The Fierce Urgency of Now

Spoken by Martin Luther King and repeated often, do the words “the fierce urgency of now” no longer stir our souls? Did they ever?

Why the Urgency NOW?

The urgency is the need for all of us to filter out the divisive political language coming at us from all sides. In this moment, we need to look back at what was once only a theory. Now our reality is that economic theory fostered a political strategy to supplant our constitutional republic with “a private governing elite of corporate power.” *Those pushing corporate control understand how essential it is for them to …

“…kill public education because it tend[s] to foster community values…” *

And market-based education reforms became the weapon of choice. But the role of political economist James M. Buchanan is only now being closely scrutinized. Buchanan’s theories explain much about the divisiveness destroying our schools and our nation.

“…[Buchanan] observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly ASSUMED that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. …[T]hat was a belief he wanted, as he put it, to ‘tear down.’ His ideas developed into a theory that came to be known as ‘public choice.’” *

Public Interest vs. Public Choice

Public interest is defined as “the welfare or well-being of the general public.” It is a national goal clearly stated in the Constitution’s preamble — “in Order to … promote the general Welfare…”.

To “tear down” our assumption that officials are acting in the public’s interest is one thing. To destroy our union is another. That goal does NOT appear to be one of the aims of Buchanan’s original 1986 Nobel Prize winning work on “Public Choice Theory.”

In its announcement of the prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted, “Buchanan’s foremost achievement is that he has consistently and tenaciously emphasized the significance of fundamental rules and applied the concept of the political system as an exchange process for the achievement of mutual advantages.Tennessee Encyclopedia (James McGill Buchanan)

His “research program” ** centered on the belief that people make purchases (market choices) based on value. He saw the public making political choices they believed would benefit them. He viewed us as making choices based on our own “venal self-interest.” *

So he and his ilk developed what they called “non-market decision-making.” Finding that name “awkward” and not as appetizing to “free-market” thinkers, the groups’ organization and publications took on the name “Public Choice.” **

Choice or Coercion?

Some researchers believe that Buchanan’s Public Choice Theory began as an “optimistic conception” based on “unanimous consent of the people.” But he later adopted a more “pessimistic view” about “social organization” and people’s “intolerance” to entering into the discussions necessary to reach consensus on issues. Thus Buchanan’s emphasis morphed from “individual freedom” to the need to “enforce order.” ***

As Buchanan explained “Public Choice” to an audience (2003) …

Public choice, in its basic insights into the workings of politics, incorporates an understanding of human nature that differs little, if at all, from that of James Madison and his colleagues at the time of the American Founding.” **

Buchanan wrote that for public consumption. It’s a distortion of history, which is likely being perpetuated through institutions such as George Mason University in Virginia.* And in misrepresenting the American Founding Principles, Buchanan opened himself up to being viewed as a major manipulator in our historic fight against corporate control.

James Madison vs. James Buchanan 

As a key author of the Constitution, Madison left a record of discussions about our nations founding principles. Therefore, a better understanding of the American Founding political views can be gleaned from Madison’s correspondence with a colleague who Buchanan also admired. ***

James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 17 October 1788 (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian P. Boyd, ed., vol. xiv, pp. 18-21) …

“With regard to Monopolies, they are justly classed among the greatest nuisances in Government. … Monopolies are sacrifices of the many to the few. Where the power is in the few it is natural for them to sacrifice the many to their own partialities and corruptions.”

Madison went on to express his doubts about a government takeover by monopolies being skeptical …

“…that a succession of artful and ambitious rulers may be gradual & well timed advances, finally erect an independent Government on the subversion of liberty. … Is there not also infinitely less danger of this abuse in our Government than in most others? … with the power as with us is in the manyIt is much more to be dreaded that the few will be unnecessarily sacrificed to the many …”

It appears the expressed sentiment of that last sentence was taken to imply that corporations are the ones in need of constitutional protection from the masses. But Buchanan obviously took Madison’s words out of their historic time and context. Regardless, Buchanan did communicate to the public an association of his “public choice theory” with our nation’s founding principles.

****This quote is from the blog of libertarian economist, Daniel J. “Dan” Mitchell who believes Buchanan’s ideas are being misrepresented.

Same Old Fight: Big vs. Smaller Government?

Not Quite! Think about the following in relationship to the privatization of public education through “school choice” models. The allure of choice is deadly.

With our political choices being analyzed under market-based economic theory, it is assumed people make choices based on their own self-interests — first and foremost. We shouldn’t deny that as a truism. But when market forces through privatization of public services or goods come into play, competition for a limited supply will result in winners and losers. Always does.

We risk having children lose, or never develop, the safe and secure sense of belonging that defines “community values.” When all of us are seen as “self-interested players in the marketplace,” **** we are vulnerable to division. Competition for public services runs the high risk of destroying community values, but, that part of the equation didn’t seem to garner much consideration.

Instead, Buchanan saw the need to bring his vision to life by NOT focusing on who rules because who the public chooses doesn’t matter since elected officials don’t act in the public interest anyway. Therefore, this brilliant political economist focused on the rules themselves.

“… the Holy Grail was the Constitution: alter it and you could increase and secure the power of the wealthy in a way that no politician could ever challenge.” *

Buchanan found many willing partners.

“Subversion of Liberty”? Translation: Sabotage of Authority

What Madison saw as improbable under our constitutional republic — “a succession of artful and ambitious rulers” changing the balance of power — is exactly what is happening. Our federal government IS under the control of special interests. Many state governments are no different because too many of our representatives ARE no longer serving in the public interest.

The toxic divisiveness of party politics is permeating our communities. The principles of localism and populism, which formed the fabric of our founding documents, are being replaced by corporatism. Thus, when we can no longer reach consensus on the issues that matter, the authorities will step in and set the rules “to enforce order.” ***

This scenario should sound familiar to Baby Boomers. It was a shared American experience on many college campuses during the protests of the 60’s and 70’s. Martial law was declared in many places, which Buchanan supported (at Berkley***). And not to be forgotten were the killing of students by the National Guard. That’s about the time Buchanan’s vision of “unanimous consent of the people” *** seemed to change.

Now? Consider this.

“[historian Nancy] MacLean details how partnered with [Charles] Koch, Buchanan’s outpost at George Mason University was able to …  promote new curricula for economics education, and court politicians in nearby Washington, D.C.”

“… MacLean points to the fact that Henry Manne, whom Buchanan was instrumental in hiring, created legal programs for law professors and federal judges which could boast that by 1990 two of every five sitting federal judges had participated. ‘40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,’ writes MacLean, ‘had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.’” *

Supreme Urgency?

Think about the urgency demonstrated during the confirmations of both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Ask yourself, why the fierce urgency?

Think about it. When changing the Constitution is still out of reach, CONTROL of the U.S. Department of Education and having corporate-minded allies on the Supreme Court are a handy pair of tools. Then it requires pushing appeals through the court system to the level of the Supreme Court. Once there, having enough justices interpreting our Constitution and rules in ways that favor corporations and the wealthy is almost as good as a “constitutional revolution.” *

This is no longer just theory and we knew this day was coming. Now …

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” MLK

Vote, of course.

Is that enough? Absolutely not.

References

* FROM THE LEFT ⇒ Lynne Parramore, “Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America”

**ORIGINAL SOURCE ⇒ James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in Economic Science, George Mason University, “What is Public Choice Theory?”

***STUDY OF BUCHANAN’s EDUCATION SPECIFIC WRITINGS ⇒ Jean-Baptiste Fleury THEMA, Université de Cergy-Pontoise, Alain Marciano MRE, Université de Montpellier, Montpellier, Franc. “The Making of a Constitutionalist: James Buchanan on Education”

**** FROM A LIBERTARIAN VIEW ⇒ Daniel J. “Dan” Mitchell, former senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “A Taxpayer-Funded Smear Job of Professor James Buchanan”

 

Is Education a National Issue?

Education is not mentioned in the Constitution…. We have heard how this argument goes.Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 10.57.46 AM

Because of no specific mention of education, the responsibility for educating the young people of our republic is deferred to the States in the 10th Amendment …. with the caveat “or to the people.”

People, you need to decide. Is public education a national issue?

If we never have that discussion, then we never examine the arguments that have been stalling our progress in education reform for the last three decades.

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And, we must look back at the historical precedents surrounding the issue of federal support for public education.

How do we make informed decisions without this conversation?

 

State versus Federal: Are we sure we should be fighting that battle?

The Constitution doesn’t mention a whole lot of things — by design.

“The original Constitution of 1788 contained very few specific restrictions on the ways in which the power of the national government could be exercised against the people.”

And,..

“…the state delegations at the Constitutional Convention voted 10-0 against including a bill of rights in the Constitution.”

One reason they gave for being against such specific rights being in this governing document is

“…any list of rights would be incomplete. Such a list might indirectly endanger any rights not included on it.”

the-preamble-to-the-united-states-constitution-sourceThat is really something to think about. Has the argument over State versus Federal law governing education actually endangered the general Welfare of the children in our nation?

The 10th Amendment …

“— emphasizes that … the fundamental character of the national government… remains a government of limited and enumerated powers, so that the first question involving an exercise of federal power is not whether it violates someone’s rights, but whether it exceeds the national government’s enumerated powers.”

Note in that quote that the authors interchange the words “national” and “federal.” Unfortunately — but fortunately for the country — the Founding Fathers understood the differences, chose to make our constitution a unique blend of those concepts, but it appears they made the assumption that our representatives (and the populous) would forever understand and make distinction between the two concepts. For example…

From blog post titled "Fixing Our national Accountability System: Part 1."

From blog post titled “Fixing Our National Accountability System: Part 1.”

The Founding Fathers seemed to have also assumed that there would always be open debate and deliberation especially in the Senate.…anyway….

Let’s consider how our predecessors sorted things out when confronted with issues concerning education. Starting pre-Constitution…

1784 — Land Ordinance — This was outlined by Thomas Jefferson while we were still floundering under the Articles of Confederation because “Congress did not have the power to raise revenue by direct taxation. Therefore, the immediate goal of the ordinance was to raise money through the sale of land…”

“The ordinance was also significant for establishing a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships…”

Education was a national issue then.

1787 —September 17— the Constitution was signed.

1789 — President George Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance, which established (among other things) “the precedent by which the federal government would be sovereign,” it designated “prohibition of slavery” in the [new] territories, and it stated (Art. 3) that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Under our new constitution and through the Northwest Ordinance, our new nation made a statement of national support for education and its importance as well as inching us ALL towards individual freedom and equal opportunity.

1841/1848 — Congress made grants of land to support public education.

The History Of Federal Government In Public Education: Where Have We Been And How Did We Get Here?

The History Of Federal Government In Public Education: Where Have We Been And How Did We Get Here? League of Women Voters

Education remained a national issue.

1862 — The First Morrill Act (Land Grant Act) was passed granting public lands to support one college per state for specific purposes.

1867 — Original “Office” of Education was established and, in 1890, the Second Morrill Act “gave the Office of Education responsibility for administering support for the original system of land-grant colleges.”

Obviously, there is a pattern of federal support for public education and many more laws followed that have supported educating the nation —very well. (Don’t forget the GI Bill.)

What is missing in kicking off a national conversation now is what John F. Kennedy was very careful to discuss when he proposed the ideas behind what became the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. Can the federal government give aid to the nations’ public schools without exerting “control” over them? The answer is yes.

President Johnson was left to answer for President Kennedy - in law.

President Johnson was left to answer for President Kennedy – in the 1965 ESEA law.

What do our representatives and political candidates now have to say about the proper role of the federal government in education? Can they even tell you what was wrong with NCLB? After all these years, do they have anything specific to say about correcting their mistake? Do they not see how they crossed the line into federal CONTROL versus SUPPORT?

Today, the public is accepting the idea that if politicians say “I support universal preschool” or “community college should be free” that it means they care about supporting the K-12 public education system. That isn’t the case.

K-12 education is the playing field best positioned to offer all kids a chance to explore and fulfill their personal potential. The long-term benefits of preschool without K-3 improvements is still debatable. And, should we really be investing in free community college to make up for what we didn’t do in K-12? How efficient is that?

Did you know we have never provided the funding requested for K-12 disadvantaged students through ESEA Title I? Where’s that conversation taking place?

When the federal policy of the last 15 years undermines the very foundation of K-12 public education — like No Child Left Behind has, does, and continues to do eight years after it should have gone away — that says the lawmakers don’t care.

When the country doesn’t push for the right supports for educating children, what does that say about us?

Grow the vision or let it go?

Grow the vision or let it go?

No deliberation, no debate, no demands, no progress.

End of the road for real national support for public education? Or time to raise the issue to a new level?

According to the 10th Amendment, the people have the power.

Turning the Dream into A Vision

What does equal educational opportunity mean to you? It is the American peoples’ answer to this question that should guide us. To take proper aim, we must identify the target.

“Do America’s citizens understand that public policies have resulted in severely unequal and inadequate education, particularly for disadvantaged children?” Gary Ratner, Foreword to The Crucial Voice of the People

A long forgotten American, Edwin E. Slosson, put it in these terms: “Equality, in the American sense of the word, is not an end but a beginning. It means that, so far as the state can do it, all children shall start in the race of life on an even line. The chief agency for this purpose is the public school system.”

But have we associated our educational shortcomings not with an “overall” poor system but with one that continues to have pockets of inequalities, big and small, that accumulate like so much sludge in an engine? Do we see unequal distribution of quality education as the problem?

Part of The Dream that Martin Luther King spoke of was that children would get a quality public school education no matter where they live, what color their skin is, or how poor they are…I hope this issue still matters to people today.

So what does that dream look like? Here’s what it looks like to me: Children from all walks of life enter classrooms where through their teachers actions and words, the teachers convey the expectation that each and every student will learn in order to fulfill their own personal potential. The instruction children receive is not based on predictions biased by color, race, socioeconomic background, or standardized scores, but rather, it is based on twin expectations — the students are capable and will do their best, and the system will provide challenging, stimulating learning materials relevant to the way the student learns. Children’s learning needs will then be met in the school — equal access to quality education provided.

For children to be ready to make the most of the educational opportunity offered in this dream, the community must step up to meet the needs of disadvantaged children. Schools cannot fulfill their responsibility without parents and communities first fulfilling theirs. We need to define what having children “ready to learn” means.

The American people must provide answers.

Our duty - enlighten each other and guide lawmakers.

Our duty – enlighten each other and guide lawmakers.

Equality, governing by the consent of the governed, freedom—these were our basic American values. Are they still?

Education law at one time embodied our values. At this time, will we define and secure equality of opportunity for children? It is only through equal educational opportunity that the People can fulfill their constitutional responsibility to resist aristocracy – “a ruling class”– and instead establish rule through the consent of an enlightened people.

As John F. Kennedy explained it, “Our present American education system was rounded on the principle that opportunity for education in this country should be available to all—not merely to those who have the ability to pay.”

“Let us in education dream of an aristocracy of achievement arising out of a democracy of opportunity.Thomas Jefferson

Hear Yourself, Mr. President

“Smarter government, “invest in the best ideas,” “partners for progress.”

“It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States.” December, 2008.

487817Hear yourself, Mr. President, and listen to a variety of perspectives as you said you would. “The time has come for a president … who will listen to you and learn from you even when we disagree…. I will be that president for America.” — Obama, after winning the Iowa Caucus

What makes “smarter government”?

Hear this: Some of the best ideas come from our own past by way of new and sometimes unlikely messengers. It is time for reflection on your part. What do you see as the proper role of the federal government in education?

The control and operation of education in America must remain the responsibility of State and local governments and private institutions. This tradition assures our educational system of the freedom, the diversity and the vitality necessary to serve our free society fully.

Let us put to rest the unfounded fears that ‘Federal money means Federal control.’ From The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, originally conceived by Thomas Jefferson, through the Morrill Act of 1862, establishing the still-important and still-independent Land-Grant College system, to the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the Congress has repeatedly recognized its responsibility to strengthen our educational system without weakening local responsibility.” JFK 1965

This was about partnering on way more than early childhood education.

In far too many places, local responsibility has been shirked. We need a return to the “proper Federal role of assistance and leadership.”