Monday, March 9, 2009

What am I most concerned about?

You know, when I answered this question as a part of the AIP class, I said the following:




And that is right, or at least not wrong. I think the reasons for this answer are pretty obvious--without food, bad bad things happen. Many of the other concerns that people have, such as personal safety and civil unrest, devolve to the relative availability of food. It is starvation that drives so much of these issues--when the zombies come, they will be hungry.

And yet, here at the homefront blog anyway, I'd like to offer a somewhat different response. What I am increasingly concerned about is.... education.

Huh? Isn't food more important than education? I mean, your degree is pretty useless if you've starved to death in a gutter, right? Yes, absolutely. Nonetheless, education is edging up, and maybe even taking over, my concerns about food.

Why would I be so bent out of shape about education? I believe that of all the things currently in place in our society, none are more important than our educational system. The free and compulsory education of our youth is a stunning accomplishment. Few things are as democratizing as a fully educated population. The very foundations of our democracy--the ability for the people to lead a country--rests entirely on having an educated population. An educated population cannot be easily controlled (it's obviously possible, but harder), nor can it be easily cowed. Compulsory education for all does not guarantee democracy--far from it (witness, oh, today for example); but without an educated population, the chances of a democracy thriving, or even surviving, will be slim.

I don't think it's an accident that as a nation we have been cutting back and back and back on education; I don't think it's coincidence that education and associated programs are almost always first on the chopping block when budget cuts roll down. There is little incentive for the power structures in our country to educate the population. The wealthy can pay for their own education on their own time, and a poorly educated public is, of course, easier to control and cow. And really, who cares about the poor people anyway? This is bad enough in and of itself, but that's not the worst. The worst is the plodding shift in our thinking towards devaluing education, of it being okay to cut education budgets.

Now of course no one wants to just do away with education. And no one would, except under extraordinary duress... which we are approaching rapidly. The level of our federal debt burden, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, coming due will eat the ability for our government to provide any other services--education, safety, military, etc. Under these conditions, how can we propose to spend money on education? It is already one of the first lines cut out of budgets, I cannot imagine it will acquire any new untouchable status in the near future. So I genuinely do worry that the wholesale abandonment of education is on the table; maybe not this year, but probably by 2017, at the latest.

Can't education just be outsourced? Is education really the sort of thing that governments ought, or even should, provide? I know many families who either send their children to private schools or homeschool for a variety of reasons, often the main one being that they object to government involvement in education at all. I would like to be clear here that I have no substantial objections at all to either private schooling or homeschooling--those choices are a-okay by me, and I'm glad we have them. But the position that the government should have no role in education, in my opinion, is seriously flawed. The shift from guaranteeing--with the backing of law--basic education for our entire population to one where education is stripped from our common responsibility as citizens would be seizmic in nature; it would change the landscape of our nation. We're already seeing the results of comperable policies in the form of budget cuts, which almost always hit poorer districts first, and the resulting power inequities between those communities and the well-off, well-financed communities. When common money is not applied in reasonably equitable levels to the education of our children, wealth and power disparities grow.

The pride of our nation is not that we're classless, which we certainly are not; it is rather that our classes are not codified--they are mobile. One can go from low, to middle, to even high class in our society, and similarly, you can fall from high right back down to low again (how's that working out for ya, Warren Buffet?). But a lack of education for all, at something like even levels, makes the mobilization of our class structure almost impossible. Even in our current situation, with compulsory but poorly-funded education in many areas, classes become set. It becomes a hopeless proposition to ever move beyond your current place. Private schooling is obviously beyond the means of these parents, and often homeschooling is, too--even afterschooling. Many of our poorest parents do not have the time, the resources, or the energy to provide the level of education enjoyed by the well-to-do children not five miles from them. The class structure, and the attendant power structure, becomes codified.

Of course, many would argue, these poorest of poor parents shouldn't have had children in the first place. Personally, I find this argument to be so repugnant as to not deserve a response, save one: moral worth does not dicatate economic achievement.

So let's call a spade a spade. The abandonment of free and compulsory education in our nation is the wholesale abandonment of our democratic society. A slippery slope argument? Yeah, probably. But I don't think it's far off the mark, either, although the slide is not inevitable. How we could maintain a true democracy, even a true republic, without an educated population is frankly beyond me. I don't think we succeeded at it in the past (before compulsory education), and I doubt we would succeed in the future, either.

I don't want a feudal society in our future--even a well-fed feudal society. Creating community solutions to education is one thing, and a valuable goal to pursue; perhaps setting up local, or neighborhood school cooperatives can help fill the gap left behind when our government funds run dry. But without the force of law (and without funding, how can it be? We tried that with the "No Child Left Behind" charade), this will be inequitably distributed at best, and probably short-lived at worst. We will have consigned our country to be governed by the un- and undereducated; or, contrariwise, we will have abandoned our power to those who can afford to educate themselves, thus ending our brief experiment in a democratically controlled society.


  1. I'm wondering how you're coming up with 2017? And are you talking K-12 and/or college level?


  2. Christine--2017? Mostly at random, but it's also the projected date for Medicare and Social Security to run out of funds. I have little doubt that education will take a back seat to those entitlement programs.
    As for k-12 or college, I am thinking mostly in terms of k-12. The focus of this post is the basic compulsory education in our country, which only goes until students are 16 anyway (after that, they can drop out). How higher ed is going to be affected by all the cutbacks is pretty unclear to me, but I'm sure it will be hit very hard. At the university we're at, as well as the one my FIL is an administrator of, they've taken 25% funding cuts from the state budget just this year. I think that this is a concern, but not nearly as much of one as the erosion of k-12 education.