The class divide widens at school

8 February, 2022

Class divide in schools

The outlook for basic and secondary education in the world is increasingly bleak. Learning to read, write and learn basic mathematical tools is increasingly becoming a class divide that is denying development to millions of children. Meanwhile, states, weighed down by their own ideological urgencies, are unable to alleviate the problem and their “solutions” aggravate the general classism of the architecture of the education system.

Table of Contents

Mathematics: It’s not a “gender gap,” it’s a class divide.

Drop in the number of students (by gender) who chose mathematics classes on their CV. The emphasis is placed on the gender gap... but the reality is a class divide that excludes from technical-scientific knowledge students whose parents cannot afford to pay for private lessons.
Drop in the number of students (by gender) who chose mathematics classes on their CV. The emphasis is placed on the gender gap… but the reality is a class divide that excludes from technical-scientific knowledge students whose parents cannot afford to pay for private lessons.

The last reform of French high schools changed the curriculum and left mathematics as a specialty. After compulsory middle school, mathematics is no longer a compulsory subject, the remaining math-oriented electives are high level, “bone” subjects that only the most vocational students dare to take. So the number of class hours devoted to basic mathematics training was immediately reduced by 20%.

How does the state address this? By worrying about the “gender gap” and considering possible reforms based on gender impact.It is true that “50% of girls choose to drop mathematics in the major between first and last year versus 30% of boys”, but clearly it is not primarily a problem of sex discrimination to be solved.

The problem is that the very design and general approach of high school leads a large number of students to try to opt out of subjects that are generally poorly taught and worsen the results that will, or will not, allow them to continue studying. And the result is a class divide which drives students whose parents cannot afford to pay for private tutoring out of technical-scientific knowledge.

But there is no need for a reform that seems specifically designed to undermine knowledge of a particular subject in order to boost general de-skilling. Attempts to “boost” other instrumental skills such as English language have no better results.

In Spain, the colonial tone which the culture of the bourgeois classes has been acquiring in the last decades became, when it reached the school, the famous “bilingual model”. The original idea was to turn public schools into English “international schools”. A small quibble: the fact that real international schools give classes to children whose mother tongue is English with teachers whose mother tongue is also English was somehow left out of the picture. And just in case there was still little chance of it going wrong, teachers were sparsely equipped and had little or no reinforcement.

The result is an open secret: “bilingualism” is not only the expression of a pathetic colonialism but a real educational disaster away of which, today, dozens of public schools are trying to flee, among other things because it increases the class divide in educational results between schools.

Because the French and Spanish cases show how the de-skilling caused by the widespread reforms that have taken place throughout Europe in recent years has directly produced a class divide between those who can afford to receive private tutoring and those who cannot.

The deterioration of basic reading skills and the class divide.

A school in Mississippi. New methods of reading instruction also produce a class divide.
A school in Mississippi. New methods of reading instruction also produce a class divide.

When we go to the U.S. the problem is even more acute. The conceptualization of the student as a consumer is coupled with an extremely low level of cultural development for a global imperialist power.

Over half of the U.S. population does not possess sufficient reading skills to understand a text written for a 12 year old. Eighteen percent do not even have basic reading skills and cannot understand a table of results or find a “contact us” on a website. Needless to say, there is already a brutal class divide to begin with. Reading skills are not exactly evenly distributed between the working and the owning classes.

The mixture of a “consumerist” ideology of education and unbridled classism produces a a sustained decrease in the number of readers, unnecessary technological “solutions” and absurd discriminatory reforms such as that in Mississippi. There, they innovated in the way literacy was taught by emphasizing language comprehension – the meaning of the sentences read – and leaving aside decoding skills, i.e. reading itself. The overall results improved and media such as the New York Times or The Economist celebrated it.

There was just one problem: reading skills also need time and support. Had the state government hired more teachers, everything would have been great with the new method. But it didn’t. And the result, acknowledged but underappreciated, was that although average reading comprehension went up it was actually reflecting a new class divide: children from lower-income households were being left out of the game earlier.

Research suggests that about 40 percent of children will learn to read no matter how inadequate the instruction.

What about the other 60 percent? Lack of skills instruction can be a disaster for them, especially for students from low-income families. When children from higher-income homes struggle to read, their parents often pay for tutoring or a specialized private school. But children from poor families tend to be unsupported if schools do not teach them to read words.

There’s a right way to teach reading, and Mississippi knows it, Emily Handford in the New York Times

This is far from the only case where petty bourgeois solipsism and ideology cause massive damage by seeping into the school and widening the class gap.

In Argentina, a new pedagogical ideology, gradually implemented since the 1980s is now producing a flood of school dropouts in the suburbs and widening the already wide class divide in the country. The reason: disregarding the fact that the children of the working class do not grow up in a reading environment similar to that of the intellectual petty bourgeoisie.

The intensive teaching of reading and writing in the first months of schooling has been abandoned. The consequences are dramatic and are experienced throughout elementary and middle school. […]

And the name of the cause of such great educational tragedy and school failure in our educational system is “psychogenesis of writing”. […] What does psychogenesis propose? That children, just as they learn to speak through immersion, through contact with others who speak, will learn to read and write all by themselves through immersion in a written medium.

Ana Borzone in Infobae

The additional costs of state indoctrination

Greece. During the celebrations of the anniversary of national independence all children parade like soldiers through the streets of their city.
Greece. During the celebrations of the anniversary of national independence all children parade like soldiers through the streets of their city.

Since the beginning of the public education systems, the state has understood schools and institutes as indoctrination tools to “create citizens”, i.e. to inculcate nationalism and the central elements of the state ideology at any given moment. And this has not changed.

In Spain, the state has reformed the Philosophy syllabus in order to inculturate “feminist thought” under the false assertion that feminism means the defense of equality between men and women. The result of inserting extra doses of identitarianism during puberty and adolescence remains to be seen, but what is certain is that it will not free students from an ideology assigning them essential differences, it will simply give these essences different parameters.

In France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and other northern EU countries, the inclusion of school activities against climate change helped to create “Fridays for the future”, the figure of Greta Thunberg and phantom “climate strikes”.

The governments did not hesitate to use schools in order to create the media perception that there was a large mobilization in favor of the acceleration of the Green Deal. They did so at the cost not only of resources and useful teaching hours, but also of children’s mental health. That is why it produced in them a generalized “climate anxiety” which is in every way similar to the anxieties of adolescents captured by apocalyptic movements. “Why should I study if I’m going to die in a few years anyway?” a student asked himself in front of journalists.

Why are we recounting all this? The mingling of children from different social backgrounds in public classrooms and their equal indoctrination were historically part of the state’s way of selling the idea that access to the educational system closed the class divide for the children of workers. Today, the abuse of the school as a tool for explicit ideological indoctrination is no longer “neutral”: it diverts resources and further reduces the development of children and adolescents.

Are there any alternatives?

Mieres workers' schools, originally created by the miners themselves in the People's House, today a state public school. A true monument to how the organized working class confronted the class divide in basic education.
Mieres workers’ schools, originally created by the miners themselves in the People’s House, today a state public school. A true monument to how the organized working class confronted the class divide in basic education.

As long as there was an organized and massive class movement, it tried to curb the state in its eagerness to frame and the tendency to maintain and widen the class divide it concealed.

The main reason: putting the human development needs of children before these tendencies. The class movement did so by political means but also by disputing, where it had the opportunity, the state monopoly. This was the time when elementary and middle schools emerged from the People’ s Houses and the popular universities.

Today that class tissue is absent. And we see the consequences every day: while the state engages children on parade to indoctrinate them with nationalism or environmentalism, the class divide widens, literacy is eroded, and basic math skills fade to the point that kids finish their schooling without knowing how to read and analyze a basic graph like the ones used in TV news.

Basically, what is happening is that in order to develop the basic potential of students, the system demands more and more “extras”, aids and tutoring, widening the class divide.

There is no lack of tools. Digital development has created a thousand models and initiatives that would be useful… in case workers’ organizations existed that were able to take advantage of them and put them to use in a collective and coordinated way. Today, simple networks or cooperatives of school tutoring classes would be a significant step forward to face the effects of the degradation of the education system and the class divide.

Because in the end, as with all class issues and everything that affects human development, all progress comes through organizing as workers in the struggle for the direct satisfaction of universal needs.

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