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February 17, 2005

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to vote Republican

The discussion of liberalism and accomodationism that started with my Ward Churchill post and then over at Beth's brought up the question "what is it that concerned people can do to make the world a better place, as opposed to just hand-wringing?"

My wife Becky answered that question for herself about ten years ago. She left a fairly lucrative job in the Real Estate Investment biz and started teaching. She now works in a public school in Oakland. She makes maybe half what she would if she'd stayed in her old job.

I sometimes ask people what would happen to the world if they just stopped going to work, and if their employer decided not to replace them. What would be the end result as far as society is concerned? Sometimes the result is hard to figure, but the answer can often be summed up as either "no real difference" or "someone somewhere would make less money." In Becky's case it's "20 to 30 kids per year wouldn't learn to read or add."

If this were Usenet, some right-winger would likely insert the usual teacher-bashing joke about the kids not learning anyway. This is somewhere between a calumny and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Californians, in passing the landmark tax cut Proposition 13 in the late 1970s, doomed a generation of schoolchildren to substandard educations. Despite the trope that Californians are overburdened with taxes, the state is well below the national average in school spending per dollar of personal income.

The state is also fairly well below the national average for property taxes, as it turns out. To take a bit of an extreme example, here's a house in (admittedly high-taxed) New York State where the asking price is significantly under what we could ask for our tiny house in Pinole. The taxes on the house described in the link are about four times what we pay.

Sure, it hurts to shell out to pay the property tax bill, even if it's a lowly $3K per annum. It also hurts when a home invasion burglar can work without fear of police because budget cuts force police departments not to respond to burglar alarms. It hurts when you have to shell out for new shocks because your roads are deteriorating, or when your house burns down because the fire substation budget got cut.

And it hurts like hell to watch my wife come home day after day near tears because she isn't given the tools my public school teachers had as a matter of course. Life in her work day is a constant game of triage. All teachers lose kids under the best of conditions, but her work has become a deadening slog, a constant state of emergency, desperately trying to drill spelling into increasingly remote kids so they can pass a counterproductive, GOP-mandated set of tests.

This is where, if this were Usenet, someone would say "but you can't fix a problem by throwing money at it." I always wonder if these people say the same thing to the grocer, the gas company, the landlord when bills come due. If a problem is caused by lack of money, then throwing money at it is precisely how to fix it.

Except that the people who want those tax cuts preserved don't see the state of the schools as a problem, do they? A generation of Californians has grown up in schools much of Mississippi would be ashamed of, and we see the result before us. It works like this:

1) Taxes get cut
2) Schools suffer budget cuts
3) People reach adulthood not understanding math
4) GOP candidates promise to balance a deficit budget while further cutting taxes
5) Mathematically ignorant people vote GOP rather than doubling over laughing at the GOP's palpably stupid statements
6) Taxes get cut
7) Schools get cut

Ignorance benefits the people running the country, and they'll do what they can to make sure we stay ignorant. And too bad if some of Becky's students fall through the cracks.

Posted by Chris Clarke at February 17, 2005 03:13 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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It's disgusting how undervalued teachers are here. It's trite to say how they're the real heroes, but it's so undeniably true. I don't understand how anyone who'd care even the slightest about the future (their own or their children's) would willing deny any funds directed to schools. The recent statistics on high scholls and their beliefs about the first amendment are frightening enough.

It's true what you say about ignorance. This means, though, that Becky's students are not falling throught the cracks: rather, they're merely being schooled into the same ignorance that will keep benefitting those in power.

I can't stand these sorts of depressing affirmations. I'd rather answers, or, better, more questions. As long as people keep asking, there's hope.

Posted by: Siona at February 17, 2005 09:33 PM
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Yes, Idiot-Boy wants to cut education spending, but still likes those assinine standards tests. The "Leave no Child behind" scheme is designed to do just the opposite. What's really interesting is the fact that he wants to cut Agriculture, too, and most of the farmers (around here, at least)are the ones who voted for him. How do ya like them apples, boys? Have you done figured it out yet?

Posted by: Carrie at February 18, 2005 10:24 AM
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Amen. Even as a kid I got this. I still remember, vividly, when I first visited family in the LA area and saw some new houses being advertised with the proud statement "No Mello-Roos!" When I asked what this meant, I was told that these houses were not obliged to pay taxes that would support local schools (and also things like police and fire, it turns out). I couldn't then -- and still can't -- understand what kind of selfish person would be _proud_ to admit that they were getting out of supporting schools.

Posted by: Rana at February 18, 2005 01:30 PM
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Followed through from paperwight's site...California state PTA set aside last thursday to send a message to the governor about his proposed state budget.

Many of our parents had no idea how dire the present budget situation is.

The worst of it was: the Governors' staffers intimidated and argued belligerently with our callers instead of just taking the message down. Heinous when you think they are paid to support the people of CA, not to harass them.

So I'm with your wife, the teachers, as well. My kid is in public school in CA. We're trying to get everyone motivated to call and to write letters...

Posted by: shari at February 21, 2005 10:01 AM
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