Canadians care. On May 23rd, over 300,000 marched in Montreal, Canada and 150,000 in other parts of Quebec to protest a hike in university tuition fees.
And Americans? Pennsylvanians sort of care. On May 23rd, ‘hundreds’ in Pittsburgh and ‘hundreds’ more in Philadelphia protested against government cuts to education. There is no other news for similar recent protests in U.S. cities. An outcry over slashed school budgets and higher tuition has been a sidebar in the Occupy Wall Street movement, but the numbers of education protesters just don’t compare to those who are out in force in Spain and Canada.
America has a rich history of support for education, but maybe that’s all it is—just history! The right wing has spent decades demonizing education, diverting public funds to charter schools in an attempt to privatize the system, gutting funding for universities which they accuse of educating a ‘liberal elite’, and trying to restrict federal financial add to students. Apparently, many Americans are either okay with this, or numb to it.
If adequate instruction about history were still the norm, all citizens would know that education has been one of America’s top priorities. By 1870, every state in the union had free public elementary schools. The Morrill Land Grant Acts of 1862 and 1890 granted federal lands to the states for the purpose of establishing and funding state colleges, due to an awareness that the spread of knowledge was crucial to the country’s growth. Since then, all states have embraced subsidized funding for their university systems.
In Arizona, for example, Article 11, Section 6 of the state constitution says, “The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.” (The italics are mine) Yet last July, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that, in its budget for 2012, “Arizona cut state support for public universities by nearly one-quarter; when combined with previous cuts, this reduces per-student state funding 50 percent below pre-recession levels.” The same 2011 report states that deep cuts to education that were made by at least 38 states, “will slow the nation’s economic recovery and undermine efforts to create jobs over the next year”. Now we’re in the ‘next year’—and indeed, workers are still being laid off, including teachers.
Why are Americans allowing their educational system and its funding to be eviscerated? Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, says, “There has been a shift from the belief that we as a nation benefit from higher education, to a belief that it’s the people receiving the education who primarily benefit and so they should foot the bill.” There is an apparent blindness to the fact that all of society needs, and benefits from, the educated—from doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, etc.—and that the economy can’t grow without them.
Once upon a time, way back in 1957, the Soviet Union launched a satellite into space before the United States did. The event was a wake-up call. Our society pulled together to demand more from our educational system. Today, many of the deepest cuts are to grades K-12. The issue is not about ‘No Child Left Behind’—it’s about ‘Every Child Left Behind’.
Underpaid teachers. Teeming classrooms. Deteriorating facilities. Apathetic adults. What a recipe for disaster. What a wasteland our children’s future has become!
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