Public Education and the Spectre of Fascism


The Spectre of Fascism

“Fascism is capitalism in decay”, said Lenin. We’ve seen this before. When the traditional capitalist system is failing, there are cracks within the ruling class, and its accompanying political structures are in turmoil, a section of that class backs a strongman for its own protection. These strongmen have a populist appeal, yet they are married to the interests of big business. They do not always come to power by coup d’etat or machine gun politics. The potential for fascism is built into the capitalist system itself. Adolf Hitler, fascism’s poster boy was elected as chancellor of Germany in 1933.

Today, we see all these pieces of fascism coming together with the election of Donald Trump. This does not necessarily mean that death camps and forced labor are next, but we should be prepared for what is to come. It is pretty clear that among other things, the traditional fascist xenophobia, expansion police power, dismantling of unions and accompanying corporatism will be accelerated based on his rhetoric and his cabinet full of corporate pirates and gangsters. How will this affect our jobs and our students?

Modern Day Fascists and Education

The popular depiction of public education from the right wing is as a cesspool of liberal, quasi radical, godless teachers indoctrinating children instead of educating them, promoting homosexuality and atheism. Public education, then is at the root of the decline of America. Part of the fascist narrative is that traditional values are under attack and need to be restored for the good of the nation. Therefore diversity, tolerance, multiculturalism, critical thinking about patriotism and capitalism and the like are viewed as a threat and public education is one of the main battlegrounds in the so called ‘culture war’ to ‘Make America great again’.

Donald Trump’s cabinet is full of right wing Christian fascists, including his vice president, whose worldview is based on a “threatened Christendom” and sees American values, like capitalism, and a Christian normative society under attack. What does this mean for education? Many of his appointees actually support the expansion of vouchers and private, Christian schools. These people are tied to groups that want to fully dismantle public education. His appointed Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos is cut from this fabric and views public education and teacher’s unions as part of the problem.

The plan to sabotage and sweep away public education is not new. The voucher program goes back to the segregation era. However, what this election represents is a concentration and an acceleration of what has been brewing for decades. The creation of a corporatist state has no place for the public sector, especially in education, one of the last bastions of unionized labor. We have to be prepared to fight the nationalization of ‘right to work’ practices that we have been seeing on the state level across the nation. Teacher’s unions will be the main target and we must not sit by idly.

We have seen the business model’s effect on higher education. Colleges are basically working on a system of temps, disposable, overworked professors with no tenure, no rights, no benefits. We see the elevation of everything profitable at the expense of actual education and educators, tuition increases to pay for expansions that have no relation to education. Education is geared more and more to the interests of the market, whose interests are dominated by the business class. They want to expand this model to K-12 education.

Effects on Students of Targeted Groups

How will the children fare? This is an important question. The school to prison pipeline, mass incarceration issues that activists have working hard for years to bring attention to will not be stemmed, as indicated by Trump’s support for an unconstitutional, national stop and frisk policy that targets black and brown folks. These issues, becoming endemic through successive presidential administrations with no executive response sets a precedent that the new administration may accelerate. His support for private prisons and false characterization of crime running amok points to more repression of black, brown and poor people by the so-called criminal justice system. Remember, this is a man who once called for the death penalty for the innocent Central Park Five, five African American and Latino youth falsely charged and manipulated into confessing to a rape and murder in New York in the 1980’s.

I have heard many of my own students share their feelings of fear due to Trump’s xenophobic attitude towards immigrants. Most of my students being of Latin American descent, this has been discussed quite a bit. What President Obama was able to do, deport millions quietly with little fanfare, has laid a foundation for Trump to continue and even expound upon this trend. This will be accompanied with a wall along the our southern border with Mexico to protect the ‘fatherland’ from rapists, terrorists and drug traffickers. We are sure to see an increase in immigration policing, repression and separation of families.

This is surely too much for us to bear, along with his touted ‘muslim registry’, reminiscent of the yellow star of David in Nazi Germany. Terms like ‘Muslim’, ‘illegal’, ‘criminal’, ‘felon’  are, and can easily be used to further take away the rights of people and used as an excuse for repression. All the ducks are in a row for full blown fascism, especially with Obama’s authorization of the National Defense Authorization Act.


The right-wing plan to make America great again starts with the public school system that has strayed from its role of transmitting national doctrine. A pliable, docile workforce is necessary to strengthen the role of education and cannot be done with strong unions. This creates a toxic environment for students, especially the most vulnerable, who will be targeted outside of the school as well.This is not something that we can simply ‘watch and see’ or ‘give him a chance’ to do. People all over the country will be standing up and demonstrating the week prior to the inauguration. Count yourself among them, not just for yourself, but your profession and your students. For the sake of humanity, we must “Say NO to a Fascist America”. We must urge our friends, colleagues, unions to support Busted Pencil’s Anti Authoritarian Code of Conduct and get in the streets to stand against fascism.