Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- July 19, 2004

The Assault upon Trained Intelligence

Ernest Partridge

July 19, 2004

  In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed.

Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education

As anyone with an active and informed interest in the state of our nation is aware, George Bush's "compassionate conservatism" has impacted heavily and cruelly upon today's generation of college students.

It is one thing to know this as an abstract fact, and quite another to face the particular and personal manifestations of these policies. This week we were vividly reminded of the personal dimensions of the educational crisis when we received a message from a young college student in our area, hard-pressed to continue his education amidst the public squalor brought on by Bushenomics. 

The source of the financial emergency facing this student, and millions of others like him, is no mystery.  Federal tax cuts and unfunded mandates have put financial burdens on the states which have, in turn, led to budget cutbacks and tuition increases in the public colleges and universities. Compounding these hardships, the sagging job market has deprived many poor students of the opportunity to put themselves through college. And so, throughout the nation, hordes of qualified and motivated students are being forced to postpone, or perhaps even abandon, their professional aspirations.

The Partridges, professors both, have witnessed this tragedy first-hand, as talented and promising students have had to drop out, as part-time and adjunct faculty at the thresholds of their careers have been "let go," and as course offerings have been withdrawn due to shortages of faculty.

These conditions are being replicated in thousands of public colleges and universities throughout the land.

It is bad enough that millions of our young people are thus being deprived of the opportunity to realize their potentials and achieve their aspirations in life. Far worse are the implications of this fiscal starvation of public higher education for the future of our country. It is indisputable that no nation can compete and survive in this technological age, without a trained work force. Nor can an advanced and free civilization endure without a cadre of educated public servants -- lawyers, doctors, professors, entrepreneurs, administrators -- and a public liberally educated in the history and political laws and traditions of the state, and instilled with critical skills, moral insight and civic responsibility.

In sum: Public education is not, as the right wing regressives would have it, merely an avenue of opportunity for those individuals who can afford it. The education of each individual is an essential investment in the future of the entire society.

The city of New York recognized this a century ago, when it established its system of tuition-free City Colleges (now the City University of New York). In the City College system, students were accepted on academic merit alone, and the competition was fierce. Living at home and commuting by subway, children of immigrants had a "ladder" of opportunity that led them from poverty to the professions -- an avenue that was taken by thousands of outstanding and productive scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers and teachers. These were exemplars of Thomas Jefferson's "natural aristocracy of talent and virtue."

The City University system was replicated in California, as it established what was to become the world's finest public university system -- until, that is, Ronald Reagan became the Governor of California, and until, in 1979, the infamous "Proposition 13" slashed California tax revenues.

Today, as tuition costs rise at the City University of New York, in the California public universities, and in public colleges and universities throughout the land, the door to higher education is closing to the talented and motivated young people who have the misfortune of also being poor.

I was vividly reminded of this national outrage this past week, by an e-mail message from a student residing in a neighboring city. We'll call him "Chris" (not his real name, of course).

By way of introduction, "Chris" writes: "I am 23 years old, attending community college ... I have had an interest in politics, the environment, social ethics, etc. since George W. Bush started his presidency in 2000 and he kept saying/doing things that were dissonant with my own instinctive sense of right and wrong. I've always been a voracious consumer of literature, and in 2000 I began learning a lot about American government, politics."

He thus described his plight:

I can't get financial aid for school, I've just been laid off from one of the two dead-end jobs that I was working, my mother is barely getting by (I'm still living with her,) I am up to my ears in debt from my one year at [a] State College (which I still couldn't afford with all the borrowing,) I have absolutely no health/dental/vision insurance of any kind (nor can I afford any,) along with several other problems. In short, I have been feeling absolutely no hope of fulfilling my life's purpose of becoming a lawyer and getting a new critical-thinking/progressive political movement rolling.

However, the "conservatives," state and national, have offered Chris and others like him a solution -- or is it a bribe?

I come from a military-oriented family and serving my country has always appealed to me, but I never did so because I didn't want to be forced to fight an immoral war. Now that my life is in shambles, however, and the military is offering to basically solve the problems I mentioned earlier, I am seriously considering it. I just don't know if I could live with my decision later, given the current situation. I love my country and if I knew that the military would never be used for illegitimate reasons I'd have no moral dilemma. I just know though that I could end up killing others because our leaders are dysfunctional, for whatever reason. On the positive side, the military will guarantee my ability to finish school, because they will pay off my student loans and give me the GI Bill money to get a law degree.

When asked for counsel, it has been my policy not to state my opinions outright, but rather to point out relevant facts and to seek with the individual, a clarification of his or her own feelings and motivations. But such an approach is better realized through conversation than through correspondence.

And so, my first suggestion was that given his strong political convictions, he might contact the Democratic Party offices at one of the sixteen "battleground states," where he could offer his full-time services in exchange for a minimal "room and board" compensation. (Of course, he should also explain his difficult financial situation). Such political work can open up excellent career and educational opportunities, especially to those who wish to study law and politics.

In view of our shared convictions about the immorality of Bush's Iraq war, and the fact that Chris had read much of what I had written for this website, I was uncharacteristically blunt about "the military option."

First of all, I advised him to look very carefully at what the military might be offering concerning post-service college support. And I further noted that he should most certainly seek out a second opinion, outside the military. There may be much less opportunity than meets the eye. Furthermore, when he has finished his service, there may be much less available than he is being promised today. Bush has ruthlessly slashed military and veteran's benefits. Some wounded vets are warehoused in old barracks where they must wait months before receiving medical care. Recently, wounded soldiers were charged for their hospital meals -- until this outrage was made public. So one shouldn't count on that college assistance being available, after one's tour of duty.

Though vehemently opposed to the Iraqi war Chris nonetheless hoped that if he were assigned to Iraq, he might "do some good for the Iraqi people." This, I suggested, might be very difficult, for as an American soldier, he would be an instrument of national policy -- which means, of course, Bush and neo-con policy. Because of the incredible botch by the Bush Administration, the vast majority of Iraqis regard the American troops, not as liberators, but as occupiers. (Just read the public opinion surveys). No Iraqi can be trusted by our troops -- all are presumed guilty until proven innocent. This is quite understandable, since the Iraqis' attitude toward their occupiers is exactly the same as our might be, if a foreign army were to occupy our country. All soldiers are "the enemy." The compassion of individual soldiers counts for very little. So there is little opportunity for "winning hearts and minds."

Believing as we both do, that Bush is engaged in "warmongering and imperialism," then he must understand that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is not about freedom. Most Iraqis would agree. The Bush doctrine of "spreading democracy" is contradicted by its support of oppressive regimes throughout the world, often in brutal opposition to authentic popular democratic movements. As for Bush's devotion to democracy here in the US -- well, we all know the rest.

To close, this is where you come in, dear reader. First of all, what would you suggest to "Chris" -- and by extension, to any and all of the many young people facing a similar dilemma? More to the point, are you in a position to put this intelligent, articulate, and highly motivated person to work in the cause that we all support? 

Send your responses to me at crisispapers@comcast.net, and I will relay them on to Chris.

He is ready, willing, and able to join the fight to restore our democracy, and awaits his "orders."

So too, you can be sure, are many other young people in a similar situation. Clearly George Bush and the right-wing regressives have no interest in helping these worthy people. So it is up to us.

Copyright 2004 by Ernest Partridge


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .