The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Education

Weaving Together a New Social Fabric for the Common Good

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Image: meritsolutions.com.au

One of the major problems we face in our society is isolation quite often brought on by inequality and poverty.  It is hard to be ‘in the social mainstream’ when you are out of the economic mainstream.

As we have noted we need common experiences, social connections and collaboration toward shared goals to overcome isolation.  Often for a person not moving up the economic ladder there is a lack of feeling connected to the community or a network that can assist them during a rough patch in life.

Education is a key to moving up the economic ladder. For young students in poor neighborhoods, without school resources, overworked teachers and rundown school facilities getting a good education is especially challenging. An group that is meeting the challenge of isolation head on is Thread, a social fabric weaving organization in Baltimore.  Thread connects students with up to five volunteers who do things that a family member might do. The volunteers are coached by an experienced volunteer called the Head of the Family.  The Head of the Family is coached by a Grandparent, and Grandparents are supported by Community Managers.  Community Managers are paid Thread staffers. Offering complimentary help are Collaborators who provide special assistance when needed for example in: legal help, SAT tutoring, mental health counseling etc. Thread replicates the family connections and support networks, while providing key links to volunteers who can help with connections to colleges and universities or other resources.

Thread works with 415 high school students, more than 850 volunteers and over 300 collaborators.  The results are impressive:

  • 87 % of students who have been in the program for 6 years have graduated from high school
  • 84 % of students in the program for 5 years have been accepted to college
  • 83 % of student alumni have completed a 4 or 2 year college degree or certificate program

The Thread example is one for policy makers to review, and examine in detail for the elements of what makes a social fabric weaving organization work.

Education is the Fifth Estate, an essentially building block of our democracy providing opportunities for all to move up in life.  Programs like Thread, provide insight into how to create the underlying support village for those that are isolated or have limited family support to change their life and shift into a productive path leading toward self-respect and self-esteem.  Our society benefits from adding productive citizens to our economy, while building safer and more democratic communities.  Certainly, forming organizations to rebuild the lives or our isolated young people in both cities and rural areas is critical to strenthening the Common Good.

Apprenticeship Program A Good Step Forward

 

Photo: siemens.com

The Administration has announced a new job training and apprenticeship program focused on many hard to fill positions in manufacturing. The President signed an order to create a Council for the American Worker instructing the secretaries of commerce and labor to coordinate existing federal programs and focus on new apprenticeship programs for job seekers without college degrees and older workers.  Labor Secretary, R. Alexander Acosta noted prior to the announcement that in June 2017 the administration had allocated $150 million in funding to strengthen apprenticeship programs.

Officials from various job development interested groups including unions, corporations,  and trade association officials signed a ‘Pledge to America’s Workers’ committing to the creation of more career opportunities.  Many of the leaders had made previous commitments, though Fed Express announced a new pledge of 512,000 workforce development slots with tuition assistance provided.

While, ‘dual careers’ have been a staple part of German and European education programs in the U.S. the ‘college for all’ mantra has taken its effect discouraging apprentice program candidates. However, many European firms like Zurich Insurance have applied their experience with apprenticeship programs to their U.S. subsidiaries to fill positions and have shared their experience with U.S. based firms like Accenture and Walgreens. Apprenticeships are 4.0% of the workforce in Germany while in the U.S. the total is about 500,000 in skilled trades like plumbing, electrical or metal work, just a small fraction of the U.S. workforce.

Source: The Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal – 2016

American employers are struggling with filling many positions in manufacturing that require special skills but not at the level of a college degree. We expect that as more co-automation jobs are created apprenticeship programs will become the norm to accelerate the number of qualified workers and retrain those workers who lost jobs from automation.

We are pleased to see the GOP Administration move ahead with executing on its pledge to increase the number of apprenticeship training programs and enlist all interested stakeholders in the process. However, this Administration has also announced budget cuts of 40 % to a Department of Labor Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, so making the program work and develop momentum seems challenging given the mixed signals.  We see apprenticeship programs as crucial to expending jobs opportunities for the working class when they are combined with good salaries, benefits and continued training. Education is a bedrock institution to build a thriving society  for all not just the wealthy.

We Have A Duty to Provide, Protect and Promote the Common Good

 

Image: Your Little Planet

Today’s discussion of the Common Good is focused on a point that arose this week from a court case where the parents of children in Detroit sued the city school district for better teachers, classroom conditions and funding.  The basis of the suit was that it was a ‘constitutional right’ that all children should have a fair and equal education regardless of income.

Unfortunately, as much as we would like to see education as a ‘right’ it is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The judge held that there was no ‘right’ to a quality education. The 14th Amendment does require states when they provide public education to offer equal access to all students – equal quality is not specifically defined.  We see education as Madison and Jefferson did as a key pillar of the government where a well-informed citizenry will make wise choices about who would lead their government.  We have outlined in an earlier post that we see Education as the Fifth Estate, after the Fourth Estate, The Press and the three main branches of federal government – The Executive, Congress and The Supreme Court.  Then, it follows that as a country we have a duty and responsibility to ensure that all children have a equal opportunity for a high quality education and access to learning institutions.

We do not really talk much in our society anymore about duty to country – or duty at all.  We are indoctrinated constantly about ‘my right’ to this and that.  While it is important that we have key rights ensured by our Constitution and courts, duties need to be in balance and in many ways ensure that rights can be sustained.

What do we ask of our young people graduating from high school in regard to supporting the freedoms and rights they enjoy?  Universal service for every 18 year old as they do in Switzerland, or universal military service as Israel requires?  What sacrifices do we expect our people to take on at any age?

In WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Middle East Wars, American men and women fought alongside each other to ensure the freedoms we enjoy and to protect the freedom and welfare of others.  The wealthy fought along with the poor as a team, to survive in a hostile environment against a common enemy. They shared this life changing experience, learned how to depend on each other to survive and discovered what they had in common. Today, young people serving in the armed forces are making sacrifices and sometimes putting their lives on the line, yet the vast majority of our forces are comprised of poor or working class men and women from rural regions of the country.  We are not all sharing the duty of defense across classes.

Everyday there are citizens across classes serving our country, as many people do volunteer work in all types of ‘duty’ based work at churches, non- profits and relief groups.  Some sacrifice themselves and time in environmental protection efforts that support good stewardship of the earth that we all live in and enjoy.

So, when we look to ‘get our rights’ in court, we may need to look to how to make duty more of a core value in our culture and in particular business culture.  As we have observed our country is essentially run by Corporate Nation States, they must change their attitude, behavior and operating practices focused on their duty to all the people not just their executives and customers. Everything a corporation does in some way impacts the Common Good. We are the people these corporations serve, and we should expect nothing less than socially responsible behavior from the executives running these huge Corporate Nation States.

Funding Education to ‘Common Good’ Levels Will Increase Prosperity and Reduce Civil Conflict

 

Image: Your Little Planet

Last week, we noted that public education for all was viewed by founding fathers like Madison and Jefferson as essential to informing and building intellect of our citizens to make good decisions selecting our political leaders.  A well-educated citizenry would be able to separate the leader focused on the common good from the leader who would rule unjustly as a tyrant.  Madison and Jefferson proclaimed that a well-educated voter is the last bulwark to build majority moving away from a tyrannical faction.  Certainly, we need to shift from a tyrannical faction today – the oligarchy.

So, what role does funding play in public education performing its role as the Fifth Estate, alongside the three main branches: The Supreme Court, Congress, and The Executive with the Fourth Estate being the Press?

The key factor in how well education is building the common good across all income levels is funding.  Since 1975 funding by state and local governments for higher education has dropped from 60.3 % to to 34.1 % in 2010. The last eight years has seen this figure continue to drop close to 24 %. Public colleges and universities have coped with the unprecedented drop in state and local funding by raising tuition year after year to the point where students are now carrying the highest level of student loan debt ever at $1.5 trillion. Families can’t keep up with the tuition increases

Source: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/15/16

Because of this huge debt load millennials are not buying first homes at the rate of previous generations, and they are moving in with parents to live.  Plus, couples are now postponing starting families as the birthrate has dropped to the lowest level in 30-years way below the needed replacement level. In regard total education US federal funding accounts for only 14 % of education spending vs OECD countries where national general funding is allocated across regions at 54 %.  The property tax maybe the way Madison recommended where local communities wanted local control. Yet, to make the quantum leap in education for all to build the common good a new source of funding must be found at the federal level to balance the funding between poor versus wealthy districts.

When as a country we don’t make the financial commitment it says that for all the platitudes about the importance of public education, regardless of private schools and for profit colleges, we need to ensure that all citizens receive a good high quality education that create lifelong opportunities for them to contribute to our society.

Ironically, funding for public education has continued to decline since the 1980s and steeply recently since the Great Recession.  As Corporate Nation States and the Elite continue cutting funding to federal, state and local government these common good building institutions and the people they serve suffer. The mantra of ‘my kids are taken care of’ I don’t need to worry about yours with my tax dollars has held up and politicians keep getting elected and putting pro profit and private educators in key positions like the Secretary of Education today, who has zero interest in rebuilding public education but is instead working hard to dismantle it. The way change in building the common good is going to happen is when voters realize they have been sold an education equality myth for decades. Only when we set a top priority on public education funding at ‘common good building levels’ of the 1970s will our democracy work for the middle class, ending income equality and create an enduring prosperity.  Someday Corporation Nation State executives and the wealthy who own them, will figure out that having a whole generation in debt, not building households, not buying goods and services at growing economic levels and not bringing new babies into the world is going to cause great loss in wealth for them!  If they aren’t concerned about losing wealth, they need to heed the point that  the democracy that provides the framework for their wealth will fall if the common good is not continuously built.

Our Founding Leaders Believed Public Education Builds the Common Good

Image: Your Little Planet

Public education’s rightful role is as the Fifth Estate next to the Fourth Estate, the Press, as pillars of our government.  The judiciary, legislative and executive being the other three Estates. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their writings on education knew it was crucial for the success of the country that all citizens (then it was white males) be well educated to use their knowledge to check the power of tyrants.

James Madison had tremendous vision, and steadfast hope that knowledge would triumph over ignorance when he said in a letter to W. T. Barry about a bill for Kentucky public education in 1822, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance”.  Today, we are finding out if his vision can be held up as true or will demagogues and tyranny rule the day through ignorance.  Madison focused on the means of acquiring knowledge as proving the power to overcome tyranny. “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.  He saw that the people must be armed with knowledge to have leverage over their rulers. “And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Education provides the way for the intellectual development of all people to discern the truth from untruth, coming from any individual or the press. They gain the ability to lead themselves and to discern policies and leaders that are basing their ideas and plans on truth rather than fiction.

Thomas Jefferson sponsored a bill for public education in the Virginia legislature when he was Governor and wrote the following preamble to the law:

“Whereas it appeareth that however certain forms of government are better calculated than others to protect individuals in the free exercise of their natural rights, and are at the same time themselves better guarded against degeneracy, yet experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.” (Underlining is ours).

 The law, The Act to Establish Public Schools, was presented to the House of Delegates in 1778 and 1780 but was not passed until 1796, when Jefferson was serving as US ambassador to France, with continuous lobbying by his friend James Madison.

Jefferson was adamant that education was the antidote to tyranny when he wrote George Wythe on August 13, 1786 (the bill still had not passed, and would not for 10 more years), “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.”

The relationship of freedom and learning was a closely held view by Madison as well when in 1822 in his letter to W.T. Barry he said, “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty & Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual & surest support?”

Madison continued in his letter to Barry that the poor should be in public school as well paid by the rich, “Whilst those who are without property, or with but little, must be peculiarly interested in a System which unites with the more Learned Institutions, a provision for diffusing through the entire Society the education needed for the common purposes of life…that it is better for the poorer classes to have the aid of the richer by a general tax on property, than that every parent should provide at his own expense for the education of his children, it is certain that every Class is interested in establishments which give to the human mind its highest improvements.”  He advocates that the property of the rich be taxed to support public education for all. Yet, in Europe education today is primarily funded by national governments. It is likely that Madison after experiencing the tyranny of the King of England did not want the national government as the source of funding for educating people on how to discern the truth from untruth expressed by national leaders.

To create a sense of the common good is to understand the views of immigrants he astutely observes, “An acquaintance with foreign Countries in this mode (learning institutions), has a kindred effect with that of seeing them as travellers, which never fails, in uncorrupted minds, to weaken local prejudices, and enlarge the sphere of benevolent feelings.”

Two hundred and twenty years ago since passing the Virginia public education act our country has changed the focus to educating, women, minority groups, and all members of society to be better informed, discern the truth and select democratic leaders.

Yet, how well has public education performed in its role to create the common good?  Next week, we will look at measuring public education achievements and failures in building a more democratic society.

Teachers Protest Lack of Financial Support

 

Photo: the74million.org

North Carolina teachers protest today asking for school funding increases to be used for school nurses and an increase in per student funding now just 39th nationally, following their colleagues in West Virginia. In West Virginia teachers were successful at achieving a 5 % raise.  Other teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona have gone on strike for raises or more school funding.

Sources: National Education Association, Vox – 3/18/18

Teachers have actually been losing income since the Great Recession when inflation is considered, it is little wonder that they are fed up with districts not paying them a fair wage to live at a middle class standard of living.

The Department of Education reports that 94 % of all teachers have to purchase their own supplies for their classrooms at an average of $479, adding insult to their lack of pay. Today, it is a 24 hour 7 day a week job, answering emails from students and parents, and responding to text messages at all hours. As education becomes more critical to get a good job, parents are even more demanding of their children’s instructors putting constant pressure on under resourced teachers.

How do our teachers’ salaries and raises compare with other developed countries?  Japan, Korea, Ireland, Poland, Canada are way ahead of us in offering raises of 75% to almost 60 % in providing raises for elementary teachers over the last 15 years versus the US at 25 %.

Sources: OECD, Education Week – 6/2014

If we want to provide the opportunities for our children to have good careers, in whatever field they choose we need to be making a much larger investment in our education system from kindergarten through college.

Next Steps:

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor for President Clinton and Professor at UC Berkeley sees part of the salary issue in the source of funds for our schools.  The school systems evolved from local cities and districts mostly funded by local property taxes. Wealthy districts in California spend about 3 times the funding or poorer districts.  When school foundations are considered the disparity is even greater and rich parents receive a tax deduction as well.  We see a need to provide funding primarily across states (which some states do supplement poorer districts) but equally across the country.  In OECD countries they invest in their students equally with even more funding provided to poorer districts. In the US only 14 % of the funding for local district schools comes from the federal government. OECD governments provide 54 % of the funding for local districts.  We need to get serious about the future of our children and provide consistent national funding for education.  Increasing taxes on corporations who have the lowest tax rates since the 1980s would be a good place to start since they are sitting on $1 trillion in cash mostly in off shore accounts or using their profits to do stock buybacks compensating executives at 300 % of their average workers’ pay. Especially, in America’s Heartland our young people are not receiving the education they need to build careers, and businesses in their communities to make thriving regions after being hit with many businesses shutting down or moving overseas.

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