Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's Education, Stupid

Is this an odd time to be wanting to talk about education, Bush? Not really. It couldn’t have prevented the New Orleans disaster, of course, but it could have made things a whole lot better. On second thoughts, maybe it could have even prevented the worst of it. Had those responsible for the city’s protection from flooding, for example, been capable of broader, more wisely analytical thought, less engaged in petty political turf wars, and less susceptible to conflicting interests, they might have seen the wisdom in coming up with the money needed to do the job. Had both the electorate and the elected been intellectually equipped to hear—and heed—the call of qualified scientists and engineers, the obvious preventative measures might have indeed been taken. And in the aftermath, think what a little reasoned thought could have done to make things easier on both the victims and the rescuers. Ignorance, surely, is the greatest enemy of common sense and civil behavior.

That said, however, no, education is sadly not the key to winning the next election, as Bill Clinton did by focusing on the economy, stupid. What I have in mind, Bush, is far too radical for the electorate to swallow. It’s far too expensive. It would require, um, sacrifice. It would require, I’m sure, a tax increase—something that is not going to sell the American people on their next presidential candidates. It would require a national shift in priorities, a national effort, and national will. But it would, I promise you, in the course of time, address an awful lot of the problems that this country faces.

A fully functioning education system would address the issue of poverty. It would address the issue of racism. The issue of electoral failure. Of the inability of the vast majority of us—it seems to me—to think critically and make rational judgments. It would address the issues of crime, of unequal justice, of prison overcrowding. It would address the issue of drugs far more successfully than any "war." It would help us address the increasingly pressing issue of our deteriorating environment. It would enhance, immeasurably, our image in the world and our ability to behave responsibly as a world citizen. It would improve our ability to communicate, not only with each other—badly needed—but with other peoples, other nations. It would improve the success of our businesses at home and in the world market. An excellent, egalitarian, smoothly-functioning education system would change this country, infinitely for the better. Democracy, Bush--one of your favorite words--depends on it. Without it, democracy is a farce.

And I’m not just talking about absurd little political band-aids like your severely underfunded "No Child Left Behind." I’m not talking about stop-gap measures to make us look better on our test scores. I’m talking about real change, radical change. Gloriously expensive change. About attractive, functioning school buildings EVERYWHERE, including the inner cities and the neglected rural areas—places where children from the earliest age can see our commitment to them, and can’t wait to get to every day. About well-qualified, dedicated, demanding, disciplined teachers, with salaries commensurate with the public service they perform: they should be BETTER paid than any of your politicians. About the ready availability of books, and labs, and equipment of all kinds—including those dreadful, indispensable computers (I’m thinking here of Tom Friedman’s "flat world" theory.) About a fully funded school year, with days and hours in class proportionate to those of other "developed" countries; and with humane teaching schedules for teachers, so that they can approach their work with the needed energy and enthusiasm.

And I don’t want you coming back at me with the usual excuses. Don’t give me that tired old argument about the parents’ responsibility. Of course it’s their responsibility to see to their children’s education. But with the best will in the world, they’re unable to compensate for inadequate buildings and the absence of books and equipment, exhausted and dissatisfied teachers, and children turned off by the obviously care-less, me-first attitude of greedy adults in a society that wants them only tame, and manageable, and undemanding. And kept away from drugs and sex.

And don’t come back at me either with that tired old clichĂ© about "not solving the problem by throwing money at it." That’s just another wonderful excuse for not getting the job done, and it plays well to the uneducated gallery. It’s bullshit, though. You recognize bullshit when you see it, no? A good Texas rancher. So you can tell here, Bush, that I’m talking about major sums of money, major shifts in national priorities, and either a significant tax increase or a substantial cut in the money we spend on weaponry. But if you want a real heritage for your presidency in all this mess you have created in this country and the world, there it is. A gift from me. No charge.

All this inspired by watching the suffering of Katrina's victims. We can and should do better for our people, from the earliest age. This is America, Bush. This is the 21st century. We have the resources. We just seem not to have the will.

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