Why Have School?

Blood and Money versus Reason

By Rich Gibson

August, 2016

Innocently enough, schools now begin to open for the 2016-2017 school year.

It is not, however, an innocent time.

above, high school teacher Bill Boyer in the ruins of a Detroit school, one of many

To address the current electoral spectacle alone: the consolidation of fascism via the inseparable bonds of imperialism and opportunism–sums it up for me.

Such is the context of the routine: buying school clothes, fun lunch-boxes, the anticipation of new friends, the anxiety of new teachers–and old–administrators counting bodies to match facilities, and much more.

Even so, as schools open throughout the US, one typically ignored question needs to be asked in every classroom: Why have school? Why are we here?

Let's 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 industrial 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.

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

What is going on in schools?

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 adds 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:

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AdDLhPwpp4

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. (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-uc-davis-chancellor-katehi-resigns-20160809-snap-story.html)

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.

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 lies ahead–the Clinton/Trump imitation contest.

Hillary Clinton, the wanton war-whore, savage executioner of the American Inquisition, cuckqueen, betrothed not to Bill, but to Wall Street and the Pentagon, psychopathic liar who thinks her insistence (with Samantha Power and Susan Rice-bourgeois feminists arise) for wars on Iraq, Libya, the overthrow of a fully bought regime in Egypt, the attacks on Syria–two million refugees and hundreds of thousands dead--and the fabricated revolution in the Ukraine and provocations of Russia are exceptionally good ideas-as is the “pivot” (encircling) to China.

More war! More children of the poor killing their counterparts on behalf of the rich in their homelands. Within the US military, they routinely call each other, “cannon fodder.”

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 that bows to abhorrent lies. No less crazy, and no more, than Clinton.

Either way, endless war.

above, Clinton and NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia at the 2016 NEA Assembly

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 fishhook, Bernie Sanders. Sanders turned to urging a vote for the lesser-evil, Clinton who he had called a darling of Wall Street billionaires.

In an op-ed in the LA Times on August 5th, Sanders wrote, “During the primaries, my supporters and I began a political revolution to transform America. That revolution continues as Hillary Clinton seeks the White House. It will continue after the election.”

He never mentions foreign policy (empire). A political revolution is not an economic revolution. Per Lucy Parsons, “never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth.”

Both unions’ leaders, as with the entire “labor movement” will 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.

The coming 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.

It 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:

Capitalist schooling exists within these social rising circumstances.

Whose schools are these?

These are capital's schools. Democracy never dominated capitalism.

This is, again, a capitalist democracy in which capital rules democracy at every turn ($12.9 trillion bankster bailouts, the auto-takeover on behalf of stockholders while auto workers' lives were gutted; empire's wars matched by the failures of socialism--various New Economic Policies 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 fethishized 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?

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-or the Obama kids.

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.”

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 are 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 twins: profiteering 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 $6,000 to their school, pro-rated on daily attendance.

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, 2014). 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, above. 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, for example.

But, as economic break-downs caused by overproduction, stagnation in industry and finance, and war dissolved 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 2001, the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, held yearly “Representative Assemblies.”

NEA is, I believe, 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 together with the AFL-CIO, the members voted “No.” (http://clogic.eserver.org/2-1/gibson.html)

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 on the floor 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. (http://www.richgibson.com/neavoluntary.htm)

That is the bribe from the empire, a 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.

Militarized schooling is segregated by class and race, with the Marines, Army, and Navy on the hunt in community colleges and less prestigious universities, while intelligence agencies, the Air Force, and mercenary operations are all over the ivy leagues, Georgetown, American University, Michigan, the University of California system, etc.

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.

In the midst of what can be described as a mass hysterical conversion crisis, who really wants the American public, busy ratifying war, segregation, superstition, and inequality while deluded by spectacles, to control the schools in the absence of a class conscious social movement that would give meaning and purpose to education?

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

More answers to why have school:

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.

Nobody howled when failed General William McRaven, former leader of the Joint Strategic Operations Command, an assassination squad featured in the film, “Dirty Wars,” was appointed to lead the prestigious University of Texas system. Disgraced General David Petraeus' “surge” in Iraq, a counter-insurgency scheme, was, “Bribe ‘em or kill ‘em.” That, predictably, fell apart when the bribes stopped. He 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 more, 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. Instead, depending on birth class, many students learn little but loyalty and obedience: the ethics of slaves. So, people in pacified areas become instruments of their own oppression.

Nevertheless, the nearly innate value, “That’s not fair,” persists, if muted over time.

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 worldviews).

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.

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?

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.

Embedded in any capitalist venture: violence—truancy laws. Come to school or face the penalties available to the corporate state.

What, after all, cannot be taught in most 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.

Those workers need to be taught to accept hierarchy, to submit, to misread realities like class war, have faith in the sanctity of private property, 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 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:

These mis-leaders who move up fairly slowly through a hierarchy learn a variety of strategies to manipulate people and, “protect the contract,” the well-spring of dues income. 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.

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.

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 rank and file resistance inside the unions, and out, is rising.

In Chicago, an election three 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, now Chicago mayor, 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, 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 probably will Black Lives Matter.

What can be done now? Connecting Reason to Power.

What defeats men with guns?


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

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.

It's not fair!

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.

Time is short.

Innocence lost. Schools dis-covered. Blood and money, or reason.

Rich Gibson (Rg@richgibson.com) 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.