[This originally appeared on the Memphis Socialist Party’s Website]
While Memphians celebrate the victory of Booker T. Washington High School in President Obama’s 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, a critical analysis of the President’s educational policies has been absent from public discussion, despite the fact that schools like BTW could eventually fall victim to the administration’s tacit goal of mass privatization through the President’s market-based “reform” agenda.
Although President Obama’s administration does not use the anti-public education rhetoric of the hard right, he is clear about his ideological alignment with Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. Moreover, Obama’s Race to the Top—a competitive program of corporate school reform that pits public schools and communities against one another for scarce federal funding—is a natural continuation of the neoliberal agenda, which seeks to create a favorable market for profit-driven charter schools by busting teachers’ unions and closing schools in communities reeling from the disastrous effects of global capitalism. Race to the Top ensures that the most vulnerable students will continue to be marginalized as their schools remain underfunded and understaffed, if they remain open at all.
Teachers, students, and parents understand that successful schools have small class sizes, support staff such as teachers’ assistants, nurses, and counselors, and an approach that values a variety of learning opportunities for individual students with different needs and talents. The Obama administration and its corporate partners, however, take a regressive approach that focuses on standardized testing as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness while firing masses of school staff and replacing neighborhood schools with charters, which are unaccountable to communities and no more successful on average than their public counterparts.
However, barriers to providing a quality education for all people will remain in one form or another under any reformist agenda no matter how progressive or student-centered the approach. Education reform will not solve the major problems created or reinforced by global capitalism: poverty, segregation, institutional bigotry, mass unemployment, mass incarceration, labor exploitation and social alienation. The corporate think tanks and foundations responsible for creating and implementing Obama’s educational policies have no interest in educating all students; in order to maintain low wages, low expectations, and high profits, capitalists depend upon a large unemployed population and a much larger population of working poor.
The recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, organized largely by disaffected youth, have provided more concrete evidence for what the capitalists already know: if society provides an education without providing jobs, the people will revolt. The ruling class is much too sophisticated to risk losing power by providing effective education beyond what is necessary for them to continue to develop new consumer products and instruments of war. Until the masses of people on the losing end of this rigged system organize and commit ourselves to a revolutionary restructuring of our social and economic relations, those who write the rules of the game will continue to have access to quality education while the rest of us will continue to be denied that right.
The students of historic BTW will always remember the day that the first black president of the United States delivered their commencement address, but they deserve much more than empty platitudes about hope, change, the “American Dream” or “Equality of Opportunity”—they deserve a future where their children will not have to compete with their sisters and brothers to “win” an education; they deserve a future where their neighborhood is safe and clean, and where all people have a right to engage in meaningful work. This future will not be created for us.
As revolutionary socialists, we believe that workers and the poor have the ability to create a better world than the status quo maintained by the capitalist class—capitalists’ power lies not in god-given mandates or managerial prowess, but only through convincing the people that we are incapable of controlling our own lives. We reject this notion, just as we reject the notion that the solution to the harms inflicted by global capitalism lies in education reform alone. Instead, the situation today compels us to organize ourselves and our communities to create an actual and revolutionary change in socioeconomic relations. Together, there is a world to win and a world to defeat!