Schools Are Key in an Uncertain World

In 1957 Nevil Shute's "On the Beach" brought home to readers the reality that the human race was capable of designing and executing its own demise using nuclear weapons. In succeeding years the fictional adventures of Dr. Strangelove and the real events of the Bay of Pigs helped persuade presidents and publics that the use of nuclear weapons was unthinkable.

This week, after almost a half century, I, and all my friends and correspondents, have been horrified to learn that the use of nuclear weapons is now thinkable: Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush are thinking and planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran.

We are in a terribly precarious time and place. Our planet itself is fevered, on the verge of organ failure, with a good possibility that it will be unable to regulate its life-sustaining systems or feed its myriad life-forms. The planet's minerals and hydrocarbons are being used up to fabricate and fuel machines for the convenience of a fraction of its human population. Our Earth's most powerful nation is headed by crazed monomaniacs squandering the material, financial, humanitarian and knowledge capital of thousands of years of civilization on ruinous wars to control a few criminal human terrorists with criminally inhuman technological terror, and willing to sacrifice the lives or quality of life of every child on Earth to their apocalyptic vision.

I don't have a nostrum or a plan to address this global chaos -- nor do I think I should or could. All these columns can do is to offer some different ways of seeing, thinking and talking about our common challenges.

So today, despite a nagging anxiety about rearranging deck chairs on a doomed planet, I am going to give you, Gentle Reader, a homework assignment in civics, due May 2: Vote for your local school levy.

Portage County has six school operating levies on the May 2 ballot. Two are renewals, to maintain existing funding; four are additional in anticipation of increased costs, and four are emergency measures, meaning that their schools now are out of money. Our neighbors in Summit County have five school levies, including Akron Schools, for operating expenses.

I will not argue that these levies are fair, equitable, or practical. Property taxes, the present system of funding of Ohio's public schools, are unfair, inequitable, impractical and harmful in their impacts on schools, citizens and children. They have been declared unconstitutional four times. The Ohio legislature, dominated by Republicans since the first DeRolphe decisions, has refused to consider legislation to fix the problem.

Some ten years ago, on a nationwide television show on education, an Ohio teenager challenged lawmakers to tell her she wasn't worth having a first-rate education. We answered her loud and clear: she wasn't worth the investment of our taxes, or even of the effort to reform school funding.

Make no mistake. The present crisis in public education is precisely about money, about how we can provide the maximum number of children with a minimum of education at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers and the greatest benefit to campaign contributors.

I will similarly not argue that schools are not beset by unfunded mandates and inflexible testing programs, nor that all schools are well administered and all teachers effective. Public schools have many problems, and again, most of them are related to money: for more teachers/ smaller classes, for programs for at-risk children, for better-equipped classrooms and new textbooks, for employees' health insurance, for electricity and bus fuel.

If we fail these school levies, the message to our kids is clear: We don't think you're worth investing in. We think our current wars are more worthy of our investment than teaching you how to read the world's politics, calculate the probabilities of outcomes of policy decisions, and work in a global economy. We'd rather rant about abortion, abstinence and gay marriage than give you the knowledge and skills to deal with future you'll live in. We think that saving our tax dollars is more urgent than educating you to be scientists, teachers, doctors, public officials, workers and citizens.

It's possible that our schools have already failed, and we have raised up a generation of consumers, audiences, clients, and subjects, instead of citizens. But I haven't given up hope that the American people still have enough basic education -- along with the humanity and good sense -- to see that our children can't wait.

The children who were in kindergarten when Ohio's school funding was first ruled unconstitutional are graduating this year. The teen who asked ten years ago if her education was worth anything to her society is grown up. This year's high school sophomore may face a nuclear war in the Middle East after graduation.

There's more to your homework assignment:

Vote for candidates who give priority to public education and the reform of school funding.

Vote for candidates who stand up against war, nuclear weapons, torture, racism, and injustice.

Speak out for a Congressional investigation of the lies and misrepresentations of the Bush administration.

Write an essay or letter protesting the use of nuclear weapons against Iran.

On May 5, 1970, Kent voters turned out in record numbers and overwhelmingly passed an operating levy for Kent Schools. It was observed that in the crisis of an imperial government killing our youth, local citizens realized that their best hope for a civil society of freedom, justice, security and hope lay in their public schools, in their children.

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