a world

Destroying Our Public Education Systems: Educating Our Children Should Not Be Politicized.

 

Why do we make education a partisan issue?

There’s actually a very simple answer to that question. You probably already know what it is, but we’re not going to spoil it just yet. It consists of just one word.

In the meantime, let’s take a brief but hard look at the place education occupies, in the year 2017, in public discourse and the collective unconscious.

What Civilization Is For

Not to get too grand about it right away, but the role of education is very much tied up with the role of civilization itself, which is… well, what is it, exactly?

This writer would argue that the purpose of civilization is to make sure each generation has it better than the one that came before. And what better way to show our commitment to that ideal than by making sure our schools are properly provided for? Our children should always grow up more emotionally intelligent, inquisitive about the world, and capable of rational thought, than their parents’ generation.

And yes, that takes funding, like it or not.

As in, public funding. Not funding by profit-seekers and gatekeepers. Conservatives in government are systematically destroying our public education systems as we speak, and to do it, they’re counting on you and I believing several artistic lies about the benefits of, among other things, charter schools, private schools, school vouchers, and so-called school choice.

They preach about the benefits of competition, but work very hard to make sure there is no public option left in America to compete against pricier and more exclusive for-profit alternatives.

It’s true — we’re not helping the conversation by painting conservatives, exclusively, as the enemies of public education. The truth is, if Democrats — they who are even now still trying to brand themselves as the people’s party — had ever really wished for a robust and modern and globally competitive public school system, they could have made it a major goal for their party long before now.

But they failed, and all the while conservatives have basically dismantled America’s once-great public education system.

Both parties are failing our future generations. And so they’re failing civilization itself.

How Big Is the Problem?

You can’t conduct a poll of any cross-section of America’s electorate without coming away with a resounding consensus: everybody loves public schools, and they don’t want to see them privatized, as Trump’s Republican Government is pushing hard to do.

Everybody, regardless of how we end up voting come election day, wants to know that they can move into a new apartment or buy a new home anywhere in America and know there’s a well-funded, well-staffed and very community-engaged system of public schools waiting for them.

That’s always been the dream, right? What happened to it, exactly? Consider the libertarian and conservative nightmare that seems to have replaced it:

That same young family moves to a city without a public education system. They are handed a ‘school voucher’ — which amounts to a tax break — to help pay for their son’s or daughter’s education. Then they exercise their ‘right to choose’ from several competing schools or perhaps just the last one left that has put the others out of business. Maybe the best/only school is within bussing distance and maybe it’s not.

Maybe it’s extremely hard for these parents to get their child to school and get themselves to work on time, whereas if we had properly funded that city’s school system instead of letting it die, everybody’s son or daughter would live within reasonable bussing distance from a high-quality public school that isn’t stressed beyond its limits by the pressures of competition and profit-mongering.

Deep breath. Then, another question: why should knowledge be a commodity?

And think about this too, because almost nobody else is: isn’t it inherently discriminatory for so many of our states to fund their school systems on the basis of property taxes? We can already witness the dismal end result of this sort of system all across America: the re-segregation of our schools not by race but by family income.

Is America Exceptional?

Since we’ve helped frame this as a partisan issue, let’s follow through on that premise:

In a poll concerning the value of higher learning — education beyond Grade 12 — a strong majority of Republicans (58 percent) indicated universities are a negative influence on American culture.

And the conservative-corporate establishment is depending on propaganda-fueled opinions like this to remain popular as they totally dismantle financial assistance for lower-income households who wish to send their bright young minds to college.

Under Republican leadership, 2018 will see huge cuts to the most popular and empowering higher learning grants, including the Pell Grant, which has been around since 1972 and is now, thanks to the GOP’s brutal austerity crusade, in danger of going away entirely.

Unfortunately, the Republican-led hostility toward intellectualism in general is a mindset that’s coming for our primary schools now that they’ve helped poison the public against colleges. Now that Republicans are in control of every branch of government, public schools have never stood on a more uncertain foundation.

Prepare to hear sermons about austerity while billionaires get huge tax breaks and our schools get even less funding from the public treasury.

If America is an exceptional place, it’s because being a citizen here comes with certain expectations. One of them has always been, and can be once more, the expectation that your son or daughter, should you choose to have a family, can have an exceptional education, through Grade 12 at the very least, no matter where you live or what your income level is.

That’s not a partisan issue, is it? Aren’t the children our future?

That’s not something that needs to be complicated or compromised by the unfriendly social construct we call competition. Schools should not have to compete with one another. We should not be empowering social engineers who wish to see the closing of schools rather than the breaking of ground for brand-new ones.

Consider the degree to which America’s public education spending has shrunk in comparison to how large our military spending has grown. In 2015, the ratio was 6 percent for education and 54 percent for military.

It seems there’s always one more foreign boogeyman waiting in the wings to justify another Boeing or Lockheed Martin contract with the Pentagon, but when it comes to improving the quality of life in America for our children, there’s just too few dollars left.

And yet every scrap of empirical evidence tells us the world is safer today than it’s ever been, in just about any way you can measure it. Making sure future generations emerge from childhood capable of critical thinking and willing to ask important questions about the world is a goal we can all get behind.

Actually, we can’t all get behind it. It brings us back to that single-word answer we promised you at the beginning of this piece.

It’s profit.

Profit is ruining our public education system, and it’s compromising what should have been a bright future for America as the world globalizes and realizes how small Earth really is.

In any number of organized studies of the world’s education systems, America ranks dismally. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. and the U.K. both failed to place in the top 11 countries worldwide in terms of the quality of our public education systems. The top countries were:

5. Netherlands

4. Singapore

3. Belgium

2. Switzerland

1. Finland

America has a lot of learning to do when it comes to doing public education right. We have a higher GDP than any other country on earth and only 400 million citizens.

This isn’t an insurmountable problem — we just need public servants (and nonpartisan voters willing to elect them) who are willing to make sure education becomes, once more, a right we can all take for granted in America instead of a privilege to be enjoyed by just a few.

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Kate Harveston
Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger. Her work focuses on equality and social justice issues. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found curled up in her hammock with a book or exploring the city for trendy coffee shops. If you would like to follow her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.