The organizers of the education strike are combative: they engage in blockades and occupations in order to combat conditions in the education system which they find unacceptable. In their demands, however, they testify to their great esteem for the education system; they would like to distinguish between the circumstances of learning organized in the education system, which they disrupt, and education itself, which they defend. They think that the crappy conditions in colleges and high schools, which they are so displeased by, are actually improper to the education system and the political purposes for which it is pursued by the state. This is a mistake!
What do they have in mind with the demand “free education for all”? One knows that if poor families can't afford a computer for their children, or tutoring, if they are unable to raise the cost of tuition, then they don't stand a chance in the education system. One knows that the majority of children from the lower layers of society end up after their education in the same living conditions from which they came. One also knows the “unfair” assortment of people in this society into poor and rich, which the education system constantly confirms. But the education strikers are troubled only by the impact of income disparities on the education process. In school, at least, a parent's money should not play a role in deciding the struggle for success and failure. But where should it? Where money nevertheless decides everything else? Should access to education not be decided by income differences, but only by one's performance in academic competition? Should the younger generation still be sorted into winners and losers, only just not in a way distorted by social distinctions? Would it then really be “fairer” if access to the better paid occupations was opened to “first generation college students,” but – vice versa – the children of parents with college degrees should have to experience factory work or live on food stamps? With this demand, one barges through an open door with the politicians who are responsible for education. They would like the education system to provide all the jobs of society with the suitable younger generation. Ultimately, for them, what matters is only the results of the testing period in the highly designed performance test of the education system. For this, they neither want to exclude working-class children from studying, nor do they regard it as crassly improper if – possibly by tuition fees – existing income differences have an effect in the competition for admission and degrees. It is the education system which introduces the young generation into exactly this society of rich and poor.
The fans of education also complain that tuition increases will make higher education inaccessible to minorities and working class students. However, this comes a bit too late: it is not only tuition that prevents students who do not have well-to-do parents from attending the university: the whole education sector is organized as a selection process that begins in first grade and decides how little or how much knowledge an individual will receive. Depending on how easily one meets the requirements and advances in the school competition, the less help one needs, the more learning one receives; and vice versa, those who need more time and means to acquire knowledge are ruled out. So it is quite elitist to protest exclusion based on money, but not school performance. For the needs of the nation, which are found on the labor market, undemanding cheap workers do not need much knowledge. The economy needs plenty of poorly paid and relatively unskilled workers and a few others who manage and supervise them. This is the scandal – and certainly not that the selection of people into better and more poorly paid jobs is less than perfect!
Also the slogan “school for all!” is animated by this equality ideal. It makes the strikers angry that school sorts students prematurely, that school produces inequality from the beginning. But what if all students were maltreated in the same school according to the same principles? Wouldn't that still mean learning achievements with a hierarchy of learners according to points and grades? Wouldn't the end be a selection after years of schooling on the way to the SAT? Then everyone would compete for the quality degrees, and then the competition would continue in the job market. It doesn't seem to be a stumbling block that the education system organizes from the start a fight for the higher-paying management positions, which are always only for a minority. One would however be happy to have a few members from “first-generation college graduates” in these positions. Then one would have done so much for social justice!
The pressure which the cuts put on students and teachers is likewise an object of complaint. They demand “increases in the teaching staff” and “more teachers and smaller classes.” Ask what would really be won with this. Sure, maybe teachers then devote more time for students – for whatever it is they undertake in this time with them. And it may be that pupils then learn more – whatever it may be. But it remains barely more than making work easier for the teaching staff, who then – well prepared and without burnout syndrome – can distribute the young into their educational pathways of winners and losers. And if learning conditions for all learners change, then the performance competition functions as ever and does its selective work further – maybe at a new “level of learning.”
There are the radical-intentioned calls to “end corporate control of education” and “stop privatization.” “Business,” those are the bad guys whose money and interests have no place in the field of education. But doesn't education prepare the young for nothing other than service in and for this economy? Does the state then somehow belong to the good, even though the state's concern for the functioning of the education system is for nothing other than its schools functioning as a supplier of pre-sorted human material for “the economy”? Anyone who wants to oppose the influence of private business on school and college, where it acts pushy as a lobby and sponsor and where it calculates whether or not a business should be made out of the education system, shows up a little bit late. Or would students and teachers be content if they had to submit to the vilified influence of the economy not until after school?
So something already does not fit together in the strike calls: the organizers issue a series of demands in which their criticism of the state educational policy is summarized, to then end nevertheless again with a plea for the state education policy they just criticized. In the lap of the state they ultimately seem to feel in better hands than in those of the economy – as if one could choose in this country between the power of the state and the power of money!
The demands of the education strike attack neither the securing of the practical usability nor the intellectual partisanship of schools and college. They find fault neither with the ultimate aim of education, “to be active in a democracy,” nor the distribution of young people into the given capitalist occupational hierarchy. They only seek improvements in the conditions for learning and competition. And that's why they are on the right track, in the view of the education administrators – of course, with reminders about the consequences of unauthorized protests. On the other hand, one wonders why all these education policies that displease the young critics happen. It can't be an accident, and its representatives don't roll the dice. One must for once identify what political and economic reasons they have for education, which they now turn inside out. It is likely that education in capitalism functions in a different way than is thought by those students who always declare only their disappointment that the education system is not in the service of their ideals, like they would like it to be and as they expect from their state.