The bitter cold, heavy snow in Michigan this winter reminds me how extreme societal accounting has become in the United States of America. In recent days I had lunch with a colleague who is a social scientist. Our conversation was light heart exchange about the changes in higher education. I was sharing my concerns about cost of college today. Tuition is a sensitive subject within the academy and society at large. Public education is wielding from the pressure to fund. In my native home of Detroit public education has nearly dissolved. I voiced my concern that public education has drastically changed, been reduced to the point of near death. His reaction was somewhat agreeable that change was inevitable in public education. Furthermore, he did not share my alarm beyond public education was changing. Our conversation was cordial but opposing. Last, he summarized that public education K-12 along with colleges, universities should realize what was inevitable that the old days were just that old. The debate over public education in his point was not only over but I sensed good riddance. This position regarding public education is reflective of many in America.
The death of public education concerns me for the principle of its legacy to provide in American democracy the foundation to allow every person an opportunity to educate themselves in being a solid citizen. That citizenship bolstered our democracy to be informed in making decisions regarding our nation. The core of public education gave way to those who came from humble means a bridge to improve themselves. I had learned over my own experience that education allowed the common person to connect to a society that encouraged improvement by taking advantage of public education. This principle of American democracy coupled with hard work was once considered the American way. It did not matter who you were or where you came from? Fact, be it immigrant, migrant, this new nation, America gave an education that intersect with the tenets of a free society. Public education was the foundation in which education taught everyone how to read, function in society for basic living.
The discussion about public education, higher education troubled me deeply. More troubling was the opposing point was bottom line the good old days were over. Good old days frames this dilemma beyond a mere conversation. My colleague like others in our society believe that public support for not only education but other institutions socially must cease. The new charge of every person for themselves is the key to our leadership by a so-called conservative philosophy. A sense of only the strong will survive is the rule of Social Darwinism. The end of our lunch conversation left me more concerned as my colleague stated with a matter of fact that he felt America still had fat that must be trimmed. Our gentleman discussion ended with my declaration that the common person in America had no fat. In fact I insisted that many in my research were skinny compared to those who were fat. The skinny in public education are starving as the fat have decided that public education is in no danger. Privatization of education is taking on some strange images under the guise of charters, non-profit, and religious movements. Erasing unions, circling the wagons to protect their private operations has not shown a good resolve thus far. The market value of many children in distressed communities is sum zero. Low wages, fat profits has shown its ugly face in a community like Highland Park, Michigan. During prosperous earlier times the small hamlet of a community provided excellent public K-12 including free tuition for the Highland Park Community College for those who lived in the city.
Public education has always meant a public that includes everyone. As belt tightening continues the so-called fat is really substance for the common family. The working middle class is still wielding after heavy job loss, high unemployment. Property taxes coupled with foreclosures for those once employed have crippled many in the post industrial fallout that once employed thousands directly in the auto industry. The auto industry has transformed itself surviving bankruptcy for General Motors. This new slimmer auto industry is a good model for economic change. That same model has not been successful for cities. As Detroit reinvents itself the cutting of public institutions is much more complicated. Human beings are not machines, downsizing humanity is not really quite the same. Public education is the cornerstone of American democracy. There is no fat comparable in the investment of educating the workers, citizens of tomorrow. Detroit leaders have rallied to save art institutions. That makes sense, no doubt. The more complex human factor for schools, libraries, parks and recreation, housing, public transportation need the same effort by leaders. The moral factor is shunned by many. Social scientist are not the moralist most times. So, let us look at the self interest of American society. Detroit, Flint and other distressed cities will need the same effort of brain power to steer an effort to not have skinny folks. In the many cities there is little fat on the little guys. Fat? Fat is in the prosperous cities. The whole discussion reminds me of the old street poet.
“Fat and Skinny were playing in bed. Fat turned over and Skinny was dead.”
Fat city is prosperous and Skinny City is the poor, poorly educated communities. A tale of two cities is not new. What is different it seems we have not learned from our past mistakes. The Forgotten City is where resentment breeds contempt, hate and crime. That drain off the other city, the prosperous city is relevant. There is much to learn, change, hopefully we will reinvent our efforts that will bolster our cities. The tale of two cities is dangerous, counterproductive.