Public Education – The Dream or the Nightmare
As schools open this fall across the United States, tens of thousands of students, parents, and educators are demanding Sanctuary Cities Schools as safe zones for undocumented students, to be free of ICE, Border Patrol, and police persecution. The ongoing fight to defend neighborhood public schools and the fight to defend immigrants are no longer separate struggles.
The issue of sanctuary schools is just one important reason why public education is a battlefield. Even if this battle is won, all students will face other attacks against the working class, like charter school privatization, budget cuts, and police abuse of young people. The bigger question is, why is public education today in such turmoil?
As with every necessity of life, public education faces the world-historic transformation of human society that is caused by computers and information technology. Technology is compelling the reorganization of every institution of society, as it replaces humans in production. Which class controls this technology is of the utmost importance.
Elements of 21st century education already exist and are being facilitated by technology. Technology inevitably eliminates the cost of sharing knowledge and information, since information can be digitally copied almost for free. This objective effect could ultimately mean the end of knowledge as a commodity to be bought, sold, and speculated on for private corporate profit. In a truly democratic, humanistic society, knowledge works best when it is distributed for free.
The result is that there are two antagonistic visions for the transformation of education. Since corporations have merged with the State, the ruling class seeks to maintain education as private property through coercion. Government privatizes and militarizes education, forces schools to close, reduces teachers to contingent workers, and insures the corporate control of the learning process.
On the other hand, for the new class of workers – those increasingly replaced by laborless production – the abundant possibilities for quality education would allow individuals to develop every capacity with lifelong learning. This vision can only be guaranteed by total public ownership and completely free education for all.
Ultimately this battle will be about which class owns the technologies of education. The reconstruction of society that is already in a transformation process, turns on this question. The new class can only achieve an educational system that encourages people to develop every capacity, by reorganizing society into one, where the aim of production is humanity, rather than one where the aim of humanity is production. This is education for outcome, not income, education you create and participate in, not something that is done to you.
As a species, humans have always learned the best collectively, a social act that includes relations between people. Today technology creates new platforms for collective learning, from Wikipedia to computer driven classes, education-technology systems, and even computer games. New technology augments the ways that humans develop and share ideas, from teach-ins and story-telling, to political forums and more, all of which exist today outside of restrictive educational structures.
Great improvements and new possibilities for future education already exist. Finland, for example, implemented a new national curriculum in 2016 that moved away from test scores to emphasize 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, international understanding and the integration of modern technology into learning.
Students work cooperatively alongside their teachers through an interdisciplinary approach, to develop projects about topics and situations that impact their own lives, instead of passively receiving knowledge from the teacher. This supports imagination, envisioning, creativity, and the wonderful possibilities of finally liberating every human being’s real potential to contribute to society. The 21st century is a world of continual, rapid change. Instead of acquiring a skill-set for life, education must be designed for constantly improving, reinventing, and increasing one’s skills. As the costs of information drop, so do the barriers to accessing education. In a healthy system, this should open education to all.
Instead, capitalism attempts the impossible, the monopolizing of information, precisely at the very moment when our capacity for collective learning is greater than ever before. Historically, information has been “owned” and monopolized by universities, publishers, libraries, and corporations. Humanity’s ability to use the knowledge that it creates is limited by fettering it as a commodity.
Capitalism still needs a highly-skilled sector of scientists, engineers and techies, but this stratum is increasingly smaller than what was required in the industrial era fifty years ago. These experts will be mainly drawn from those who can afford to pay the high costs of education that is increasingly being privatized. Redesigning education becomes a question of who has access to knowledge and information, who decides this, at what price, for what purpose.
Ruling Class Strategy Today
Enter Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, multi-billionaire Betsy DeVos, who openly advocates removing public education from public control. Trump’s education budget makes some $10 billion in cuts to public education, while diverting a billion more to vouchers. Fraudulent for-profit colleges, like the University of Phoenix or Trump University, show where this is headed.
Arizona has already passed the first universal voucher law that gives families pre-loaded debit cards to use for a la carte education, especially for private schools, thereby funding individuals, not entire classes of people. This historic change vividly demonstrates how our corporate-controlled government is abandoning its responsibilities to the public.
Today, new voucher programs exist in 17 states, where “tax credit scholarship programs” legalize a pass-through of tax credits to private schools. Massachusetts is attempting to legalize “Innovation Partnership Zones,” where state-appointed private boards oversee school districts, with at least one school in the lowest achievement level. Schools in these zones do not receive more money, but are forced to partner with “entrepreneurs” and divert funds to them.
These measures are touted as 21st century innovation for “individualized learning.” In reality, the capitalist class is reconstructing public education along the lines of privatized health care: public finance for private providers for “atomized,” individual consumers.
Computer-learning corporations are rushing into this market with a wide variety of education-technology programs and systems that supposedly help each individual. Rich parents will of course purchase super, artificial intelligence programs, supported by specialized tutors. Poor students, who fail algebra will be placed in “solitary confinement,” with a computer that refuses to allow them to move forward unless they pass standards established by corporations. At least for the time being, public education that is offered through community colleges continues to expand online courses, even with a poor success rate.
How revealing is it that the U.S. Army can tout the slogan, “Be All that You Can Be!” while public education devolves into “test all those you can test.” Public education becomes “schooling,” to indoctrinate students to uncritically accept a fascistic, militarized police presence in the schools. Military recruiters prey on students, who confront lifelong student debt.
Capitalism proclaims that education guarantees a job and a ticket out of poverty. Yet the system must continue to install automation – laborless production without human beings – to reduce labor costs. This means the end of jobs. It is not a choice for society. It is an objective process rooted in the tools we use.
Capitalism organizes the work that the planet needs in one narrow way – as “jobs.” Capitalism ignores any and every problem if it cannot profit from it. A society with robots doesn’t need “jobs,” even though there is plenty of work that must be done. Any ten people can make a list of real social needs, but corporations cannot and will not organize this necessary work as “jobs” Since the ruling capitalist class dictates what work society does, there is no way forward, without de-linking work from jobs and from the wage system.
Robots are demanding a society where humans stop doing routine, low-paying work and unleash their wonderful potential instead! Knowledge can no longer function as a commodity to be bought and sold, yet capitalism still holds onto knowledge as private property. Public education as the way out of poverty is part of the myth of the American Dream. And of course, in the US, the issues of nationality, class and color are used to justify restricting public education even more.
The Fight for the Future
Technology is increasingly making capitalism unworkable. People are already openly challenging the fascist offensive in public education. Opposition to the criminalization of the youth of the new class, regardless of color, whether documented or undocumented, and to the growing School-to-Prison Pipeline, is the demand to eliminate the militarization of education and the police.
The demand to abolish student debt challenges the corporate presence in what should be a public institution. The growing opposition to vouchers strengthens the demand that schools are truly a public good. Fighting for a curriculum that strengthens collective humanistic learning and a real history of our peoples is likewise the fight for the public to control its own education and its own future.
None of these steps can be established as long as corporations have a role in public education. This is the historic step that is at hand – the battle we must go through to get to the next stage for humanity. The role of revolutionaries is to make clear that private property has no place in public education. Education is not for sale, nor is it for profit or investment; it is not a commodity. It is a public right that we will establish. There is no other viable way to guarantee public education than to make it available and free to everyone.
Today, it is only the government that has the power to reestablish education in the public domain. This is not the government of Donald Trump nor the Democratic Party, but rather we must ensure a “We the People” government, by accepting the challenge to govern in our own name.
Holding government accountable to meet human needs is a necessary step, one that cannot be achieved piece-meal, school-by-school or even state-by-state. Forcing government to ensure the interests of people, instead of corporations requires a national movement to take over corporate property and make it public. Revolutionaries participate in this battle for 21st century education to guarantee that the new class attains the political power to direct society’s resources in the interest of humanity and the planet.
The fight for education and the basic necessities of life is the fight against the political and economic programs of fascism. If education, housing, food, health care, clean water and work itself remain commodities to be bought and sold, then corporations will dispossess humanity of them all. Once the new revolutionary class understands its strength, it will lead this political fight for a healthy and sustainable future for all.
September/October 2017 Vol27.Ed5
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