“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge,” said Albert Einstein. But to watch the Democrats and Republicans produce their one-size-fits-all education “reform” is to see joy, creativity, and knowledge swept out the door.
Public education is under bipartisan attack. Schools are becoming mere test preparation centers; teaching means “teaching to the test.” Students are finding that art, music, and physical education are “frills.” In Arizona public schools, ethnic studies is now illegal. In higher education, women’s studies are increasingly on the chopping block.
George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, covering elementary and secondary education, directed states to assign schools a “failing” grade for poor scores on tests. Failing schools can be shut down or handed over to private management firms, voiding union contracts in the process. NCLB allows the Pentagon to recruit in the public schools. Failing schools are a favorite target for the military merchants.
Based on not one ounce of scientific understanding about education, school failure rates keep rising. Two years into Barack Obama’s presidency, a record 48 percent of public schools were labeled as failing, surpassing Bush’s 2006 mark of 26 percent.
Adding to this disaster, Obama’s own Race to the Top bribes states by allocating federal dollars only if they adopt corporate-initiated standards and testing, and use the test scores for teacher evaluation. Recently, New York City punitively released these teacher evaluations to the media, despite numerous errors in the system.
The Bush-Obama agenda will only reinforce the country’s deep social and economic divisions. Over 20 percent of U.S. children live in poverty, and it is no surprise that failing schools tend to be in poorer communities.
Schuyler Kempton is a 14-year-old student in Poughkeepsie, New York, an activist in the group Unite Left!, and an endorser of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) write-in campaign of Stephen Durham of New York City for president and Christina López of Seattle for vice president. Kempton observes, “The idea that we all have an equal shot at success in this country is flawed, because, right from the start, children receive very unequal educations, depending on their economic conditions. That inequality continues on up through higher education and in their jobs.”
Why such an anti-education thrust in education? Because policy never was about the needs of students for a good, well-rounded education that would help them gain knowledge, become analytical thinkers, and develop their full potential. It has been and is about the profit needs of corporate America — about the kind of work force big business needs at a given time.
The make-or-break testing and the flawed, rigid standards of NCLB and Race to the Top only apply to public schools, where working-class children get educated, not to the largely unaffordable private schools. The entire plan is the product of corporate think tanks and associations like the Business Roundtable.
The twin capitalist parties have eagerly accommodated the wishes of the CEOs. Business wants public schools to manufacture a new kind of worker – a “knowledge” worker – to better compete with European and Asian corporations in today’s high-tech world.
Relentless testing is all about honing the labor skills corporate America feels it needs for this rat race. Like fighting imperialist wars, oppressive education and a future as digital wage slaves are the lot of working-class kids.
Furthermore, in an increasingly failing economy, financiers are looking to privatize public wealth — schools, transportation, Medicare and Medicaid — to give them more investment opportunities. In this context, the capitalist rulers are pushing publicly funded but privately owned charter schools. In the middle of horrendous cuts to every social necessity, Obama’s midterm budget called for a 25 percent increase to charter schools, a raise to $52 million.
Presidential candidate Durham is the FSP organizer for New York City. There, he says, “School closings and the push for charter schools are concentrated in communities like Harlem. In addition to the privatization of education and attack on the teachers’ unions, this is a land grab by Wall Street-financed developers out to make profits off prime urban real estate.”
No wonder the outrage and protests.
Last July, a group of militant educators, parents, and students formed Save Our Schools (SOS). Thousands of teachers, public workers, and their supporters rallied in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to the corporate control of public education.
Bess Altwerger is an educator of teachers, a co-founder of SOS, and another endorser of the Durham-López campaign. She says, “Teachers, families, and students are uniting to take back public education from the politicians and corporations. They are demonstrating in the streets of their state capitals, in Washington, D.C., and in front of the Department of Education.”
Vice-presidential contender López, a leader in a three-year fight in Washington state against budget cuts, applauds the activism of educators, students, and community members in defense of public education. Moreover, says López, these are the groups who should be the “deciders” when it comes to education: “Teachers, students, and parents should be in charge of what is taught in the schools, not officials with a pro-corporate political agenda.”
The Freedom Socialist Party believes that education is a right, not a privilege. Therefore, López and Durham stand for:
- Free, quality education for all – including undocumented immigrants and their children — from pre-school through trade school or college, including postgraduate studies.
- Retaining and expanding ethnic and women’s studies.
- Affirmative action in student placement and education hiring.
- An end to punitive high-stakes testing.
- Scientifically based sex education in all schools.
- No public funds for private schools; strict separation of church and state in education.
- Taxing corporations and ending U.S. wars and occupations to ensure generous and equitable funding for all public schools.
- No military recruiting in public schools.
- Cancellation of all student loan debts.
- A stop to the scapegoating of teachers; defense of the union rights of these crucial and dedicated public workers.
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