Established in the fall of 2011 as an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Classroom Struggle (CS) describes itself as a group of Oakland, California “teachers, parents, substitute teachers, after-school instructors, youth workers and community activists” whose mission is to “confront the continuing destruction of quality public education for the working class and people of color in Oakland and across the United States.” CS’s first political undertaking was to help organize a “march for education,” held on November 2, 2011, to protest the Oakland Unified School District’s decision to close five of its public elementary schools as a budget-balancing measure.
Calling for left-wing “struggle and resistance against oppression,” CS seeks to promote “transformative change” in a public-school system whose “capitalist tendencies” have played “a role in developing” America’s “white supremacist, capitalist and imperialist ideology and social structure.” By CS’s calculus, transforming the schools and their curricula can also serve the larger goal of helping to “chip away at capitalism’s grasp on our society.”
Alleging that America’s education system has been “pushing students of color and all working-class students out of higher education” while defunding “outreach programs” designed to help those same groups, CS charges that “the school system itself was organized around the logic of a factory, complete with bells ringing and time managed just like a factory.” “The origins of public schools,” CS elaborates, “include a deep relation with the need of capital to reproduce a division of labor” through a tracking system that leads inevitably to economic inequality. That is: “Poor students and students of color who are not supported are funneled into underground economies, chronic underemployment, and low wage work; middle class students are trained to be professionals; and wealthy students are trained to become the ruling class.”
CS further denounces “racist administrat[ors] and teachers” who institute “zero tolerance policies” to deal with disruptive or violent students. Such policies, says CS, are part and parcel of “the school-to-prison pipeline” that disproportionately affects poor, nonwhite children. The “unequal distribution of resources,” “Eurocentric history standards,” and “English-only classrooms” also rank high on what CS calls the “list of oppressive practices” that are common in American schools.
“Part of our work as educators and organizers,” says CS, is to “facilitate healing” for the many “people of color” who suffer “permanent” psychological “trauma” and “alienation” as a result of the “oppression” and “exploitation” inherent in their “daily life under capitalism” and “white supremacy.” CS also maintains that because America is reluctant to give up its allegedly racist traditions, a primary goal of classroom teachers must be to radicalize children to the point where they are willing to help “overthrow the current power structures of our [existing] society” and replace them with “a new society.” According to CS, “the pedagogy developed in Soviet Russia from 1918-1931,” when “vast and important experiments took place to develop an egalitarian and successful education system,” should serve as a model for similar initiatives in the United States.
A major objective of Classroom Struggle is to indoctrinate children in the anti-capitalist philosophy of the “Occupy” movement, whose “Occupy Oakland” splinter group has provided funding for CS. One of CS’s recommended classroom activities, for instance, is a project where K-12 students design posters and banners bearing such slogans as “Tax the Rich,” “Fully Fund Public Schools,” “No More Budget Cuts,” “Students Deserve Better,” and “Education is a Right.”
CS also urges teachers to expose their students to such resources as Octopi: A Children’s Zine for Understanding the Occupy Movement, and Oscar and Olivia Occupy Oakland, a “social justice book for elementary students.” In the latter publication, readers are introduced to Occupy demonstrators who “fight for the rights of all the people, not just those with a lot of money,” and who nobly defend the rights of “the 99%” against the “greedy” corporations that take “more than their share.” One male character in the book laments, “I lost my job at a big corporation and then I lost my house. The big companies have so much money and I have so little. Is that fair?” Later in the story, an adult female character asks the children, Oscar and Olivia: “Imagine there are 100 jelly beans in a jar. If there are 100 people here, how many jelly beans should each person get?” When the youngsters respond, “One each, of course,” the woman exclaims: “Right! Everyone deserves an equal share.”
To disseminate its anti-capitalist message as broadly a possible, CS produces a blog and a print newsletter.