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We Can't Get No Educashion

A Critique Of US Public Schools

 
By Emily Spence
 
 
08/26/07 "ICH' --- - For years, liberals have pointed out the huge gap between funding for military ventures and US public education. Indeed, a motto, floating around for a decade or more, sums it up well: "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."
 
While its a bit overstated, the saying gets the case across and no one can dispute that our federal government spends an inordinate sum for our armed forces, armaments and other military provisions while many needs back in the US get short shrift. Aside from New Orleans never being put back together right, there are the problems of the worn out US infrastructure, the low income housing deficit, the high rate of  homelessness and the migration of jobs overseas such that one in seven is expected to disappear over the next ten years. At the same time, there exist many other serious problems needing an immediate infusion of cash and workers (for which returned US military troops could be employed) to provide national relief. Moreover, education, is woefully under funded and could certainly used any help available for its improvement both in terms of building upgrading and many other sorts.
 
All of the above in mind, the cost of the War in Iraq, alone, has been close to half a trillion dollars [1]. The overall military budget for 2008 is 51 % ($1,228 billion) of US governmental revenue whereas ALL other  expenditures amounts to 49 % ($1,159 billion). Meanwhile, Human Resources provisions (from which education receives a modest amount) is set at $748 billion while General Government spending is set at $295 billion from which interest on the government debt commandeers 20 % of funds and Homeland Security another 17 %. Furthermore, Physical Resources (out of which transportation related and environmental needs are funded) receives $116 billion from which another 17 % goes to the physical needs (such as buildings, etc.) for Homeland Security [2].
 
When the above funding decisions are assessed all together, it is no wonder that the US Department of Education received only $68,084,800 in 2007. It is also not surprising that President Bush wants this amount pared down to $60,220,138 for 2008 [3]. At the same time, this spending is being requested to be all together removed from the US Budget in order to try to help balance the huge debt load, almost nine trillion dollars (approximately $30,000 per US citizen), that our government has driven into place [4]. The totality, certainly, staggers the imagination [5].
 
Basically. is it any revelation, then, that the quality of education varies vastly from community to community based on the relative wealth that each has? Likewise, is it incredulous that the breach is widening?  
 
All considered, there is no equality in educational provision. For example, current per pupil annual cost in Greenwich, CT is $15,166. In 2004, the average amount spent annually per student in the US was $8,287. with the low at $5,008 (Utah) and the high at $12,930 (New York). In other words, the range is amazing and one can expect that ghetto schools in each state receive less than the average sum whereas more affluent communities get more than ample funding. All considered, property tax valuations, as the primary measure to assess the amount of money that school districts obtain, are bound to create a wide range of highly significant disparities [6].
 
Furthermore, local school boards further compound this problem by having a large say over the curriculum used in schools. This, too, impacts the quality of education capable of being delivered.
 
For instance, we can have intelligent design theory taught along side of evolution, no trigonometry or foreign language classes offered, no computers available (as they are too costly to provide when assessed along side of other needs, such as books on the history of the evangelical movement at the exclusion of one focused on the history of minority group contributions to society, and so on). Yet, how much more agreeable would be education as delivered in Canada wherein every teacher in every school uses the same materials (supplemented by ones of local choice) for its core curriculum and every student is on the same page with the same academic expectations regardless of whether they live in British Columbia or Montreal?!
 
All of these factors taken en toto, education, overall, is poorly delivered in the US. This has been well documented by innumerable educational watchdogs, such as Jonathan Kozol and John Gatto, whose conclusions are both highly alarming and disgraceful.
  
For example, Jonathan Kozol has construed, after countless studies conducted at a large number of diverse schools, that our educational system creates extreme discrimination based on economic class. On account, those who are advantaged (to receive quality public education) are accorded an unfair advantage in terms of obtainment of money, power privilege, class status, along with other tangible and intangible benefits [7].
 
As a result, many students, throughout the United States, have no chance of succeeding through no fault of their own. Under the circumstances, the loss to the individual and the society at large is staggering. For a nation that, supposedly, treasures equal opportunity, this is nothing short of intolerable.
 
 In relation, John Gatto elucidates on the findings of a 1990's ETS conducted national literacy survey:
 
"Ninety-six and a half percent of the American population is mediocre to illiterate where deciphering print is concerned. This is no commentary on their intelligence, but without ability to take in primary information from print and to interpret it they are at the mercy of commentators who tell them what things mean. A working definition of immaturity might include an excessive need for other people to interpret information for us.

"Certainly it’s possible to argue that bad readers aren't victims at all but perpetrators, cursed by inferior biology to possess only shadows of intellect. That’s what bell-curve theory, evolutionary theory, aristocratic social theory, eugenics theory, strong-state political theory, and some kinds of theology are about. All agree most of us are inferior, if not downright dangerous. The integrity of such theoretical outlooks— at least where reading was concerned—took a stiff shot on the chin from America. Here, democratic practice allowed a revolutionary generation to learn how to read. Those granted the opportunity took advantage of it brilliantly." (To have access to more of this assessment, please go to the eighth "[8]" citation below.)

The ramifications of both Kozol's and Gatto's finding are multifold. For example, the general workforce,  derived from many HS and college graduates, is ill prepared to do much beyond almost thoughtless, menial labor. The disparity between those who've been provided a sound education and those who have not will be huge in terms of mental and many other kinds of capabilities. The value of a HS or a college degree, in and of itself, will hold no meaning as the bottom line involves from where the degree originated. The income disparity between those who have sufficient funds and those who do not will increase. Even more awful than these other factors is that the next generation will be poorly prepared, for the most part, to lead America into the next century in any meaningful fashion.
 
In addition and equally disturbing is the fact that thinking is, thus, curtailed to the most rudimentary types for a large number of Americans. In short, many individuals simply are not able to understand whatever they are not trained to comprehend. In this sense, the lack of knowledge concerning science (i.e., the facts of evolution) and rudimentary mathematics (necessary to balance a check book), language usage (needed to communicate basic information on the job) and much more is predictable.
 
Indeed, obvious educational shortfalls in the US, in large measure, appear responsible for many people's inability to grapple with the more complex ethical issues, diminished capacity for critical analysis (i.e., to undertake synthesis and extrapolation to generate clarifications and accurate models of "reality" as, for instance, are the ones posed by transitional frames of reference) limited hermeneutical understandings, incapacity to differentiate logical VS. illogical pattens, etc. Meanwhile TV shows are one of the most popular methods to gain information on the parts of many, it would seem, and simply aren't set up to impart much of value beyond a fleeting entertainment factor and superficial news coverage of selective topics.

All told, John Gatto, Jonathan Kozol and other critics, repeatedly and disparagingly, point out that public education (in the US and elsewhere across the globe) is guaranteed to keep economic classes in their relative placement and trapped in a basic inability to apply higher level cognitive skill sets to written and heard accounts. Thus, many individuals absolutely have to rely on commentators (i.e., authority figures for the most part) to form their understandings of events. Alternately put, students, in many school districts, are not taught to think independently, nor question the opinions provided by the status quo. How convenient for those in powerful leadership positions! How easy, then, it becomes to keep corrupt systems in operation as many people cannot even conceive of alternatives let alone figure out ways to put them in place!

The results, then, are clear. For example, one in five American adults, supposedly, do not know who the US VP is. Mainstream news commentators and governmental leaders seem credible even when spouting the most audacious lies, and so on [9]. (Stanley Milgram carried out some interesting studies, which indicate that it is easy to influence people to conform to the attitudes and commands of those in power even when these involve injuring or killing another person.[10] How much easier such outcomes must be to achieve when people lack some essential mental skills to form autonomous conclusions.) Lastly, it is hard for people to stand against the underlying norms (i.e., that you will be contented if you just buy this X product that you deserve to have and on which your self-esteem depends) as they cannot see through the propaganda.
 
All in all, it is easy to quell any discontent with "the way things are" when people cannot conceive of better alternatives, nor question the currently prevalent standards and practices. Thus, the current inequities in schools and society at large will likely continue unchallenged and uncorrected.
 
At the same time, the current income disparity amongst classes is all but assured to continue such that most members of the lower and upper economic classes will keep in their relative positions, as will their children. After all, who can afford to pay ~ $140,000 dollars for an undergraduate education and ~ $180,000 for four years of graduate school except for the relatively rather wealthy? Who can even meet minimal standards for studies at a school of higher education after learning at one of the glaringly inferior schools? 
 
Moreover, taking on this cost as a student loan is particularly ludicrous in many circumstances in that the Federal minimum wage (currently set at $5.85/ hour) all but assures that many jobs available to new graduates will not be able to be provide sufficient income for them to pay back borrowed money (which, nonetheless, keep accruing interest over time). All considered, is it any wonder that the default rate on  student loans is over ten percent, while amounting to many millions of dollars? Is it not assured that myriad related problems for former students, who were unable to repay loans, will subsequently transpire -- such as inability to take out a mortgage due to a bad credit rating or, even worse, bankruptcy [11]?
 
At the same time, the jobs available to the graduates are disappearing. It has been alleged that one in seven US jobs will disappear over the next ten years on account of industrial globalization. The majority of the ones that will be left will be the types that are impossible to outsource -- types like food service delivery at fast food chains, construction jobs, clerk positions at mega-malls, health care provision, teaching and the likes. 
 
A further consideration concerns the sort of quality in educators that can be expected with the salaries that many teachers command. For instance, someone with a Ph' D in education can expect a starting salary of $22,000 in some public school systems. Even if someone with a doctoral degree were to consider accepting such a low income, what sort of person would he be?
 
It would seem likely to be someone who is either highly dedicated to humanitarian service or, due to some sort of serious flaw, were unable to "make it" in the business world. After all, what other rationale could explain someone willingly taking such a pitiful salary? Who can consider supporting a family or even renting a home with such a ridiculous wage?
 
All in all, we are a land that supposedly supports "liberty and justice for all" (or so our Pledge of Allegiance, that school children recite every day, states). In practice, though, we have an educational caste system of the worst sort imaginable. It is just one more scandal (along with the treatment of the victims from Hurricane Katrina, our military invasion of Iraq without sufficient provocation and evidence of myriad other woes)  plaguing our so-called great country. 

Emily Spence resides in Massachusetts and deeply cares about the future of our world.

[1] To see the total cost for the War in Iraq, please refer to information provided at:  http://nationalpriorities.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=182.
[2] To review US budgetary figures, please see: The Federal Pie Chart  (http://www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm). 
[3] This data derives from: U.S. Department of Education Budget News 
[5] Debt figures and similar provisions are located at: U.S. National Debt Clock (http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/).
[6] This and related information is reviewed at: US Census Press Releases.
[11] Please check information at these links to see definitions of business and personal bankruptcy, as well as number of cases in US for 2005: Bankruptcy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankruptcy) and http://www.uscourts.gov/bnkrpctystats/bankrupt_f2table_dec2006.xls.

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