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Sat Sep 20, 2014, 12:47 PM

Public Education


“The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function.”
-- Woodrow Wilson; Congressional Government


On Thursday evening, during the executive session of our school board’s meeting, the superintendent posed a question: What is the primary purpose of our school district? It’s an interesting question, and the various responses tend to highlight what each board member’s reasons for serving in that often thankless position.

The superintendent stated his belief that the primary purpose of the public school is to afford individual students with the opportunity for upward economic mobility. And, while I do not agree with him on that, I think it is an interesting position. More, while he has experienced some difficulty in adjusting from his “big city” roots, to the small town environment that defines our district, that goal can translate well to both large and small schools.

I believe that the primary purpose of public education is to produce informed, responsible citizens. Such individuals are likely to be able to identify the pathways to upward social and economic mobility. Indeed, they are more likely to create and maintain such opportunities for everyone in their community.

My thoughts on this are, in large part, influenced by those of a now-obscure US Senator who is the first to advocate for government funding of public education. That senator, Daniel Dickinson, spent his childhood and youth in the town where I now live. In fact, the gentleman who would become his father-in-law lived in my house; built shortly after the Revolutionary War, the building served as a stage coach station, a post office, and housed his doctor’s office.

I have a couple of the old mill stones from the “cloth and carding” factory -- located at a water falls on this property -- where Daniel worked as a teenager. And I did the research and writing to get a church he helped to build on the state and national historic registers. Hidden in the attic of that old church were “community records” dating back to the late 1700s, including a wealth of information on the Dickinson family.

In his early adulthood, Daniel was a school teacher, as was his wife. The two were instrumental in having the first local “university” built; now long gone, I have a few photographs from the 1800s of the simple college, which sat on church property. Dickinson then began to study law.He became a lawyer, and then entered politics; he served as a state and federal senator, and as a state and federal attorney. That his passion remained public education is evident from the writings -- both by and about him -- that I have collected.

Daniel Dickinson’s public education certainly allowed him access to upward social and economic mobility. The son of a local farmer went on to be a US Senator at the time of our nation’s Civil War. Indeed, he was considered as a possible contender for the presidency after Lincoln was killed. Yet, he maintained his interest in the little one- and two-room schools in the rural areas, because he understood that democracy required an educated, informed population.

The current “war on teachers” (especially the war on teachers’ unions) is actually a war on democracy. It’s not just because public education is, by definition, a form of socialism: it is indeed a collective investment in the future. At its roots, it is a war on an informed public. It is an attempt to keep the public uneducated, mis-educated, and dis-educated. One need look no further than the attempts to “teach” the Christian creation mythology, along with or rather than evolution, for proof of that.

Interestingly, public school teachers are not the only group that is paid with tax dollars to teach and inform the public. Those of us old enough to remember the Ervin Committee’s Senate Watergate Report learned this (hopefully in school). That committee’s hearings were the very definition of educational and informative: it provided lessons in both the “how” and “why” the misdeeds of the Nixon administration posed a significant threat to our constitutional democracy. Indeed, we learned that two important US Supreme Court decisions had been based upon the responsibilities of Congress to inform the public.

When we consider Congress today -- both the House and Senate -- we find very few elected representatives who take that obligation to inform the public seriously. Rather, we are being victimized by politicians who blur the truth with misinformation, disinformation, and crude lies. They look at exploit the public’s ignorance, and capitalize on their lack of preparation to serve as an informed public. Prove it, you say? How else can one explain the republican party’s even considering Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush as possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election?

There are connections between all of the pathologies that threaten our future. Both the large and small issues overlap one another. But the most basic of these, the war on public education, threatens our ability to deal with, and perhaps resolve, all of the others.

In closing, I’d like to express my gratitude to “madfloridan,” the DUer who consistently provides this community with extremely important information about the topic of public education. What a great resource for all of us!

Thanks,
H2O Man

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Arrow 44 replies Author Time Post
Reply Public Education (Original post)
H2O Man Sep 2014 OP
NYC_SKP Sep 2014 #1
H2O Man Sep 2014 #14
justabob Sep 2014 #2
H2O Man Sep 2014 #15
justabob Sep 2014 #22
madfloridian Sep 2014 #3
QED Sep 2014 #5
daleanime Sep 2014 #9
FourScore Sep 2014 #13
adirondacker Sep 2014 #21
malaise Sep 2014 #28
H2O Man Sep 2014 #16
Starry Messenger Sep 2014 #27
femmocrat Sep 2014 #4
H2O Man Sep 2014 #17
Starry Messenger Sep 2014 #6
H2O Man Sep 2014 #18
wavesofeuphoria Sep 2014 #7
madfloridian Sep 2014 #11
H2O Man Sep 2014 #20
marble falls Sep 2014 #8
H2O Man Sep 2014 #32
daleanime Sep 2014 #10
H2O Man Sep 2014 #33
Half-Century Man Sep 2014 #12
madfloridian Sep 2014 #35
H2O Man Sep 2014 #38
Octafish Sep 2014 #19
H2O Man Sep 2014 #39
LWolf Sep 2014 #23
H2O Man Sep 2014 #40
LWolf Sep 2014 #44
Dr. Xavier Sep 2014 #24
madfloridian Sep 2014 #25
H2O Man Sep 2014 #41
hootinholler Sep 2014 #26
H2O Man Sep 2014 #42
mountain grammy Sep 2014 #29
H2O Man Sep 2014 #43
ancianita Sep 2014 #30
freshwest Sep 2014 #31
YvonneCa Sep 2014 #34
Uncle Joe Sep 2014 #36
quaker bill Sep 2014 #37

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 01:11 PM

1. "afford individual students with the opportunity for upward economic mobility"

 

Wow.

While I imagine that the superintendent's belief in the purpose of education would garner a lot of nods of agreement, in urban and rural settings, it makes me cringe.

First, I cringe because I know that if that's the goal then nearly all schools are failing.

Secondly, I shake my head that "upward", "economic", and "mobility" are key terms.

From this, I read: "Create a society of dumb consumers who want nothing more than to have more money", never mind public service or the environment or just being a good citizen.

I'm not a bit surprised, however. These words and his expression of the purpose are at the heart of our unsustainable, profit-based, corporate-led economy and society.

We're you to ask for an honest answer based on what many schools actually do, the purposes and functions of public education as it is practiced today include these goals:

--"Teach" conformity and obedience; punish individuality;

--Punish and then remove undesirables;

--Perpetually move the goalposts and justify unnecessary and overpaid positions;

--Bring in funding;

--Lather, rinse, repeat.

All of these result in a severely uninformed populace, but one that more willingly serves the powers that be.

NB: I speak as a former public school teacher and administrator who saw far more corruption by school leaders and mistreatment of students in general than one can imagine.

And I similarly thank madfloridian for her passion and contributions to our community.

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #1)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:54 PM

14. Well said!

I agree.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 01:16 PM

2. informed citizenry has been my number one

You bring up a lot of interesting things to think about. I have always looked at education not as a way to make money or get a job, but to deal with life in general... to give students the basic knowledge and skills needed to solve problems encountered in one's trek through life whether employment or voting or social issues... whatever. Once upon a time that was pretty standard, I think. You could go to school, (and with effort eventually earn a university degree) and apply those skills acquired to any field, for the most part, as well as having a basic understanding of how it works and how the bigger picture affects your life and or where you fit into that bigger picture. Anymore schools are just another weapon in the Us v Them arsenal. Private vs public vs charter.... wealthy vs poor.... inner city/suburb, business vs arts, white vs everyone.... ad nauseum. The last thing any one in power wants now is informed/educated people, even those on "our" side.


A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy

MB Lamar/ University of Texas motto

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Response to justabob (Reply #2)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:55 PM

15. Right.

Something as basic as the "scientific method" teaches a kid how to think, rather than what to think. People with that ability have an advantage in life.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #15)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:36 PM

22. how to think, not what to think... exactly nt

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 01:27 PM

3. "current “war on teachers” (especially the war on teachers’ unions) is actually a war on democracy"

Thanks for your history lesson on Daniel Dickinson. Was not aware of his accomplishments or goals.

This part is so true.

The current “war on teachers” (especially the war on teachers’ unions) is actually a war on democracy. It’s not just because public education is, by definition, a form of socialism: it is indeed a collective investment in the future. At its roots, it is a war on an informed public. It is an attempt to keep the public uneducated, mis-educated, and dis-educated. One need look no further than the attempts to “teach” the Christian creation mythology, along with or rather than evolution, for proof of that.


And thanks for the kind words. They mean a lot.

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Response to madfloridian (Reply #3)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 01:59 PM

5. well-deserved king words too!

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Response to madfloridian (Reply #3)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:12 PM

9. And you deserve them....

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Response to madfloridian (Reply #3)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:48 PM

13. I want to express my gratitude to madfloridian and H2O Man.

You are both DU treasures.

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Response to FourScore (Reply #13)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:31 PM

21. 2nd That expression! Absolute DU Treasures!

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Response to FourScore (Reply #13)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 08:03 PM

28. +1,000

They do rock!!

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Response to madfloridian (Reply #3)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:58 PM

16. I make a point

of reading your posts. As a school board member, I like the access you provide us on these issues. You are much appreciated!

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Response to madfloridian (Reply #3)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 07:52 PM

27. *Very* well-deserved.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 01:46 PM

4. It sounds a lot like the old argument about the value of a liberal arts education....

and whether schools should provide a broad education and "well-rounded" individuals or a future workforce.

IMO, an educated person can adapt to the changing times and train for a variety of careers while the vocationally-trained "future worker" will ever be hampered by an education of limited scope.

I always felt that it was the responsibility of the employer to provide some of the training instead of expecting workers to be specialists in a narrow range of skills.

I'm with you. I think the purpose of schools is to produce an informed and engaged citizenry.

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Response to femmocrat (Reply #4)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:02 PM

17. One of my daughters

is in Asia this semester, as part of her liberal arts education. I am, of course, very proud of her, as her father. But I'm also very thankful, because she and I have fascinating conversations. I know she'll go farther in life than her father. And I know just how much the education she got at our local school, from K to 12, build a solid foundation for her.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 02:11 PM

6. K&R

The war on teachers and their unions is a war on democracy. Bears repeating.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #6)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:06 PM

18. Yes, it does!

I'm a strong supporter of public education. It's an area where all people should be well-informed and actively interested. I am convinced that 99% of the population benefits from a program of solid public education.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 02:42 PM

7. Great post ...

I was just having a conversation with the fam about this notion. Being a former teacher, I held the belief (which was explicitly supported by my education programs) that the purpose of free public education was to insure a citizenry able to contribute in a democratic society. That started changing after "A Nation at Risk". And now we have the stupid purpose being "preparing for career or college." It's all about the money.

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Response to wavesofeuphoria (Reply #7)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:32 PM

11. Preparing for a global economy..

That was a goal stated by this administration.

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Response to wavesofeuphoria (Reply #7)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:15 PM

20. Thanks.

Just before I became a board member, I saw a teacher attacked after a training for teachers, because she disagreed with the "preparing for college" concept. She taught special needs students. She pointed out that they -- like many other kids -- are mastering other skills that are more important to them, in cases where the youngster is not planning on going to college.

It wasn't just that those running the meeting became extremely rude to her. They would also attack her character (in a document that went into her personnel file), and attempt to cause her to lose her job.

I find that there are benefits found in listening to teachers. They seem to know, and care about, issues involving education. I had thought the teacher made a lot of valid points. (I assume the administrators did, too.)

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 02:58 PM

8. Congress is not to informing, its to be informed by its electorate. They operate on our will....

we don't fall under Congressional will. Wilson felt racism was okeedoke, too.

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Response to marble falls (Reply #8)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 10:32 PM

32. In "United States v. Rumely

345 U.S, 41, 43 (1953)," the Supreme Court decision spoke of how "the country must remain in embarrassing, crippling ignorance of the very affairs which it is most important that it should understand and direct" when Congress fails in its duty to inform and educate the public. Up until the Reagan years, Congress generally took that duty seriously. Anyone with even a limited grasp of civics understands that, without this, the public is in no position to inform the Congress.

It's sad, really, that not only are younger folks unaware of this duty of Congress, but that older folks have forgotten (or perhaps were not paying attention to begin with). That duty of Congress is, of course, beyond dispute. Although many people are unaware of it, that does not change the fact that it was generally practiced, from the early days of the United States, until recent times.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:17 PM

10. K&R....

while being informed is very important, it worries me how much creativity and curiously are getting crushed in the current school environment.

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Response to daleanime (Reply #10)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 10:34 PM

33. They go hand-in-hand.

An informed population will be creative and curious; an uninformed population will be docile.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 03:32 PM

12. Profititus, The taught disease.

One more symptom of the cancer that is Reagan's message of Government is bad.
The creeping doom of business ethics eats away at our society like leprosy. It erodes our society's immune system (regulations) so that each attack goes deeper and strike more vital functions. This mind set of money before all things, deadens our perceptions so we can't feel the damage. Our ability to do great things, like link two oceans and fly to the moon, is now crippled and numb; our strong working hands are now bent by the scars of billions of paper cuts we got from playing with money instead of using it, our manipulations are clumsy.
Lepers have to learn to successfully live with their disease. They learn to constantly scan their bodies for injuries, they won't feel them. They clean their environments to remove dangers. They avoid situations where they can potentially be injured. They do this for the rest of their lives.
We can, maybe, cure our disease. We have the advantage of millions of bodies to bear the strain. We know what caused our disease. We can reverse it.

Start with the message that our government was intended to be the way the strength of the people was conscientiously wielded. It is not bad, unless that strength is usurped by the few.



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Response to Half-Century Man (Reply #12)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 03:21 AM

35. Thoughtful post.

It's good to see discussions here again at DU.

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Response to Half-Century Man (Reply #12)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 08:42 AM

38. Well said.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:08 PM

19. Thank you, H2O Man! Thank you, madfloridian!

Daniel Dickinson understood that democracy required an educated, informed population.



Couple the corrupt media with the assault on public education and We the People of the United States have a serious problem. Things haven't gotten easier since Washington's three branches, for the better part of a century, officially side with the rich and the powerful and the corrupt.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #19)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 08:44 AM

39. Right.

All three branches of government are viewed as the "private property" of a tiny minority of people. It's time that we take it back.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:45 PM

23. My appreciation to Madflo, always,

and to you, as well, for a supportive post.

As someone who's spent a lifetime in public school classrooms, I'm there to:

1. Love them, and to make sure that their experience in public school, while in my classroom, is as positive as I can make it.

2. Give them abundant opportunities to learn, and support them while they do so.

3. Share my life-long love of learning, of reading, and of thinking with them.

4. Send them on with the ability to discern, to analyze, to apply, and to make informed choices about their lives.

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Response to LWolf (Reply #23)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 08:51 AM

40. Thank you.

I am, of course, thanking you for more than this one post. Much more.

I've noted, from time to time, the work that I do at the grass roots level. And we've had more successes in recent years, that "loses" (though I believe the only real lose is the failure to try). In literally ever case, those successes have included the active involvement of teachers. Grade school, middle school, high school, college and university teachers.

The lesson there is obvious: all of the issues that the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Left, are involved with, have an overlap with public education. It is all connected. Thus, the amount of success we can achieve is tied directly to the level of cooperation and coordination that we have with teachers, and the teachers' unions.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #40)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 11:12 AM

44. You're welcome.

I wish more people saw those connections.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 04:53 PM

24. My wife is an educator and

so are a lot of her friends. This summer, the San Francisco (now playing in Santa Clara CA) 49'ers were touting their new state of the art multi-billions dollar stadium, which had been financed by private money. Well, because of our crazy tax system, we, the taxpayer will pay for the stadium, which is privately owned.

In the meantime, I gave several items of used office furniture to one of my wife's colleagues, just so she could have furniture in her classroom because she had changed schools and this classroom didn't have any furniture. Yeah, we are so ... .

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Response to Dr. Xavier (Reply #24)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 06:39 PM

25. When I retired books were in short supply...

my classes seldom had up to date texts. Since we were a primary grade they had allowed our science texts to be 10 years old. I had no classroom maps except one before 1991. I could go on, but I do need to say that other schools such as magnet schools often had 2 sets of texts....one to stay at school one to carry home. They were schools in wealthier districts, but the same tax money paid for their supplies.

We had to scrounge for supplies, pay for them ourselves. Nice of you to help with the furniture.

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Response to Dr. Xavier (Reply #24)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 09:00 AM

41. Very good.

I often tell teachers the same thing I have told my children: be aware of, and make full use of, your resources. Sometimes, as a board member, I am one of their resources. Thus, at a time of shrinking budgets, I'm glad to visit a corporation in our general region, and to lobby for a donation of materials ....for example, of supplies for the art teachers. I can identify some high profile project these supplies will be used for, and assure the executive that there will be media coverage -- including information on who donated the materials.

Small stuff, to be sure. But it adds up.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 06:50 PM

26. The school where I went to K-3 was the Dickinson building

It was old then (built in the 20's) and probably just a coincidence as to the name.

Your point about informing the people and disinformation is spot on.

MF is incredible as well.

All a long winded way to say thanks for the thread and I mostly agree.

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Response to hootinholler (Reply #26)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 09:06 AM

42. Daniel Dickinson was

one of the most influential leaders of his time. It's curious how he has been forgotten.

There is a great statue of him, outside the courthouse in Binghamton, NY.

Local history records how, when he was in my area, he often debated his father-in-law on the issues of the day. In the days leading up to the Civil War, that included the issues of slavery.

(I helped in the clean-up and restoration of an old cemetery, where his father-in-law etc are buried. We got that on the state and national historic registers, too. I take special care of the father-in-law's grave.)

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 08:05 PM

29. Great post and thread. I graduated high school in 1965, when Civics was still required to graduate.

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Response to mountain grammy (Reply #29)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 09:07 AM

43. Thank you!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 08:07 PM

30. That public education is not a fundamental Constitutional right is one of the founders' greatest

errors. That this fact continues to be neglected in national discourse reveals how we as citizens have historically failed to value public education as a pillar of democracy.

The model of informed citizens has been called the Jeffersonian model, and I'd like to see a movement to make education a fundamental constitutional right, with an entirely restructured funding model that doesn't preserve class structure-based funding.

I've read and supported Mad for years and stand with you both in your outlook on teachers, unions and public education -- what I see as the last standing, institutionally democratic experience in this country.

A thousand thanks.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 08:47 PM

31. Politics is said to be a luxury of the leisure classes. Thus, he said upward social mobility.

The upper classes in terms of land ownership or capital do not require a public education nor the maintenance of the Commons.

Public education is its crowning achievement, along with libraries and other shared educational opportunities, to make social advancement.

Those who dispute it and want it privatized are in general conservatives, unwilling to pay taxes for the Commons because they do not benefit. It's as simple as that.

When people receive an education to advance in society and approach the freedom and privileges of wealth, if only slightly, they have the leisure to participate as citizens.

Where there is no free time, all the civics in the world are but a bitter mockery to the worker who is unlanded and has no connections to rise to the level of citizen.

Despite all claims to the contrary, people have been lifted up through publicly funded education of the broad kind for teaching their rights as citizens and how to make a living.

While I see the desire for a fully rounded liberal education with civics and public involvement encouraged in public schools, I believe the person you disagree with on this point to be more correct than you.

One who is landed and has roots to build upon, has concerns that many do not. No amount of civics will give them that power; they do not have the leisure to move in the same networks as others do right now.

There are arguments made against a free and public education for various reasons. The Koch brothers and their ilk, and increasingly some less fortunate, see no need for public education NOR do they see any use in people seeking upward mobility.

They think that tribalism or running away will meet their needs. It may do so, but that is only for certain groups who are able to survive that way.

Others require society and education for more economic reasons at this phase in their lives, unable to make a choice as others have.

We may be talking at cross purposes for a moment, as I see that their are some people who cannot possibly be as engaged in politics and being full citizens, and others may have that ability. But they are not in the same group.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Sep 20, 2014, 10:55 PM

34. I agree completely. Thank you for...

...the thread and kudos to madfloridian for all her work on this issue.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 03:28 AM

36. Kicked and recommended.

Thanks for the thread, H2O Man.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sun Sep 21, 2014, 07:43 AM

37. Thanks

to you and Madfl, always a good read.

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