Sunday, February 22, 2015

#201 February 22, 2015- Power + Money Doesn't Equal Educational Opportunities

We live in a "democratic society" that claims as its cornerstones the concepts of liberty, freedom and equality.  Our national identity is based on the belief that anyone can rise to the top and achieve greatness, no matter what their starting place.  We have long put our nation's equity in opportunity above those of other countries and have created a history that touts our flexible, "classless" social structure.  We are taught that America was different from the "Old World" system of rigid classes and a notable lack of opportunity.  People came to our nation's shores to find equality and opportunity that they couldn't find in their homelands.  We want to believe this narrative and hold on to the belief that the system of government that was installed in the late 1700's is one that provides all of us with the best chances to live in a "perfect union" and to "secure the blessings of liberty" for every citizen. 

Yet, we also know that this vision of justice, equity and opportunity is one that hasn't been enjoyed by all members of our society.  From its very beginnings there were many people relegated to second (or even two-thirds) class citizenship.  Our history has been one of constant struggle to bring the reality of our social, political and economic landscape up to the standards set forth in our founding documents.  We have moved forward in short bursts followed by longer periods of settling out and even regression as different groups have struggled to make their case for a place in the existing power structure.

All through this process we see an effort made to overcome existing prejudices and to create new norms that govern our society at all levels.  Those who struggle for social justice find themselves combating well entrenched beliefs and a power structure that favors those who already have a place at the table.  The struggle for social justice also faces challenges created by the link between political and/or social power and the access that wealth gives to a small number of citizens. 
In short, we live in a nation that strives for equity, but falls short of our goals due to a human tendency to centralize power in the hands of the few.  This leaves the majority of citizens in an constant struggle to be heard, and to achieve success.  The competition that exists helps drive the engines of change, but those efforts for equity will always meet with staunch resistance from those in power.

The effects of power on individuals is well documented and warnings were being issued by many contemporaries of our founders.  The most famous of these warnings is attributed to Lord Acton writing in 1887 when he said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Yet, his words were simply an extension of others' thinking.  People like William Pitt the Elder said in 1770, "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."  Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine wrote, "It is not only the slave or serf who is ameliorated in becoming free... the master himself did not gain less in every point of view,... for absolute power corrupts the best natures."

It is also worthwhile to mention the link that has been forged between wealth and power.  While this connection has always existed in every human society, the current economic and political climate in America has magnified its impact.  The stratification of wealth in the hands of a small number of people and new rules around campaign finance and other ways to manipulate political leaders have simply codified what we already knew existed.  The wealthy have long had the ability to manipulate systems to benefit themselves.  In this way wealth and power intersect, something that we have been warned about in such diverse sources as the Bible ("For the love of money is the root of all evil" 1 Timothy 6:10) and Lady Chatterley's Lover ("Money poisons you when you've got it, and starves you when you haven't).

It is also worthwhile to note that here in America we have a visible fear of political power, but that same fear doesn't translate as clearly to the economic sphere.  Somehow, on a societal level, we equate political power with control and want to resist it, while at the same time coveting and elevating economic success.  The argument that we need to reduce government and reduce regulation while at the same time supporting our "job creators" is one that resonates well in the political arena.  Somehow it becomes fine to attack hard working public sector employees, but not acceptable to attack hard working business leaders.       

Throughout history we have recognized that we must have some sort of  power structures in place for any human society to function.  At the same time, how this power is shared, or not shared, matters greatly.  The social, political and economic goals of equity and opportunity that we claim for American society rest on the concept that power must not become absolute and that it is shared among the many.  The challenge has always been, how to accomplish this in the face of a relentless pressure to control and consolidate power.

Many believe that education is a key element in this process.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. . .They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."  While we can certainly debate what he meant by the "whole mass of the people" we can also apply the values of 21st Century America and expand his personal definition.  Education becomes a powerful force of change, hope and progress for all who have access to it.

Perhaps this is why the current Conservative leadership in Wisconsin and other places is targeting education, especially public education.  Our public schools, while imperfect institutions, provide the best opportunity to truly "educate and inform the whole mass of the people."  They are accountable to all, and accessible to all.  The ideas and values expressed in our founding documents support the belief that all citizens should have the opportunity to access all the tools they need to achieve success and gain a place in the decision making processes that guide our society. 

In the area of public education we see the different visions for our society collide.  We've seen education used to expand the opportunities for many citizens, and at the same time have seen education used to control, indoctrinate and even eradicate different groups and cultural identities.  Just like any tool, education can be used in a variety of ways both helpful and harmful.  The way education is used and implemented in our society varies based on who is guiding the processes around our schools and other learning institutions.  In places with more democratic control the potential for good is often realized. 

Unfortunately, we are seeing a concerted effort being made to eliminate the voices of those who work and learn in our public schools.  Once again, the power is being centralized and resources and decision making processes are moving away from those directly working with students.  On the Conservative side this means we are seeing control over education being directed by financial means.   

Area school districts receive around $10.5 million through a funding stream Gov. Scott Walker has proposed to cut for 2015-16.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin would spend significantly more on prisons and corrections than on helping students pursue their educations at the University of Wisconsin System,...

The national press has gained a sudden interest in the potential presidential contender's lack of a college degree. I wonder why.

There are many reasons why this is occurring, but the one of the most glaring is the profit potential that our children and schools represent.

Democrats and other supposed political supporters of public schools don't have a much better current track record when it comes to helping all students and schools succeed.

The people who wrote and pushed Common Core on the nation are making bank while the nation’s kids, teachers, and parents writhe in the grip of their...

Educators and students are speaking out with their voices, and sometimes their feet.

MADISON — Several hundred University of Wisconsin-Madison students, faculty and staffers braved subzero temperatures to protest Gov. Scott Walker's

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, she got a job in her field on graduating with a degree in education. Now in her fourth year on the job, she is a kindergarten teacher at Brighton Elementary School, a small, high-achieving school in western Kenosha County. It is her first year a…

In my eyes the most glaring problem that exists in our schools today is the fact that those who are most impacted by policies and initiatives are the ones who have the least power in deciding what direction our schools take.  The very people for which the system is supposed to function best are the last ones asked and the first ones hurt by changes, cuts and reforms.  Those who already have power and success continue to enjoy the benefits of a system that works for them, and those on the outside fall further behind.  This includes students, families and many employees in our public schools.  The current efforts to reform our schools too frequently benefit fewer students than they harm.   

When the governor and legislators in Indiana talk corporate education reform crazy talk, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer knew how to respond during a rally at the State House. She is a mom who knows how...

We have turned a blind eye to the excesses in power and wealth that have created an environment where our students suffer the consequences.  I'm not talking about educator unions here either.  Unions have been vilified and painted as obstacles to reforms, but really occupy a different role in our current debates around education.  They provide avenues for educators to speak up with less fear of reprisal from employers and administrators who are often more connected with the power elite than they are the people they are hired to support and guide.  Many unions are now cooperating with organizations and individuals in communities in ways that other leaders can't or won't.  It is important that we recognize who our conflicts are with and don't allow ourselves to be drawn into struggles with those who are in actuality our allies.  Our ability to define our goals, and identify our allies is crucial in this struggle to help guide our nation on the pathway that our founding documents and ideology set for us.      

We teachers live in two worlds: One is of collaboration and democracy. The other is of contest and domination. We do well in the first, but not the second.
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . While no one wants our, or any other, economy to struggle, or for our fellow citizens to suffer, the fact that many are seeing the negative aspects of Conservative political and economic ideas may be helpful in correcting the course our society is on in the long run.  

Hundreds of people packed the steps on the Kanawha River side of the state Capitol at noon on Monday to protest new legislation they believe threatens...
Governor Walker's presidential aspirations may also change his image in his home state as time goes on.

February 15, 2015 by WCMC So ... Scott Walker is all but officially running for president, and the country is getting a look at a man who we residents of...

Beyond its much-publicized assault on UW and its mission, Walker’s budget is replete with less-obvious insults to moderation and fairness.|By Paul Fanlund | The Capital Times

The news that a fiscally conservative, economic reform minded governor uses the same "tools" that "tax and spend liberals" do should be headlines across our state. 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) has 2016 presidential ambitions, but he's facing budget problems in his home state. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)...

Since taking office in 2011, Walker has steered more than $2 billion in tax cuts through the Republican-controlled legislature.

The Bad . . . We have a real problem with over-incarceration of citizens in the United States.  While no one wants a "lawless" society, we have become a leader in locking people up, and often locking them away "for profit."

Correlation is not causation. This has recently become something of an all-purpose comeback from people who want to sound smart without really...

The Ugly . . . We already have a very flawed and corrupted way of electing our justices, now this!  The courts have long been a vehicle for social justice in our nation, but we are seeing the end of that avenue at the state level here. 

The Wisconsin state Senate has just paved the way for the state Supreme Court to elect its own chief justice—and the conservatives’ pick might shake up the...
No one should be surprised that this is being proposed.  Act 10 was the opening anti-union salvo that paved the way for right to work.  Conservatives in Wisconsin won't stop until they have done everything they can to destroy organized labor in the state. 

In a surprise announcement, the Republican leader of the state Senate says he will schedule a vote for next week on a yet-to-be-introduced bill that would make...|By Channel 3000

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