Posts Tagged ‘American culture explained for Europeans’

Developing World Mentality: Is “The Government” Really to Blame for the Poor State of Public Education?

March 11, 2015

Classroom in North Africa

“To the point! The government is committing a crime…,” was the commentary posted following an article deploring public school conditions in a North African country.

The article spoke about deplorable conditions students face in public schools, especially those now built in rural areas.  The article explains that schools are neither heated nor cooled, nor is transport provided.  Many students have to walk one hour to school and risk being assaulted  on the way.   There are no libraries, playgrounds, or lunch facilities.  Schools have no money to pay for photocopies or other materials.  Students use chalk and slates.  Cheating is rampant.  The rich are now going to private schools, and those who cannot afford private schools–the lower classes–go to public schools.  The author concludes, “Students and teachers want to bring about positive change, and stakeholders provide little, or no support.

Conditions in the rural public schools ARE truly as described.  But is that the government’s fault, as is both implied and stated, by both the author and the commenter?  I say NO.

Twenty-five years ago, literacy in the author’s country was only about 35 percent.  There were no schools at all in rural areas.  In the past fifteen years, the country has built thousands of public schools all over the country, and even in rural and mountain areas that never had them before.  They have sent teachers out to all these areas.  The students attending are the first generation to have any sort of education at all.  In this country, schools and teachers are not paid for by local property taxes (as is the case in America).  Schools are financed by the government, and teachers’ salaries are paid for by the government.  (Higher education degrees are also free to students and paid for by the government, for students who complete their high school degree.)  The current result of all this building and staffing is that the literacy rate in the country has essentially doubled in one generation (67% in 2011, of those over age 15).

At the present time, it appears that it has stretched the country’s finances to build all of  these schools and pay all of these teachers.  In an effort to contain costs, the country has cut back on some opportunities for teachers to pursue free Masters’ and Doctorate degrees, which has caused numerous strikes and protests by teachers in the past two years.  Their main argument, as reported in the news is, “We have our rights!”

Looking again at the current difficult and deplorable state of the country’s public schools, again, is that the government’s fault?  Are the schools this way because society and the government do not care?  This thinking is faulty.  Before public school conditions can improve, the schools needed to be simply built, and staffed with teachers.  This building and staffing phase is still taking place, although it seems they have now reached the most rural areas of the country, at least with primary schools, and now with some middle schools.  But many more schools are still needed because so many schools are still too far for children, and especially girls, to walk safely.  There is not even a thought of trying to provide transportation for public schools.  I predict it will be at least another generation before there will be sufficient money for public schools to begin to improve in any of the areas the author of the other article mentions.

Meanwhile, if any parent has sufficient money and resources to send their child to a private school where conditions are better, and can also transport their child to school, why would they not do so?  Of course we all want public schools to improve, but why should we subject our own children to a dangerous and poor education if we have the opportunity to do better for him, or her?

There are many private charity groups in this country who organize the purchase and gifting of school bags and school supplies (neither provided by public education) to poor children, because their families cannot even afford to give them pencils.  This shows me that there are, in fact, many private citizens who do care about the plight of the underprivileged in this country.

It’s very common in North African countries to blame “the government” for everything that is wrong in society.  This blame is misplaced. (If it were not for the government’s efforts this past generation, these schools would not even exist.) Governments, and school systems, are instead, a reflection of a society and its values.

As a Western person living in North Africa, I see that the main objective of the Arab Spring movements is less about toppling governments, and more about throwing out class system privileges and gaining equality of opportunity in life, about creating a meritocracy.  The author who is complaining about the deplorable state of public education is actually and correctly wanting his students to have the same equality of opportunity provided to middle-class students.

–Lynne Diligent

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Europeans Wonder: How Can Minimum-Wage Workers in America Side with the Republican Party?

June 27, 2011

My British, European, and Middle Eastern friends often ask me how it is that minimum-wage level workers often side with fiscal conservatives at the voting booth.  They wonder how and why the minimum-wage workers often vote against their own economic interests.

American sociologist James Petras addresses this issue when he explains that unionization in America has taken a different path between public and private-sector workers.   Public-sector workers have secured and maintained greater social benefits and wage increases, while private-sector workers have lost ground.

“The public sector workers draw on public financing to fund their ‘corporate interests’ while private sector workers are forced to pay increased taxes, because of regressive fiscal legislation. The result is an apparent or real conflict of interest between well-organized public workers organized around a narrow set of (self) interests and the mass of unorganized private sector workers who, unable to increase their wages via class struggle, side with “fiscal conservatives” (funded by big business) to demand cutbacks from public sector workers.”

So, unlike British and European systems, private-sector workers do not look to the government to “protect” their rights as workers.  Instead, they have been convinced that it is the government itself, taxes themselves, and government workers themselves that are the sources of society’s economic ills.

Government workers (who are jealously seen by many as having the highest salaries and benefits; yet are generally viewed as  incompetent, and as having obtained their jobs through “preference points” to make up for past discrimination against minorities) are the most despised of all workers by the general American society.  (Certainly America has plenty of dedicated, competent government workers.  However, the negative viewpoint of government workers dominates in American society.)

The minimum-wage public who votes as Republican are now convinced that the remedy to America’s economic woes is to cut back the government itself.  This involves cutting the the positions of most government workers, their services (sometimes without realizing the true cost of those services until they are gone), and the social programs that they feel others lazily take advantage of, while they themselves are out working hard for every penny, yet receiving no assistance.

As Petras points out, it is competition (not solidarity) between minimum-wage Americans, and the “near extinction of private-sector unionism” which is driving their behavior.

So, how do Republicans plan to cut back on the government, from this point forward?  By defunding it, of course, through additional tax cuts.

–Lynne Diligent


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