Political Reform or Walking Dead
Thanks to some debates that have been taking place in recent weeks, especially those focused on questions of climate change and social justice, it has become increasingly clear that we need to start talking about the US education system as one of the parties responsible for our current cultural malaise. This disease is fueled by an increasingly hostile and reactionary form of cultural politics, originating largely from the white middle class, in response to various calls for economic, social and ecological reforms to business as usual politics. This challenge to the status us read, rightly so I think, as a threat to existing middle class lifestyles. Whether we continue to tear ourselves apart from within, as we have seen in recent months from Ferguson to New York to San Francisco, or are torn apart from without, via more incidents similar to Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, remains to be seen. If we hope to halt our blind march towards social and ecological chaos before it’s too late, there are several issues we must begin to collectively tackle as a nation: education, social justice, economic reform and ecological action.
As a nation we need to rethink the role of education within the body politick. Civics, ethics and rhetoric, once core elements of a student’s basic education, have all but disappeared from the curriculum, even at the college level. Although I have been teaching less than a decade in higher education, I regularly encounter students who display not only a basic lack of civic awareness, but an equally appalling inability to evaluate materials and make distinctions between verifiable facts and ideological claims, either in their own work or in the work of others. This is especially worrying in the context of youth media literacy, where I have seen the most dangerous collapse of critical discernment among news consumers.
Add to this problem the growing defunding of public education since the Reagan era, and the obsession with testing since Clinton. If we also consider the history of American education, and the many barriers to education for disadvantaged communities, you have a recipe for modern-day educational disaster. The end result of this process, as it has solidified over the past thirty years, is the wholesale dumbing down of the public at the precise moment when knee-jerk partisan ideologues and newsertainment have come to dominate the public. I honestly worry we are no longer producing politically literate citizens able of making well-informed decisions about their own future (to say nothing of the future of others). Instead we have mindless partisans. This thought scares me beyond imagination, because we all know where this kind of blindly obedient cultural politics inevitably ends.
If we want to avoid a replay of historical tragedies, then we must begin to reconstruct the entire educational system, not merely tinker with failed policies like No Child Left Behind or call for more college enrollment as a solution. That means rebuilding and funding public schools, revising k-12 curriculum, training teachers differently, and abandoning the current banking model of higher education. While we are at it, since we are normalizing relations with Cuba, maybe we should also take a closer” look at the Cuban Literacy Campaign and other successful efforts at educational reform following the Cuban Revolution. After all, this effort gave Cuba a higher literacy rate than the US and better informed critics of American capitalism, surely two worthwhile goals for a revamped US educational system.
Environmental & Social Justice
We also need to make environmental and social justice the foundations of a second American Revolution, one that not only revitalizes the country, but also finishes the job of racial equality which both Reconstruction Era policies and Civil Rights legislation sought, but failed, to achieve. And to be clear, this is not a Tea Party 2.0 revolution, but a truly democratic social movement from below–grassroots not AstroTurf (tm).
The only way the economic roots of social justice can be addressed is through a massive new job creation program, or a massive redistribution of wealth from the top 10% to the rest of us. I’m betting on the job creation, and the only way this will occur is if public and private sector leaders invest billions of dollars into a “New Green Deal” with job training and skills development focused on building an equitable, carbon-free and environmentally sustainable future economy, one focused on peace and cooperation, not war and competition.
In other words, we need a steady state economy that provides economic independence through sustainable energy independence and revitalized local economies, not an expansionist fossil fuel-driven globalized corporate economy dependent of unlimited consumption and growth. Everyone with half a brain knows that economic model is bankrupt, and no other sector of the economy has the ability to create, almost overnight, millions of new jobs which can be long-term and offer stable future employment for a new generation of workers (except maybe the blanket decriminalization of naturally-derived, recreational “drugs”).
We are also going to need some serious reform of our legal system along the way, but that’s a whole separate post of its own.
Social & Political Reform
As we address educational reform and economic reform, we must also address social and political reform. This means that:
- School systems must reflect the diversity of our nation in the curriculum and through classroom learning;
- Economic power and decisions must be shared amongst the public, much like we find in cooperative businesses, rather than a small cadre of aging white men on Wall Street, as is the case today;
- Local, state and federal laws and policies must be revised to address past and current racial inequalities;
- The creeping militarization of law enforcement, and the carte blanche activities of local and state police, will no longer be tolerated and must be dealt with swiftly and systematically;
- Electoral district rigging and voter laws will be thrown out that create racialized ghettos and exclude the poor or marginalized from participating in the political process;
- Kicking out special interest groups and their lobbying money, both in Washington and in each and every state capitol;
- Stripping corporations of legal and political immunity, as well as their ill-gotten ability to use money as if it were speech; and
- Prosecuting and arresting thousands of politicians and corporate figures for crimes against the public, from minor issues such as political bribes to major issue like covering up torture and related war crimes.
Those are just a few that come to mind. So, in other words, we need a public reckoning and cleaning of house unlike any that has occurred before–the kind of thing that Grace Lee Boggs talked about as The Next American Revolution.
Sadly, even as I write this, I know none of it will come to pass. The entrenched interests are too great, and the roots of white fear and white supremacy are so deep. The monied interests that control everything from the yellow school bus to the white house to the green zones and black bag sites have no interest in giving up their power. They never have, and they never will. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still aim high, and reach for the future we want.
Once we settle for less as our lot in life, happy to eat table scraps and lick the boots of the Master, we can no longer call ourselves alive, and most certainly not free. I for one would rather die standing, and fighting, for a better tomorrow. How about you?
If we do nothing, we are, at best, little more than walking dead.
Until next time…don’t be a zombie, do something.