes of teachers in Tijuana, etc.
In addition, test
boycotts are growing, especially in wealthy communities where kids and
parents realize the tests make them stupid, and teachers, parents and
kids not only assume they have power, they actually have it. Poor
communities, as in Detroit, sometimes see the example of the richer
communities, and follow
suit. In richer communities, it appears that parents play a pivotal
role, and while in Detroit teachers were the key, here in my area now
students in high schools
are in the lead. In some high schools, teachers took leadership from
kids and together they drove the military recruiters off campus.
Resistance leadership seems
to vary from time to time, place to place, but the steady drumbeat of
resisters who have analyzed the situation and can make suggestions is
This is why the
press, like this list, the Rouge Forum News, and other sources are key.
We cannot rely on the capitalist press, dedicated to the
regimentation of schools (see the NY Times editorial of October 11
2004), to make our case. At best, they will seek to divert, and ruin,
and mass movement that
seeks to shatter their goals. People need to learn to rely on the
resister press as an honest source of information, and gateway to
However, it is
teachers appear to have no guts, and they just continue to toll the
school bell, give the tests, behave like missionaries for
capitalism--which is exactly what capital's personifications want them
to do--trained them to do, and carefully selected them to do. The
system works, but it is not a closed
circle, partially because it cannot offer people what they must have,
from decent pay to intellectual freedom and creativity.
It seems our task
to just announce that teachers have no guts and be done with it, but to
recognize that there are reasons why the 3 or 4 million organized
public school teachers in the US (who look at 49 million kids, about
1/2 of them draft eligible soon) appear to have no courage, and that if
we understand why
things are as they are, we might be able to influence things as they
Just as declaring
is no god does not explain why people believe in god, what conditions
cause that, and how they might overcome it, neither does a
announcement of gutlessness go farther than an understanding of what
appears to be. I think this is sometimes also true of home schooling, a
the public school struggles. It can be true of charter schools too.
But, I support nearly anyone who will resist, who will try to give even
one kid the knowledge
they can understand and change the world, and wonder at it too, and
that goes for homeschoolers and charter school educators alike.
in the public schools raising hell, but most people will have to be,
just as not everyone should be in the military, but some people will
have to be, and it is important to be close to both groups--as close as
possible, as they are positioned to make real change. Kids in public
schools do strike. They
tear their schools apart. Troops in Vietnam did blow up their officers,
ran off, refused to fight; sailors mutineed so much that some ships
never left port.
What is the
teachers leading social change, or being reactionaries? The
overwhelming evidence from the last 100 plus years is that most
been reactionaries. There is no evidence of any significance to lead
anyone to believe that teachers will, as a group, play a progressive
role. In Nazi Germany, the
teaching force (in what was probably the most literate and cultured
society in the western world, if appearances are key) was among the
first groups to join the
Nazis, as a group. Perhaps to make this graphic, the mass of German
teachers engaged in systematic daily physical child abuse (including
withholding of food) of Jewish and communist children, children those
teachers knew for years, in their classrooms.
reprehensible as it is, suggests teachers in the US will probably not
behave a lot differently, as a group. I do not see an anti racist mass
against the clearly racist tests among the 90 percent plus white
teaching force. It is fair to think most teachers will not resist,
until they see a rising powerful tide
of resistance on the march, and even then many will stand, at best,
Those people who
along will not matter. They are of little or no account. There is no
shortage of people in the US who, at the end of their lives, if they
have enough sense to ask the question at all, ask"Did I matter?" and
must answer, "No, I went shopping. Oops. Do over?"
The system is
and while the generation of new teachers I see is no more or less
potentially bright than the last, they know a lot less than those who
came before them, in part because their own classes have been stripped
of history and any exposition of rational analysis, ie, the scientific
method. They were
raised in a decade when it appeared that what people did really did not
matter, as the Nasdaq would save them. It was to be the "End of
great triumph, and they awaited the Peace Dividend.
apprentices that I see know little or nothing about history. What they
do know is usually wrong. Unable to locate themselves in history,
they are unable to abstract to see how things might change. Absent
that, no one can expect them to be especially courageous.
That history has
systematically stripped from the curriculum is no secret. In the
California State University system liberal studies program, the program
graduates most teachers in the largest state, only those who have the
time and money to take electives will encounter a history class that
takes them past the
Industrial Revolution. This is no mistake.
To many of these
teachers (innocent as they are now) , one kind of magic is as good as
the next--the heart-blood of postmodernism. Versace-clad
professors like Henry Giroux proclaiming their rebelliousness, and
driving BMW's, had a lot to do with fashioning the neo-fascist idea
that some ideas just do not
need to be tested, guarded by a shield misnamed "culture." Here is a
brief explanation http://www.pipeline.com/%7Ergibson/scedialectical4.htm
If any good at all
of the terrorism of September 11, it is to blow that idea supporting
mysticism to smithereens. The notion that all is standpoint, one idea
is as good as the next, is on the wane. (See the mainstream Breisach,
The Future of History,as an expansion. )
have learned (in school) that they cannot understand and change the
world, and if they do, they will be ruined. They tell me that quite
openly, in all honesty. They are not bad people and it is my job, at
least, to show them they can learn to understand the world, that they
can offer their system of
understanding to children for critique, and that their system of
understanding should be much more than "that is the way it is," to "Why
are things as they are?" I
am full of hope for these student-educators-some of them.
new teachers is equally damaged by vapid forms of constructivism which
frequently pretends to be a neutral form of teaching, student-centered
and inquiry based. But there is no neutral teaching in a society
writhing in class war, steeped in racism, promoting nationalism.
Neutrality is a pretense
to take the side of the powerful, and to abandon the poor.
Worse, most of
constructivism really taught this new generation a false sense of
cooperation, and subservience. These students have learned, rightly,
that what is
really going on is that they are to cooperate with their boss, teacher,
or parent, in the most subservient ways ("tell me what to do and I will
do it,") and to create
an appearance of cooperation with their peers (little cooperative work
groups in class) but they know that when push comes to shove, as in the
test, it is every
human for him or herself. That this is a fundamentally fascist view
should not escape us.
and our recent efforts show, will resist. They already are, helping
resist tests, leading antiwar actions, etc. They will find ways to (1)
the power to be able to (2) exercise the freedom which is required as
(3) a foundation for their (4) good judgement about (5) specific
situations to be applied to
(6) good methods of resistance which can be put into (7) creative
practice over time, as there is every reason to believe (8) we will all
be in this fight for the rest
of our lives.
inspire, and teach, others, and resistance will grow as it must grow.
People are going to have to fight back to live, as did the grocery
strikers in California, and the Kentucky teachers---neither group known
for militancy. The fight-back will need to go far, far, beyond test
and boycotts, though the progression of one leading to the other makes
change can have a dramatic impact on all of society, way out of
proportion to their numbers, for reasons that should be obvious.
while resistance is necessary, it is not necessarily wise resistance,
not necessarily resistance that goes to the roots of the crises we
face, nor does it necessarily
have goals in the interest of a better world. It is quite possible to
imagine a racist teachers strike, as was the Ocean-Hill Brownsville
strike in New York city
years ago. Resister -teachers can have a role in seeing that does not
I believe our
will need to go far beyond boycotts. While no educator wants to
demolish education, I do want to completely transform the social
that requires segregated, rotten, stupifying public education which for
most kids will just become a pipeline to the empire's wars. I want to
shut those schools
down, and in the midst of very serious social strife, start parallel
freedom schools. Kathy Emery has given us brilliant work on that topic.
group which includes people from number 2 above (teach well), and three
(raise hell) above, need organization. While this list is a fine place
for discussions about context, strategy, tactics, and a good place to
find life-preserving friends, all the tendencies I listed above also
have their own
organizations--beyond this list.
It should be clear
justice is going to require organization, that nothing significant can
be won without it. In a society that teaches its middle class to have
allies, not friends, good teachers need to learn systematic ways to
have real lifelong friends, which should underpin organization.
If you believe
someone else should solve your problems, that you can turn your
conscious direct action over to another who you pay to act on your
then the National Education Association's or the American Federation of
Teachers affiliates are a good place to be, as is the electoral
world--and maybe the PTA,
though PTA 's really differ around the country.
Since many of us
choice but to tithe to NEA or AFT, it makes some sense to go there, to
raise hell, but it makes greater sense to realize that those
unions will never amount to much, as they are dedicated to capitalism
first and their members, us, second, and therefore we need to
concentrate most of our
efforts organizing outside AFT and NEA, in order to overcome them.
If you believe
teaching well will get us out of this, and you want to combine that
with some resistance for certain school reforms, then the Whole
Umbrella, the Whole Schooling Consortium, Rethinking Schools, Fairtest,
Substance in Chicago (now international in scope) and other groups
thousands of honest people are places to look.
If you agree that
is a direct line from capitalism to perpetual war to deepened
segregation to rising inequality to curricula regimentation to high
standardized tests , a closing noose that we must break out of, then
you should also be working with or just reading the Rouge Forum, and
email me. Four
thousand people all over the world are on the Rouge Forum email list.
Many fine people
are in all of the groups above, and find no discomfort in it.
Each of these
a publication. I think all are online. It may be that the only way to
resist now (for the untenured for example) is to write, even anon.
Writing is a form of resistance which, if nothing else, shows that our
individual problems are usually common problems, social problems and we
can take heart
and find stability in that.
demands more: organization and direct mass conscious action.