The Death of a Nation (a retropspective on the W. Bush era, Part 4: SOCIAL)

Society’s obligations to itself — education and the protection of its people in and by social safety nets — have been under “conservative” attack for about as long as there have been “conservatives” embedded in the power structure.  Interesting that today we call it (the politic) “conservatism” when historians still refer to the near-identical policy/philosophy as Feudalism. Still, by whichever name, ‘it’ continues its creep, its infestation, in human cultures around the globe, including here in the US.

The “creep” picked up speed following the presidential selection of George W. Bush in December, 2000. During his first four years, the tools of suppression were stealthily put into place, and there they remain to this day.  And as bizarre as suppression/privatization of education might seem; as backward and ‘feudal’ as destruction of the social safety net might be; the current “conservative” candidate for president, Mitt Romney, campaigns on doing exactly that (well, at least sometimes he so indicates, although he quite often changes his stated “position” within any given hour).

In any case, below is an early 2005 review of Bush social policies and their probable/potential (intended?) impact. If it all sounds hard to believe, Mitt Romney can surely clarify. Probably he has, actually.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

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Social:

“The [government] must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge…. Those who are physically and mentally unhealthy and unworthy must not perpetuate their suffering in the body of their children…. The prevention of the faculty and opportunity to procreate on the part of the physically degenerate and mentally sick, over a period of only 600 years, would … free humanity from an immeasurable misfortune.”  ~Adolph Hitler

Government involvement in social issues is, in any nation which wishes to consider itself ‘progressive’ in human matters, both mandatory and desired – not because of any sort of formulaic reasoning but rather because history suggests that when humans are left alone with no egalitarian instinct or mandate, tyrants soon assume control and ‘the People’ are relegated to positions of servitude.  Free people are not the analog of a swarm of worker bees or drones charged with service to the queen, nor are they the equivalent of an army of ants marching in a straight line carrying burdens from here to there.  Free people are, rather, each and all intended to live their lives as they see fit, to follow their instincts, to become playwrights or auto mechanics, molecular biologists or bakers, or anything else which tweaks their imaginations, their creativity (save for criminality, of course).

The heart and soul of social freedom is education, for without education there can be no reading, no writing, and little if any of the communications which cross-fertilize and nurture the various processes of creativity.  Without reading and writing, a complex society will soon find itself devoid of any deep-seated knowledge of science, mathematics, the arts, of philosophy or of history.  Education is critical and foundational to both comprehension and to the creative thinking which allows societies to nurture, to grow, and to mature into productive and benevolent cultures.  Across the last two millennia, Western civilization (so-called) emerged from imperial tyrannies only to wallow through a religion-enforced (and demanded) Dark Age.  After a few centuries the light of a Renaissance, an intellectual rebirth, beckoned, and soon thereafter the arts and sciences prospered, as did intellectualism.  And too, there came an age of global exploration where the earth was mapped, where new continents were discovered along with indigenous peoples who, during the time the Great Darkness had enveloped Europe, possessed knowledge and daring that some still find to this day difficult to believe, to accept.

Human history has, since its dawn, had its ups and downs.  The high points – the pinnacles – invariably coincided with intellectualism and creative thought and freedom, the low points with the imposition of either religious or imperial tyranny (or the extra-deadly combination of the two).  And all too often, the first sign of an impending tyranny is the effort – subliminal at first, later to become blatant – to restructure teaching and learning – education – in ways that better serve the tyrant than the people.  At this point in America’s evolution, it would be well to recall the truth which George Santayana spoke in his The Life of Reason, the simple observation: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And as history shows, there is little doubt that Santayana penned a reality which incriminates virtually the entire span of human existence on this earth.

And how has the Bush administration treated education?  One could quite easily come to the conclusion that its aim is to, in a word, destroy public education as we know it, with disassembly and turnover of the process in its entire to either corporate or religious entities in order that agenda might be more easily inserted and taught and not questioned.  It’s long been a cause celebre of the right wing that taxpayer funds allocated for public education should also be made available to the private sector in the form of vouchers, i.e. monies which can be handed to the school of choice as they’re subtracted from public school allocations.  Initially, the “conservative” movement focused on using tax dollars to subsidize religious education; today, there are other options, including charter and corporate schools which follow a ‘different’ path toward the coveted diploma, perhaps predictively ‘different’ in ways productive to maintaining a broadly informed social outlook.

Bush’s so-called No Child Left Behind legislation is arguably little more than an official tool designed to enable/force the demise of public schools in favor of vouchers payable to the private sector.  As with any other Bush program, the title of the action is approximately the opposite of its hidden agenda.  In Bush-speak, “healthy forests” means assigning them to the timber industry; “clean air” means permission to pollute without penalty; and No Child Left Behind means enough of this liberal education, already!  The Spiders need workers, not thinkers!  The Spiders need mind-numbed religious fanatics, not philosophers!  And so it shall become if the current laws are left to remain intact.

How, the logical question asks, can such subterfuge be couched in a program which pretends to do exactly the opposite?  Two ways: (1) force an agenda into the curriculum, and (2) make sure that what appears to be success is defined by the statute as failure.  Both processes are embedded in No Child Left Behind, though not directly.  Let’s look at the issues separately:

(1) Agenda insertion–

The task is simple, though not necessarily obvious at quick glance.  The program overall requires testing to demonstrate that students have met certain ‘benchmark’ qualifications, i.e. that they have gained a working knowledge of the curriculum as stated and defined.  Students are assessed – tested – at various steps along the way as they progress through the lower grades, middle school, and high school.  So far, that’s not a completely alien concept as testing has always been the means to monitor and quantify learning progress.  But what’s different today is that the tests are standardized and bridge multiple disciplines, and that school administrators and teachers are also judged based on the ‘success’ of their students as measured by the scores the students obtain on the tests; in other words, what now becomes of tantamount importance is not breadth of knowledge per se, but rather knowledge focused – perhaps somewhat analogous to the illumes cast on a dark wall by either a floodlight or a laser, resp., i.e. a wide illumination or a spot of illumination, where the floodlight represents an overall grasp of concept with perhaps scant attention to detail, and the laser focuses on only detail and at the expense of ‘seeing’ (in the intellectual sense).

Step 1 is, in other words, to de-emphasize ‘seeing’ by adjusting the focus a bit, then providing school administrators and teachers with materials which supposedly reflect the types of questions that will be on the test; the inference is, of course, that it would be wise for the teachers to modify their instruction to accommodate the focus on the test itself and to ignore the suddenly ‘useless’ material that will NOT be on the test.  And if teachers should resist out of principle, the administrators may well find it far more expedient for themselves to insist that teachers DO indeed comply, that they ‘teach the test’ instead of the broader curriculum.  So, if the history portion of the test should happen to emphasize the benefits reaped by society from the glories and spoils of aggressive wars rather than the horror and destruction most often left in their wake, it’s very likely that glories and spoils would get the nod in the classroom to the point where students might conclude that aggressive war is good, not bad.  Similarly, if the Language-Arts portion of ‘the test’ were to include, say, menu reading and proper interpretation of toilet  installation manuals in preference to the exploration of language and of thought via the great poets and novelists, it’s a fair bet that graduates would be able to intelligently order a meal from McDonald’s (and successfully install a toilet with which to flush its mortal remains), but would be unable to interpret language and ideas such as,  “Time’s glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light,” much less recognize the name William Shakespeare.  Of course, given the idea and instruction in even that particular line, it’s not hard to understand why most of our “leaders” would prefer that such subversions be discarded in favor of menu reading.

Today’s generally-accepted classroom science curriculum, of course, begs agenda insertion because science countermands, oh, so often, both the wishes of politicians AND the agenda of preachers.  Protection of natural resources, of species, of the air we breathe and the water we drink can be horribly expensive and have a negative impact on corporate profits; and too, the godlessness inherent in Darwinian evolution and in the Big Bang concept of origins of theoretical physics – their disavowal of the “truths” in Genesis – are enough to DEMAND curriculum management!  Unfortunately for the narrow-minded, there is huge public resistance to either bastardizing science or forcing it to reflect creation mythology: cleverness therefore is required to overcome common sense.  Imagine the possibilities of fusing science with politics and religion and how the end result could so easily mate with the emergent ‘teach the test’ philosophy.  There’s no need to adjust the curriculum first – it’s far simpler to adjust the test, to then so-inform the school administrators who are interested in saving their jobs, and the “adjustments” will find instant favor in the classroom.

And there you have it.  America, the literate and creative, scientifically-minded, innovative society that it once was is now become a ‘factory’ that turns out non-thinking worker bees who all believe in the Christian God, in creation myth, and in tithing to their local church.  In return for their obedience to the inane, the Spider shall spare them AND provide them with vacant-minded mass entertainments such as football, baseball, basketball, NASCAR races (all performed in venues paid for from the public trough, of course – i.e. tax revenues), plus rap music, TV reality shows and video games, each and all in order that any creative urges be effectively redirected and assuaged.

(2)  Success becomes failure, by statute–

No Child Left Behind has only one thing to fear: its own success.  There must, therefore, be added a terminator which redefines success as failure and failure as success because, after all, only failure of a school to meet the standards can force the school to close its doors (ergo to succeed in the act’s purpose of destroying public education); conversely, only failure to educate the child can be seen as progress toward final evolution of the blank-faced and obedient society: i.e. success in mind control.

A paradoxical quandary?  Yes, but there is a solution: demand, by statute, ‘improvement’ (i.e. increase the percentages of those who pass the tests) each year, alongside the proviso that no improvement indicates failure with eventual consequence: closure.  Here, the key word is “improvement.”  Over the years, the test and how well it’s taught will come into equilibrium, typically represented by the old bell-shaped curve.  However, if No Child is to be Left Behind, there can be no curve on a graph, only a straight vertical line where 100% is the X-axis point and the Y is 100% of those who have taken the test and scored 100%.  That would be the pinnacle of success from which there could be no further improvement; consequently, every fallback would indicate non-performance, hence school incompetence, school failure.  Of course, in order to relieve the system of the bell-shaped curve and create instead a straight vertical line on the 100th percentile, the test couldn’t be all that difficult – but even that detail becomes a convenience which allows the perfect school to fail next year: insist the student spell his name correctly rather than giving him multiple choices.

Cynical?  Facetious?  Perhaps, but what other options are there when such ridiculous legislative excess as No Child Left Behind is forced into the public education system and then in turn literally forces the dumbing down of both test and curriculum (in that order – see “teach the test” above)?  The key, the undercurrent, the foundation of NCLB is to ensure public school failure and the consequential redistribution of education-earmarked tax dollars to corporate and religious schools.  And, as of this date, it appears to be coming along right about on schedule.

Education isn’t the only “social” aspect of the Bush juggernaut, of course.  It’s a carved-in-stone conservative Republican mantra that social programs are anathema to a capitalist society, a society in which people do for themselves and if they fail, ‘tough luck, so starve then. Just don’t bore me with it.’

Conservative politics are dead against taxes for nearly any noble purpose other than feeding the Military-Industrial Complex (as Eisenhower named it).  They do NOT subscribe to the idea that a successful and prosperous society is in debt to itself simply on the basis of its virtues, and that its best interests are best protected by allowing that even the least able are granted by the gods the right to live well enough to enable their own “pursuit of happiness” (one would think, in fact, that the current crop of God-worshiping conservatives would first of all insist that the needs of the poor and indigent should trump the petty cash reserves of the wealthy, but no, their hypocrisy always seems to get in the way).

In any case, there is one suddenly controversial legacy that remains in full force, first brought into play by (to conservatives, that most hateful and evil of all American presidents), Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  I speak, of course, of Social Security, a small retirement nest egg program that Republicans have hated and wanted to do away with for seventy years.  And now – in the aftermath of Bush’s selection to a second term and with a strongly Republican Congress – is the time!  Thus Bush’s first priority of his second term is not to end the war in Iraq, it’s not to work creatively to solve the impending energy crisis, nor to work creatively to solve the world’s impending environmental crises: no, it’s to do away with Social Security once and for all by “privatizing” it, i.e. to convert it from a national social program into an investment club, of sorts.  The fact that to do so will likely increase the national debt by a few trillion $ in the next decade or so is not an issue.  The issue is to rid the nation once and for all of the legacy of FDR, that vilest of all evil men, that liberal Democrat, that skunk, that…. etc.

Bush’s privatization is a bit difficult to describe to we who are non-economics majors; there are many considerations involved which tend to confuse the common man.  So, here I’ll quote the president himself as he explains his plan to a woman from Florida in February, 2005.  She asked Bush to explain, in words that she could understand, how his plan would fix the Social Security problem. Bush replied, verbatim:

“Because the–all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There’s a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those–changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be–or closer delivered to what has been promised.  Does that make any sense to you? It’s kind of muddled. Look, there’s a series of things that cause the . . . like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate . . . the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those . . . if that growth is affected, it will help on the red. OK, better? I’ll keep working on it.”

Now that that’s cleared up, we can move on.

To be continued . . .

Read Part 5 here.

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