Maybe I’m simplifying matters, but these days I see media overly preoccupied with stories about the guessing game of which Republican will run for president, a Frenchman who accosted an American maid, another philandering governor, and, to a lesser degree, Charlie Sheen’s replacement and the new television season (better called the Madison Avenue message delivery mechanism).
Meanwhile, despite some recent notable exceptions (Wisconsin), this country’s commitment to providing the means to cultivate an educated public and informed citizenry is being flushed down the toilet in relative quiet. Wasn’t it just yesterday when the talking heads were nodding sagely at the wisdom of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative. This unfunded mandate was willingly shouldered by such states as Texas, with Gov. Rick “States-Right-to be Ignorant” Perry at the helm, because, after all, education is our future.
But one day we awoke in a new world where it was “Torpedoes be damned!” against education, particularly teachers and school districts. As a result, the teacher ranks will suffer layoffs, benefit reductions, and pension cuts. That’s before they even walk into increasingly larger classes, fewer neighborhood campuses, and experience cuts in libraries, the arts and extracurricular activities. Peggy Noonan, former Nixon speech writer, explained on Morning Joe one day recently that cutting the education budgets seemed reasonable to Republicans and tea partiers, because “they don’t see all that money going to children.” I don’t get it, Peggy. Do they believe that children should be teaching themselves? Administering tests and developing curricula? Or has there been an epidemic of administrators buying new cars and taking lavish trips with school funds? What did I miss?
Or do they simply believe teachers should impoverish themselves in order to selflessly teach our children? What kind of irrationality do they attribute to educators that would cause them to eschew their own self-interest and better paying jobs (and ones with less stress, surely) outside of the teaching profession? The obvious reality is that education happens because money is spent on teachers, testing, buildings, bus drivers, and administrators.
Moreover, it is the insanity of this funding crisis that the school districts must comply with the laws that Legislature has imposed on them, funded or not. As AISD Trustee Lori Moya wrote in a recent letter to the editor in the Austin-American, “School districts aren’t asking for more money. We’re asking for enough money to meet state requirements and mandates.”
The only conclusion one can come to is that we’re in the midst of a right-wing campaign to dumb down the American public and consolidate their power over hearts and minds. Accordingly, institutions and programs that exist to foster a more informed citizenry must be strangled to death. Why else declare war on the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio, media outlets that inform Americans about the world in which we live and the politics, the science, and the literature that inform this world?
No, Americans should be fed a steady diet of network and cable television in order to get our marching orders from Madison Avenue. The right wing wants to be sure that American heads get their fill of fare that make them good consumers and distract them from any critical thinking. Just look at the television schedule and its distraction of murder, mayhem, and reality shows that have nothing to do with “reality” as we know it. Like, what’s with The Bachelor? How does it escape attacks from the right wing, when it totally trivializes marriage? Isn’t that institution sacrosanct in their books – at least until they are discovered toe dancing in bathroom stalls, hiking in Argentina, or paying off the mistress and her family?
And if you consider the squelching our children’s potential as the right-wing objective, the battle over Planned Parenthood even begins to make sense. The clients who use their services the most are the poor. If fewer of the poor get abortions (which to the R-mind is all that PP does), they will have more children, preventing their ability to escape their impoverished condition. Neither the parents or their offspring, mired in poverty and working their minimum wage jobs at best, will ever have the time or energy to acquire the education and skills it takes to make it to the middle class (assuming one still exists). The children will never grow up to question Big Oil subsidies . . . or any other form of corporate welfare.
The situation is particularly dire in Texas. Back in February, Paul Krugman wrote of the Texas budget cuts and pointed out that Texas is 43rd of 50 in state rankings in high school graduation rate. Further, he wrote, the state ranks 5th in poverty nationally and leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. Medicaid is being cut to such a degree that many fear doctors will start refusing to see Medicaid patients. Add to these grim statistics the prospect of as many as 100,000 layoffs in education sector. Krugman poses the question that he heard asked by many business people in Texas: how can the state prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education?
But obviously, Paul Krugman and Texas business leaders don’t get the same memos the Republican governors get. Those memos explain that they can’t depend on the educated classes anymore. They must hitch their wagons with the tea party whose loyalists could care a flying flip about education policy and the long-term health of a country and its economic system.
One Texas state representative (Democrat) said recently about the new crop of legislators from the right wing and tea party, in particular, “They are delighted that Texas is having this budget crises because that gives them the excuse to reduce government to where it can be dragged into the bathroom and drowned in the bathtub a la Grover Norquist.” No matter that we’re flushing the future of our children and this country down the drain, too. An educated electorate merely gets in the way of dismantling government as we know it.