Saturday, June 1, 2013

Issue #117- Wealth, Education and Hope for the Future

Owning the World…
Wealth has always been a key element that is needed to gain and maintain power in any society.  It is rare to find a person with significant, widespread power who doesn't also have either personal wealth or a close connection to a source of wealth.  Essentially, money/wealth = power in America today.  Because of our society's supposed commitment to capitalism and the free market, many people assume that the wealthy are deserving of their status.  This drives many of us to join the "rat race" and work to accumulate as much wealth as possible.  Too often these efforts lead us on paths that are not productive, and frequently destructive, for our society as a whole.  

Wealth is a necessity if we are to accomplish our goals.  It takes significant amounts of resources to educate our students, preserve our environment and to provide a high standard of living for all citizens.  Unfortunately, the drive to be "successful" often becomes the end goal, and not a means to an end.  "The love of money is the root of all evil", is a relevant quote for this week's edition.  We are seeing the results of this quest for wealth play out in many different venues as a small number of people accumulate huge amounts of wealth at the expense of the majority.      

Income Disparity- There are those who would claim that the efforts to create a socially just society are Communists, Socialists or simply ignorant of the way things should work.  They believe that the most capable and deserving always come out ahead in a "free-market" and that any effort to regulate the market or to work collectively (unionize) is anti-everything America stands for.  What they ignore is the reality that no society has been able to enjoy long-term success with huge gaps in wealth.  Eventually, the disparity in wealth leads to some form of change to re-balance the system.  

We see a "blame game" being played as the financial elite seek to portray the workers as the villains, and as being responsible for the loss of industry and jobs in America.  Yet, the problem isn't so much with those who want to be paid a "living wage" as it is with the wealthy who live far beyond the means of most of us.  This drive to accumulate wealth shows up as global conglomerates move around the globe. We can trace this movement from America to China and now into Central Africa.  One can also wonder just how it is that the pay of Wisconsin workers can stay so stagnant while CEO pay continues to rise.  

Wealth as a Weapon- Wealth is a tool to be used to implement ideas and to move society in a particular direction.  However, when used by a few, to seek to dominate and control, wealth becomes a weapon instead of a tool.  Motivation and intent matter greatly.  Using wealth to promote ideas that are truly in the best interests of our society is one thing, but using wealth to promote policies that serve a small minority is a different matter entirely.  We are seeing a perpetual misuse of wealth and power in Wisconsin politics.  

Making a Profit from the Suffering of Others- In any economic crisis there are always a few who are able to make huge profits from other's needs.  Those who are struggling financially make decisions based on short term needs, while those who are better off are able to "ride out the storm".  During economic downturns, smaller companies close their doors while larger companies are able to increase their share of the market.  This has happened to the family farms across our state as well.  

Public services are not immune to this, as things that were once provided by our different levels of government are privatized.   In other cities they have used a combination of financial struggles along with a "need" for educational "reforms" to close public schools and open private (but supported by public funding) schools.  Now we see this effort spreading into Wisconsin as well.  Even our university system is looking for ways to raise money in the short term.  The actions taken now will have an adverse effect on their financial stability in the future.    

Pawns in the Game…
The battle for wealth and power in Wisconsin is centering on our public education system.  The struggle takes place on multiple levels.  Unfortunately, it seems as though our public schools and the students who attend them are becoming pawns in a larger game.  Just like the 2011 conflicts over collective bargaining, the focus on education in 2013 is a smokescreen.  The debate over education in Wisconsin has less to do with actually educating our students and more to do with advancing a political, social and economic agenda.  

If the expansion of the voucher program was really about improving educational opportunities for all students then we would be looking at an entirely different course of action for our schools.  There is significant documentation that voucher schools don't perform better than public schools, that they don't meet the needs of a diverse population and that they don't close Achievement Gaps for significant numbers of students.  They do provide an opportunity for privatization of education to increase and for a small number of people to benefit financially.  They also continue the attack on the professionalism of educators across the state.    

Fund public schools, not entitlements for voucher and for-profit charter schools | Institute for...

We are at a crucial time in our efforts to halt the spread of the voucher program.  Please take the time to contact legislators and voice your opposition to the proposed changes.  


Attacking Education…
In order to advance the proposed "reforms" of our educational system, it is necessary for the "reformers" to undermine and destroy public confidence in the existing system and those who work in it.  This is being done by direct attacks on educators, creating a sense of uncertainty around education and using budget woes to make "common sense" changes. 

De-Professionalizing Education- "Those who can do, do, those who can't do, teach".  We have long had the attitude that educating students is something that anyone can do.  We respect the knowledge of doctors, lawyers, engineers and business people, while we degrade the professional knowledge required to teach.   

If we believe the premise that teaching doesn't require any special skills, just academic knowledge, then it makes sense that we should change the requirements necessary to work in our schools.  This eliminates the credibility of educators and changes their status from professionals to simply "off the rack" employees who can be replaced easily by anyone who has a basic understanding of a content area.  

Creating Confusion- Change in any profession is inevitable.  Nothing stays the same forever, but the pace of change in the field of education has been so rapid and so volatile in recent years that it is causing significant confusion for administrators, educators, families and students.  Most people don't have the knowledge or the time to fully comprehend the debates and simply follow what is reported by the media (which doesn't have the knowledge or commitment to reporting the full story).  Trust plays such a huge role in the process of educating our students and the constant change is undermining public confidence in our schools.  

Money, Money, Money- In the end it all comes back to the financial realities.  Educating all students is expensive, especially if we are going to provide all the services necessary for our children to have the opportunities they deserve and need.  There is no stone that our fiscally conservative leaders will leave unturned.  Even our public libraries are targets for their budget "reforms".  

Defending Education…
With all the negative press and the public attacks on public education, we need to highlight the positive things that our schools provide.  Our public schools are a national resource that should be cultivated.  We can't forget that the negative attention public education receives is just a small part of the total picture.  Most citizens support and respect their schools and the educators who work in them.  

"During a time of massive budget cuts, school closings, and teacher layoffs, it's easy to forget how teachers fill the holes in the lives of the poor, experts say.
'The help that teachers give kids is missing from the public dialogue about teachers these days,' said Maia Cucchiara, an urban-education professor at Temple University. Teachers, she said, are too often criticized as robots teaching only to help students pass standardized tests."

Too often educators feel like they are "cogs", and forget the power that we can wield.  We should be looking for ways to make positive change and acting on those opportunities as often as possible.    

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