A dollar and a dream. Every day millions of people who really can’t afford it drop millions of dollars on lottery tickets because “Hey, you never know.”
What we all do know is that the American Dream has become a myth for everyone but the privileged. ABC’s 20/20 the other night examined what standards elite universities use to choose which students they will accept, and it has little to do with intellectual brilliance. As George Dumbya said to one graduating class after congratulating the high achievers, if you’re a C student, you can become president of the United States.
Privilege begets privilege. Poverty begets, well, you know.
A day before the 20/20 program, Tom Paine.com posted a speech given by Bill Moyers (one of those who really knows) to to the Council of Great City Schools , an organization of the nation’s largest urban public school systems.
Moyers connected the dots between an insufficient education and the the disastrous faiilures of America today. His speech is lengthy, but worth reading and reading and sharing. Below are some of my favorite excerpts:
★ The neglect of urban education – a capital moral offense in its own right – is but a symptom of what is happening in America. We are retreating from our social compact all down the line.
★ Our country is falling apart. Literally. Last year (2005) the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report on our crumbling infrastructure. The engineers said we are “failing to maintain even substandard conditions” in our highway system – with significant economic effects. Poor road conditions cost motorists $54 billion a year in repairs and operating costs, and the 3.5 billion hours per year Americans spend stuck in traffic, costs the economy more than $67 billion annually in lost productivity and wasted fuel.
★ The report said the country’s power grid is likewise “in urgent need of modernization” as maintenance spending on transmission facilities has declined 1 percent annually since 1992, while growth in demand has risen 2.4 percent annually over the same period. In 2002, the Department of Energy warned that system “bottlenecks” due to transmission constraints were adding to consumer costs and threatening blackouts. The next August (2003) a blackout blanketed the Midwest and Northeast (and parts of Canada), leaving 50 million people in the dark, some for days, costing billions of dollars in lost commerce and production.
★ Connect the dots: Neglected schools, crumbling roads, permanent environmental “dead zones,” inadequate emergency systems, understaffed hospitals, library cutbacks, the lack of affordable housing, incompetent government agencies, whether it is FEMA or state bureaucracies charged with protecting helpless children – these are characteristic features of our public sector today. Partly it’s about money; little noticed amid all the concern about growing deficits and entitlement spending is this fact – non-defense discretionary spending declined 38 percent between 1980 and 1999 as a share of Gross Domestic Product. According to economists Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, federal investment in non-defense capacities, including research and education, plummeted in the 1980s – from over 2.5 percent of GDP to only 1.5 percent in the late 1990s.
★ Theology asserts propositions that are believed whether or not they meet the test of reality. Not only do our governing elites act as if there’s no tomorrow, they behave as if there is no reality. Alas, they won’t be around to feel our grandchildren’s pain.
★ In his recent book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed , the Pulitzer-prize winning anthropologist Jared Diamond writes about how governing elites throughout history isolate and delude themselves until it is too late…… Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure, Diamond warns, if elites insulate themselves from the consequences of their decisions. Then he describes an America in which elites have cocooned themselves in gated communities, guarded by private security patrols and filled with people who drink bottled water, depend on private pensions, and send their children to private schools. Gradually they lose their motivation to support the police force, the municipal water supply, social security, and public schools.
★ But look around: Democracy has been made subservient to capitalism, and the great ideals of the American Revolution as articulated in the Preamble to the Constitution are being sacrificed to the Gospel of Wealth.
★ I don’t need to tell you that a profound transformation is occurring in America. And it’s man-made. Over the last 30 years a disciplined, well-funded and closely-coordinated coalition of corporate elites, power-hungry religious conservatives, and hard-line right-wing operatives has mounted an aggressive drive to dismantle the public foundations and philosophy of shared prosperity and fairness in America.
★ So I have a practical suggestion for those of you who are principals, superintendents, school board members, and teachers: Go home from here and revise your core curriculum. Yes, teach the three Rs; teach the ABCs; make sure your kids learn algebra, biology, and calculus. But teach them about the American Revolution – that it isn’t just about white men in powdered wigs carrying muskets in a time long gone. It’s about slaves who rose up and women who wouldn’t be denied and unwelcome immigrants and exploited workers who against great odds claimed the revolution as their own and breathed life into it.
Teach your kids they don’t have to accept what they have been handed. Teach them they are not only equal citizens under the law, but equal sons and daughters – heirs, everyone – of that revolution, and that it is their right to claim it as their own. Teach them to shake the torpor that has been prescribed for them by calculating elders and ideologues. Teach them there is only one force strong enough to counter the power of organized money today, and that is the power of organized people. They are waiting for this message; the kids in your schools have been made to feel as victims, powerless, ashamed, inferior, and disenfranchised. Tell them it’s a great big lie – despite their poverty, circumstance, and the long odds they’ve been handed, they have the power to make the world over again, in their image.
Moyers ends his moving address with this call to action:
I was at the Presidio in San Francisco yesterday. That former military enclave beneath the Golden Gate Bridge is now a marvelous and beautiful center of vital commerce and civic purpose – saved from exploitation and despoliation by citizens who rose up on its behalf. On the wall of one of the main buildings I came upon a painting of an enormous deep blue wave with white caps against an equally blue sky. The artist’s inscription beneath the painting reads: “This human wave expresses the concept of people at the bottom rungs of society waking up to using their united strength to claim their universal rights to economic, social, and environmental justice.”
Put that in your core curriculum. It’s America 101.
Use your vote to stir a new wave.