Subj: PT/TP 11-03 Public education promises the world!
Date: 11/11/03 11:56:41 PM Eastern Standard Time
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People's Tribune/Tribuno del Pueblo (Online Edition)
Vol. 30 No. 15/ November, 2003
P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654
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
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
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
Capitalism aims to privatize every service that governments
traditionally have provided to the public. This is a global
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.
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
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
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
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 [log in to unmask]]
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This article originated in the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE/TRIBUNO DEL PUEBLO
(Online Edition), Vol. 30 No. 15/ November, 2003; P.O. Box 3524,
Chicago, IL 60654; Email: [log in to unmask]; http://www.lrna.org
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