Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Consuming the Children

You will recall Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal that the Irish could solve the problem of child poverty by eating their children, a proposal I revisited not long ago (Morialekafa 8-27-11). With one child in every 5 currently living in poverty, and one in every 45 homeless, we obviously did not follow Swift’s sarcastic suggestion. But there are other ways of consuming the children other than literally eating their flesh. Here in the United States we have been pioneering these methods for years.

Let me begin with what (hopefully) may be the beginning of the end of this rather absurd pioneering, the trillion dollars our young people currently owe as a result of having to borrow money to attend Colleges and Universities. You see, instead of GIVING our young people an education, or at least making it affordable, as most decent advanced countries do, we hit upon the scheme of charging them large tuition fees, making it necessary for them to borrow substantially from banks and others, or not be able to attend or graduate. Then, having squeezed every bit of money we could from them (and their parents) we release them into a situation where there are no jobs, thus relegating them to the scrap yards of the unemployed (and quite probably to the scrap yards of history as well). A decent education is not only good for our young people as individuals, it is even more important for the continuation and success of our culture, but not, of course, if it interferes with profits.

Consuming our children in this way did not begin with the relatively recent phenomenon of large student loans, it actually began many years ago with our educational system in general. It has been true since the beginning of our country that a successful democracy demands a well informed (and by implication, at least) a well educated citizenry. But a well informed, well educated citizenry is basically a threat to the powers that be, those in control of government, if they wish to remain in control. Thus it is in the best interest of the governing class (if their desire is merely to stay in power) to minimize education and information. This is unfortunately what has happened here in the U.S. of A., where serving in the public interest has been all but forgotten in the desire to serve the corporate masters and thus stay in office. To this end (unstated, unconfessed, even in some cases perhaps unintentionally) our educational system at all levels has been grossly underfunded and neglected for years. Teachers have been terribly underpaid, classes have been enlarged to accommodate more students for less money, school buildings and equipment have been allowed to deteriorate, and education in general has been underappreciated. In the lower grades many children come so hungry they can’t learn (and have to be fed). Our schools, especially our Middle and High Schools have been converted into little more than holding pens for our children, keeping them off the streets and labor market, infantilizing them, and providing them with little in the way of genuine educational opportunities. Many High schools are so bad large numbers of students drop out and never graduate (as many as 50% in some places) thus dooming them to wasted lives of poverty and hopelessness. Most of them who do somehow manage to graduate do not go on to school either because they cannot afford it or are so disenchanted with education they do not wish to, and many who do go on never finish. The ones that do finish, if they are fortunate, may find jobs, but often far below their abilities. The slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” doesn’t resonate in a culture that routinely wastes millions of minds year after year.

Not only is this true, the educational institutions at all levels have consistently declined in recent years. Our Colleges and Universities have been converted mostly into professional schools where one goes to presumably become able to get a job (or find a husband). There is no love of learning as such, no “intellectual osmosis with ‘great-souled’ minds,” and even fewer and fewer direct contacts between Professors and students. It is cheaper to use teaching assistants and part-time teachers than pay for the best. This terrible situation has even been exacerbated in recent years by the rise of more and more private universities, their goal being to make a profit rather than providing the best educations. Grades have been inflated (what difference does it make), requirements have been reduced, courses have been cheapened, those who do make it through have learned less and less. The money goes to the administration and the athletic programs while the Colleges of Arts and Sciences suffer.

This situation is virtually suicidal for any nation that wants to continue to exist and flourish. But now that nations are becoming more and more irrelevant while huge international corporations become dominant, some of them with economies larger than most countries, consuming our children becomes less and less of a problem. They can hire the talent they need from other countries that have not yet abandoned education, talent they did not even have to pay the educational costs for, and talent that is willing and eager to work for less money. If the nation and the children suffer, so what, profits are assured, the masses of unemployed workers will either starve or, in more enlightened places, be given some form of welfare to barely and begrudgingly keep them alive, but with no medical insurance and no hope for the future. People are becoming resigned to the realization their children’s lives and opportunities will be less than those they themselves enjoyed. Thus it is that we don’t eat our children, we merely chew them up and spit them out, without even realizing the nutritional value we might have gained from actually eating them.

America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week.

Evan Esar

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