Schools should be wondrous centers of discovery and learning. They should be places where students develop life-long interests and abilities, where they gain confidence and knowledge, where they find cherished friends and mentors, and where they feel protected and cared for.
But public schools under capitalism fail on every count. First, they sort students into racist tiers to determine who will obtain the better-paying jobs at the top, and who will be left with the least desirable, lowest-paying jobs at the bottom. Put simply, schools define who will occupy the corporate executive suites and who will clean them! They also decide who will be the unemployed pittied against other workers; who will be the soldiers to kill workers around the world.
Of course, there are still plenty of people in the middle, including teachers. But the number of good-paying jobs in the U.S. is dwindling, while low-paying jobs (many with few or no benefits) are on the rise. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 30 occupations with the most projected job growth between 2012 and 2022, only five require a four-year college degree.
Jobs requiring master’s degrees are not exempt from these cuts. More than 75 percent of college teachers are on non-tenure (non-permanent) tracks. Many adjunct professors earn poverty-level wages with no healthcare benefits.
Starving the Schools
For the capitalists, it makes no sense to fund a school system generating lots of college-ready graduates when fewer and fewer jobs call for a college education. In fact, the bosses are understandably nervous at the prospect of millions of college graduates who are frustrated and angry about their limited future.
Since it costs more than $600 billion a year to operate K-12 public schools, and money is needed for war preparations with its imperialist rivals, the U.S. ruling class can kill two birds with one stone. By cutting spending on public schools, it will turn out more workers for the low-paying jobs that U.S. capitalism is creating. To deflect the anger of young workers, they need to sell the racist myth that people have disappointing careers because they weren’t capable of “higher-level” thinking — or because they didn’t work hard enough in school.
Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain pre-recession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
The New York Times (12/22/13) goes on to describe what the loss of school positions has meant for students: larger class sizes, reduced services, fewer guidance counselors and reading and math specialists.
The decay in public school conditions — on top of the higher fail rate in the Common Core exams — means that most students will be labeled unprepared for college. In New York City, for example, only 22.2 percent of 2013 graduates were considered “college-ready” by Department of Education standards. But it gets worse: In the bottom half of New York’s high schools — that’s 170 schools — only 4.5 percent of the graduates were college-ready.
Most students in these low-performing schools are black and Latino. The public school sorting machine is racist at its core. This continues the growing stream of black, Latino, and immigrant workers who suffer the racist super-exploitation that nets U.S. capitalists hundreds of billions of dollars in super-profits. Meanwhile, this deterioration of the entire school system drags down the conditions for white working-class students as well.
The Game is Rigged
U.S. bosses like to pretend that schools offer “equal opportunity” for all. In reality, affluent families gain a huge advantage by sending their children to expensive private schools or public schools in wealthy suburbs. Because most of public school funding comes from local property taxes, the result is stunning inequality. In New York State, the wealthiest 10 percent of school districts spent an average of $35,690 per student in 2012-2013, nearly double the average spending ($19,823) for the poorest 10 percent of districts.
Tests such as the SAT and ACT and standardized exams play a central role in sorting students for the top colleges and the best jobs. When students do poorly, they are told it’s because they are dumb or lazy and therefore deserve a future of low-wage and precarious labor.
The politicians, at the bidding of their corporate masters, recently added a new wrinkle. They have convinced large sections of the public that teachers — and not the big capitalists — are responsible for their children’s lack of success on the exams. Therefore, the bosses’ argument goes, teachers are undeserving of tenure, seniority rights, decent pensions or wage increases.
Teaching Obedience and Patriotism
The second crucial aspect of schools under capitalism is ideological indoctrination. Schools say they teach critical thinking; if students were really taught “critical thinking,” they would rebel against a social order in which 400 U.S. households have as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. They’d refuse to accept a “global war on terror” based on lies, a war that masks inter-imperialist rivalry to control valuable resources, markets and investment opportunities. They’d organize against a political system where Big Money calls the shots, and where the richest companies get what they want and the rest of us endure wage freezes, lower benefits and high permanent unemployment.
Instead of critical thinking, students are taught passivity from an early age. They are taught to follow orders and be patriotic and support the U.S. military, no matter how many countries it invades or how many workers it displaces or kills. Students are told they are responsible for their own success or failure, which is the rulers’ strategy to build individualism and hide the system’s failure to provide meaningful, rewarding jobs for all. Finally, students are taught the anti-communist myth that only capitalism works and any attempt to build an egalitarian society must fail.
This last bit of instruction is particularly important as more and more people are beginning to question capitalism. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 49 percent of young adults (ages 18 – 29) have a positive view of “socialism,” while only 43 percent had a negative opinion. In this age group, more people support anti-capitalist ideas. This is an indication that youth are open to communism. Let’s take this oppurtunity to build a movement for communism and explain to our friends the differences between socialism (state capitalism) and communism (see Our Fight on page 2).
Teachers in Progressive Labor Party tell students the truth: that they are bright and capable of tremendous learning. In fact, they can learn how to run society, not for the profit of a few but for the benefit of the entire working class. A critical part of that understanding lies in anti-racism and multi-racial unity. When students and workers grasp the fundamental truth that our class can transform society into one that runs by the communist principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs,” we will have aced the most important test of all.
Comment: those are interesting stats, so I wish they would give the source so one could look them up to check them for acccuracy and context. It certainly does seem like those in charge of education in the US today simply ignore the enormous number of jobs that we see being done all around us that require not even a fifth-grade education, and are being done very well be many folks who probably didn’t really graduate from the fifth grade, because their schools were in El Salvador or Guatemala or Mexico. Or else they have an actual BA or MA or a PhD (from here OR abroad) and are waiting tables, bartending, driving cabs, parking cars, or picking fruit or cutting lawns and painting houses.
We should remember that a lot of the youth revolting in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East were highly educated, but with no jobs. One big difference: overseas, the degree was gratis to the student. Here, a student can end up with a debt as high as $100K when finished, depending where. And many people rack up tens of thousands in debt and at the end, have no certificate at all, especially at the online “universities”. Debt that they can never discharge, even by going into the Army or even by declaring bankruptcy. A business can write off huge amounts of its debt by going through bankruptcy, cut its workers’ wages, slash their health care or pension benefits, and weasel out of all sorts of other contractual debt and emer5ge at the end with NO hit whatsoever to the bank accounts of its officers. But not a person. Corporations are not only people today, they have way more rights than you or me.