Posted October 6, 2010
by Wesley Strong
On October 7th, Students and workers will be participating in the second National Day of Action to Defend Public Education. The actions on Thursday are the result of a summer of organizing and are part of the continuing struggle against private and for-profit education. From its beginning in California last year, the movement has spread nationally and echoed in the halls of schools from New York City, to New Orleans, to Chicago, and Los Angeles. Students and workers will take to the streets to challenge a bipartisan consensus that the market can solve the problems with public education.
This struggle is not specific to this time period, not even caused by the recent economic crisis. The crisis in public education has been going on for years: from the policies of Reaganomics or Neoliberal economics, policies of dismantling social support, putting the market in control of society, and turning all social functions in the direction that will provide the most corporate control and, in the end, the most profit. This assault has manifested in poor working class and urban districts throughout the country as their public schools are dismantled and handed over to private interests.
Public education is under attack from the big cities to the most rural areas in the country. It is under attack by the same people who have benefited from the bailouts paid for by US tax dollars, and who have been shipping jobs overseas for years. This recent crisis has only expedited the plan that was already being put in place.
The current crisis manifested in massive tuition and fee hikes on students in higher education, furloughs, layoffs, school closings, the growth of for profit education movements, the expansion of charter schools in urban districts, the use of mayoral control to replace Boards of Education (BoE) – particularly in urban districts, is intimately tied to the prevailing – and failed – economic policy of our time, Neoliberalism. Wall Street and many in Washington are seeking to use the crisis in education to target two specific groups – first, public sector/teacher unions; second communities, particularly people of color.
One of the ways these policies are playing out is in the Race to the Top Grant Program, which promotes merit pay, reshaping education to strictly train for the workplace, and increase the significance of standardized test scores as measure of progress for schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the architect of Race to the Top and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is the main voice pushing these reforms with strong support from Obama. Duncan said publicly that if he fails to get seven or eight urban school districts under mayoral control (where the mayor makes all the decisions and BoE reps are not elected), that he will consider his term a failure. On top of this, the Obama administration praises David Guggenheims new movie Waiting for Superman (Critique), which exaggerates the benefits of charter schools and ignores issues of funding, pay differential, among other things. The reality is charter schools have not been proven to be better than public schools, and their reliance on banks, hedge funds, and foundations draws into question what might happen if those institutions hit a crisis.
This policy also has an effect on higher education. Thought the assault on k-12 systems is much more apparent, the growth of for profit institutions, online schooling, and the drop of federal aid to students over the past thirty years has left graduating students with a debt that makes them scared to lose any job they might have and being left without the ability to pay back massive loans (Check out Default, a documentary on student debt). Higher Ed workers are also under a massive assault. Budget cuts under the auspices that we all suffer in a budget crisis have left workers without jobs, teachers without classrooms, and students with a lower quality education.
This assault on education, expedited by the recent crisis, is part of a long term push from economic elites to deform and take control over public systems, including education, for the purpose of dismantling them and making society reliant on the ups and downs of the market. They want to tie the entire society to the market, dismantling public education, leaving a small depleted system behind, as they have done in New Orleans.
The national platform for organizing and network building around October 7th and the broader public education defense movement, defeneducation.org, lists over thirty actions so far, and expects many to be sent in last minute, and many more to happen without any notice. It is expected that October 7th will have some similarities to March 4th (the previous day of action for public education), but there are many ways it will be different. October 7th will be the start of what already looks like a year of heightened actions and campaigns to defend public education. October 7th also carries with it the formation of several growing coalitions around the issue, particularly in Georgia, Illinois, New York City, and of course California. It represents the beginning of a year of struggle that will create more of these coalitions, that will expand its reach into schools and communities, and that will strengthen the broader fight back movement against the ongoing assault on working people and the designs of the rich.
Activists in California have invited guests from outside the state to their conferences at San Francisco State University October 30th and 31st, many are talking about building a national conference working together, and connections are being made with the labor movement. The Defend Education Grouping is calling for participation in an October 17th National Conference Call where the direction of the movement after the 7th will be discussed. As someone who has played a significant role in this organizing since last December, I can without doubts say that the energy is growing, the movement is building, and the national interest in October 7th and the broader struggle continues to grow.
With the growth of coalitions in this struggle and the heightened nature of the struggle, October 7th will energize the struggle for a year of actions that will not only show the power of the growing movement, but also provide direction to a growing movement and being to change the character of the debate around education reform. With this struggle, we can begin to turn around the ongoing assault on public education. They want us to believe that there is money for further war in the Middle East, money to bailout failed financial institutions that stole our houses and pensions, money to expand the prison industrial complex to provide cheap labor to corporations, but somehow, there is not enough money for public education.
The students and workers who will be taking to the streets October 7th will be doing so because we see things differently. We see that the problems in public education come not from dysfunctional government, but from government that functions to serve the interests of the rich. We see that the problems of Public education have been caused by purposeful underfunding and tax breaks for the rich. We see that the crisis is part of a larger assault on public sector unions, workers rights, communities, people of color, and poor working class whites all with the intention of making us infinitely tied to the market, a market that is controlled, run, and regulated (or not) by the rich.
They see the crisis as an opportunity to change the system to serve only their interests, and if we don’t fight back they will succeed. Public education is just one facet of a class war that we have no choice to run away from – it is in our face, in our pockets, and on our minds every time we wake up, think about our health, think about how we are going to get out next job or about how our current one sucks, think about how we are going to pay for student loans, or think about how there seems to be money for the rich, but a mere pittance for the poor, if any at all. This is a class war that we cannot run from, on one side are the bankers, Wall Street, the hedge funds, and the rich, and on the other is 98% of the US population.
As we struggle to defend public education, we must be open to seeing the bigger picture. We are victims of a failed economic system. The problems of public education cannot be solved by the same people that caused them in the first place. The problems in public education can only be solved by us – their “solutions” will only make things worse. Public Education is just one facet of this struggle, but one that is very significant. Education is critical to our communities, and it is our communities that should run it – not Washington and Wall Street. In order to fix public education, we need to fight for it. If you’re stuck at work, and can’t participate in planned actions, talk to your coworkers and friends, spread the message of the movement, teach your students about this crisis, find a way to raise awareness around the issue. We are a community in struggle for public education. Join Students and Workers October 7th – Walkout, Strike, Protest, Educate, Organize, Mobilize, Fight Back, and Unite! Defend Public Education October 7th! All Out for October 7th!