Making Education a Centerpiece of Obama’s Rebuilding Plan

by Tom Hall –

Amidst all the talk from both conservatives and “progressives” about how President-elect Obama’s cabinet and economic-recovery choices are destroying either the nation or his own commitment to progressive ideas, it might be useful to think about Georgia Congressman, Paul Broun, who identified President Obama as a Marxist, communist, socialist, fascist.

That’s Congressman Broun, not some local rube Klansman who dropped out of sixth grade when he found out the alphabet had more letters than he wanted to learn, and then got his non-graduate education from Rush Limbaugh’s College of Oxycontin.

Is Broun part of a grand corporate-conservative, right wing conspiracy to denigrate, disparage, and disrupt the Obama administration even before it begins? Look at his track record. Google him. Check his Wikipedia entry. Is this a guy that the designers and controllers of any successful conspiracy would trust with their secrets and plans? Would Dick Cheney even let this guy kiss his boots? What if Broun really is as dumb as he sounds on TV?

Progressives may have at least two major problems with the concept that blockhead stupidity, rather than a national or international conspiracy, drives Broun. First, a conspiracy gives us something specific (if intangible) to fight against. How much easier it is to work up energy to struggle against a clever, devious, malevolent foe than against the sometimes sober, ex-football jock who is just about smart enough (with his wife’s help) to match his tie to his socks in the morning. After all, who wants to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent?

Second, accepting that this Congressman, representative of the people, local luminary, etc., etc. is actually an ignorant, bigoted blowhard would be an indictment of the concept of our government. Creating a government of the people, by the people, and for the people was supposed to give us better governments than people used to suffer under. Better than hard drinking, short tempered Henry II, who, nine centuries ago, replaced trial-by-combat with trial-by-jury and gave England the concept of a government of laws. Better in the modern world than that scruffy, bearded, failed baseball player who saddled Cubans with all the evils of universal healthcare and education.

If David Broun is an example of the best and the brightest the public schools are turning out in Georgia, we are faced with both a problem and an opportunity.

The problem is the reality we see every day on blog postings, online political discussions, and Faux News. There is a huge percentage of this nation’s population which actually believes that men like David Broun are intelligent, educated leaders. David Broun doesn’t have the slightest clue that there are differences between Marxism, Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. They are all simply codenames for “bad” in the same way that Capitalism is a codename for “good.” The codenames differentiate “them” from “us.”

This is part of an appalling national ignorance. Millions of people still believe that Iraq had WMDs, and that Saudi Arabia funded the 9-11 attacks because they’re our allies. These voters believe that the Bible mentions abortion and that televangelists are more reliable than the gospels. They share Sarah Palin’s belief that dinosaurs and humans did coexist but that Christians and Moslems can’t coexist.

The real problem with this ignorance is not that it is pervasive, but that it is intentional, willful, and celebrated. Being ignorant has become synonymous with being macho and patriotic. It is no accident that we have been led for eight years by a man who celebrates his illiteracy and schedules macho events for photo ops. Ignorance has become something to be proud of.

With the focus on his immensely profitable “moral majority” business, most people have forgotten that Jerry Falwell made his first millions operating “segregation academies” in the anti-civil rights South. Back when public schools were the breeding ground for inquisitive thought, teaching children to question racism and corporate cold war ideology, Falwell set up private schools that promised only two things:

  • White children will not have to sit in the same classrooms as black children;
  • No child will be taught or encouraged to think independently or to question parents or other authorities.

These palaces of ignorance and bigotry made Falwell an instant multi-millionaire, and funded his growing broadcast ministry. And they served as a model for other business-minded churchmen. Schools that taught children to be obedient and complaisant were both less threatening and more profitable than schools which taught children to actually read history, or to think about things they were told by advertisers.

Back when television news was journalism instead of a personality parade, the cameras focused on the truth in Littlerock and Selma and then Haight-Ashbury and Saigon and Kent State. But the facts that TV showed were uncomfortable; we don’t want to see ourselves like that. So we attacked the messenger for bringing painful messages and any teachers who taught us to take such facts seriously. We learned that ignorance was more comfortable than knowledge. We learned not to question our leaders or the commercials they fed us.

As multinational, multi-industry corporations took over broadcasting and print media, they saw the commercial benefits in Jerry Falwell’s model. They removed journalism from “news” and encouraged us to celebrate ignorance and to trust others to make decisions for us. In this effort they found willing allies in the for-profit mega-churches, always looking for new ways to stir people’s passions and draw their “prayer offerings” as well as corporate sponsorship.

The result is Faux News, the politics of religious hate, and the culture of proud ignorance. The result is a prideful contempt for the sovereignty of foreign nations (particularly those with “strange” cultures or religions) and a growing hostility to our own Constitutional rights.

But now the Bush/Republican economic crash gives us an opportunity to turn this around. President Obama has announced a “massive public works initiative” to help build us out of Bush’s recession. In the ‘30s, Roosevelt used a similar approach. He built roads and schools and libraries. He pushed rural electrification. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps. Think of that – environmental activism back in the 1930s!

Roosevelt did more; he had the National Writers Project, and literacy programs and programs to preserve and to create art and music. It’s always easy to get a politician to authorize funds to build a school. But it’s much harder to get any politician to spend money to adequately staff a school, or to feed hungry children well enough to give them the nutrition to learn.

Roosevelt understood that improving the lives and education of our nation’s population could only benefit the nation. He gave education, jobs, and food to people whose race barred them from voting. He birthed the generation that would exploit the G.I. Bill to make ours the most productive nation on earth, two decades later.

Now President Obama is designing a plan to help our nation recover from eight years of greed-driven, short-sighted, fear-mongering jingoism. Of course he will push to spend billions to build things. We don’t yet know whether he will push to spend billions to build people who will shine in our future like the boys coming home from WWII shone.

The opportunity for progressives is to push the Obama administration to change our national course – to return to the old-fashioned belief that knowledge and education were good things. Eight years of ignoring the facts provided by Intelligence experts, the facts about global warming, and the facts that our core industries were slipping away from being able to compete with foreign companies, provide us with examples we can use to explain the value of education.

tom_hall_2.jpgWe have to demand that education become a centerpiece of Obama’s rebuilding plan. And we have to resist when corporations and their lapdogs rail against programs to adequately staff and equip schools. We need to remind the world of the successes attained by graduates of the New Deal literacy programs and the G.I. Bill. We have to proclaim that today’s children are no less deserving of opportunity than the children of the 1930s. And that today’s soldiers should not be coming home to less medical care and educational opportunity than our fathers had, returning from WWII.

Tom Hall

Articles by Tom Hall:

Comments

  1. undead says

    I think before we can begin pushing intellectualism, we need to revamp our school systems. As it stands now, the American School System does not exist to produce “smart” students, but “good citizens.” Ones who don’t question authority for authority’s sake. We need to model our system after Finland’s if anything. They seem to have things figured out.

  2. Sharon Toji says

    As soon as Obama announced his infrastructure plan, I wondered if he would have the courage and vision to do what Roosevelt did as well. During Roosevelt’s time, plays were written and performed, art was created. Employing artists was an important part of the efforts to put America to work during the depression, and we have the results of that today. It’s a wonderful heritage that goes from the carvings at the Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood in Oregon, to murals in public buildings.

    On another point — another of my reasons for preferring Hillary Clinton over Obama was the fact that she promised to END NCLB, whereas Obama announced he was going to “fix it.” I think the entire premise of that program is a flawed way of looking at education. I don’t mean that we should scrap the idea of having standards, and holding schools to them, but teaching to tests is not teaching at all, and it’s certainly not what learning is about, either.

  3. Bob Gerecke says

    Education, especially education in critical thinking, also takes place outside of school — in the home and in the neighborhood.

    In the early 1980′s, I read a book review in the Christian Science Monitor; the book by a German professor was a study of people who had risked their lives to protect Jews during the Nazi period. She found that only 50% professed a religion, but all had grown up in a family which discussed events and their meaning around the dinner table. They had been educated to evaluate situations and to identify what was right in a flexible manner, not limited to a few commandments. I learned that such discussion is the key to education in morality, ethics and critical thinking.

    If Obama will engage in “fireside chats” as FDR did, with the added feature of inviting feedback on his website, he can stimulate the public to discuss issues intelligently at home and with their neighbors.

    If, in addition, he enlists his nationwide army of volunteers to start dialogs with their neighbors, he can stimulate intelligent thinking in all homes. His volunteers can use tactics such as inviting neighbors to sign a group letter to Obama on an issue, or gathering to write such a letter, or deciding what issue the next letter should address. Neighborhoods will gain some sadly lacking social cohesion in the process.

    Obama is looking for a plan to make ongoing use of his vast network of volunteers. This is one way to keep them involved, increase public support for his agenda, motivate citizens to vote for supportive candidates and to re-elect him, and increase our sense of community in the process. It will be revolutionary.

    I proposed this use of his volunteers recently on change.gov. I hope that others will make the same or a similar proposal. Maybe it will be noticed.

  4. Linda Sutton says

    For those who want a serious backgrounder of the changes in education that have taken place since the early 90′s, please go to the book written by Susan Ohanian and Kathy Emery, WHY IS CORPORATE AMERICA BASHING OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

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