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Commentary: Children & Education
Rally, Comrades!:

Public education promises the world!

By Steven Miller

The modern world is inconceivable without public education. For over two millennia, human existence could hardly exceed the limits of agricultural production. Industrial production demanded an educated workforce and produced the workers and scientists who completely changed the world in little more than a century.

Public schools have taught six generations of Americans the same, fundamental social values that Americans have always fought for : "play fair," "share," "if you break it clean it up," and "everybody gets to play." Today these moral values are opposed by many privileged, powerful and belligerent forces in our society.

The capitalists also recognize that the $350 billion spent yearly in the US alone for K-12 schools could be reorganized into a modern investment market. Thus, a strategy is being implemented to privatize the public schools of this country and the world. This is a crime against the rights of children and their families.

Public education has always offered the promise of liberating the human mind. Computers and advanced technology offers to expand the concept of public education worldwide in ways never before dreamed of. It offers the key to transformation in dangerous times. It is also a target.

How is this historic battle currently playing itself out?

The Privatizers Attack

Within one month of 9/11, President Bush steered over $200 billion of tax money directly into the hands of corporations to "get the economy moving again." Bush also made a point of announcing that his agenda for education was still on the table.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) came into effect in 2002. It set rigid goals and unprecedented changes that every school must meet or the school will face punitive sanctions. Yet Bush appropriated no money to support them. This amounts to deliberate sabotage.

The testing demands alone will force school districts to divert massive amounts of money from the classroom into the hands of private educational testing companies. The sanctions include firing teachers, abolishing schools and even school districts, and spending Title I funding (the largest and most important federal commitment to poor children) for private services.

The White House itself estimates that 90 percent of the schools in North Carolina and Texas would be labeled as "failing schools." These are the states that supposedly have made the most progress in testing. Imagine the social destruction that will occur until the sanctions end in 2014.

The purpose of NCLB is to set up public schools for privatization. Once schools start failing, privatization will be raised as the only possible option. Privatizers already claim that "business" and the "free market" can do a better job of educating children, can do it cheaper and can make a profit by keeping the difference. They actually expect us to believe that the future will become better and more stable if we end public education.

How dumb do they think we are? Almost every state has a budget deficit and is facing the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Education is being cut everywhere. School nurses, art, music and reading programs and even summer school are vanishing. Now the so-called "educational delivery service corporations" are actually telling us that they can do a better job with underfunded schools -- and still make a profit.

The Civil Rights Movement fought to integrate public schools as a step towards equal, quality public education for all. Now those whose children go to private schools claim that they alone have the solution for public schools. They want us to forget the battles of the past.

Neither Conscience nor Soul

Corporations operate on the principle that they have a perfect right to control the schools. "Education today, like health care 30 years ago, is a vast, highly localized industry ripe for change," Mary Tanner, managing director of Lehman Brothers, said at the Education Industry Conference in New York City in 1996. "The emergence of HMOs and hospital management companies created enormous opportunities for investors. We believe the same pattern will occur in education."(1)

Putting it even more succinctly, Lehman Brothers sent a brochure to their clients stating: "We've taken over the health care system; we've taken over the prison system; our next big target is the education system. We will privatize it and make a lot of money."(2)

Since 1991, more than $6 billion in private capital has been invested in the "education market." Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with making a private profit from public education?

Capitalism aims to privatize every service that governments traditionally have provided to the public. This is a global phenomenon.

Computers, telecommunications and the internet offer to eliminate the barriers of time and space. The corporations which control them recognize that a company based in New York or New Delhi could offer curriculum, testing or books anywhere in the world. Once schools are organized into corporate entities by privatization they can start making real money.

Whether it is the IMF demanding that Argentina cut wages, or energy companies seizing $40 billion of the public's money in California, the game plan is the same. Such things as electricity, energy, national parks, health care and water used to be provided by governments for free or at little cost. To get what they want, the capitalists underfund the service, create an uproar and declare a crisis, claim that privatization can do a better job, deregulate, and divert money to private corporations.

Clashing Visions

Public schools were originally supported by capitalists because they provided a free and well-trained workforce. In 1914, the National Association of Manufacturers demanded that public schools do a better job of preparing students for what Bill Clinton now likes to call "the world of work."

At the time, William Maxwell, the New York City school superintendent, pointed out that corporations had special interests in public schools. "As a first step to secure their ends, they and their agents in unmeasured terms denounced the public schools as behind the age, as inefficient, as lacking in public spirit. The arrogance of the manufacturers was in demanding that the state should proceed to pay the bills for training their workmen."(3)

For the last 50 years, public education has been one of only two public mandates -- rights that are guaranteed by the government and are accessible to every person, regardless of income. The people of the United States have recognized that providing public education is one of the main public responsibilities of government. Social Security is the other.

Privatizing both is openly discussed every day by a system that openly defines its mission as helping corporations above everything. This step requires destroying the public's expectation that they have any rights whatsoever. How do you privatize and commodify services like public education anyway? The key is to deny public access. You just limit abundance. Then you can sell it because you have created a market.

The same people who trumpet that they could run the schools so much better have brought us Enron, WorldCom, the Dot-Com bust, the looting of $1 trillion from the Pentagon, the plunder of California's electricity and so much more. In a classic case, HealthCorp, the family corporation of Republican Senate leader Bill Frist, has paid millions in fines for embezzling government money in Medicare.

Corporate crime is as American as cherry pie. Now a class that defends child labor claims to be worthy of this most important public trust. They actually propose that, in order for society to move forward, we must eliminate public education!

Capitalism proudly proclaims that it will not support what it cannot exploit. Thus education becomes an economic issue. No capitalist is going to keep a machine that he doesn't use, nor maintain an idle worker. Neither are they going to support education that they cannot profit from.

The Social Meaning of Public Education

Public education is about far more than just education. Public schools are where we learn what publicness really means. It is the best institution we have for discussing children and their future. Unlike corporations, public schools must make public reports. These discussions should be open and public since they are about all of us -- and our greatest wealth.

Public education also guarantees that our country will maintain the progressive direction that is inherent in the Declaration of Independence. This document defined "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as the goal of the government. Many things, like real equal opportunity, are still unfinished business.

A country dominated by pay-to-attend, private schools will certainly not educate the poor, soon to become the largest section of society. Private education always leads to a massive increase in social inequality. The United States was the first country to establish public education. It now threatens to be the first country to eliminate it.

A Better World's In Birth

We are rapidly developing the technology to amplify human capabilities in marvelous and entirely new ways. Computers and the Internet offer every human being the chance to open their mind to social, intellectual and cultural richness more than ever before in history. For millennia humans have known that you can't be a happy person without education, and now it's at hand for everyone.

Is it a tremendous historical irony, then, that just as this abundance is easily distributed, the rulers of society are moving to take it away? Or does this reveal deeper forces at work?

The development of science and technology, of electronic hardware and software has now become routine. They will leap forward and leap again, and thus development has become regularized. The deeper issue is that the social use of this revolutionary technology demands new and unlimited forms of cooperation and thus new forms of social power.

The most important human interactions have always been communal. It is the shriveled and paltry vision of capitalism that forces them rigidly and uselessly into monetary exchanges measured by "individual success." The capitalists want to privatize education for purposes of profit and social control, but they can see none of the wonders of a world where education is truly public and a weapon for all.

Public education -- in its broadest and most ramified form -- is fused with community and cooperation, art and science. Its job is to dazzle the mind, point out the truth, and help each person open themselves up to their greatest potential.

The real irony is that now teaching is the most revolutionary endeavor. Real teaching -- very public education -- must lift the veil. It must reveal how the public control of the tools of society will slay the dragon and open the world's abundance to all.

These teachings must come from public educators, parents, people in every walk of life, the Griots, those with the wisdom of elders, people who want to liberate the human spirit and culture, everyone who recognizes the real potentiality of consciousness, the righteous youth. We have no choice but to open the door to the new world that is at hand. This is a fight for the future!


1. Barbara Miner. "For-Profits Target Education," Rethinking Schools, Spring, 2002, p. 2.

2. Noam Chomsky (2000) "Assaulting Solidarity -- Privatizing Education."

3. Gerald W Bracey. What You Should Know About the War Against America's Public Schools, 2003, p. 17.

Steven Miller has taught high school science in the Oakland public schools for 18 years. He is available to speak through Speakers for a New America, 1-800-691-6888 or speakers (at) lrna.org.

The mission of Rally, Comrades! is to disseminate an objective estimate of the current situation, the questions of the day and the developing class struggle, and an understanding of the line of march of the revolutionary process. It is a vehicle to reach and communicate with other revolutionaries, to engage them in debate and discussion, and to provide a forum for that debate. To contact Rally, Comrades!, send email to rally (at) lrna.org
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