Friday, September 01, 2006

The End of the World As We Know It and I Feel Fine…

Improving our educational system is a priority and focus in our society. Without a doubt the American people are the least educated and least intellectually interested people of any developed nation on the planet. What is the root of this problem? People blame politics and politicians for the state of affairs and to a certain extent they are to blame for bad policies. But the people of this country are to blame for the bad politicians. Even the 30% of the population that never shows up to vote is to blame. The problem is that no one likes the smartest kid in the class. Anyone who was every that kid knows this first hand. As a result we end up with dunces and class clowns like George W. Bush and George Allen as leaders.

A co-worker of mine made an interesting statement the other day. She said that those people who are not themselves educated not only do not see the value in education but they also actively scorn education. This seems like an accurate observation, and it is troubling. We think that the solution to all our problems is to simply better educate people. Conservatives advocate for laws like No Child Left Behind to hold schools, teachers and student accountable. Liberals want to just throw more and more money at the problem thinking if we pay teachers ever more money things will inevitably get better. The solution to this problem is very daunting indeed. This challenge is particularly difficult if you must first convince the students of the value of education. In many communities becoming educated in synonymous with “selling out” or losing some cultural credibility.

If we are serious about wanting smart government we ourselves need to smarten up. We need to stop voting for troglodytes and the extreme medicocity available in our society. America, it is your fault that your politicians are, as we say time and again, stupid, insipid, corrupt and uninspired.

Mao Zedong the former communist ruler of China had a phrase that he used when advocating for a constant struggle for making society better: continual revolution. I’m not advocating communism for this country, but a little revolutionary change might do us some good. Not a violent uprising but merely the striving to make America better. The problem with this plan is that Americans are led to believe that we live in the greatest nation in the world. We are fed a line about cultural superiority and how great we are.

Yes, America is a great country. Yes, this is a land of opportunity that has enabled people to create better lives for themselves. The problem is, if we force feed people that we are a perfect nation then people will not see the need for change, but look around, this country is screaming for change. Hurricane Katrina taught us that the developing world exists right here in the United States, in the Lower Ninth Ward and too many other communities just like it around the country. We have politicians who can place anonymous holds on bills in the Senate, like Ted Stevens of Alaska blocking a bill that would create a searchable database of government grants and appropriations, I guess he doesn’t want anyone to know about his bridge to nowhere.

So where do we begin? Do we need to start with education? Do we start by proactively pushing to hold elected officials accountable? I worry that if education is the place to start, this country will get a lot worse before it gets better. Education is absolutely vital, but how do we convince kids who have grown up in families where education is not a priority of that fact? How do we inspire kids to study math and science so they become the innovators of tomorrow? Who will be our Galileo? Our Louis Pasteur? Our Jonas Salk? How do we inspire kids to study literature, philosophy and the humanities so they become the great thinkers of tomorrow? Where is our Aristotle? Our Adam Smith? Our Thomas Jefferson? Who will be the great philosopher of this generation?

Yes, this country has been founded on the principles of liberty and opportunity. Yes, this country offers great opportunity to its people and to the immigrants that come to seek out our way of life. But we have people who do not have the appropriate level of knowledge and/or respect for our history running this country. As we have at periods throughout our history, we have strayed from the ideals of liberty, freedom from tyranny, and equality. At what point is it ok to close our borders to those in the world who seek to be American? Why was it OK for the Irish, Italians and Chinese to come and still maintain their cultural and national identities but it is not ok for those coming from Latin America? Many of our greatest inventors, scientists, thinkers and theologians were immigrants. Have we decided that this is not a tradition that we value? How can we expect to lead the world when we do not intend to serve as the great melting pot where ideas and discovery are encouraged and nurtured?

Our leaders tell us that we are at war. They compare Iraq and the struggle against Islamo-fascism (notice they still consider them one and the same) to the great struggles against Nazism and Communism. The Bush administration and its lapdog the U.S. Congress tells us that we are at war. Perhaps, instead of trying to fit everything that is happening into a historic paradigm we should be moving forward with our eyes ahead and realizing that old nomenclature doesn't fit the current context. War is obsolete. ideological fundamentalism without a nation state is absolutely nothing like Nazism or Communism. We can't kick off a new arms race and bankrupt Al Qaeda.

As a prerequisite for safety the government has told us that we must voluntarily surrender some of the civil liberties guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights. Do we have to allow the U.S. government to spy on us in an uncontrolled and unregulated fashion to protect us from some unseen and totally frightening danger? Is the threat of terrorism real? Yes! It is absolutely a reality of the new world that we live in. Are we safe? Yes, most of us are probably safe. Has the military helped us achieve safety? Not in the slightest. George W. Bush said that we fight the terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them in the United States. Senator Joe Biden made a great point this week; does anyone think that Al Qaeda can't fight both in Iraq and the United States?

Is the threat of terrorism real in the rural Midwest or Hana, Maui? No, it isn’t and to manipulate peoples fear by asserting that it is, is criminal. Fear is a powerful tool of control. Fear is the way the Bush administration has scared us away from regime change at home for the last four years. Most pundit, conservative and liberal think that scare tactics will fall flat this fall. We have been desensitized to the fear.

Here is one more question to ponder moving forward: if we win the struggle against ideological fundamentalism by surrendering the civil liberties that make this country great, can we really call ourselves that winners? Or have we lost that which scares our enemies the most?