Capitalism and the War on Public Education

My own experience indicates that the average college student is more concerned with grades than with learning. Therefore grades are more of an impediment to learning than they are an accurate measure of it. Scoring well on tests is not an indication of comprehension of complex ideas or the thought processes behind them.  Nevertheless, test scores are the Holy Grail of the school reform movement that is sweeping the country as part of a political agenda to privatize the public domain and put it under absolute corporate control.

Right-wing politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties are wrecking what remains of the public education system. They have been doing so for decades. Some of them are castigating it as socialist. Under the guise of reform, a movement is afoot to under fund public schools and replace them with ‘for profit’ charter schools. Firing qualified teachers and busting teachers unions is part of the process. College and University education is being priced out of the reach of working class people. We are witnessing the death of the liberal arts. The war on public education is a front in the broader class war that pits workers against owners and the working class against the wealthy.

There is a widespread notion among neoconservatives, neoliberals, and civil libertarians that government is the enemy of the people. Many people believe that government is incapable of serving the public, that it is incapable of doing good. I am not one of those people. After all, government grudgingly provided social security, the minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid, and it restrained corporate power. This came as a response to social unrest engendered by social agitators, but it was not enough. Government that serves the needs of the people rather than corporate interests is good government.

The problem isn’t big government; it is the merging of corporations and big business with government and the philosophical system that engenders it: the market fundamentalism spawned by rapacious capitalism. When corporations, which are motivated by profit rather than regard for the public welfare, merge with government, people are removed from the equation and they are replaced by capital. Thus money is equated with free speech and corporations are given the rights of human beings without the social and moral responsibility of citizenship. This is what capitalism does. Free markets are not an expression of democracy; they are a manifestation of corporate fascism and belligerence.

Ideally, from a purely capitalist perspective, corporations socialize costs and privatize profits. We saw this policy in action with the public bailout of banks deemed too big to fail. There will be more bailouts, many more, to come. And there will be millions more foreclosures that leave people living in the streets.

Earlier in American history capitalism produced fabulous wealth for a few at the expense of the many through the institution of chattel slavery. Ever since the emancipation of the slaves, multinational corporations and the captains of industry have sought to recapture those glorious days of prosperity when plantations dotted southern landscapes and the crack of bull whips and screams of agony rented the air. To the capitalist ear, that was the sound of fortunes being made via free labor, socialized cost, and privatized profit. The high priests of capital on Wall Street are pining for a return to the plantation.

Like the raw materials of industry, workers are not only dehumanized and alienated from their work and from one another; they are commodified and exploited like chattel. Because workers do not own the means of production, they are essentially the leased property of their employers, who use them up, wear them out, and discard them on the scrap heap to rust and disintegrate.

This explains why much of the US manufacturing base was sent elsewhere, and with it, US jobs. The purpose of off-shoring jobs was not to provide workers anywhere in the world with good working conditions or with living wages and health care; it was to maximize corporate profits any way possible and to allow corporations carte blanche to abuse the work force and to pollute the earth with impunity.

It was Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, aided by the toadies in Congress, who brokered the free trade agreements known as NAFTA and GATT. These agreements garnered strong bipartisan support. As a result, US manufacturing jobs left the country, global wages fell, and corporate profits soared. Inner cities became sites of depravity and hopelessness, testifying to the rapacious legacy of capitalism. Those jobs are never coming back.

The effects of market fundamentalism are profound and global in extent. Locally owned small businesses were forced out, behemoths like Wal-Mart and Target, with their slick advertising campaigns and corporate bribes, moved in. Diversity was exchanged for monoculture and monopoly. The Walton’s took in billions of dollars, but workers at every point of the supply chain suffer both in the US and in sweatshops around the globe. A few people are getting fabulously wealthy while the people who produce the products we buy so cheaply are exploited, the majority of them forced to live in squalor and poverty. None of the blue collar employees at Wal-Wart and Target earns a living wage.

According to the dictums of capitalism, profits matter but people do not. To understand what is being done to working people, one has to examine the entire production and distribution chain, not just the terminus at Wal-Mart and Target. Low prices at big box retail exact a high social and environmental cost. These are concealed from public view.

The war on public education is part of a broader capitalist agenda to produce a global plantation of private owners and worker drones. Their purpose is not to produce an educated citizenry, but to deliver an obedient and cheap work force to the corporate plantation. Community colleges are enthusiastically fulfilling this role.

Virtually every aspect of our culture, including its financial institutions, its media and its education system, as well as organized religion, has fallen under corporate control. None of these institutions functions in the public interest anymore. Market fundamentalism, the idea that deregulated markets are the arbiter of all values, not Christianity, or Islam or the philosophy of Thoreau and Emerson, is America’s real religion. The shopping mall is the holy shrine of the gluttonous consumption demanded by capitalism. This provides an example of people serving the economy rather than the economy serving the people.

In this inhospitable landscape of consumerism and greed, the idea of democracy remains a utopian dream rooted in socialism and class struggle, a philosophy we have been programed to despise, just as we were conditioned to loathe our own emancipation by falsely equating market fundamentalism and capitalism with democracy. These institutions of usury and greed find their grotesque expression through the corporation and the corporate state. Government is an antagonist to freedom when corporations infest the hallowed halls of our so called democratic institutions. They are a cancer that erodes hope and eats away at human dignity.

Market fundamentalists and their servants in government are in control of virtually all of the institutions of society. They hate liberals and progressives because liberals, real liberals, not the kind associated with the Democratic Party, but the kind related to socialism and communism, those who brought us the eight-hour work day and the weekend, protect ordinary working class citizens from the naked greed of the corporation. It protects them from the wealthy sociopaths who operate in secrecy behind corporate masks. The extremists cringe behind the camouflage of the corporation like the public servants that once donned white hoods and burned crosses in the night in order to terrorize black folk and to keep them in their place.

These were the people: racists, sexists, homophobes, and white supremacists one and all, who were employed as newspaper editors, court clerks, school teachers, corporate executives, and sheriffs by day. Many of them were church deacons and some were ministers. But no façade of respectability can conceal their black hearts or the venomous hatred they harbor for coal miners, cleaning ladies, environmental sanitarians, taxi drivers, liberal arts professors, and the department store employees they so coldly regard as chattel.

If the truth be told, the plutocrats who are running the country so loathe and detest working people, and they feel so superior to them, that they do not want us to have anything, least of all, autonomy. Their goal, both stated and unstated, is to eradicate the last vestige of liberalism from the earth.  They may succeed in driving us underground for a while, but they will never succeed in eliminating traditional liberalism. Extremism always breeds resistance.

Empowerment should never be conferred by others; it is the right of every individual to grant oneself power. Nor is it attained through the vote. Replacing one capitalist with another does not offer progressive change; it perpetuates the established orthodoxy. We must change the dominant paradigm that drives social, economic, and political philosophy. Empowerment comes from organized resistance to tyranny. It can only be attained through class struggle. If the vote is ever to become meaningful, democracy must first be won in the streets. We, the people, must be willing to fight and die for it.

Charles Sullivan is a naturalist, an educator and a freelance writer residing in the hinterlands of geopolitical West Virginia. He has an academic background in Appalachian Studies. . Read other articles by Charles.

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  1. mary said on November 10th, 2010 at 12:13pm #

    There was a stirring of rebellion today in London as students and teachers combined in a mass march and protest against the ConDem proposals to cut funding to universities by 40% and to remove the cap on tuition fees.

    Naturally BBC and Sky referred to the students who occupied the HQ of the Conservative Party and trashed the reception as ‘anarchists’. The Metropolitan Police were unprepared and were powerless until darkness fell.

  2. mary said on November 10th, 2010 at 2:52pm #

    Some photos taken at Millbank Tower, the HQ of the Conservative Party.