Schooling in the twenty-first century United States is not the product mainly of educational philosophies and resources—together with whatever imagination and initiative that teachers, students, parents, and communities can bring to bear. Instead, it is dominated by the changing demands of capitalist society for an increasingly stratified and regimented workforce. In the first article in this section, John Bellamy Foster analyzes the political economy of education in capitalist society; the relation of this to the evolution of U.S. schools from the early twentieth century on; and the current corporate reform movement aimed at the restructuring and privatization of education—symbolized by the Bush No Child Left Behind and the Obama Race to the Top programs. The roles of private foundations and the private education industry in directing these corporate-driven reforms, and the growing revolt of teachers, students, and communities, are also examined.
“Education: The Great Obsession,” by Grace Lee Boggs, which follows Foster’s article, was originally published in MR in September 1970. It provides a classic radical-historical perspective on education in the United States focusing on the popular struggles, led principally by the black community, to surmount a repressive, racist factory-style education. Boggs evokes the spirit of the Freedom Schools during Mississippi’s Freedom Summer of 1964. All over Mississippi, a grassroots educational curriculum was developed, beginning with a revolutionary civics course and extending to algebra and chemistry—but also melded with community initiatives. This alternative, radical education—emerging in defiance of both segregated schools and factory education—involved both children and adults in the learning process, and took place in church basements, parish halls, and abandoned buildings. James Boggs captured the critical import of this alternative model in 1977 by stating: “Today we need to change our concept of education from education for earning to education for governing.”
In 1992 James and Grace Lee Boggs started “Detroit Summer,” an annual four-week program of place-based community education. One of the first to sign up for Detroit Summer was sixteen-year-old Julia Pointer, who, at age nineteen, was to become Detroit Summer’s youth coordinator and later, a public school teacher. In 2008 she worked with a diverse group of educators, parents, and community members to establish the Boggs Educational Center, a new type of school (still in development) to be rooted in the east side of Detroit, in the Hope District. The school’s philosophy centers on Grace Boggs’s philosophy that students are most actively engaged when involved in struggles to revitalize their own communities. Julia Pointer Putnam’s article in this issue explains, through her own personal development and experiences, how another education is not only possible but is actually happening.