Education and Class

So let’s break for a quiz: Quick, what’s the source of America’s greatness?

Is it a tradition of market-friendly capitalism? The diligence of its people? The cornucopia of natural resources? Great presidents?

No, a fair amount of evidence suggests that the crucial factor is our school system — which, for most of our history, was the best in the world but has foundered over the last few decades. The message for Mr. Obama is that improving schools must be on the front burner.

One of the most important books of the year is “The Race Between Education and Technology,” by two Harvard economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. They argue that the distinguishing feature of America for most of our history has been our global lead in education.

Obama and Our Schools – – Nicholas D. Kirstof.

Kirstof is splitting hairs here, suggesting a contrast between fixing schools in poor neighborhoods and income redistribution, but he has a good point. Our culture is founded on the progressive ideals of education and these ideals created the materiel basis of democratic society in the United States.

We set up a system that allowed for a wide dissemination of cultural capital through the public schools and that took an enormous commitment of monetary capital as well. It was a very self-serving notion, of course, that helped to ensure a certain stability in the class system.

At least most of the time. The first group of working class kids to get an education in the late 1940s raised the kids who rebelled so dramatically in the 1960s. So the price of stability– those soldiers returning home from war had some serious demands– was a later instability.

This later instability– a demand for change, to use the current term– was finally fought back, and even reversed, starting in the Reagan administration. In the last thirty years the system has been eroded, from cheap tuition and student loans to good inner city schools. It has to be fixed.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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