There are millions of working-class people who agree that public education, despite all its problems, is a historic gain that must be defended. But the fight to stop the “reform” agenda, which could spell the end of public education as it has existed in the U.S., inevitably raises the question of what kind of education system is actually needed. So, while stating clearly what we are against, we also need to define what we are for.
In our opinion, providing a truly rounded education for working-class youth, in fact for anybody, is not possible under capitalism. Of course, this is not to deny the enormously beneficial impact on young people of the hard work done by the hundreds of thousands of dedicated educators in this country. At the same time, though, the education system is inevitably deeply marked by the class and racial divisions of capitalist society. The needs of the market will always deform education, despite resistance.
A socialist society would begin by rejecting the education through regimentation model that increasingly dominates U.S. education and seek to develop the knowledge, talents and independence of young people through hands-on exploration of the world. Critical thinking, debate and the scientific method would be valued above all. Students would spend far more time outside the classroom than they do today and school buildings would become centers for the ongoing education and cultural development of the whole community.
In the 19th century, Karl Marx argued for “polytechnical education,” linking schooling with the real world of production. He believed this could give real relevance to education and help overcome the division between those who “labored” and those who “thought.” This idea has nothing in common with the abomination of child labor. Rather, the purpose of education as Marx saw it was that “the partially developed individual, who is merely the bearer of one specialized social function, must be replaced by the totally developed individual,” (Capital, Vol. I). We agree.
But despite the severe limitations to genuine progressive education reform under capitalism, this does not in any way mean that we should be passive. Defeating the education reform agenda is possible despite the powerful forces we are up against, and it would be a victory of enormous significance in rallying working-class people to defend what they have and fight for a better future. It would raise people’s sights, and for that reason alone we are passionately committed to winning this struggle. We therefore fight for every real progressive reform, no matter how limited, which could make our schools better while articulating the need for a socialist alternative to capitalism, for an economic system based on the needs of society rather than the profits of a few.
Here, then, are the key points of our education program:
A Socialist Platform for Education
- No budget cuts and no layoffs. We need to build a mass movement not only to stop further cuts but to restore all the cuts already made to education and social services. The resources to accomplish this could be found by massive cuts to the permanent war budget and taxing the largest corporations: Amazon, Microsoft, and Wall Street. To those who say that we must all sacrifice and learn to do “more with less” or that the money just isn’t there, we say: Jeff Bezos is the richest single person in modern history, with a net worth of over $150 billion, about three times what a federal free-college-education-for-all program would cost!!
- Free, high quality education for all from preschool through college. We need a significant expansion of the education workforce to dramatically reduce class size and create truly universal access to pre-kindergarten. Full funding for social service programs in schools including trained counselors and school psychologists. All k-12 schools should have art, language, and music programs for all students every year. These steps would do infinitely more to improve the quality of education than all the corporate “reforms” pushed in recent years.
- Fund education on an equal per-capita basis, regardless of the community. End the funding of k-12 education through local property taxes. Contrary to the corporate education reform crowd, what ails education is first and foremost the vastly unequal resources that are invested in public schools in working-class and especially poor communities as opposed to the public schools which serve the upper middle class (the truly rich generally don’t send their children to public schools).
- End high stakes testing. We are not opposed to all forms of testing although in general there is far too much “standards based” testing going on in our schools. What we completely oppose is the reduction of the whole school year to a couple of tests which are then used to determine which schools are “failing” and which get funded; which educators gets tenure and how much they get paid (merit pay); as well as who gets fired.
- End the attacks on teacher unions. Teachers and other public sector workers should have the right to strike – which they don’t in 35 states. For decades, public sector workers’ pensions and health benefits have been under attack. The argument is made that most private sector workers don’t have these “privileges.” We believe that all workers should be guaranteed a living wage and a defined benefit pension and we call for a national, publicly funded single payer health care system.
- For a serious political strategy to defend public education. We can’t rely on politicians who pay lip service to education while taking corporate money. In order to win the political battle, the movements of rank-and-file educators at the district and state levels need to work alongside other labor activists and young people to build a new independent political force that that stands boldly for the interests of working people including on a platform of taxing the super-rich to fully fund schools and social services!
- Stop privatizing education; a moratorium on further charter schools. Open the charter school books to public scrutiny. This is public money. Bring the worst charter schools back under direct public control. Full union rights for all workers in charter schools.
- For an authentic, progressive national curriculum. This requires meaningful input from educators, parents and students. It means promoting critical thinking, the application of the scientific method and a much more honest interaction with history and the world outside school buildings. All students have the right to learn about their own culture and those of their peers, including a truthful history of the land they stand on and the people who built everything above it. For expanded anti-bullying and culturally responsive curriculum promoting LGBTQ equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. For scientific sex education and access to birth control and reproductive services.
- Against the re-segregation of schools and the school-to-prison pipeline! We are for a focus on restorative justice to address conflicts between students as part of a less punitive approach to discipline. There should be recruitment and retention plans for minority educators across the country so that all students are taught by a diverse group of people.
- Demilitarize public schools and the police! Schools should have democratically elected committees to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff. These committees should have a controlling oversight over all measures pertaining to health and safety, including fully funded, wrap-around social work and counseling services as well as the power to decide what physical measures are needed to protect both students and staff.
- For democratic control of schools by teachers, parents, and students. No to “mayoral control” schemes. For principals elected by parents and staff. Without democratic control over layoffs and staff reductions, principals will continue to fire educators they don’t like including union activists.