Saturday, March 26, 2011

Calling All Pens

True, This! —
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.

Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy , Act I, Scene II
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1839

The ink of a scholar is holier
Than the blood of a martyr.

Attributed to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH

On January 8, 2002, then President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” law. Like dogs to the Pavlovian bell, governors across the country, together with state legislatures rushed to embrace either this clarion call for quality education for all Americans. Either that or they succumbed to the monetary inducement to “play ball” in which Federal funds could be used to offset dwindling state resolve to support education. Um, let’s see, I wonder which one of these might have been the case?

So when Wisconsin Governor and Tea Party darling Scott Walker decided to pick a battle on how to deal with the state’s budgetary profligacy, he ripped a page from the playbook of Pope Paul IV in 1559. After all, if you want to build an electorate who will warmly embrace nostalgic eras like, oh, let’s say the Inquisition; the place to start is by rooting out the evils unleashed by the “freedom of inquiry”. Anyone betting on how soon we’ll see the forests of Wisconsin cut down to stack around the stakes to rid the state of heretics? And, not to be outdone, governors and legislatures across the country and around the world are deciding that tough economic times call for drastic measures so, what better place to save than silly incidentals like education?

Now, before every NEA blogger places me on their most-favorite-blog referral, beware. Ever since organized education sold out to standardized testing and propped up pathetic attempts to show education metrics to justify their existence, they put their own tinder at their own feet. You see, long ago Educators abandoned their destiny for an Industrial Output model where “passing” and “minimum competency” replaced excellence at most turns. And, while there’s still room under the bus, parents, in their quest to “make ends meet” decided that schools were more daycare than life preparation and relegated discipline failures to schools while they were off selling their hours in pursuit of an American dream.

Prior to the storming of the Bastille in 1789, over 700 authors, printers and book dealers were reportedly held for sedition, radical thoughts and inciting rebellion in a legacy of the 1550s banner decade for edicts (the 1551 Edict of Chateaubriant and the 1557 Edict of Compiegne) setting forth death penalties for heresy and the burning of nobelwomen at the stake for promoting the reading of books. After all, when autocratic governments wish to control masses, their first line of defense is to attack the educated class and restrict the role of schools. It worked for the Church in the Dark Ages, in France in the 17th century and it will work for Wisconsin in 2011. Unless, a few people realize that both the governor and the educators are engaged in a meaningless Quixotic battle while the real tragedy goes unaddressed.

To be clear, most states (including Wisconsin) are in the pickle they’re in at the moment because of illiteracy. During bumper crop years of state surpluses; state pensions, union pensions, and the like were signed away to charlatans and swindlers who promised safe investment vehicles which would allow state coffers to fill on the heady markets. In the run up to 2008 and buoyed by the insanity of political forces in Washington who saw equity markets as the cure for all social programmatic ills, massive allocations were made to investments which were NOT investments. Why would state funds fall for such pathetically transparent schemes? Simple, because not a single legislature in the country has a modicum of financial literacy sufficient to make fiduciary decisions informed of all the facts. And we don’t have the literacy because we have failed to educate.

Our current education system is a product of an industrial system gone horribly wrong. Students are programmed to be consumables in an industrial system. Why is it that universities are rated based on their job placement success rather than their graduates’ contributions to the world? Why is it that we choose math and science as our flagship socialized priorities? Was this mandate a product of aspiring to greatness or were we playing out the madness put in motion by the Reagan Administration’s spectre of the Japanese dominating the world? Hey, Gipper, if you’re out there – Japan was never something to fear…. ignorance was and is!

I have been dealing with civil and criminal acts committed by mining companies – listed on the Toronto, Australian, and London stock exchanges – for the past several months. I have also been dealing with reporters who are conducting investigations into these abuses. Ironically, NO compliance arm of any of the markets in question have provided ANY evidence whatsoever in enforcing material disclosure requirements (and relevant compliance failures of the companies in question) which will directly and adversely impact the value of shares traded on their exchanges. Market regulators and the media believe that places like Mongolia and Papua New Guinea are “too far away” to really get a handle on the story. Mind you, they’re not too far away to rob and swindle. But they are too far away to warrant regulatory compliance oversight. If educated, they would realize that these countries are on the way to even more remote places where regulated markets flourish. They would realize that in both countries, English competency outstrips multi-lingual competency in their own countries. In the countries in concern, walking governments through basic agreements in which publicly traded corporations have ripped sovereignty from the hands of the country – in executed agreements – begins not with a sense of outrage but rather, incredulity. “Are you saying that they’re misleading us?” is a refrain that has echoed in every corner. “No,” I respond, “I’m saying that they’re stealing from you and insuring that you and your country remain impoverished.”

And then, the bough breaks.

Impoverished people, oppressed by the licensed tyranny of market forces which steal resources and leave no benefit for the communities, rise up and demand that their voices be heard and their interests served. Some countries chose to nationalize their assets and, in vindictive reprisal, rating agencies like Moodys, S&P, and Fitch down-grade the country as being “risky”. As long as you are being robbed and don’t complain, you’re an acceptable risk. Stand up against abuse and you’re “too unstable”. Some countries acquiesce and invite unfettered corruption while multi-lateral organizations stand aside and lament the “Dutch Disease”. And, We the People, stand by and shake our heads as bombs rain down on countries where, in a single day, we blow through more money in the name of national defense than we spend in a year in education in most states.

You see, it’s all related. Cartoon characters in State Houses, incensed labor marching in the streets, bombs in Libya. At the core, we have failed to truly hold up the standard of unfettered Freedom of Inquiry. Educators have too often abandoned their post of moral leadership insisting that a child prepared for a complex world needs excellence in communication and civil engagement – not monotonous drills for standardized tests. Public figures have succumbed to public opinion narcissism where short term is measured in CNN-years (7 times faster than dog – or is it Fox? – years). Market regulators have focused on post facto gotcha rather than preempting crisis. And We the People have elected to Twitter about Charlie Sheen.

Now, I know, this post has required some of you to actually re-read sentences. Some of you have actually opened up another browser window to do real-time Babel Fish on my selection of words. And, as I sit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, that sight makes me laugh. For, in the end, my point is to preserve the hope that one day, we’ll regain the capacity to think in paragraphs and prose, we’ll regain the capacity to debate in rich metaphors and hyperbole, and that, We will once again value the inalienable curiosity of the human spirit and empower it with a rich, educated foundation.

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave