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

Focus on the System behind the Schools

Sep 12, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of September 5, 2022.

The Superintendent of Detroit public schools said the 2022—23 school year is going to be different. No more masking, no more testing, no more social distancing. “This year,” he said, “it’s all about student achievement.”

Certainly, the last school year, 2021—2022, was not one of “achievement,” not in Detroit, not in most of the country, especially not in the poorest districts. Throughout big cities and rural areas, students might as well not have been in school last year. A report just released by the National Assessment of Academic Progress showed that nine-year-olds in those districts fell back so far, it will take one whole year’s worth of work just to bring them up to where they should be right now.

Students in those districts were the ones most subjected to “learning at a distance.” Classes were carried out over computer networks. But most students couldn’t regularly hook into them. Some didn’t have computers, or the computers were too slow, or there wasn’t internet access, or other kids in the family were attempting to log on at the same time. When they did get to school, they were condemned to constant quarantines and shutdowns.

Yes, coronavirus set this off. But the virus was only a small part of the problem.

Most public school systems—the ones serving the children of working people—didn’t have adequate air ventilation, the single most important condition for reducing the spread of the virus in school settings.

When the virus broke out, most of those schools had too many children packed into too small a classroom. Wearing masks didn’t overcome the crowding. Sending kids home in constant quarantines didn’t stop the spread—it just ended up creating a problem of chronic absenteeism. In the Detroit public schools last year, 79% of all students were listed as “chronically absent.”

So, it’s true, the coming school year needs to be devoted to “student achievement,” as the Detroit superintendent of schools promised.

What would that require—other than promises? First of all, investment to provide good air circulation in every school. Investment to open more schools so students aren’t packed like sardines in classrooms and lunchrooms. More investment to increase the number of teachers by three or four or even five times as many as there were last year, so each student can have individual attention as needed. More investment to have the support personnel needed—nurses, maintenance workers, office workers—so schools can function in a safe way. More investment to set up a real, complete computer network so that, in case of “at-distance-learning,” every child can participate fully.

What is required during the time of coronavirus? The same thing required in an ordinary year, just magnified because of the virus. For kids of working people to have the possibility to get a decent education means they need the same conditions that exist in the schools where wealthy people send their children. That means money, lots more money than what goes to public schools today.

There is public money in this country that could pay for the schools, enormous amounts of tax money. But it is invested in things that increase the profit of the capitalist class: research for profitable computer chip makers; subsidies for profitable energy companies, subsidies for profitable auto companies, subsidies for a very profitable aerospace industry and its rockets. Banks are bailed out. And money literally gushes into that most profitable of industries: military weapons and this system’s wars.

A system reveals its values by what it spends its money on. This capitalist system spends it on the profit of a very tiny minority of the population, the capitalist class, while condemning children of working people to an education which would not serve them in the 19th century, much less in the 21st.

The push to maximize profit is built into the capitalist system. That’s why children are deprived of a decent education, why public health is decimated, why roads and bridges crumble, why parklands are left vulnerable to fire and rivers to flooding. The system needs to be eradicated.