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Examining, analyzing and drawing political conclusions about the most critical issues facing the revolutionary movement in the U.S. today

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Public Education and the State

Students, teachers, and entire communities are in ferment across the U.S, Canada and Mexico, defending their human right to education. Battles for public education commonly recognize that there is no place for private profit in a public service. Aided and abetted by the State, the corporatization of public education reduces the wonderful promise of school to a miserable level.

A national movement is essential to force the federal government to fully fund public education at all levels. It must recognize and address that organized State-sanctioned violence, employing both police and social coercion, permeates public education in the United States.

Large urban K12 school districts have more police in schools than counselors. More state tax money is spent to build prisons and jail ex-students than for public education. “Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize childhood, while children are handcuffed or body-slammed in their classrooms. The Homeland Security Agency trains school administrators in interrogation techniques that have been designed to deal with terrorism.

In this environment, coercion enforces massive push-outs of students, who are then vacuumed up by the school-to-prison pipeline. Student debt is a coercive means for corporate social control and capital accumulation, since students legally cannot discharge student loans through bankruptcy. Colleges across the country are expanding courses for criminal “justice” and the military, while attacking curricula like ethnic studies and peoples’ history.

The State and the government have different but interconnected functions; both serve the property relations and class rule. The State is an apparatus of force, including organized violence that ensures the political rule of the capitalist class, while politically suppressing the working class. Its purpose is to organize and apply social force, both open and hidden, that reinforces the rule of corporate private property, with the power to exploit society and the planet.

The government is an apparatus that, among other things, controls and distributes the taxes and public resources of society. Particularly now, with the merger of the corporations and the government (and State), it establishes specific laws and institutions that help constitute the market. It sets the conditions for the government to intervene in the economy on behalf of the corporate State. State-sanctioned violence is essential to constitute the market and guarantee corporate private profit.

Constituting the “Public Education Market”

Today the State, especially through the federal government, uses its coercive powers to create and protect the infrastructure for private profit in public education. In 1994, the U.S., Canada and Mexico agreed to NAFTA, declaring that public education is a commodity, not a right. As corporations merged with the State, government began to create markets for the corporate seizure of public education.

Organized social violence is infused into this process. Coercion increasingly becomes privatized.

The federal government has played a leading role in establishing charter schools as markets for corporations. Obama’s Race to the Top, to fund public schools, was the first federal program that abandoned equality as the basis of funding public programs. In effect, these policies represent the nationalization of the country’s local public schools in the name of corporations. States and school districts were compelled to create charter school markets, in order to receive federal funds. The federal government alone has spent over $4 billion since 1990, to fund the charter school industry, money that has been taken from public schools.

Until the federal government established Common Core as the national basis for high-stakes testing, the education market was fractured into 50 different state testing structures. Common Core unified a national K12 education market by providing a common metric to evaluate students at every school. It was immediately valued at $18 billion a year. Microsoft and Pearson, the giant international education corporation, quickly began the corporatization and privatization of this market. 

 Common Core standards are based on documenting the “Student Learning Outcomes” that global corporations demand for the new global workforce. Now SLOs are penetrating and deforming education in community colleges and higher education. The social violence and police coercion that is becoming the norm in K12 schools is transforming the system from socializing children into the industrial workforce into “schooling” children to accept State control. For all those who face a jobless future, “schooling,” not quality education, is what the State is preparing for their children.

By driving the public out of control of its education, capitalism uses market-based reforms to close schools. The dispossession of the public’s schools is part of the corporate real estate plan to seize entire communities. Gentrification and displacement amount to banishment of people from their homes, since they can no longer afford skyrocketing housing costs. This disruption is massive social violence.

The government supported higher education when it educated the intellectual workforce of the industrial era. Now that electronic production replaces human labor, the federal government has curtailed support for both universities and students. Costs have exploded. This “toxic neglect” creates the market by using student loans as capital to finance educational programs and university-based corporate research. Meanwhile, education no longer can guarantee a job, and 2/3 of graduates trying to enter the workforce have lifetime student debt.

In Mexico, as in the US, punitive standardized tests are being imposed on both students and teachers. Parents are now obligated to pay for all school costs, while the government is selling international bonds to create a market for private investors. The resistance to “education reform,” by tens of thousands of Mexican teachers and parents has been met by federal troops. State-sanctioned violence caused the murder of 12 and the wounding of 50 more. This is publicly recognized as “the militarization of education reform.”

Broke on Purpose

In 2010 the G20, the most powerful capitalist countries, met in Toronto to adopt the global policy of  “austerity,” to put the burden for the 2008 global capitalist meltdown on the working class. Massive protests were met by the largest mobilization of police and military in Canada’s history. State-organized austerity masks the fact that government at the state and local level is “broke on purpose,” a phrase made popular by the Chicago Teachers Union. Governments at all levels give corporations over $170 billion a year in tax breaks. In 2011 alone, states were forced to cut public services and raise taxes by a collective $156 billion.

Governments everywhere now advocate market-based solutions and public-private partnerships, where the public provides the money and corporations profit from what used to be free services. When the market is done with you, you are bankrupt. This provides the environment for the new face of U.S. fascism and corporate dictatorship – the State-imposed Emergency Manager. EMs arrive with dictatorial power to privatize everything that belongs to the public and sell it to pay off the debt, all ultimately enforced by the police.

Detroit Public Schools are an especially nasty example of this regime. One EM came from Flint after he poisoned 100,000 people with toxic water. His successor is the Detroit bankruptcy judge who ruled that people have no right to water. When EMs took over DPS in 1999, the schools had a $93 million surplus. Today they are $525 million in the red.

Emergency Managers are now spreading across the country in various forms. Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law is still the most severe. In California, state-imposed “administrators” have been imposed on the Oakland, Compton and Inglewood schools, as well as Compton Community College. When the private agency that credentials San Francisco Community College provoked an unnecessary crisis, California imposed “a State-Trustee.” Illinois billionaire Governor Bruce Rauner is now threatening to take over Chicago’s schools. In Georgia, the Governor is proposing to put all public schools under his authority as a virtual Emergency Manager to close schools by fiat. And now that Puerto Rico refuses to pay off its “debt” to hedge funds, Congress has imposed an unelected “Control Board” to guarantee that debts owed to hedge fund investors are paid in full.

A National Movement

No fundamental changes are possible as long as the capitalist control of education for private profits is supported by such a massive system of organized force and violence. When the army is in the street, as in Mexico, or police violence is organized into an elaborate State system as in the US, no reform is possible. The situation cannot be dismantled piecemeal by constant defensive struggles, or fixed by fighting backwards to the “good old days.” It requires taking the political offensive.

Hand in hand with the merger of corporations and the State, the federal government organizes the corporatization of public education as a national market. State and local governments become the structures to guarantee corporate profits by ending public control and access to education, while funneling tax money to corporations. This process is in effect the nationalization of public education by the capitalist class.

We are at a historical moment – either the corporations will continue to destroy society, or the people will take over the corporations. Revolutionaries have a special contribution here. The task is to politicize the combatants, so they recognize the necessity of winning political power to defend public education.

The crisis in public education cannot be resolved by simply battling school by school, or at a school district level alone. State and local governments simply do not have enough money to guarantee their responsibilities to provide equal quality public education. The federal government must live up to its responsibility to guarantee quality education for all and therefore nationalize education in the public interest.

Nationalizing public education at the federal level terminates the antiquated local dependence on property tax or state subsidies. This step needs to further guarantee equal public education funding that ends the historic segregation of America’s schools. This political revolution begins by holding government accountable at every level, to advance the interests of all people together, not corporations. Government is responsible to guarantee all aspects of human life, not corporate profit. Corporate power cannot be broken without terminating the legal status of public education as a commodity. Neither can public education be de-criminalized without a complete social transformation.

Guaranteeing the national public ownership of the schools requires changing society, so that corporations no longer are allowed to have any business at all controlling the wealth of the public. This step requires nationalizing the corporations and abolishing their political power, in order to guarantee that public education, like water and all human resources, is a public trust, ensured by the federal government nationally, with free access for all.

Creating the public schools that humanity deserves raises the necessity of building a new cooperative society, which organizes the potential of education, so that each and every human being can maximize their abilities and contributions. Without this programmatic vision, there is no way to pass from the defensive to the offensive.

September/October 2016 Vol26.Ed5
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
P.O. Box 477113 Chicago, IL 60647 rally@lrna.org
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Photo of Protest

30,000 March in Support of
Chicago Teachers Union Strike
Photo by Ryan L Williams
used with permission

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

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Rally, Comrades! is the political paper of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America. If you are one of the thousands of revolutionaries around the country looking for a perspective on the problems we face today, and for a political strategy to achieve the goal of a world free from exploitation and poverty, then Rally, Comrades! is for you.

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