Privatizing public schools prioritizes profit over learning – People’s World
DETROIT— Always motivated to influence the conscience of working people, the capitalists have launched repeated attacks on public education. In their eyes, schools are little more than a breeding ground for “critical race theories” and evolving gender identity norms. Public schools focus on destroying traditional values first and teaching basic math second, so corporate media companies would have you believe.
The recent wave of attacks on critical race theory and sex education is part of a larger political agenda, according to retired professor and author Anita Waters. “What is this corporate agenda [does] it’s spinning the moral panic about what’s going on in your kids’ classroom,” Waters said. “And parents of children who are in elementary school are vulnerable to all these sorts of scare tactics.”
Billionaire-funded privatization programs rely on spreading “critical race theory” fantasies to propel this agenda.
In Michigan, the DeVos family is funding the “Let MI Kids Learn” ballot initiative to convince voters that giving money to private schools is in their best interests. Teachers’ unions have expressed concern about the dangers this initiative and others like it pose to public education.
The DeVos family and their “corporate allies have tried many times before to push through voucher programs to fund public schools,” said David Hecker, president of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
Michigan schools are already struggling to meet the needs of children after years of budget cuts to provide tax breaks to the state’s wealthy.
The school and capitalism
Education trends research shows that school funding methods, curricula, and attitudes toward students tend to replicate existing class, racial, and gender hierarchies. Girls are trained to avoid science and math. Black and Latino students are treated as discipline issues. Working-class students of all races are trained to be subordinates, laborers, and menial laborers.
Despite massive resistance from educators, teachers’ unions and parents nationwide, reforms such as “No Child Left Behind” and the push for charter schools have only reinforced these glaring differences.
These reforms tightly tied school funding and teacher jobs to student performance on tests. These tests do not measure true intellectual or technical abilities, creativity or critical thinking. They measure the ability to follow rules and to memorize certain types of information.
Such reforms only train students to become obedient workers, capable of repetitive tasks and incapable of a critical mind that could pose a real threat to capitalist structures.
Many teachers entering the profession cite an inspirational teaching figure or mentor in their life as someone who inspired them to be active, critical learners. But today they are hemmed in by a narrow curriculum and rigid testing policies.
While the right has created authoritarian hijacks to fail to understand the real causes of the problem, neoliberal politicians are pointing the finger at teachers themselves. Unfortunately, teachers’ unions still get a lot of heat for their goal of protecting teachers as workers.
When teachers’ unions struggled to protect school teachers, students and families from COVID infections, the Trump administration threatened to cut federal resources unless districts forced teachers and students to return to class in the fall of 2020. It was in the depths of a pandemic that ultimately claimed the lives of over a million people.
Democratic politicians like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have taken a “pro-teacher, anti-union” stance, casting teachers and their units as collective bargaining scapegoats for public education cuts and failures. terrible policies that deny the creativity and independence of students as learners.
From the perspective of the ruling class, the education system is not broken; it works as expected. In a capitalist society that depends on reproducing a working class that makes up 70% of the adult working-age population, severe barriers to the highest quality educational resources are the norm.
Public data reveals that more than half of freshmen at the University of Michigan come from households in the highest income brackets. Fake universities like Trump University or corrupt and predatory institutions like Corinthian Colleges use high-pressure advertising tactics that target vulnerable populations. They further degrade the ability to access quality education.
The school-to-prison pipeline, low levels of college readiness, and huge costs for colleges and universities combine to create a gigantic contradiction.
In the United States, education is presented as a vector of social ascent. In reality, most working class people are denied keys to this vehicle. This is no accident, and working-class children and young adults cannot be blamed either. This is a deliberate educational policy.
In 2019, the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reported that 43 million adults in the United States had low literacy skills. Experts define literacy as “the ability to understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential.” However, this definition is notoriously inadequate, as it refers to Grade 4 reading skills as the baseline.
Further analysis reveals that 54% of American adults read English below a 6th grade level. Only about a third of these people were born outside the United States. In other words, large swaths of the adult population cannot do well on a sixth-grade reading test. Can they truly engage and participate in society in a way that enables them to achieve self-determined goals? Or are their goals already narrowly defined for them? It is reasonable to see that sixth grade literacy is not the best yardstick for the highest possible technical and cultural ability of a population.
Measures of literacy rates in the United States compare unfavorably with those of other developed countries, such as Japan, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Workers in retail, office and similar services tend to score well below national or international averages on literacy and numeracy tests. Structurally segregated by race and driven by economic inequality, education, as it is conceived, is designed to limit the technical and cultural development of the working class.
Part of the problem is the spending priorities set by the American capitalist class. The education of children from working-class families is not a priority. Instead, the dominant, bipartisan goal of the US government is military spending and mass incarceration. At more than $800 billion in 2022, U.S. military spending has exceeded total local, state, and federal government spending on K-12 education. With 4% of the world’s population, the United States spends more than twice per capita on its military than China, a country four times more populous than the United States.
Additionally, the Urban Institute reports that between 1977 and 2014, the growth in public spending on mass incarceration (police, courts, prisons, etc.) far exceeded the growth in education spending. States continue to pay much higher rates per inmate than elementary or high school students.
The priorities of the American capitalist class focus on the role of the United States as the main imperialist power (if in decline). They fear working-class uprisings and cannot appropriately deal with social issues such as poverty, health care needs, environmental issues, housing shortages, and unemployment. Policing and mass incarceration seem to them to be better solutions.
The struggle for an education system that prioritizes the highest possible technical and cultural capacity of working class youth and adults is a decisive element of the class struggle. Supporting the efforts of education-related unions – teachers, staff, professors and civil servants – is an essential feature of building the power of our whole class.
Deepening equality of access and outcomes depends on protecting the public status of the lion’s share of the system. This depends on combating racial segregation of resources and overcoming cultural biases that reserve certain educational tracks for specific genders, races or social classes.