Heresey: why I support school vouchers

Tom Lehman TLEHMAN at
Mon Aug 2 19:06:52 PDT 1999

Well, with an election year coming up next year and the Republican front runner polling high among Latin American voters. You can be sure that your going to be hearing a lot more of this type of story. Plus the Republican front runner also has some pretty serious numbers among Black folks---maybe due to Black talk radio personalities and maybe due to Republicans like J.C. Watts.


Rkmickey at wrote:

> Lbo listers,
> The following was originally posted on marxism-list where certainly some of
> you have already seen it. I was very impressed by it and thought it would
> be worth reposting here, particularly in light of some of the things
> mentioned in recent posts by Rakesh and Kelley. I repost it here with the
> permission of Jose G Perez.
> K. Mickey
> Forwarded Message:
> Subj: Heresy: why I support school vouchers
> Date: 7/31/99 9:57:56 PM Central Daylight Time
> From: jgperez at (Jose G. Perez)
> Sender: owner-marxism at
> Reply-to: marxism at
> To: marxism at (Marxism List)
> The CPUSA statement to a meeting of Communist and Workers parties that was
> held recently included the following:
> >>The U.S. ruling class has launched a national effort to destroy free
> public education. It is trying to privatize education, create an educated
> elite, and leave millions without learning and training for the new
> millennium This fight against public education is being led by the
> ultra-right and corporations. <<
> I have for some time been tempted to write something about this, on which
> the CPUSA, if I understood correctly, does no more than repeat the typical
> position of the U.S. left on school vouchers, which is shared by the SWP and
> many others.
> It appears that the Communist Party hasn't noticed that, TODAY, support for
> school vouchers is strongest precisely among the Black and Hispanic
> communities. How could this be, you say, aren't vouchers a dirty ruling
> class plot?
> When the school voucher idea was first broached, it was in the context of
> the struggle over school desegregation. It was meant to continue the
> "separate but equal" dual school system in a new disguise. But today the
> context and therefore the content are different.
> Contrary to what the CPUSA thinks the ruling class WANTS to do, the truth is
> that the U.S.educational system ALREADY creates an educated elite, and
> leaves millions without learning. The greatest victims of this are the
> Black, Hispanic and poor working class children of the inner cities. Equal
> education through school desegregation has largely failed. And it behooves
> communists to wake up and smell the coffee. American education is JUST as
> segregated and JUST as unequal as it was four decades ago.
> Now Black and Hispanic parents are demanding the right to send their
> children to schools of their own choosing, not to whatever soul-destroying
> institution the State would condemn them too. What kind of "communists"
> would not support the right of Blacks and Hispanics --indeed, of all working
> people, of all parents-- to take control of the education of their children
> AWAY from the bourgeois state and into their OWN hands?
> Why should the better, private schools be a "right" of the rich and not the
> poor? Why shouldn't families decide which grammar, middle and high schools
> their children attend?
> We should demand that the state guarantee an education to all children at
> 100% state expense. But all experience shows that the state has absolutely
> no intention or capacity to actually deliver to all Black children, all
> Hispanic children, all the children of the Native peoples, all the children
> of the poor working class families, just as good an education as society
> seems to have no problem providing to millions of other children.
> So I say, vouchers for all, and not a measly thousand dollars or two, but
> vouchers that cover the full, real cost of an education at the BEST schools
> in a given area, including aftercare, including clubs and teams and music
> lessons and ballet recitals. Down with the state monopoly of education,
> which condemns millions of Black, Hispanic and other poor children to
> ignorance!
> This is not an attack on free, universal, public education, because today
> that is already a myth. The miserable quality of many city school systems
> drives many of the better-off working families to private education,
> relieving the government of all expense for the education of those children.
> Even if one is tempted to dismiss such families as "privileged" careful
> attention needs to be paid to the defacto social policy. The local city
> fathers, i.e., the bankers and big businessmen, now have a tremendous
> incentive to place a tight lid on the quality of the city school system. The
> big incentive isn't to save the couple of hundred dollars more per student
> that the schools might need. It's to save the $6,000-$10,000/student that
> the 15-25% of the school-age population in private school would cost them if
> they returned to the public system.
> The Communist Party is quite right to speak about the bourgeois drive to
> "privatize" education, but it doesn't seem to have a clue that this is
> already going on RIGHT NOW. The thing the bourgeoisie is MOST interested in
> doing is "privatizing" the COST of educating children, throwing it back on
> individual families.
> Now the most important reason for universal school vouchers is that inner
> city schools suck on purpose. Inner city schools aren't terrible schools by
> accident, by the "difficulty" on educating children with too much melanin in
> their skin, or as a result of the "deprived" background of ghetto kids. And
> it isn't that American teachers and school administrators don't know how to
> run "good" schools, at least by bourgeois standards. American inner-city
> school systems are mediocre by design. The bourgeoisie and their political
> representatives especially at a local level know exactly how to run a good
> school system --by their standards-- and an absolutely mediocre one. They do
> BOTH in virtually every major metropolitan area. It's not that there's a
> different, smarter local ruling class in the suburbs, the SAME bankers and
> businessmen dominate both the city and its suburbs.
> The key to making it work is the often unspoken school philosophy or
> ideology. For example, in the City of Atlanta proper, the (nearly all Black)
> public schools are highly regimented. Five year olds are introduced into the
> world of formal education by learning to line up, by being told to keep
> quiet, by being forced into the unnatural and absolutely moronic practice of
> having them sit straight in front of papers and manipulate representations
> of objects --- drawings -- to single out characteristics like one is taller
> than another and three objects are the same as three objects. This they do
> on blue ditto sheets spewed out by the city's central school bureaucracy, an
> apparatus stuffed full of political cronies and appointees that swallows
> between one third and one fourth of the system's budget.
> The schools are not lacking in resources. The one I am most acquainted with
> had counselors and principals and assistant principals and teaching resource
> people and a modern, substantial computer lab with an excellent IBM-produced
> program designed to help children acquire reading readiness and initial
> reading skills in a non-regimented, playful way.
> It also had no playground, and children were taken for recess to a large
> auditorium where they were required to engage in regimented group exercise
> and running, not in free play. Mind you, there was room on the school
> grounds for a playground, they CHOSE not to build one.
> This grammar school had 600 children -- now more, they've built an
> addition -- because anything smaller is inefficient from the point of view
> of the kitchen staff and the school bus routes. Children are run through the
> cafeteria by grades, starting with the youngest, who had lunch at 10:25.
> They were required to line up -- in silence, and in a certain order -- march
> down to the cafeteria together, go through the line together, sit together,
> stay together sitting until the bell rang and march back to class together.
> This is a somewhat integrated school about half or more of whose area was
> originally hippie/gay/bohemian, then yuppified, and now has become almost
> bourgeosified. As the socio-economic mix has shifted up, the number of white
> children in the neighborhood has increased, but the percentage of children
> enrolled in the public school from north of the railroad tracks has steadily
> declined.
> Moreover, although the kindergarten class may be half white, by the time
> second grade rolls around the enrollment is mostly Black.
> My daughter, who is now 9, started at that school four years ago. Her FIRST
> interaction with her teacher, a 20-year-veteran, reputed to be THE BEST
> teacher in this school, supposedly the best of all Atlanta public schools,
> was a scolding for taking a toy out of a cubby hole. This is school, and we
> have rules, she was told.
> Her second interaction was being told to sit and be quiet.
> Her third interaction, the bell now having been rung, was being handed a
> blue ditto sheet by the teacher, who asked the children if any knew how to
> write their names. Carmen was one of the few who did, and was beaming when
> she raised her hand. The teacher showed her where to put her name and she
> wrote it: CARMEN. When she came home she had the blue ditto sheet with her.
> In red ink, the teacher had crossed out her pencil scrawled CARMEN and
> written Carmen above it. The teacher said she was wrong, Carmen explained.
> It had to be capitals and lower case. One more detail on the ditto sheet.
> The same sheet is used in every kindergarten in every school in the Atlanta
> system on the same day. I was told that this was so if the teacher was sick,
> a substitute could just step right in and do that day's "work."
> That was the first day of kindergarten.
> The second day I saw the teacher bawl out a five year old boy who wound up
> crying on the floor. The teacher accused him of being tired from not getting
> to bed early enough. In fact, he was just shell-shocked from the constant
> bombardment of abuse, denigration and regimentation from this thug. His
> mother came to get him, and the teacher bawled her out, too.
> The third day Carmen broke down in the car when I was taking her, pleading
> with me not to make her go. A few days later Carmen was in a private school.
> It meant her mother had to go back to work full time right away, instead of
> being able to mostly stay home with our six-week-old baby as we had planned.
> We weren't the only ones. Two other white kids were also pulled out from
> this kindergarten room. Her original class in the city of Atlanta school was
> 16 children, 8 of them Black. Of those 16, 9 were re-enrolled for first
> grade, 7 of them Black.
> If you look at the evolution of major metro areas over the past three
> decades, you can't help but wonder, how did this happen. The whites who
> can -- the majority -- flee to the suburbs, as do the "middle class" blacks.
> They say its the schools but the urban schools often have as much or more
> money per student as many suburban districts. They have the same books. They
> often pay the teachers well. Yet the inner city schools have horrific
> dropout rates, kids who stay are pushed through to graduation on "social
> promotion" and most can't read well enough to understand a newspaper. None
> of it makes any sense until you realize what it is they're trying to do in
> these schools, from day one, for thirteen years.
> The teachers will tell you, teaching kids from the ghetto is different,
> they're wild, you have to instill in them the discipline and self-control
> they're going to need to survive as adults, to get a job, to stay out of
> jail. It sounds reasonable, even caring, until you see it applied to your
> 5-year-old-daughter. Then you just try not to go postal while you figure out
> a way to get her as far away from these bastards as possible.
> Less than a mile from this school is the City of Decatur. The City of
> Decatur has its own tiny little school system, with six primary schools of
> about 150 students each. They quite cleverly "solved" the cafeteria problem
> that Atlanta found so insurmountable. They have a central kitchen and bus
> the hot lunch to the schools, instead of busing the children. The city of
> Decatur spends about as much per pupil as Atlanta does, but it has no
> central school bureaucracy. They didn't then have the gleaming computer lab
> or the IBM program, or the blue ditto sheets. Every school is surrounded by
> playing fields, with swings and monkey bars and slides. At the time, the
> social composition of the city of Decatur was almost identical to that of
> the contiguous Atlanta neighborhood. Its school property taxes were
> significantly higher, because there is such a higher proportion of families
> with children. A house in the city of Decatur identical to one in Atlanta a
> few blocks away cost half again as much. A friend of mine, a real estate
> agent, explained the difference: The cost is the same, once you add in the
> cost of a private school in Atlanta. He also noted the demographics.
> One-child families might wind up in Atlanta. Two or more children, and
> Decatur was the only choice.
> Now in the city of Decatur, principals and teachers run the schools as
> they see fit, and there's a fair bit of variation from one school to the
> next. But you can tell the difference between the city of Atlanta school and
> any city of Decatur school immediately. The walls of the city of Atlanta
> school were covered with battleship gray paint. The walls of the city of
> Decatur schools are covered with the paintings and projects of the children.
> The City of Atlanta grammar schools test low, and spend tons of time
> preparing for the test. The city of Decatur test high.
> I''ve gone through my experience in great detail because this little few
> square mile area of Greater Atlanta presents almost laboratory conditions.
> You've got basically continuous neighborhoods on both sides of the tracks
> for a few miles, with a teeny "suburban" enclave (pop: 20,000) in the city
> of Decatur, but one that's about a third or so Black. Of the city of Decatur
> grammar schools, 2 are mostly white, 2 are mixed, 2 are mostly black, going,
> roughly north to south. The difference is in what the schools are trying to
> do. The Atlanta schools are rigid, regimented, authoritarian, the teachers
> consciously understand that their role is to instill in Black kids
> "discipline," i.e.., submissiveness. Even excellent resources, -- like the
> IBM computer lab -- gets turned into instruments for subjugation. The IBM
> program was designed to be used by individual students. The teachers force
> two students to share one computer, while there are many machines unused.
> The children are meant to roam more or less at will within the program, with
> some gentle guidance from the teacher. Instead, the teachers and computer
> lab people use the program to do drills, first on shapes, then on letters.
> The IBM materials clearly explain what the program is and how it is meant to
> be used. Some local corporation got a hard-on for improving its "civic"
> image and donated the lab to this and several other schools. Some extremely
> conscious person then sat down and figured out how to make a program
> designed to educate into one used to subjugate.
> If more than half the Black community is supporting school vouchers, its not
> because they've forgotten it was an idea thought up by the Klan. They want
> it because the schools their children have access to DON'T WORK. They don't
> work because their primary focus isn't on education, as Carmen's teacher
> quite calmly told me, but on socialization. Ever since that conversation
> I've always thought she missed her true calling in life. She was born to be
> one of those jack-booted ATF thugs who murder children and mothers cradling
> babies in their arms.
> The labor "leaders," "progressive" democrats and the ACLU crowd are all
> horrified at the thought that Black and Hispanic parents having vouchers
> because they might choose the "wrong" school, and --horror of horrors-- even
> a religious school. "Separation of church and state," say these hypocrites,
> NOT A SINGLE ONE OF WHOM sends their kids to an inner city school, all of
> whom send their kids to PRIVATE schools, safe in the knowledge that economic
> barriers will keep their children from being contaminated by ghetto kids.
> They're defending their privileged access to a better education for THEIR
> children just as tenaciously as the Ku Klux Klanners did more than a
> generation ago in the South. So their oh-so-principled concern for the
> "sanctity" of the separation of Church and State has a much more earthly and
> immediate implication: their kids get an advantage over those of the rabble.
> But on the merits of church and state, first of all, socialists defend the
> right of everyone, and especially of oppressed minorities, to practice their
> own faith and raise their children in the faith of their choosing.
> Second, separating the costs associated with general education as opposed to
> those associated with strictly religious instruction is no more an
> insurmountable task than separating the cost of surgery at a Catholic
> hospital from the costs incurred keeping a priest on standby to administer
> last rites in case the surgery fails.
> I've even seen some unthinking "socialist" publication saying that this
> would leave poor impressionable kids in the hands of priests and nuns who
> will fill their heads with all sorts of reactionary ideas.
> This, of course, instead of the enormously progressive, enlightened
> education black and Hispanic kids receive now in those pre-prison
> institutions that for some quaint reason the real explanation of which has
> been lost in the mists of time, people insist on calling "educational."
> Supporting the state's monopoly over the education of working-class children
> on the basis that working people fought for and won free, universal public
> education 100-odd years ago is to make a fetish of the form that a
> particular struggle took, to the detriment of what was really at stake. The
> struggle is still FOR education for our children, but now it is directed
> against the anti-schools the bourgeoisie has imposed.
> Now, on a very important point:
> Aren't "public" schools more progressive than "private" schools?
> Well, are "public" prisons more progressive than "private" ones?
> Is Alitalia more "progressive" than Delta, and does its "Progressiveness
> Quotient" decline with every tranche of stock sold to private investors?
> Is the post office the "progressive" alternative to the "reactionary" UPS?
> Do communists fight for progressive municipal garbage collection, instead of
> reactionary private haulers?
> In principle, it makes no difference AT ALL whether the American (or
> British, or French...) bourgeoisie controls an enterprise "privately" or
> through its state. By and large, the capitalists try to organize it so that
> profitable enterprises remain in the private sector while those which play a
> necessary social function (in this case, warehousing ghetto kids until
> they're old enough for prison), but are likely to incur losses are "owned"
> by the "public" which means they are subsidized by the taxes extracted from
> working people.
> It's said --as a criticism-- that school vouchers take money away from
> ghetto schools "that need it the most." Yes, that's exactly the point. The
> real purpose is to destroy "Ghetto schools" and inner city school systems as
> they know exist.
> That's why the reactionary bourgeois proponents of vouchers raise a limited
> voucher that doesn't cover the full cost of a private school and in very
> limited numbers. THEIR vouchers aim to preserve the ghetto schools by buying
> off the parents that raise a ruckus.
> One last point. Those familiar with the usual left arguments against school
> vouchers will notice I've not said anything about the need to defend the
> teachers unions against this capitalist plot to undermine them. I just want
> to say it was not an oversight.
> Jose

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