Public Education as a Social Wage

I realize that’s it’s a sort of “back to the future” idea, but I was reading an article about Diane Ravitch’s speech to The American Association of School Administrators, and I starting thinking about the idea of the social wage, or, rather, the destruction of the social wage. The social wage, according to the dictionary of Marxist terms, is “That part of workers’ means of subsistence which is provided as a free public service rather than purchased.” (You have to scroll down the page to get to the definition.) Republican budget cuts will make us all poorer most dramatically by continuing ongoing cuts in the social wage.

That sounds more narrow than it is. In fact, it’s one of the great human achievements of the last century. The social wage can also be thought of as a kind of standard, or base-line, for material affluence. It’s what everyone deserves (our historical entitlement, what we have earned together) simply for being alive, ideally, or, more practically, because we are citizens of democracies. The social wage includes legal protections, such as work safety and child labor laws, and food safety and minimum wage and work week laws. You could also include transportation infrastructure, as well as public education and pensions.

This is a collective measure of affluence, one that should exist alongside and support individual and family wealth. The ongoing assault on public education is, of course, an assault on the democratic distribution of resources and an acceleration of the concentration of individual wealth. It’s not simply quantitative, though. Here’s Ravitch’s description of those aspects of the social wage that have to improved if we are to improve education: “access to decent medical care; exposure to the arts and physical education programs… science and… nurturing programs for children up to age 5.” It takes a village, as the cliché goes.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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