The more things change…

As a parent of two Chicago Public Schools 4th graders, I’ve had a crash course this year in urban austerity.  Teachers are trying their best, but with 31 students per class, the school library effectively closed, and district mandated testing, it’s an uphill battle.  Meanwhile the district closed 50 schools outright last year citing low enrollment, but is likely to approve 30 new charter schools for next year (despite many charters being under-enrolled).  So I got a chuckle when I came across the following from the November 1924 edition the Industrial Pioneer (p. 28), which should be filed under “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

No Refinement for Robots

The school system is supposed to be the bulwark of the republic, and, up to now, it has been certainly a bulwark of capitalism.  The little children marched the goose step and swallowed the pills of prejudice and patriotism without any objection from them or their parents.  And in general, capitalism considered money spent on “education” to be well spent, and in the interests of public order, their order.

Something is happening now, though just why is not so clear.  The capitalist class is sabotaging education. We have before us a statement by the teachers’ unions of Chicago, which is a protest against the proposal of the Czaristic superintendent of schools here to fire about a thousand teachers, cut down the hours slightly, use a two-shift-a-day system, use the “platoon” or factory system of instruction, and abolish a part of the medical inspection of children.

The excuse given for all of this curtailment in effective education is “poverty,” “no money in the school fund.” The teachers counter this by figures to prove that forty billion dollars’ worth of property in Chicago escapes taxation altogether, while only four billion dollars’ worth of property is taxed.

Well, that is another problem. What we are interested in is: why is it that these capitalists do not raise the money? If they felt it necessary to maintain schools, they could raise the cash some other way than by taxation. Or they would submit to an infinitesimal tax on the forty billion dollars’ worth now escaping taxation.

Does this phenomenon mean that the capitalist class, in its second or third generation, is so degenerate that it can no longer act in its own interest? Or does it mean that capitalism has decided that there is danger in even such a slight education as it has been affording the children of the proletariat, and that it has decided to cut down on that?

The austerity we’re seeing in K-12 and in higher education begs the same question, although these days we don’t use the phrase “capitalist class” in polite company.  We might rephrase the question: have business leaders given up on mass education as anything other than a market?

In any case, the title of the piece is a reference to a line in Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots): “A working machine must not play the piano, must not feel happy, must not do a whole lot of things.” Indeed.

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