Sunday, January 18, 2015

#196 January 18, 2015- Public vs. Private The Struggle Continues

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

-Frederick Douglass

Human history is one of continual struggle and conflict.  We find ourselves in a constant state of change and tension with a few moments where a brief equilibrium is established before the balance is overturned.  While each incident and issue has its own unique set of characteristics, we often find general themes that emerge over time.  In fact, while human behavior and interactions often appear to be incredibly complex, the reality is that we can usually identify one of these themes as the source of the conflict.   

One of these is the struggle between individual rights and the needs of the collective whole of a society.  Here in America this debate has its roots in the very founding of our nation.  We often hear about how the founders of our nation put a primary importance on the rights of the individual to make choices for themselves.  This rationale is used to defend a variety of social, political and economic positions and is the cornerstone that many Conservatives attempt to use to justify the need to "reform" anything in the public sector.  Yet, at the same time we also are faced with constant reminders that we are not isolated individuals, but rather connected parts of an inter-related whole.  What happens to one segment of society will impact the reality for the rest of our nation. 

This perpetual struggle for power has been both a source of painful conflict, as well as a basis for our progress as a society.  We have seen it play out in almost every facet of our society as individuals seek to gain and maintain power over the larger collective group.  The basis of the conflict runs through our national dialog from the documents that form the foundation of our government to debates in the present day.  At times the struggle as nearly torn our nation apart, and at others has given us the strength to persevere in difficult circumstances.  Over time the pendulum of power and public opinion has swung back and forth between the power of the individual and the power of a unified whole. 

The swings of power have enabled us to weather the storms of controversy, and emerge if not stronger, at least intact as a nation.  The differences that we have, however strong they may be, have an outlet through protest, the ballot, the courts, the press as well as other freedoms and rights we enjoy as American citizens.  For all of the inherent, human flaws that our nation's social, economic and political systems have, we still should recognize the reality that we enjoy opportunities to make change that are not always available to citizens around the world.

It is also important to remember just how fragile these freedoms and opportunities truly are.  The historical struggle for power is one that is often dominated by a small group of well-connected, powerful individuals who are able to dictate the direction that a society takes.  The majority of citizens, while great in number, have to be constantly vigilant and active in their efforts to maintain access to the sources of power, whether political or economic. 

The current state of affairs in Wisconsin clearly demonstrate the potential dangers that exist to the rights, freedoms and opportunities that we claim to hold so dear.  We've seen challenges to voting privileges, restrictions on access to public hearings and debate, and many other examples of what amounts to a seizure of power by a group elected by a minority of potential voters.  This group of Conservatives claim to want to expand personal freedoms and to value the core American ideals of liberty and justice.  Yet, the end results of their actions are directly opposed to these principles.  In the name of personal liberty a majority of citizens are seeing their actual opportunities to prosper economically, socially and politically dwindle.  The balance in the struggle between individual rights and the rights of the collective has shifted sharply towards a small number of individuals. 

Education is one of the battlegrounds where this conflict is currently playing out in dramatic, obvious and vitally important ways.  In education we see the balance between the needs of the individual to advance their own interests and achievements, blended with the needs of our society to have institutions that produce educated and engaged citizens.  It is well documented that a true democracy can not exist without this base of informed citizens.  In the same way, our economy can not function without a mix of entrepreneurs, inventors and employees who are ready to live and work in a productive society. 

In order to accomplish this we have developed a system of public education that has attempted to fill the needs of the larger society.  Here in Wisconsin we have long recognized the role that public education plays and even have given it formal recognition in our state Constitution.  Private schools have a place in this system, but it is one that is privately supported and not the universal norm for students.  Our public schools have a history of providing a solid base of opportunity for most students, and have the potential to become an even more egalitarian source of training, instruction and opportunity for all citizens. 

In short, while our public schools are not perfect, they offer the best possible solution to the myriad challenges that we face in educating our citizenry.  This is true for a number of reasons, all of which return us to the struggle between the public and private aspects of our society.  While we must always remember and recognize the need of individuals to advance their own interests and to seek out ways to improve their standing in society, we can never forget that the long-term success of our society rests on the stability provided by a balanced and equitable system that provides opportunity for all citizens to participate and prosper.  Individuals can achieve in this system, but not at the expense of the good of our collective whole.  Public education, unions, public regulation of private industry, all these are examples of efforts to insure that we don't fail to perpetuate our democratic ideals.  Ideals that promote the beliefs that all members of society have value and are entitled to equal opportunities. 

This is why the current state of affairs in public education is so deeply troubling and potentially harmful to the long-term health of our democracy.  While we have never fully supported or implemented an educational system where all the people were truly represented we are seeing a concerted effort being made to centralize power and to control educational opportunity in ways that haven't been seen in decades, if ever in Wisconsin.  This vision of centralization and privatization runs counter to everything that public education can and should be. 

While it isn't surprising that those who stand to profit from these efforts are supporters of recent "reforms", it is somewhat puzzling that ideas like vouchers, expansion of testing and other "reforms" are meeting with support (or at least indifference) in the general public.  However, once we look at how education "reform" is marketed it becomes clear that the attempts to advance a privatization agenda is being done through manipulation of the political system and shrewd marketing tactics.  The very values that make public education so valuable are being used to undermine the arguments that would make public education a truly inclusive and positive endeavor. 

At the heart of this lies the fact that in order to be truly public, discussions about public education must be open, transparent and accessible to all.  For much of our history this has meant that decisions are made publically by elected officials, by those appointed by elected bodies, or by individuals who are readily accountable to the public.  Our current debates around education either are being done in less visible ways, or are being directed by propaganda that misleads the public and presents a false reality around our public schools, educators and the students who learn in our classrooms.  Here are a few ways that this is happening. . .

Public discussion and debate is stifled- This has been a hallmark of the current administration in Wisconsin.  Public hearings are held, but the public is either ignored, or their testimony is delayed.  Lobbyists and organizations are given the first chances to speak and are often the only voices heard.             

Today was the “public” hearing on Wisconsin republicans’ school accountability bill. I wish somebody would have told me that by “public” they meant that the “public” gets to watch legislators talk to each other and that at some point during...

Legislation is shaped by non-educators- When testimony is heard, or legislators consult with outside "experts" they rarely hear from professional educators or those who work in the field of education in a real, meaningful way. 

A ventilation outlet for a disillusioned, dejected, and obfuscated late-20's Wisconsinite. Opinions expressed on here are my own and certainly subject to...|By Wisconsin Soapbox

"We don’t have an education problem. We have an economics problem that has caused an education problem." There was one common theme at yesterday’s...

Real issues are ignored- Focus is put on test scores and other data, while information that really shapes students' lives is not valued.  

For the first time in at least five decades, 51 percent of public school students are poor, a new report says.

The Subgroup Scam & Testing Everyone Every Year
This post is a follow up to my previous post in which I discussed the misguided arguments for maintaining a system of annual standardize testing of all students. In my post, I skipped over one argu...

The end result is legislation and policy that fails to meet the needs of students, educators and the community as a whole.  Instead, we are given rules and regulation that is often harmful and that further weakens our ability to provide access to opportunities for students and communities that need it the most.  

Why The School Takeover Bill is Wrong for Wisconsin: Recap of the AB1 Hearing|By Heather DuBois Bourenane

Assembly revises school accountability bill : Wsj
The bill removes an academic review board.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

School accountability bill a 'disaster,' former state Sen. Dale Schultz says : Ct
He says Assembly Republicans are "playing with fire" in eliminating some local control for education.|By Todd D. Milewski | The Capital Times

The Common Core standards for kindergarten require kids to learn how to read, even though many kids aren't developmentally ready.

As we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. it is important that we take time to look at the world in a different, and more reflective way.  We can't allow ourselves to fall victim to empty rhetoric that promises freedom through individual actions in a marketplace driven purely by individual desires.  This individualistic thinking leads us to a segregated, unjust and unequal society.  Thinking collectively, acting collaboratively and working to address the needs of all citizens will bring us closer to a nation that truly values "liberty and justice for all." 

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . We need more programs like this to break the cycle of recidivism that plagues our society.
The Madison-area Urban Ministry program is set up to expand in its second year.|By Pat Schneider
Being a part of something bigger than one person is at the core of our human nature.

The institution may be at a historic low in size, but a new study suggests that membership has psychological benefits.|By John Guida

The Bad . . . The people of America need to be aware of the gaps that are growing and the fact that we are moving away from the values that we claim to support.

To understand the growth of income inequality—and the disappointing increases in workers’ wages and compensation as well as middle-class incomes—it is...

Jobs are coming back, but pay isn’t. - 2015/01/14

The Ugly . . . The inconsistencies in public opinion and knowledge were made clear in a survey conducted on behalf of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (a conservative group) where respondents were in favor of right to work legislation (62% for it) while at the same time approving of labor unions in Wisconsin (58%).  This same survey showed that a majority felt that right to work would either have no impact, or would harm workers and the economy.  This survey shows just how confused people are about unions and this confusion has allowed Conservatives to "divide and conquer" here and across the nation.     

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