What Kind of Schools?

February 26, 2007

On February 18, the Chicago Branch of the Workers Party organized a meeting to discuss the problems facing the public schools. The meeting is part of the work of mobilizing people to join in the petition drive, initiated by the Committee to Defend Public Education, calling on the government to "Invest in Public Education." Many teachers, students and workers participated and brought forward a wealth of experience about the conditions of the schools and the struggles to improve public education.

Below are some of the main points.

1) Government, at all levels, is systematically disinvesting and underfunding public education.

People gave many facts and examples to show what this underfunding means for students - unsafe buildings, overcrowded classrooms, curriculum cutbacks, denial of special educational needs, etc.

The bottom line is that tens of millions of children and youth, especially the children of the workers and oppressed minorities, are denied their right to an education. A dual school system - a system of separate and unequal education - exists. The children of the rich attend private schools or fully-funded and equipped public schools while the children of the poor are condemned to rundown, overcrowded institutions which are more like "holding areas" than schools. Thus, the schools systematically track the vast majority of the workers into dead-end jobs or the military.

2) Education is one of the most fundamental needs and rights of human beings. We need education to develop our mental and physical capacities and to absorb the accumulated knowledge - the common heritage - of humanity. History and science, art and music, technology and philosophy belong to all human beings.

The monopolization of knowledge and the means of education by the exploiting classes was part of their expropriation of the means of production and their usurpation of political power. Today, the government, by denying working people their right to education, is condemning them to capitalist exploitation and economic deprivation as well as suppressing the development of their human faculties.

3) For more than 200 years, the working people have fought to claim their right to education. We have forced the government to create a nationwide system of public schools. Public investment in education gives people the means needed to guarantee, in practice, the right to education. This is a real victory for the political economy of the working class because it has restricted the sphere of operation of commodity production and profit-making and put part of the national economy in service of the people.

Today, however, the government, through programs like vouchers and charter schools, is rapidly privatizing public education. The educational infrastructure, created through generations of public investments, as well as the public funds earmarked every year for the schools are being given away to the private sector.

Privatization is turning the clock back towards feudalism, when education was reserved as a privilege for the rich and powerful.

4) Modern schools arose as part of the struggle for enlightenment, as places for the study of science and social progress. But today, the government and school authorities are imposing an official, government-sanctioned curriculum. One of the most glaring examples of this is the imposition of junior ROTC and military academies in the schools. More than 3 million public school students, including children as young as 10 years old, are enrolled in such military courses.

Government-sponsored curriculum, like privatization, strikes directly against freedom of conscience and inquiry which are cornerstones of a modern, enlightened educational system.

The underlying theme of the meeting was that a sharp political struggle is developing between the capitalist class and the government, on one side, and the working people, on the other, over our country's schools.

Will the public schools be destroyed and replaced by a system of privatized and privileged education? Will the vast majority of our children be condemned to separate and unequal schools and tracked into dead-end jobs and/or military service? Will an enlightened school curriculum based on science and the ideals of social progress be smothered by an official, government curriculum extolling militarism, chauvinism and exploitation?

It is up to the working people to reclaim and modernize the schools by preserving their public character and carrying through the struggle for equality and enlightenment.