Back in August, on the 65th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling in the case Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down segregated public schools, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont released his own 10-point plan for addressing public education. The plan seeks to make the U.S. public education “the best in the industrialized world” by increasing funding to efforts to desegregate schools, banning for-profit charter schools, massively increasing spending on public education so class sizes can shrink, “work with states” to get teacher salary increases and a host of other proposals.
“Bernie’s education plan addresses the serious crisis in our education system by reducing racial and economic segregation in our public school system, attracting the best and the brightest educational professionals to teach in our classrooms, and reestablishing a positive learning environment for students in our K-12 schools,” states this campaign website on the plan. “This plan calls for a transformative investment in our children, our teachers and our schools and a fundamental re-thinking of the unjust and inequitable funding of our public education system.”
On Sept. 10, Sanders’ campaign released a list of 102 education leaders, union organizers and college professors who supported the plan. One of them, Professor Peter McLaren, is a Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies at Chapman University in Orange.
Yes, Chapman University.
McLaren is a fascinating person–perhaps the most radical educator in all of Orange County. An author and editor of nearly 50 books, he’s well known throughout the world for his writings and teachings. He even has a school named after him in Mexico (Instituto McLaren de Pedagogia Critica y Educacion Popular).
“Professor McLaren worked closely with educators in Venezuela to develop programs in critical literacy and critical pedagogy as part of the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by the late President Hugo Chavez,” states McLaren’s official Chapman biography. “Professor McLaren is associated with Chapman’s historical commitment to the memory of Paulo Freire, as demonstrated by the university’s Freire archive collection and the only known North American bust of the great Brazilian pedagogical theorist.”
So it should come as no surprise that McLaren vigorously supports Sanders–and Sanders’ education plan.
“To support a system that is segregated by race and class goes against my Catholic social justice teaching, and such a system could hardly be called democratic,” McLaren emailed me when I asked him for his thoughts on Sanders’ education plan. “When you have a predatory capitalism that serves the rich, and leaves out the poor, it’s to be expected. Which is why I support Bernie as a socialist.”
One of the points in Sanders’ plan is to look at alternatives to today’s method of funding schools with property taxes. McLaren said he loves this.
“I unequivocally support Bernie’s intention of exploring alternatives to the property tax in funding schools,” McLaren wrote. “School funding and property taxes are too closely enmeshed in an unholy alliance and this has been the case throughout the history of public schooling in the United States. Almost half the funding for public elementary and secondary education comes from property tax revenue. To what degree should school funding be tied to property tax revenue? Bernie is correct in raising this question. We need to get this discussion going. It’s been a dirty secret, the elephant in the room, for too long. Approximately 45 percent of public school funding is from local governments and more than 80 percent of this comes directly from the property tax. The federal government puts in about 9 percent of the total revenue of public schools, and 46 percent is provided by state governments. This is capitalist schooling at its worst. This creates what sociologists call social reproduction—public schools in affluent areas get more funding, have more resources and their children have a better chance of getting into college. And the cycle is intergenerational—that is, it happens throughout family histories, and of course there are exceptions to this, but the exceptions prove the rule, as they say. This constitutes structural inequality, and there is a component that is racialized, as neighborhoods structured by class are also very often structured by race.”
As you might guess, McLaren also isn’t a big fan of for-profit charter schools.
“And we know that for-profit charter schools, pushed by billionaire Betsy DeVos, egregiously exacerbate racial segregation, as the percentage of minority students in charter schools has increased exponentially, and remember that these charter schools are unaccountable and unregulated,” McLaren said. “Bernie wants to put an end to this and I support him. Public funds cannot be used for charter school expansion! Fund the public schools, don’t privatize them by turning them into for-profit ventures that benefit the private equity firms. And those charter schools that already exist need to open themselves up to unionization. As a former Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World), I am glad to see Bernie insisting that charters support a teacher’s right to join a union. And that half the charter school boards are made up of parents and teachers. Good going Bernie!”
McLaren said he also found much to love with Sanders’ call for free college tuition.
“I most certainly support his idea of having free university tuition,” he said. “What could be better for the country than this kind of stability in times of the crisis of capitalism, in times we are facing right now? Free tuition would release the amount of student debt graduates are forced to carry today, allow more people to attend university, give students a greater stake in their own education, and it would actually be beneficial overall to our economy. Loan debt prevents many students from getting married, purchasing a house, or having children. This would very much help support the health of American family life. For a student who graduates from a public four-year university, carrying a debt of close to $30,000, it’s no easy feat to keep food on the table and a roof over your head when you searching for a job, and readying yourself for a productive and fulfilling life, what we still refer to as The American Dream. Bernie’s plan is much healthier for the country—such a move would reinvigorate the country in a positive way. Considering the current state of the country, wouldn’t that be a change for the better!
“I have spent quite a bit of my time lecturing and doing activist work in Latin America, Europe and Asia and in places such as Finland,” McLaren continued. “For example, in Finland you will find free four-year degree and graduate degree programs. We can make free tuition happen in the U.S. if we had the courage and fortitude to shut down all the tax loopholes that are in play for large corporations, to increase tax rates on the wealthiest 0.1% in the U.S, and to tax in a robust way speculative investments, investments that don’t contribute to anything except putting more money in the pockets of hedge fund grifters. If the hedge fund slime masters could leverage into their schemes the tears of the poor, and to find a way to profit from them, they would. And of course we could make free tuition a reality by decreasing the military budget. The military budget is already being ransacked by President Trump, to build his hideously unforgiving wall. I would argue that this money would be better served by offering free university tuition.”
And McLaren said he loves Sanders’ attention to disability education.
“Bernie is ahead of the curve when it comes to disability education,” McLaren said. “I absolutely support Bernie’s intention of providing mandatory funding to ensure that the federal government provides at least 50 percent of the funding for special education and to ensure that it triples Title I funding to make it possible for students with disabilities to be able to get quality education regardless of the neighborhoods they live in. ”
How about Sanders’ promise to make $60,000 a floor for teacher salaries around the nation?
“The current starting salaries for teachers are shameful, and I agree with Bernie that an adequate starting salary for teachers should be no less than $60,000 tied to cost of living, years of service, and other qualifications,” McLaren said. “Actually, I think the salaries for teachers should be much higher. And of course, depending on the cost of living in some areas of the country, the salaries should be significantly higher. Most important is that existing gender disparities in teacher pay be abolished. Bernie is committed to this.”
McLaren also had much to say about Sanders’ desire to make schools safe for all students.
“The entire country is horrified by domestic terror attacks on schools by white supremacists and other deranged individuals,” McLaren said. “I’m all for gun violence prevention laws that Bernie wants to bring into the schools—and who better than Bernie to fight for this in Washington! That is the best way to keep our schools safe. Of course, we need to make sure LGTBQ students are safe from bullying and harassment. Bernie is aware of this and will do his best to ensure the safety of LGBTQ students. Bernie acknowledges that suicide prevention is important in our schools, and that’s always a fundamental concern, especially in this time of rampant social media trolling and bullying. Can you imagine if Bernie’s vision of sustainable community schools that can provide health and support services, community and youth organizing comes to fruition? Now that is a vision worth fighting for, a vision far from what the Trump administration could ever endure. Bernie’s commitment to a socialist future is important to understand. Instead of creating a stereophonic nationalism that uses stochastic terrorism (employing mass media to public demonize people, knowing random violence may be an outcome), we would do better to follow Bernie’s vision for uniting the great American people into a public sphere that is populated not by violence and hatred but by a generosity of spirit and a compassion for those less fortunate. In schools of education, we teach courses on critical multiculturalism and study the socio-historical, ideological, and political dimensions of racism, the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality—from micro-aggressions against people of color to the role capitalism plays in generating racism—and the psychological dynamics of racism when racism takes on a life of its own, as it has throughout the USA. Obviously, this work we have been doing has not filtered through to the general population in the USA. Bernie will help teacher education programs across the country succeed in providing more social justice-minded teachers for our classrooms and bring to the country a new spirit of communal well-being and conditions of prosperity.”
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.