I just have to get this out of my system.  This is by no means the first time I have had this thought.  It’s the first time I’ve dared to share it.

Several of my “friends” who have radically different value systems than myself (Facebook really has changed the meaning of the word “friend”), have posted things like this before. Usually I don’t even bother to follow the links. This time I did. If you want to see what prompted this little rant then you can follow the link too: http://www.godvine.com/Baby-With-Down-Syndrome-Saved-fb-gh-2696.html The title of this little piece is “Thank You God for this Miracle.”

My problem with this (and everything like this that I hear on a ongoing basis from co-workers, neighbors, relatives, etc.) is that from where I’m sitting the role of “god” in this is to have created an enormously flawed human organism, one so flawed that if “god” had been left totally alone to do what “god” does, the child would have died within hours of birth.

However, in this case a very large number of incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable, highly educated and trained, and probably well paid, human beings (not “god”) worked day and night for months, using millions of dollars of humanly designed and manufactured high technology, to fight “god” tooth-and-nail to prevent the death of this child.

And that around the world, children of less affluent parents who actually have to depend solely upon “god” instead of human medical professionals lose their children every day.

Just saying.

Now let the hate mail begin.

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Community Colleges in America are well on their way to being institutions that provide no real “college” education at all. Thus insuring that low and middle income students who have no choice but to attend community colleges, will have an education that increasingly below the standard of four year college education.

My friends who teach in community colleges acknowledge that already their courses really do not measure up to those at four year colleges. These faculty know that they simply cannot get low income students who work full-time jobs, are married, have small children, and who lack adequate college preparation (many of whom have never read a single book cover to cover), to read the same amount or level of material, such as the primary sources and research articles typically assigned to four year college and university students.

But in recent years things are getting worse, the gap in what community college students and those in four year institutions learn has gotten wider, and current trends in developmental and technical education threaten to expand the divide to a chasm rivaling the Grand Canyon.

The emphasis in Community Colleges is on developmental education (what we used to call “remedial” before that became politically suspect) and on technical education or narrow job training. In other words, Community Colleges, rather than providing the first two years of a college education, are doing the things that American secondary schools no longer are able to accomplish.

Across the nation, Community Colleges have seen the state tax money available to them decline, if not in absolute terms, certainly in terms relative to the cost of the education they provide. As a result many community colleges, like four year colleges, have raised tuition rates, and instituted a variety of cost saving measures to make up for lost funds, as well as amping up efforts to attract grant and corporate money.

In true political contrarian fashion, states and regional accrediting bodies have increased demands for accountability at the same time that they have decreased overall state tax support for community colleges. The demand for accountability focuses on three things – assessment of learning, increasing retention and graduation rates and the employment of students exiting community colleges.

Rising tuition costs and pressures to improve retention and post-degree employment, push Community Colleges to bow to the short-term, often short-sighted, pragmatic goals of their “customers” – the potential college students and their parents (who rarely have college educations themselves). Colleges scramble to come up with new programs to meet current, localized job demand, with little thought to long range trends or life time career paths.

As a result community colleges crank out graduates that have practical skills but no liberal educational content behind those skills. As a result occupational graduates in fields like real-time closed captioning where the graduates can type as a fast as news anchors can talk, but lack a liberal education with the humorous result that the ancient runner “Pheidippides” turns into “three fip disease” during Olympic coverage, and a commentators view that British youth’s rioting as “inchoate” (August 12, 2011) turns into rioting “in Kuwait”!!

In doing so, they shift resources (classroom space, computer labs, faculty lines, technology funds) away from traditional college instruction and to meeting the needs of technical programs. Classes like literature, mathematics, history, communications, psychology, and political science can share the use of standard classrooms, most of the allied health professions and technical fields require dedicated classroom and laboratory space, removing those facilities from the pool shared by all the other regular college courses.

To meet the stringent demands of national accrediting bodies in allied health and technical fields, colleges must staff these programs (new or old) with a core of full-time faculty. There are no such accrediting bodies to make sure that the faculty teaching history, communications, or college math, are up-to-date in their fields, or certified (once they earn the minimum graduate hours), and certainly no oversight bodies to require that courses in history and literature are taught by full-time faculty rather than part-timers and adjuncts. So full-time faculty lines shift to the allied health and technical fields, while instructional needs in traditional college liberal arts and even basic sciences classes are more and more often taught by a growing army of temporary and part-time instructors.

Pressures for both accountability and the need for tuition dollars have placed more emphasis than ever on retaining students, and the research is very clear, the students most at risk for failure and dropping out are those that come to college under-prepared – the students needing multiple developmental/remedial classes. Colleges are motivated to retain developmental students, and the recent flood of grant funding for improving and experimenting with developmental education (see previous post), has placed developmental education at the top of community colleges agendas.

Good, thoughtful, educators and liberals who care about inequality in the schools like developmental education. On its face, developmental/remedial education is an opportunity to reverse educational inequalities, to provide the background and support that able but ill prepared students need to “make it” educationally. If remediation were happening in high schools, if high schools all over the country were seriously addressing the college readiness of all their students, than I would applaud that unreservedly. However, as needed as developmental education is, the attention and dollars available to community colleges for it, are like allied health and technical fields pushing real college instruction to the side lines.

Whole computer labs get removed from use by statistics classes, computer science classes, political science classes, physics classes, etc. and become dedicated laboratories in which developmental math and reading students can spend their days learning the things they should have received in high school. Technology and instructional money comes from grants, but when grants run out, colleges are heavily pressured to continue funding for developmental needs, and faculty lines are shifted from traditional college level classes where adjuncts can fill in the gaps to developmental instruction.

In the quest to retain developmental students, subtle shifts in course designations begin to take place. New “college” credit bearing courses are invented to provide ways for developmental students to work towards graduation requirements while struggling to bring their skills up to college level, and instructors in traditional college classes are pressured to become part-time developmental instructors by adding “supplemental instruction” to their college courses and allow marginal students in before they are able to meet testing guidelines.

Thus the gap between the quality and content of the community college education drifts further and further below that of the four year college or university.

Only half of students who receive a high school diploma in the United States are academically prepared for post secondary education. A recent study of high school juniors and seniors taking the ACT college entrance exam confirms this; half of the students were ready for college-level reading assignments in core subjects like math, history, science, and English. Yet two-thirds of high school graduates head to post-secondary institutions to continue their education.

Most four year colleges and universities deny admittance to students who do not attain college level readiness as evidenced by tests like the ACT and the SAT. So those students unprepared for college, but desiring a college education any way, head for the nations community colleges where all comers (with a high school diploma or GED) are welcome. Ill-prepared students feel the need for a college degree because American businesses rely on formal educational credentials to narrow their applicant pool, and because bottom-line oriented businesses have decided that they no longer want to waste their resources with on-the-job training, more and more occupational specific training has been pushed to community colleges. More and more blue-collar, construction, manufacturing and even service industry jobs are requiring community college certification as a minimum occupational entrance requirement.

Consequently community colleges are flooded with students lacking basic reading, writing and mathematical skills – students that require developmental (what we used to call “remedial”) education in multiple areas.

The failure of American high schools to prepare students, to actually educate students in the basic skills and knowledge expected of a high school graduate much less of a college entrant, is widely recognized in the United States. In recent years a deluge of money, from government agencies, corporations, and charitable foundations (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), has been directed to programs to better provide developmental/remedial education.

One might think that this flood of funding to provide students with high school level skills and knowledge would go to high schools. This is after all high school topics that students are failing to master. But that is not where the money is going. Instead, the grant funding is sloshing into the doors of Adult Education programs and especially community colleges. So that students, their families and society end up paying twice (taxes for high schools and taxes and tuition for community colleges) to education students to the level of a high school diploma. [See “Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation”]

The key question is why? Why does the funding go to community colleges and adult education programs instead of high schools. The answer, I believe, is quite simple. It is that in the United States, high schools, like all public education is locally controlled by local political entities, and therefore subject to all the abuses and corruption of local politics. Local schools may be constrained to hire only teachers with a college degree and a teaching certificate, but from the pool of all possibles it is the rare locality that doesn’t place kinship, friendship and political patronage above skills, knowledge and even subject matter certification when hiring teachers.

There are outstanding elementary and secondary schools in the United States – in communities made up of upper middle class families, where parents are all college educated and very knowledgeable of what is required for their own children to enter the nations top colleges and universities. Local control works in these communities to insure high quality secondary education – at least for those in the college preparatory tracks of the school. But in most of the country, high school education is in the control of an electorate and their political representatives who care more about the quality of their athletic fields and protecting their babies from being infected by heretical ideas like evolution, than they do for actual education.

I’ve personally known school boards and many working class and lower middle class parents, who want their children to have access to jobs, but are quite clear that they don’t want those children to be contaminated by education. They want degrees without all that troublesome knowledge.

The funders of developmental/remedial education know this about American secondary education. They know that the schools that would actually use funding to raise the skill and knowledge level of students don’t really need the funds, and that the schools that need the funds won’t be able to use them appropriately. So they turn to community colleges, which are generally governed by state-wide bodies and accountable to regional accrediting agencies, and are therefore more likely to actually provide the needed developmental/remedial education. Moreover, high schools are motivated to get rid of poor students students quickly, while colleges who receive tuition payments, are motivated to hang on to poor students as long as the possibly can.

I accompanied my significant other to the doctor yesterday, and found the waiting room conversation quite fascinating. By late in the afternoon, only a small number of patients were left, most of whom were women over 60. As is often the case in waiting room, one particularly vocal person holds forth (loudly) on her (or his) views about what’s wrong with people today, and what should be done about it.

Her sermon yesterday was prompted by another woman in waiting room talking about how hard it is to keep up with her great grandson, whom she takes care of while her daughter and granddaughter are at work. This touched off a diatribe about how young people today are lazy, and expect their parents to take care of them and their children. The sermonizer started describing in detail what her life as a mother had been like, and all the work that she did, cooking, serving, cleaning, washing, gardening, canning, and so forth. The other older women in the waiting room, accompanied each addition to this litany with some secular version of “amen.”

The speaker declared that she didn’t care what kind of paid job a person had, there was no job on earth that was harder than being a stay at home mother raising several children. Moreover, she declared that the job was so hard, and so important, that women ought to be given a pension just like anyone with a paid job. This received a very enthusiastic chorus of approval.

So it was fascinating that less than two minutes later, the same woman was talking about how awful it was that women were able to stay at home and take care of their children and get welfare. They were lazy she said, and ought to be out earning a living.

Given that she’d just said that taking care of children was more difficult and more important than any paid job, and that women who did it ought to be paid by the government in the form of cash pension; her lack of awareness that welfare did exactly what she said she wanted — recognized the importance of mothering, and gave women (technically their children) a stipend to stay at home and do this important job.

It’s just all part of making “the poor” into “them,” who don’t deserve the same as “us”.

Both right-wing and left-wing extremes (I’m part of the latter) do agree on one thing, we’re “on the wrong track” and going “to hell in a handbasket” if we don’t make some serious changes. Other than that basic agreement these two ends of the political continuum fail to agree on anything else — such as what the wrong track is, why it is wrong, and who is responsible for us being on that mistaken track, and what we should do about it. This is why the typical opinion poll which simply asks the bald question “is America on the right track?” gives us such a deceptively high percentage of people (64 percent in a March Ipsos’s poll) saying that we’re on the wrong track.

As a left winger, I think we’re on the wrong track because: 1) we keep reducing taxes on the rich and corporations when we ought to be increasing them, 2) we keep cutting programs for the poor, disabled, elderly, students and children, when we ought to be increasing them, 3) we keep giving subsidies to gas, oil and coal companies when we should be eliminating them and investing heavily in hydro, wind, solar, and everything else renewable, 4) the rich are getting richer while the poor (and the middle class and, well, everybody except the very rich) keep getting relatively poorer, 5) we’re not closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, and we’re not getting out of Afghanistan, and 6) we’re letting evangelical Christians impose their version of Biblical law on us. And the cause of all these problems is unrestrained, unregulated capitalism, and unfettered capitalism is beginning to collapse from its own internal contradictions, just like Marx said it would (he was only wrong about the timing).

Anyone with half a brain knows that the right-wing version of we’re going down the wrong track is almost exactly the opposite of every point on my list.

One of the blogs that I read regularly is written by an articulate political and economic conservative. For more than a year now, I’ve been concerned about this fellow’s false consciousness. He was just so deluded about so many things. He seemed like a nice guy, smart too. Sometimes I wondered if he just acted clueless to generate discussion. Then the other day, the other shoe dropped. He’s not one of us, he’s one of them. He’s an owner of capital, an exploiter of labor – albeit petite bourgeois. Suddenly it all makes sense. He’s not suffering from false consciousness, he has excellent class consciousness. His positions all make sense now, they serve his class interests. I still think he’s totally wrong about just about everything, but now I can see that those positions are consciously taken to serve self-interest. I no longer worry about him, only about those he employs.

This all began with a question from the significant other (SO): “I understand why the rich people accept that extreme inequality is legitimate and vote for the conservatives that want to preserve the existing system with all its inequalities, but why do the poor people accept it’s legitimacy? Why do they accept things the way they are? Why do the poor and working class vote conservative?”

Last time I expounded my ideas about why those in the lower and working classes who have some thing to lose (it may not be a lot, but it is something) acquiesce to inequality even though they don’t really accept it as legitimate, and even vote for conservatives in what might appear to some to be counter to their economic interests.  But there are people who really don’t have anything to lose, and everything to gain from rebelling against the inequalities. Why don’t those who are truly at the bottom, with nothing to lose, strike out against the structures of inequality in our society?

Well, first up, many  do strike out  — at least against individuals, groups and businesses that are close at hand, and are perceived as representing the hand of repression. This is what happens in riots, and acts of looting and vandalism. The striking out may also be expressed through theft, burglary and robbery. But its not just the big crimes, petty shoplifting and minor vandalism, violation of school rules, may also be attacks on what is viewed (accurately I might add) as a biased and unfair system. That these actions have no effect on the over all structure of inequality does not negate the intent behind them — to strike back, to tear down or to take something that is not otherwise available. One reason why these actions are particularly non-effective for changing inequality, is that they are directed at available targets — small business people and residents in poor neighborhoods — not at the upper class owners of corporate America.

Most street crime (theft, robbery, burglary is exercised by individuals or small groups. It does not represent a coming together of people with a common cause against an unjust system, to do something systematic about changing it.  Why not? One reason is that racism, ethnic animosities, and xenophobia are routinely cultivated in our society in such a way that when young people do create groups to engage in criminal behavior, their animosities are focused upon other young people  in similar groups, especially groups of different races and ethnicities. In other words, gang warfare is a mechanism by which our society bleeds off anger and frustration of the poor and powerless, and prevents it from becoming a unified revolutionary force.  As long as gang members kill and injure other gang members law enforcement does little about gangs. When gang violence spills over into “innocent bystanders” attempts are made to punish transgressors.  Not always, of course, because most innocent bystanders are also lower and working class members who lack power and resources in our society.

When punishment occurs it involves being sent to correctional facilities or prisons, in which the daily life of prisoners is dominated by gangs.  Gang organization in prisons serves the interests of those in charge of the prisons. Gangs create order, mete out punishment, and create divisions that prevent prisoners from developing awareness of common, economic or class interests. This is why gangs are tolerated and allowed to flourish within the American prison system; most of the time, the existence of gangs facilitates greater control over the prisoners, than could be accomplished through the formal structures, security personnel and sanctions of the prison.

The United States imprisons a higher percentage of their population than any other country on the face of the earth. The vast majority of those imprisoned come from the ranks of the lower and working classes.  They are more poorly educated, more likely to be illiterate, and more likely to have been unemployed before engaging in criminal activity.

One indicator that the U.S. uses its prisons to control those at the bottom and defuse revolutionary potential, is to compare how street criminals are treated by the police, legal and penal systems, compared to the “white collar” criminals who steal far more money every year through fraud, price fixing, embezzlement, and other crimes that require access to high economic positions and power just to commit them.  Take folks found guilty of embezzling — most get off with no jail/prison time at all.  For one thing, many of the institutions (such as banks) that they embezzle from don’t want their customers to know about the losses. The argument frequently made by their (private, highly paid) lawyers is that they are “upstanding” citizens, responsible members of the community — who have just stolen huge amounts of money, but never mind.  Of those who do get incarcerated, their sentences are shorter than those doled out to not violent thieves, and they serve less of those already short sentences than street thieves do.

There are even more people at the bottom of our structure of inequality, who have nothing to lose, who do not strike out through crime, but rather who check out through drug and alcohol abuse.  Addiction is a powerful method of controlling those at the bottom of society. Oh, sure there’s been a “war on drugs” for the past quarter of a century — a highly ineffectual war, that primarily places low level producers, traffickers and users in prison [pardon me a few statistics: More than half a million people were behind bars for drug offenses in the United States at the end of 2004; people sentenced for drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners.]. The “war on drugs” does little to stop the flow of drugs and money into poor communities. Indeed, keeping a certain amount of law enforcement pressure on drug transactions at the lowest level, helps keep the profits high for those at the top of the drug supply pyramid — who are not poor and not powerless, and who have used their money and power to support politicians who are “anti-drug”.

Societal outrage over drugs generally kicks in when addictive substances, or drug related violence, encroach on middle class communities.  Even then the primary response is a punitive one, focused on locking up the dealers (see above). Very little money is put into drug treatment and rehabilitation facilities.  Keeping a large percentage of the lower class hooked on drugs is a good way of absorbing their energy in ways that will not threaten the status quo.  Someone who is just looking for their next fix is not going to be involved in trying to engineer political and economic change by legitimate or violent means.

Moreover, it provides a superior means to delegitimize the complaints of the poor in the eyes of those higher on the stratification ladder. One does not feel sympathy for the economic plight of the drug addict or wino in the way one might for a sober beggar. Clearly the addict deserves his/her position at the bottom.

So to answer the question at the beginning, many of those at the very bottom of American society who have little or nothing to lose by challenging the system, and trying to change the distribution of resources, are co-opted through gangs, cooled out of society in prisons, and silenced by addictions.