Marxism and Education

Bilingual Education Under Racist Attack (January 2003).
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Defeat the Capitalist Onslaught Against
Public Education!
(June 2001). 

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Smash Racist Purge of CUNY (February 1999). 
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October 2007  

Cops Out of the Schools! No to Mayoral Control!
For Teacher-Student-Worker-Parent Control of the Schools 

NYC Teachers, Students Under Attack

Close Down the “Rubber Rooms” – Reinstate All “Excessed” Teachers!
Union Control of Hiring!

Joel Klein, a/k/a “
The Terminator,” ordered hundreds of experienced teachers “excessed” as part of
yet another “reorganization” of city schools. 700 teachers in alternative schools lost their positions
and had to reapply for jobs. Now he wants to “terminate” teachers in name of management control.
(Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

The opening of school this fall, said United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president Randi Weingarten at a citywide meeting of chapter chairmen, was the smoothest in years. “Only” 4,000 grievances over class size (as opposed to 6,000 the year before). Thousands of teachers “taking advantage” of “open market” transfers – having lost seniority rights under the 2005 contract and now subject to the whim of principles trying imitate the dictatorial ways of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and his boss, Mayor Bloomberg. Just one fly in the ointment, she said: the numbers of teachers who have been thrown out of their jobs and are cooling their heels in Absent Teacher Reserves (ATR) or sitting in “rubber rooms” around the city because charges had been brought against them. We’re talking about hundreds of experienced teachers here who have been victimized by the Bloomberg/Klein drive for “management control.”

When the NYC Department of Education decided to “reorganize” District 79, the district encompassing a variety of alternative schools and General Education Diploma (GED) programs, some 700 teachers lost their positions. They had to reapply for jobs some had held for decades. Interviews were conducted helter-skelter, many at the last minute and even over the phone, by hot-shot administrators from DOE headquarters in the Boss Tweed Courthouse. These administrators, many of whom have next to no experience teaching, flunked highly qualified teachers because they weren’t up on the latest lingo and fads being pushed by Klein & Co. Some had taught in these “second chance” programs for decades. Among those “excessed” and sent to languish in ATR land were black PhDs with years in the classroom.

To justify this massacre of experienced educators, Tweed officials cooked up bogus statistics, claiming that in “some” GED programs only 17 percent graduated. But the DOE’s own figures show much higher graduation rates for these students; the students are in programs for “at risk” students in the first place; and many school principals pretend that students have “transferred” to District 79 programs in order to hide their drop-out rate. UFT tops argue that at least the teachers are still drawing a paycheck. But since Weingarten gave up seniority rights for tenured teachers in the previous contract, the DOE is gearing up to eliminate tenure altogether. In an interview Klein said in response to a question about “excessed” teachers being used as highly paid substitutes: “After a certain period, we should be able to terminate those employees” (Daily News, 1 September). No wonder Klein is now getting known as “the Terminator.”

On top of everything else, due to the drastic cut in teaching personnel, city schools now have far fewer classes for general education diplomas, pregnant and parenting teenagers and others. As a result there are waiting lists of 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds trying to get their GEDs, even though students have a constitutional right in the state of New York to an education up to the age of 21. So thanks to the latest reorganization by the management specialists in City Hall and Tweed, we have hundreds of students who can’t get classes while hundreds of teachers are held “in reserve.” This is no accident. The DOE has been trying to eliminate alternative education programs for several years, reducing the number of sites from 59 to six, and slashing the district budgets by many billions of dollars.

Behind this is a program to drastically restructure the schools as part of their program to corporatize and privatize “public” education. Instead of a quality education being a right, they want to respond to “market forces” by supplying a “two-tiered” education system with good schools for a petty-bourgeois elite and stripped down, scripted 3Rs programs for future low-skilled workers (“hamburger flippers”). This capitalist program represents a wholesale assault on the schools. Teachers, students and parents are blamed for the crimes of a system which has been starved of funding for decades. It is synthesized in the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) Act which is up for renewal this fall. While George Bush wants to make this his signal “accomplishment” – since the war on Iraq, immigration “reform” and every other initiative of his administration has blown up in his face – the fact is that, like the “war on terror” and attacks on civil liberties in the United States, the Democrats are co-responsible for NCLB. So, too, is the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the UFT’s parent, which favored “principles” behind the law.

Under this draconian piece of legislation, schools are denied funds and then closed if they can’t increase scores on standardized tests which notoriously discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities, poor and immigrant students. In their place, publicly financed, privately run schools (charter schools) are introduced. The prime example is New Orleans, where the public school system has been practically wiped out by city, state and federal authorities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, since total privatization has been a financial flop (witness the near-bankruptcy of Edison Schools), an “education industry” of vendors and contractors has grown up feeding off the education system financed by tax dollars. The National Education Association (NEA), which has been lukewarm about NCLB rather than flatly opposing it, dubbed this the “No Contractor Left Behind” act. Most of the big textbook, testing and tutoring outfits, not surprisingly, are big contributors to both Republican and Democratic candidates (such as Hillary Clinton, whom the UFT just endorsed for president).

Now it is revealed that the reauthorization bill for the NCLB includes a provision requiring schools to introduce “merit pay” or forfeit federal money. A motion calling for demonstrations to oppose this aspect of the law has been put forward by the Teachers for a Just Contract opposition group in the UFT. Certainly, this attempt to undercut union contracts by allowing school officials to reward those who bow down to their diktats in the name of “merit” should be opposed. But by only focusing on this one aspect, the social-democratic opposition goes along with the UFT/AFT tops in not frontally demanding repeal of the NCLB, including its provisions for allowing military recruiters access to the schools and student data, requirements for compulsory “high stakes” testing, mandates for school closures, and the whole push toward resegregation of the schools ordered by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the police are running wild in the schools. A week ago, an honors student, Isamar Gonzales, was arrested by school security guards at East Side Community High School in Manhattan for the “crime” of coming to school a few minutes early to talk to her teachers. When her principal, Mark Federman, intervened, the cops arrested him, too, on charges of obstructing government activity and resisting arrest! Both were led from school in handcuffs. New York Police Department and city officials defended this outrageous abuse, while the principals’ union complained about the criminalizing of behavior in the schools. In fact, under Bloomberg/Klein, many schools have been turned into mini-police states, and while police are not supposed to carry firearms inside the school, its only a matter of time until a student, teacher or school official is killed.

Witness what happened to Brooklyn science teacher Lester Jacob who was stopped by cops in Brownsville last June for “driving while black.” Because he was driving a white Infiniti, police put a knee in Jacobs’ back and slammed his head onto the car. When a witness said they had the wrong person, even though Jacobs was coughing uncontrollably and complained of chest pains, they left him in the street, commenting “nice acting.” After his wife rushed him to the hospital, doctors said he had suffered a heart attack. The next month he had to have open heart surgery. Jacobs is suing the city in federal court, as well he should. But the union should take action to put a stop to this racist cop victimization of UFT members, students, immigrants, minorities and working people generally.

Defend Debbie Almontaser! Principal of only Arabic-focused school in NYC was fired after witchhunt by Zionist, union-bashing New York Post. Instead of defending her, UFT president Weingarten joined the hue and cry.
(Photo:  Annie Tritt for The New York Times)

The UFT should also have defended Debbie Almontaser, principal of the Khalil Gibran Academy, when she was victimized by the New York Post and then forced to resign by the DOE. The Gibran Academy was the first New York City school focusing on Arabic language and culture, and the attack on Almontaser is part of the assault against New Yorkers of Near Eastern and South Asian origin in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks. Almontaser’s supposed “crime”? Not having denounced t-shirts reading “Intifada NYC”! The intifada is Palestinian school children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks and sharpshooters who murder them in cold blood. In fact, any defender of democratic rights should stand with the Palestinian rebellion against the brutal Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The Post is a union-bashing Zionist rag which is always out to get the UFT. But instead of defending Almontaser, union leader Weingarten joined in the hue and cry for her resignation.

Last spring, the cops went after white students in Manhattan for carrying cellphones and arrested more than 30 black students from Bushwick Community HS in Brooklyn as they were going to a funeral (with permission of the principal). Now they are arresting honors students, arresting and firing principals and “excessing” hundreds of teachers while “wait-listing” students. We say: cops and military (recruiters and JROTC) out of the schools! For teacher-student-worker-parent control of the schools! For reinstatement of all dismissed teachers and union control of hiring!

The whole system of mayoral control has gone hand in hand with a program for regimentation of secondary education. This, in turn, is part and parcel of the war drive. The link between the war on Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on public education in the U.S. is undeniable. Many reformist groups claiming to be socialist call for “books, not bombs,” as if it was all a matter of budget priorities. But when the capitalist politicians cut back programs saying the choice is “guns or butter,” we say that teachers, students, poor, minority and working people generally should fight to defeat the war because it is an imperialist war for colonial occupation, and because it is part of a bosses’ war on working people, minorities, immigrants and democratic rights “at home.”

The attacks on public education are political, and they must be fought politically. The fact that the unions in general, and teachers unions in particular, are beholden to the Democratic Party makes the UFT/AFT, NEA et al. co-responsible for the corporate educational “reform,” war and regimentation of the population as a whole. It is urgently necessary to break with the Democrats, as well the “Working Families Party” (a surrogate outfit for those who want to vote for Democratic candidates while holding their nose) and minor capitalist parties like the Greens and their erstwhile candidate, the populist immigrant-basher Ralph Nader. We need a class-struggle workers party to fight for a workers government, the precondition to the necessary revolution in education so that it serves the interests of those who are exploited and oppressed by this system of production for profit, not to fill social needs. n

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