Friday, May 13, 2016

The Tragic Quest for Education by Cindy Sheehan

The Tragic Quest for Education


“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”
—Victor Hugo

Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “education is a right.” While public education from K-12 is technically “free” in the United States, access to safe education of an acceptable “well-rounded” quality is essentially disappearing.

Article 26 also declares that: “Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Of course many elementary, middle, and high schools here in the US are being closed due to budgetary concerns and as I stated before, quality public education is hard to find while colleges and universities in this nation are not even close to being “equally accessible.”

Most nations around this world have free, or highly subsidized universities, including Cuba (depicted as “evil” by the US Empire) which has a higher literacy rate than the US! Even the public colleges in the US are becoming increasingly over-priced and with good jobs that have fair wages and decent benefits also disappearing, many of our young people are being forced to weigh the cost of education with will it be realistically “worth it?”

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I have a tale of two young Americans from the working-class who dreamed of obtaining a University degree.

The first was a young man who always felt great responsibility to “do the right thing.” His parents sent him to Catholic School from K-8 and he was an Eagle Scout. After graduating around the middle of his class in high school, he studied Theater Arts at a local community college for three years before he was able to complete his AA degree. He worked full-time at a local department store and was active in his church whenever he had the time.

In his final semester of courses at the community college, an Army recruiter preyed upon his trusting nature at a college “Job Fair.” Long story short, the young man was promised a college education, paid for with veteran’s benefits and he enlisted in the Army in 2000 and was murdered in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq on April 04, 2004. What the slimy Army recruiter failed to tell this young man (along with many other things) was that less than 20% of veterans are able to access their college benefits — either because they die, are wounded, or just find themselves unable to navigate the (intentionally?) complicated VA system.

Our other young working-class American is a woman who did well in high school and on her SATs, but her family couldn’t afford to send her straight to university and she did not do well enough for many scholarships.

She struggled in community college because she also had to work full-time as a food server to make ends meet. She matriculated to a university after spending about eight years at community college and within 4 years of that, she had completed not only her B.A., but obtained an M.A. as well. The young lady did not join the military to do this, but she now has a lifelong debt of $50k. After all her hard work, what was her reward? She now works at two bars as a bartender. She jokes wryly, “I needed a Master’s degree to tend bar in San Francisco.”

The above examples come from my own family, my son Casey and my daughter Carly. Of course, if university were free here in the US where would the military get its cannon fodder and where would the banks get their debt slaves?

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Why is it that the children of the “99%” have to go into the military or onerous debt to obtain what most people/governments of the world consider a “human right?” A country that sends all good jobs with decent pay and benefits overseas, and fails to properly educate all of its young people cannot sustain itself for long: Neither can the same country which places murder for profit in many other countries over basic human rights for its own citizens.

Another aspect of this unattainability of education that is free and high quality for everyone is that universities which were once considered to be hotbeds of leftwing organizing have basically gone silent on especially the issues of war and an out-of-control empire. I have thought long about this and by talking to my own children and other young people, the students who are in the working, or poor classes, are struggling just to keep their heads above water, much less join in protests and other principled actions.

Of course, the children of the ruling-class or bourgeoisie profit off of empire and other exploitation, so we can’t expect many of them to join us in the struggles for peace and equality. 

I recognize education as a human right and I am in solidarity with the struggle. But should this access to education in our own country “trump” (sorry, no pun intended) the right to peace and to be free from war and occupation in the 180 plus countries around the world that the US infests and infects with its military? Besides saving countless numbers of lives around the world, the end of empire would also fund any social program that would help the people who live in the United States; and the world could be on a path to true healing and very needed worker solidarity. 

Especially in an election year, the demand for an end to this leprous empire must accompany any demands for justice here in the US. I believe that we must be internationalists in our approach to these demands to have any credibility or gravitas in our movements.

This article first appeared in ROL, USA Newsletter #96

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