Schools in our country have remained as, in essence, “middle-class” institutions, in the worst meaning of the word. Middle and secondary schools, which belong to the state, and therefore, are supported through people’s taxes, through taxes which are also paid by the working class, cannot be attended by anyone other than the young sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie, who enjoy the economic independence necessary to be able to carry out their studies to the highest standard.
A child from the working class, even if he is intelligent and in possession of all the abilities needed to become a knowledgeable person, is forced to waste his talent on other pursuits, to become a rebel, or to educate himself; that is to say (apart from some notable exceptions), he is forced to become a half person, a man who has not been able to give all he could have, if he had been completed by and made stronger through the discipline that school offers. Knowledge is a privilege. Schooling is a privilege. And we don’t want it to be that way. All young people should be equal in terms of knowledge.
The State shouldn’t be paying for the schooling of those who are just plain mediocre, merely because they are children of the wealthy; equally it shouldn’t be excluding those who are intelligent and more than capable, just because they're the children of the proletariat. Middle and secondary schools should be for those who have shown themselves to be worthy. If it is in general interest that they exist, even if they're supported and ruled by the State, it is also in general interest that all those who are intelligent enough should have access to them, whatever their economic background. The sacrifice of the collective is only justified if it is for the benefit of those who really deserve it. The sacrifice of the collective should be made so as to give economic independence to those who are talented, so that they can dedicate their time completely to study, so that they can study in earnest. This problem is dispensed off entirely if education is not under the purview of the State but private, for-profit entities, which will automatically pivot towards one form of meritocracy – money.
The working class are excluded from middle and secondary schools because of current societal conditions which mean that there is a division of labour among men, in a most unnatural manner; it is not based on individual ability and therefore, devastates and corrupts production. This class has to fall back on subsidiary schools; those of a technical and professional orientation. These technical schools were established on a democratic basis, yet, because of the antidemocratic provisions of the State budget, they have gone through a transformation which has destroyed their very essence. Now they have mostly become accessories to the classical schools, an innocent outlet for the petty-middle class obsession with finding a job. The admission fees which are constantly on the rise, and the practical possibilities which they offer for life, have made these schools too somewhat of a privilege. The majority of the working class is excluded from them, automatically, because of the uncertain, random life that the wage-earner is forced to lead; a life which does not go hand in hand with following a course of study.
The working class needs a school which is neutral. A school which gives children the possibility of educating themselves, of becoming men, of acquiring the general knowledge needed to develop their individual character. A humanistic school then, as the ancients and the most recent men of the Renaissance intended it. A school which doesn’t mortgage the child’s future or constrain his will, his intelligence, his conscience, so as to set him off on the road with a fixed destination. A school of liberty and free initiative and not a school of subjugation, where people are quasi-mechanized. Even the children of the proletariat should have the power of choosing from all the possibilities available, all areas should be free to them so they can fulfill their own individual purpose in the best way possible, and consequently in the most productive way possible, not only for themselves but for the rest of the society. Vocational schools should not become a breeding ground for monsters, dryly educated for a job, without being given broad ideas, broad knowledge, without any spirit at all; just an accurate eye and a steady hand. Through professional education too, men can be allowed to break out of their childhood; as long as this education is just that; educational, not merely informative, not just the study of manual procedures.
Certainly, for the harsh industrialists, it might be more useful to have worker-machines instead of worker-men. Yet the sacrifices which society makes in order for progress, in order for the best, most perfect men to fly from its nest, who themselves will help to improve things even further, should see a wealth of returns which benefit the whole of society, not just one type of person, or class.
It’s a problem of rights and of power. And the working class should be on alert, so it doesn’t suffer even more oppression, as it has suffered so much already.
— Antonio Gramsci, edited for easy digestion.