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3. Fight-Back: Education’s Radical Future

The Declaration of Independence says that we are all created equal and endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, these lofty ideals can be realized only through struggle. They are incompatible with the logic of capitalism, but this logic can be and has been attacked by working men and women, and victories have been won. The fight by workers for universal public education has been an important part of the class struggle. Slaves understood literacy as a weapon in the fight for liberation from bondage. Wage workers saw schooling as central to building the labor movement. All oppressed peoples have striven for, as Charles Cobb puts it in his essay on Mississippi’s Freedom Schools, “an education that enables them to possess their own lives instead of living at the mercy of others.” As Pauline Lipman tells us: “Those who have seen education as a way to strengthen democratic participation in society and human liberation have always contested” the dominant goals of hierarchical societies. “There is a rich history of people of color, women, workers, educators, and social movements fighting for democratic, inclusive, liberatory education.”

Two points must be made in this introductory note to part three of this issue. First, although there is today a tendency for people passively to accept whatever capitalism throws at them, to say to themselves that the forces arrayed against them are too powerful to resist, it is always possible to fight back, and some of us always find ways to do so. This is nicely illustrated in Patrick Camangian’s article, “Subverting the Master(’s) Syllabus.” Even in classrooms bound by the shackles of No Child Left Behind, he contends, it is possible to devise assignments and make connections with communities that subvert the interests of those with power, and help to empower those without it.

Second, even in the best of circumstances, there are limits to what is possible inside of capitalism. It simply is not possible for education in an exploitative society to come even close to developing the full capacities of the masses of children who enter the doors of our schools. Institutionalized racism, class inequality and gender inequality, enter the schools as systematic tendencies arising from capitalism as a whole. Only when schooling is part of a revolutionary human project—one consciously aimed at destroying every remnant of capitalism and replacing it with democratic and egalitarian social relationships—will it become true education aimed at human development, and not miseducation, aimed at standardization and routinization, for all but a relative few.

It is fitting to end this issue with Ricardo Alarcón’s reflections on education in Cuba. There, in a poor country plagued by illiteracy and gross inequalities, prior to the revolution, the world has been shown what can be done—once the barriers that capitalism puts in the way of an emancipatory education have been removed. More importantly, Alarcón’s essay tells us that the centuries-long struggle for liberation in Cuba had deep roots in which the struggle for a liberatory education played a crucial part from the outset. In the words of José Martí, “Education—who can deny it?—is above all a labor of infinite love.” On what better basis to seek the revolutionary transformation of society?


2011, Volume 63, Issue 03 (July-August)
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