On returning from my weekly work in St. Louis, I’m pondering the importance of education and the state it is today worldwide (and especially in the US since I can only speak from the sneak peek perspectives that I have from being a teacher as well as a student at different times so far.) No doubt – as Clarissa comments in one of her recent posts – higher education in the US is (one of) the best in the world today. The reason why this is so is not just because of facilities, but because of some safeguards put in place to ensure independence of thought, and the freedom to pursue new challenges. It is terrifying to think of how easily it can collapse if allowed to become subject to the whims and prejudice of politics. Just last week, I followed the very many of people in the academics who had their hearts in their mouths while waiting for the result of the gubernatorial election because of the prospects of what would happen if a certain candidate wins. He had promised to cut funding to Universities in order to fulfil his party’s agitation for “small governments.”
The No Child Left Behind Act passed under the Bush administration is notorious today because of how it subjects the prospect of learning to a set of blanket rules that doesn’t take into consideration a lot of testing biases, and variations in language aptitude and proficiency in child learners. It also subjects funding of schools to fulfilling a set of rules arbitrarily set by Government without regard for procedures or tested and trusted research results on child education. I’ve been reading a lot about the act and its effect on early childhood and high school education in the US, and it brings tears to eyes to see that had the changes in the Senate had been as drastic as it had been in the House of Representatives last week, by now, we would have returned to the same old process of returning schools to that retrogressive path. For now, higher education has been (only largely) immune from the influence of federal politics, but for how long will that remain? Till the next election?
The US federal budget for defense is more than twice the total annual budget of some other countries in the world – and for good reason, some might say. It’s not my place to knock the country’s defense or military agenda. Yet, thinking about it, one wonders if it is not always infinitely better to educate the mind of citizens than spend an even larger cost putting them and the country in harm’s way sometimes for totally non-justifiable reasons. The program on NPR today on my way to St. Louis focuses on the increasing number of US soldiers that have committed suicide since the occupations in the Middle East began. The number increases everyday, and the country spends more and more seeking psychologists and psychiatrists to take care of the resulting effects of the combat fatigues that fuel those horrible, preventable deaths.
I do hope that education grows someday to become a bigger priority for government spending, but I won’t cross my fingers yet. I live in a country of sometimes contrasting values, possibilities and characteristics.