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Musings on the Latest Crisis

Publication Date: 2008-01-25

Gerald Bracey urges teachers to stop accepting the blame and to take the initiative.
Jaunuary 23, 2008

We Didn'Â't Do It!

American educators are, by and large, a passive bunch. Comes the lashing over our alleged failures and we mostly take a âthis, too will pass,â or an âI will work harderâ attitude (the latter after the horse in Animal Farm and we know what happened to him). Educators were blamed for letting the Russians get into space first (Eisenhower wanted them to do that; we had a satellite capable rocket 862 miles in the air traveling at 13,000 miles an hour over a year prior to Sputnik, but Eisenhower nixed a satellite launch), for the urban riots of the 60âs, for the SAT decline (mostly due to changes in the demographics of who was taking the SAT), for letting us become threatened by "a rising tide of mediocrity: and therefore "A Nation at Risk." Lately myriad reports have exhorted teachers to do more lest we be felled economically by China or India (enter "Believing the Worst" and "Bracey" into Google to get a chronicle of these events that appeared in Stanford Magazine summer of 2006).

Well, right now we have a chance to blow some air-clearing reality onto the fog of how education is perceived. Make a sign that sits above your head strapped comfortably around your chest or waist proclaiming some version of "We Didnât Make This Mess!" "This Mess" being the global economic crisis brought on by the subprime mortgage debacle whose full scope even now is not yet known.

So far, no one has figured out how to lay this one on the schools although Iâm sure Bush and Spellings have Karl Rove locked in an undisclosed location with Cheney to construct some scenario whereby blame accrues to the NEA. (The schools will likely be involved in some odd way in alleviating the problem. On Tuesday, January 22, Bush appeared with Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, and financial guru Charles Schwab to announce the formation of an advisory committee on "financial literacy.")

In the meantime, when someone at a dinner party says, "You idiot educators have really done it this time," you have some comebacks:

1. Schools didnât produce the cheap credit which financed the housing bubble. Cheap credit was available because we were borrowing $2 billion a day, mostly from China (boy, if they ever cash in their chitsâ¦).

2. Schools didnât produce the cheap credit as Greenspan kept rates low as a matter of policy and denied the existence of the bubble (just some "froth").

3. Unchecked Financial "Innovation." Shoddy products such as "Collateralized Debt Obligations" and "Structured Investment Vehicles" were packaged by banks and sold on Wall Street, and not by high schoolers trying to raise money for their class trip. Some of these things appear to be so complex that nobody knows how they work.

4. The ratings agenciesâ"Standard & Poorâs, Moodyâs, etc.â"were asleep at the wheel. At best. They might have known all along what was happening but looked the other way or winked in order to maintain good relations with the banks issuing the garbage noted in #3. Because of the ratings agencies bogus high grades, not only has personal credit tightened, but banks are skittish about lending to each other because they donât know how much of an institution is just a house of cards, toppling at the next cold fiscal breeze.

5. Predatory lending. American high schoolers might be middling at math, but I bet most of them would have seen the flaw in a implicit and sometimes even explicit promise: Home values will rise forever! So it doesnât matter what the terms of the loan are because youâre sure to get rich from increasing equity and soaring prices. I am not a financial maven, but Iâm not a novice either, but when one outfit offered me one of these interest-only-option deals, it took some very close reading of the fine print to see that I would be in a negative amortization situation (the principal of my loan would grow over time; I would owe more money than I borrowed) and that the interest rate could jump from 5.5% to 10.5% in a single year. No thanks.
In the meantime, the military wants to expand by 92,000 troops with an estimated annual cost of $1.2 billion per 10,000. As of 2005 the Pentagonâs Base Structure Reportâ"the governmentâs own official count--listed 737 bases around the world not counting those in Kosovo, Israel, Kyrgistan, Qatar, Uzbekistan or Iraq (106 just by itself). Some peace-loving nation, huh? At the height of their power, the Roman Empire in 117 A. D. had 37 bases, Great Britain in 1898, 36. And, of course, the Pentagonâs list doesnât include "black" sites.

So, educators, take the initiative (but donât be "pro-active," perhaps the ugliest word in the English language). Show people whatâs happening in Japan and Hong Kong and other nations where high scores allegedly produce prosperity. You might remind anyone youâre speaking with that in the 1990âs once the Japanese discovered that the Emperorâs palace and grounds were not worth more than the entire state of California, Japanâs economy tanked, but its kids continued to ace tests.

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