The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Back to School—In Schools Even Worse than Last Year

Aug 29, 2022

The new school year is underway. But schools in Columbus, Ohio and King County, Washington, a Seattle suburb, did not open as scheduled, because teachers in these two school districts went on strike.

Salaries of public-school teachers in the U.S. have not kept up with the rise in cost of living, not for many years. But both in Columbus and King County, the teachers wanted the public to know that they were not striking just, or even primarily, for better pay. Smaller class size is a key demand in both strikes. Another demand, emphasized especially by Columbus teachers, is that every classroom should have adequate ventilation.

Overcrowded classrooms with no ventilation—in the middle of another Covid upsurge. And when public schools across the country have been dropping practically all precautions against the spread of Covid, including social distancing!

It’s not just teachers who are taking a stand against such egregious neglect by authorities. In Philadelphia schools, bus drivers, mechanics, cleaners, and maintenance workers had to threaten to walk out on the first day of school to bring the school board to the negotiating table. These essential workers, without whom no school could function, are demanding better pay and training.

These shortcomings, too, are widespread in public schools across the country. It’s not a surprise. When the pandemic began two and a half years ago, school boards across the country shuttered the schools and let most of their non-teaching staff go. Then for two and a half years, they did not hire nor train people. And in two and a half years, a lot of workers retired too—without being replaced!

The same is true for teachers. As teachers retired, in higher numbers than usual because of the workload and unreasonable demands of the so-called remote learning, school board officials did nothing to recruit and train new teachers to fill these positions. Now the same officials throw up their hands and say there are not enough new teachers for them to hire.

In fact, not all schools in the U.S. suffer from a shortage of teachers and other workers. There are schools in this country that have a qualified teacher for every subject they offer, in well-maintained buildings that are not overcrowded. These schools have well-equipped, state-of-the-art science labs, auditoriums and sports facilities, and enough trained workers to keep them up.

Yes, this country has excellent schools. And whether public or private, these good schools have one thing in common: they educate the children of the well-to-do.

But for the children of the working class—the vast majority of American children, that is—there is nothing but deteriorating, overcrowded and understaffed schools that cannot even provide their students a safe environment, let alone a real education.

The workings of the capitalist system have caused this, not the Covid pandemic. The pandemic further exposed and amplified the rotten workings of this system, making things go downhill even faster for the working class. Working-class parents have had to live through the pain of watching their children lose two years of their most formative years, hampering their development.

Today, officials of the Los Angeles school district, the second-largest school district in the country, decry the fact that the district has lost at least 50,000 students—nearly one out of ten—in the last two years. Hardly a surprise, considering that before the pandemic, most of LAUSD students did not have reliable access to the internet. But even if they did, how could children expect to learn by looking at a screen?

No, contrary to what district officials claim, it’s not students, or their parents, who are abandoning the schools. It’s the school districts, and behind them the capitalist system, that have abandoned students—not only their education but their well-being too. And this is true for every school district in this country that serves a working-class community.