In 1948 48 counries voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

At that moment in time these 48 countries were known as: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Another 10 members of the UN at that time either abstained (Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ukraine, Yugoslavia) or were absent (Honduras and Yeman).

Things have changed since then. Now there are, of course, many more, 192 members as of this year, 2006. Furthermore, of the 48 original signers of the Declaration how many of these have a government today that is at all a continuation, and not the result of a rejection and replacement of an earlier government? The United States and the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, maybe France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. In short the liberal, Western democracies.  Pretty much Europe and America.

The nations of South America, Africa, Asia, the states of the former Soviet Union, all those countries that now make up the largest part of the current UN membership, were not for the most part signers of the Declaration.

Now what was the Declaration that the 48 countries, were signing onto in support in 1948? (How many of the 192, would vote in favor of the Declaration today?) There were thirty articles in the Declaration which you can read here.

If you read all 30 Articles, you will immediately realize that there is not a single country in the world today that tries to govern in accordance with the Declaration, neither in fact nor in spirit. The Declaration represents a Utopia that if anything is receding even further into the distance.

What do I mean by that? Take just one Article, Article 26, which says:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Of how many nations might such things be said today? Not even the United States, could say, for example, that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit,” or that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality,” or finally that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

One wonders who wrote the Declaration, since it obviously could not have been the nations who signed on. A Google search quickly gives us the answer, John Humphrey, a Canadian and employee of the UN, was the principal author.

One wonders what the signers of the Declaration were thinking when they signed it. One wonders if they even read it. A Google search doesn’t give us an answer to this querstion, showing that Google too has its limits.

In today’s NYTimes Michael Kinsley reviews “a shelf of books” (see below) that raise “various alarms about the condition of American democracy.” The condition is not good according to these books. “Cheating” by those on the Left and the Right is what is wrong and in Kinsley’s view “the worst form of cheating in American democracy today is intellectual dishonesty.” Now doesn’t “intellectual dishonesty” mean not telling the truth? Truth telling is certainly absent from our political life. The question that Kinsley doesn’t answer, nor, I suspect, is the answer anywhere on Google, is, has there ever been a society when not telling the truth was not the rule?

Perhaps our biggest mistake is that we go on pretending. Pretending, for example, that we are respecting the Rights as set down in the Declaration. Nowhere do we hear political leaders telling us how things really are, for only then could we, might we, go on to make things better. Who has the courage to admit that these Rights cannot now be honored because it would mean that too many of those now favored would lose favors to those many more who are now unfavored?

For example, take Article 23, that concerns work, “Everyone has the right to work,…”, and Article 25 that concerns remuneration, “Everyone has the right to a  standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,…, and Article 29, the individual in the community, “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible, and Everyone in the exercise of his rights and freedoms shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

John Humphrey’s mistake was not to have said that his Declaration was the result of a communication with a Higher Being. For then the Declaration might have become a text for us to live by. But it didn’t happen and now the Declaration is forgotten, and instead we have fanatics turning to other texts, the Bible and the Koran in particular, and waving them before us as they proceed to destroy both people and property, the very things that the Declaration set out to protect.

For more background to all this discussion, go to the article by James Traub, in the New York Times: Ban Ki-moon vs. the Bad Guys

Michael Kinsley’s “shelf of books.”

How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America.

By Byron L. Dorgan.

The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.

By Patrick J. Buchanan.

Principles for a New Political Debate.

By Ronald Dworkin.


By Alan Wolfe.

How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.

By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.

How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America.

By Dana R. Fisher.

How Bush, the Far Right and Big Business Are Betraying Americans for Power and Profit.

By Mark Green.

Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It).

By Sanford Levinson.

The New Politics of Voter Suppression.

By Spencer Overton.

Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count.

By Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss.


TimesSelect & the Skateboarder Bob Burnquist

By now everyone knows that the Web edition of the NYTimes is no longer fully accessible to non-subscribers. Why did they cut themselves off in this way from the “people?” Is it that their newspaper is not fit for everyone? But only for those who are able to pay?

The Times is a great newspaper. They should have remained, no matter what it cost them, freely accessible to the surfer on the Web. That would have been the mark of newspaper greatness. Others, Milan’s Corriere della Sera, Paris’ Figaro, and our own Washington Post, have lifted themselves above the Times in this respect. The daily editions of these, along with many others, can be read on the Web in their entirely without payment.

The Times now has a service called TimesSelect. By paying as little, they say, as 14 cents a day, one can read the entire edition on the Web. I don’t know about you, but I read hundreds of Web publications during a week. What if they all charged me “only 14 cents a day?” At a minimum that would mean thousands of dollars in a year’s time.

If everything on the Web became “…Select” wouldn’t that be the death of the Web? Isn’t the Times forgetting Kant’s Categorical Imperative which says: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.” In other words act in such a way that your actions could be followed by everyone with benefit to all. If everyone in this instance were to follow the Times’ lead the world would be a worse place.

But then what does TimesSelect prevent me from reading? Most of all the op ed writers. About them the Times has built a fee fence. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing. How important is it that we read these writers? To find out I went to see what I was missing. Just during the past week, in regard to two of them, Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman, here is what I found. And I know that what I found is pretty representative of these writers because I used to read them during that golden age before the subscription wall was built.

On 11/2/2006 Bob Herbert was writing this sort of thing: “We need to do something about the systematic subordination and brutalization of women and girls around the world.”

A few days earlier, on 10/30/2006, he wrote:  “If you pay close attention to the news and then go out and talk to ordinary people, it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that the system of politics and government in the U.S. is broke.”

One week ago, on 10/26/2006, this is what he said: “The overwhelming sense I took away from interviews with voters in and around South Bend was a feeling of disillusionment with government.”

Happy stuff, right. Not something you’d want to miss! Then I turned to Paul Krugman, who on 10/30/2006 wrote:  “But the housing boom became a bubble, fueled by a surge of irresponsible bank lending, which continues even now. The question now is how much pain the bursting bubble will inflict.”

On 10/27/2006 he had this to say: “Iraq is a lost cause. It’s just a matter of arithmetic: given the violence of the environment, with ethnic groups and rival militias at each other’s throats, American forces there are large enough to suffer terrible losses, but far too small to stabilize the country.”

And then, over one week ago, on 10/23/2006, we read:  “There are those who believe that the partisan gap can be bridged if the Democrats nominate an attractive presidential candidate who speaks in uplifting generalities. But they must have been living under a rock these past 15 or so years. Whoever the Democrats nominate will feel the full force of the Republican slime machine.”

Wow! Pretty dismal stuff all in all. Perhaps I should be grateful that TimesSelect meant that I wouldn’t be subjected to this. Perhaps even, I said to myself, the Times editors in their great wisdom were purposely keeping these writers away from us, from “we the people,” that our natural optimism and joie de vivre not be undermined?

Now the Times is still a great newspaper in spite of the wall, and here’s why. It’s the news, there’s just a lot of it, never too much, good reporting on all kinds of interesting and important, interesting and unimportant, happy and inspiring (as well as ugly and depressing) things going on in the world. Their news reports, which cover the full gamut of life on earth (and in outer space), unlike the op ed pieces mentioned, do strengthen my natural joy and optimism, and most espcially on the Web because I can rapidly pick and choose among them.

Just two days ago I read in the Times Mike Higgins’ inspiring account of the skateboarder Bob Burnquist. Bob, we’re told, had just completed the largest skateboard ramp in the world on his 12 acre farm north of San Diego among the green foothills of the San Marcos Mountains. The Times reporter describes Bob’s run down the 180 foot ramp at 55 miles an hour that launched him out over a 70 gap to the ramp beyond. For Burnquist, the reporter says, the ramp has become the latest step in a journey to create what Bob called an exponential progression in an otherwise street-bound, terrestrial sport. Bob Burnquist and Bob Herbert, will the twain ever meet?

“When I’m risk-taking, I feel like I’m alive,” said Burnquist, who is also a farmer, pilot, skydiver, musician and restaurateur…. “Born in Rio de Janeiro — reared in São Paolo — to an American father and Brazilian mother, Burnquist grew up speaking English and Portuguese. He began skateboarding at 11 and developed a style by imitating the exploits of professionals featured in magazines and videos… But he took what he learned much further, learning a full repertory of tricks.”

“Although Burnquist said he felt scared riding his ramp, he did not appear so on a first run during a solo session last week. Rolling in from the lower platform, he shot over the gap, spun a 360-degree mute grab, touched down and zipped toward the quarterpipe before floating into an elegant method air more than 40 feet up. Landing cleanly, he rolled away.  Afterward, he walked off the ramp, plopped into the passenger’s seat of a golf cart and was ferried 300 feet uphill. At the top, he climbed two sets of stairs to the platform and set up for another run.”

And the reporter concludes, and takes me along with him: “Alone at the pinnacle of skateboarding’s newest discipline, the sky was the limit.”

Prayer and Demonstrations

Imagine if suddenly we were all asked to become like Monks. This, although with important differences, is what Islam asks of its adherents. In particular in regard to the obligatory place that prayer must have in one’s life. The Muslim, as much or more than the Monk, turns daily to his or her God in prayer. Of the five pillars of Islam, the testimony of  faith, the fasting during the month of Ramadhan, Zakat, or the giving of alms to the poor, the Haj or the pilgrimage to Mecca, it is the second pillar, prayer five times a day, that makes, in this unbeliever’s eye, a Muslim a Muslim.

I’ve never really understood how one could live in the world, our world of constant action, of fully carrying out one’s various tasks connected with one’s job or profession, and stop whatever one is doing to pray. And then not just once, but five times a day, before the Sun rises, at noon, at mid afternoon, after the Sun sets, and at twilight. And each prayer has to be preceded by getting ready, that which usually means thoroughly cleansing oneself (with sand is there’s no water).

I’ve searched Google, so far in vain, to find an estimate of the amount of time these five prayer sessions would require of the Muslim worshipper. Thirty minutes per prayer session seems like a minimum because one cannot stop where one is to perform the prayer ritual of two or more “rakahs,” but instead one must go to the nearest Mosque or other assembly point and pray with one’s fellows and one’s Imam at one’s head. Two and one half hours a day, and that’s in addition to the time it takes to eat something in the form of snacks or meals, usually following each one of the prayers, except of course during Ramadhan.

I thought of all this as I read in today’s NYTimes about the Pakistan army’s recent destruction of a Madrassa or religious school used for training militants in the Bajur tribal area, which straddles the border with Afghanistan. Accompanying the article was this photo:


The photo shows a lot of mostly young men, probably not too different from the 80 militants who were killed in the attack. Where else would you find so many young, well appearing, well dressed, or at least in clean clothes, mostly white loose fitting robes that because they were white had to be changed (and washed) frequently? Not certainly in America’s cities and towns, where most everyone is employed.

The prayer ritual, five times a  day, was the answer. Prayer made them available. These men were used to being together in prayer, so it was not surprising that they could just as easily be assembled in response to whatever their leaders might wish, in this case in opposition to the government’s (wanton?) destruction of the Madrassa.

Reply to Lew Finfer

(Lew Finfer has been organizing in Massachusetts for the past 34 years,
and since 1985 has been Director of Organizing Leadership &
Training Center (OLTC).)

Lew, with all due respect to all the good things that you have been doing during some 35+ years in Boston to bring races and classes together in pursuit of their common interests I find your rendering of your experience during this time to be terribly one sided. Following the breakup of the New Deal Coalition that coincided with the busing in the seventies your depiction of the history sounds like “us against them.” For example, you clearly imply that the Republicans in their support of the wealthy, are not too different in regard to their oppressive impact on the “people,”  from Apartheid and the Berlin Wall. And like the latter the republicans too need to be overcome and defeated. How? Why by the work of the people, by you, Father Finn, Rev Kelley et al. and by your grass roots organizing efforts to rouse the people to collectively act and bring about positive changes in their communities.
Maybe so. But is that really what you meant to say? Your words give little place in your history to the big ticket items, to the job situation, the schools, the availability of housing, in short, to the economy. And the health of the latter does depend, doesn’t it, at least in good part, on the investment in the city of some of that wealth you speak of as being the sole interest of the Republicans. How might in fact the schools be changed, really changed for the real benefit of the kids? For busing has only made things worse. Did you read Scott Lehigh’s column in today’s Globe, recounting his interview with Dave Driscoll? Asked whether US children, growing up in a country that undervalues scholastic achievement and clings to a relatively short school year, can compete with their international peers, Driscoll is blunt. “No,” he says. “Absolutely not.” Driscoll goes on to  enumerate a number of changes that need to happen, changes that will necessitate a much greater investment in the Boston schools. Where will the funds come from to make this investment? Don’t we have to grow the wealth, and yes that means growing the wealth of individuals and corporations, if we’re going to have larger state and municipal budget revenues?
I guess what I’m saying is that just as the bridges between the races and the classes need to be built, so do the channels of communication between the rich and the poor need to be opened and expanded. The problem here is that the rich don’t need the poor, unlike, say, the races who do need one another. Perhaps an even more important “organizing” effort is called for, one that will convince the rich that it is also very much in their interest, in the interest of the economy, in the interest of the nation, ultimately in their own interest, to better the lot of the poor. I don’t think that the rich by and large are greedy and selfish, nor I’m sure do you. Haven’t most of your efforts over the years been supported by the “rich.” Isn’t the place given in our society to entrepreneurship, the effort made by our political leaders to create a welcoming and healthy climate for new business, no less important, perhaps even more important, than the clearly valuable and important organizing work that you have been doing for some 34 years in Boston. Have you ever thought how much of the story you tell has been most of all influenced by the economy, by the loss, perhaps, of good paying jobs in Boston? That’s certainly the story of the mill towns, Lawrence and Lowell. All the organizing in the world won’t help if the dollar investment in these cities is not made.

“Challenges” facing public education

Deborah Wadsworth in her Commentary in Ed Week speaks of three “challenges” facing public education.

First there is the challenge that arises from increased competition from abroad, and the risk that we face of falling behind countries like China and India, which are racing forward in the global competition for high-tech and creative industry.

Then there is the challenge represented by the high drop out rates for Latinos and African Americans, at both high school and college levels. For this situation seriously undermines our ideal of equal educational opportunity for all. The challenge is to restore that ideal, and so far we’ve made little or no progress.

Finally, the standards movement has arrived, but is not yet on firm footing. The challenge is to make sure that it stays here, that we not let up and return to an earlier period when there were no standards.

In regard to the first challenge there is nothing we can do. In math and science the world is going to catch us, just as recently developed basketball players in countries such as Greece and Argentina have caught up with, and lately even outplayed the best from our National Basketball Association. Already in the toughest school mathematics competition of them all, the Math Olympiad, our stars are equaled, if not surpassed, by the stars from other countries, from little Romania to big China. It seems that talent and ability are well shared throughout the world. The battle ground of the future will not be in the schools, but in the work place. Probably the very best that we can do to remain competitive is to further strengthen our working environments where the best and the brightest from our own schools and from elsewhere, will want even more than at present to settle down and become entrepreneurs and thereby create new businesses that bring new jobs and new wealth to the country. And if we lose the battle it won’t be because of what is happening in the schools. It will be when our most talented and knowledgeable young people go elsewhere for better conditions in which to live and to work.

The high dropout rates in our inner city public schools have not responded to our efforts to lower them. It really seems to me that school, and particularly high school, as currently configured, was not meant for everyone, and that the large numbers of minority and immigrant children who are dropping out of school are telling us this. And we’re not hearing it. Instead we’re getting behind one academic support program after another, thinking that this will be sufficient to get these wayward youngsters back on track. School for these kids, at least until they drop out, usually means preparing, or being prepared for, a math or English language test which they know they will probably fail. Perhaps dropping out is in the circumstances the very best thing they can do. The real challenge is to reconfigure our schools to fit the lives, interests, and talents of all students.

I actually believe that we must have standards. I think most people do. If we didn’t have them for so long it was not because we didn’t believe in them. Rather it was because we were trying to do too much, and there was no way that any set of standards could take into account all that was being done in the classes.
The essential schools movement recognized this, and tried to go much more in depth, and cover much less ground. But they also made the mistake of treating everyone the same. Kids are different, and they get more different from one another every day of their lives. By the time they’re in high school, when there is a particular skill to be learned, such as writing an essay, solving a math problem, or becoming a better reader of history and literature, there are very few who can be in the same room and profit from their time there with others. All of these things are most productively done on one’s own, if of course a tutor or other help is readily available when needed. Furthermore only when they have done a lot of work on their own will the times when they are together with their classmates be interesting and productive.
This aspect of how we learn has also been recognized, in this case by those who would make individual study plans for each student. These people were on the right track, but they never figured out how to get kids working on their own without constant supervision, and hence the classroom.
What does all this mean in regard to standards? That the problem of standards will be solved when we solve the problem of motivating kids to learn, when we get them interested. For then they themselves will want to know that they are making progress, will want to judge their effort by some objective measure of what they have learned, or what skill they have acquired. Standards otherwise are one more failed school reform imposed from the outside on our schools and students.

A crisis in education?

This is just the first in a series of articles on the so-called “education crisis” in our country. Are our public schools in crisis? Those who continue to follow the lead of A Nation at Risk, the prominent 1983 report on the condition of American education by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, continue to say that there is a crisis, that we’re not keeping up with other nations. Those who reject the validity of the report, following the lead of David Berliner, Gerald Bracey et al. say that the crisis is a manufactured one, created by those who would undermine and eventually replace our system of locally controlled public schools by a system of school choice and private control.

What do you think? I think that in regard to the condition of our public schools it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. Public education can be just about whatever you want it to be. It simply depends on where you’re coming from. Do you hold a conservative, libertarian, liberal, socialist or one of many other viewpoints? What is the nature of your own schooling, public or private? What has been your educational experience, perhaps as a volunteer in an impoverished inner city school, perhaps as a Mom in a middle or upper class suburbs? Then what’s important to you? What do you watch on television? How much time do you watch television? How do you live? All of this and more will shape your own opinions in regard to the condition of our public schools. Furthermore, even as we talk the schools are not standing still, allowing us to see them whole. They are changing and evolving even as we look at them. They, like everything alive, are moving targets.

There are those who would simplify all of this. Richard Gibboney, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, has this to say:

“It makes no sense to talk of schools being better [or not in crisis] when they [the schools] scorn the two things that really matter: the cultivation of intelligence and the cultivation of the democratic spirit.” [Nor, I would add, would it make any sense to talk of them as being worse or in crisis.]

Are there just two things that really matter? If that were so why then we might concentrate on those two things to the detriment of everything else and make some real progress. We could really get behind the SATs and all the other standardized tests (as many,in fact, are now doing). But there’s the rub. Who wouldn’t say that there are a number of other things that matter just as much? Music and art. Sports. Public speaking. Theater, et al. Not to even mention the virtues that which schools used to be mostly about. What should the schools be most about? We can no more answer that question than we can answer the related question, what is the nature of man?

Gibboney goes on to  say: “I accept the Deweyan assumption that a healthy individual of ordinary intelligence can be an intellectual–someone who enjoys ideas, knows how to use information, participates in civic life. This means reading, conversing, considering issues. This is what intellectuals do, and it’s not really that difficult…. [But] how can schools be better than the society of which they’re a part? They can’t, and we keep forgetting that. Sometimes I think school reformers should be going after mass TV, urban sprawl, and the big money that buys elections.”

Here Gibboney seems to be saying that if you would reform the schools change what people watch on television. Change how they fund candidates for office. Change the world out there where they spend most of their time (We will see that David Berliner says something similar when he says if you would really improve the schools, improve first the imperfect world in which the kids are living.) Although difficult if not impossible to do, what Gibboney (and Berliner) says does makes sense.

Anyway, you get the idea. Crises in the schools? Probably, and probably as many crises as there are students and people who think about such things. In fact, how can we say anything at all about the effectiveness of our schools, that is, how can we determine that they are or are not in crisis, without knowing what they’re expected to do? We can’t.

Finally, don’t we usually use the word crisis in public education to refer to a situation when there’s not much learning going on?  Well compared to what one could be learning there is never much learning going on (think of someone actually learning the Spanish language and then what a student is actually doing in six years of highschool Spanish). So in this sense, how little one is ever doing of what one could be doing, the schools are always in crisis. Think about just one “crisis” that we’ve allowed to go on for my whole lifetime at least, a situation when most of our children do not learn to play a musical instrument while in school. Why might not this be even a greater crisis than the fact that so many 8th grade students in our inner cities will know little or no algebra when they enter high school….

Meaning of Liberal

Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, has listed ten propositions in an attempt to define the meaning of liberal today. I find all but one or two of these propositions to be like motherhood and apple pie, probably readily acceptable to the vast majority of Americans, conservatives as well as liberals, who think at all of these sorts of things. (That “vast majority” may be a tiny minority of all Americans who are not much given to thinking of this nature, leaving the heavy lifting in these matters to a small intellectual elite, helas!)

It’s his Proposition 6 containing the beliefs that most people now have in mind when they use the term liberal that is crucial to understanding the (legitimate) difference between liberals (Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern et al.,) and conservatives (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan?…, although the species may now be extinct). Here is his Proposition 6:

“Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to "promote the general welfare."

The real issue separating liberals and conservatives has to be the extent to which they feel it is a fundamental responsibility of government to help those who are less fortunate, how much of the burden of helping those who apparently cannot help themselves should be shouldered by government. Where does one draw the line between helping people and leaving them alone to fend for themselves, or at the most applying pressures to push them to help themselves? It’s interesting that most recently that line designating where welfare eligibility began was redrawn in the direction of fewer eligible recipients by a democratic president working with a republican congress. Here liberals and conservatives thought as one?

Here is where I see the difference. Liberals would more readily tax, or take money from the high earners, to help those most in need of services. Conservatives would be more protective of those high earners (the wealthy, those in fact who pay most of the taxes). When liberals go wrong it’s mainly because they have neglected to adequately take into account the sources of our nation’s wealth. Wealth, especially new wealth, is created by enterprising, hard working individuals, and these “sources” of our wealth must also be recognized and protected, that they not dry up, as in the former Soviet Union. When conservatives go wrong it’s because they haven’t recognized the extent and the urgency of the problems confronting the poor, and that not to address these problems, inadequate health care, job training and social security, failing schools, and the necessity of welfare payments for the neediest, the very ones mentioned in Stone’s Proposition 6, is to create through neglect much greater problems for us all. A situation analogous to our not maintaining the country’s physical infrastructure, with the resulting bridge or tunnel collapse. Only this is much more serious, this concerns our human infrastructure. Whole groups of our inner city mostly poor and minority populations are being neglected and as a result experiencing a kind of collapse, settling into self destructive modes, dropping out of school, going without a job, abusing their bodies, adopting criminal behavior.

Conclusion? Liberals and conservatives should both be listened to. Our executives, our presidents, those who take action, who do things, have to be in the middle. The political center is large enough for all. The Right and the Left are only important in helping us to define that center more accurately and more effectively.

Deborah Meier is a good person, a good teacher, and a good friend of mine (I hope she still is). She has had her own website for about one year now. Every month she posts a new lead article. This month that article is entitled “Protecting Public School.”

Deborah seems to belong to a large group of educators and many other interested parties in the country who are more or less convinced that the Right is out to destroy the public schools, and that vouchers, charters, and most of all, NCLB, are the main instruments for their doing so. Some are even convinced that there is a right wing conspiracy to this end. Others blame the libertarians who would make schooling a matter of private choice, not one of right and obligation. Still others blame the big corporations for working to have the schools serve not the larger public, but their own needs for skilled workers.

Deborah has a particular thing about the word, public. For her the word public seems to represent the best we can be (as opposed to private, the worst?) Now she feels that the word has been seriously damaged, terribly compromised, and needs our help to be restored to its proper place in our  democracy. Public, Deborah says, has come to mean bureaucratic and mediocre, and public institutions, most of all the schools, have become places for losers. Deborah is working hard, once again, to change this incorrect perception.

Then she turns her attention to our democracy, and what makes it so precious. This may be her favorite subject, and protectiing our democracy by what we do with our children in the public schools may be what has always most interested her. Most of those who would protect the public schools do this, very often by referring to their Koran or Bible, which is John Dewey’s Democracy and Education. Deborah says that “the genius of our democracy is in sustaining the tensions and balances between various sources of power—including the power of us ‘ordinary people.’” Well, that’s certainly what we would like our democracy to be. She’s right about that. And though she doesn’t say so it’s probably true that there are more and more American citizens with less and less power. (There are certainly more and more citizens, the country reaching the 300 million mark just last week. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration there were some 2.5 million. When Horace Mann created the Common School there were nearly ten times that amount, but still little or nothing compared to now, about the population of Iraq today, or maybe not because I haven’t yet heard the latest body count from Baghdad.)

But Deborah clearly implies that one way to regain, or restore the proper power balance between groups of citizens, in particular between the powerful, the not so powerful, and the powerless, is through the system of public schools, these being ideally places where all three groups might interact with, treat with respect, and learn from one another, as opposed, say, to town/gown or public/private situations where the common and the elite rarely or never meet. So Deborah is all about protecting the public school, or at least her conception of the public school.

I would like to ask her if the public school that she would protect has in fact ever existed on a large scale? It certainly doesn’t now. I would ask her if what she would protect isn’t rather a kind of Golden Age, or perfect childhood, neither of which of course ever existed except as they took on a kind of reality for us as our memories of our past became more and more selective, as we distanced ourselves from the earlier times.

You know what I think? I don’t think that anyone is out to destroy the public schools. I don’t think that Ted Kennedy and George Bush had that in mind when they worked together to fashion the No Child Left Behind law. I think rather there are a large number of public schools, some in rural areas, but mostly in our large inner cities, where the children, mostly minority and immigrant, are not being well served. They are certainly not learning to become literate and responsible citizens, that which is rightly high on Deborah’s goals for our schools. Nor are they becoming well read and acquiring useful skills and knowledge. Most important, perhaps, another of Deborah’s and my cherished goals for a school, do we have any indication that the students in these inner-city schools are becoming self-learners.

I think that those who would reform our present system, and vouchers and charters and NCLB are such attempts, I think they meant to better a bad situation, not destroy a good one, and that they are most of all concerned about the numbers of kids who are not learning. Do you really think we would hear anything from the reformers, or about the conspiracy of the Right, if all our public schools were like those, say, in Scarsdale, Newton, and Lake Forest? But they’re not, and that’s the rub.

Wang and Cui on Socialism

There is much in the thinking of these two men, Wang Hui and his close friend, Cui Zhiyuan, of interest to us. In particular what they say about socialism. Americans, and to a much greater extent Fox news and the right wing talk shows, have pretty much assumed that the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the collapse of socialism. But the collapse of the Soviet Union meant only the collapse of the Soviet Union. Socialism is not dead, and it won’t ever be dead because it speaks bests for the interests of the community of men, which in the long run are no less vital to men than are the interests of the individual, to which capitalism may speak best. The fall of the Soviet Union and of "People’s Democracies" of Eastern Europe should not have been interepreted as the fall of socialism. The latter, as Cui Zhiyuan points out, ought to have no less a place in our liberal democracies than capitalism. Here is what Cui says:

“It is
not helpful, to see socialism and capitalism as opposed and
separate. Both have traveled together in the 20th century. Not just
European welfare states, even American capitalism has a socialist
component, which was arrived at after compromise with the trade

It was during the year following Tiananmen Square, in June of 1989, when Wang was sent
to the northwestern province of Shaanxi, one of the poorest regions of China, that he realized how important a welfare system and cooperative network
remained for many people in China. "This is not [just] a socialist idea," he said. "Even
the imperial dynasties that ruled China kept a balance between rich and
poor areas through taxes and almsgiving."…

[Furthermore] Wang goes on to say, “People claim that the market will automatically force the state to become
more democratic. But this is baseless. We only have to think about the
alliance of elites formed in the process of privatization. The state
will change only when it is under pressure from a large social force,
like the workers and peasants.”

That large "social force" is socialism, something we really shouldn’t be without.

China’s New Left

Yesterday’s post was about the widening gap between rich and poor, in our country and in the world. Today in the NYTimes Pankaj Mishra writes about China’s “new Left,” and the new leftist, Wang Hui. Wang is disturbed by the “the dismantling of welfare systems, a widening income gap between rich and poor, and deepening environmental crises not only in China but in the United States and other developed countries.” It is implicit in what he says that this weakening of both social and environmental safety nets, that seems to accompany globalization and expanding market economies, is the single greatest problem that confronts modern nations. It is understood that our greatest problem is not Islamofacism or terrorism. Indeed, one might not unreasonably make the case that the latter are strengthened by, if not the product of, the former. (Jobless young people become suicide bombers.)

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité