What if I told you trying to eliminate poverty through “education” is bullshit? | AmericaWakieWakie
“Only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.”
— Malcolm X
We live in a time when more people, far more than ever before, are educated far more than ever before. Yet capitalism’s use of low wage labor persists as the gap between rich and poor becomes an insurmountable chasm. Such trends are likely to continue. History tells us, from colonial genocide to slavery to now, that capitalism has always been and will continue to be a system predicated on exploitation. Education’s purpose within an oppressive system then is not to enhance the lives of the exploited, but to structurally replicate and facilitate their exploitation.
How is educational inequity structured through class?
“Poverty, the existence of the poor, was the first cause of riches.”
— Peter Kropotkin
Contrary to the accepted dogma that (any) education is the great equalizer in American society, it has been structured in a way that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In other words, working class students are structurally disenfranchised from the upward mobility education is believed to provide.
It is true, however, that more educated folks have, on average, done “better” (relative to the poorest of us) than those with less education. What happens though to education in working class communities where capitalism has siphoned wealth most?
As Jacobin magazine recently stated: “[T]he growth in inequality over the last three decades has not been mainly a story of the more educated pulling away from the less educated,” but “rather, it has been a story in which a relatively small group of people (roughly the top one percent) have been able to garner the bulk of economic gains for reasons that have little direct connection to education.”
In part, this is because the essential accruing of profit dictates either an ever expanding market, which, framed within the scope of limited resources, is impossible, or ever increasing exploitation of working peoples, which is happening. Such is the reason for the erosion of high paying working class jobs through mechanized industry, globalization, anti-unionism, and stagnant worker’s wages while still accounting for record productivity/efficiency and profits among corporate giants.
“[I]nequality is not a question of the more-educated gaining at the expense of the less-educated due to inevitable technological trends. Rather, it has been a story in which a small group of especially well-situated workers — for example, those in finance, doctors, and top-level corporate executives — have been able to gain at the expense of almost everyone else. This pattern of inequality will be little affected by improving the educational outcomes for the bottom quarter or even bottom half of income distribution… [I]t… is not the case that plausible increases in education quality and attainment will have a substantial impact on inequality. This will require much deeper structural changes in the economy.”
Because education funding is buoyed by state and local tax revenues, disparities between affluent and working class communities are inherent.
A study conducted by the advocacy group Public Citizens for Children & Youth determined wealthy communities are well situated to absorb state cuts in education funding by marginally increasing local sales taxes or raising property taxes to ensure students receive the support needed for success. Poorer communities, on the other hand, “[W]ith a weak property tax base are not able to raise taxes enough to have a significant impact because the local tax burdens are already proportionately high.”
But there is more. When we take into consideration that often the limited revenue of our taxation is diverted to corporate welfare instead of our community needs, we come to understand the working class is forced to finance those fleecing our communities. Literally, the wealthy can afford higher taxation for their children’s education because with every subsidy and tax loophole we, the working class, supplement their incomes with our financial poverty.
How is educational inequity structured through white supremacy?
“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.”
— Assata Shakur
White supremacy is a hard bug to kill. In the American South white supremacy has burrowed deep beneath the region’s skin, firmly rooting itself within state-sanctioned methods of discrimination.
Though school desegregation has faded as a national issue, nearly 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision the reality of its presence — however different — is still painfully clear. Few places more than impoverished Mississippi, with its racially tattered past, demonstrate better that when education is underlined by the pervading social and economic trends of an exploitive system it will replicate the same disparities and biases of that system.
The Brown decision meant that Mississippi’s segregated schools were now illegal, but it did little to placate white Mississippians’ ambitions to maintain separate school systems. When groups of black Mississippians pressed for adherence to the law, they were halted immediately, repeatedly, and often violently. Where they were not successful in blocking black efforts, white Mississippians simply left.
Enter white-flight, or re-segregation. In 1960, as reported by the Census Bureau, Jackson, Mississippi’s population was 64.3% white and 35.7% black. By 1990, with the winds of desegregation having been stymied by white exodus, population demographics shifted to 43.6% white and 55.7% black. By 2013 white Jacksonians have dwindled to 18% of the city’s total population.
Mississippi’s history (read Jim Crow) of denying black people access to the resources needed for socioeconomic stability considered, re-segregation of the greater Jackson area has robbed black youth of the necessary tax revenue for a thriving school system. As a result, the Jackson Public School District ranks in the bottom 25 percentile of the state’s school systems while its neighboring districts, the Rankin Country School District and the Madison Country School district, rank in the top 25 percentile.
Maintaining the social and economic power of re-segregation afforded the state’s white majority has been the fruit of constant labor.
Gerrymandering is one method employed, or as editorialist Joe Collins described, the act of “distorting the way votes are counted in order for a party to stay in office, or stay more in office” by “moving district lines, splitting up groups, and sending their votes elsewhere to be counted — or wasted.”
The ramifications of gerrymandering are far-reaching. Because electoral politics in Mississippi are divided on racial lines, largely facilitated by white flight, voting districts mirror segregated communities — on purpose. Such a strategy seeks to mitigate the voices in opposition to white supremacist domination. As Collins perfectly stated:
“Packing the majority-minority districts is like stuffing a few more clothes into a full laundry bag – you can put more stuff in there, but it still just counts as one bag. The more black votes that go into a majority-minority district, the fewer blacks there are to contend with in other senate races statewide.”
Framed in terms of education, this means less marginalized voices to champion the programs needed to lift impoverished communities, especially black communities like Jackson, at every level of government. Still further, it means black students in Mississippi schools will rarely, if ever, be empowered beyond poverty by a curriculum engaging them in their true histories so long as power is structurally rigged into the hands of whites.
How do we begin to educate through common struggle?
“Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education.”
— Paulo Freire
Moving beyond the race and class structured barriers placed before America’s most exploited will require deep changes in society. In the face of such barriers we know “education” alone is not a plausible answer to poverty when capitalism has reduced it to a commodity in service of the wealthy, racist elite.
Because of this we know we cannot depend on those oppressing us to educate us of our real potential. Our education must come from each other, from our joint struggles. We must develop a new kind of education — an education that itself is living resistance. To do this we can begin by framing it within revolutionary context — that is, we must ask each other education about what exactly, how will we engage one another differently, and in what new ways shall we henceforth cope.
By asking these questions we come to understand that degrees of any kind in any field do nothing to eliminate poverty without knowing and addressing the underlying fundamental that capitalism breeds it. The only education that challenges and sets out a path to abolish poverty is the radical re-education to dismantle our current mode of living and to redefine/re-center it around our local communities.
All else is treading water.
(Read Part Two of This Series Here)
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