If the federal government is
"A Trojan Horse for the rich", then surely recent corporate concern for
education is a probe to protect the profits of big business. As fascist
ingredients develop in the United States, so will the direct involvement
of the rich in the schools.
Corporate interest now takes
at least four forms:
1) Control of School Funding and Facilities.
Companies seek to make schools dependant through the outright purchase of school buildings and facilities and the corporate takeover of entire education-curriculum programs. These takeovers already occurred in New Jersey, Boston, and Miami.
Companies place schools in corporate buildings and corporate grants are directed to favorite schools.
On the other hand, business lobbies
to reject taxes on profits and graduated income taxes which would benefit
schools. In typical fashion, the ruling class taxes working people to pay
for their own oppression.
2) Corporations Want Control of the Substance of Education
The business community, through
foundations like Carnegie's and Rockefellers', pressures schools to meet
capitalist standards through publicized evaluations. As the tax base in
most cities collapses, private funding (endowments) is carefully directed
at favored programs. The ruling class tightens control of the curriculum
through their ownership of text publishers (three major publishers produce
nearly all the basals in use---see Education Week, 11-13-91 p. 32) and
their influence over standardized test writers.
The elites at every level, from
bankers to wealthy tire salesmen, are hell-bent on supporting programs
for educators which give teachers more control over the FORM of education
("we really care about what color you want your room painted") and less
control over the SUBSTANCE (standardized tests, class size,etc). The two-tiered
salary schedules came first in the private sector, were adopted by the
postal service, and then presented to teachers. The design is to co-opt
some teachers to downgrade kids' expectations and TRAIN, not educate them.
Finally, there is no change in the traditional support to expand administrative
staff and fix pay schedules proportional to the distance from kids.
DIRECT USE OF SCHOOLS TO BUILD AND MAINTAIN PROFITS
Work-study programs are really
just a source of cheap labor, free corporate training, and tax deductions.
Defense corporations are heavily invested in, and profit from, the military
invasion of the schools, from ROTC to private security agencies. Apple,
IBM and all sorts of manufacturers pinpoint the schools as prime markets
and sources of tax deductions. Schools are training grounds for kiddy consumers.
Developers and text publishers are heavily involved in local school board
campaigns. Business gains immeasurably from the free use of schools' research
and testing facilities. Whittle corporation plans to open a national system
of 200 for-profit schools. Perhaps more directly to the point, fast food
franchises are opening in schools all over the U.S.
4) THE MAIN TREND IS RACIAL AND ECONOMIC SEGREGATION
The principal social and economic
tendencies in the world are military preparation, a growing gap of the
rich and the poor, an outright attack on all poor and working class people
followed by attacks on the middle class, anti-communism and hyper-patriotism,
and intensified racism and sexism. Those fascist winds turn the school's
Children are increasingly divided
along race, class and sex lines, whether it takes the form of identifying
some children as the "free lunch kids", the "noisy ones", or the inequitable
distribution of resources within a given area. Corporations support "choice",
i.e., resegregation. Big companies back politicians who recreate the racist,
sexist, separate-but-equal "black male only" schools in Baltimore, Milwaukee,
New York, and Detroit. Ideological efforts (testing, return of racist texts
in classes) to prove the inferiority of certain groups are sharpened. Violence
against minority kids is sanctioned and intensified.
Several states, Texas among them,
have been sued by public interest groups and parent organizations who hope
to halt the intensified economic and racial segregation of schools. Some
of the suits stand a slim chance of success. And the information they have
generated, which makes the initial charge indisputable, is of real use
to activists. (Education Week, 1-29-92)
To believe that lawsuits will
create equitable school funding is to believe that schools were desegregated
after Brown vs. the Board Of Education. It simply did not will not happen.
Legislatures will dissimilate. Demographics will be mis-read. A few upper
middle class minority kids will be allowed in school. But, if necessary,
armed white parents will recreate the violent movements against integration
that prevailed in Boston in the 70's. The struggle against racism must
run far deeper than a legal brief. It inverts reality to think that the
civil rights movement was built on court cases. Law derives from political
reality, in this case from masses of people in the streets in defiance
of unjust laws and a biased productive structure.
Only a mass movement able to
take concrete action well beyond the courts will draw equalized school
funding. Just as the welfare roles exploded with newly discovered eligibles
after the rebellions of the 60's, so will school funding trail levels of
resistance. This is the critical part of the equation that radical critiques,
virtually mesmerized by unravelling differences within the ruling class,
enthralled by the details of hegemony, seem to miss. We need to make our
line longer, not study theirs until we become near-sighted. We need specific
ways to organize, to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,
to assume the role of public leaders and exercise power in conjunction
with the overwhelming majority of the citizens who want democratic equality
in their lives, not just in their texts. (see Cloward and Piven, "Regulating
The appearance of Kozol's "Savage
Inequalities", a remarkably effective anti-racist weapon, should be of
good use to activists in the '90's. Coupled with the information gleaned
from tax equalization lawsuits, activists should have sufficient informational
bases to move forward toward the discovery of the details behind practical
issues, and more significantly, actions, that give life to the data.
can play a major role in school. There is probably no social institution
in the U.S. that is more responsive to an adult's demands more than a school.
Vigorous parents can change schools,at least in form. Rich parents, who
generally want to perpetuate school as it is anyway, can influence schools
on their own. Working class parents must organize.
Schools in capitalist society
will be capitalist schools, inevitably inequitable, but they can be capitalist
schools with smaller classes, more supplies, an honest curriculum, and
better essential programs. While there are surely limits beyond which school
cannot be improved, and while those limits grow narrower as the available
surplus value declines in the U.S.; it remains that the degree of the putrification
of education in a given area will in part correspond to the degree of parent
resistance to it.
Teachers are trained in some
colleges of education to believe that parents are too stupid to play a
deciding part in school. After all, that's what some schools of education
are for, to demonstrate the most remarkable ways to pass along social values
to a generation which might be endangered by parental interference. Teachers
are taught to only ally with parents on secondary matters, to distrust
parental input, to be elitists---unless the school system seeks a vote
for a higher millage or volunteers to replace expensive aides in the classroom.
In essence, these teachers are trained to see $90,000 a year school superintendants
as better allies than $20,000 a year parents. In most cases, a simple wage
comparison should be a telling measure for a potential alliance.
Even so, parents can influence
school, particularly if they act in concert. For example, during the Oil
War parents in many school systems stopped or modified pro-war teaching
in classrooms. On the other hand, parents who are alienated from school
workers are frequently used effectively as scabs during teacher strikes.
PTA's are grand organizing grounds for social activists.
They are likely to attract some
of the most stable parents and they must confront all of the contradictions
of a country in decay, from the loss of an art teacher to the question
of whether it's more important to air-condition a school or clean it. PTA's
meet regularly, have a tradition of tolerance for a variety of viewpoints,
and to one degree or another, most of the people will understand that they
are there to fight for their children's lives. This, though is a double-edged
sword. Many PTA's are organized by people whose sole concern is to swing
a better deal for their own children, to get their kids the best teachers
or to preserve their schools rather than to democratically change the school
system. The point is that there simply is not enough juice, surplus value,
left in education to allow this approach. We cannot fight for kids one
at a time.
In addition, the admittedly thin
democratic tradition which nevertheless has more meaning in schools than
any other American institution, creates parent/student/teacher committees
on a multitude of subjects. While the parameters are fixed and often unconsciously
accepted, schools still involve thousands of seemingly peripheral people
in their operations. For example, many school systems use committees of
parents, teachers, administrators and kids to review and select basal readers
on a regular time cycle. What is unconscious is that they WILL select a
basal. What is possibly democratic is that they could NOT. And what is
at tension within that pretense of democracy is that many committees are
stacked by authoritative administrators and their favorites, yet the pretense
is there waiting to be wisely called into account.
One problem that activists must
overcome is to set aside the inherent difficulty single parents have in
participating in organizing efforts outside the home. This means that there
should be no teacher/student/parent meetings absent child care support.
People with less have less time. The most important component of economic
inequality in the '80's was the increase in single parent families. Today,
nearly one quarter of the nation's children under eighteen live with a
single parent. This dislocation of the nuclear family, in a era when two
wages equal less than one of thirty years ago, influences every aspect
of school life.(National Journal 9-28-91) Those hurt worst may fight hardest,
if the door is open to them.
The false skirmishes to create
little utopias, all-black male schools, magnet schools, chosen schools,
international schools, restructured schools, or whatever, will not integrate
schools and will not bring equal levels of education. Parent/teacher/student
organizations should be built across district lines to guarantee an intercultural
mix that can truly set out to both provide kids a good education and to
battle for real school reforms.
For example, should PTA's represent
essentially segregated districts, let parents of good will from those associations
come together in a bi-monthly caucus to plan ways to integrate the schools
and build opportunities for both districts. Teachers and kids should be
at these meetings. Have the kids attend after- school "freedom schools"
to address their problems and help them plan to deal with them. Each group
could list the five biggest problems with the schools, find areas of mutuality
and put together a design for action. The would address some of the most
divisive government maneuvers, like New Jersey's Quality Education Act
which starkly boasts to rob middle class districts to pay for poor ones.
Apply the principles of equality
to the peoples' officials. Why, for example, should school superintendents
like New York's Fernandez earn six-figure salaries perked with free housing
and expenses when schools in the system go without windows?
Curricular issues are sometimes
explosive. In West Virginia in the mid-seventies a massive school walkout
led by the right wing led to picket line violence, gunshot wounds, sniping,
dynamiting, and Molotov Cocktails. (New York Times Book Review, 2/23/92,
Most parents, like teachers,
are workers but most likely they are workers with very tenuous jobs, no
tenure, no grievance procedure, little leverage. They do not approach school
workers, hat in hand, hoping to support them. Parents are involved in jobs
battles as well. There should be levels of mutuality here, a balance between
school workers and their constituents. Later, we discuss how that works.
First, we must deal with the sops used to divert parents and school workers
from the conflict at hand.
Every time you hear "school reform",
hide your children. Perhaps Sputnik started it in the '50s, or Toyota in
the 80's, but whatever the generator; school reform is the wolf in Grandma's
There is no easy way, ultimately,
to reform school in capitalist America. Inequality eats its young. Capitalism
in paroxysm has no interest in the struggle to determine truth, the drive-train
of any curriculum. If the emporer has no clothes, he does not want his
schools noticing. Real school reform will only follow real social change.
Even so, there are some needed reforms worth a fight and, happily, the
fight could contribute to the broader good. For now, though let's call
the many names of the beast, the mainstream social reforms, and see what
appears under the nightskirts.
Site-based Decision Making. This scheme applies to school in two
ways; first to the teacher/administrator force, then to the community as
Applied to the teacher corps,
site-based decision making is precisely what is mentioned in passing above:
control over the more trivial issues in teaching while the essence of the
relationship, boredom, authoritarianism and lies, among administrators,
teachers and students grows worse. Put the kids' chairs wherever you want,
but you will have 36 kids who speak 4 different languages. (Interview with
Anonymous Miami teacher, 9-1-91)
The critical decisions of schools,
the crux being the curriculum, are more and more circumscribed by national,
state and local testing requirements. It is no longer necessary to ban
"Huck Finn" or "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" from the curriculum. They're
more innocuously squeezed out by the need to teach to tests, inane daily
interruptions, sheer numbers of kids in a classroom making it impossible
to review their writing, and the overwhelming crisis that shadows the lives
of poor and working class kids.
The experience repeated around the country in schools which have tried it is fairly clear; it takes teachers about three years to recognize that site-based decision making is a scam. Some teachers (especially those rewarded by time away from the class or more pay for working the hustle) never catch on. But there simply is no evidence to show that site-based decisions do anything but blur the lines of class struggle; a bosses' dream.
"We're all in this together",
until it comes time to distribute pay, or lay-off notices.
Site-based decision making plans
are frequently linked to "Teacher Empowerment" designs. Most often, this
devolves into getting teachers to discipline other teachers, not a bad
concept when contractual provisions, and fear of being labeled racists
or sexists, encourage administrators to find less direct avenues for punishment.
As with every aspect of life in school, there is plenty of room for struggle around site-based plans and teacher empowerment schemes. Both open the door for battles around critical matters like the curriculum which could serve as ways to organize parents, kids and school workers around, say, an anti-racist format to study reading.
Applied to the community, site-based
decisions can become absurd, much like "Community Control" programs did
25 years ago. Critical decisions remain in the hands of elites. Corruption
(electing a whole bunch of school board members rather than a few) becomes
a bit more democratic. But even if we approach this idea in theory alone;
it breaks down. What happens, for example, if a community decides to be
openly racist, or to ban hundreds of books, or to foster religion? What
Not unrelated to site based decisions,
but encompassing much less room for legitimate conflict, is merit pay.
This reward system for meeting specified objectives turns teacher solidarity
upside down. The effect of the program, which must fix a clear common denominator
of measurement and further standardize classroom instruction to appear
fair, is to drive teachers away from individualized student work and to
force an even greater emphasis on teaching to tests. Here we see a dual
perversion, a sick, imposed unity of purpose--around a wrong purpose, and,
concurrently, teachers in hot public competition for the tiniest fractions
of bonus pay. In every conceivable way, merit pay demeans the profession
and, not incidentally, divides teachers.
Multi-cultural programs and all-race/sex schools. These latest ploys
are truly folds in the same cloth. Multi-cultural education (diversity,
political correctness, whatever) stresses the secondary differences between
people rather than their fundamental commonality within given social classes
(and unlikely eventuality in America's schools). All-race/sex schools are
simply racist sexist schools. What about black girls? What about working
class Iraqi kids? Or Salvadorans? Multi-racial kids? These segregated leaps
backward explode the sacrifices of two hundred years in the battles to
integrate society. Sadly, these reactionary trends are marketed as reforms
in 90's Americana. Let there be no question about this bottom line: only
integrated resistance can win. Racist, sexist, nationalist, utopian movements
are nothing but throwbacks, mutants from an inglorious past. Capitalist
schools will teach anything but the ABC's--anything but class. What is
needed is a resistance movement that understands the commonalities of many
cultures, interculturalism, the ideas and social histories that link poor
and working people together as a broad mass confronting a tiny minority
of the population that enjoys priveleges far beyond their productivity.
In short, we need to know when to apply the concepts of likeness and difference.
3. Choice. As an abstraction,
choice means nothing. In the abortion controversy, choice is a euphemism
for abortion. Some mostly middle class feminists use "choice"in an effort
to gain respectability, to wrap themselves in a PR term rather than to
directly to enter the debate on the right to an abortion. In school, choice
means racism, segregated schools. Milton Friedmann University of Chicago
economist and long time friend of the CIA who assisted in the creation
of the neo-Nazi government of Chile, believes "choice" should go so far
as to eliminate public subsidy of higher education altogether. Clearly
the logical extension of the choice argument, the plan would have the obvious
effect: the absolute class stratification of America's colleges and universities
based on income levels.
With a variety of themes, the
school choice group wants to link education directly to the "free" market,
the same market which drove millions of people out of work in the last
fifteen years. You buy your own school, your own teachers, your supplies,
and so on. There are already a few public for-profit schools in operation
(East Harlem and Miami). Others prefer voucher systems which would pass
government subsidies along to parents who would then direct the spending,
parallel to giving food stamps to the rich.
In brief, every choice movement
would speed the resegregation of education. Poor and working class parents,
if nothing else, can not afford the transportation costs to get their kids
to good schools.
In one school district in Lacrosse,
Wisconsin, the superintendent has moved to integrate kids based on their
family's income. But he stands the idea on its head. He wants the poor
kids to see that somebody in the society really is making it. He didn't
notice the value of rich kids eating surplus food. Most likely, his tenure
will be brief.
4. Two reforms are worthy of support; the "Whole Language" movement which seeks to build curricula around complete books (entire novels and novel things like that) and real experiences (rather than disconnected fantasies), and the "Critical Thinking"/"Critical Literacy" movement which argues that the society which proclaims itself democratic cannot run authoritarian schools and expect its children to understand how to behave in a democracy. Sadly, these reforms are filling up with opportunists of all stripes, academics prolonging careers with obscure publications and welfare professionals whose usual trough is empty. But no reform movement is flawless. Again, there is lots of room for struggle. lots of wiggle room, around the schools.