Report on Education

 
September 21, 2001

Speech given at the 27th National Convention of the CPUSA.

Education is a basic democratic and human right. It is
as basic to human life as clean air and water, food and shelter, freedom
and equality.

The idea that education is a right has deep roots. The
right to formal learning, once considered only for the privileged and
property-owners, was expanded to the majority of people through struggle,
through struggle and through still more struggle.

Our Party can be proud of the many fine education activists,
students and teachers we have around the country. At the Public Education
workshop we heard from many who are in the struggle everyday to save and
improve public education – from kindergarten to college.

But frankly, it’s not enough. If we don’t mobilize and
reach out and build militant, multiracial, working-class, labor and community
coalitions for quality, integrated education then public education, as
we understand it to be, will no longer exist. Do you want to tell your
children or grand children that we lost public education on our watch?
I don’t think so.

Bush’s education plan comes right out of that corporate-supported,
right-wing think tanking, neo-fascist looking, rascist pushing, anti-working
class to the core propagandizing: The Bell Curve. Where standardized tests
rule the day and if schools don’t pass them their funding gets cut. "Failing
schools should not be rewarded," ‘W’ claims. But corporate failures
get rewarded all the time. In the name of competition, the government
bails out corporations, yet in the name of educating children the state
says, "Take a hike."

This is a class battle of titanic proportions with the
potential to build broad, labor-community, multi-racial coalitions nationwide.
It is happening already; witness the voucher fights in California, Michigan
and right here in Milwaukee.

It’s not just a battle of the parents, although they’re
a part of the coalition.
It’s not just a battle of the teachers and school workers, although as
union members, public school workers are key to this fight.
It’s not just a battle of the students, although there, too, from K-college,
students are a part of this fight.

It’s a battle for the whole labor movement, civil rights
movement and women’s movement, for the whole multi-racial working class.

The demand for free, quality integrated public education
is a way for the whole working class to get back a portion of the wealth
it created for itself and for its daughters and sons.

The fight for public education is a fight for class unity
and against racism.

The fight for public education is a labor fight; it’s
a fight for union jobs.

The fight for public education is a fight for democracy
and it’s a fight for peace. Where else, except from the military budget
and the corporations, will we get the money to make our schools the quality,
integrated schools we need for the 21st century?

But mainly the fight for education is a fight for our
children who we hold so near and dear to us. It’s our future. It’s their
future.

If we don’t fight for it, where will the next generation
of doctors, artists and scientists come from? Where will children train
to help society solve our dire problems – from getting rid of toxic waste
to curing cancer and AIDS? That’s why we need public education.

The right-wing cabal claims the reason public education
is in crisis is because it is public. Are we going to believe that from
a bunch of lying, cheating and thieving operators? I think the public
has got some news for them.

The reason why public education is in crisis now is because
there is too much private – property, that is! So maybe we, the public,
should take over a few of those private firms and show them how it’s run.

We have to fight like hell for the funding and resources
to lower class sizes. Why not 10-15 children in a public school class?

We have to fight like hell to hire more teachers and staff.
How about $100,000 starting salary? As one parent in my kids’ school likes
to say, which profession does more for society: a teacher or a stock broker?

We have to fight like hell for affirmative action, funding
equity and an end to zero tolerance policies that open the door to policing
and criminalizing our children, especially children of color and the poor.

We have to fight like hell to get rid of educational racial
profiling.

We have to fight like hell for new schools, for a multi-cultural
curriculum, multi-lingual education, for art, music, science, computers,
dance, physical education, special education along with reading, writing
and math.

Hell, we have to fight like hell for soap and paper towels
in the bathroom.

We have to fight like hell to keep private and corporate
interests out of the schools – from running them outright, to more insidious
ways – like in textbooks. One comrade gave an example of a math problem
where they ask you to figure out how many Big Macs you can get for $10.

We have to stop this encroachment of corporate, ultra-right
invaders in our public schools. We have to put back the public in public
schools, not the ultra-right.

And through this fight a re-birth, a renaissance for public
schools across our nation’s neighborhoods, cities and towns will be the
legacy we leave for the next generation.

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