The Fight for a New Vision of Education
Electronic, computer-based technology engenders the new laborless production that is grinding through industry after industry, permanently eliminating jobs. Many of the jobs that remain, that have not yet been automated, are the contingent, disposable, temporary, part-time workers, also popularly described as “1099 workers”, “permatemps” and “precariat” workers. These fundamental changes in the economy raise deep issues for public education today.
College students are forced into massive lifetime student debt, even as the opportunities to work are increasingly disappearing. If workers are increasingly no longer needed to produce goods and services, then the education that used to be part of the cost of production of a worker is increasingly no longer necessary either. Therefore the labor of teachers is becoming no longer needed. This is what is driving the destruction of public education and what is forming education in the new economy.
A new vision for public education is beginning to rise. The #MillionStudentMarch in November 2015 took to the streets to demand free higher education for everyone, an end to student debt and a $15 minimum wage for workers at all campuses. Instead of waiting defensively for the next crisis, these revolutionaries are taking the offensive. In response to organizing by African-American students at the University of Missouri inspired by Ferguson, the football team, African American and white, united as one, including their coach, and voted not to play a game unless the President resigned. Two days later the faculty walked out and the President resigned.
Interwoven into every international treaty, from NAFTA to the TPP, is the understanding that public education is not a right, but a commodity – to be bought, sold, traded, more fodder for the casino economy to be restructured to guarantee private profit for a system of private property. In contrast, Chilean students have linked the demand for free public education to an offensive to drive corporations completely out of public education, since corporations have no business in this major branch of public wealth.
While corporations increasingly privatize and limit educational opportunities, a new generation is demanding that access be expanded so that everyone can thrive and maximize their abilities, gifts and contributions.
New Class, New Vision
Temporary, contingent workers in the U.S. are approaching 50% of the workforce. People under-40 overwhelmingly work temp jobs. Temp workers are a growing component of a new class created by laborless technology that is rising today. Young workers, particularly students, who have never known anything other than production with robots, comprise a significant portion of this new class that is left either with no jobs at all or who enter the workforce as contingent, temporary part-time workers.
Capitalism always configures public education to fit the labor market. “Education ends poverty, education eliminates economic inequality” has always been the ideological justification for capitalism. With the temp economy this is out the window.
Laborless production means that workers without jobs and no money are denied access to the necessities of life. Laborless production under capitalism means that eventually most people will not work at all. A fundamental transformation is taking place in the objective economic base of society itself. As their “solution,” the capitalists are forcing fundamental structural changes in the system itself, including public education.
These are not “policy issues” and will not be fixed by simply fighting for reforms. The system is not sustainable. Society must take over the corporations or the corporations will continue to destroy society. The new class must have political power to achieve this goal.
A Corporate Political Onslaught
Today government at all levels, having merged with the corporations, is on the attack. Instead of advancing the interests of the public, government instead pushes the corporate agenda. The capitalists use their political power to exploit and reinforce their rule everywhere, but especially over the new class.
The old systems of public education are polarizing as labor power becomes ever more insignificant. Private, for-profit education offers “the 4Cs” — critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration — to the privileged, at a price. But a temp economy means a temp educational system for those the ruling class no longer needs.
In U.S. higher education now, 80% of the professors are adjunct, contingent faculty, working from contract to contract, semester by semester. Thirty years ago, professors were 80% permanent. Their students, of course, will work mostly at temp jobs. Meanwhile, the austerity agenda is cutting funds for higher education across the country.
President Obama has called for federal and state governments to make community colleges “free for all.” The catch is that they must introduce the “skills agenda,” which redefines college as an industry that trains workers for the global economy. The Democratic Party’s, “America’s College Promise Act” focuses on “occupational skills training programs” and calls for aligning community colleges with K12 schools based on “performance outcomes” and “competency-based education.” Two-year community college is becoming grades 13 and 14. This “Skills Agenda” focuses on measurable outcomes, especially numeracy and literacy, rather than critical thinking. New bureaucratic barriers reduce access and become “push-out policies” that drive even more students out of higher education.
The national Common Core test, imposed on K12 schools, is the pinnacle of the high-stakes testing regime. It also guarantees vast corporate private profit from the national education market, estimated to be $787.7 billion in 2015. Common Core also fosters corporate-designed “performance objectives” that become the metric to re-structure the system. These facilitate the privatization of public education even as corporations transform it into temporary education. A generation ago, the majority of K12 teachers had a decade or more of tenure. Now they often are over and done in 2 years, only to be replaced by the next short-term teacher.
Student “value” is determined by how they score on the new corporate-driven tests, which purport to demonstrate “student ability to use complex-problem solving.” Students supposedly further demonstrate their “mastery” by writing essays at various grade levels from third grade on. Ironically, these essays are graded entirely by temp workers, not teachers, mostly by college grads.
Last year, Pearson, the multi-billion dollar education mega-corporation, operated 21 scoring centers around the country, and hired 14,500 temporary scorers. Graders used highly detailed rubrics to measure various “performance outcomes” in the essays. Unfortunately, this leaves them no time to communicate to the child their strengths and weaknesses. But that probably matters little, since they will never even see the child they are grading.
Corporations meanwhile are touting privately-owned Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and electronic learning platforms for every level, from the for-profit colleges to the elite private schools. But access to MOOCs is not equal for all. The trend for public schools is for MOOCs to become the only way for students to repeat any remedial work, which prevents them from moving forward. These are subjects they already did poorly in, with a human teacher. The dropout rates, not surprisingly ranges from 60% to 90%.
With a MOOC, the individual alone studies the content on the screen and then takes a test to demonstrate competency in a “performance objective.” Students can actually win online “competency badges” to show they have mastered one of the topics in the course! The corporations own all the data, plus the essays. The federal government in 2015 allowed student loans for MOOCs. Access to learning is reduced to online courses, online testing and online grading.
Corporate dominated society today, driven by corporatization and privatization, is now shedding its social responsibility for educating people. Today this obligation is increasingly shifted onto the students themselves.
The Fight This Time
The old system of public education on all levels is in the process of being destroyed, as the destruction of wage-labor and capital reverberates throughout society. Whether public or private, education has always played the role of socializing the workforce for the needs of capitalism. Public education has not yet disappeared, and the ruling class uses the schools to socialize and control the rising generation of the new class. The State is intervening directly in the “education” of our youth, and the schools themselves are being transformed into virtual prisons occupied by the police. In the U.S. today, both the public and the privatized schools-to-prison pipeline is alive and well. Society could easily guarantee everything that humans need to thrive, including a quality education for everyone. But that will happen only when the technology of society is owned by the public.
This goal cannot be won by constant defensive struggles or by fighting backwards to a previous period. That tactic no longer works. An organized political onslaught can only be fought with politics and raising the necessity of class political power. Capitalism and its corporate attack dogs are fighting forward to a new system of private property that owns everything. Our new generation has no choice but to match them by fighting for a new society that supports everyone cooperatively.
The political struggle begins by seizing the initiative to determine the debate about the kind of society humanity needs and how to get there. Revolutionaries can show that the direction forward means developing the political power to transfer the means of production from private corporate property into public property.
Education at all levels is profoundly a relationship between human beings. Sharing and transferring experience, history, and knowledge requires a fundamental human connection. But private property reduces and limits this birthright of humanity to a miserable level. Real education that encourages critical thinking, and a deep understanding of the challenges that humanity now faces could be provided free for everyone.
Mobilizing the human mind, the greatest productive power that exists, is essential to solve the catastrophic challenges that threaten humanity today. This time around, it’s all of us or none of us. It’s either private or its public – there just isn’t any other way.
January/February 2016. Vol26.Ed1
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