Classroom and Class War

Mikhail Tillman, Rise! Magazine

Most people in the world would endorse the idea of each person beginning their life on an equal playing field. Whether a child is born into a family that’s rich or one that’s poor, they should have the same opportunities to advance. No child should be unable to receive an education, and the quality of that education shouldn’t be determined by things like race, class, or creed. Because of this idea, the United States was one of the first countries to establish plentiful, free, and public schools. This isn’t only a humanitarian issue, either. For an advanced industrial economy to function smoothly, we need a workforce that’s trained and intelligent, and we need a way to ensure their training is of a certain quality. Those favoring the system in the United States would make the claim that this principle remains true today. They would claim that anyone can make it in  America as long as they’re willing to work hard, and that though our public schools are in trouble, they’re in trouble for everyone, regardless of class.

Unfortunately, the class division in our society is pervasive, and affects our children as much as it does us. Parents who have the money can easily pay for a better education than the mass of people, making the playing field very uneven. Even if rich parents send their kids to public schools, they’ll likely get a higher quality education. The way that public schools raise most of their funds is through property tax within the community. This means that higher value property in a district results in higher tax revenue for that districts schools. If you live in an impoverished neighborhood where people don’t own their homes or live in homes of poor quality, this quality will be reflected in the schools. The same goes for a community whose citizens live in large, expensive homes with multiple automobiles. Also, since poorer neighborhoods tend to be more densely packed than their wealthy counterparts, the meager funding the schools can scrounge up has to be spent on a greater number of students. Quality of education in public schools is determined largely by the wealth of the students families, making the already economically disadvantaged children educationally disadvantaged as well.

So why don’t the politicians fix this gross inequality that preys upon the weakest and most vulnerable members of our community? Surely, if they’re not willing to redistribute wealth, they’re at least willing to live up to the country’s promise of an equal start. Well, they don’t seem to care all that much, mostly because their kids aren’t the ones being affected. For one, members of the legislature are likely to be living in very rich communities with well funded public schools. The average net worth of a member of congress is one million dollars, making them vastly wealthier than the average citizen, 65% of whom have a net worth under $100,000. Although they have access to better public schooling, almost half of American lawmakers choose not to use them. In the House of Representatives, 41% send their children to private schools. In the Senate it’s 46%. How can we expect our public schools to be better funded when half of those in a position to improve them have no stake in their improvement? The ruling class doesn’t feel the need to reform public education because their class has the best education money can buy. Of course, they do periodically pass bills in regards to education, but are these reforms beneficial?

There have been two major educational reform bills in recent years. The first act, under the Bush administration, ironically called No Child Left Behind is almost universally criticized. The bill made federal public school funding dependant on the results of arbitrary yearly tests. So if your school is under-performing, bad news, things will almost certainly get worse. The bill was also supposed to give parents more choice in educational institutions. “Choice” being spoken with a hiss and the rubbing together of hands. The second reform bill, passed under Obama, was called Race to the Top. This bill forces states to compete with each other for federal grants. This has led to many cases of data-mining. Schools, especially those that are privately run, remove students who they believe will do poorly on the tests to guarantee funding. This trend results in students who are having trouble not to be focused on, but cast aside. A student who struggles is put in an even worse position. So the solutions offered to us by the bourgeoisie are the same solutions as always; more competition and privatization. These solutions don’t increase the standard of education, because they aren’t meant to. These policies are put in place to destroy teachers unions, to move education out of the public sector, and allow capitalists to make a quick buck off of a child’s education. The rise of the charter school is the first step in this process.

So what is a charter school? While a public school is both funded and operated by the state, this is only half true for charter schools. A charter school still receives public money, but the decision making process is almost completely out of public hands. Much like any other capitalist industry, those affected by decisions are not the ones making them, they are made by the investors. The profit motive, once injected into education, is held above it. While a public school is welcome to any child that wants to attend, a charter school can be more frugal in their decision making. For instance, charter schools almost universally reject children with disabilities. The turnover rate for teachers is also much higher than in public schools. Teachers working in charter schools are more likely to leave teaching altogether than those in the public sector. They cite low pay, long hours, and little provided resources as their reasons. Because more experienced teachers provide higher quality teaching, this doesn’t bode well for the children. Even though claims are often made to the contrary, charter schools statistically don’t perform any higher than public ones, even with all of their deceitful and immoral practices designed to let them do so. This leads to the conclusion that charter schools likely perform worse than public, but because of their ability to pick and choose who attends and remove under-performers, they manage to keep their heads above water.

Another aspect of the quality of our children’s education is the quality of the teachers that instruct them. Highly educated people are increasingly less like to choose the field of education as their career. Why would someone who just finished getting a degree, now saddled with huge student loan debt, choose a low paying job with long hours? If education is your dream job, why teach in a public school when private schools pays so much better? All that’s required to teach in primary school in the U.S. is a Bachelor’s degree, whereas in Canada a Master’s is required. We could argue to simply change our standards to those of other industrialized societies, but this would decrease the number of teachers even further. Now instead of being saddled with four years worth of debt, it’s six, with the same low pay and long hours to look forward to. The accessibility of tertiary education is directly proportional to the quality of primary and secondary education.  Liberals often speak of increasing the “prestige” of teaching, but what does this mean? No specific steps to be taken are ever given, this is just a tactic to pass off a social and economic problem as a cultural one, outside of the political sphere. They often compare the prestige of teachers in Europe, who have high wages and strong unions, to the teachers in the U.S., with low pay and dying unions. What makes one more prestigious and effective than the other should be rather obvious.

We are not at all on a level playing field. In recent years, public access to preschool education in the U.S. has sharply decreased, even though it’s proven that attending preschool drastically influences how successful a child will be later in life. Preschools are simply too expensive for most, so those with money are the ones to get the advantage. These factors serve to reinforce and perpetuate the class character of our society. A quality education costs more money, leading to higher paying jobs, passing down access to education, and thusly economic position, hereditarily. Tuition costs for college is skyrocketing, especially in those prestigious private colleges that train the future bourgeoisie. Those with college educations are more likely to have kids that attend college, and with universities getting more and more expensive, the portion of the population that have access is decreasing. This is why student loan debt makes up the highest percentage of private debt in the country. Arguments can be made on anecdotes of the poor making it big, but these instances are few and far between. The truth is the rich will stay rich, and the poor will get poorer.

While public colleges do exist in the U.S., it seems like someone added “public” as a joke. In continental Europe public universities outnumber private ones, and the tuition, if there is any, is extremely low. Public universities are also often times more respected than their private counterparts. For example, in Finland, the country with the highest standards of education in the world, all universities are public and completely free of charge. In France, which also outperforms the United States, tuition is around €400 a year. Even Cuba outperforms the United States consistently, with a measly GDP in comparison with the massive U.S., it can still offer better education, and for free. So what does the country with the largest economy in the world and the richest people charge for a four-year college? An average of $30,000 annually for private, and $17,000 annually for public. How can we allow this to happen? The United States pushes huge fees onto the public for all forms of education, and is outperformed at every turn. Even though the U.S. government spends slightly more than the global average, its the under-achiever of the world. What the U.S. needs is to take a lesson from its European counterparts, and not in the category of prestige. The expensive private university is totally antithetical to an educated populace.

The solution is clear. As long as private schools in any form exist, public education will be pulled downward by them. If we wish to have an education system that functions, we must all have a stake in its functioning, especially those who don’t currently. The ability of the rich to buy their children’s education comes at the expense of the education of the children of the poor and working class. Resources should be allocated according to need, those schools that under-perform shouldn’t be penalized, they should be given special attention. Under-performance comes not only from under-funding, but from the existence of private alternatives themselves. Most qualified teachers are currently distributed to the rich, because we live in the economic and political system of the rich. If we want an equal start for all children, we must give them equal opportunities. Preschools must be mandatory, and for that to be accomplished they need to be publicly owned and operated, and available to all. Primary and secondary education should be equal in quality to all children, regardless of the economic position of their parents, and no child should be made to suffer because of conditions they had no part in making. Universities, because of how absolutely important they are to the society of today, should be free for all. Preventing a citizen from bettering themselves only prevents a country from reaping the effects of that betterment.

So abolish the private school! Not only that, but go further! We don’t want to simply perform averagely, we want the best educated children possible. We want education for everyone to benefit everyone. We must take the decision making power out of the hands of those whose only interest is to make a profit. The decision making in schools should be put into the hands of those who know education the best, the teachers. The teachers can better express the passion that led them to the teaching profession in the first place. They can begin to improve and innovate. Those who are affected by the decisions also must have a part in deciding, that is, the community at large. We put our trust in the teachers to give our children the best education possible, not some faceless businessmen. We put our trust in them because that’s the work they do, that’s what they’re trained to do and what they’re passionate about doing. The capitalists are not in the education business, they’re in the money making business, and that’s the only thing we can trust them to do. In every industry, if we want it to serve us, we must take the reigns. Those who do the work, any kind of work, alongside the people who are affected by the work being done, must and should decide how the work will be done.

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One response to “Classroom and Class War

  1. Pingback: Classrooms and Class War | The Michigan Socialist·

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