Over the past several weeks, as I read of a bill in Oklahoma to ban the teaching of AP US history, an attempt by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to delete “search for truth” and other central tenets of the Wisconsin Idea from the University of Wisconsin System, and then my own governor’s budget proposal (passed by the majority Republican state legislature) to slash state funding to the state’s K-12 system, community colleges (all the way to $0), and universities, I was reminded of a bit of black humor that made the rounds after Hurricane Katrina.
My feeble summary of the joke is that a pastor hears a hurricane warning on the radio advising he seek shelter and says to himself, “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide.” Then the rains and winds come and his neighbor knocks on the door before she flees offering to give him a ride out of town. “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide,” he replies. The waters start to rise and a man in a rowboat comes by and shouts an offer of assistance to the pastor, surveying the worsening scene from a second story window, but he replies, “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide.” Then, with nowhere to go but up, the pastor climbs onto his roof. A helicopter with a rescue crew lowers a ladder, but the pastor says, “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide.” The pastor dies of exposure and reaches St. Peter at the pearly gates who says, “Why are you here? It’s not your time.” The pastor told him about the horrible storm and how throughout it all he kept his faith that the Lord would provide. St. Peter replied, “We provided a warning on the radio, a helpful neighbor, a man in a rowboat, and a helicopter. What more did you expect and WHY DIDN’T YOU PAY ATTENTION?”
The recent assaults on education at every possible level are our warnings: PAY ATTENTION! First came the culture wars, which resulted in what Bill Ivey calls “a simple idea: if TV, radio, movies, and CDs are scrubbed free of sex and profanity, if government funding never lands on sex or political protest, we’ll be a happier, healthier nation. From comic books to NEA grants, to hip-hop CDs. Cultural content has been exploited by our leadership for political purposes” (Arts, Inc. p. 224). Now, by choking off funding to education, the very quest for knowledge is being exploited for political purposes. George Carlin said it pretty forthrightly:
They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. Thats against their interests.
Thats right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that!
You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it,
The “they” Carlin refers to isn’t even the government; it’s the owners of the corporations that control the government through political patronage (c.f. “Citizens United”). And now elected government – where it has been elected to do so – is doing everything it can to make it harder for young people of modest means to access the education a person needs to make thoughtful decisions, to critically examine beliefs and structures, to exercise creativity boldly.
We’ve been warned. Now we need to join with our neighbor, get in that rowboat, and climb into the helicopter. PARTICIPATE in the democratic process. Make your VOICE heard.
For more on the Oklahoma bill to ban AP US History, including efforts to revise it see:
Walker followed up his attack on higher ed with an attack on organized labor:
and more on is education cuts: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/03/18/3634306/students-teachers-brace-scott-walkers-devastating-education-cuts/
For more on the AZ budget bill, see:
(image “Jesus is Coming. Look Busy (George Carlin)” by Bonnie CC BY-SA 2.0)