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the case for education
hope for the future lies in people who make time to educate and inform
by margot carmichael lester

A couple weeks ago, columnist Gwynne Dyer wrote a great column called, "Is Saddam the Next Stalin?". It’s fascinating.

And it speaks to something that has been eating at my craw for a while now. I've noticed an alarming lack of context among many people discussing the war. Hell, there's an alarming lack of context among many people RUNNING the war. It appears that decisions are being made, stances taken and actions executed with little or no regard for long-standing allegiances and alliances, world history, or religious or cultural understanding/tolerance.

It's an ongoing cycle, if you ask me. Does anyone else see the irony in the fact that people were more educated about world history, world affairs and world cultures when the world was, in point of fact, rather more inaccessible than it is now? How is it that we are somehow LESS knowledgeable, less aware even, of the constellation of events and ideologies and alliances that have gotten us to this point? The war on Iraq is not happening within a vacuum. And the implications of Shrubco's just-shy-of-unilateral actions will have implications far beyond human casualties of war.

In this time of screaming news guys, placard-waving zealots and bombastic pundits, there is an unprecedented need for quiet, reasonable activists with passion, vision, knowledge and a dedication to purpose. This is particularly true as our government runs slipshod around the globe making unilateral decisions and dividing the world.

I hear the hue and cry for change rising up from peace marches all over the world. I am adding my voice.

My hope for the future lies in people who make time to educate and inform. Who motivate us to learn more, to dig into subjects we care about and then share that passion and information with others. Who inspire us to take up unpopular causes and advocate for the accused, the unrecognized and the underserved. Who not only have big ideas, but the tools to execute them.

And so we must work to give those tools to more people.

In general, America's citizens have lost the ability to link historical perspective to current events, creating a narrow and inaccurate aperture through which to view the world. How can we widen and sharpen that worldview? Improving our society's ability to consider events and issues in context depends on first educating/informing people on history, politics, economics, culture and geography (among other things) and a renewed emphasis on critical thinking.

There are any number of ways to build a learned society and even baby steps can make a big difference. Pay attention. Engage in discussions with people of opposing views. Try to understand other perspectives, and try to help others understand yours. Challenge yourself to articulate and defend your positions, then do the same unto others. Participate in after-school programs to help kids learn and perform better at school. Teach an adult to read. Get a group of compatriots together for a teach-in. Write letters to the editor. Vote. Run for office or support with your time and money someone who will.

If you're not doing something, you're just talking.


Margot’s a content strategist and freelance journalist. She consults with and/or writes for businesses large and small, and new and traditional media. She’s also the author of four books, including Be a Better Writer: Power Tools for Young Writers -- co-written with her husband, Steve Peha -- won the 2007 Independent Publishers Association gold medal for teen/young-adult nonfiction. She is currently working on two additional titles in the Better Writer Series, one for college students and another for corporate employees. A Southern belle and sex symbol for the intelligentsia, she was born, raised and still lives in Orange County, N.C.

more about margot carmichael lester


the politics of lipstick
sen. obama has called gov. palin a pig? are you serious?!
by margot carmichael lester
topic: news
published: 9.26.08

obscenity is your friend (at least sometimes)
who decides what's obscene?
by margot carmichael lester
topic: news
published: 4.13.03


tracey kelley
4.9.03 @ 10:04p

"If you're not doing something, you're just talking."


eloise young
4.9.03 @ 10:33p

It is indeed extremely alarming to feel that the world has turned into a chess game where one of the players is only looking two moves ahead. And I'm a pawn on that side. No matter how many more pieces are left on my side, I don't fancy my chances for a quiet life going forward.

And to look more than two moves ahead really does require an understanding of how all the pieces interact, the rational and irrational relationships between actions and perceptions, and the cycles of history and geography.

What has broken here so that someone who had essentially never travelled internationally was able to pass through many checkpoints to take such a powerful international role? He and his selected adminstration now have so much potential to destroy in just a few years what the world, and his fellow countrymen and ancestors, have struggled for so long to build.

I only hope that the rest of the world will have as short a memory of the actions of the US at this time as the current administration seems to have of the lessons of history.

matt morin
4.9.03 @ 11:42p

The problem is, it's hard to educate people when Bush sets aside only $53.1 billion for education, but somehow finds $80 billion to fund an unnecessary war.

He'll spend almost $380 billion on the military (up 15% in the past two years) while only giving education a 2.8% increase.

margot lester
4.10.03 @ 1:43a

right on, matt. what's even scarier is that in california, and a couple other states, the figure prison spending on second grade test scores. so you might think that would lead them to put more spending in education, but, um, well, not so much.

adam kraemer
4.10.03 @ 10:08a

I don't think it's just the US. How quickly have the French people forgotten the lessons of WWII? Or the Germans the dangers of a despotic ruler?

What's the saying - those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it? At the same time, I don't know that you can claim people know less about the world now than they did 50 years ago. What is this based on? What parts of history should be looked at and what parts have no bearing? Is this current war like Vietnam? Or like Korea? Or like the French fighting on our side during the American revolution? Or like the Teapot-Dome scandal or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff? Or the US staying out of WWI right up until we absolutely had to fight? Placing this month's invasion of Iraq in context is only meaningful if you get the right context.

Oh, and Matt, there's no need to editorialize. The fact that Bush is spending almost twice as much on war as he is on education speaks to itself enough that you didn't need to include the word "unnecessary" to paint the bigger picture.


travis broughton
4.10.03 @ 11:07a

Bush should be spending more on defense/foreign policy than he should be on education, unless you're talking about Jeb. Education should primarily be funded by state and local government budgets, not be federal ones.

juli mccarthy
4.10.03 @ 11:17a

It all ties in, Travis. State funding for education is very closely tied to federal spending, in that the states have to make up what the feds don't pay for. This doesn't stop the federal government from handing down all sorts of lovely educational mandates. Let's face it, there's nobdy out there who is going to come out and SAY "education should be a low priority" but there's plenty of evidence to show that it is not the high priority politicians pretend it is.

sarah ficke
4.10.03 @ 11:23a

We all know that states are chronically low on money (Massachusetts is having major budget problems right now) and I think the federal government should pick up some of the slack. How else are states with lower incomes going to turn out well-educated students who can compete with more well-off areas and make a contribution to their country?

russ carr
4.10.03 @ 11:43a

Bus them out of state?

erik myers
4.10.03 @ 11:50a

It's just a hell of a long bus ride every morning.

adam kraemer
4.10.03 @ 12:49p

I heard a rumor that Oregon just had to cut back to 4-day school weeks for lack of money. Anyone know if this is true?

margot lester
4.10.03 @ 12:52p

i know they and other put-upon school districts are considering it, and i think it's been done in montana. more alarming is the fact that last week or so, alameda county in northern california laid off ALL its teachers to save money between sessions. some, but not all, will get their jobs back. how scary is that?

michelle von euw
4.10.03 @ 1:27p

That's totally frightening, Margot. Teachers should be extremely well-paid, and rewarded for performance. (I'm generally pro-union, although I think in this case, it actually hurts the process. If teachers were treated like, I don't know, managers and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, maybe they wouldn't need unions.)

I'm still blown away by the fact that the government has not yet figured out basic cause and effect. Provide more money for education, programs that give poor children a safe place to go after school, and five or ten years later, you'll have to spend less money on the criminal justice system and welfare.


adam kraemer
4.10.03 @ 1:47p

Anyone watch "Boston Public"? There was an interesting suggestion for paying teachers last week - privatize all schools, make them free, and have everyone pay 1% out of their salary for the rest of their lives for teachers' pay and education in general. With the number of people in this country, it would be a significant windfall, even if everyone only made $1000 a year.

margot lester
4.10.03 @ 2:44p

both michelle and adam's points illustrate why it's so crucial that people volunteer in schools or do after-school tutoring and other projects through non-profit orgs or churches/synagogues. for instance, in LA we have school on wheels, which provides homework help, tutoring and basic instruction for homeless kids. that will help until we can reform the educational system to reward, not punish, people who want to teach.

tracey kelley
4.10.03 @ 5:49p

As adults, we really don't have any reason not to support the next generation. All we have to do is think about the myriad adults who helped us at one time while we were growing up - be it a coach, teacher, friend's mother, drama instructor, whatever. It's myopic to think we can't "do" something about changing the world....

...when, instead of bitching about the government, we should step outside our own front door on a daily basis and make change happen right then.

juli mccarthy
4.10.03 @ 6:56p

As most Intrepid Premium members know, I do that. It ain't easy, and there's a surprising amount of resistance to volunteerism in the schools. The resistance surprises me more than the apathy, which I expected. Ultimately, even on as small a scale as I am working, it all boils down to politics... in the case here, petty "I wanna be in charge" crap. It's so sad.

margot lester
4.10.03 @ 7:00p

i hear ya, juli. the union's and the overemphasis on pedagogy keep fantastic "lay" teachers out of the classroom all over the country. thank god for you and others who figure out ways to get in. here in cali there are some decent programs like the ROP that enable you to teach without being "credentialled". and in n.c., we were able to develop a curriculum in entrepreneurism and actually (god forbid) have entrepreneurs and other professionals teach it. it takes a lot of work, though, to break down the barriers. but what choice do we have?


juli mccarthy
4.10.03 @ 7:49p

We DON'T have a choice. It's long past time for the public to re-assert its ownership of the public schools. Private education is not the answer.

matt morin
4.10.03 @ 7:55p

Well, private education is the answer for some people, but definitely not the majority.

My brother, sister and I all went to Montessori through 6th grade and I got an education that was light years better than any public school I would have attended.

My father was also a Montessori school teacher for a few years, and my sister now teaches at a Montessori school in Australia.

juli mccarthy
4.10.03 @ 8:12p

Private education is an individual's choice, but I maintain that excellence in public education is what we should be striving for. All US taxpayers pay for public education...those who put their children in private schools are essentially paying twice for education. If they can afford to do that, more power to them. But, it's not an option for most. Those who come out of a substandard educational system are expected to live and work and compete and succeed, without the necessary tools to do so.

In short, it stinks, and it's not going to change until we take charge on our children's behalf.

matt morin
4.10.03 @ 8:17p

True. Unfortunately, most parents don't care about it as much as you do, Juli.

If every parent had Juli's level of involvement in their child's education, Federal money or not, the kids would be a lot better off.

margot lester
4.10.03 @ 8:19p

it's not just kids, though. there are tons of people who got through to junior high or even beyond who are functionally illiterate and innumerate, or barely able to function. we need to work with young adults and adults, as well, to help them develop the skills they need to succeed and pass those same skills onto their children and others in their community. almost every town has a literacy council. just an hour a week tutoring can make a HUGE difference.

juli mccarthy
4.10.03 @ 8:25p

Not to monopolize this discussion, but I wanted to comment on Michelle's mention of unions. The teachers' unions reward teachers who have staying power - we call it "tenure" and the qualifications for tenure have gone so low they've gone past ridiculous. There are many dedicated teachers out there trying their best to educate youngsters well. And there's at least that many who are just biding their time until retirement. It's time the unions stepped up their standards, too.

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