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The Fight to Save Public Education

By       Message shamus cooke     Permalink
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March 4 was historic. It will be remembered as the day that people began to fight back against the destruction of public education. The student- and teacher-led offensive took place in cities across the country; teachers, students and school workers demonstrated and marched, showcasing the aggressive methods of the struggle. San Francisco led the way with the highest numbers. As many as 15,000 people, mostly students, teachers and social service workers attended a Civic Center rally organized by the three teachers unions and the San Francisco Labor Council.

This can only be the beginning. The war on public education has been carefully planned for years, orchestrated by corporate interests and implemented by Republicans and Democrats alike.

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The first battle tactic against public education was to starve it. Politicians have consistently lowered taxes on corporations and the rich for the past three decades, thereby lowering state revenues and creating budget crises in nearly every state. Consequently, public education is in a state of shell shock.

After being under nourished for years, public education is now under full attack, and the blueprints for this "shock and awe" campaign have changed only slightly, from Bush's "No Child Left Behind" to Obama's more savage "Race to the Top" (both plans badly misuse the English language).

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Bush's plan further undermined public education: schools were labeled as "failures" and teachers were targeted as "incompetent." Obama's plan knocks down the pins set up by Bush; "Race to the Top" rewards states for shutting down public schools and opening up charter schools, many of which are private, and by firing teachers en masse. Both these steps are considered "progress" by anti-public education advocates (arch-conservative Newt Gingrich is on a national tour to promote the plan).

"Race to the Top" is a competition between states to kill public education: the states that massacre schools and teacher unions most efficiently and ruthlessly are given desperately needed federal funding, while the losers are given sadistic examples of how to earn the President's praise. Obama spoke highly of the recent mass-firing of every teacher in a Rhode Island school, an incident that other school districts will be pressured to imitate if they want "Race to the Top" money.

When this happens -- and it will -- a fundamental question must be answered: do the union contracts of teachers mean anything to the President? And if teachers cannot be protected by their contracts, cannot this be extended to other fields of labor? These questions answer themselves, and have gigantic implications for the U.S. labor movement.

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It is no coincidence that the "finalists" for the "Race to the Top" are states that have the most brutal anti-union records: most of the finalists are from the anti-union South. Louisiana and Illinois are finalists -- two states that have made the most "progress" in shutting down public schools and replacing them with private charter schools -- while having fired teachers en masse.

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker and activist living in Portland Oregon.

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