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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Arne Duncan: bringing truth about U.S. education out of the closet

The former Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, Arne Duncan has written a new book in which he exposes three basic “lies” (that’s his word) that confound the American education system.

Lie number 1: Americans care about education.
Lie number 2: Americans care about teachers.
Lie number 3: Americans care about children.

Having lived in that country for some four years in the late 90’s, I could not agree more with the former secretary.  Buying things for kids as is the American penchant or perhaps addiction, is not a sign of caring, but rather a sign of guilt for not really knowing or caring about their children. In this male-dominated culture, kids like wives are more like trophies on the mantel of the male husband-father in the household. If and when the kid scores a touchdown, wins a medal at State wrestling championships, or receives a scholarship from a “reputable” university, then fathers will broadcast their pride in their offspring to the “world” of their associates.

The basic structure of governance that leaves education to the states as a purview, of course, makes national standards, including curricula, teacher certification and supervision, and the physical condition of the plants themselves, extremely uneven, unbalanced, and spotty. Who puts his or her name forward for election to the boards of education is relatively unimportant compared with “county commissioner” or judge, (elected in each county, not appointed as in Canada). The budgets of school boards, therefore, get barely a glance from the state legislatures, unless and until the buildings’ roof leaks, or someone falls on a broken concrete step. Insurance claims prove instrumental in shining the public spotlight on deteriorating schools, and even then, there is no public outcry worthy of the deplorable situation.

Teachers salaries, along with the meagre degree of respect and status they occupy in the community, are deplorable, and show little sign of changing so long as the public continues to wage heated battles over wedge issues like a woman’s right to choose whether or not to abort with her doctor, or whether gun control legislation is warranted. 
Buried in the political flatulence of such hot-button issues, fueled by religious and public organizations like the NRA  respectively, the local issues of schools barely finds space in local dailies, or on television screens, unless and until a mass shooting kills dozens of the “innocent” children and their teachers. (Can you believe there have been 154 school mass shootings in the United States in the last year?)

And of course, the president’s preference to “arm” the teachers epitomizes, at the highest level, a vacuity of insight, knowledge, concern and compassion for the safety and security of school personnel and their students. By himself, the president demonstrates Duncan’s case that the nation cares not a whit about their kids or their schools.

When Duncan was asked on MSNBC on Monday, if, during his tenure as Secretary, he found examples of schools that were different from the norm, and he slid past the question with “there are a few exceptions”.

Duncan’s book hits bookstores at a time when the current Secretary Betsy Devos, almost single-handedly is gutting the public school system by throwing billions of public dollars into charter schools. Parents, too, are opting for a home-schooling model that will further desecrate the potentially vibrant school population of a complete range of academic abilities, interests and aspirations. The very fact that Devos has been charged with such a mandate also proves conclusively the administration’s short-sighted, and potentially devastating approach to putting the public school system into mothballs. And the fact that there is little if any public concern about this secretive and dangerous policy and approach is further proof that trump’s antics provide a fog of cover to such creeping erosion, and that the public is otherwise engaged or, more specifically disengaged from the school process in their respective child’s life.

Ghettoizing schools, is a requisite first step in their ultimate demise. It has a racist dimension, and class dimension and is based on a fundamentally flawed philosophy of the role of the state in the growth and nurture of the body politic’s culture. (Culture here includes all of the many features that comprise a society’s health and well-being, not merely “haute couture” of classical music, dance, art and the like.)

Duncan was the longest serving Secretary of Education in the nation’s history. Could it be possible that he could be the second last Secretary. If Devos succeeds in her scorched earth approach to public schools, there will be no need even for a federal department of Education, something that right-wing demagogues have been advocating for some years now.

And if we think the American culture is slipping into the trash-heap of history, the final nail in the coffin of the public school system will seal the fate of all that is honourable, worthy of emulation and worthy of sustaining the democracy that birthed America over two hundred years ago.

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