"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Defending Public Education

UPDate: Go here for Updated information.

From the Daily Californian:
Special to the Daily Cal
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Category: Opinion > Op-Eds

March 4 is a day for the promotion of public education in California.

There is a march at the state capitol planned for 11 a.m., a rally in Oakland at 1 p.m. and many reasons to be at either location.

Any teacher knows that education isn't something that comes cheaply. You can't cut corners in what is one of the most labor-intensive but necessary and ambitious endeavors out there. Technology can aid but can never displace the need for a low teacher to student ratio. Bureaucracy, though an issue, is a minor one, and focusing on cutting costs plays into the hands of Republicans who are drooling at the prospect of hacking into the state's budget. We must fund K-12 and higher education properly, and this means tax hikes at some stage, which in turn mean the repeal of Proposition 13.

Corporations have been blackmailing the public, threatening to leave the state if we raise taxes to fund education. We can call their bluff: other states will be taking similar action to sustain their own education systems; there is already considerable infrastructure in place that would make the threatened pull-out impractical; finally, it is in the interests of businesses to have a skilled, educated workforce. But pragmatic counter-arguments aside, we should not cave into threats against education's ability to do moral good. The skills and lessons that education provides, and the central ideal of a properly-funded public education system--that children and students from all backgrounds learn on an equal footing and are treated the same-are the best antidotes to the inequalities of geography, class, race and opportunity that plague us. This is why access to the University of California, badly threatened by a view that sees the sky as the limit where fee hikes are concerned, is so important to defend.

I have spent 19 years in California's public education system (six at the University of California), and feel as though I have been incredibly well-served by the experience. But now the students with whom I work at Cal and in Berkeley's school district are facing formidable hurdles: the familiar specters of inequality that come from a chronically-underfunded system on the one hand; but also looming threats from a growing and powerful minority in our legislature and state who argue that public education is expendable, that the public good doesn't matter, and that the idea of equality is irrelevant. March 4 provides an opportunity to go on the record saying that we don't buy any of those ideas.

The campus community will interminably debate whether UC leadership or legislators in Sacramento are the real villains. My own view is that the ultimate solutions to the university's problems lie in state politics in general and in Proposition 13 in particular (and, if this is about public education broadly conceived, that is all the more reason to target Sacramento).

That doesn't mean that we can't also hold UC President Mark Yudof and the regents' feet to the fire. The important thing to realize, though, is that we have run out of reasons to delay taking collective action: what hangs in the balance on Thursday is more than an absence from lecture or missing a teaching day. Berkeley should live up to its ideals and speak with one voice on March 4, whether that be in Oakland or at the capitol.

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