Karl Marx, Louis Althusser, Antiono Gramsci, and many others on "the left" have argued that public institutions are tools of capitalist oppression, upheld by dominant ideologies and perpetuated within processes of interpolation and subjugation. A complicated way of saying that institutions like education serve and coerce us into capitalist ideologies and relationships with one another.
In Woman, Race, and Class (1983), Angela Davis shows us that public institutions and even activist movements for social change are co-produced not merely by capital's class relations (bourgeois v. proletariat, for example) but by a classism intricately co-produced by racism, sexism, and homophobia.
In other words: Public institutions pretend to be public -- to serve the public -- but actually serve capital's interests and the state that upholds them.
Education is but one public institution whose role is to serve capitalism's working ideologies and practices.
For Native peoples, for instance, education has worked in concert with other institutions -- like religion and the military -- to forcibly and violently expand the United States as an empire over the lands and bodies of Native peoples. Forced relocation, governmental ("tribal") liquidation, and assimilationist education programs targeted Native lands and bodies as resources for the capitalist state. Through systematic fraud and military invasion, the state appropriated Native lands and bodies for its own, turning both into exploitable properties and commodities.
These programs were co-produced by dominant ideologies of race, gender, and sexuality. Native peoples were represented as inferior people with barbaric, savage "societies". Native women were denied their historic role in negotiations and treaty making processes, denied property rights by Congress and the courts, physically abused and sexually raped, made over into servants of boarding schools, 'white' ranches, and the wealthy. Native men were discriminated against, murdered, beaten, and made over into farm hands and soldiers. Native two-spirits were murdered, raped, incarcerated, and forced into heteronormative categories and classrooms.
What these histories and practices show us is how education works as an apparatus of capitalist state control and empire building.
The effort to transform public education systems -- from charter schools to universities -- into "for profit," privatized schools is the logical development of capitalist ideologies and aims. Ideologies and aims that make students over into indentured servants to transnational banks and their corporations, with lesser and lesser quality in education (not to mention less and less radical) and more and more desperation for jobs that are not there when they graduate.
PBS Frontline's "College, Inc." provides an excellent analysis of how this is happening. The California Faculty Association provides an excellent set of resources for understanding its principles.
The story goes like this: Public higher education universities are funded less and less by the federal/state government. They respond by hiring less and less tenure and tenure-track faculty and more and more temporary lecturers, providing less and less in pensions and health benefits, and encouraging faculty to take early retirement and even other jobs. They respond by pushing more students into the classroom, charging students more for tuition, forcing students to take more expensive classes (on-line and summer session), and cutting back scholarships and other financial support. Desperate to finish their degrees, students are indentured to student loans they will never be able to pay off in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, the profits that universities accrue through these cost savings measures -- made on the grounds that they are broke and underfunded -- are disproportionately poured into administrative costs. Not the classroom.
The result is a far more conservative, limited, and unchallenged learning environment for students and more and more profit to the university and its administrators.
I speak from experience. I finished my Ph.D.from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 2000. I owed $81,000 in student loans -- not merely because of tuition increases, though there was that (to the tune of 400 to 500%), but because during the eight years it took me to complete my degree -- the majority of which I worked as a teaching assistant and lecturer -- saw the .com financial boom in the greater bay area, resulting in ever escalating costs of living. For instance, I paid $525/mo. in rent and took home $950 for nine months out of the year in salary. Hard to live like that for very long. So, I graduated with student loan debt. I have paid about $600/mo. on that debt every month for twelve years. That's $86,400, for those of you not doing the math. But the principle on my student loan has only gone down by about $11,000. I still owe $71,000 on the loan. I continue to pay $600/mo. So, you tell me where I will be in 17 years when -- at 67 -- I will be eligible and probably asked to retire? While they continue to gut my pension and destroy social security, usually on the grounds that we (the public) are not doing enough? Meanwhile, I rent a small room in someone else's house 22 miles from campus to save money on rent to keep up with payments on my student loan. Payments that go to a bank that has earned about SEVENTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS in interest off of my payments over the last decade?
Tell me, again, how this is not a system aimed at maintaining and expanding a capitalist empire? Co-produced by ideologies that tell me I am not a good enough citizen because I am Native? Lesser because I have made "unpopular" decisions about marriage and kids? Lesser because I am a woman?
I wonder what decolonizing public education would mean. How do we get the empire's interests out of our classrooms, out of our intellect, out of our work? When so much of all of it is defined by capitalism? Is it possible?
I have been asked to vote to strike, to support the CFA in its now failed negotiations with the CSU over faculty contracts. I do not want to do this. I am afraid about paying my bills. Meeting my financial obligations. But the CSU seems to think we are paid too much, given too much, teach too little, and sacrifice nothing to a system that demands our loyalty. Really? I have been working since 2008 without a contract and without a contractual raise. While cost of living skyrockets in a failed economy, exaggerated by living in one of the most expensive places in the United States to live. But I am not doing enough? Alrighty then.
Guess it's time to strike. In the language of capitalism that the system speaks, it is the only action they pay attention to.