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Who Cares About Education?

28 Jan

San Diego – What a wild week this first week of the Spring semester has been.  Our classes are ALL full to overflowing, especially the foundational ones.  Hopefully attrition will happen fairly quickly because, as usual, I let in far too many crashers and even at the end of the week I was getting requests to add.  The system is seriously out of synch with the realities here on the ground.  If we hold to our student number caps as we are instructed to do then by mid terms we will have empty seats as the toll of real work starts to filter out students.  But if we do as many of teachers do and let in extra students, the state does not pay the school back for those over cap even though they happily take the fees.  Of course since we are generally on deferral payments anyway I’m not sure it is all that big a hit on the district.

But we could easily have run one or two more sections of the basic classes and filled them but the budget will not let us hire the instructors to do that so we would have to swap for upper level classes that need to be run.  It is a real dilemma.  Poor Dave, who does the heavy lifting for scheduling classes is always caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place over it.  The losers, as always, are the students.

The State and Federal politicians all sing a happy tune about how important education is to the future.  And I think that is exactly the right melody.  Without educated citizenry not only does the country falter in a democracy, but its productivity falters as well.  And also its economy suffers and that in turn impacts education in a vicious circle.  But despite all of that nice singing going on, their actions tell of a very different belief system.

It is a sad if not pathetic truth that we as a country and as a State spend more money per student than anywhere else in the world and yet have ridiculously low comparisons based on student achievements.  The U.S. is no longer anywhere near the top of educational achievement scale world wide and California has now dropped to 45th in the country… so where does that leave our students?  And where does all that money go anyway since it does not appear in the classroom?  And what impact does that have on our future when several generations of the warm and fuzzy curricula that passes for education leaves kids coming into our college classrooms unable to form a simple declarative sentence, do the simplest math or even count change without a calculator, and cognitive skills likely to lose a checkers game to the nearest potted plant.

In my opinion the piles of money we already put into education go to all the wrong places in a ferociously top-heavy system.  When new full time classroom teachers devoting themselves to educating our future citizens are paid $50K or less and are lacking basics like textbooks for the classrooms while top administrators are making hefty 6-figure salaries, things are out of whack.  It is a typical, perhaps stereotypical, bureaucracy which at is best is inefficient and at its worst is simply blindly self-serving while its actual reason for its existence, the students it exists to serve, are the constant losers.  i won’t even get into the distorted cultural mind set that sees nothing wrong with football players and play actors making millions while educators struggle to pay basic mortgages.

The question for us would appear to be a simple one:  if you were part of  the leadership of some political entity such as a State or Country, and you were honestly truly primarily interested not in your own re-election but in the future of the prosperity of your constituents, then…

  • Which do you think would better serve that goal?  Higher paid teachers or higher paid prison guards?
  • Which structures have more lasting value to a state or country?  Better school and teaching facilities or more modern prisons?  Better, safer better equipped campuses or bigger sports arenas?
  • Which segment of your population would deserve more consideration?  Students or convicts?  Individuals trying to learn how to be good citizens or individuals who have demonstrated blatant disregard for the rights of other citizens?  Real citizens or non-citizens?
  • What demographic will likely better increase productivity and thereby raise all levels?  Entrepreneurs and business people who risk all to start and maintain companies that hire people and produce things or  people who want to feel victimized and entitled and live off of the public feed trough?  Scientists in spending long hours in research labs who seek solutions for life and death issues or people living in boxes and out of  stolen grocery carts whose choice was to give up the fight and seek refuge in a bottle or needle or rolled up C-note?
  • And who is more likely going to create a better tax base to provide money to keep the state running?  Employees of those businesses or the homeless people on the streets?

While I would personally chose the first category in each instance it would appear that the State politicians and now our Federal leaders have consistently and continually chosen the second.  And because those second choices cannot provide the taxes the State needs in order to coddle even themselves,  the State has had to borrow the money to pay for their welfare and even more similar programs to where important infrastructure needs such as roads lose out to welfare and education loses out to political and government bureaucracies which produce little more than more bureaucrats scratching for their place at the trough.  And now it has decided it is “fair” to take from those who are doing the hard work of building and maintaining society and give to those who are not.  The problem is pretty soon the government will run out of other people’s money and have to admit it truly has none of its own.

I don’t believe that can be sustained for long without collapsing of its own poor construction.  Just like the Feds, we are trying to borrow our way out of a debt crisis while “investing” (read: spending) more toward the least likely productive ends.  We want, for example, to spend money on high speed rail when state and federal railroads have always been models of inefficiency and lost dollars because they are built for a different culture and a different time.  if you want to see the future success of government-run high speed rail then look no further than Amtrak.   We clamor for alternative energy sources despite the stats that the costs per energy unit are up to 10 times (and sometimes more) the costs per unit derived from fossil fuel and then we shaft the University labs and energy company research facilities that might actually find a way to make it more affordable and maybe even profitable.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am really in favor of pursuing alternative energy research and finding ways to make it more efficient and less expensive.  But that means not only funding the places that can do it but also in the meantime realizing we have lots of domestic reserves of oil and gas but are blocked from accessing them and then blocked from refining them.  Is that a finite resource that is running out?  Of course it is, and I actually think it will do so long before we are told giving even more impetus to seek alternative solutions.  But rather than present to the people an objective fact-based workable narrative to explain that impending and catastrophic situation along with the potential national crisis of dependence on a foreign resource provided by people who detest us (or, as in the case of Canada who provides most of our actual oil imports, who will soon realize they need it themselves), and get the nation on board to buy into a workable plan, our leaders try to sell it based on still controversial (despite the true believers’ cry that it is beyond debate) concepts of anthropogenic global warming to scare us and alienate as many as they convert.

Let me be clear: I think we need to be scared, very scared.  But we need to be scared of the real dangers not of cash-cow theories designed for pocket lining far more than planet survival.  And the truth is, there are things out there, events and trends already underway, that will potentially do us in long before the sea levels flood Manhattan.  But those are being ignored because so far no one has figured out how to make money off of the panic that will ensue when people get scared about it.

So what does that have to do with education?  Everything.

  • A well educated and scientifically skeptical perspective would lead to a population more analytical and less susceptible to theoretical long term terrors and perhaps more aware of the really scary short term ones.
  • A better educated citizenry would be sufficiently endowed with enlightened self-interest to understand what types of individuals and enterprises are more likely to lift ALL boats if supported as opposed to supporting those that perhaps simply have the squeakiest of wheels and the most pathetic of stories.
  • A better-educated population might be better able to distinguish between rhetoric and action and thereby identify when cheap political talk has not been put into any meaningful action.
  • A better educated populace would know that a government, like an individual or family, that spends more than it takes in and borrows to make ends meet will sooner or later have to start defaulting on the loans and when that happens it is s swift spiral into disaster.
  • And while they were at it, a better education population would also more likely provide the talent, creativity, initiative, and inspiration to return us, as a country, to the truly exceptional place we once were and make of us once more the true leaders – not dictators or tyrants, but real leaders – of a free world and its economy.

Despite how hard edged this sounds, I do have every sympathy for the poor homeless wretch sleeping on a grate.   But when we are functionally bankrupt and out of money, I think we first need to help the people who can work us out of our mess and THEN deal with the others.  if we cannot help ourselves and survive we will never be able to help those others that need and deserve some help.   We will not be able to help anyone when the whole system craters.   And besides how many historical instances does it take to demonstrate pretty conclusively that private charity is far more efficient and useful to the recipients than the public dole.

I believe further that people are generally not sent to prison for being pillars of the community and that they do not deserve to be housed in such a manner as to cost enough per bed to provide very workable shelters and help for those homeless people who are in that state because they were blindsided by life and a failing economy.  And I think a better educated populace would, when presented with the truth, hard as it may be, about the choices and budget options, tend to agree with that.

But, alas, what do I know?  I’m just a teacher.  And our State has just made it clear how much credence they give to my kind, my colleagues, and our contributions.  In a society that shows its valuation of things monetarily, we have less value than actors and sports figures.  So we cannot, by definition, know all that much…

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