Ever notice how the country's attitude toward some things changes over time?
used to be we hated Native Americans. In
fact, for much of our history it was official US policy to wipe them out. In the words of Civil War hero and noted
Indian-killer, General Philip Henry Sheridan, "the only good Indian is a dead
so much anymore. Nowadays we honor Native
American traditions by romanticizing genocide (in films like Pocahontas and Dances with
Wolves White Men),
distorting history (with racist sports logos and demeaning nicknames), and continuing
to exercise control over Native American culture (800,000 "objects" in the
Smithsonian alone). Be honest. If you were Navajo or Osage or Cree, today, would
you fight no more forever?
It used to be we hated African Americans. In fact, for much of our history it was official US policy to enslave them. Forced labor, sub-human living conditions, beatings, lynchings and rape were, according to the leading voices of the time, all part of "a necessary evil" that would eventually lead to a "positive good."
Not so much anymore. Nowadays we honor African American contributions with ghetto-ization, military-style assaults, vicious stereotypes, "Stand Your Ground" laws and a statistical certainty that 1-in-3 Black men will go to prison. From George Wallace to Clarence Thomas and from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, one can almost hear the voices rejoicing, "Free at last, free at last! Thank god almighty! We are free at last!"
It used to be we hated people from Mexico. In fact, for much of our history, it was official US policy to steal everything we could get from them -- economically, socially, linguistically and culturally. Think Manifest Destiny or Guadalupe-Hidalgo -- or the Bracero Program, where people of Mexican descent were brutally exploited for their agricultural knowledge and their farming skills, and it was all very legal.
Not so much anymore. Nowadays we honor Latino and Latina traditions by hiring them to clean our homes, buying lots of posole, banning their language in public spaces and passing anti-Immigration laws. How do you say "hasta la vista" in English?
But sometimes it's not just people we change our minds about. Sometimes it's ideas too.
Take public education. It used to be Americans loved them some schoolin'. They started putting together a public school system way back in the 17th Century, not long after the first settlements. By the late 19th Century every state in the Union had established a free public school system, and by 1918 every state had compulsory education laws in place. Schools were built. Teachers were trained. Generations of American students were taught to read and write. By the end of the 20th Century a college degree was the norm.
No so much anymore. Nowadays we honor the right to an education by cutting funding for schools, increasing the number of students per class, attacking teachers and teachers' unions, hiring corporate sycophants as administrators, imposing unworkable national standards and re-directing millions of tax payer dollars to voucher and Charter School programs, shill games run almost entirely by right-wing ideologues and Christian con artists. Obama's "Race to the Top" is nothing more than W.'s "Leave No Child Behind" photo-shopped in robe and regalia. Both are intended to facilitate a corporate take-over of public education.
This explains why W.'s Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, can call the largest teachers' union in the nation a "terrorist organization" and not get fired immediately. It also explains why Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, can publicly defame teachers in California and not be investigated for tampering. Republican. Democrat. They're supposed to say stupid stuff. Idiocy and corporate control. Think Jefferson County School Board and the latest Time magazine cover ("Rotten Apples").
At this point a reasonable person might ask why. Why dismantle a remarkably effective educational model and replace it with a model that appears intended to fail? If you are committed to educating future generations of Americans, why would you do that?
The answer is, quite simply, because the fundamentals no longer apply.
In a world increasingly dominated by a small number of ruling elites, there is no need for universal education. The children of the rich and powerful will be educated privately and at great expense. Count on it. But educating the general public is not part of the plan. The ruling elites have no need for Jefferson's educated electorate. They don't want informed voters, people who can reason for themselves, unfettered by national allegiances or religious superstitions. They're interested in socially engineering only two kinds of groups. One is composed of laborers, workers who can flip burgers and mow lawns and do laundry and hoe tomatoes. The other is composed of soldiers, front-line fodder for America's endless war, mindless bodies programmed to charge the hill on command. Neither needs to know Goldman or Paine or Thoreau.
Come to think of it, maybe those stenographers over at Time were right after all. Maybe investment zillionaires really do know more about education than teachers. Silly me!