Daniel De Leon editorial : Seeing Past One's Nose

Daniel De Leon
Seeing Past One's Nose
from the Daily People, Jan. 30, 1911
reprinted in The People, October 14, 1995
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Date: Mon Oct 09, 1995 6:24 pm EST
From: Conference thepeople.news
Subject: De Leon on Education
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The People
October 14, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 12

DE LEON EDITORIAL

CAPITALISM AND EDUCATION

For all its value to the individual, education as a guarantee of economic success and security is a misleading theory.

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SEEING PAST ONE'S NOSE

(DAILY PEOPLE, Jan. 30, 1911)

No doubt education is a desirable thing, a great thing. In the gentler duty of rendering life enjoyable, as well as in the sterner task of hewing out a livelihood, its advantages are manifest. Correct was Dr. Katherine Bement Davis, superintendent of the State Reformatory for women at Bedford, when she arraigned New York before her audience at the Church of the Messiah on Jan. 22 for not properly enforcing its compulsory education law. Flawless was her presentation of the resultant evils. Yet Dr. Davis slipped when, trying to make her oxskin of fact cover an acre of theory, she said: "Society is to be blamed for not having provided for the education of these girls in some lucrative trade."

Great as education is, it is no "open sesame." Under the present industrial system, where not the masses but the few control the means of production, it can lift up the individual only so long as his education is superior to his fellows'. As soon as all are equally well educated, all become again equally poor.

How true this is, is illustrated by the dispatches, appearing simultaneously with the reports of Dr. Davis' address, from the Westinghouse plant at Pittsburgh. Here trained mechanical engineers, graduates of the best technical colleges over the world, are reported to be working nine hours a day for 20 cents an hour -- a daily wage of $1.80.*

Some years ago men of this training and capacity would have been true "aristocrats of labor," in enjoyment of approximate independence and comfortable stipends. Now they are sunk to the 20-cents-an-hour class. Why? Because so many others have acquired the same training and capacity.

Dr. Davis' remedy for female delinquency -- an education for the girls in some lucrative trade -- might stead for a time. Its ultimate effect could, under the wage system, only result in the trade's no longer being lucrative. As a social cure for mass poverty, the "education" theory is false. Not to recognize that fact is not to see past one's nose.

Is education, then, to be neglected? By no means. By every rise in the standard of knowledge and training that the individual makes, by every conscious increase of his worth, by every addition to this store of information, he becomes so much the more powerful a unit of discontent against the social system that condemns him and his class to a life of unfilled aspirations. Education paves the way: the educated man must carry out the revolution that will free him.

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* This sounds ridiculous today, but the Westinghouse wage scale was that given. Paul Lafargue, in his 1900 address, SOCIALISM AND THE INTELLECTUALS, stated that French agricultural chemists, who were employed year-round and received the equivalent of $100-$120 a month in 1880, were being employed only seasonally at $30-$40 a month by the turn of the century due to the influx of chemists on the labor market over 20 years' time. The demand for workers trained to perform certain tasks translates into higher or lower wages, depending on what types of labor capitalists are most or least in need of at any given time. Higher wages have less to do with education, training and skill than with the quantity of workers available who have the education, training and skill in demand at the moment. School teachers frequently complain that certain unskilled workers make higher wages than they do. Their complaint is really against the law of supply and demand in the labor market; more and more college-trained "professionals" are being turned out, with a consequent narrowing of the salability of their labor power, tending downward toward, and sometimes below, that of other workers.