Sunday, February 2, 2014

#150 February 2, 2014- Education, Labor and More

Educational Decision
Making. . .
Education is many different things to many different people.  For some it is a pathway to a career.  For others it is an enjoyable pursuit that leads them to new discoveries and widens their world view.  For others it represents hope for the future.  There are many different views of what an education is for, and what it means to be educated.  The topic of education is one worthy of significant public discussion, and our efforts to create thoughtful and meaningful public educational policy are among the most important that our public officials can undertake.

While there are many things that education can be to people, there are some things that it shouldn't be as well.  Education should not be a for-profit industry.  When we create a system that is driven by bottom-line thinking, we inevitably see a loss of opportunity for those who need access to it the most.  Unfortunately, we are seeing the lure of profit encroaching into the decision making processes that create policies for our public schools.  Many of the "reforms" that are being touted as educationally sound practices, are actually financially sound (for investors in education) and financially driven practices instead.    

Education shouldn't be a political tool used to attack those who are of a different ideology either.  Yet, we are seeing this becoming a regular feature in debates over public education as well.  Public educator unions have been a thorn in the side of Republicans here in Wisconsin for decades, and the GOP is taking advantage of their majority status to try and eliminate their opposition.  Initiatives like turning control of "failing" schools over to private companies (who will be prohibited from hiring existing, often unionized, staff) are poorly concealed ways to destroy the base of unionized public educators in Wisconsin. 

The people of Wisconsin are resisting changes like this, but these ideas don't go away, especially when supported by top GOP officials.  

Unfortunately, it isn't just Conservatives, or Republicans who are seeking to privatize and 'profitize' public schools.  Democrats don't have a great track record of providing meaningful support for public schools.  Instead, they often adopt parts of the GOP's plans and simply put a slightly different spin on them.  

What needs to happen is for the educators, families and students who value and support public education to join together and make public policy makers understand what education really means for our communities and our nation.  Equal educational opportunities need to be available for all no matter what the race, gender, income, zip code, etc. of any individual or group.  We can't allow our policy making to be guided by panic, shortsightedness or profitability.  Those who work and learn in the public schools, those who send their children to our public schools and those who live in the communities that our public schools serve need to have the loudest voice when decisions are made.  

Labor and Business. . .
Just like educational decision making is driven by the potential for profit, so to are our economic decisions.  Of course, this makes sense to a significant degree.  After all, businesses, unlike schools, should exist to make a profit.  No one can reasonably dispute the reality that if a business doesn't make money, it is not viable as a business.  While there have been many different economic philosophies put forward over the years, and some of these include thinking that radically shifts ownership and distribution of profits, the reality is that in almost every economic system developed around the world there is a stratification in wealth and control of financial resources.  Some people earn more, control more and benefit more from these economic and political systems.

At the same time, an argument can be made that huge disparities in wealth and power are not conducive to long term, sustainable success for any society.  When these huge economic gaps occur, they are usually followed by some degree of change in either the system, or in those who control the wealth.  Whether through legislation, revolution or other means, those with less access to financial resources find a way to advance their cause.  The questions often are, how radical, violent, or unpleasant is the change going to be, and what will the changes look like?    

America has endured many different periods when we struggled to resolve issues around distribution of wealth and power in very visible ways.  From the very beginning of our nation there was a tension between different groups around these issues.  These struggles haven't gone away with time.  America has not found a way to resolve economic, class and labor issues with any degree of permanence.  Yet, our recent history has been one of relative stability in terms of labor issues.

There are many reasons why we've enjoyed relative labor peace in the years after WWII and leading up to 2010.  The trends certainly haven't favored labor in many ways.  Yet, systems were in place that put a band-aid over the wounds caused by the conflicts between classes, labor and management.  Unions existed to represent some workers.  Collective bargaining existed for public employees in many states.  While a significant number of workers labored without protections, the general mood of the nation didn't support upheaval or change.  The case can be made that labor should have been more active and engaged, but in general the decades leading up to 2010 were the calm before the storm.

That all changed with the elections of 2010 and the electoral victories that gave Conservatives significant power in many states including Wisconsin.  Not content to continue to erode the power of labor through systematic, but gradual, attacks, these radical Conservatives used their power to try and eradicate the power of labor.  Needless to say, this awoke organized labor and created the uprisings and push-back that has been occurring around the nation ever since.   

The current picture is very troublesome for those who support worker's rights and a more equitable distribution of resources.  We are facing challenges in all areas, including the fight for public opinion.     

Yet, at the same time, labor has experienced a "Great Awakening" and we are seeing activism and awareness increasing significantly.  Hope is the greatest asset that unions provide, and we will continue to see workers fight for their rights to organize and represent their interests.    


                  The Good, The Bad, and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . Despite the constant efforts of many to discredit and demean the U.S. Postal Service, there are many who continue to recognize the importance of our mail carriers.  For me, this ongoing debate over the viability of the USPS is a symbol of the struggle that we are engaged in as a society.  We need to retain the benefits that humans delivering tangible messages and items provide.  That this continues to exist as a public service is also important.    

Labor and management can work together!!!

The Bad . . . More evidence that money is damaging our political system.

The Ugly . . . We can't allow our political system to be controlled by a wealthy few, who then use their power to harm citizens, our environment, and our way of life.  

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