You are probably aware that the idea of a modern democratic state began with the foundation of the U.S.A. Prior to that, countries were ruled by monarchies or occasionally by oligarchies. A pillar of our experiment (and if you do not think it is an experiment, an experiment that can fail, you have not had your eyes open for the last forty years) was an equally novel idea—compulsory public education.
If, in the mid-18th Century when the U.S. was founded, there was a single country that thought it a good idea to educate all of its citizens, I am not aware of it. And this was not something that sprang out of the minds of the Founding Fathers and was implemented by fiat. Progress toward “compulsory” education was slow. Yes, there was and is a compulsion. (I can’t wait until the Tea Party gets wind of this. If they think compulsory health insurance is the work of the Devil, when they figure out that public education, including Evolution instruction, is compulsory, hoo boy!) You and your children were and are required to attend school until you reach a certain level of accomplishment or a certain age.
Our entire economy is dependent on having an “educated” workforce. Janitors, who were often illiterate in the not too distant past, are now required to read MSDS’s (Material Safety Data Sheets) that describe the hazards of the chemicals with which they clean their work sites. These are not written at a fourth grade level, folks. We think nothing of this ability of our janitors to read . . . now.
“Setting aside the utility of this process (education has been proven over and over to be a boon for the economy) consider that we are currently reversing this trend without any kind of national debate or plan of action developed by and through the people.”
In the mid-1800’s a large number of “land grant” colleges sprung up (particularly in the West) focused on training engineers, scientists, teachers, and other practical “middling” sorts. The elite universities of the East found this appalling that “Universities” would be teaching practical arts, to the extent that a Bachelor of Arts diploma was consider superior to a Bachelor of Science diploma (as some still do today). In the West, it is not surprising that the Bachelor of Science degree was considered superior (hey, it had higher requirements).
But the egalitarian nature of education was not at all complete until even a college education was available to most criticizes. When I entered college in 1964, my home state of California was opening a new community (two-year) college once a week for almost six months. Currently there are over 100 community colleges (often called junior colleges) in California, and virtually every citizen is within a reasonable commute distance to one of these colleges. They are not only in geographical reach but they used to be within financial reach, also. That has been the historical trend in our little experiment. More and more education to the point where most young people today assume they will be going to college as a good and necessary thing.
“So, is our historic experiment in democracy and educating our citizenry at risk? I think so.”
Setting aside the utility of this process (education has been proven over and over to be a boon for the economy) consider that we are currently reversing this trend without any kind of national debate or plan of action developed by and through the people. We are reversing this trend by increasing the cost of higher education at a pace that outstrips most anything else (even health care now). Simultaneously we have passed a law that disallows student debt from being discharged through bankruptcy. (Now who would sponsor such a bill against the will of politically weak students? I’ll ask the Church Lady. Church Lady? “Could it be . . . the Republicans?!” Got it in one, C.L.) The net effect is that total student debt exceeds total credit card debt in this country. (Think about that for a moment.)
Simultaneously, in the “Red States,” that is states in which Republicans control the state governments, and even in others there is a systematic starving of the public schools. The public school budgets get cut, schools get closed, while the states forgive business taxes unnecessarily and also fork over monies to private charters to run schools, which their own testing schemes show are no better than the public schools they replace. The apparent reason for these efforts is simply to extract profits from the public coffers. There seems to be no educational agenda behind these efforts (smokescreens and hidden agendas, but no real educational agendas).
So, is our historic experiment in democracy and educating our citizenry at risk? I think so. If you look at countries which are doing it right, for example Finland, when a college education became as necessary as a high school education used to be, they made a college education essentially free (as it was here when I took my degrees). They also gave perks to the best and brightest students to encourage them to go into teaching. We are going the other direction and there will be a price to pay. The monied interests are making sure that they do not pay that price, that “others” will. And do you know who that will be?
“Aw shit, it’s us!”
Nailed it again, C.L.