Notes from the Editors

Monthly Review, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Notes from the Editors


The U.S. working class was slow to respond to the hard times it faced during and after the Great Recession. Finally, however, in February 2011, workers in Wisconsin began the famous uprising that electrified the coun- try, revolting in large numbers against Governor Scott Walker's efforts to destroy the state's public employee labor unions. A few months later, the Occupy Wall Street movement spread from New York City to the rest of the nation and the world. Then, in September 2012, Chicago's public school teachers struck, in defiance of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's attempt to destroy the teachers' union and put the city's schools firmly on the path of neolib- eral austerity and privatization.

One thing that these three rebellions had in common is the growing aware- ness that economic and political power in the United States is firmly in the hands of a tiny minority of fantastically wealthy individuals whose avarice knows no bounds. These titans of finance want to eviscerate working men and women, making them as insecure as possible and totally dependent on the dog-eat-dog logic of the marketplace, while at the same time converting any and all aspects of life into opportunities for capital accumulation.

The public sector is still, despite the effort of capital to dismantle it wher- ever it is not subservient to the plutocracy, the one sanctuary people have against the depredations of the 1 percent. Through struggle, working men and women have succeeded in winning a modicum of health care and retirement security, as well as some guarantee that their children will be educated, all irrespective of the ability to pay for these essential services. They have also found decent employment opportunities in government, especially women and minorities. The public sector, then, is a partial barrier to the expansion of capital in that it both denies large sums of money to capitalists (social security funds, for example) and protects the workers in it from the vagaries of the labor market. It is thus not surprising that capital has gone on the offensive against government provision of whatever is beneficial to the working class.

A major war is now being waged by capital and its political allies against our public schools, especially those that serve poor and minority communities. Billionaires like Bill Gates and the Walton family have established organizations and contributed enormous sums of money to do two things. First, they seek to revolutionize the way in which students are taught. Here they have achieved great success, with two presidents enacting sweeping laws: No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Both condition federal aid to schools upon what has been described as "teaching to the test." Literature, art, music, and all criti- cal education are to be sacrificed so that children do well on standardized tests. Then, how schools and their teachers fare, including whether or not a school continues to exist, depends on students' test scores.

Second, these plutocrat "reformers" want to alter radically the way in which schools are organized. The best way to describe their aim is to say that they want public schools to resemble assembly lines, with students as outputs and teachers as assembly-line-like mechanisms who do not think or instill in their students the capacity to conceptualize critically and become active participants in a democratic society. And this Taylorization of schooling has a military-like component, with pupils expected to react to commands with rote discipline and respond unthinkingly like dogs to rewards for appropriate behavior. (See the astonishing article "The Silent Treatment: A Day in the Life of a Student in 'No Excuses' Land," in the excellent EduShyster blog, about a proposed charter school in the impoverished working-class town of Fall River, Massachusetts.) Needless to say, the achievement of these horrible goals is most likely to occur if the schools are privatized and the unions destroyed. …

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