Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

04 April 2011

A Purge on Education in the U.S. of A. (to William Cronan)

Is it Armageddon yet?

As you may know, if you read my blog,
(and if you read this blog, I thank you
for your patience!)
that is my current refrain.

Every morning I wake up listening to the news on 
(that nasty radio station that the U.S. Government recently voted
to cut funding from (see link above)

and every morning I hear another story
that makes me think,
before I even get out of bed:
"is it Armageddon yet?

I mean, really, 
what do we need to have happen before
we realize that it's time for us
to take responsibility for
the human race, as it sits at this
this challenging historical juncture
we currently are experiencing?

This morning the story was this:

This friendly looking gentleman,
a certain Professor William Cronan,
a historian at the University of Wisconsin,
was asked by the New York Times
to write an op-ed 
on the history of the State of Wisconsin's Collective Bargaining laws.

A day or so later,
he launched a blog that he had been thinking
about for some time, called

And there, he wrote an entry on,
to use his words,
"the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in influencing recent legislation in this state and across the country"
(please see the link above for his own
description of, again as he puts it,
"the strange circumstances in which [he] finds [him]self as a result."
Fundamentally, the State of Wisconsin
did not like was Dr. Cronan wrote,
and "request[ed] to view the contents of "Professor William Cronon's state email account from 1 January 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union [and 12 prominent Republican state senators who supported Walker's bill]".  (this quote is from the Guardian article
from which I snagged the above picture.  Please follow the link above.)

Now, all in all,
I find this to be tremendously 
for a number of reasons:

First, of course, there is that good ol' constitutional right we supposedly have
in the U.S. of A. called Freedom of Speech.  Yes, the same Constitution
that grants us the right to own a small arsenal, also grants us the right
to speak openly.  Indeed, that is our first
Constitutional Right, followed closely by

 This very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution is one of the many reasons
that for a long time historians and social critics called the United States of America
one of history's greatest social experiments.

My Second Reason for finding this Cronan case
to be absolutely disturbing is because of what it indicates
about the attitude towards Education and the Educated
in this great old United States of America.

Of course, Wisconsin's current place in national headlines began
when their governor, Scott Walker, managed to pass a legislation designed
to disrupt the collective bargaining power of unions for public employees, including teachers.
(This has been followed by the Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich,
launching a similar attempt to "bust the unions,"
something that my family and friends in Ohio claim he never campaigned on.
The rationale for breaking the power of these unions
that serve public employees is that these individuals
are overpaid anyway, and hey we have to balance
those state budgets, which are,
pretty much like the United States government,
flirting with bankruptcy.

This attempt to dismantle the pay structure, which includes threatening the retirement
funds for thousands of individuals who have been sweating over our youth for decades
is being fueled by an anecdotal public claim that teachers don't do their jobs well,
and get their summers off, so why pay them 
so much????  After all, look at the state of American education!
It's the teachers' fault our youth are doing so badly, right?

Well, I'll tell ya what:
some of my best friends are teachers
in public systems,
and those people work their hearts out:
facing increasing learning disabilities and disruptions in the classroom,
working in often poorly funded facilities,
up early to prepare and greet students who often come
from emotionally challenging family situations,
up until late, late hours doing assessment paperwork,
struggling to get students to pass tests on material that the students
rather rapidly forget . . . the list goes on.   We don't need to take money and job security
away from most of these teachers, 
we need to make them all saints.

Education is the sole most important industry in the United States right now,
if we are to produce intelligent, creative and open-minded global citizens for tomorrow,
and we are yanking money away from it,
and belittling those who do it,
and those who question the system
and want to make it better.

Sadly, those students who were impacted by the
No Child Left Behind Legislation,
which is largely responsible for the current emphasis
on assessment in our country, are now arriving in
colleges and universities, which of course,
is where I teach, and have taught,
since 1985.
The students themselves realize
rather rapidly
that their high school education did not prepare them.
(I have a student right now working on that topic
for the researched argument he is required to write.
His colleagues all agree with him.)

So if High School doesn't prepare you for college today, what does it do?
I asked him today.
It teaches you to take tests,
was his response.  And, he added It's a zoo!  Too much
of a popularity contest.   His classmates
all nodded in agreement.
The United States of America has, historically, housed the finest Higher Education system
in the world.  This is why we have attracted scholars from all over the world.
This is also why, for a time, American scholars like myself got jobs in universities
in other countries.  It was our job to import that unique brand of
"critical thinking" that has become the hallmark of the American system for over the past
thirty to forty years.

Recognizing that honing the ability to think critically and creatively
produces new thoughts and advancements in every branch
of thinking, scholars have come to our shores, and now
we are exporting our education, at a profit to our 
institutions of higher education.
It is precisely in the spirit of good ol' American
critical thinking that the good Dr. Cronan
developed his blog,
and it is precisely that practice 
that the State Government of Wisconsin
is threatening by demanding his e-mails.

As my fingers move on this keyboard, I worry
even for myself.  I know from my own current
experiences, (I have taught abroad, and I am currently teaching
both American college students
and Chinese students who are here for their first
year abroad) that the rest of the world is surpassing us,
quickly, in terms of general knowledge as well as
critical and creative thinking, not to mention
a mastery of the English language.)  And we,
meanwhile, are busy creating a system that 
distrusts Academics and Educators on all levels.

And our young people are suffering from it.

Well, I say,
God Bless you, Dr. Cronan;
fight for your right
for personal freedom.
I will support you unabashedly,
and pray that we can all wake up
right now, and see
we've gone too far.
We have to give up these old
worn out partisan battles
and set our priorities straight.

Or may it is Armageddon,
at least for the U.S.A.,

1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

The whole world's gone crazy, it seems some days.