Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
Education is not just a cornerstone of Democracy: It is our foundation, our bedrock. It is crumbling beneath our feet because the 1% who hold power know that education means real democracy, and with it expansions of economic and social power to a wider population. It threatens their age-old dominance and the massively inequitable distribution of wealth which they enjoy by stacking the deck.
The 21st century challenges us to find a new day and a new direction. Will we be able to make our children the next building blocks of that American dream, or will we succumb to the same fear, greed, and false piety that has consumed the great societal aspirations of mankind for millenia?
The American Dream was born of white Europeans, escaping religious persecution and economic oppression by governments and economic systems that had been locked and stacked to the favor of so very few, with social castes that were cast in stone. Education brought enlightenment, industrialization, and with it, a way for a new few to rise up and challenge the religious-driven divine right that had separated the haves and have-nots. New religious movements rejecting politically powerful, morally corrupted faiths were the first challenge to that domination. Then sprang the foundations of non-secular democracy. The writings of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.
By the 20th century, we realized that a great nation is one where every citizen can read, write, and undestand the words that form our ideals of democracy.
The key to a surviving democratic governing structure is that the society educates and lifts up every citizen in it. Literacy, critical thinking skills, and the ability of every person to have the tools to exercise our democratic rights. Citizens who want to be free must first be able to think for themselves. Next they must understand the context of who they are, and where they are, not just on the planet, but on the timeline of human history, and as voting members of the American body politic.
When our educational system works, we understand ourselves not just in terms of our family, our faiths or our economic or intellectual pursuits. It is supposed to allow us to see the big picture, the balance between our basic needs to eat and put a roof over our heads with our greater aspirations for both our individual and collective future.
One man may have penned a handful of words for a few plays that transformed the art of the moment into the inspirational prose of generations. A handful of men may have pushed electricity through filament wires to illuminate the future. Two men in a garage may have built the first personal computer.
It took the education of the masses, though, to get to each of those seminal events.
It took education to understand that all men and women of any color and any social standing are equal in the eyes of government.
It took education and the force of the conviction that it created to set all peoples in this country free, to welcome and include the ideas and cultures of every people from every corner of the planet.
One man stepped on to the moon. What got him there was not the science of rocket propulsion or the billions of tax dollars collected, but the collective will of an America committed to the ideal of the collective exceptionalism of every last one of its citizens can lead to great achievements that set the bar of human achievement higher.
My great grandparents were poor Europeans. They came to this country to seek out that opportunity. My grandparents sold shoes, and worked in a pharmacy to make enough to send their children to college. My parents were able to go to college and improve their lives. In turn, they gave me a world-class education that trained me to be a leader and thinker and doer. My children have been raised to find their passion and to do something that will make a positive mark on the world. That each generation improves, and improves the world around them in some way, truly is the American dream.
My family is fortunate. Our generations have learned how the game is played to prosper. Through a combination of hard work and placement in the “right” channels, the cosmic tumblers have blessed us.
The system, though, is far from perfect. America is far from perfect. The gateway to prosperity has been shrinking, not expanding. The 1% have been stacking the deck back in their favor in the Reagan Era, and doing whatever they can to combat the effects of increased education and economic power for the masses.
For so many, our educational system has been a political football, tossed to and fro by both starry-eyed reformers and cynical power-holders who fear the liberty that a quality education brings.
When I graduated high school, my father found a quotation of Theodore Roosevelt which he shared:
“A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad.“
Handfuls of children whose parents push and fight find themselves in the private schools, the magnet schools, the charter schools that may help them catch that brass ring of the American dream. To many, including my parents, it meant getting your children as close to being part of the 1% as you can. So many more, though, are forced to use a limited educational system that was designed in the 19th century to create a modestly-literate median of blue collar and low-wage white collar workers.
For those fortunate enough to break out of that mold, the next generation becomes better educated. They learn how the game of the upper percentile of wage earners is played.
Throughout history, prosperity has been pyramidical. Great civilizations have all risen on the exploitation of the many by a few, usually using the call of divine authority to justify that aggregation of wealth and power. Improvement in status has always meant finding a way to become part of the few, or service the needs of the few in a way that will be significantly financially rewarded.
In America, prosperity is still structured around that same pyramid. Here, though, without Divine Right, the methods of control have been to limit access to prosperity.
For 150 years, we made education beyond high school the gateway of a precious few. Since the New Deal, though, we have educated millions of people at the college level. It is the B12 shot that accelerated our economy and our technological progress to do in scant decades what it took society hundreds of years to achieve.
We forced open the clubby doors of Wall Street and, through the Internet mass-marketed the same opportunities to invest in American prosperity open to millions.
Yet, at every turn, the fraction of the 1% that runs the top of the pyramid has tenaciously held on to its power. It fought the New Deal. It fought civil rights. It fought the social safety net. It undermined confidence in mass-market investing by not doing a thing to recant for the gross miscalculations of Wall Street. It has put the bug in our ear that, perhaps, too many people are receiving higher education. That college education is too expensive, that it has no value for so many people.
You want to see its value: Compare Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.
The Tea Party: Vast masses of people turned out by astroturf activists funded by the upper 1%, the Dead Billionaires Club, the Club for Growth, and the infamous Koch brothers. The ignorant, dogmatic, and frightened trying to get back the power for their masters of the tiny slice of White America that ran this country to its sole advantage.
Occupy Wall Street: Disaffected members of the middle class who are well enough educated to see what is being done to them by the 1%. People who are coming to the sharp realization that the last 30 years of Reaganite America has been a cosmic screwing of their lives because they are not as easily exploited as workers in Asia or the poor cousin Eastern Europeans of the fallen Soviet empire.
Bernard Madoff is a poor cousin to the ponzi schemers of Wall Street. The Great Recession has been a wake-up call to that well educated middle class. The anger over the 1%’s agents on Wall Street selling nothing to steal trillions is real. When these financial emperors were found wearing no clothes, they were bailed out to the gain of not falling into a Great Depression, which most reasonable people can understand.
What they cannot understand is why Mr. Obama did not do what he did with with GM, and fire all of the executives of the Wall Street firms who created the mess as a condition of the bailout. He kept them from getting their bonuses until the money was paid back, but not one of them lost their perch. Not one went to jail.
This is the why of Occupy Wall Street. We need profound change in governance and finance. For our children to be the next greatest generation of American exceptionalists we must do several things.
The American economic pyramid, through education, is rapidly transforming into the American economic mesa. This is what the 1% aims to subvert.
I am American Exceptionalism. I am that building block of Democracy. If we have the courage break the chains of 19th century industrialist thinking, our children can find be a part of a bold new American Exceptionalism.
If we fall prey to the fear machine of the Far Right that the 1% and their minions in the Republican Party and the far Right conservative spin machine are stoking, though, we are doomed to crashing our children back into the servitude that has befallen the other attempts at creating a greater, more just society for the majority.
My shiny two.