Closing Schools to Fix Budgets is Class War

Across the United States, cities are closing schools left and right to fix budget shortfalls. In and of itself, this is an absolutely terrible idea. Those students don’t simply vanish into the ether, and need to be placed in new schools, which results in crowding and pressure on the schools left open, potentially long travel for students, and other issues; and, of course, it causes unemployment for teachers and school personnel who suddenly aren’t needed and will struggle for positions in the limited number of schools that managed to escape the budget axe.

School closures represent a closure of opportunities for students, making it harder for them to succeed and reducing the chances that they’ll be able to become active participating members of the economy; which is, allegedly, the goal for education and economic recovery. If you’re depriving children of educational resources, making it harder for them to get into college, and forcing them to go further afield just to get to class every day, you’re effectively writing them off as people with potential and the possibility to do something with their lives. They’re going to have to fight much, much harder to succeed.

And school closures inevitably reek of class war, because on any school closure list, there are a number of key things to note, but the most important thing is that the schools most prone to closure are those in lower and working class neighbourhoods, as well as communities of colour (which are often the same). Public schools in white wealthy communities are less prone to being targeted for closure; not for these students a displacement to a new school or district, a wrenching from the familiar, or a radical change in environment. These students will continue enjoying the amenities they’ve always had, underscoring the class divide between rich and poor in US cities.

I was struck recently by the conditions at a school I visited for an event; the school itself is listed as a distinguished school and one of the top performing in the state, and it’s in one of the wealthiest communities in California. The grounds were impeccable, the classrooms bright and well-designed, the buildings all in top condition, the theatre where the event was held large, spacious, and well-equipped. These conditions are glorious and beautiful, and it’s no wonder students there tend to perform well, because they’re provided with every advantage.

They don’t just have the advantage of an outstanding school facility courtesy of the high tax bracket in the surrounding area, which ensures that the school can hire the best teachers, get the best equipment, and maintain flawless facilities. They have the advantage of parents who can be fully engaged in their education, who participate in school events, who provide opportunities for enrichment and educational advancement outside the home. They have the benefit of supportive agreements with neighboring educational institutions for extra credit classes and other opportunities, and the benefit of homes where the presence of food, electricity, and other basic needs is never in doubt.

I want the same thing for all students in the United States; all schools should be as beautiful and compelling as this one was, and all students should have access to these kinds of conditions. But they don’t. Many schools have aging facilities, some of which are actively dangerous. They have crowded classrooms and no extracurricular opportunities let alone spaces to hold them in, no lavish theatres and fancy scientific equipment for biology, outdated textbooks and harried staff who don’t have time to give students individualised attention. They have parents who are too busy working multiple jobs to be engaged with their education, and they’re trapped in communities that are stereotyped, hated, and feared; they can’t, for example, take classes at a relatively nearby college or university because the bus service creates an active disincentive to enter the town the institution is located in, unless students want to ride the bus for two hours to get somewhere that could be driven to in twenty minutes.

School closures target schools in these communities, making students even more marginalised. This might be justified on the grounds that it would be ludicrous and shameful to shut down wealthy schools with nice facilities when closing an unsafe school makes more sense, and on the grounds that wealthier communities have less of a budget shortfall, but the decision to close schools in low-income neighbourhoods predominantly inhabited by people of colour and nonwhite people has a lot to do with the fact that these students are viewed as disposable and so are their schools. If inhibiting their opportunities to advance socially will allow the nicer schools to remain open, so be it.

If forcing these students to travel extended distances to stay in school is necessary, well, that’s all right; even though those students will arrive at new schools only to find more of the same. Overcrowded classrooms, teachers struggling with students at different skill levels, dangerous facilities, and the same conditions they endured at their old schools. This is the ‘acceptable tradeoff’ made with school closures: it’s a calculated act of class warfare, cementing the gap between rich and poor, reiterating the idea that members of the working class are without value and primarily here on sufferance. Good enough to clean toilets and make beds and serve food, but not good enough to have access to an education and opportunities beyond service.

While working class communities may fight to retain their schools, it’s a difficult battle when organisers have trouble coming up with time, and when they’re opposed by wealthy people who don’t want anything to affect the conditions at their schools. There’s opposition to maintaining enough funding to keep schools open, let alone equalising funding so that all students have the same chances within the educational system; and yet, people pretend that the United States has no class barriers.