10) Education

Not too long ago, we may recall the shock and the scare we felt when we were inundated by a barrage of media reports that the sky was falling. Astronomers had discovered that a great asteroid, headed our way, was on a collision course with the Earth, and could devastate our planet in the year 2028! Panic began to mount. However, to our great relief, we were informed a few days later that the scientists? calculations were not all that accurate.

Not too long ago, that esteemed icon of American journalism, and newscasting, Walter Cronkite, strode forth and informed the nation that ‘Education levels are so low that the public does not have the capability of making an informed judgement,’ when going to the polls to vote. This warning by Cronkite has not been subsequently discredited or proven inaccurate. Unsurprisingly, no panic, shock or disbelief ensued. After all, it’s already widely known that less than half of us bother even to vote on election day. And recent events have made it all too evident that John Q. is far more excited, interested and informed about political scandals and presidential soap opera than the vital issues. And, the order of the day – ‘be happy, don’t worry’. Hey, aren’t we the richest damn bastards on the face of the earth anyway!

And from this little reality, my friends, springs the real Asteroid! This cultural lag, this unbridled heap of arrogant ignorance, snowballing and hurtling menacingly on a collision course towards the burgeoning explosive technological age should and could result in Armageddon perhaps even before 2028! Shades of Blowin In The Wind! ‘How many times must a man turn his head’ And, pretend that he just doesn’t see’ And how long can we continue to be taken in by the corporate sponsored propaganda that a burgeoning economy justifies the ongoing neglect of our faltering national educational system. What limited education we do receive from our system is primarily geared to serve the needs and desires of Corporate America. Values leading to human understanding, civic responsibilities, even critical thinking are subordinated to values fostering competition, athleticism, and job oriented skills.

Only when we decide to cough up the cash it takes to lower class sizes enabling teachers to provide the individualized attention required by students, rather than treating them as objects or products to shoot off the assembly line, will there be a noticeable effect in U.S. education. When we pay teachers salaries commensurate with other professionals we’ll be able to attract and hold on to the more talented teachers. Yes, ?How many times must we turn our heads and pretend not to see that the grade averages and academic achievement test scores of college graduates entering the field of education are traditionally lower than any of the other professions!

Actually, if we possessed the education to begin with, we’d easily recognize the simple truth. And that is that if we are ever to achieve the financing necessary for quality education, we must finance education on a federal basis. Of course to achieve this we must be able to see through Corporate America’s propaganda campaign against ‘big government.’ Public education has failed to keep pace with modern demands primarily because States and local governments are unable to raise the necessary money. It’s counterproductive for a State or local government to try to raise taxes to any degree for financing schools because industry and other tax bases in the area will often retreat to another area where taxes are kept lower. Therefore raising taxes is usually not a viable option, as it will inevitably result in the loss of tax revenue. Thus, federal aid, not control, is the only real answer to adequate financing of our schools.

Politics and economics are inevitably intertwined, as are all of the major institutions in our society. Education is no exception. In the past, necessary changes in our established institutions have generally resulted from more or less catastrophic events such as wars or severe depressions. However today its becoming more and more risky to rely on catastrophe to shake up our thinking. Education appears to be emerging as our last best hope.

My primary goal (I’m sorry to admit) upon entering the teaching profession was financial. This is probably the case with most that enter the profession. One needs money to eat, and without food it would be difficult to teach. Thus fear of losing one’s job usually plays a vital role in the average teacher’s performance on the job. And many would agree that this is the way it should be. Yet I feel that the actual facts belie this position. The institution of education today in our society wallows in an archaic state. It is definitely not prepared for “the bridge to the 21st Century”, as evidenced by the fact that for the last several decades almost every political candidate from State Legislator to Governor to President has included “the improvement of our educational system a cornerstone of his or her platform. Oddly though, College test scores and records of achievement have for years throughout the country revealed that those ranking lowest are those who generally enter the teaching profession. Thus the old adage, “Those who can do. Those who can’t teach.”, is not entirely unfounded. Money does undoubtedly play an integral part in the game. As a union rep. in the system, I had the privilege of addressing the incoming group of new teachers in the LA City School System. As I would look over the audience of young elementary school teachers I could not help but notice that 90% were women. Upon my efforts to recruit them to the union, or to persuade them to put their jobs on the line to take a stand against the administration, the board, or even the community for the betterment of educational conditions (fighting for reduced class sizes, better salaries, or increased instructional tools or facilities) the majority appeared to be more committed to providing a second income for the family, and often would defer to their husbands’ admonitions about “rocking the boat”.

At this time, however, no other of our institutions is in any greater state of disarray than is education in America. Declining college enrollment, Increased high school dropout rates, lowered academic standards, declining achievement test scores, lowered standards for hiring teachers, teacher strikes and work stoppages, endemic throughout the nation tell only a part of the story. This can be witnessed by even the undiscerning eye. However, as an iceberg whose bulk lies mostly underwater, the real disaster, consisting of the failure of our educational system to concentrate on, and to succeed in producing students interested in taking part in the democratic process, and qualified to reason intelligently, goes on unnoticed. The educational process seems to be suffering from a snowball effect. Inadequate education produces, of course, a populace less able to cope with the task of rectifying what may be wrong with the institution.

Turning this downward spiral around is no simple task. Because as previously noted, our major institutions are interrelated. And at the core of the blockage lies that almost sacrosanct institution – the free-enterprise system. Financial interests rather than academic concerns play the major roll in governing our educational system. There need be no conscious conspiracy to curtail progress in this area, when the requirements for improvement appear to run counter to the economic interests of the taxpayer, as well as those of the corporate powers. Business interests are primarily concerned with having the educational system produce skilled technicians to staff their work forces. And the average taxpayer, often feeling in a financial crunch himself, would rather someone else paid for public education, or at least wait a little longer.

Consequently, no political campaign involving funds for education passes by without the familiar refrain “Money can’t buy good education”. And generally, this logic is sufficient to convince the average taxpayer to vote to protect his hard-earned bankroll from “government waste”! Of course, it is true that money, alone, will not necessarily buy good education. However, the more pertinent, but less understood, truth remains – You can’t have good education without money. Doctors, lawyers, and dentists, earn, on the average, three to five times what teachers are paid. Yet teachers deal with our most vital and important asset – our minds! Collegiate achievement records will verify that those entering the teaching profession generally possess the lowest grades or academic achievement. It is not very likely that this would be the case if teachers received financial compensation comparable to their worth, and their training. This situation is, of course, attributable to the “free market system.

Quite a few minds today, often themselves products of faulty educational school systems prevalent over the past decades, seem to feel that we could basically cure our educational shortcomings by running our schools more in a business-oriented mode. They’d like to have some kind of voucher system installed – where more private schools would be involved. Parents would have more choice in which school they could send their children. Profit and loss would determine the success of the schools, and parents, not professionals, teachers, or any “new-fangled” scientific studies or approaches would determine the curriculum.

If there is really to be a connection between business and education I believe it might best be restricted to a certain oft told analogy about a factory whose assembly line kept turning out more and more faulty products. The management’s answer to the problem was to take more men off the line and place them in the salvage department to repair the faulty products. Needless to say the strategy failed and the company eventually went belly-up. Yet this is not too unlike the situation in society today where less and less of our resources are going to public education and to support needy families, but more and more is viewed as required to bolster police, security systems, and prisons.

If our educational process is to produce individuals who will do more than simply fit into a corporate firm, or to serve as a containment center for children until they reach adulthood, a lot more financial resources are required. Interest-centered, project-centered curriculums, not facts- jamming, or test oriented curriculums, are needed to lead students to acquire social consciousness, and thinking skills requisite for survival today. Each child has differences in the way he learns, and must therefore be treated as an individual, which requires quite a change in the ratio of students per teacher than exists now. Since teachers make up 60 to 75 percent of the typical school district budgets, a lot more money is needed to pay for, as well as to train a greatly increased number of teachers.

Once again, some sage advice from one who has been around for many years, analyzing, and reporting on, the American scene, “…education lies at the bottom of every problem we have. If people were truly well-informed, were truly philosophical, were truly aware of our associations with one another (then) presumably, our dialogue and our reporting would be considerably better than it is. …The tragedy is, we aren’t educated to any degree. …for the United States the first priority of the new order must be a revision of the educational system to … guarantee that each of our citizens will have equal resources to share in the decisions of the democracy, and a fair share of the economic pie.” (Walter Cronkite – LA Times Mag. Jan. 21, ‘96)

The home environment is also an important ingredient in shaping the child’s interests, values, and overall attitude in school. If parents, including both males and females are kept too busy earning a buck doing either menial or often unproductive jobs in order to feed themselves, there is, of course, little time to supervise the kids. If the welfare system is designed (as usually it is) to make it difficult or impossible to receive aid if an unemployed male is residing with the family, then again we further diminish the chances for the children to receive essential help and guidance.

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