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Chicago & Education

Updated on March 5, 2013

Recently, the mayor of Chicago announced that the city will fund its educational system with an additional $50 million dollars. No doubt cynics and skeptics abound. Or maybe just people who do not like to be taken advantage of. Where will the money come from? Out of whose pocket(s)? It obviously will not come from the mayor's wardrobe account. Emanuel wears only the best threads. He has to. He represents a big city. Big enough to perform transactions in staggering amounts. On the surface, the proposal is golden. Until one stops to think of the fact that all this money comes from people whose various goals in life very likely do not include making politicians look good. Chicagoans can do as they please; they elected him. This is only a thinkpiece on the fact that this sort of practice involving handouts is the very thing Republicans strive not to do. Democrats do it and look good. Republicans don't and look bad. It is all about being an elected official. Superficiality combined with demagoguery is the name of the game. Politicians in 2013 are like models, darlings of the camera, crooning sound bites. But there is something upright and much more wholesome about education than most other projects (such as fixing potholes, since this is northern Illinois, after all). It is highly laudable to bolster a faltering educational system. America is starved for an educated citizenry. This is a virtue that has always eluded the country. Education is less privileged than before, but it is also not taken very seriously. Education cannot be stressed enough.

And by the way, the money is not yet a done deal. But chances are it will be, because its target is a dog story many will fall for. For this one in particular, I happen to be a sucker myself. At one time, a man or woman did not have to know how to read or write to make a decent living. Those days are pretty much over. But this is a strange dog story, too. And the reason for that is America's inborn hatred for the educated, who read, think, write, speak, and somehow attract bad vibes. Politicians praise hardworking people to the heights, but do they ever mention hard thinking people? Spiro Agnew had a few choice words for them, and his voice remains pretty much that of America today. Back then, colleges and universities were recruiting grounds for civil disobedience. Things, to be fair, have to be contextualized. Only consider here, for the sake of argument, how impossible it is for deprived children in a tough city to gain an education. The anti-intellectual merriment begins with his or her peers, and if he or she can survive this gauntlet, there will be further encounters, moving ever upward to include the professional classes. They are also disrespectful. The more successful careerists get their educations behind them as quickly as possible. People who study more than they have to are, admittedly, weird. But the animosity they suffer is disproportionate in the extreme. And there is little the ostracized can do. If they stray too far from a sympathetic campus, forget it.

It is worth giving some thought to the fact that education is not the only system that should be all-inclusive and is not. There are still industries and businesses that routinely accept some and reject others of equal or better caliber. It almost seems as if personnel departments are as responsible for unemployment as they are for employment. Ever get a dressing down from a personnel specialist? America is not as egalitarian or all-embracive as it should be. The Democrats and Republicans are always going at it, but they know how to protect themselves when their chips are down. We do not, those of us who are not "gang-members", and there are everyday tensions today that never resolve themselves. We are supposed to be a diverse people, melded into one (e pluribus unum). Not so. Sometimes hostilities ramp up to the breaking point. That is why the NRA, in addition to the police, are domestic America's greatest hope. Too many guns? Frankly, not enough -- not in the right hands. They are needed almost everywhere. The American people deserve to shoot back when shot at. So many are at risk. Anyone who attends school is a moving target -- if I have been reading the news accurately. Educate, yes, but also provide for safety. Turning the government's back on helpless citizens -- young, middle-aged, or old -- hardly seems to have been the original intent of our Constitution.

Some Americans are never uglier than when it comes to education. If something needs to be read, let it be bumper stickers and road signs. What else is there? Besides scripture, of course -- which is actually harder than it looks. Americans have fewer highly educated people compared to other countries, speaking proportionally. In this regard, the greatness America lays claim to has been seriously eroded. And trends today will likely keep it that way. Today, Americans have as much of a dependency on foreign intelligence as oil. Much more than they are willing to admit. And if the Chinese and Japanese, or Europeans and Pakistanis, for instance, do not return phone calls from stumped American executives, what then? Emanuel's plan should be more ambitious. Chicago would serve well as a font of education. It can compete against Boston, New York City, Princeton, Philadelphia, Chapel Hill, and other locales where education is rich and spectacular. It is an exceptionally worthy cause. But the cause, as presented, though a good one -- though a great one -- has a credibility gap. Can the goal really be accomplished?

It is the same all over. There are few states or municipalities or counties or regions or however one wants to slice the American pie that cannot benefit from improvements in education. Money is a step in the right direction. There is no going ahead without it. Like love, money cannot buy education. It can, it is true, to a degree, change the odds. Education is absolutely essential. In print, Emanuel has it right. But is there really a concrete machinery to make it happen, in place and ready to go? Incidentally, Emanuel is targeting children who are in grave danger, by virtue of complex social issues, of not receiving any education at all. The cracks in the system are wide. I hope the Chicago mayor succeeds despite my doubts.


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