Corporate Control Devastates Public Education
Public schools are being shut down all over America. Washington D.C. plans to shutter 15 more schools on top of the 28 already closed. Chicago claims the city has a $1 billion deficit, so it intends to close 49 schools while 17 more may share a single building. Parents and communities rising to defend their schools were critical to the Chicago teachers strike last year.
Detroit has been seized by an “emergency financial manager” appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Consequently Detroiters have lost their civil rights to make decisions about their city. Detroit has closed dozens of schools in the last few years and will close 28 more in the next two. The school district website markets the empty buildings as having “the finest collection of school architecture” in America to potential condo developers.
Corporate school reformers supposedly offer “school choice.” So why don’t they listen to parents who want to save their neighborhood schools? Communities, parents, students and, teachers can barely get on the agenda, while politicians, developers, bankers, and billionaires blatantly control the process. The modern expression of inequality in America is that the economic and political power of corporations determine what is on the table.
School closures reveal that public education is being reconfigured to benefit corporate markets and investments, while permitting a high quality education to a declining few. It is striking how elected local governments play an active role in organizing this giveaway.
From Civil rights to Corporate Takeover
In 1954 the Supreme Court found that segregated schools were inherently unequal and un-constitutional. Decades of massive underfunding devastated central city schools and created a market for billion dollar charter school corporations. These corporations claim that their charter schools “are the civil rights issue of our time,” even though research clearly shows that they increase segregated education.
George Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) established school testing as a way to measure school success. NCLB created a huge $1.7 billion corporate market in standardized testing. It also provided the means to determine who would be the unprivileged. Thus began the objective nationalization of public education to benefit corporations.
President Obama took the next step with his 2009 Race-To-The-Top program (RTTT), run by ex-CEO of Chicago schools Arne Duncan. This was an historic turning point in funding public education. Even during the Bush Administration, federal money was supposed to be distributed to all school districts equally. But RTTT only funds districts that apply for grants and meet standards set by corporations. This step marks the end of the principle of equal funding of public schools and the beginning of their massive reorganization.
The new Common Core standards being implemented by the Obama Administration emphasize standardized course materials in every state with little room for enriching the curriculum. Common Core is written by corporations, funded by Bill Gates, and regimented with constant standardized testing. It narrows the curriculum by emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) over social science, the arts, history, and ethnic studies. Testing will be only online, which increases the digital divide between wealth and poverty. Illinois will not do testing in social studies; thus, social studies is being dumped by many school districts!
Supposedly austerity requires cutbacks because there is no money, but there is plenty of money for corporate educational reforms. The federal government is in effect nationalizing education in the interests of the capitalist class and away from local control of the schools.
Wall Street’s Moody’s Investor Service is “bullish” on school closings, claiming that reducing expenditures means school districts can improve their credit ratings and borrow more money at cheaper rates.
Philadelphia shows how this works. The city is closing 23 schools, almost 10% of the district’s 250 schools, to erase a huge budget deficit of some $218 million. Philly schools, like most school districts, are at the mercy of Wall Street’s $3.7 trillion municipal market, where hedge funds and banks speculate, for profit, on the chances of cities and schools paying off their debt.
Why did the Philly school district borrow so much money in the first place? Cities and corporations conspire to use corporate charter schools to destabilize and erode public schools. Corporate charter schools now enroll nearly 30% of Philadelphia’s 200,000 students, and have emptied about one-quarter of the seats in the public schools. This is a massive drain of resources from the public schools.
Philly’s obligation for charters increased by about $120.9 million in 2012. Most of this money goes to big charter corporate chains that make a profit off of charter schools, even as public schools must be closed. Now the state refuses to cover this debt. This leads to more and more of public education being pushed into the hands of capitalists and their operatives.
Privatization in this form is the national pattern under austerity. Most states ran huge deficits, due to revenue cuts and borrowing billions of dollars from Wall Street to finance bonds. Chicago alone spends $100 million a year on debt servicing. So now cities close schools in order to continue to pay Wall Street. School closings are the face of austerity. This is failure by design: under-resourcing entire communities, draining them of resources, then allowing them to die.
Police and Crisis
For vast areas of the country’s big cities, the school is the last anchor that sustains the community. Closing schools pushes communities closer to the brink. When schools go, all that’s left in communities, deserted by jobs, is the police.
As part of the “Drug War”, the school-toprison pipeline was organized to target and victimize young people. The police have been militarized, with many police powers actually privatized under the shadow of Homeland Security. Now the only solutions on the table to deal with mass school shootings are the police.
Government at all levels spend some $30$40 billion a year on Homeland Security. To deal with mass shootings, schools are supposed to buy high-security fences, body scanners and armed guards. But somehow there is no money to pay for school counselors, psychologists and support services to help kids thrive and learn.
It is not greed, however, that is driving this process. Capitalism itself is in crisis, caused by laborless production, production with computers and robots that replace people. Real wages grew only 4% in the 36 years from 1971 to 2007. In the same time, productivity — how much each worker produces — doubled to 200%. Worker productivity increased 25 times more than their pay. This disparity is the result of improving technology and eliminating workers. The benefits go to the capitalist class, not the working class.
As always under capitalism, public education is configured to support the labor market. The microelectronics revolution has replaced much skilled labor by automation and robots, and is particularly destroying the unskilled and semiskilled jobs that marked the industrial era. Electronics also automates agricultural production, driving families into cities and across borders to survive. Their children go to school in every city in this country. Immigrant rights are also regulated, by law, to serve the labor market.
Computers are transforming work into temporary jobs and precarious labor that works little, but is always on call. Since education under capitalism reproduces labor power, schooling loses value when labor power loses value. When labor becomes redundant, schools become redundant and communities become redundant too.
In Chicago, most proposed school closings are in the African American communities on the South Side, which are devastated by the lack of jobs. The destruction of public housing in Chicago has displaced 500,000 people, more than Hurricane Katrina did in New Orleans. Just as families were snared into subprime loans, then evicted from their homes, now students are evicted from their schools.
This planned de-population will be followed by massive for-profit schemes, market-driven investment in gentrification. Developers propose selling under-used school buildings to private venture funds, which will then lease them to charter schools. Capitalism understands that disasters bring big profits if exploited correctly.
What does public education mean for a system that needs an ever-smaller number of highly educated people? What kind of education will it offer those who will only work part-time, and those who will never work at all?
Education for Indoctrination
U.S. capitalism has traditionally guaranteed very few real political rights to workers. It has never guaranteed economic rights. In the 21st century the dream of equal rights for every ethnicity has been blocked, becoming replaced by individual consumer rights in the market. This does not necessarily mean the end to public schools, only their severe deformation. Capitalism needs an educational system to indoctrinate and control the increasing sector of the population who will never work regularly.
The economy today demands that less people are educated more, receiving top-scale education even as more people are educated less. This reflects the polarization of the job market into a small number of high-tech jobs and a large number of no-tech jobs. Educating more people less means public education that uses testing to batter students into being docile greeters for Walmart for starvation wages. It means our children will see an America, ridden by inequality, where the corporate regime runs rampant.
Every parent knows that all the resources children need to unleash their individual potential are abundant, inexpensive, and available everywhere. In a desperately unequal society, the abundant educational resources are only distributed according to the needs of capitalism. However, when the necessities of life are potentially abundant, capitalism has no choice but to enforce scarcity.
This is why we need nationalization of public education in the interests of our class, not in the interests of the ruling class. When the necessities of life are potentially abundant, capitalism has no choice but to enforce scarcity. This step alone demands the elimination of legal rights.
When rights are removed by a hostile class power, people must learn how to use working class political power to confront and counter this. In many cities, parents, teachers and students recognize that saving public schools is essential for saving communities. Public schools are not yet fully privatized. The battle is to secure quality public schools in the communities.
Guaranteeing the political and economic rights of groups in this society guarantees rights for every individual. The public as a legal entity, and all constituent parts, are sovereign over corporations. Full collective rights guarantee the rights of every group over corporations.
California and most states have a legal Bill of Rights for the police. There are no such Bills of Rights for students, parents, communities, and teachers, just to name a few. The words of the old saying are coming true today, “This time around it’s all of us or none of us.” There can be no social justice without political power for our class.
Despite the destruction of society by a desperate ruling class, the day belongs to those who see that the future must be secured for all of us. This means a cooperative society that benefits people everywhere.
July/August 2013. Vol23.Ed4
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011