Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
We are very excited to announce that the Occupy Oakland Education Committee and the Education for the 99% Newsletter and Blog have been renamed. Our new name is ClassRoom Struggle and we are calling to Transform Education, Abolish Capitalism and Heal (TEACH. Following is an explanation of this decision. Please comment to share your thoughts and reactions to this piece.
In struggle to defend and transform our public education system,
Why we chose ClassRoom Struggle to be our new name
Our committee grew out of the Occupy movement. The first political project that brought together many of the founding members was the organization of the student, parent and teacher march for education on November 2, 2011. We have been supporters of much of the work of occupy, have received financial support from Occupy Oakland and the Oakland Commune as well, and were leaders of the Lakeview occupation in protest of school closings and privatization in our school district. In the course of the spring and summer, our organizational relation to the Occupy Oakland general assembly became less clear, to the point where our committee began to function as a semi-autonomous committee of education workers, rather than as a branch of Occupy. As individuals we have a high level of respect and solidarity for the activists of Occupy Oakland, and as a committee we have appreciated our political relationship with Occupy Oakland for the space that has been opened for radical politics and struggle as a result of OO’s actions. With that said, we have not been formally a part of Occupy Oakland for quite some time, and we want to be clear about where we’re at as a committee. For this reason, we’ve decided to rename our committee, newsletter and blog, and and have chosen a new name that represents our dual commitment to the struggle for radical changes in both our schools and our society at large – ClassRoom Struggle. We see this struggle as a struggle both internal and external to the classroom itself, and deeply entwined with the struggle of working class people to create a new society.
Central to the work of ClassRoom Struggle is a dual call to not only defend our our public school system but to transform it in the process. While public schools have served a role in developing white supremacist, capitalist and imperialist ideology and social structure (for example through segregated schools, tracked programs, mandated pledge of allegiance, etc.), they have also been key sites of struggle and served as assets for movements of working class students of color and other youth struggles. This has been true since Reconstruction in the US South when black slaves who had fought to emancipate themselves from slavery organized toward establishing public education with funding from the capitalist state as a form of reparations; it was evident during the student walkouts in the late 60’s, and could be felt over the last two decades in Oakland where teachers and students have repeatedly joined forces to fight Prop 21, state budget cuts and gang injunctions.
In many ways, public schools are the last commons that we have in this country, the last place where people – children, teenagers, teachers, parents, school workers, neighbors – meet across difference and share the only assets that cannot be taken from us – our knowledge and vision. Yet our K-12 schools, the very last free public service still provided to ALL people inside U.S. borders, are under attack. Between austerity policies that slash school budgets, union busting that threatens the quality of teaching, corporate backed reforms aimed to turn young people into work ready robots rather than creative thinkers, and the rapid privatization of our schools (of which Oakland is a leader with 30% of students in charter schools), our schools are very literally under attack. And for this reason we call for their defense. What we are calling to abolish is not education but rather capitalism.
We see the struggle to abolish capitalist schools as one place where we can begin to chip away at capitalism’s grasp on our society. Capitalist tendencies run deep into the structure and politics of schools. Whether we consider the way in which capital benefits from public schools by tracking students within academic programs, or within schools that themselves function as tracked systems; or whether we consider the way that the school system itself was organized around the logic of a factory, complete with bells ringing and time managed just like a factory, it’s clear that the origins of public schools include a deep relation with the need of capital to reproduce a division of labor. Meanwhile global capitalism’s ongoing austerity strategy even more severely limits the educational opportunities of working class students. UC/CSU systems are increasingly raising tuition, defunding people of color outreach programs, cutting the number of professors, increasing class sizes and pushing students of color and all working class students out of higher education. In public secondary schools we see ongoing cuts in funding, increases in class sizes, and attacks on school workers. Despite progressive and radical attempts to re-structure schools, promote ethnic studies and other forms of radical curriculum, there is no fundamental hope for a liberatory education under capitalism. This is why we say we must push the education struggle to its limits and fight to make it as much of an anti-capitalist struggle as possible.
Given all this context, we know that the whole of public education as it currently stands, is a very unjust system to say the least. We also know that the roots of this injustice are not ignorance or ineptitude, as the education reform movement commonly frames the issue. We call to “transform” rather than “reform” education because we don’t understand the public education system to be a “broken” or “failing” system that simply needs to be fixed, but rather we believe it is acting in ways that have been deliberately designed to reinforce a hierarchical race/class structure. Public education is used to support a fragmented, deskilled, and deeply hierarchical workforce, where poor students and students of color who are not supported are funneled into underground economies, chronic underemployment, and low wage work; middle class students are trained to be professionals; and wealthy students are trained to become the ruling class. The school to prison pipeline, zero tolerance policies, tracked classes, unequal distribution of resources, racist administration and teachers, hostility to students’ communities, Eurocentric history standards, english-only classrooms, the list of oppressive practices could go on and on. It is not enough to defend our schools, perhaps more importantly, we must also be working towards their transformation into intergenerational centers for healing, exploration, learning, self-actualization and the development of resilient communities not only able to survive current and coming disasters but to build skills, relationships and power to overthrow the current power structures of our society.
Finally we know that part of our work as educators and organizers to facilitate healing within ourselves, our schools and our communities. Capitalist exploitation and white supremacy create social, emotional, and psychological conditions of permanent trauma for working class and POC. The ongoing trauma of daily life under capitalism leads to internalized oppression that we take out on one another horizontally. There is a profound need for healing from this oppression through struggle against the conditions that reproduce it. While the process of healing is often co-opted through government agencies and nonprofits, this should not mean that the process of healing itself is not radical. It is a centrally human need we have that our struggles and educational practices should be aimed toward meeting, even if fundamental healing is not possible in any complete way while we’re stuck in webs of capital and racial oppression. As we organize ourselves we should seek ways to overcome alienation and trauma so that we can build new social relations of compassion, care, and solidarity. The work of the educator is the work of reproducing the worker, but it is also the caring work of reproducing a caring, critical, and autonomous social being. We strive to push our work toward the humanistic side of the contradictions we face in our organizing and educating.
As ClassRoom Struggle, we are building a network of projects based out of Oakland, CA aimed towards this commitment to transforming our education system, participating a movement for the abolition of capitalism, and developing a culture of healing to sustain our communities through the current struggles and those ahead. We hope you will join us and be in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.classroomstruggle.com, http://www.facebook.com/Educationforthe99.