Education and War Don’t Mix

Editorial By Carole Seligman

Schools throughout California, from pre-schools to universities, are facing devastating budget cuts. Tens-of-thousands of teachers are now being layed-off statewide. March 15, 2010 is the deadline for the pink slip/lay-off notices.

The crisis in California’s budget, which is already forcing lay-offs, furloughs of state employees and drastic cutbacks of social services of all kinds, is hitting the entire California working class by stripping of state resources from the schools. Every urban and every rural school district in the state is facing cutbacks. And the California economy, if compared to the economy of other countries (not states or provinces), is actually between the 7th and 10th wealthiest in the world! So why do the school children have to pay for the state government’s budget crisis?

Wealthy corporations are reaping huge profits in California. Chevron-Texaco oil company is the biggest. Wells Fargo bank is headquartered in California. Agri-businesses are so wealthy and powerful that they control the water supply of the state. None of these corporate entities pay the percentage of taxes on their profits that working people pay in state or federal income taxes. The profits reaped by the ruling class are high and growing, but the rate of profit is not. These companies are fighting with their global competitors and the chief means of pressing their advantage is with the help of the state and federal government. The way they use the government is through direct subsidies (agriculture), sales (war equipment production), attacks on social expenditures that benefit the working class (school cutbacks, etc.), and tax policy.

No Child Left Behind

As the same time the budget crisis hits the schools, the children are also facing a stinging barrage of anti-education measures promulgated by the federal government. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was proposed and passed by the U.S. Congress in a bi-partisan political act during the Bush administration. This legislation is disguised as an effort to “close the achievement gap” between wealthy and poor students, between white, Black and Latino students, between English speakers and English learners. However, it really is a set of requirements statistically impossible to achieve (such as 100 percent “proficiency” scores on reading tests by the year 2014). And these built-in failures are meant to punish students and teachers, close down schools, fire teachers, and help set the conditions for a full privatization of education in the United States. If you doubt this, consider that in February, the School Superintendent of Central Falls, Rhode Island, Frances Gallo, fired every teacher from Central Falls High School, the only high school in the town. And, Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education, wholeheartedly approved the firings!

In a recent public meeting of the South San Francisco School Board, one of the trustees asked a statistician how many schools in California are going to continue to achieve the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation. The answer: “None!” And that’s the intention of the legislation, but the California State Department of Education, County School Boards, and local School Boards throughout the state are spending millions to carry out the requirements of the law. They are implementing massive testing (including of Kindergarten students—five year olds!), preparation for tests, and teaching teachers how to teach to the tests. Seriously. They are also spending billions to keep a growing percentage of Californians in prison.

School administrators, in the name of improving the schools (it’s called Program Improvement), are downgrading them in profound ways. The schools are being stripped of arts (this has been going on for a long time). Elementary school teachers whose schools have not met the Adequate Yearly Progress goals (in other words, have not scored high enough on state tests) are now being told not to teach science or social studies, even though those subjects and art are mandated by the state’s Education Code.

And, California, which falls at 46th of the 50 U.S. states in per-pupil spending, is downgrading its whole elementary school program by ending the “class size reduction program” and moving back to the huge size classes all the schools had until about 15 years ago.

The big question facing teachers, parents, students, and communities throughout California, and indeed the country as a whole, is: What can be done about this deplorable state of affairs?

First, the facts must be acknowledged. There are plenty of resources in the richest country in the world to provide a high quality education for all, pre-school through university. The banks, which received trillions in bailout funds from the federal government are now reaping huge profits and paying their CEOs fat bonuses, while they are re-possessing working people’s homes. The oil companies and health insurance companies are accruing profits in the billions. The ruling class has tight reins on the treasure of the country. They use public monies, tax dollars, to secure their system. That’s what the many wars, military occupations, and the string of 1000 U.S. military bases circling the globe are all about.

“It costs $1 million to keep one soldier in Afghanistan for a year. The same amount of money could build 30 or 40 girls’ schools in Afghanistan….”

Maya Schenwar, in an article entitled “Give Peace Spending a Chance,” [, February 9, 2010] writes, “There’s no question that war spending for Iraq and Afghanistan will top $1 trillion…. That’s enough money to stretch—in dollar bills—from the earth to the sun. It’s also enough to pay for ten years of universal primary education for all of the world’s children, according to UN statistics.”

To make the numbers smaller and easier to grasp, “It costs $1 million to keep one soldier in Afghanistan for a year. The same amount of money could build 30 or 40 girls’ schools in Afghanistan….” Schenwar writes.

The federal government is using workers’ tax dollars to carry on two wars and military occupations, building massive new military bases in Colombia, and starting new military interventions in Pakistan, Haiti, Somalia, and elsewhere. That’s where the money is. Overcoming the contradiction between spending the treasure of society on killing, while the positive, life-affirming aspects of humanity, such as education and healthcare go begging, is the task for those who would change the situation. Society cannot have both an economy of war and private profit and at the same time provide education, healthcare, transportation and a sustainable environment.

The beginning of a solution to the crisis in education is to mobilize the students, teachers, parents, their unions and communities to demand full funding for schools. This demand must be linked with the demand to end the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, the occupations of those countries, the huge military expenditures on bases and interventions around the world, the funding of other wars against the oppressed, such as the Israeli assault on the Palestinian people.

Students at University of California Berkeley held a conference in October of 2009. They gathered to fight a 32 percent increase in tuition in the University of California system. At the same time they were fighting the U.C. Regents against the tuition increase, they realized that all the other education systems in California were under attack—the community colleges, Kindergarten through high school (K-12) education, adult education programs and pre-schools. They invited students, teachers, parents, and the unions representing the workers in all these schools to join together to fight to defend all California public education. The October conference was infused with militant antiwar ideas. The students called a Day of Protest to Defend Public Education on March 4 throughout the state, and they extended the call to the whole country and globally. “Public education is a right, not a privilege”, is the profound idea motivating these students and spreading widely throughout California.

This is a fight that must be embraced and joined by the working class as a whole because it is the fight for the rights and lives of our children and ourselves.