Child Rat Down
By Chari de Dennis
Our common everyday lives, speech and behaviors are culturally reproducing the very Rat Race ideology that the Resistance Movement opposes. Trump may be the top rat. But, look around us on all sides. There are more rats than voting machines being rigged.
Capitalism has always counted upon competition among workers. Workers must “sell themselves piecemeal…like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” (Karl Marx). Today, wayward global capitalism is imposing ruthless competition in all areas, including schools. In the wake of Obama’s “Race to the Top” program (RTTT), children are no longer considered “students” who can expand their limitless imagination and reach their full potential as human beings. Children as young as 11 years old are now widely called “clients.” Placed on college-or-career tracks, they are told they must compete against their friends in the narrowing college market place. They learn success is a zero-sum game.
Following recommendations from the Department of Education, in 2016 the Los Angeles Unified school board passed a misguided resolution calling for students to be on “target” for college and work careers and “begin planning for college as early as 6th grade” (LAUSD). This kind of mindset means the elimination of recess at Frost Middle School and a student work-load of up to 8 class periods plus homework, music practice, sport activities, and afterschool tutoring. This school, like Granada Hills High School, is considered a model for “low-performing” schools in the San Fernando Valley, the state of California, and elsewhere. It’s no wonder that high school grads are popularizing the concept of a gap year before starting college to avoid mental breakdown. As a society, do we really want to start the trend of burn-out among middle schoolers?
Unsound funding policies like RTTT leave schools no choice but to demand more of principals, teachers, parents, and children. Is it right that in the maddening race to pad their applications and increase their allocation of funds, the schools inadvertently end up exploiting children? And yet, the academic acrobatics demanded of our children, are not only due to policy or, more recently, to Trump’s and DeVos’ greedy excesses. We, the common people—parents, aunts and uncles, and at-large community members—have been complicit with the Rat Race ideology penetrating our schools through policies as well as excessive K-12 standardized tests, which have been thoroughly institutionalized in the name of “progress”—killing free playtime and making childhood unrecoverable. We have sat by and allowed our children to be turned into one more commodity—raw material to be bought and sold.
“Stage parents” aggressively manage the career of their offspring in show business for economic advancement. In schools, helicopter parents hustle their children from one activity to another and jostle and bump old people in walkers to get a front row seat at a school award ceremony. They, too, have economic advancement on their minds. What good does it do to fatten children’s resumes and wallets when the world is falling apart with political and environmental catastrophes? Doesn’t it make sense to heed indigenous people’s call to see future generations as stewards of the earth, not clients, consumers, or work mules?
To address the current political global crisis, we shouldn’t look to “saviors” like Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris to return us to “normalcy” because this would just mean a return to unrestrained market fundamentalism as a way of life and thinking that has put this world on a colli[u]sion course into a giant mousetrap. The ACLU and National Lawyers Guild look to the rule of law to save the day. Richard Wolff looks to labor unions and worker coops. But, the onus is on all of us. The accusatory finger points nowhere but inward.
María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, also known as “Marichuy,” is a 53-year-old Nahua (indigenous) presidential candidate in Mexico. She’s spokesperson for a grassroots coalition of 58 indigenous groups. She warns, “Tenemos que voltear a vernos unos a otros y pensar juntos cómo le vamos a hacer para reconstruir esto que está destruyendo este sistema de muerte” (We have to turn to one another and together rethink what we are going to do to rebuild this thing that is destroying [us], this system of death). In Mexico, with over 200,000 dead and disappeared, she has genocide clearly on her mind. In the U.S., with the Rat Race, we are dealing with scholastic epistemicide — the death of childhood innocence through schools. Since the Alt-right can’t see the bigger picture, surely the Resistance Movement can lead the way in being purposeful and explicit about stopping these daily pedagogical and ideological mal-practices that are condemning future generations.