Sunday, March 13, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Republicans: Attack Public Education!

In the wake of Governor Corbett's demand for "the biggest one-time percentage cut to state higher-education funds in history," Pennsylvania's shell-shocked university leaders and professors try to locate any solid footing on this shifting Marcellus-shale, gas-infused landscape of the ultimate pro-business/anti-education climate rolling across the U.S. one Republican governor at a time. Sitting here at Panera, blatantly ignoring the essays that need to be graded because I'm so depressed and in a bad mood that I don't want my students to suffer, I have other questions rising to mind.

Why do Republicans hate education? Specifically, public education? And in Corbett's case, state-supported higher education?

Before tackling some of the potential answers to this question, let's take a look at the mission statements and student body statistics of two tax-dollar-supported Pennsylvania higher education institutions to see if therein exist any clues to Republican disgust.

Kutztown University's Mission statement for 2009-14: "Kutztown University’s mission is to provide a high quality education at the undergraduate and graduate levels in order to prepare students to meet lifelong intellectual, ethical, social, and career challenges." Our student body consists of approximately 9,600 undergraduates, who are mostly PA residents, about 880 of whom are enrolled part-time, and who return for a second year at a respectable 78% rate (retention). The majority of our undergrads major in business and education, with the arts, psychology, and English following as the top majors. Over 80% of our students receive "some type of financial aid" to attend KU, despite having the low, state-supported yearly attendance cost of approximately $19,000. 

 Let's take a look at one of our 14 sister schools, Bloomsburg University, whose mission statement says, "Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is an inclusive comprehensive public university that prepares students for personal and professional success in an increasingly complex global environment." Eighty-nine percent of BU's 8,900 undergraduates come from Pennsylvania, and who return for a sophomore year at the rate of 80.9 percent (retention). Major programs of study on this campus include education, the sciences, the arts and humanities, health care, and business and approximately 79% of BU students receive financial aid to offset the modest cost of attendance, another far cry from the $50,000+ price tags on our Republican "leaders'" undergraduate experiences (more on this in a moment).
Now let's examine some specific PA state representatives and senators to see if their backgrounds provide any clues to potential hatred of public education.

This man "represents" me. I put "represent" in quotes for a reason. Unless he comes out publicly against these asinine and unnecessary cuts to public and higher education in my state and for taxing the PA natural gas companies who are ruining our natural world (as just one potential revenue-generator), then he is not representing MY interests and is, therefore, not MY representative. He represents the interests of the people who elected him...who have the same anti-education mindset presumably. I frankly don't hear a lot of dissension over this proposed budget coming from regular voting Republicans. In fact, quite the opposite. My parents both think Corbett is doing just a delightful job and I haven't seen any right-leaning friend or colleague disputing the sensibility of his plan. That's pretty strong proof of acceptance to me.

Silence, in this case, speaks volumes of approval.

Back to PA representative Republican Douglas Reichley, attorney and father of two kids. Where did Doug get his undergraduate education? Lo and behold - not a state school. Rather, an expensive, small, private liberal arts college that costs over $50,000 a year to attend, which is more than I make in a year. This is also beyond the reach of my students, who get a liberal arts education from equivalent-quality faculty, but at publicly-supported state tuition rates. Maybe he dislikes public education because it doesn't fit with his private education values. Or maybe our kids just aren't good enough, so deserve to be outside looking in. Go work in a mine, kid. "The world needs ditch diggers, too." 

Let's take a gander at "my" state senator, Patrick Browne. Did HE attend a state school? That would be no. He got his undergraduate degree at a large, private, Catholic college that costs over $55,000 a year to attend. I'm sensing a trend here. Both of my state "representatives" attended private colleges that cost more to attend per year than I make as a public educator. Perhaps their wrath against public education is because they have no experience with it or with the people who benefit from it. Perhaps their privileged view of the world is more akin to Scrooge than Crachit.

Finally, what about Pennsylvania's new governor? Where did he get his undergraduate degree? Not at a state school. He attended a small, private liberal arts college that costs about $39,000 a year to attend. Considering the heights to which he has risen, one would assume this man to be a champion of higher education, but clearly, the divide is public vs. private higher education and this man firmly stands on the anti-public-education side of the fence.

To call Corbett's budget and Scott Walker's anti-union agenda anything less than class warfare with a blunted weapon is to not be able to see the forest for the trees and to be so blind to reality that you get your perception of reality handed to you in a silver teacup paid for by Rupert Murdoch. In other words, if you don't see that this IS class warfare, you have your head firmly embedded up your ass (and maybe it's comfortable there), or perhaps you're retired and just don't give a shit anymore about the rest of us.

Perhaps the reason Republicans hate public education is because they are itching for a class warfare battle of Biblical proportions and see public education as the perfect battleground. Kill public education, win the favor of big business. Oddly enough, I don't agree with this attitude. Big businesses should be equally appalled and up in arms at the Governor's (and his ilk) attack on public education because businesses need educated workers...and most of these workers cannot afford to attend private colleges with $50,000 price tags each year.

According to Corbett's campaign promise, "Pennsylvania is home to 185 higher education institutions and nearly 5,000 philanthropic endowments and foundations. The next decade will be marked by significant technological changes – new materials, green energy sources and technologies, personalized medicines, telecom, information technology, new industrial processes and significant advances in computing. Tom Corbett will work with higher education and philanthropic organizations to ensure that Pennsylvania is prepared to not only capitalize and support these changes, but also to lead them." (emphasis added by me) Anyone else find it ironic that his answer to "working" with higher education is to gut our funding? Anyone else bothered by the bold, outright LIES that he should have been honest about when he was running for this office??

Maybe businesses in Pennsylvania ought to wake up and smell the gunfire.

In solidarity.

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