Thursday, May 12, 2011

Perhaps the one thing that amazes me the most about Republicans is how they have decided that public schools and teachers are the enemy.

To me, this is a really unnerving thing. The one constant throughout someone’s life is that they had to go to school. For people of my age who grew up in non-urban settings, that meant public schools. They were there, you went to them. You may not have liked going to school, but that’s what you did. The teachers were, for the most part, pretty friendly and competent at their job. Even when I moved to a very small town in rural Alabama when I was in high school, there was the school. They did their best with the very few resources they had. Sure, you could bitch a bit about how things could be done better or the crummy buildings, but they weren’t “the enemy.” That would have made as much sense as declaring air or water the enemy, schooling for children was that ubiquituous.

O.K., fast forward to somewhere in the last decade or so. Public schools, in the minds of many on the conservative right, are about as popular as a coven of witches. They are there to “brainwash” your kids with all their talk of tolerance, multi-culturalism and other liberalist ideas (including evolution, of course). Teachers and teacher’s unions are a bunch of greedy, whiney slackers who are overpaid and just flat out terrible at their jobs. And, on top of all that, get three months off a year! Yes, I am sure we can all agree that teachers having to deal with all sorts of students on a daily basis, many of whom come from poor backgrounds, broken home, and may not even have enough to eat everyday, are just lounging in the lap of luxury on their $50K salary.

Worst of all, apparently, is the fact that schools are run…. by the government!! Horrors!

From Washington Monthly.

March, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum expressed his disdain for public education. “Just call them what they are,” Santorum said. “Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.”

Campaigning in South Carolina over the weekend, Santorum went even further. (via Steve M.)

Rick Santorum, a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, even raised the specter of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy in a speech here Friday night while explaining why his grandfather emigrated to the U.S. His uncle, he said, “used to get up in a brown shirt and march and be told how to be a good little fascist.”

“I don’t know, maybe they called it early pre-K or something like that, that the government sponsored to get your children in there so they can indoctrinate them,” Santorum said.

There is a fair amount of this talk going around. At a home-schooling rally in Iowa in March, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain — all Republicans who’ve expressed an interest in the presidential race — raised the specter of ending public education in the United States altogether.

This also includes far-right media. CNSNews’ Terry Jeffrey argued a few weeks ago, “It is time to drive public schools out of business.” Townhall columnist Chuck Norris has begun calling public schools “indoctrination camps.”

But I’d note for context that Santorum is a former two-term senator — and he just won a straw poll in South Carolina, which arguably puts him in the tier above folks like Paul and Cain. And in public, he’s comparing public schools to fascism.

Keep in mind, polls show that the American mainstream considers the public education system one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. When asked what areas of the public sector most deserve budget cuts, schools invariably come in last.

And yet, here we are.

"Indoctrination camps?" "Fascism?" And Santorum and Bachmann are not some penny-ante nutjobs. They are some of the "leading names" in the Republican Party and are likely to run for President. So, here's the situation, then. Some of the “most serious” of minds in the Republican Party are not happy with the publc schools. But rather than try to fix them, to put more resources into them so they have a fighting chance of becoming what everyone would like them to be, Republicans have decided that they want to destroy them. “It’s time to drive public schools out of business.” That’s pretty chilling stuff, by any measure.

One of my best friends from back in the 1980’s has become a ultra-conservative. His views apparently match everything I have heard off of Fox News and the Wall Street Jouranal. The unemployed are a bunch of lazy slackers. Unions should be demolished. He is supportive of everything that supports big business. It’s like he has become an entirely different person than the one I knew back then. I don’t like getting together with him anymore, because I know (even if we aren’t talking about it) that everything I hold dear is something is absolutely detests. It’s kind of hard to maintain a friendship with that kind of thing staring you in the face.

Last year, we were having drinks after work and he started off on a number of things that were apparently bothering him. Public schools was one of them. And he was really angry. I thought he was getting ready to punch me on several occasions. He hates paying taxes on public schools, even though his three kids went through their public school and came out of it very well, I think. Then, while he was on a roll, he came out and said what I really think he firmly believes, and that is the government has absolutely no business providing public education. He was for vouchers and private schools. So, once I could find the courage in the face of this anger and hostility, I asked him, “So, you are saying that you want every single kid in the country to go to private school?” He did an abrupt about-face but acted like he hadn’t, saying, oh, no, I just want to be able to opt out of paying taxes for something I disagree with.

That’s a nice thought, I guess. I would have really loved to be able to opt out of paying taxes that went toward two unnecessary wars, tax cuts for the upper 2% who don’t need any more than they already have, tax breaks for huge corporations who move their operations overseas and leave massive unemployment in many communities when they decide that they can get Chinese or Mexicans to work for 10% of what they pay American workers. But I don’t have that option.

But I find it amazing that Republicans don’t seem to understand what I think is a very basic fact. A highly educated population is good for the health of the country and ensures a future in an ever-increasingly competitive world. Do they really want to go back to the 1880’s, where most of the kids of this country just went to work when they were 10 years old and were functionally illiterate? Is that what they really want?

This is not a rhetorical question on my part. I see all the things that conservatives are attempting to tear down these days. The Republican governor in Maine wants to lower the working age for children, at the same time he wants to lower the minimum wage. Some states want to see the minimum wage abolished altogether. We’ve already discussed how many conservatives would like to kill public schools. And we all know how they feel about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and all other aspects of our current society that form a “social safety net” for those who are really in need. Do they really want to see a huge percentage of this country destitute? I just absolutely do not understand their larger vision for our society. All they seem to want to do is transfer even more wealth and power to the upper echolon of American society. But to what purpose? I have never heard anyone on the right even try to articulate their larger vision, past “smaller government” and “taxes are evil.” What do they really expect our society to look like in 50 years if those policies were really enacted?

As I have stated before in this blog, about the only answer I can come up with is that no one (aside from those really rich and powerful people behind these ideas) is even thinking about those larger questions. They have bought into the notion, body and soul, that Democrats and liberals are evil and must be destroyed. And that is not some sort of over-the-top hyperbole. That is really what they believe, and that is the only thing that really matters. That's it. The bigger picture, the one that will occur 50 years in the future, well, I guess that will take care of itself.

If that’s really the case, I am very fearful for this country if these people ever get total control of our government. Because they WILL find a way to never let go of the reins of power again.

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