The African-American community has long promoted the virtue of acquiring a good education. We are warned to never forget that during slavery Black people were denied an education, and it was illegal to teach a slave how to read. As is true of the working class in general, African Americans, once slavery was abolished, agitated for the extension and relied on the system of public education to provide the avenue through which to attain that which had been previously denied.
Yet, funding, especially federal, for public education has never been adequate. Public education today is threatened with further defunding through privatization and vouchers, policies which are the quick fix answers offered by the political right. Neither provides a viable solution for the African-American community.
Make no mistake about it, everybody knows public education is in need of a complete overhaul. New schools need to be built and old schools which are still usable need to be remodeled, curricula need to be redesigned to be inclusive of history, culture, science and language, teacher training needs to be broadened, more teachers need to be hired, school and class sizes need to be much smaller, and completely modern textbooks, science equipment and technology need to be available for all students. In addition, the arts and physical education need to be fully reestablished.
Yet, those who are in the know also understand that the quality of education at well-funded public schools surpasses that of many of the very expensive private institutions. The problem is not being public; the problem is inadequate funding. Not teachers, unions, parents or students, but inadequate funding has created a crisis in public education that has reached a level of severity that is truly alarming.
Working-class youth in general, but African-American, and other racially and nationally oppressed, youth in particular are suffering. When public schools fail them, prison and early death emerge as fatal lures.
Vouchers offer no real alternative especially for poor students in particular. Vouchers will cut into the already insufficient funding for public schools while not covering all of the expenses related to attending inadequately funded private institutions. The masses of poor and middle-income children will not have the option of attending adequately funded private institutions because the cost even with vouchers will still be prohibitive. Solving the crisis in the system of public education requires additional funding, particularly federal, and more.
On the horizon lurks the ominous threat of education-for-profit as another option to the public system. The concept of mass education for profit helps to expose the irrationality of health care for profit, housing for profit, etc. Yet, for-profit companies are gaining ground in the promotion of their take over of public schools. Education for profit does not make sense for and will not solve the educational problems of African-American children and youth.
Public education must provide the complete scope of services required to ready the student for learning. From the cradle to the grave, public education should be free. From early morning, till late evening, the system of public education should provide the range of services any student and his/her family could require. To do that, public education must become more of a federal budgetary priority.
Demanding that Congress provide the funding required for quality public education is the start of the only real solution for African-American children and youth. The dangerously bloated military budget is one sector from which some of the necessary funding for public education can be transferred. Why allow our tax dollars to be wasted on perpetual war when it can be better spend on our children?
Don’t let this election year pass without registering your concern for public education with your vote. The political right advocates that increased funds for public education will result in poring good money after bad because the system of public education is unfixable. They want to completely dismantle public education, leaving the masses of children with no real option.
Increased funding for public education produces results. We should reject the solutions offered by the conservative right by rejecting their candidates in the voting boothes. Part of the solution to the problem of public education is to lift every voice and vote!
Dee Myles is chair of the Communist Party USA’s Education Commission. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org