Do We Really Want Equality?

We ain’t gonna get it the way we’re going. We ain’t gonna get it by congressional decree. It will take money and generations. It always has.

One of the most important elements of equality is equality of education, because this affects the future. But the system we have evolved serves best to perpetuate inequality. This is largely because of our dependence on property tax to fund schools, and the push by the wealthy to weaken public education with charter schools and other corporate intrusions.

The rich having more property to tax, schools in rich districts are better funded. The poor have almost no property, so schools in those areas are chronically underfunded, creating a self-perpetuating inequality quite independent of other factors.

How about doing something radical, like requiring that all students be funded equally? Radical? There are 43 nations all around the world who do this, many of them in poor countries. Of those, a number also require extra funding for underprivileged children. 

When this becomes law it will be apparent that poor students are routinely underfunded, because funding for rich students will drop as much as it is increased for poor districts. This enlightenment is desirable, because it will point out how unequal funding is. The problem, then, is to provide adequate funding for every student, something that is long overdue.

Our educational system perpetuates inequality.

We must not be distracted by corporate conservative plans to privatize public education. Care must be taken to fully preserve public school funding. No one should escape this responsibility. (We must also realize that charter schools are not an improvement over public schools, about which I will have more to say later.) If the rich want to send their children to private schools they are free to do so, but they must also pay their fair share for public schools, and the same is true for homeschoolers and others. Anything else weakens one of our most important public institutions.

It seems that most white Americans think that all black Americans are poor and all poor are black. However, most of the poor are not black. Social conditions everywhere there is poverty are unsatisfactory, and the only way this will change is for the country to accept the fact that corrective action will require significant funding over time to change it.

Unfortunately, we expect great social changes in very short periods with no new money. Further, conservatives believe that lower taxes and expenditures are always an improvement, which contradicts the facts. Sometimes we expect schools to improve by decree, or as the result of a new law passed by Congress, with no change in how students are funded. That doesn’t work.

Significant changes require investment, and results are measured over generations, not months. Do you want the best coders for your IT company? Do you think you will get them by paying the least you can get away with, the way teachers are paid? Do you want the students to be tech savvy? Think that will happen without buying the latest computers? Do you think students should get a well-rounded education? Do you think that will happen without the arts?

Educational changes require investment,
and results are measured over generations.

The proof that educational change takes a long time is seen in every wave of immigrants the country has ever had. Many new immigrants were undereducated or illiterate, no matter where they came from. First generation Americans were too busy working to learn English well. They were not affluent, but did their best to be sure their children were educated. The second generation spoke both English and the old language, and became better educated and more affluent. The third generation did not speak the old language, and earned bachelor’s and advanced degrees, and became comfortably affluent.

If it takes three generations for immigrants to achieve affluence, it is unlikely that a single generation of people born into poverty and bad social conditions will be able to rise above it. It will take generations. That’s why such concentration must be placed on children, even before they are born. Children born into equal opportunity will do well, and the first step is to assure equal schools with equal funding.

Why do so many of the poor do badly in school and end up as misfits, often on the wrong side of the law? The reason has more to do with racial prejudice than anything else, but cultural valuing of education, so strong in a number of Asian cultures, is a powerful mitigating factor. African-Americans are not the only victims of racism. Until after WWII Asians were routinely denied the benefits of democracy, and today hatred of Spanish-speaking immigrants is at an all time high.

Children born into equal opportunity do well,
and the first step is equal funding.

But blacks are probably the most affected by racism because of the long legacy of slavery and discrimination. This is reflected in the reprehensible treatment of normal, law-abiding citizens provided by police simply because of skin color that has been so much in the news lately. Police violence affects all blacks. No black man, no matter his achievements, no matter what he is doing at any moment, is absolutely safe from murder by the police. It happens every few days.

Much of this reprehensible treatment of various minority groups (who, incidentally, will soon be the national majority) is pure racism. It is part and parcel of the conservative outlook, and is virtually impervious to factual truths that contradict the prejudice. Changing racism takes generations too. Most educated Southerners overcame the ugly racism of their recent ancestors, but it took generations.

If you want less crime and a better society, invest in opportunity for the long term. But you must invest.


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