Justice Demands Organization

A Note To California Resisters, October 10 2004

Rich Gibson San Diego State University

There are many, 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.

These are capitalist 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 wholeheartedly.

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 change 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.

More importantly, 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 deadly trap.

I believe people must learn, at least, that they themselves must make change through direct action, and that they will face, on the other side, a government that is not a potential ally, but clearly an organized weapon of violence in the hands of the rich.

This is class war, now a 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 Japan; the 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 horizon a distinct choice : either social change for some kind of a mixture of democracy and equality, or barbarism.

Should reason prevail, 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 in 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 clearer than 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 in 2000 was blond and beautiful Suma Cum Laude Valedictorian Chemistry grad Kristy Rossum --a meth addict as she gave the valedictory address who later murdered her husband.

We educators are also 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, critique the 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.

Significantly, schools and school workers now sit in the same position that industrial workers sat in during the last depression, ie, the centripetal point of society, 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 shoulders.

So, while we teachers do 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 nearly anything.

It makes no sense to me 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 certain 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 whole.

I do note important counter-tendencies, like the Detroit teachers wildcat strike, the recent Kentucky teachers strikes for health benefits, the refusal of some 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 needed.

This is why the resister 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 action.

However, it is true most 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 is not 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 change.

Just as declaring there 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 withdrawal from 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.

Not everyone should be 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 history of teachers leading social change, or being reactionaries? The overwhelming evidence from the last 100 plus years is that most teachers have 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 the deliberate withholding of food) of Jewish and communist children, children those teachers knew for years, in their classrooms.

This history, 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 uprising 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, idle.

Those people who just go 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 working, 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 History," capitalism's great triumph, and they awaited the Peace Dividend.

Indeed, most teacher 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 been systematically stripped from the curriculum is no secret. In the California State University system liberal studies program, the program that 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 future 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 comes 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. )

Many future teachers 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.

The coming generation of 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.

Some teachers, history and our recent efforts show, will resist. They already are, helping resist tests, leading antiwar actions, etc. They will find ways to (1) get 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.

Seasoned resisters will 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 resistance, petitions, and boycotts, though the progression of one leading to the other makes sense.

Teachers fighting for change can have a dramatic impact on all of society, way out of proportion to their numbers, for reasons that should be obvious. However, 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 happen.

I believe our actions will need to go far beyond boycotts. While no educator wants to demolish education, I do want to completely transform the social relations 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.

Resister- teachers, a 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 that 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 that someone else should solve your problems, that you can turn your conscious direct action over to another who you pay to act on your behalf, 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 have no 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 that teaching well will get us out of this, and you want to combine that with some resistance for certain school reforms, then the Whole Language Umbrella, the Whole Schooling Consortium, Rethinking Schools, Fairtest, Substance in Chicago (now international in scope) and other groups involving thousands of honest people are places to look.

If you agree that there is a direct line from capitalism to perpetual war to deepened segregation to rising inequality to curricula regimentation to high stakes 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 groups has 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.

Still, justice demands more: organization and direct mass conscious action.

best r

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