Hartford Board of Education member Robert Cotto has me convinced education policy will shape our democratic republic for the future.
To that end, my wife and I hosted a conversation on education for Cotto’s re-election campaign this past Monday night. With a write-in candidate, five people now seek the four available seats on the Board of Education. So Robert can’t take this election as a walk in the park.
About 15 people showed up to our condo to participate in a vigorous discussion about education, touching on subjects like poverty in education, school governing councils, the turn-over of principals and the need for civics education.
I did not realize this until Monday night, but every Hartford school seems to get a new principal on average once every four years. Sometimes quicker. Cotto wants to see more aggressive recruiting of principals from other parts of the country.
Cotto also agreed on the vitality of civics education. I can’t remember his exact quote, because I was running around the kitchen. But the predicted turnout for this election demonstrates the urgent need to insure that all people know our form of government inside and out.
In 2011, only about 1,500 people voted. Yes, you read that right – in Hartford’s previous board of education only election, about one percent of the city’s entire population cast their ballot. Pathetic.
So this year, Cotto said he expects about the same number. This makes me cringe. But in 20 years from now, with a guy like Robert on the Board of Education, we can change those horrid numbers.
American education must return to educating citizens. How many times have you heard the common wisdom from legacy media and dinosaur politicians like: “The state must have educated workers.” This quote is from a Hartford Courant editorial dated February 12, 2012: “Tenure Reform, Better Teaching Key to Better Schools.”
If that is too old for you, how about this one from Gov. Dannel Malloy speaking to the Chamber of Commerce in Stamford on October 10, 2103? As reported in the Stamford Advocate:
“Malloy cautioned that the state must help communities narrow the achievement gap between students in their schools to provide a pool of educated workers for companies already in the state and to attract others, noting that the high school graduation rate in some of the state’s cities has been in the 40 percent range.”
For a corporate capitalist, the ultimate dream is to hear a politician say the purpose of education is to train workers so companies compete in the 21st century economies.
This is the final, putrid victory of the Reagan Revolution, where democracy is secondary to making profit. Forty years of right-wing policy dominance, espoused by both Democrats and Republicans, has turned schools into corporate training grounds.
When was the last time you heard a politician speakers say “The state must have educated citizens.”? Ralph Nader admits he regrets not pushing harder for civics education reform decades ago.
The “training workers” educational philosophy results in one percent voter turnout rates. People died and continue to die for our right to vote and participate, yet 99 percent of Hartford will thumb its nose at this election.
Although this election could change the face of Hartford politics for the foreseeable future, should the charter revision question about public campaign financing pass, most people don’t even know what public campaign financing is.
The task before us is immense. If we focus schools on training citizens, we will end up with good workers. Why? The challenges of citizenship presents are so much greater than those problems presented at a job.
Citizens must know the laws and their system of government and how to operate in that structure. Citizens must know their communities and their situations, identify the key players, isolate problems, and build bridges to solve those problems.
Citizens must know how to solve conflicts, set differences aside and compromise.
Perhaps we have negligible voter turnout because most Americans understand Congress and government doesn’t help them. In my adult life, as far back as I can remember, Congress has not done one thing to help me or people similarly situated to me.
Student loans? Congress has mined me and my peers for profit, devastating a generation.
The war in Iraq? Afghanistan? Congress has not done anything to check executive power.
Taxation? Economic fairness? Did TARP help you? Nope. Obama engineered his Home Affordable program (HAMP) to benefit banks, not human beings.
Human rights? Again, zero. So why should people care? They don’t. Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens recently concluded the same:
“American government does respond to the public’s preferences, but that responsiveness is strongly tilted toward the most affluent citizens. Indeed, under most circumstances, the preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which policies the government does or doesn’t adopt.”
Demos, the think tank started by Miles Rapoport, Connecticut’s former Secretary of the State, published this nugget by Gilens on its website on August 20, 2013.
And this tilt to the wealthy only gets worse. If the five conservative members of the Supreme Court have their way, about 500 of the wealthiest people in the country will control our political universe.
Oral arguments on October 8, 2013 showed how the case of McCutcheon v. F.E.C. threatens to eliminate the $5,200.00 base limit for donors to any one federal campaign.
So instead of giving $2,600 in the primary and $2,600 in the general to John Larson, Oklahoma fossil fuel billionaire T. Boone Pickens could give Congressman John Larson $3.5 million. And the Republicans in black robes on the Supreme Court don’t think this will create a quid-pro-quo.
Is it any wonder that Americans are giving up on politics? Is it any wonder these rich people are moving our education system to produce people who won’t challenge their dominance of policy, but who will be good workers bees? Citizens are entrepreneurs. The rich don’t want competition.
But we must challenge the wealthy elite’s monopolization of our democratic republic. This starts with rebuilding civics education in schools, starting at the elementary level. I learned about the fourth amendment in fifth grade. Not that the fourth amendment and its protections against unreasonable search and seizure exist with the NSA today. But this learning doesn’t happen until high school now, if at all.
And the wealthy policy makers have focused education policy debate on building workers or bridging the achievement gap, which is really another way of saying poor kids don’t do as well in school as kids who come from richer families. The solution from the wealthy is to build charter schools, and destroy the public education infrastructure.
The same “leaders” who say education is for workers are the ones who refuse to admit wealth distribution is the only solution to the achievement gap.
Cotto understands much of this about education policy, and has done much deeper thinking about educational policy issues than I have. I consider him trustworthy, and when our evening ended Monday night, and everyone cleared out, I felt great about having participated in local politics in this manner.
I felt empowered giving Robert a small platform. You can do the same. Now go out and there get as many people as you can to vote. I’d like them to vote for Robert, but really, I just want to see 100 percent turnout.