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Family, Capitalism and School Choice in the Republican Platform

In capitalist society, family is not just based on love and kinship, but rather on an economic necessity, as demonstrated by the Republican platform. Particularly, the discussion on school choice highlights the way the government shifts the burden of providing quality public services to the family.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

October 4, 2016
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Image from Education at Illinois

While Donald Trump’s over-the-top racist rhetoric has taken the spotlight, he has been neither consistent nor forthcoming with policy proposals. The Republican platform, however, is 60 pages of explicit proposals, written without Trump’s bombastic language and which stays true to the ideology of the Republican establishment — what an “on-script” Trump might say. While political platforms do not necessarily indicate what a Presidential candidate may do in office, they continue to reflect the overall ideology of a political party.

The Republican platform in particular, highlights a particular aspect of capitalist society, which will be the topic of this article: the role of family. Republicans paint the federal government as the enemy of working people and the boss as their friend, while promising to slash budgets and privatize as many services as possible. Yet, if services are not being provided by government, who will offer them? The family, of course.

The pattern of compelling the family to fill in where government refuses to is central to capitalist society. Democrats and Republicans use the family and particularly, the unpaid labor of women, to ensure the continuance of the existing system. The Republican platform is particularly explicit in highlighting the role and importance of the family to the American capitalist structure. This means the family takes on a role that goes far beyond love and care between relatives; it has a central economic function in making sure that workers are able to survive (and continue to produce) despite the lack of government services and low wages. Particularly, this burden falls on women within a two parent heterosexual family and even more-so on single mothers. As will be explained in this article, this dynamic even manifests itself in one of the largest government run institutions in America, public schooling. There is a trend towards privatization and putting the burden on families via “school choice”– trend that parents, teachers and communities must be ready to fight against.

“The government cannot create prosperity”

A central tenet of the Republican platform is supposedly “limited government;” throughout the platform, the government is depicted as the enemy of working people. In fact, the platform begins with a clear definition:

“Government cannot create prosperity, though government can limit or destroy it. Prosperity is the product of self discipline, enterprise, saving, and investment by individuals, but it is not an end in itself. Prosperity provides the means by which citizens and their families can maintain their independance from the government, raise their children by their own values, practice their faith and build communities of cooperation and mutual respect.”

The Republicans argue that the government cannot create a good living for the working class. They argue that raising the minimum wage, creating free public universities, or free universal health-care will not create prosperity. Instead, Republicans claim that government can destroy prosperity. Therefore, the role Republicans envision for themselves is to limit the role of the government so that prosperity can be created “via hard work and investment.”

Of course, this assertion of limited government is fraught with contradictions, as Republicans also want to increase already enormous military spending, regulate women’s bodies, and criminalize LGBT people, all of which expands the role of the federal government. Republicans defend the police against the criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement and, in fact, promise to greatly expand the size and power of police forces across the country. So this “limited government” rhetoric is a myth put forth only when it is convenient. The Republicans do not want limited government; they want a government that is limited in its help for the poor, working class and oppressed and expansive in its policing of those same populations. Yet, the direction of the policies presented by the platform are worthy of analysis and demonstrate an internal logic of capitalism.

.. But the corporations can create prosperity

Essential to the Republican argument is the idea that only corporations can and should “create prosperity.” Therefore, Republicans support proposals that deregulate industry—softening or abolishing labor and environmental laws. While portraying the government as the unequivocal enemy of working people, the Republican platform portrays bosses as helpful partners in building a prosperous future. The platform states, “[Labor law] should encourage cooperation between management and workers, not conflict.” Republicans encourage (selective) distrust of the federal government while encouraging cooperation between the exploiter and the exploited—workers and their bosses.

Clearly, everything we know about the Republicans and their policies show us that they are not concerned with prosperity for all, they are concerned with prosperity for a small group of wealthy people. They oppose a federal minimum wage increase, they oppose the expansion of any sort of welfare or government safety net, they support tax cuts for the wealthy — the list goes on and on. They attack unions to prevent workers from organizing to demand better pay or working conditions. Therefore, the Republican proposal for the country’s “prosperity” is to get the government out of the way to allow private corporations to take up as many services as possible. This move towards privatization is evident in all aspects of the Republican platform, from education to healthcare.

The Role of the Family: Filling the gap left by the government

However, living in a privatized society, where the government plays only a small role in regulation creates a series of problems. How are workers supposed to survive without an increased minimum wage and the right to join a union? Without federally-mandated paid maternity leave, how can children be cared for?

Capitalist society has already provided the answer to this question. The family unit is a building block of capitalism so that the government does not need to take responsibility for helping workers survive. The government and the bosses don’t need to provide child care, public cafeterias or laundry services for the working class, as those functions are said to be within in the parameters of familial obligations. Particularly, it is within the parameters of what the woman in the family should do. Working women therefore have at least two jobs, one outside the home and another within the home, cleaning, cooking, caring for children, etc.

This dynamic of relying on family units to provide services that the state refuses to provide is quite universal in capitalist society and have been put forward by Republicans and Democrats. For example, the Clinton administration ended federal block grants for welfare and instead instituted Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which kicks recipients off of welfare after two years of use, without giving them any support to find a job that pays a living wage or child care. TANF even included provisions to promote marriage and offered parenting classes. Thus, the Democrats are certainly no strangers to transferring responsibility from the state to the family.

Today, the Republicans are very explicit about the role of the family. How will the working class survive the lack of government services and living wage? The two-parent heterosexual family. Republicans say, “Moreover, marriage remains the greatest antidote to child poverty. The 40 percent of children who now are born outside of marriage are five times more
likely to live in poverty than youngsters born and raised by a mother and father in the home. Nearly three-quarters of the $450 billion government annually spends on welfare goes to single-parent households.” The solution to problem of millions of children are living in poverty is not, according to Republicans, providing high quality jobs that pay a living wage. Rather, it is to get married.

Republicans claim that neither the government nor businesses have a responsibility to help people achieve prosperity, but rather, that the family must take up that role. The platform says, “The question is whether we are going to reinvigorate the private-sector institutions under citizen control or allow their continued erosion by the forces of centralized social planning… Foremost among these institutions is the American family. It is the foundation of civil society…” As the platform states, the government should not engage in social (and much less) economic planning, but rather, leave families to their own devices.

The Family and Education

The shifting of the burden of the government onto the family particularly manifests itself in the Republican education platform. Republicans claim that the US spends enough (if not too much) money on education. They say, “On one hand, enormous amounts of money are being spent on K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending level.”

While it’s true that the overall results of American public education are sub-par, a lack of funding is in fact, central to this. The Republians make the claim that no more money is needed for education six months after a Detroit teachers sick-out brought attention to public school buildings that are literally toxic and falling apart. The Detroit public school system is $1.7 billion in debt. Just last year, Philadelphia was facing an $81 million budget deficit. This left schools like Anna Lane Lingelbach Elementary in Philadelphia with a $160 total discretionary budget to cover things like school supplies, after school activities, and staff training. There are countless examples just like these.

Yet the Republicans say, “Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem free.” It seems that Republicans live in a parallel universe in which American public schools are not falling apart and are not saddled with massive debt.

With this analysis, Republicans explain what they do think works for education: parents’ choice. The platform states, “We will continue our fight for school choice until all parents can find good, safe schools for their children.” In other words, the responsibility falls on the parents to “find” good, safe schools for children as opposed to on the government for making all schools good and safe for children.The logic is that parents should chose a better school among all of the bad ones, rather than helping all public schools be of excellent quality.

Republicans plan to expand privatization of schools by increasing the voucher system and supporting “options” such as “home schooling, career and technical education, private and parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning and early college high schools.” Parents will then be forced to navigate this maze of choices to find the “right fit” for their child, all the while working and maintaining a household. Clearly, this is is an exceedingly difficult task for any parent and more so for single parents, parents who don’t speak English or are undocumented. The move towards school choice is consistent with the general Republican line—reduce public services, privatize and place the burden on the family.

The move towards school choice is a deliberate plan from Republicans to privatize the public school system. It is a ploy to create more and more charter schools and parochial schools while undermining and underfunding public schools. “Choice” may mean that more options are created, but these options are not usually better than regular public schools. Therefore, the Republicans shift the burden of providing free, public, quality education for everyone from the hands of the government to the hands of families- who must seek out education for their children. Implicit in this is that if a child does not get a good education, it is the parent’s fault for not making the right choice, rather than the government’s fault for not providing free, quality public education to all. Certainly there is nothing wrong with parents choosing which school to send their kids in itself. Rather, there is a problem when school choice is the primary solution provided for a broken and broke public school system.

Another important part of the Republican ideas that is understated in the platform, but certainly has not been understated in reality is an undue burden on teachers for failing schools, particularly expressed in the policy of merit pay for teachers. This policy places the blame for poor school structures on teachers, rather than on the government. It also places undue importance on culturally biased standardized tests. As the government refuses to provide services, they place the burden on families and the blame on workers—in this case teachers.

The way forward

Some might argue that among this horrendous policies put forth by the Republicans, voting for the Democrats is the solution. Although the Democrats today do not put forth policies so explicitly promoting the role of the heterosexual, nuclear family, only 10 years ago, Bill Clinton did put forth such policies. Furthermore, the Democrats’ policies do not combat the model of the family as the safety net that the government refuses to be. They do not put forth free universal child care, free health care, or free elder care. While some Democrats put forth a $15 minimum wage– a necessary step forward– it is still well below what would be needed to for a single parent with children to make a living in most big cities. Thus, the Democrats’ program also forces working class and poor people to rely on family networks just to get by. Needless to say, for folks who don’t have such family networks, the consequences are dire.

In the realm of education, the Democrats are not against the privatization of public education, as their platform states that they want to “provide parents with high quality public school options”, which include charter schools. More importantly, charters were greatly expanded and encouraged under the current Obama administration. Thus, the Democrats also support the privatization of public education via charters, as well as putting it on parents to navigate the maze of charters and public school options.

The Democrats provide no way out of a system that refuses to take charge of the needs of the people, and rather, hands over that responsibility to family units. Rather, students, families and communities should unite to fight for the government to provide quality public schools, rather than putting the burden on parents to find a safe and quality public school. Beyond that, we must fight against privatizations and a government that represents the interests of the wealthy rather than the interests of working people. We must fight for a society where families are drawn together by love and care, not by economic need.

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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