America’s War On Education
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is proud of the fact that he stood up for taxpayers against public service unions, the most prominent of these unions defending the interests of teachers. He drew a line in the sand. The people (taxpayers) against the teachers (the enemies of the people).
Across the country local governments have been shrinking their public workforces. The biggest cuts are among teachers. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs in recent years.
College tuition increases, including at state schools, have not only exceeded inflation generally, but even medical inflation. This is one reason that student debt is now greater than a trillion dollars, and why for many graduates who can no longer declare bankruptcy to get out from under this debt, going to college has become a road to latter-day peonage.
Education has long been a political issue in this country. Our last Republican President, George W. Bush, even liked to style himself “the education president.” And while his No Child Left Behind reform seems of questionable value to many, the idea that no American child should, in fact, be left behind because of educational deficiencies, or that the country needed a better education system to guarantee its future prosperity, has never been challenged.
One could jump on the old partisan bandwagon and say the present American war on education is a Republican effort. An effort spawned by the fact that teachers unions have been a traditional big supporter of Democrats, and teachers generally have voted the Democratic line. This view can be bolstered further by pointing to the biggest teacher layoffs in Republican run states, and at places like Pennsylvania where a Republican governor has cut deeply into support for state colleges.
Yes, there’s a strong partisan element here. But in reality, important parts of this war on education have often had bipartisan backing. Like when it came to loan programs for college students.
It seemed a great idea to Democrats as well as Republicans to bring the mighty force of the free market more prominently into this lending. Preventing bankruptcy from being a debt escape for student borrowers expedited this idea wonderfully. Private lenders knew these loans were now super safe and would in a pinch have the federal government acting as their dunning agents.
An indeed, it has proven a great idea — for certain vested interests. The government was off the hook for a lot of student lending; Wall Street could package the loans for the secondary market and make its usual high markups; colleges could get their students more financial backing without tapping their own endowments, with savings that could then be used for much bigger administrator compensation packages and building projects bearing the names of major endowment contributors.
Only students ended up being hurt by this “wonderful” arrangement when the job market collapsed.
Personally, I find America’s present war on education not merely grotesque, but incomprehensible. In sane societies the first line of defense against a terminal military defeat is never that society’s children. They are the last thing thrown into battle, and almost always, while even a modicum of sanity pervades a society, surrender comes first because it is deemed a preferable option.
America has chosen to make it educational system, a proxy for its children, the first casualties in our budgetary wars.
Looking for sure symptoms of nation’s decline? Look to a country where its teachers are labeled enemies of the people, where the number of teachers in formative years’ education is being dramatically slashed, where higher education is increasingly viewed as a burden rather than an opportunity.
This is America’s real future. And it isn’t pretty.