One reason poor children learn and retain less than affluent children is that they get less support outside school. Kamala Harris has introduced a bill to give public schools that serve large numbers of low-income students extra funding to stay open during after-school hours and during the (many) days when schools are closed but workplaces are not.
The bill, a classic piece of liberal social reform, is perhaps less interesting than the unhinged reaction it immediately provoked from the left. “Kamala Harris’s proposal to provide after-school care to kids so parents can be more productive workers is neoliberalism distilled,” writes Brendan O’Connor for Vice. Albert Burneko, writing at the Outline, offers the considered opinion, “Fuck a Longer School Day.” These takes, both rendered in column form, are actually more carefully considered than the ragefest that broke out on Twitter.
What’s wrong with funding programs to increase enrichment for low-income students? O’Connor explains that the real problem is that working-class parents have to spend too many hours at work, and designing school schedules to accommodate their needs would “accelerate the already existing neoliberal response.” The real solution is to redesign working life so that parents don’t need schools to do anything for their kids after 3:15 p.m.
It’s certainly true that the left has long advocated a shorter working day and more vacation time. But even blue-sky left-wingers tend to settle on an eight-hour day as a standard, with vacation schedules still much shorter than what most schools use. Even in a world where President Bernie Sanders has successfully carried out his political revolution and mobilized a militant labor movement that encompasses the entire private-sector labor force, there is still going to be a large gap between the schedules most working parents deal with and what their local school is offering. To demand Harris address this entirely through workplace reforms is to demand she institute not only a maximum eight-hour day, but also end work for parents around 2:30 or so, plus a full day off every day school is out that isn’t a national holiday (there are a lot of them), plus ten weeks or so over the summer.
Harris’s plan is not only designed to provide child care, but to provide actual enrichment for kids — physical activity, reading, tutoring, and other beneficial activities that affluent parents can pay for through camps, private programs, babysitters, and tutors. This objective is also part of what rankles Harris’s critics. Burneko sneers at the goal of “wrangling and suppressing the emergent anarchism of 30 little kids into a job-saving standardized test results curve.”
Maybe low-income parents actually want their children to learn more, perform better in school, and have a better chance at a middle-class job? Too bad. They shouldn’t want that, Burneko argues: “Fuck school! Have you been to a school lately? Schools are prison-like, security-choked nightmares, even good ones.” Well, okay.
O’Connor does not quite denounce all education per se. But he does flay Harris for designing a program that assumes many parents will continue to put in eight-hour days, with some commuting time, instead of a socialist paradise where they clock out at 2:30. “Rather than reshaping society to accommodate the needs of workers,” he writes. “Harris’s plan is designed to keep more people working for longer, suiting the interests of their employers.”
The first part of that sentence — “Rather than reshaping society …” — is so perfect. Why would Harris try to give low-income students a better education when she could simply reshape society? How heartless! How neoliberal!