Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let's Make the Next 8 Years about Now

Let's put an end to the political clichè that education is the panacea for all that ails our society. It's mistaken: education can leverage the human resources student bring to school, but educators can't reverse inequalities and injustices.

Eliminating poverty in the still-richest country in the world can't be pushed forward to the fabled day in which schools make the current generation of slum kids into self-made entrepreneurs of the future.

That's the trick all politicians play during electoral campaigns -- Obama played it, too. The game gets repeated every four years in four easy moves:

1. Campaigns are occasionally made to face up to social problems, profound radical socioeconomic inequality, hell, the ongoing class war (which is waged by the rich on the rest of us, not by selected interest groups the GOP picks on).

2. The press interrupts the circus around nonissues governments have no business in and no real power over, such as sexual morality, and tosses a cream-puff economic question.

3. The politicians respond in wise-sounding tones that what we need are schools that will help raise up every child, no matter his or her background.

4. The elected politicians proceed to forget no. 3 and leave education, training and public aid programs that support work as underfunded as before -- at least after the first year, when the TV twinkies have turned their attention to the pressing issue of Britney's weight.

So everything stays the same. After all, politicians are bought and kept bought for the purpose of keeping things the same.

In reality, although funding schools instead of torture "contractors" would be a better use of our tax money, what really needs to happen is to throw money at the parents of the children who go to school.

Make sure every parent has the skills and work support to get, keep and advance in jobs that pay family sustaining wages. Inspire more parents to read to their children, to enjoy learning for its own sake.

Throw money at family food baskets so every parent and child is well fed,  at nutrition programs that teach what food to buy, at rent and home buying.

Throw money at adult literacy and job skills training for adults.

Throw money around so that no child ends up coming to school from a home run by uncles and grandparents, where food and clothes and good, clean fun are scarce and books and reading even scarcer. Throw money around so all children will feel safe in the homes of well-paid, secure working parents.

Then the children will be able to learn, yes, in well stocked schools that have roof leaks repaired and heating or air-conditioning working and windows pristine and clean, with teachers motivated by real leaders, not educationese speakers, to inspire learning.

But that costs money, political will and commitment to see change through. Now, not when the kids grow up.
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