Race, class, and the attack on public education

Still separate, still unequal

I WANT to start with the big picture, which in my mind is the overall attack on public education and what it has to do with racism. What’s so interesting right now is the way the so-called “education reformers”—often people who are extremely wealthy billionaires, hedge fund managers, and bankers—have taken it upon themselves to totally reshape American education in their own image. These same people have raised the issue of race. They brought it up. They say that they’re doing all of these “reforms” not just for children in general, but specifically to bring about racial justice in the sphere of education.

Let’s start with our former chancellor of schools here in New York: Joel Klein. He said, “We have to start thinking of education as a business, not as a monopoly.” I went to one of these charter school gala events a few years back, just to check it out. Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz was there, and she introduced Joel Klein by saying, “You know, it’s not every day that the post office invites FedEx in, but that’s what this chancellor has done. Let’s hear it for Joel Klein.”

And on that basis, she brought him up to the stage, and he stood in front of the audience, and again, he brought it up. He argued for privatization in the name of racial justice. He bragged about how his wife clerked for the African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Set aside the fact that he’s speaking in front of a room of almost entirely Black and Latino parents, and that he was talking about the struggles for desegregation to an almost entirely segregated audience, he said about those schools in that time, “it sure was separate, but it never was equal.”

He and New York City mayor Bloomberg bragged repeatedly about how they were closing the racial achievement gap. And then, over the summer of 2010, a funny thing happened. A review of the test scores found that the passing level had been lowered so far that it needed to be rescaled. And when they were rescaled, all of their miracle solutions evaporated. In fact, the scores were half what Bloomberg and Klein said they were. After they were rescaled, 40 percent of African-American students in the city were found to have met the state’s math standard and only 33 percent were found to have met the reading standard.

Now Klein can brag all he wants about how his wife worked for the famous desegregationist Thurgood Marshall, but he’s probably never going to go around bragging about his new employer, Rupert Murdoch. As soon as he left the Department of Education, Klein went—again, to further the privatization project—to work for Rupert Murdoch in his division, Wireless Generation, which was going to bring technology into the schools. Rupert Murdoch, remember, is the trustworthy soul who just a few months after Klein started working for him was caught hacking into people’s cell phones.

Klein’s new employer, Rupert Murdoch, said when it comes to K–12 education, he sees a “$500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

The attack on public education is led by incredibly wealthy individuals. I’m going to talk about their motives later on, but I want to stay just for a moment with this question of racial justice that they bring up.

When the film Waiting for “Superman” came out (a film that effectively said teachers’ unions are the problem and charter schools are the answer), Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hailed it as a “Rosa Parks moment” for education. There was a gushing piece a few years back in the New York Times Style section, of all places, that featured investment bankers from Goldman Sachs at a party. It was a fundraiser party where they were gambling to raise money for charter schools. And the New York Times reporter was apparently there and asking them questions, and one of them had the gall in the midst of this glitzy event to say, “What I’m doing here,” gambling and spreading this money around, “this is the civil rights struggle,” in his words, “of our generation.”

So they brought it up. It’s not like “lefty Jones” is just trying to lay this on them. They keep bringing it up, and I want to talk about why I think they’re able to do this. In part, I think it’s that politics abhors a vacuum and Black politics is no different. At a moment in time when the Civil Rights and the Black Power movements have been on the one hand co-opted, and on the other hand crushed (activists imprisoned, murdered in their beds)—when the activists have been removed from the streets—it becomes possible for victims to blame themselves, and for all kinds of other people to wrap themselves in the robes of civil rights and racial justice, and I think that’s what we’re seeing here.

And if we were to talk about what really happened to that last great struggle, the real struggle for racial justice in this country—the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, the struggle to really desegregate our society and the schools—I think we’d see that there was a matrix of institutional racism that ultimately thwarted that attempt.

I want to talk about why that happened, or how that happened. After a brief period of progress in some places—in the South, where the progress was the most dramatic, by the end of the 1960s you had something like only 11 percent of African-American students going to what you would call segregated schools—the Supreme Court began to very quickly unwind desegregation. In the North it was never anywhere nearly as successful. In a place like New York, some would say it’s like Brown never happened here.

There was a web of reasons for that, not just what they would call de facto reasons, but a web of legal obstacles to desegregation, including rulings by the Supreme Court that increasingly made it difficult. In one decision, for example, the court ruled that you had to show the intention to discriminate against students, that the fact of discrimination or the fact of segregation was itself not enough evidence to warrant action by the local authorities to desegregate schools.

You have a growing argument by the Supreme Court toward what you might call “color blindness,” where they rule over and over that you cannot take race into account. They argued that that, in and of itself, would be racist. It’s an outrageous argument, but it has penetrated very deeply and it’s become almost common sense today. I’ve taught elementary school grades in Harlem for eight years and I’m now teaching fourth grade in Brooklyn, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ll mention the race of a person and you know, just a figure in history, and my kids will immediately raise their hands and say “No, no, no, that’s racist” to mention the race of a person. The idea that even mentioning race or bringing it up is itself racist is an idea that is very far flung.

And so what we’ve found is a matrix of institutional obstacles to desegregation: when it comes to the laws about housing, when it comes to the way that the suburbs were made racially exclusive, and the federal government after World War II funded and subsidized suburban developments, but only on the condition that they remain racially exclusive. They built the highways, they isolated people in the cities, they engineered the segregated world that we live in today. They set it up and made it very difficult for that web, for that matrix to be untangled. So we’re back to profoundly segregated schools.

I remember my very first class, a sixth grade class I taught in Harlem, where we were having a discussion about these things. I believe it was when we were discussing Ruby Bridges, and we were talking about the accomplishments of desegregation, and here we were in an entirely Black classroom talking about the victories of desegregation. And something they said struck me, and I said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me ask you a question: Are there more white people or Black people in the United States?” And they said, “Mr. Jones, that’s a dumb question. Obviously there are more Black people!”

It hits you. Kids today live in profoundly segregated worlds. Today great majorities of students of all races actually, according to a study by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, now attend overwhelmingly segregated schools. Actually, white students in some ways are the most segregated racially. And it was Jonathan Kozol I believe who pointed out that if you want to find the most segregated school in any urban district you simply seek out the school that is named after one of the leading lights of desegregation. Your Thurgood Marshalls, your Rosa Parks Elementaries, your Martin Luther King Jr. Academies are invariably, in Philadelphia, in Boston, in New York, in Los Angeles, the most segregated schools that you will find.

And so the reformers come along. And they promise that by releasing teacher data reports, by raising the stakes of high-stakes standardized tests, by privatization, by authorizing more charter schools, and importantly, by breaking the power of teachers’ unions, that by doing all of these things under the rubric of “greater accountability,” we will promote racial justice. And I would argue that in effect, starting with No Child Left Behind, what they’ve done is raise the banner of “excellence,” and put to the side the question of equity.

That is, the questions and the arguments that were made for so many years about a segregated system of schooling were about resources, not just about who got to sit next to what child. In such a deeply racist society, where wealth follows skin color so profoundly and so persistently, Black parents have always known that one of the surest and quickest ways to make sure that your child is not isolated, to make sure that your child is not cheated out of a decent education, is to get your child into a school where there are children of other races and especially where there are white children. And in the absence of desegregation, I would argue that we have neither equity nor excellence.

No Child Left Behind demands that by 2014 we have 100 percent proficiency in reading for absolutely every single soul. Jumping over any question of equity, jumping over any question of resources, or equality of opportunity, we’re actually just demanding excellence and thereby we’re going to have it. Then Obama came to power. Find me a teacher who didn’t vote for Obama. Teachers were excited because Obama was saying all of the right things: “No Child Left Behind is broken, No Child Left Behind is wrong, we’re teaching to the test, we didn’t get the input from teachers.”

And then he turns around and gives us Race to the Top. This is the first African-American president, but he basically doubles down on No Child Left Behind. It’s worse than No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind says that the child’s future is determined by the test scores; Race to the Top says not only is the child’s future determined by this bubble sheet, the teacher’s future is determined by the bubble sheet, and the principal’s future is determined by the bubble sheet, and the school’s future is determined by the bubble sheet. So now, everybody’s future is determined by the bubble sheet. Shockingly, people are cheating on the bubble sheet.

The NAACP released a report (and they were going to have a big press conference about it, but someone in the Obama administration talked to them apparently because they released it quietly), and the report basically made a very straightforward case. It argued that if the right to an education follows the individual, not the municipality, then how is it that you can have a municipal competition over who’s going to get what resources? How can you have it where you’re going to give money to these kids and not to those kids? Why do you have a race because a race inevitably has winners and losers, and why would you set up education to have winners and losers? And they said that charter schools, the Race to the Top, the competitive grant system, all these things that were being set up were already leading to greater racial stratification.

And this is what I want to talk about: the results of the thing that they brought up, racial justice in the schools, the results of what they’re doing are actually worse.

Look at a place like New Orleans, where have they gotten away with the most. Remember what Arne Duncan said about New Orleans: that the best thing that happened to the schools in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. Well, look at what happened in New Orleans: the schools have been overwhelmingly charterized, they destroyed the teachers’ union, and now they have a highly stratified system of education. The poorest students are concentrated in the few remaining public schools, which are very run down, underfunded, and having a very difficult time. And then as you move up the system into the selective and charterized schools the population gets wealthier and whiter.

UCLA did a study and found that not only are charter schools more segregated racially than traditional public schools, but also the rate at which they are becoming segregated is faster. And the New York Times’s recent report about traditional public schools that are closing shows that those schools have a greater concentration of students of color. The Independent Budget Office did its own report and found the very same thing, and also that those schools have high concentrations of students with special needs.

Newsweek, if you remember, had the “We Must Fire Bad Teachers” cover. Later, Newsweek found that the rate at which New Orleans charters push out kids with special needs is twice that of traditional public schools across the state. They didn’t put that on the cover.

It would be easy in a way if this was like Blackwater, if this was just the Koch brothers, if this was just, you know, ALEC, the scary right wingers meeting on an island somewhere planning our future. Of course, it is those people, there’s no doubt. Those people are involved—the Walton family, scary people, there’s no doubt, the extreme right wing. For example, in North Carolina, where white and Black families have voluntary desegregation plans, where they make sure that their kids go to schools together, the Koch brothers are conspiring to end it. In fact, wherever you see the Tea Party trying to get control, in the South especially, where desegregation has actually accomplished something, where the Tea Partiers are trying to get elected to school boards, you see them actively unwinding the few remaining voluntary desegregation programs.

But it’s not just them. It’s also the liberals, the Democratic Party. It’s Obama, it’s Arne Duncan. It’s not just old money and the oil industry, it’s new money and technology, it’s Facebook and Microsoft—it’s all of them. And they are united in this campaign. And that’s part of why I believe we are catching such hell down here, that there is no way to play politics. There’s no superhero coming to rescue us from this because this is a very nasty thing that they are all agreed upon.

Jonathan Kozol a few years back happened upon a prospectus for investors. It was written by the Montgomery Securities group, and it said, to quote Kozol, that

“The education industry…represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control” that have either voluntarily opened or… have “been forced” to open up to private enterprise. Indeed, they write, “the education industry represents the largest market opportunity” since health-care services were privatized during the 1970’s.... From the point of view of private profit, one of these analysts enthusiastically observes, “The K–12 market is the Big Enchilada.”

There’s quite a bit of debate about what motivates the education “reformers” in teacher activist circles. I went to the Save Our Schools conference and march last summer in Washington, DC. People there had different views on this and they still do. On the one hand you have people who say, “It’s about profit. It’s about profiteers. Look, this person is making money, that person is making money.” Then on the other hand you have people who say, “Bill Gates doesn’t need any more money, this is about ideology.” My view is that it’s about both.

There are a ton of ways to make money off what’s going on. (But don’t run out of the room and do it. Please don’t.) Look at the Common Core Standards. The Wall Street Journal gushed about the Common Core Standards, from which Pearson, the testing company, stands to make a killing, because now instead of going to every state and having this patchwork of standards, Pearson can simplify their operation. They can just make one test, one set of test prep books, and it’s good for the whole nation, and it’s good for the whole market. It opens up the market to a simplified set of materials, and of course, if you take the Pearson test then you have to purchase the disposable Pearson test prep materials. It’s a huge industry.

There’s a huge industry in data, in the accumulation of data, in the building of data systems that nobody uses. Here in New York City we see them laying off people who work with children, and hiring six-figure data consultants to manage and massage the data because they’re banking everything on data.

Then there’s the question of real estate. The tennis player Andre Agassi has figured out a way to support these charter schools. He’s another Civil Rightser. You know, isn’t he brave? He figured out a way to create an investment group that will do real estate deals for charter schools. And the way it works is because you’re building schools, you get all kinds of tax breaks and what have you, and then the operator pays you on the lease, and then they have the option of buying the building from you. There are tons of ways to make money off the real estate of building charter schools and Agassi is in. He has a $500 million fund devoted to that purpose, devoted to making money off building charter schools. So yes, there are a ton of ways to profit, but let’s not forget about the questions of ideology.

Fundamental to this whole process, I believe, is the importance of discrediting the public sector generally, and promoting the idea that the free market will solve these problems. It’s similar to what has already happened to other public services in this country. Let’s talk about this city. Let’s talk about the way that they consciously ran down and underfunded social services like hospitals, to try to make it seem like the public sector can’t do this right, something must just be wrong with the government bureaucracy, when meanwhile of course they decreased the funding. They gave away huge tax breaks to corporations, looted the treasuries, and then yes, of course the public works went into disrepair, and people fled to the private sector.

But we need to make people aware of the inherent dangers of this process of privatization, because what we’re giving up are rights. And rights, once given up, are very difficult to get back. Think of it from the perspective of parents. You have no right to have your child in a charter school. In fact, as I mentioned, we see them “counseling out” the highest-needs students. So you approach the charter school as a petitioner, hat in hand. You know, you’re “lucky” to get in and if we keep you in, we keep you in. So instead of approaching that kind of a school system as a citizen with rights, you approach it more like a customer, asking for something, hoping to get something. But they reserve the right to refuse you service.

This whole “reform” effort, instead of raising our expectations, has the important ideological function of lowering them. Instead of raising the horizon of the students, challenging working-class students to ask big questions, to challenge authority, to challenge the setup of the whole thing, rather it forces them into a very narrow ideological box. Instead of asking questions, you have to answer them, and there are right answers and we have them over here, and in fact we don’t have to get anywhere near you, we don’t even have to know you to know how smart you are. You’re a 2. You’re a 1. I’m 3,000 miles away, but this little Scantron machine tells me what you are. I don’t have to know anything about your intellectual process, your curiosity, what questions you’re asking, what you’re learning or discussing. I don’t have to know anything about you—I don’t even have to be there to know everything about you. All the answers are with me. And I’m the one who asks you the questions.

And, as we’ve seen, the more you raise the stakes of the test, the more pressure that is piled up on these tests, the less meaningful the test becomes. Because everything else gets crowded out, and so there’s less time for physical education, there’s less time for science, there’s less time for the arts, and there’s more and more pressure to do everything you can to get children ready to take the tests. Now of course that’s not happening to all children. That’s not happening to all children by any stretch, because there are plenty of children who will never sweat these tests and who will never take most of them. I’m talking about the children of the wealthy.

Those children will not have to deal with this crap. And their parents will make sure that they or their teachers will not have deal with this crap. This is specifically for the children of the working class, and it’s brilliant from the perspective of the rich, because it’s a way for them to make you think that they’re doing you a huge favor.

You see, they’re demanding excellence for you and your child. It’s about time somebody demanded excellence for you and your child. Meanwhile, they’re narrowing your child’s education. Meanwhile, they’re cutting the budget for your child’s school. If you work in a school in New York City, how many times a year has your school gone through budget cuts? Round after round of budget cuts, yet the demand for excellence remains, and is raised even higher and higher and higher. So it’s a way for them to politically benefit. The politicians benefit, the privateers benefit, the ideologues benefit. They are saying that they’re doing you a favor, meanwhile they’re ruining your child’s education.

A while back there was a series of debates between W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington over the nature of Black education and what it should be. Because there were a bunch of philanthropists who said that basically Black people in the South need to stick to the land. They need to learn values. They need to learn the value of hard work (like what Newt Gingrich wants to teach them). And so we are going to teach them hoeing and picking and ironing and, you know, hammering, and this kind of thing. They called it “industrial education,” but it was really menial education.

Booker T. Washington did not fund this thing, he was the front man. W. E. B. Du Bois had the gall to show up at one of these schools, arranged on this model, and say, “You here,” speaking to the philanthropists, and to the administrators and the faculty, he said, “You here are not hitching these students’ wagons to a star but to a mule.” And that is what we are doing today. We are setting up Booker T. Washington test prep academies for the Black and Latino youth of the twenty-first century.

It’s amazing to see. When you ask yourself, who, right now, the African-Americans especially, are putting themselves forward as the strongest voices against charters and high-stakes testing? I was thinking about this on the way over here, and it just hit me all of a sudden. It’s very interesting that actually, the people who are the most outspoken are a lot of people who are either currently charter school parents or former charter school parents.

There’s a dynamic to this, wherein populations who have been historically underserved had an ear for the story that the charter schools and the privatizers wanted to tell. Your child has been underserved. That’s true. Your child has been the victim of racism and a racist setup in schools. That’s true. We’re going to do something about it. Sounds good. But as the process has unfolded, and as more and more people have had experience, direct experience with the schools, that experience has taught them that there’s something rotten in these promises, and the promises have not come true. And it’s on the basis of that experience that you see folks speaking out.

I met with one of the vice presidents of the UFT [United Federation of Teachers]. We had dinner a year ago, and I said, you know, we need to tell people the truth about what’s going on. You know what he said to me? “There’s no constituency for that.” There’s no constituency for that. Nobody wants to hear that. The reality is that we talk—we who speak forthrightly about the charter schools, about privatization, about the high-stakes standardized tests—to more charter school parents probably than they do. Because if you speak honestly to people you find that they come over to your side. Because, their experience eventually matches up with what it is that you’ve been saying. So what we’re saying, what I’m speaking here, has not cut us off from anybody—anybody who’s willing to look with their eyes open.

The reformers, I would argue, have this idea about racial justice, civil rights, and all of this. You can sum it up like this: that what they want to do is put as much daylight as possible between the concept of racial justice and any kind of social or economic justice. These things can have nothing to do with each other.

They say: “You see, we’re going to have racial justice by destroying the unions. We’re going to have racial justice and more homeless kids on the streets.” You know, “Those things don’t matter. You’re just making excuses.” Anybody who tells you that those things are making excuses, those are the people making the excuses. You see, because they have lots of excuses about why another man was just gunned down in New York City. They have lots of excuses about why there are more homeless students. They have a lot of excuses about why they’re talking about building up segregated schools in the first place.

How dare Klein talk about Thurgood Marshall when he’s talking about a segregated school system and he’s not talking anything about desegregation? I’d like to track down that guy from Goldman Sachs, gambling to raise money for the charter school, and see where his kids go to school, and see if he’s willing to desegregate his kids’ school. There’s something sinister here, where these people are building up a segregated system of schooling and promising the world, and people are finding out that it is rotten.

I don’t think that anyone from the Civil Rights movement would touch these people today with a 10-foot pole. It was Martin Luther King who said, “The enemies of the Negro are the enemies of labor,” that they are one and the same. And I think the same thing is true today. I think there’s no coincidence that this attack on the public sector is also an attack on Black labor. Because who is the public sector? One of the conquests of the Black Power movement was public sector employment. Black women especially are overrepresented in the public sector. A great majority of Black women who are professionals are so in public sector employment, and that means they are overrepresented as well in unions, in public sector unions.

How are we going to beat up on those adults and save the children? How are we going to destroy their futures and build a future for the children? How are we going to ruin the lives of American workers so as to raise up Johnny’s reading score? The two don’t mix. This is why it matters to be a radical, and to have a radical analysis. Because you have to understand that racial justice can never be pulled apart from these wider questions. We can never separate racial justice from the questions of housing, from the questions of war, from the questions of the economy, and the robbery being perpetrated by the banks. We can never separate these things. They must be together, and that’s the way people in the Civil Rights movement saw it.

Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis fighting for sanitation workers, public sector workers who were on strike fighting for a union. That’s where he decided to spend what ended up becoming his last days. He saw it. He was arguing at this time for an Economic Bill of Rights that would guarantee everybody either a job or full pay, so that nobody would be poor. He was trying to figure out how to abolish poverty in America.

There was an interesting piece in the New York Times a while back, I’m sure you saw it, where they wrote about this confidential conversation between Steve Jobs and Barack Obama. And Barack Obama turned to Steve Jobs apparently and said, “Why aren’t we building iPhones in America?” And Steve Jobs said that he decided that he wanted to have glass on the front of the iPhone, so he made a call to the factory in China, and the manager rousted the people out of the barracks (because they were asleep, how dare they!) and got them working on making the glass covers right away. And Steve Jobs said to Obama, “I can’t do that in America.”

When they talk about “making American workers competitive for the twenty-first century,” make no mistake, people—this is what they’re talking about. This is why a test prep, narrowed-down, boiled-down education is just the thing. It’s just the thing to try to narrow our horizons and lower our expectations. That is why they cannot combine questions of economic justice and social justice, because these are the employers, people. These are the wealthy people, and there’s a reason they’re the wealthy people.

There is a test that’s worth looking at: the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The reason that it’s worth looking at is that it’s totally different than the high-stakes standardized tests. It is a test that’s administered in a totally different way. You cannot prepare for it. You don’t know what’s going to be on it, and there’s no way to look up how you did as an individual student. It’s random. It’s random who will take it, and it’s random where it will be assigned in the country, and it’s only done in samples. The reason that’s a superior method, is that then there are no stakes attached to the test and there’s no distorting effect. You could argue it gives you a more accurate picture of what’s going on.

You look at the NAEP, and it has a very interesting curve especially when you look at the achievement gap between Blacks and whites. It basically starts off really wide, and then it narrows into the 1970s and 1980s, and then it starts to widen out again into the 1990s. And it basically has stayed at the same rate since the late 1990s, it has not narrowed, not appreciably or importantly narrowed.

The narrowing of the gap in the 1970s and 1980s reflects the important effects of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, a myriad of effects that go beyond questions purely of race to include economic justice. This is when we start to have Head Start programs. We start to have the beginnings of meaningful welfare, of early childhood intervention. We start to have billions of dollars, for the first time, devoted to students with special needs. We start to have meaningful desegregation, and frankly much smaller class sizes. When we have all of those things going on, that is, a powerful movement that created some measure of economic and racial justice all together at once, we actually see an appreciable change in educational outcomes. But as those movements became unwound, were beaten or crushed or pushed back, we see those gaps widen up, and we know what happened in the 1980s and 1990s to the racial and economic gaps in this country.

And all of these reports, you might have read them, that came out in the last couple of years, and there was one that came out this week that talked about the economic gap and how huge it is. And then you read to the end of the article, and they say, “Well yes there’s a huge economic gap in academic achievement between the wealthiest students and the poorest, but of course, what we really conclude from all of this,” says so-and-so from the American Enterprise Institute, “is that we have a culture of poverty, and there’s really nothing you can do about poverty itself, so therefore we just have to figure out which teachers are the bad ones.”

It’s outrageous. These people have the idea, that even though we can mobilize billions of dollars, literally, just to air-condition the tents of the troops in Afghanistan, that we can do nothing about poverty; that we can do nothing about hunger. We can mobilize trillions of dollars in an instant to make rich people whole, but we can do nothing to make homeowners in foreclosure whole. We can do nothing about your student loans (which are a trickle to them). We can do nothing about those things, but we can mobilize huge sums when it matters to us.

And that is why, I think, we have to have a movement today that is unafraid of speaking about these connections between these issues, that’s unafraid to see this attack for what it is: a class attack by wealthy elite, let’s call them, ruling-class individuals, who want to reshape not only education, but really every sphere of our lives that is not already under their total domain, under their domain and control. Therefore our movement has to be conscious that it has separate aims, that we have separate goals, that they want to narrow our children’s horizons, we want to raise them. They want to narrow the curriculum; we want to broaden it. They want to reduce the rights of teachers, we want more rights for teachers.

Look at Finland, where teachers have great autonomy and a much more successful school system. We don’t see the interests of working adults as being in conflict with the interests of children. Rather, we understand that anything you do to lift up families in this economy will also lift up children. Anything you do to lift up the circumstance of teachers will help the children. Anything you do to lift the circumstance of nurses will help their patients.

We are living in a world where our class interests are bound together. We can’t let them divide us and we can’t let them pit us against each other. They brought it up. They brought up the question of race, and they claim to be doing all of this in the name of racial justice. The results are absolutely abysmal. They are making the racial gaps in education worse, and the only solution for us is to fight them tooth and nail. Ultimately we have to have a different society where we take the wealth that they have, that we made, and use it for our own ends, which we know would be about health, education, recreation, about developing ourselves and our powers.

You don’t see that anywhere, perhaps, in our society like you see it in children. The children have amazing potential, amazing potential, brilliant potential, but you understand that what this society wants for them is very limited. This society does not want all of their powers. It wants a very narrow spectrum of them to be used as some kind of wage labor. I shudder to think what they have in store for this generation. If we want something better, we’re going to have to raise a fight like we haven’t raised in a long time in this country. We’re going to have to take it further than we’ve ever taken it before.

This article is based on a presentation given on February 15, 2012, at the Walker Stage in downtown Manhattan at a forum sponsored by the New York City International Socialist Organization.  This speech and Brian's contributions to the discussion can be dounf at www.wearemany.org.  It was transcribed by Karen Dominguez.  

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