The Newest School Buildings Are Indistinguishable from the Newest Prisons or the Newest Industrial Complexes

The Council for the Liberation of Daily Life

22 September 1968

Beyond the family structure imposed on us, the school is generally the first instrument of social repression a child meets in life. To the school is assigned the task of breaking the will to individuation, of "channeling the mind," of incapacitating the child with the rules that hold this society together: "This is the way things will be because this is the way they are." The classroom serves to impress through the medium of daily routine that life is essentially following orders, that the choices are always among the given, that control of your life is, and always will be, somewhere else. Passivity is the rule, and all "activity" is planned (except for the frills: the extracurricular, and then some). It is not accidental that the newest school buildings are indistinguishable from the newest prisons or the newest industrial complexes.

All the talk around the New York City "school crisis" misses this altogether. And this, too, is not accidental.

Beyond a few speeches aimed at capturing a constituency, it has not been a question of standard of teaching, which is bad, or of type of school, which initiates into this "life." "Control" has been the central issue. All the protagonists would like to see the schools operating. It is a minor question as to who will administer (control) district classrooms, which, with or without racism, function to introduce human beings into a world, a "life," that moves further beyond anyone's control every day. Yet the mere raising of the question of control is dangerous. It is always possible that once people get an inkling that they can handle part of their lives, they might feel they can handle the whole thing; that people might realize that power is them, as individuals.

We said just now that it is a minor question as to who will administer district schools. It is of course not minor for the central Board of Education (the City), which is delegating power to lower Local Boards so that there may be better central control over the educational system. (It is hoped that this will help, by making people feel it is their school, bring about higher standards in the teaching of a system that we maintain is to be rejected in its entirety.) The term "decentralization" has been captured in order to represent this attempt to reinforce central control. The term loses all of its implications of autonomous power, absence of central authority.

What [Albert] Shanker wants -- with his all-city union of teachers -- is a necessity within the centralized hierarchy: the assurance that the union will be able to deal with the central Board for a Master Contract covering the city, that this will be unquestioned by the Local Boards (who will then be able to present their gripes in subsidiary negotiations).

It is little wonder that so many should consider such "decentralization" inevitable.

It is significant that the one voice that has not been heard in the great debate is that of the students. But, after all, they cannot be expected to understand, because they are only children, partially educated beings, partially molded to the system. And workers are dumb. And prisoners are unreformed criminals. Or so say the fictions that surround life. In the minds of the Mayor, of the [members of the] Teachers Union, of the State Commissioner, of those who would use the issue of "community control" for their own ends -- in the minds of all those who seek to maintain this education as an entrance into this system, there is the fear that if and when the student voice is heard it will say dangerous things. Dangerous, that is, to those people and the system they maintain.

Throughout much of the city, there has been the picture of locked schools with the principals on the inside, police on the outside. There is a realization on the part of the Mayor, the Board of Education and the Union that there are far too many people whose "debt to education" might tempt them to convert open, empty schools into most unusual playgrounds. And there is definitely no place in the curriculum for social creativity, that is, the spontaneous activity of free individuals.

In the interaction of the various protagonists and the students, some are likely to come forward who may sense the meaning of real decentalization, who would then be impelled to want to change the system of education, to throw out this one, establish another. But who, attempting really to throw out this one, will not have to pass through throwing out the city, the state, the federal structures [as well]? Danger to the way things are lurks everywhere.

The system -- as it is so often called in reference to the overall prevailing organization of life -- is caught in an irreversible decay. But a system that decays does not necessarily pass. All of its solutions are attempts to arrest decay, freeze relations, make the system permanent: "decentralizing" schools is one such solution, building suburbs is another. The fascination with the synthetic -- from transistorized hearts to glass-bubble cities -- is no accident. The synthetic is so much more easily manipulated, controlled, and always, for a better living, as we all know, through chemistry.

As long as the struggle is to maintain variations on what is, the solution to changing life is obscured, and obstructed.

"Well," someone will evitably say, "from your analysis, we might conclude that people should do nothing about what they see as wrong or feel oppressing them, until they are prepared to attack and change 'the whole system.' "

This is not our meaning.

Those who feel it is meaningful (not those desiring to use an "issue," the politicos, manipulators, those who build constituencies), those who feel it is meaningful to fight over this or that must do so. What we say is the assault required to change one part is an assault from all sides, on the whole. People activate themselves, engage in protest, because of how it makes them feel. And we will all feel best when the control over all facets, all aspects of our lives resides in us alone.



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