By Mark Naison (March 11, 2016)
I just had an epiphany. I’ve been thinking about why our economic and political elites are devoting so much energy to destroying public education. What’s in it for them, other than the profits to be made from investments in technology, software, real estate and other direct benefit to corporations from testing and school privatization?
And then I realized something- the generation of Sixties rebels that I was part of, were products of the greatest investment in public education in US history! The schools we attended, starved for resources during the Depression, still often segregated by race and class, benefited a huge investment of funding in response to postwar economic growth and the Cold War.
In New York City, this investment was reflected in the creation of incredible music and arts programs, excellent science labs, after school programs and night centers; regular recess and physical education, and lots of school trips. And from what I have gathered from talking to friends who grew up in LA, Newark, Detroit, Buffalo and Chicago, the same kinds of programs were available in public schools throughout the nation’s cities. Schools, even those in working class neighborhoods and communities of color, had bands and orchestras, plays and debates, science fairs, and great school teams.
The young people attending those schools, me among them, believed that the American dream of freedom and economic opportunity was really for THEM, and when they discovered injustices not discussed in their homes and schools, responded fiecely, not only with indignation, but with the confidence to challenge entrenched hierarchies.
So many of the great young leaders of 60’s protests–from founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to those who led campus protests against the Vietnam War, to the activists in the radical Women’s Liberation movement (which did so much to change gender relations in the US)- were products of public schools.
As wealth has concentrated at the top levels of American society to an unprecedented degree, the last thing our elites want to see is another wave of rebellion like we had in the Sixties. Starving, privatizing and scripting what goes on in public schools seems like an excellent strategy to prevent that from happening.