Can You Imagine?By Angela Smith, HEAL National Coordinator/Co-Founder
If you are incapable of using your imagination, then, you likely are not intelligent enough to read further and understand what is written usefully. If you can imagine, then, bear with me and open your mind.
Imagine, if you will, being a child with parents who are functionally illiterate and were pushed through school with poor grades showing they never understood but the teacher wanted them to go through the facade of pretending to have been educated in order to support the status quo and delusions regarding efficacy of education services whether publicly or privately provided to those with limited resources. Now, imagine there were no books in the home and your parents didn't place any importance on literacy or were too ashamed or afraid of being challenged by a better educated child. It is possible that they thought they could read and write well enough and may have even taught you incorrectly prior to entering school.
For the above situation and prior to going into the extended trajectory or potential trajectory for such an individual, what would you do to solve the problem? Hillary Clinton would suggest removing the child from the home with the illiterate parents and putting the child in a behavioral work camp so they learn to be productive citizens. Of course, this is horribly short-sighted and results in further exploitation rather than advancement of literacy and human rights. But, it is one option. Others might suggest doing away with education altogether or full privatization. But, more ignorance and illiteracy is not going to lead to a safer, more harmonious, and more enlightened world. So, what's the answer?
It seems addressing the failures in educating earlier generations by offering free basic education even to those the system pretended to educate while not doing so, particularly in the case of parents or parents-to-be who clearly need help, would address part of the issue. While there are a number of free literacy and basic education services available throughout the US, it seems those who need the help are least able to navigate the system or even begin to know where to go for help as a result of illiteracy. In addition, they may be in exploited job positions and working 60+ hours per week and have no time for pursuing basic education unless their employer requires and/or authorizes it.
In addition, even with homeless populations, job services and training offered often do not include literacy, civics (basic navigation of government services for aid, redress, etc.), or math, and are run by people looking to profit off the continued exploitation of the populations to be trained without also being informed of their rights or legal remedies in the event of exploitation.
So, the facade of barely passing every grade with D's or worse and graduating without actually being educated creates a scenario in which people have the diploma without the value of an education. Exploitative employers accept it and are polite enough not to suggest someone could use additional academic services since a better informed employee might report illegal or unconscionable practices of the employer or be able to figure out swiftly what remedies exist for the exploitation. And, with behaviorism as the primary tool in US schools teaching obedience, unquestioning response to positive or negative stimuli, and acceptance of token rewards never to be expected but always accepted with appreciation, the employee is prepared to compete in the race to the bottom on quality of life in modern global imperialism. So, people like Hillary Clinton will say that's working for Wall Street and good enough for her.
Now, still imagining you're the child with overworked, functionally illiterate parents who own no books and didn't prepare you for school in any way other than obedience training, you start kindergarten without the benefit of even any home-schooling for pre-school. And, your parents can't help with homework. No one considers hiring a tutor and the school doesn't offer tutoring supports. Even if the school does, the parents who are functionally illiterate don't understand the option exists. You do your best but are found too far behind to be with your peers and put in special education where basically warehoused until graduating if you make it.
You get a job like your parents and continue life as usual. You don't know any other way of life and even though you see people living different and arguably better lives, you attribute it to luck or a fortune of birth. Now, what if you lost your job or never found one? Imagine you end up homeless due the circumstances as described thus far. What do you do and how do you want to be treated?
Most people in the above described situation have no idea where to start to get help or get what they need going forward. Most of society (including supposed do-gooders) assumes they are equally educated and choosing poverty or too lazy to get a real job. This is denial of the reality of the disparity in academic resources and practices between affluent and impoverished community schools as well as the historical reality of said disparity and the resulting generations of ignorance and exploitation resulting from said disparity.
We can blame the victims of generational exploitation as a result of historic and modern failures in distribution of basic resources to provide for truly equal opportunity from an equal position in regards to understanding the basics of reading, writing, math, and civics, or, accept that as a society we are failing our most vulnerable in not simply making sure everyone has equal opportunity and a basic understanding of how to protect themselves from fraud, abuse, and exploitation.
Perhaps all public schools should offer parents basic reading, writing, math, and civics lessons who may otherwise not be equipped to assist their children with homework or effectively demand redress if exploited by their employer. Another option would be for those with time and resources to offer in-home tutoring for the whole family in these areas for free or through a non-profit in which the families in need don't have to pay for help, but, society contributes for the greater good. See, if a kid sees his parents taking learning seriously, struggles with them to learn certain things, and is a better student as a result, everybody wins!
Otherwise, the alternative... Imagine you never get the academic support or education needed to even begin to navigate life responsibly as an adult. You are abused and exploited and have no idea who to call for help and are under the impression based on the behaviorism in schools that no one cares what happens to you anyway. You try to get work, but, people say you are unqualified. So, you go to a farm and see if you can do manual labor and find out you actually need some skill for that too. And, your asthma and allergies due to being from a neighborhood with toxins in the water and air from industrialization make any real physical labor, especially in the outdoors, untenable at best. Maybe you end up on the street and get hassled, abused, or even locked up a few times for "loitering" when you just needed to sit for a minute. You might feel the world is against you and intentionally making your life miserable. Do you think you may become violent as a result of systemic failures in addressing the historical imbalances of opportunity for socio-economic mobility as a result of what appears from some perspectives to be an intentional perpetuation of that inequality masquerading as mandatory education? If so, is your solution to criminalize anyone who didn't have the luxury of your upbringing and academic resources? In that case, you have it coming.
Now, if you believe the answer is to fight ignorance with true comprehension, critical thinking, and understanding of the basic skills everyone needs to succeed or even have a legitimate chance at success, then who do we trust with the task? The public schools have been failing in this regard for some time and the private/charter schools are often fraudulent and fail to educate effectively as well. Is it how teachers are trained or the schools themselves? Well, having prepared some in college for a career in teaching, I must say it wasn't the college or university materials that were the problem. During my time as a student teacher, I saw what was going on in the classroom and school. In history class it was an episode of Oprah, no books at all, and an assignment to take notes on the episode to write a paper on it later. Nelson Mandela was the topic of that Oprah. But, the assignment didn't suggest any library work or further exploration on the topic or historical significance. The teacher I "shadowed" told me I would be a great educator, but, the school wasn't about that. This was a public school in a middle class neighborhood. So, maybe if we make public school about actual education, where true comprehension, critical thinking, and understanding of the basics, including how to navigate the government for redress and to enforce individual rights and liberties, we can honestly say that we provided all the basics and encourage people to use existing and available resources to effectively engage in upward mobility.
And, continuing to blame victims and tear apart families while institutionalizing and basically enslaving the youngest family members is really evil and likely to result in more violence and social unrest. But, hey, that's how we keep prison slavery a thing, right? More money, more problems. But, having basic reading, writing, math, and system navigational skills, is truly priceless. Knowledge is power. Power to the People!