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Education under U.S. capitalism

Published Mar 28, 2007 11:37 PM

The myth that the schools are controlled by leftists is purported daily by the ultra-right. Sneering, loudmouth voices of the powers that be, like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, bombard their audiences with the message that the educational system in the United States is “anti-American” and “liberal dominated.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. U.S. schools are tools of the capitalist bosses. They are part of what the great revolutionary Vladmir Lenin called a “machinery of oppression.” U.S. schools reflect all the oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia and class division that U.S. capitalism has to offer.

Repression of student dissent

All across the country students who dare express progressive views are suppressed. The Supreme Court recently heard the case of Morse v. Frederick. Joseph Frederick is a student at a high school in Alaska who held a sign reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” The sign was conceived as a statement opposing the prohibition of marijuana, which puts thousands of people in prison each year.

The principal of his high school immediately ripped the banner down and Frederick was suspended. Frederick wasn’t even on school grounds or at a school function. He was on a public sidewalk outside his school expressing his thoughts, one of the rights we are supposed to have in this “democracy.”

In January, St. Francis High School in St. Paul, Minn. did not permit the school newspaper to print a picture of a ripped U.S. flag. (AP, Jan. 21) The new code of conduct for New York City public schools allows for students to be punished with up to 90 days suspension for statements they make outside of school, even on the Internet. (Student Press Law Center, Sept. 28, 2006)

In Richland County, Wis., students were forced to attend a pro-Bush rally during the 2004 election. When parents asked if the children had any choice about attending the rally, the school secretary initially told them the students could “stay home.” Students were told if they wore anything critical of Bush to the rally, including John Kerry buttons, they risked expulsion. (www.dailykos.com) An elementary school in Topeka, Kan., banned traditional Halloween costumes in 2001 and required all students to wear costumes with “patriotic themes.” (Topeka Capital-Journal, Oct. 24, 2001) Students at San Fernando Valley High in California were not permitted to hang posters for their school play in 2005 because they mocked President Bush. (AP, May 29, 2005)

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill in 2001 requiring students to recite the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, unless they have a signed letter from their parents. (www.ncac.org)

Homophobia High

The U.S. educational system is clearly a breeding ground for anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi and trans) bigotry, which runs rampant on campuses as part of capitalist educational policy. Books with LGBT themes are frequently banned from classrooms. The most banned book of 2005 was “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a sex education book that deals with homosexuality. (www.st-charles.lib.il.us) In 2006 Davis High School in Yakima, Wash., banned the production of the play “The Laramie Project,” which powerfully portrays the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepherd, claiming it “promotes homosexuality.” (Yakima Herald-Republic, Oct. 6, 2006)

A student at Troy High School in California was fired as editor of the school paper for writing an article that profiled three gay students and allowed them to speak openly about their sexuality. (Student Press Law Center, Apr. 20, 2006) The California legislature recently passed a law to make anti-LGBT language in school textbooks illegal, but the governor refused to sign it. (Sacramento Bee, Sept. 7, 2006)

Hampton University, one of the “small liberal arts colleges” which are seen as an epicenter for the conspiracy theories of leftist domination, will not allow a campus LGBT organization to form on its campus. (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Feb. 22) In 2005, the college actually considered expelling students for passing out literature and hanging flyers that advocated the impeachment of Bush. (Inside Higher Ed, Nov. 20, 2005)

The California Safe Schools Coalition reports that 27.4 percent of California students experience anti-gay harassment at school. (www.youthlaw.org) Forty-six percent of the students felt that their schools were not safe for LGBT students. (www.aclu-sc.org)

National oppression

Even though the schools play such a good role for the people who run this system, they are still greatly under funded, especially in the oppressed communities. The schools that receive the worst funding, and are therefore in the worst condition, are the schools that are attended by the youth of nationally oppressed communities. The schools of Harlem, of Cleveland, of Los Angeles suffer greatly.

Students in the inner cities go to schools that do not even have enough books or desks, while the schools of the rich are packed with swimming pools, multiple basketball courts, science labs and libraries filled with quality up-to-date research materials. Meanwhile, billions of dollars more are spent on bombs, on machine guns, on missiles and such. Billions more are spent on building prisons to lock away the youth, after they have grown up in a society that doesn’t even provide them with a decent education.


Today’s schools are packed with police. Drug searches in which the school is locked down and the hallways are patrolled by canine units, have become commonplace. Courts have upheld the “right” for students to be randomly drug tested. The hope is to strike terror into students, letting them know that at any time they may be accompanied by a school staff member into the restroom and forced to urinate into a cup.

The New York Civil Liberties Union released a report that documented that New York Police Department officers, stationed in the schools, frequently “curse at students,” “confiscate students school supplies and lunches,” and do not even respect the authority of the school administration. It seems the schoolyard bullies of the past have been replaced by the same forces that brutally killed Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo. The report stated: “If you treat children like criminals, they will fulfill those expectations. The stakes are too high to allow these policies to continue.”

Bias in facts

The most important thing that schools can teach students about U.S. history, the glorious history of class struggle, has been cut out of the curriculum. The book “Lies My Teacher Told Me” documents how topics as important as the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the militant anti-racist movements are unknown to many students.

When students learn of the Vietnam War, they do not see images of the charred bodies of Vietnamese children or the streets filled with militant youth ready to bring it to a halt. When students learn of the civil rights movement, they do not see the images of civil rights marchers being clubbed or run down by fire hoses, and they do not learn of how the FBI coerced Martin Luther King and urged him to commit suicide. When students learn of organized labor, they do not learn of the workers taking over their plants; they do not learn of the great Teamsters strike, the Haymarket rebellion, or of the positive role that socialists and communists played in organizing the people for a better world—not just in labor, but in all fields of social progress.

Frequently military recruiters are invited into social studies and history classes to give students lectures about political issues, indoctrinate the students with the military party-line, and encourage students to donate their bodies to imperialist wars of plunder.

What the schools are

The schools, under the capitalist system, function as a tool of the capitalist rulers. They educate students to be good workers who labor on behalf of the bosses. Students are repressed and taught not to raise their heads. LGBT students, as well as students from oppressed nationalities, face institutionalized bullying and repression. Armed police patrol the halls harassing students. School textbooks teach students a fraudulent history of this country, which ignores the ugliness of capitalism and the heroism of everyday working people. Many schools are not even adequately funded, while the government spends billions to rain death on the peoples of Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan with bloody occupations.

But imagine what schools could be in a different society. Imagine schools that are not run by corrupt bureaucrats who are owned by capitalist politicians and serve their system. Imagine the schools that would exist in a workers state—a society where the working people are in power, and fighting to make life better for everyone, not trying to maximize the profits of a few.

This is to imagine a new socialist world.