The education of children in a capitalist system has two main purposes. First, to enforce obedience and conformity. Second, to impart the skills that will prepare children for exploitation by capitalist employers.

On the first point, students are required by law to attend a state-approved place of education, backed up by threats of force and punishment if they fail to do so. They are told where to be, at what time, and what to do when they are there. They are told what to wear, when to speak and when to be silent, what to say and what not to say, when to sit and when to stand, and what they must study, regardless of their own interests, abilities or preferences.

The instructions of school staff are beyond question. Failure to obey results in punishment, sometimes collective punishment, with little hope of appeal. The attempt to defend oneself is likely to provoke those in authority still further. The school staff themselves are divided into ascending layers of junior and senior staff, with orders flowing from the top to the bottom, again largely beyond question.

Schools are strictly hierarchical and authoritarian institutions. They enforce obedience and conformity on staff as well as students. Individual students do often rebel, of course, but it is generally a futile, destructive form of rebellion, which only makes their lives worse.

On the second point, in schools it is regularly emphasised to students that they must study hard and do well in exams in order to get grades and qualifications that will impress prospective employers. According to this outlook the fundamental reason for being at school, and for studying the various subjects the school offers, is in order to prepare children for the functions that will be assigned to them by future employers.

At work, as at school, people will be told where to be, when to be there, what to do, what to say, and how to dress, according to the requirements of their employers. School helps to prepare them for this. The crucial difference between school and work is that school only prepares people for exploitation while the capitalist workplace carries out that exploitation.

Workers in the capitalist system neither own nor control the wealth that their labours create. They are paid enough to get by from month to month, if they are lucky, while the managers and shareholders get richer and richer by control of the wealth the workers create. The workers’ lives are not their own. They live to serve. The education system helps to make this possible.

School is also a good preparation for war. Both schools and the military place great value on strict hierarchy, obedience, conformity and correct uniform. History lessons glorify war and assert the value of patriotism, self-sacrifice and the leadership of so-called ‘great men’. This is all useful when the capitalists want to invade some impoverished country to steal its natural resources and exploit its labour.

There are a few romantics who oppose this state of affairs. They think that education should be for the benefit of children rather than for the maintenance of the existing social order. They think that education should be about helping children to discover and develop their talents and interests. They think that children should be treated with respect and given a voice in deciding the course of their own lives.

I must confess that I am one of these romantics. The foundation of an authoritarian society is an authoritarian education system. We will never have a democratic society until we have democratic education. Democratic schools do exist, where all decision-making is based on the principle of one person, one vote. The concept of a ‘person’ includes both staff and students. The idea that workers and children are persons is, I know, a radical one, but its time may be coming.


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