What’s there to defend in public education? Ruthless Criticism

A dissenting view on the March 4 Strike and Day of Action to Defend Public Education:

What’s there to defend in public education?

[Leaflet distributed at student protests in San Francisco and Berkeley, 2010]

The state is certainly imposing financial hardships and worsening conditions on students, teachers and staff. But that fact alone doesn't make public education worth defending. Instead, it’s worth taking the current cuts in education as evidence about the kind of society that public education serves.

So far, California – and the rest of the US, just like other countries – seems content with the amount of knowledge its schools dispense. After all, the school system reliably prepares a small intellectual elite and a majority barely able to read and write for their respective social roles: the latter as cheap labor for economic interests that are certainly not their own, and the former to ensure that other people’s labor is made use of in an uninterrupted and ever more effective way. Today’s rebellious academics do not question this hierarchy of jobs and wages. In their view, that is not a class society, but a rational division of labor. For today’s enlightened student body, the only issue worth addressing is the fate of the elite, to which they are sure they belong. Unfortunately, the state is demanding that they pay a higher price. So the upcoming generation of better-off citizens screams foul play: “How unfair that we are in danger of ending up like the rest!”

Their leaflets and slogans show their true concern: “public education” – that is, their own education. They claim that every dollar spent on that is a dollar well spent. That’s why they ask: “If there’s money for wars, bank bailouts, and prisons, why is there no money for public education?” (National Call for March 4 Strike and Day of Action To Defend Public Education). If “education” has to suffer as a result of these state necessities, then they are certain that the government must have mismanaged things. After all, if there is money for other state necessities, then shouldn't there be money for those who will run the wars, banks and prisons in the future?! From what point of view do they suggest that money would be better spent on education instead of killing, speculating or imprisoning others? From the state’s point of view, which does all these things? Is that supposed to be a critique of what the state spends its money on? Isn’t it cruel and cynical to oppose wars not because human beings are killed for national interests, but because it is a waste of money?

The students would certainly say no, but still, they should recognize the fact that the state hasn’t “neglected” education. On the contrary, it has made explicit cuts in education, in order to get the same outcome cheaper. And it does so to spend money on speculators and wars. It finds the demands of speculators more important and supports their enrichment because that is a systemic necessity of “our” economy, regardless of the hardships that entails for most people. And pretty much the same logic applies to wars: the state finds its armed forces more important than financing education or the victims of this system. Why? Because the money spent on education, just like any money spent on people’s livelihoods, is a cost burden about which the state is always very critical. And at the moment, politicians consider money spent on banks and wars as vital investments in the future and cuts in public education as an important budgetary measure to secure the value of money. If that is the case, then instead of suggesting an alternative allocation of state funds, one should take the state's priorities as a revelation about what wealth and education are there for in this society. Not for the benefit of the people, in any case.

A last question: shouldn’t it strike the protest movement as odd that it receives so much applause and understanding for its demands from politicians? Even if they express regret over the latest consequences of the market economy – poverty in education, health care, the housing situation, the loss of income, etc. – you shouldn’t overlook the fact that all the problems they work to solve for us citizens wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the economic interests that dominate their society.