Saturday, June 26, 2010

Learning to Live in Poverty

This past Friday, as protesters began to gather in the streets of Toronto, Anthony DiMaggio's op ed, "Gutting Public Education: Neoliberalism and the Politics of Opportunism," appeared at "America's political and economic elites," DiMaggio wrote, "have declared war on working, middle class and poor Americans.
Progressive critics of Republicans and Democrats have attacked the return of 'Hooverian economics' in recent years -- understood as the do nothing approach to dealing with the economic crisis and declining state budgets.

One of the most egregious examples of Hooverian economics has been the gutting of state education budgets. The problem at the state level is undoing the good accomplished by the federal stimulus package: "The American Association of School Administrators estimates that the number of jobs lost in the next school year from budget cuts (275,000) will roughly equal those originally preserved by the stimulus (300,000)." And, on Thursday, the U.S. Senate refused to extend unemployment benefits, which would create an estimated 200,000 jobs. Many who voted against the package objected to the section of the bill which offered aid to struggling state governments. The bill failed, even though it garnered the votes of 57 of the 100 senators.

But the crisis in the funding of public education goes back much further than today -- and it goes beyond K-12 schools. Public universities have been under the gun for a long time. DiMaggio offers a particularly dismal picture of employment possibilities at American universities:

For those who may reject this picture of higher ed as melodramatic or conspiratorial, one need look no further than the deteriorating state of academia today. Thirty years ago, non tenured professors accounted for 43 percent of all teachers in higher ed; that number had increased to a startling 70 percent by 2007. Most nontenured professors I've spoken to are forced to scrounge in search of course offerings at multiple institutions. When they manage to find work, they typically are paid within the range of $15,000 to $30,000 a year, despite possessing a master's degree or a PhD.

When placed beside the salaries and bonuses of the Wall Street firms which were kept afloat with taxpayer dollars, it's clear that the times -- and the system -- are out of joint. Not only are students being short changed by teacher layoffs, young teachers -- if they find work at all -- face the future as itinerant scholars.

As world leaders gather in Toronto this weekend, they will face the problem of how and when to reduce deficits. It's a problem which will not go away. But, as Paul Krugman has argued, now is not the time to end government stimulus programs: "Penny pinching at a time like this isn't just cruel; it endangers the nation's future. And it doesn't even do much to reduce our future debt burden, because stinting on spending now threatens the economic recovery, and with it the hope of rising revenues."

The protesters on the streets of Toronto are overwhelmingly young. For them, the emerging economic order is beginning to look and smell like week old fish. It's not hard to understand why they have taken to the streets. They are learning to live in poverty, while others continue to live well beyond their means.

This blog entry has been cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Anonymous said...

It's happening in Canada as well.

In post-secondary, the neoliberals are in power, especially in the colleges.

Education is seen neither as a social good nor proper job training, but purely as a commodity and mechanism to generate revenue.

I know of grade fixing by administrators to maintain numbers into the next term. I know of the lowering of entrance standards to ridiculous levels where the the students don't have "a snowball's hope." All for the tuition dollars.

The dream is to have curriculum developers to create the curriculum and very poorly paid curriculum "deliverers( in one case, senior students were suggested as possible "deliverers"). That way, all those expensive faculty would not be required.

I know of funding numbers "fudges" and contract violations that would make the most avid union buster blush.

Pursuing policy regarding cheating and plagiarism are often treated at the highest levels as mere obstacles to student success (read that as losing students and thus revenue).

The students themselves are contributing to all of this because, from my vantage point in the classroom, so many of them do not want to engage with the very real work of learning - if they can cheat and still pass, that's as it should be to a growing number of them.

If the students and their parents demanded high standards, much of this would go away.

Faculty are not without their problems - in my view some very serious ones - but our hands are tied. If neither the administration nor the students want a high quality education, there's not much we can do.

ChrisJ said...

My grandchildren are much younger than the protesters, but I do wonder how they will fare in the future, as the rich get richer.

Owen Gray said...

I think one can argue convincingly that when the focus is on education as a cost instead of an investment, the quality of education declines.

That clearly seems to be what is happening these days. Therefore, Chris has every right to worry about her grandchildren's future.