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Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital - The U.S. Case

John Bellamy Foster

Today’s conservative movement for the reform of public education in the United States, and in much of the world, is based on the prevailing view that public education is in a state of emergency and in need of restructuring due to its own internal failures. In contrast, I shall argue that the decay of public education is mainly a product of externally imposed contradictions that are inherent to schooling in capitalist society, heightened in our time by conditions of economic stagnation in the mature capitalist economies, and by the effects of the conservative reform movement itself. The corporate-driven onslaught on students, teachers, and public schools—symbolized in the United States by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation—is to be explained not so much by the failure of the schools themselves, but by the growing failures of the capitalist system, which now sees the privatization of public education as central to addressing its larger malaise.
We live in an era of structural crisis associated with a new phase of capitalism: monopoly-finance capital. This phase is characterized by: (1) economic stagnation in the mature capitalist economies; (2) a dramatic shift to financialization, i.e., speculative bubbles as a means of economic expansion; and (3) the rapid concentration (and monopolization) of capital on a global scale.1 A consequence of the slow growth endemic to the developed economies is that the giant corporations that dominate today’s economic world are compelled to search for new markets for investment, outside their traditional fields of operation, leading to the takeover and privatization of key elements of the state economy. The political counterpart of monopoly-finance capital is therefore neoliberal restructuring, in which the state is increasingly cannibalized by private interests.
It should hardly surprise us, under these circumstances, that financial circles now increasingly refer to public education in the United States as an unexploited market opportunity—or that the private education industry is calling for a further opening-up of the multi-trillion-dollar global public education market to capital accumulation.2 Education, moreover, plays a crucial role in the development of the workforce, leading to growing neoliberal calls for its restructuring.
The state of emergency of public education and the demand for its restructuring and privatization is to be viewed, then, as primarily the product of the current long-term period of economic and social instability. The structural crisis of capital as a whole is reflected in the struggle over schooling, which, far from being incidental to the system today, can now be seen as lying at or near its core. The result has been a resurgence of the long battle on the part of the vested interests to establish a commodified school system, bringing education increasingly within the domain of the market. Every means is now used to achieve this end, including exploiting the contradictions of race and class, international competition, and economic instability itself. - Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital


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