“it will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the pentagon has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

Yesterday I was driving back from a training in a town about 45 minutes from where I live. I had the radio on and was listening to National Public Radio. The program that I was listening to was focusing on various United States states’ budget woes and discussing how a side effect of the Great Recession is that many states are close to bankruptcy. The state governments are making budget cuts. In addition to the conservative governor of Wisconsin trying to break the unions of the public employees of that state by passing legislation to reduce the power of the unions to be able to bargain and slashing public employees’ benefits, many states are cutting the funding for public education. Public education is typically the largest expenditure that most states have. The host of the radio program jokingly went on to say that perhaps the schools should run for president and began naming presidential hopefuls for the next election that had already raised a billion dollars.

The school district that I work for had to cut over a million dollars out of its budget last year and is faced with cutting another $300,000 to $400,000. Other districts in this area are faced with another year of having to cut over a million dollars from their budgets.

I was speaking with a friend today and mentioned all of this. He began looking up the cost of the one Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

That’s a picture of one. It is still under development and has yet to be able to work properly. Only 13 test flight status prototypes have been built. The cost for each one is $110 million dollars. Where is the accountability for tax payer dollars? The district that I work for is small and operates on a budget of approximately $13 million. The operating budget last year for the Los Angeles school district which served 694,300 was $7.16 billion. They were forced to cut a billion dollars from their budget. What if instead of working on 13 planes to circle Afghanistan and drop GPS loaded bombs that money had gone to the schools?

I am suddenly reminded of the Vietnam Era slogan “it will be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the pentagon has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

No Child Left Behind requires that all children are capable of passing standardized tests based on state curriculums. This sounds reasonable until you realize that the only children to be excluded from this requirement are the 2% with extreme and multiple disabilities. Children with high incidence learning disabilities are still required to pass at their grade level. And perhaps that is achievable with enough intervention. But then you have to factor in that the curriculum standards are making it so that children are expected to learn more at younger ages. And now the schools are having their budgets slashed which will require teacher layoffs and increase classroom sizes while potentially limiting the funding for extra adults who can provide extra intervention.

Worldwide the biggest indicator of whether or not a region will remain peaceful, productive, and have a high standard of living is the educational level of its population. Not whether or not the United States can come in and use 13 highly specialized and problematic bombers to bomb the countryside. Clinton failed in creating the New World Order of enforced peace by collective world operations when the peacekeeping mission in Somalia failed after the reporting of casualties proved that the public had no stomach to make the sacrifice of lives necessary and the UN military forces were pulled out. Consider Somalia now. The UN failed in Rwanda when the genocide happened while UN peacekeepers powerlessly watched and US diplomats dickered over the term “genocide”. The war in Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist acts of 9/11 but the United States actions in the region have created a quagmire. An ongoing one. The development of American military weapons and the aerospace industry has brought many technological advancements and in the past helped to stabilize the world with the threat of war. But we live in a different time period where economic power and information have might.

What if instead of buying a M16A2 rifle for $582 which is the standard issue rifle carried by all US soldiers in combat zones we bought an iPad for $500?

The M40A1 is the preferred sniper rifle of the U.S. Marine Corps. What if instead of paying over $2000 for each one of these we bought four computers that we placed in public kiosks and made public distance education available in developing areas? There is a wonderful TED talk by Sugata Mitra that can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk60sYrU2RU He talks about how there are places on the planet where there are no schools and good teachers will not go and how in these places there is unrest and violence. He talks about how education can make a difference. What if we worked for a peaceful world not by exporting violence and military might but changed our agenda to export the means for people to raise themselves up via education? Could we create world peace and less need for a military?

What if the military had to think in terms of accountability and efficiency in the same terms that the schools do? What if the Pentagon had to hold a bake sale to raise money for an F-35?

I have an idea…

Connections between people are the things that change lives. Real human connections make a difference. I have been thinking about this this afternoon and evening.

I have this idea for teaching people in underdeveloped countries so they could get a high school diploma and some experience on a computer. It involves a renovated van or bus with a generator and a dozen computers with satellite modem internet capability. I was thinking that this education/library van/bus could travel a consistent circuit and offer education to people who wished to come and have study materials given to them, tutoring, and a chance to learn to do work and research on the computer. The key to this plan is having the driver of the van and maybe a couple other dedicated teachers who would be willing to honour and respect the people coming to learn and who would make a personal connection to them and help them to learn.

I am posting this idea for brainstorming out to the blogosphere because if anyone knows of a group already doing this please let me know. I would be interested in joining them. If anyone knows of where I might be able to get a grant or backing to pursue this idea or knows of other individuals with similar ideas, please put the information in the comments so I can try to contact them.

I don’t think grand projects run by bureaucrats who check off accomplishments on timelines always work, but people to people connections do work.

IRL Education versus Self Education via the Internet

Last night I had the very good fortune to be in the company of people that I adore and to make the acquaintance and reacquaintance of others who I very much enjoyed hanging out with and speaking to.

Despite that I was at what turned into an impromptu party, several of the people who attended are a bit like me and would not dream of going anywhere without their laptops.  The dining room table was cluttered with plates of food, open bottles of wine, a constantly being refilled teapot of lapsang souchong, and four open laptops.  I dragged along an assignment that I have been doing for my web design class in which I have people organize the content link titles from the critters online science fiction-fantasy-horror critique group into various categories of their own designation.  In addition to myself there were five other writers at the party. Further, there were several people who would proudly fit into the category of computer geek. It was quite interesting to see how they categorized the content links for critters.  This also led to explaining what critters was and to a discussion of writing.
Two other of the people sitting at the table also work in tutoring people to write and one is working on creating an online writing center.  This led to a discussion about writing and educating oneself using the internet and resources on the internet.  Last fall I was considering applying for different MFA programs in writing and I have mixed feelings about that I chose not to.  We began to talk about the advantages to taking formal classes and completing a formal course of study versus picking up skills and self educating oneself because there are so many resources available via the internet if one chooses to go looking and take advantage of them.
I am going to present some of the ideas that were brought up.
In Real Life formal education offers some advantages.  It gives an actual bonified credential at the end of the program that someone else can look at and this holds societal weight.  The structure of such a program forces the participant to participate and learn. One can learn and receive social support from others in the program and sometimes having an inspiring mentor can make a huge difference.
IRL education also has some disadvantages.  It can be very expensive, have classes that seem to be nothing more than hubris, bad instructors that one has to simply tolerate, and the actual credential may not help particularly in fields like the arts.
Self educating online has the potential to reorient society and to make hash of our from smotheringly rigid system of education.  There are many resources that are free as long as one has access to the internet.  The advantages are that all of this is free and one can build real skills. But to take advantage of these resources, one has to have a set of skills already in place.  One has to be able to read and write somewhat effectively.  One has to be able to evaluate information with a critical eye.  One has to be self motivated, disciplined, and able to recognize one’s own progress.  Further, while it is possible to find a loose collection of people for a kind of support network, often such connections feel tenuous because things said online don’t appear to hold the same level of consequence as conversations held in real life.
For the arts, where skill is what an writer/artist will be judged by– learning over the internet makes enormous sense.  Further, unless a writer or artist is planning to teach in the university or education system, they really don’t need the credentials.
For other fields this becomes problematic because simply getting a job even if you have skills is incredibly difficult without the appropriate credentials even though the credentials may be no guarantee that the person knows how to do what needs to be done.
Anyway, just thought I would toss all this out on the blog for discussion.