The kangaroo young are called “Joey” – whether male or female. For our young, its’ a little different. It used to be Dick and Jane. Today, we’re a little fancier. In our clan our young are Zach and Jett and Eva. But whether we’re kangaroos or humans, our responsibilities are the same: raise ‘em, protect ‘em, feed ‘em, educate ‘em. Then, send them on their way.
When it all started for us humans a couple of million years ago, raising and feeding and teaching were up to mom and dad. Then, as we oranized into hunting and gathering groups, life became a more complex, cooperation and teamwork became essential, and the community began to take on responsibilities. That led to the division of labor, specialized knowledge, community mentoring, and better performance. Better performance was fostered in part by the emergence of the professions, including teachers. The relationship between pupil and teacher became special, long before Athenians sat at the knee of Socrates or Aristotle. It remains so today, and when it’s right it’s really right. I think each of us can look back and remember fondly a teacher who not only taught us the three R’s, but went out of his or her way to point us in a direction, straighten our path, broaden our vision.
Over the centuries education became an important community investment, with goals and results that benefitted everyone. The education system became so important for all of us that we made the collective education investment mandatory. That’s what taxes are all about. Taxes are our investment in our community, and as we grow to a national and international community, in our communities.
Now, over the years, we fuss and fume about taxes, about their fairness, use, and waste. Who could forget the original Boston “Tea Party,” held by the colonists on December 16, 1773? That political protest was not so much against taxes as it was against “taxes without representation.”
Today we find ourselves in the throws of another political protest against taxes. Its leading spokespersons call themselves the “Tea Party Patriots.” Their disgust with taxes is vocal and angry but it’s not about representation. It’s about taxes – all taxes. It‘s clear the idea that taxes are an investment by each of us in our community is not an endearing idea for the Patriots. For the Patriots, taxes are a penalty, used to fund a growing bundle of entitlements for the undeserving, except maybe the taxes that pay for the war machine and some pretty hefty subsidies for certain industries. (How “patriotic” the Tea Party Patriots revolt is remains to be seen. I expressed doubts about that in “May 7, 1945-May 7, 2011: Patriotism – its Decline and Fall – and Opportunity for Rebirth.“)
As often happens when we revolt in anger, we don’t think things through. We don’t prioritize. We say the hell with everything.
The Tea Party Patriot’s revolt started during a bad economic time – a time when Brecht’s Threepenny Opera line, “First Comes the Belly,” became the unstated battle cry in the voting booths across America. What voters wanted was a “how” — how will their bellies be filled?
What the voters needed were “jobs” and “pay.” What the voters heard was “Tax cuts make jobs and pay.“ But that’s not what happened, at least not for all but the most “elite“ of the voters.
What did happen were forced cuts – dramatic cuts – in community investments of all kinds. In education that meant sharp, saber cuts from K-12 to colleges and universities.
We didn’t simply throw out the champagne with the cork. We mucked up the essence. We threw out the baby with the bath water.
And the results are going to be even more painful than when that poor mother made the regrettable bath-water mistake that has come down to us as a warning from the middle ages.
So, what‘s the aftermath?
Middle class jobs and pay are growing — in places like India and China, but not in America. However, executive compensation is at an all-time high – better than 2007, when the economy was booming and unemployment was half its present rate. Corporate profits are also up, largely because corporations have held down costs, particularly labor costs. The extreme income gap between the elite and the middle class remains untouched, and may be growing.
The Governors‘ consultant Michelle Rhee and her Students First Organization, claimed success, touting that education opportunities improved when states like Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas and others legislated out of existence the “last in first out” teacher-union firing and hiring requirements. However, the “no taxes” Tea Party mandate axed education budgets. Thousands of public school teachers got layoff notices. But our communities have no replacements.
45 Michigan public schools are up for auction to charter schools – a wholesale privatization of the public school system.
The right to a public education and the obligation of the community to invest in education is being redefined. Some public schools are imposing fees on students who enroll in many academic classes or participate in extra-curricular activities. The result may be the inability of lower income students to qualify for college; yet there appears to be no alternative job training or educational system available. Christian Science Monitor reports that The American Civil Liberties Union is suing California because the imposition of fees violates the right of everyone, rich or poor, to a public education.
Reduced support of university systems results in further increases in college tuitions. The result? The cost shifts from the community to the students, funded largely by student loans in the tens of thousands of dollars, strapping our young for years and further converting graduates into a “credit-card” society. College grad credit-card debt has mushroomed dramatically in recent times. More students than ever are going to college but few of them finish. At community colleges, just 1 in 5 earn an associates degree in 3 years and only about 40% of four-year college starters graduate. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s excellent study points out that 54% of the dropouts state that the need to work is the reason they quit. Another important Gates project, Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on American Schools, provides excellent information, but appears to have been overlooked in the Tea Party Agenda. Today, students making it through college have less job opportunities and more debt then ever. Experts say the looming student loan crisis could end up worse than the credit card or housing bubble.
Think tanks and endowments tied to “University Indoctrination” are becoming a “dark force.” Legislators use what Treasury Secretary Geithner calls “dark forces“ to starve reform, projects and regulation they oppose. This is done by budget and tax cuts. But the dark force of education has another side — indoctrination. When it comes to education, the pressures on universities for money has become enormous. “Solutions” — tied endowments and think tanks — can threaten academic freedom and its essential search for the truth. Recently, the St. Petersburg Times uncovered Florida State University’s endowment by the Koch brothers with the caveat that they have a say over faculty hires. Student and public ire has caused the University to “rethink” its position. But FSU is not alone when it comes to accepting what are in reality political endowments and think tanks. Think tanks and endowments with strings attached are rampant. Ironically, universities in China, our biggest competitor, are moving in the opposite direction, toward academic freedom.
Yes, there is more to concern us, but this is a blog, not a book. So I must stop.
Is there hope?
… Governor Quinn challenged Illinois legislators to raise taxes, not cut investment in education. “It might seem easy to close our eyes, cross our fingers and kick the can down the road,” Quinn said in his budget speech. “But we can’t do that. The cost of doing nothing is too great. I have made some difficult, painful choices in this budget. You must make some tough choices as well.”
… A grassroots movement, Great Education Colorado, is underway to ask Colorado voters on a November ballot to raise sales and income taxes earmarked for education.
… New York Teachers, tired of “Waiting for Superman” — Student’s First hallmark movie — released The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting For Superman.
As of now, the Governor is blocked by the legislators and the grassroots movements are young, underfunded but hopeful.
But the hope must become a reality. Today is May 30th, Memorial Day. Do we have the guts to invest our time and our money in our communities, our children, our ideals that so many brave young soldiers thought enough of to invest their lives to protect?
Will we do it?