Sustainability–Quality Education

kennedyJanuary 28, 2008, and Senator Ted Kennedy stood at the podium of Democratic National Convention to make a historic speech. He said, “Let there be no doubt: We are all committed to seeing a Democratic President in 2008. But I believe there is one candidate who has extraordinary gifts of leadership and character, matched to the extraordinary demands of this moment in history. He understands what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “fierce urgency of now.”

He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past. He is a leader who sees the world clearly without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view. He is tough-minded, but he also has an uncommon capacity to appeal to “the better angels of our nature.”

I am proud to stand here today and offer my help, my voice, my energy and my commitment to make Barack Obama the next President of the United States.”

What was Ted Kennedy, a member of the Kennedy clan, America’s royal family, doing standing shoulder to shoulder with a young black senator from Illinois? Let’s be honest; Teddy was more at home in the Hamptons than the ‘hood.’ Like Kennedy, Obama wasn’t from the ‘hood’ either.  Born in Hawai, Obama’s educational pedigree consisted of Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School.  These are the colleges and universities where the elite groom future generations.

I might tell a student that nobody will ask them where they got their degree, but that’scollege not true. The networking that takes place in the halls of academia at an Ivy League college is just not the same as the decision about basketball ranking at UNC.

The inequality within our educational system starts at an early age.  In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown Vs. Board of Education, that segregation in schools, was unconstitutional[1].  Back in 2009, just after Barak Obama had been sworn into office, fifty-seven years later and segregation still existed, not on racial lines as such but socio-economically, which tends to break down along the lines of race. Ty’Sheoma Bethea is an eighth-grader then at JV Martin Junior High in Dillon, South Carolina she wrote to lawmakers asking them to do something about her school that was falling down[2].  Located in a poor neighborhood called the ‘Corridor of Shame,’ the ethnicity of the school is predominantly African American.  The documentary done by CNN showed a school that was falling down, temporary classrooms at the side the railroad track where the teacher had to stop every time a train came by. The roof in the gym leaked every time it rained, and the auditorium was condemned.  She was told that the school would receive some of the $14 million from the government economic stimulus package; however, then Governor Mark Sanford refused to allocate any of the money to the school.  Why was the school allowed to get into such a poor condition?  Why did it not bother the governor that a school exists in South Carolina in that condition?  Would he have made the same decision had the school been in a white neighborhood?

Poverty follows poverty. Poor communities have a lower tax base, poor families, higher crime and less qualified teachers.  They struggle for resources, and nobody expects much from them.

Higher Education also has its problems. Two-thirds of American college students graduate with debt.  Student debt now amounts to $1.2 trillion.  The world’s richest nation, yet we burden students with debt even before they reach the real world. So, why isn’t higher education free.  By that, I mean that when you graduate with good grades, your debt is canceled.  If you think that college is just for ‘party time’ at the tax payers expense you’re wrong—it will cost you.  Seven nations around the world offer free college.

  1. Brazil
  2. Germany
  3. Finland
  4. France
  5. Norway
  6. Slovenia
  7. Sweden

Perhaps we have a vested interest in stifling creative and/or critical thinking.  Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, came up with the term ‘Banking Education.’ Freire describes this form of education as ‘fundamentally narrative (in) character’ with the teacher as the Subject, making deposits into the students, and the students as passive recipients filing, storing or memorizing the information.  Critical thinking becomes defunct as the student is required only to repeat what they have been told.

Education then becomes a source of control.  Not everyone is taught everything. After all, somebody has to flip burgers, assemble parts or type letters with thinking.

Corporate America has seen the potential in this and has poured money into universities for research through various foundations.  Their goal is to produce middle management workers that are preconditioned to a free market, capitalist ideology. Gone are the halls of academia where critical thinking and revolutions started.

What’s the solution? Three of the Scandinavian countries in the list of seven where higher education is free also have a higher cost of living.  They pay higher taxes, the percentage of which is spread equally across the board. These countries also invest heavily in the infrastructure, health, education, transportation, and communication.  Citizens are happy because they can see a return on their investment. Free education, healthcare, paid maternity and sick leave, as well as longer,  paid vacation time.

American needs to invest more in the thing that counts, the infrastructure and stop trying to be an empire. We have the potential, but if we don’t use it, we will lose it.

Dr. Terrence Threadwell

Dr. Threadwell is Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies with APUS, Director of the Institute of Progressive Pentecostal Studies. Board member of Pax Pneuma, Pentecostal Peace Fellowship.

[1] The 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Oliver L. Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS) is among the most significant judicial turning points in the development of our country. Originally led by Charles H. Houston, and later Thurgood Marshall and a formidable legal team, it dismantled the legal basis for racial segregation in schools and other public facilities.