In his new book, The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame, David Blacker gives a brilliant, witty and at the same time chilling analysis of the philosophy underpinning education 'reform' in the United States. Showing how Marx's discovery of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is playing out in the ever more desperate global search for cheaper sources of labour and the next technological fix, he draws the conclusion that as far as the vast majority of humanity is concerned, 'no longer do (the elites) want to exploit you, they want you gone.' Moreover in the process of 'escaping from the rest of humanity', they are destroying the planet. Late stage capitalism is strapped to a suicide vest which promises to destroy it and all the rest of us.

Blacker shows how schools are inextricably bound up with capitalism. While it grew and flourished, so did the struggle for compulsory and free schooling. Universal literacy after all allowed the capitalist to extract even more surplus value from its workforce. Moreover schools instilled the necessary discipline to make workers more quiescent in their exploitation. Now however as millions of people become economically useless for its purposes, schools have become little more than holding centres for their children, 'testing factories, military recruitment centres and in-processing operations for the penal system.'

Of course the other reason that elites are so keen to get their hands on schools is that they are part of a commons from which up to now they have been unable to profit. Or as Blacker puts it in another of the many striking images he comes up with, 'Thus the time has come to grab the education sector, hold it upside down and shake until whatever change falls out of its hapless pockets.'

This book comprehensively nails the myth, so beloved of education 'reformers' that education can bring about equality. Blacker is not only gunning for the right here however. He cautions those committed to the development of a liberatory pedagogy that this is delusional 'in the absence of a broader and enveloping social movement'. And he does suggest one way in which those who are committed to social justice in US education can fight back; in this case, students who are saddled with debt: 'The solution is, as always, revolution. In this case the revolutionary act would be to repudiate educational debt as illegitimate. All of it.'

However for those of us in school (K12) education, Blacker has no such encouraging advice. On the contrary for education activists: 'Their failure is fated . . . they are straitjacketed and unable to escape, no matter how hard they struggle. So insofar as they are inside the assemblage they might as well relax. And try to find some other way. When I say “relax”, I mean it.' I have two objections to this. The first is that anyone who has been inside a school recently will know that the last thing any teacher can do is 'relax.' Those in the North are increasingly terrorised by attacks on their tenure and conditions, by tormenting accountability regimes and by a punishing workload. Those in the South are subject to the same pressures, along with class sizes of 60 – 200, starvation wages and minimal facilities.

My second objection is more important however. While Blacker sees a thin glimmer of hope only in the efforts of tiny if visionary experiments like the UK independent school Summerhill, I suggest he should look south from Delaware. In places like Mexico and Peru, teachers are struggling to develop a pedagogy which is rooted in local communities and cultures, even as they fend off the violent imposition of the whole baggage of corporate education reform. I would argue that anyone who has engaged in activism will know that public schools are sites of great significance to local communities, carrying as they do as well as all the capitalist ideology and purpose which Blacker correctly identifies, the hope of a more democratic world. In the manifold global struggles against school closures, cuts, privatisation and deadening reform, teachers do indeed become part of a 'broader and enveloping social movement.'

Blacker's book should be read by serious education activists, if only to make them laugh or weep or face more squarely the task ahead. But I cannot accept Blacker's pessimism. In the face of what he sees as the almost inevitable elimination of all of us, he can only find a possibly delusional hope in peak oil or some distant Arab spring. He advises us to take our cue from the stoics of ancient Rome and 'smell the roses', even as we face our doom. Well two can play at the quoting ancient wisdom game. I am with Anthony Cody he reminds us: 'Teachers number in the millions. Our students and allies number in the hundreds of millions.' Like people around the world I am not intending to 'relax' while mindless elites destroy our precious planet and this miraculous and terrible humanity of which we are a part. So I am going to counter his pessimism with a quote from a more recent genius than Seneca, the British poet Shelley:

Rise like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in the night had fallen on you 

Ye are many - they are few