November 20th is Teachers Day in Vietnam and it is a big deal. There is a national reverence regarding this profession like no other. Before each school year, students, here in Hanoi, gather at the Temple of Literature to pray and meditate for good grades during the pending school year. If there is a statue of a notable person in any of the community or national parks, it will be a teacher. The "second father" of Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen Giap, primarily regarded himself as a teacher. This national holiday has great cultural significance and spiritual undertones we should embrace in The West.
From the time of pre-school, Vietnamese children are taught that teachers are "second parents." This is an integral part of the national psyche; to act or think otherwise is truly sacrilegious. As a coincidence, the National Assembly (counterpart to our Congress), is in session and they are actively assessing the needs of all public educators in an attempt to improve their quality of life. The National Assembly not only has sent representatives into the educational community to secure specific recommendations; national educational leaders will also be allowed to address the National Assembly to inform them how they can be more proactive in providing solutions for their needs. There always has been a joint working relationship between the national government and public education.
In modern day America, our trend has been to grant corporations (i.e. special interest political contributors) tax breaks that bleed state coffers dry creating huge deficits that the Republican state legislatures then attempt to make up off the backs of teacher's unions and any employee represented by collective bargaining. As Ed Kilgore wrote regarding the Republican stragety: "destroying public employee bargaining rights is essential in addressing a state's budget crisis..."
The tactic has thus far been to attack, not the corporations and their political cronies that actually created the problem, but the state labor force represented by unions or collective bargaining painting them as some sort of pro-Communist organization with threatening hidden agendas filled with worthless, non-qualified, slackers on the public dole. But the assault on education doesn't stop here, conservative leadership-in particular former Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann -- want to abolish the Department of Education; but, this is nothing new, a plank in the 1996 GOP Platform called for the dismantling of the Department of Education "...the federal government has no Constitutional authority to be involved in school curricula or to control jobs in the market place. This is why we will abolish the Department of Education..." A motivating factor behind this is the on-going right wing belief that teacher's unions are "socialist" and the approved educational curriculum is at serious odds with the purse strings of the evangelical fundamentalist wing of the GOP. Rather than admit this obvious truth, it is masked by the rhetoric best expressed by Bob Anderson "this is really a state's rights issue."
The message, as has previously been presented in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin in particular, is clear: collective bargaining is un-American and should not be allowed anywhere in the "real" United States. However, for those demigods in the Republican leadership and their uninformed followers, I must point out what a notable American once said: "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." I don't think this person had any training, or agreed with any philosophy regarding Socialism, Communism, or Marxism; but, he did believe in the right to bargain collectively. That person was the Republican icon Ronald Reagan and the speech this was taken from was delivered on Labor Day at Liberty State Park (1980).
Mark Naison has pointed out, with the release of New York state teacher evaluations to the public, such practices foster an "atmosphere of skepticism, disrespect, and hostility...teacher's unions have become scapegoats for the huge profits testing industry, education technologies to replace teachers, and construction and managing charter schools..." One could logically argue that such an outcome was a "given" after George W. Bush's "no child left behind" act took effect directly holding teachers accountable for failing or underperforming schools solely based upon nationalized exam scores without taking into consideration any extraneous factors.
Katie McGinty stated under Republican Governor Tom Corbell, the state of Pennsylvania has lost approximately 27,000 teacher, teacher aid, teaching support staff and administration employees in their war on teachers to support and sustain corporate tax breaks.
From the time of pre-school, Vietnamese children are taught that teachers are "second parents." This is an integral part of the national psyche; to act or think otherwise is truly sacrilegious.
Looking forward to the 2016 Presidential primaries Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have flexed their political muscle against teachers, their unions, and other state employees represented by collective bargaining. While they may all discount public school teachers, they each have a high regard for the crime and punishment "lock 'em all up" state privatized corporation penal systems. Many of us find it ironic these people cannot see the connection here!
The bigotry, hatefulness, and classism of the Republican leadership does not stop there. They are constantly at war with President Obama regarding the legal status of "The Dreamers" -- children and youth brought to the United States or born in America by parents without proper documentation. They would prevent this class of people, dubbed "criminals," from attending any educational institution. According to the Immigration Policy Center there are about 936,930 dreamers from the ages of 15-30 and another 426,330 from the ages of 5-14. The Dreamers only crime is to want to better themselves and be a productive member of our society while real criminals, say the folks in the banking industry and on Wall Street who brought the entire nation to the brink of financial ruin and disaster, received bail outs and bonuses provided by tax dollars of the working poor. What a blessing it is to be a WASP (in America!
Collateral damage of the Republican war on collective bargaining and teachers are the students. Republican lawmakers provide the banking and financial industry with the lowest possible interest rates for short- and long-term loans; however, this courtesy is not extended to the student with educational loans. According to Rita Chopra student loans just last year exceeded $117 billion and in 2010 the total amount of debt American students owed exceeded $1 trillion. How does this compare to other countries? You may be surprised. In nations where it is not a sin for the wealthy and corporations to pay taxes, education is free -- as in no cost to the student as those countries value an educated population and include: Algeria, Argentina, Barbados, Bhutan. Brazil, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, India, Iran, Ireland, Kenya, Kuwait, Malta, Mauritius, Morocco, The Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, The United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Venezuela.
In Vietnam the cost for an average school year runs between $250 and $500 in the public sector -- much more, of course, in the private sector where many for-profit universities have set up shop here. The government recruits poor rural students and provides them with various forms of educational assistance including very low interest rate loans. Immediately after 1975, because of the U.S. embargo against Vietnam, the only option many students had to receive advanced degrees was in the Soviet Union. Now thanks to international cooperation, scholarships, and other educational programs, Vietnamese students study all over the world. The most popular educational destinations seem to be Australia, Singapore, Scandinavia, Japan, South Korea, Europe, the United States, and most recently India has instituted educational programs targeting Vietnamese students.
Vu Thanh Cong, acting dean of the faculty of foreign languages at AJC (Academy of Journalism & Communication), remembers being a student during the war years. "Every so often our classrooms had to be moved because of the bombing...students had to be prepared for anything." Even during periods of conflict, the Vietnamese sought after educational achievements. Dean Cong proudly spoke of his father and wife being teachers, a "noble profession from the heart."
During this year's Teacher Day ceremony at AJC, special attention was given to Dr. Thomas A. Bauer of Universitat Wien (Austria). As Austria was the first nation to recognize Vietnam after 1975, special educational cooperation and programs exist between the two nations. "This is only natural," Dr. Bauer told me, "as Austria bridges East and West."
AJC Rector Truong Ngoc Nam spoke of the importance of education as it directly relates to the progress of a country. All Vice Directors: Luu Van An; Nguyen Vu Tien; Pham Huy Ky; as well as a host of previous rectors and vice rectors were on hand to support and thank the teachers and students for their contribution to the institution and nation. It appeared almost every teacher and student received flowers-thousands of flowers, it was like Valentine's Day on steroids.
At the conclusion of the official ceremony each department had their own individual celebration-a scene created countless times over throughout the country. As our Fulbright invitation came from the Department of International Affairs, Nina and I went to the event hosted by Dr. Pham Minh Son and Vu Thanh Van, Head of International Cooperation where for hours we sang songs in Vietnamese, English, French, Russian; ate and socialized with faculty, staff, and students. If there are a happier people on earth, I have not met them.
Headed back to our quarters, strangers would thank us for coming to Vietnam to teach. In the classroom students are respectful and extremely disciplined as securing an education bestows great honor upon the family and ancestors. This single thought kept racing through my mind, "These are the people we once embargoed..."
Look at what the Vietnamese have achieved once they finally achieved unmolested peace-do not the Dreamers and Cubans deserve the same?