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March 03, 2005

A must-read on public education

Via Rox Populi and Shari at An Old Soul, this 1997 speech by David Stratman is one of the most searingly accurate analyses of the state of public education in the US I have seen in years. Excellent and persuasive ammunition for arguments with the "starve it till you can drown it in the tub" set. Excerpts that give the flavor of the essay (remember it was written during the boom years of the mid-1990s):

In an economy with over 6 million unemployed by official count, in which millions more are underemployed or working part-time or in temporary jobs, in which many millions of jobs are being deskilled by computerization and many millions eliminated, and in which wages have fallen to 1958 levels, where would these successful graduates go? What would they do? If they had all graduated with As and Bs, they would have high expectations-expectations for satisfying jobs which would use their talents. Expectations for further education. Expectations about their right to participate in society and to have a real voice in its direction.

I think you can see that, for the people at the very top of this society, who have been instrumental in shipping jobs overseas and restructuring the workforce and downsizing the corporations and shifting the tax burden from the rich onto middle-class and working Americans-the class of people, in short, who have been planning and reaping the benefits of the restructuring of American society-for this class of people at the top, for the schools to succeed would be very dangerous indeed. How much better that the schools not succeed, so that, when young people end up with a boring or low-paying or insecure job or no job at all, they say, "I have only myself to blame." How much better that they blame themselves instead of the economic system.

The reason that public education is under attack is this: our young people have more talent and intelligence and ability than the corporate system can ever use, and higher dreams and aspirations than it can ever fulfill. To force young people to accept less fulfilling lives in a more unequal, less democratic society, the expectations and self-confidence of millions of them must be crushed. Their expectations must be downsized and their sense of themselves restructured to fit into the new corporate order, in which a relative few reap the rewards of corporate success-defined in terms of huge salaries and incredible stock options-and the many lead diminished lives of poverty and insecurity.

Blaming public education is a way of blaming ordinary people for the increasing inequality in society. It is a way of blaming ordinary people for the terrible things that are happening to them. The corporate leaders and their politician friends are saying that, if our society is becoming more unequal, if millions don't have adequate work or housing or health care, if we are imprisoning more of our population than any other country on earth, it is not because of our brutal and exploitative economic system and our atomized society and our disenfranchised population. No, they say, it is not our leaders or our system who are at fault. The fault lies with the people themselves, who could not make the grade, could not meet the standards. According to the corporate elite, the American people have been weighed in the balance, and they have been found wanting.

Posted by Chris Clarke at March 3, 2005 11:04 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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I've had most of these thoughts percolating around for a while, but Stratman's article is the clearest articulation of these concepts I've yet seen.

Thanks for posting this... I'm emailing a copy of this speech to my superintendent and school board members. Not that I expect them to actually read it or anything, but it's worth a shot.

Posted by: the_bone at March 4, 2005 07:24 AM
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We have shared before the frustration that the ideals and goals of public education are not well supported by the actions of society, resulting in severe dissonance.

Nice to see someone do a good job of helping organize those thoughts.

Posted by: Desert Donkey at March 5, 2005 11:29 AM
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