Saturday, February 18, 2012

We Know Education Is a Problem, but We Still Cut Funding

Paul Krugman in "Moochers Against Welfare" makes a compelling argument about how the poor people in red states vote against their interests. He furthers Thomas Frank's whole deal in What's the Matter with Kansas. One point of Krugman's article caught my attention more than any other. It kind of rolls from a few sentences:

"Many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system." and "44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they 'have not used a government program.'" and, even more telling, "Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare."

What I get from all of this isn't the idea that Republican voters are stupid, though that's apparently Krugman's gist, whether he intended so or not. What I get from this set of ideas is that people are undereducated. Poorer people, in particular, are undereducated. I don't say uneducated, because they do have education, but obviously not enough. I don't give that same regard to people like Romney. Like Krugman, I think Romney's "gaffe" in implying that Medicare is not an entitlement program is deliberate.

I'm a big believer in education, particularly in making sure everyone has liberal education in their background. Liberal education is "a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement." Liberal education is not an education in how to be politically liberal. Just to be clear. Practical education is kind of the opposite of a liberal education because practical education is the stuff people learn to do a career. Sure, the two mix liberally in the process of acquiring education, but liberal education is about teaching how to think on a broader scale while practical is about teaching how to do. Krugman's evidence just shows that liberal education is going, going, nearly gone in high school.

We cannot have a successful nation without liberal education. How can people make good decisions about their leadership and what laws should be if they don't have access to the tools to make those decisions? How can they tell if politicians are playing bait-and-switch with them? By good decisions, I don't mean decisions that I agree with, but decisions that best serve each individual's interests. 

I'm a military person all the way. I served, I married a man who served, I'm related to a lot of people who served. Still, the last thing that should be cut in the government budget is education. It should never be cut. It should also have money parceled out more equitably. Poor districts should not suffer teacher and supply shortage---which directly impacts quality---while rich districts do not. Liberal education should be a major part of the high school curriculum, not hours devoted to making sure people can read. There should be an exam to pass, much like the British GCSE exam. If you do not pass this exam, you do not get a diploma. This exam should be made of essays, not multiple choice. This means that people who home school would be able to get a diploma without going through the trouble of hooking into a school district.

Of course, that means spending money on things that have no immediate, tangible value. It means that "success" must be redefined to exclude how much money can be earned. Are CEOs inherently more successful than someone who fulfills their lifelong dream of being a manager at a McDonald's? According to our current definitions, yes. It also means that as a society, we must value education for education's sake. An uneducated society, which we live in, makes stupid decisions because they don't know how to make better decisions. They believe people who claim that entitlement programs aren't entitlement programs. So, that's my pipe-dream.