Then and Now

Then

Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia in order to make it possible for young gentlemen to receive an education so they could eventually become involved in politics and make wise decisions in an effort to run the country. Like cream in milk, the best would rise to the top and become the brains that would determine how the state and the country are best served. [We see how that turned out!] All of the young people were to be accorded three years of free education, including the girls. The girls would not proceed further, but the best and brightest boys would be encouraged to continue their eduction and the very best and brightest would attend the University. Plato thought women could become philosopher kings and while Jefferson admired Plato — and most assuredly borrowed ideas from his Republic — he did not go as far as Plato, sad to say.

In any event. I was born in Charlottesville and many (many) years ago I returned and visited a room in one of the original dormitories at the university and saw where the young men were housed — with stairs in the room leading down to a dark, small room below where the slave who attended to his master lived. It was disturbing, to say the least, though unlike many others I do not fault Jefferson for his racial and gender prejudices as they were common in his day and he made up for his blindness in that direction by seeing so many other things that were important for this young nation — like the essential relationship between education and the survival of democracy.  Unlike many others, I make every effort to separate the man from his ideas.

Now

Nowadays the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia is a reputable institution and a prominent member of the NCAA Division I  — with a football team that has 85 full scholarships awarded to the best, strongest, fastest athletes, many of whom, including the quarterback, are black. (Please note the irony!) The university has 25 sports teams, in fact, nicely balanced between the men and women (yes, the women are allowed to enroll at the university if you can imagine!) Like so many major universities in this country, the athletic teams dominate the scene and the notion that the university is there to prepare young people for a life of public service, the carrying out of their civic duties, has been buried beneath the merde that has become the Division I university of our day.

Years ago I suggested that athletes in Division I schools be paid a salary and those few who wanted to attend classes and actually learn and have their minds expanded could damn-well pay for it just like the other students. With the salaries they would make as semi-professional athletes they could well afford it. There is some talk these days about allowing the young men and women who play sports in those large universities to be paid a stipend that would be based on the amount of monies the universities make in this day and age of ENTERTAINMENT where, as things now stand, the athletes are exploited by avaricious universities that make millions in TV revenue and from playing in the plethora of Bowl Games that grace our television sets from Christmas until well after New Years (40 at last count). They stole my idea, but my plan is more honest.

Things have changed. But as we must admit, all change is not progress. To be sure, there has been some progress: women are allowed to attend universities and be exploited along with the men, for example. And black athletes are compensated for their efforts in that that they are offered a free education, such as it is. But it is not clear what Thomas Jefferson would think about what is going on at his university, despite his blind spots. At the very least he could see the obvious fact that at the University of Virginia, like all other major universities in this country, the focus is on athletic success rather than academic excellence: the tail wags the dog.  We have allowed things to turn upside-down. Jefferson must be spinning in his grave — for many reasons.

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The Test

Tomorrow the great American experiment will be tested as it has never been tested before. We will find out if popular democracy is good idea or a mistake of the first order. The test is fairly simple: do the American voters want a woman of proven experience and judgment or a vulgar man who has shown himself to be a bigoted, narcissistic megalomaniac? The latter likes to identify himself with the “common man,” whereas the former likes to present herself as a woman of the world who has the intelligence and experience to run the country — a woman who, while flawed like the rest of us, many regard as the most qualified candidate ever for this job. In a word, will the voters make informed choices or simply turn this race into a popularity contest?

The Founders, in their wisdom, did not trust the common man. They adopted the Roman model of a republic on purpose: representative democracy. They wrote a Constitution that required minimal property requirements of (male) voters who were only allowed to select their representatives to the House for two-year terms while requiring that legislators of the various states elect the Senate and the President.  The electoral college was devised to assure that the important offices would be reserved for those well qualified and the determination of those who were well qualified was reserved for those who presumably had the breadth of judgment to select the best qualified candidates. In a word, intelligence was considered a prerequisite for all the important votes. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia to educate citizens of the young republic.

I confess, I am not a populist. While I do not think that ownership of property should be a requirement to vote, I do think that the voters of this republic should know that the number of Senators in Delaware is the same as the number in Texas and that there are nine Supreme Court judges (as a rule). The evidence reveals that many college graduates today do not know these simple facts!  In a word, I think the voters should have had a course in civics and know at least as much as those born elsewhere must demonstrate they know in becoming American citizens. The Founders did not envision a country in which the average Joe or Jean, with virtually no education whatever, should be allowed to decide who is best qualified to run this country.

I do realize that much has changed since 1776. I do also realize that in the spirit of egalitarianism we hesitate any longer to judge any one person better or worse in any sense of those words than anyone else. But the fact is that some people are brighter and better able to make informed judgment than others. Some, at least, have taken the time and trouble to vet the candidates carefully. We have taken the egalitarian ideal to its extreme and the result is that we now have a baboon running for the highest office in the land and he has garnered a blind following that numbers in the thousands. This is not how it was supposed to be.

In any event, in November we shall see if enough people in this country have the intelligence (or is it simply common sense?) not to elect a man demonstrably unqualified for the job and reject a woman demonstrably well qualified. We shall see whether the American experiment is a success or a failure. As Bernie Sanders has noted, this is the most important election in our lifetime — perhaps ever.

Suckahs!

These are the folks who reach for their phones half-way through the Infomercial to order crap from the TV (with free shipping (plus $8.50 in “handling ” charges)); they are the ones who can be fooled all the time; who are born every minute; who wouldn’t know a half-truth from an outright lie; who buy the “previously owned” car from the crooked salesman; who worry about what will happen to the hero on their favorite daytime soap opera, because they cannot differentiate reality from make-believe. They are, as Strother Martin would have it, “morons on our team.” They are bona fide U. S. citizens who have decided that the man standing before them with strange hair and small hands selling his own peculiar brand of snake oil will take them to the promised land. He is their deliverer! They don’t care that he is a chronic liar and filled with hate. They will not be confused by the facts because their tiny minds are made up. They are suckahs!

Clearly, there’s no point in trying to reach such people, and especially in this format — a blog post with a couple of dozen readers (on a good day). But one always hopes that somehow those still sitting on the fence will get the idea and wake up. We really need to continue to nudge them.

The University of Virginia recently had a poll and predicted that Hillary Clinton will win the election. They have never been wrong — they even predicted that Sanders would not get the nomination. Clearly these people are astute political animals who are able to read the tea leaves and see the future. I worry only that many people will take them seriously and think it’s “in the bag.” However, it’s not over, as they say, until the fat lady sings. And she won’t have sung until we all get out and vote for the one person in this strange, even ugly, political race who has the experience and know-how to run this country.

It’s hard not to get worked up about this race. Neither candidate will ever earn a popularity contest; they are both flawed in their way. But only one of them has made it absolutely clear that he doesn’t have the knowledge or experience — or even the concern — to be president of these United States. Only one has made it clear that he doesn’t understand the risks of a nuclear war. Only one has made it crystal clear that he is blinded by his own ambition and his hatred for those who are different from him and his determination to bring down those who oppose him. Only one has shown a complete lack of awareness of the role this country must play on the international stage.

To be sure, I am biased. But this bias is based on considerable reading and listening to what is being said. I do wonder why others are not doing the same. I would love to see a president who embodies all the principles I regard as essential to running this country and getting it back on the straight and narrow; somewhere along the line it fell off and desperately needs straightening out. But no one person can do this and we must choose the one out of these two (who are the only serious candidates) who can work with a crippled system and who has the political savvy to make the best of a bad situation. Until real change comes about this country will continue to be run by the special interests and money will be the determinant of political policy. In the meantime, we must vote for the only sane candidate out there — the other one is only for suckahs.

What Are Teachers Worth?

A couple of days ago mindfulstew posted an excellent blog advocating a starting salary for teachers at $100,000. As expected it generated considerable heat and a good deal of light. I felt compelled to comment of course. But then it occurred to me I had already addressed the topic on June 5th in a blog I called “Pay The Piper.” So in order to support “stew’s” blog I am re-posting it here. I do think $100,000 a bit high, but I think $50,000 is a reasonable starting salary when states routinely start teachers out at half that much. Surely we must start paying our teachers what they are worth if we are to pull our educational system out of the gutter where it lies ignored and pathetic. My claim is that our democratic system hangs in the balance.  In that spirit, here goes my re-post:

When I first started college teaching back in the Dark Ages I taught logic at the University of Rhode Island. One of my tasks was to go from Kingston to Providence once a week to teach an adult extension course in logic to hard-working adults who were trying to get a college degree after work. On the way I picked up one of the students who was the Chief of the Jamestown Police and we had some interesting talks driving to Providence and back. He complained a number of times about the format of the New England Town Meetings where citizens met on a fairly regular basis and discussed and voted on the pressing issues of the day. His frustration usually centered around the fact that the people wanted such things as improved police and fire protection but they didn’t want to raise their taxes. In a word, they wanted to hear the tune the piper played, but they didn’t want to pay him.

We still do that on both a state and a national scale, don’t we? We want something for nothing: we want a good educational system but we don’t want to have to pay for it. In Wisconsin recently the citizens of that great state attempted to break up public employee unions on the grounds that it will save them tax money and at the same time they are outspoken in their criticism of the job the public employees do — especially the teachers. Give me a break! Are we really that stupid?

I think it was Churchill who said Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others. I gather that he was poking gentle fun at the folks who run around like the creatures in the caucus race in Wonderland trying to figure out how to make things work; Churchill knew that the process, while flawed, is the best humans have come up with. Plato preferred philosopher Kings, but there aren’t many of them around these days. And it’s not clear philosophers would make very good kings anyway!

But it is the case that a well-educated citizenry is of central importance to any democratic system. If the people are not well informed, how can they make intelligent choices? George Eliot dealt with this question in her brilliant novel Felix Holt, Radical at a time when England was struggling with the issue of extending suffrage. How can we expect people who know very little about the world around them, who are daily forced to work with their hands instead of their heads, to make informed decisions? Felix wrestles with this question throughout the novel, and it is a very important question. Our founding fathers wrestled with it as well and I am not sure we have answered it yet.

We had better figure out how to make it work, however, or future historians will conclude that our democracy was a failed experiment. Ours is not a pure democracy, of course, but it requires enlightened, well-educated legislators and leaders — and a citizenry educated well enough to separate the fraud from the friend. As stated, in any democracy the entire experiment hinges on an educated citizenry. Thomas Jefferson knew this, of course, which is why he founded the University of Virginia. If people are unwilling to spend money to have their young well enough educated to become informed voters in a democratic nation then the experiment will indeed have failed. We really must pay the piper.

Pay The Piper

I am reluctant to use worn-out phrases like the one in today’s title. But I have used this one before and I want to expand on the ideas that lie behind it, especially as they relate to today’s educational plight.

When I first started college teaching back in the Dark Ages I taught logic at the University of Rhode Island. One of my tasks was to go from Kingston to Providence once a week to teach an adult extension course in logic to hard-working adults who were trying to get a college degree after work. On the way I picked up one of the students who was the Chief of the Jamestown Police and we had some interesting talks driving to Providence and back. He complained a number of times about the format of the New England Town Meetings where citizens met on a fairly regular basis and discussed and voted on the pressing issues of the day. His frustration usually centered around the fact that the people wanted such things as improved police and fire protection but they didn’t want to raise their taxes. In a word, they wanted to hear the tune the piper played, but they didn’t want to pay him.

We still do that on both a state and a national scale, don’t we? We want something for nothing: we want a good educational system but we don’t want to have to pay for it. In Wisconsin recently the citizens of that great state attempted to break up public employee unions on the grounds that it will save them tax money and at the same time they are outspoken in their criticism of the job the public employees do — especially the teachers. Give me a break! Are we really that stupid?

I think it was Churchill who said Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others. I gather that he was poking gentle fun at the folks who run around like the creatures in the caucus race in Wonderland trying to figure out how to make things work; Churchill knew that the process, while flawed, is the best humans have come up with. Plato preferred philosopher Kings, but there aren’t many of them around these days. And it’s not clear philosophers would make very good kings anyway!

But it is the case that a well-educated citizenry is of central importance to any democratic system. If the people are not well informed, how can they make intelligent choices? George Eliot dealt with this question in her brilliant novel Felix Holt, Radical at a time when England was struggling with the issue of extending suffrage. How can we expect people who know very little about the world around them, who are daily forced to work with their hands instead of their heads, to make informed decisions? Felix wrestles with this question throughout the novel, and it is a very important question. Our founding fathers wrestled with it as well and I am not sure we have answered it yet.

We had better figure out how to make it work, however, or future historians will conclude that our democracy was a failed experiment. Ours is not a pure democracy, of course, but it requires enlightened, well-educated legislators and leaders — and a citizenry educated well enough to separate the fraud from the friend. As stated, in any democracy the entire experiment hinges on an educated citizenry. Thomas Jefferson knew this, of course, which is why he founded the University of Virginia. If people are unwilling to spend money to have their young well enough educated to become informed voters in a democratic nation then the experiment will indeed have failed. We really must pay the piper.