BY ED CANNADAY
Rightwing conservatives like to paint a picture of progressives as possessed of a sense of entitlement, ignorant of the value of a dollar or the toil of a hard days’ work. This distorted portrayal of hardworking Americans is no better demonstrated than by the ultra-right’s hostility toward public education, both secondary and post-secondary.
Conservatives want to turn education at all levels into a privilege of the select few, not a right of all.
In higher education, they are slowly succeeding by convincing policymakers that it is in fact the vast majority of college students, and not the wealthy, who hold an attitude of entitlement.
For the person who can afford a college education, it is very easy to say that every student should completely pay his or her own way.
What about those who are bright enough and motivated enough but cannot afford to get by without government assistance, or without a state-subsidized public institution with relatively low tuition?
A recent blog post on the website for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs [OCPA] blames the public school system for the supposed sense of entitlement of young people today. The blog author, Brett Magbee, cites an interview between Fox co-anchor Steve Doocy, and Jack Chambless, a professor at Valencia College in Florida.
Chambless gives an anecdotal account of his students who did not know either who John Locke and Adam Smith are, or that they were unfamiliar with their works. His account is meant to convince the reader that the public school system is a draconian liberal indoctrination machine.
The portrait of children who come out of the public schools and move on to college as a group of liberal snot-nosed brats is incorrect, and demeaning to students. Many young people face the burden of student loan debt simply to get through college.
Meanwhile, many conservatives, including those in the OCPA, would slash the budget for higher education. One need not be a Nobel Prize winner in economics to know that if you want more of something, then a good way to get that something is to subsidize it. That is exactly what every state does when it funds an institution of higher learning.
When our friends on the ultra-right talk about not taking government handouts, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, I wonder how many of them attended state colleges or universities.
If they did, then the cost of their education was subsidized by the taxpayer. They got one of those government handouts they claim to detest so much.
Government subsidies for education are good; they are an investment in the future workforce. If we want more college graduates, we need to make it financially easier for them to succeed, not force them to burden themselves with piles of student loan debt.
Why label the school system as a liberal propaganda machine? Ultra-conservatives want to completely privatize public education. How else can one explain their support for school vouchers and charter schools?
In Oklahoma, a private company called Sky Foundation runs four charter schools. The superintendent of the four Sky Foundation schools in Oklahoma, Kaan Camuz, said of 35 teachers at Dove Science Academy, 11 are from Turkey, Russia, Turkmenistan or Azerbaijan. This is what school privatization could look like.
Private organizations are much less accountable to the people. We the people of Oklahoma elect the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The superintendents of private schools come by those positions through privilege, not through democracy. This means they are free and unaccountable, and can hire whomever they want, including foreigners over Oklahomans.
Opponents of public education would have everyone believe that private schools and charter schools always do a better job; that letting the market dictate the character of schools is the best approach. However, these assertions are simply false.
Letting the private sector take over our schools would create a level of inequality unheard of in the history of this country. This is exactly what many conservatives want to do when they cut funding to higher education: the less the public funds it, the more privatized it becomes.
Privatization and free enterprise provide the backbone of our economy, but they are not the answer for every problem.
Currently we have a balance of public and private institutions that allows education for all, but also allows more choice for those who have the means. We should stay with the system that allows for public input and the democratic process.
Public institutions of learning are an instrument of democracy, not of “big government.”
– Ed Cannaday, a Porum Democrat, represents District 15 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives