AMERICAN EDUCATION: THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE AMERICAN WAKING LIFE AND THE AMERICAN DREAM

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By Shahbaz Shaikh
Guest Writer

*Although we are a student-run journal at UCSD, you do not have to be affiliated with UCSD in order to submit a piece to us. If you have written an article that you believe fits the focus of our journal and would like to have it published, we encourage you to send it to us and we’ll publish it if it meets our standards.

 Learning that you are an American, and learning how to be an American, sparsely has the study around it than other archetypal life events humanity is bound to. Though those events are bound to non-Americans as well, it is strictly an American illumination to imbue oneself with the knowledge of being American, and with that belief, to act to secure its emotion in the midst of the vicissitudes and serendipity in fate. To even describe it envelops the speaker in its inextricable link to the true nature of the life experience, and because it only hopes to embolden individuals to grip and harmonize with that feeling, it cannot do anything other than resonate as a major chord in the American community. Far more than acknowledging any of the aspects of one’s own implacable nature as living, is the capacity to be free to search oneself and know them. It is true that the American dream is the silence between the notes of the American working and waking life and the legacy that is left there by the various generations, but with the pluralist understanding of the antagonism to be had in being a practicing American, there is a certain discord that is necessary in arriving at the harmony that we as Americans ought dutifully to fight for and arrive at. Learning that you are an American, today, may be harder to tune into given the levels of chromatic discordance in government. It had been the case for 90% of American children, until the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos to the current president’s cabinet as Secretary of Education, that one of the venues the American social contract mandated that our leaders would maintain for them – public schools, there to assure the education of a student so that they can hone their capacity to learn for themselves, their society, and their capacity to engage in the economic affairs of their community, and those schools’ government interactions and internal structures designed to aid in understanding those schools’ processes and results in order to improve itself – was sure to be fundamental to America’s ongoing communal effort to educate its youth to live well as a nation. Teaching the youth about the fundamentals of living as an American made public schools into a bastion of American culture, and a venue for cementing the legacy of American progress. Today, public schools are less likely to be the venue for that American communal effort. Instead, the American government’s leadership suggests it is more apt to pursue bolstering a family’s capacity to choose where and how to educate their children, also known as school choice. School choice is the name given to the voucher program wherein instead of federal funding given to states to support their public schools in any way, that monies is instead distributed to individual families in states for them to choose to spend on anything having to do with education.

The reason why this transition from the general support of public schools to the support of school choice is being made is because the latter education policy is more aligned with Conservative political ideology of today’s leadership in America. This policy action manifested from adherence to a facet of the conservative ideology that espouses a belief in freedom and free markets being the key to true efficiency and fair outcomes. To conservatives, freedom and free markets are primary after the assurance of acting within the purview of what have historically been said as Judeo-Christian values but which can also be said in secular terms. Conservatism espouses an emphasis on self-reliance. It entails the use of government as a tool to assure an adamant proscription against the obligation of some to others in any manner that intercedes in the individual’s right to the product of their labor, as well as against social legislation that would either support or not deny a systemic right to anything contrary to Conservative moral values. A major structure of an ideal conservative government and society is to use the government purely to assure an incapacity in its people to act in ways that are contrary to what people ought to practice in their private domains and of their own accord by proscribing them whenever possible. All duties Conservatives believe ought to come from government prescription – those having to do with the support of free enterprise, a fair structuring of the court system, and public defense – are some of the few prescriptive actions conservatives deem fit for it to take. From this it should be easy to conclude that prescribing an education policy, thematically aligned with conservative beliefs which when typically applied only normally justify a proscription of action, is difficult without risking contradicting those beliefs. The antithesis of conservatism that is found in wasting money, plausibly abusable government oversight, and the denigration of the individual right to maintain their culture, are implicit in Secretary of Education DeVos’ theory of school choice policy and its previous and current manifestations as policy action in the states and as legislation in Congress.

What I posit is this – it is a bad government practice and immoral to structure school choice similar to any of its previous manifestations. This policy will kill the American dream for many, make the American waking life a strictly austere aural ongoing, and turn being an American into an isolated acknowledgement and not a communal bulwark of the nation’s culture. Subjecting American education to the free market presupposes that the profit motive can and always has aligned itself with the social welfare of the communities schools work in. In reality market conditions can manifest to make schools worse than today. To trust the free market with our children is an abnegation of any responsibility of the federal government to assure equitable treatment of individuals, and especially children, in this country. Given the high correlation between an American’s economic well-being and their education, and further, with their financial well-being and that of their community’s, the highly effective customer segmentation metrics of today can accurately project lower cost schools in lower income neighborhoods, predicting the conscription of students to a low-end school. Despite that outcome being acceptable to the conservative ideology given its emphasis on self-reliance and a subsequent acceptance of consequences, the predictability of that outcome likens the actualization of this policy to an intent to produce that outcome. Far more than growing pains or some equivocation with a frictional unemployment, the years of wasted education due to poorly structured and unregulated charter schools will severely impact the likelihood that these students will be capable adults. Conservative ideologies are undone by active deprecation of young students with government policy. With only proscription as a means to assure the American identity, on issues of the social and moral fabric alone, the support of school choice that historically cannot be said to have been conducted with sufficient measures of accountability lends credence to the claim that this policy is an active bolstering of crime and wastefulness. Conservatism acknowledges an archetypal presence of evil as a fundamental principle in supporting excellent public defense, but this Congress’ school choice policy fails to employ this same frame of mind when it ignores the innate capacity for greed and the possibility of abusive local programs, a common theme noticeable in each of the times this policy was tried by state governments . Another motivation for this policy is that government spending on schools has increased by 117% in the past 40 years with test scores remaining flat, but such a claim echoes the optimistic projections about the schools touted by proponents of this policy while at the same time proffering no capacity to maintain accountability differently than this policy’s prior failed manifestations, the latter criticism being especially true as per rhetoric in Secretary DeVos’ confirmation hearing wherein she declined to assure Congress about the existence and maintenance of accountability standards, stating only that she will measure them by the metric of a policy that has yet to be defined. Any inference to follow from the acknowledgement of the conservative ideals and free market principles that frame this policy might include a belief that accountability in education is best determined by these burgeoning corporate schools and resultantly elicit a further abnegation of responsibility of the American federal government to assure a culture and community by supporting public schools.

It is true that freedom is rung as the primary chord in the American identity, but with an increasing polarization of communities – in leadership, political ideologies, the voting booths and in gerrymandered districts – all paths that America can take that emphasize freedom only for freedom’s sake and not for the good of the nation should be treated with great skepticism. This metric for judging an expansion of freedom is of utmost importance when assessing claims about how to support the children of the nation. They are who bear the burden of bettering the community as time goes on. If the government is only a group of people, and all communities seek to leave behind a legacy for their children as well as their peers’ children, then why is the government not where individuals can make that dream a reality? Why does that circle of obligation not extend to the shared national identity? I acknowledge that it does not have to. People are more than encumbered by their immediate obligations and responsibilities. However, if people cannot aspire to raise the ground floor for everyone, then every fundamental American principle that was supposed to have followed from securing the blessings of liberty unto ourselves will be subverted by this mindless adherence to principle. The union will be less perfect, as schools will be structurally separate and unequal. Justice for people in lower income communities will be further stymied by their lack of access to the wealth necessary to assure an excellent education. Domestic tranquility will be undone by the unregulated scholastic establishments borne out of this policy. And while the common defense will continue to be supported by volunteers to the army like the ones from Michigan, it should be noted that those individuals oftentimes only volunteer because that is their only path to putting themselves in a part of the country with better general welfare than where they are from. Unaccountable, free-market based school choice will condemn many Americans to never living the American dream.

OP-ED: THE FAULT IN OUR POLITICIANS

Outgoing Congresswoman from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

It seems there is a daily quota for American politicians who willingly say the most ridiculous statements to the public. From addressing the moral and social ‘grounds’ for rape, to reporting the plight of the economy, to discrediting legitimate scientific research, the representative legislature does not seem to know anything about, well, anything. Their determination to spew word vomit to the American public has resulted in some truly horrific quotes, only to be found in an SNL skit a few days later. When did this become the sorry norm for the leaders of our country? I’d like to think that the modern phase of politicians being idiots began with President George W. Bush; a case could be made for including Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, but as far as actual ignorance, Bush Jr. takes the trophy. On several occasions, he “misunderestimated” the perils of the presidency; one of many “Bushisms” he spouted while on the hunt for alleged weapons of mass destruction, he said, “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories […] And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.” While Clinton and Bush Sr. have memorable political blunders that severely undermined their careers and their authority in leadership positions, they have rarely had blunders that stemmed from misinformation, ignorance, or ineptitude. That is not to say that they have had perfect careers; the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Bush Sr.’s pledge to keep taxes low (and his failure to adhere to this promise) defined their presidencies. However, their political gaffes cannot be equated to some of the profoundly distressing sound bites circulating the press today.

During the tenure of the Obama administration, congressional representatives have taken over the responsibility of providing Jon Stewart with content for the Daily Show. From Todd Akin’s shocking statements on “legitimate rape” and John Foster’s allegations that abortion is not to be used even in the context “of that rape thing”, it seems women’s rights are at the forefront of the predominately white, male Congress. In discrediting this traumatic experience that happens to one in five women in America, the congressional body seems to think that they can make reproductive rights a thing of the past. Unfortunately, even this would be untrue, since women’s reproductive rights never really existed in the past either. Caring for women as equals seems to be a problem in the modern era; equal pay for equal work was a serious focal point in the recent midterm election, which shocked me. When a candidate has to say to their voters or party that he or she supports equal wages across the sexes, we should wonder when that wasn’t the case. Almost a century has passed since women have had the right to vote in America, which is often chalked up to the result of the female movement towards equality. But it is becoming increasingly apparent in the present that this is not true; we have maintained a façade of equality, not truly giving women and minorities their due where it matters most. In an age where an extremely partisan Congress has literally made blocking legislation from the President its only goal, voting holds almost no weight in the day-to-day impact of American lives, at least on the national scale. Legislation like Equal Work for Equal Pay and the Women’s Health Protection Act6 should not be lost battles in Congress – they should be so fundamental to society that they don’t even need to undergo the political process. Condoms didn’t need legislative approval, and neither should birth control.

In the light of Louisiana’s special senate runoff between incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu and her Republican opponent Bill Cassidy, the debate over the establishment of the highly contested Keystone XL pipeline was a priority in the Congress last month. The refineries that stand to benefit the most from the Keystone XL pipeline are the leading export refineries in the US – most of which are present in Louisiana. Due to the potential involvement of Louisiana’s refineries5 in the pipeline, the Democratic Party swung the vote towards Landrieu in an effort to boost her polling numbers. However, there was no agreement among the legislators regarding the permanent job creation, environmental impact, and the independence from foreign oil of the pipeline. In effect, congressmen and women were able to say whatever they wanted to their peers in an effort to coax the referendum – which failed to pass by just one vote, effectively killing off Landrieu’s career.

Surprisingly, the rest of the recent midterm election did not result in the campaign hilarity that usually ensues. The Republican Party executed a well-thought-out strategy to take control of the Senate and increase their majority in the House. Now Republicans are in full control over the legislative branch, opposing the Democratic administration. Even though the campaign proceeded without a hitch, the party has no intention of continuing its lack of productivity while in full party capacity. Already, the new Congress has said that redrafting the Keystone XL pipeline bill and counteracting new regulations on climate change and the EPA are its first orders of business. In making it their goal to halt all progress made during the course of the Obama Administration, the Republican leadership should seriously consider re-evaluating its priorities. It would be more conducive to progress in America if the two parties seriously considered bipartisan efforts; not to continue touting false claims to their districts, but to actually accomplish something as part of the legislative body. We are currently governed by the least productive Congress in the history of these United States; let’s hope that record stays that way come January, when the new Congress is sworn in.

Unsurprisingly, American politicians definitely have the most popularized and publicized blunders, which definitely affects international perception of the United States. Politicians are a reflection of their electorate, and even though Americans are not doing so well on both fronts, we should be electing legislators who would at least try to show the world that people from the US can do more than eat cheeseburgers and be disruptive.

Image by Gage Skidmore

BLOG: DE LA DÉMOCRATIE EN AMÉRIQUE: EXPLAINING AMERICAN POLITICS TO A FRENCH CITIZEN

By Joe Armenta and Sophie Desvignes
Senior Editor and Staff Writer

The idea that all politics is local is something that has recently consumed my life. In September, I joined the Nathan Fletcher for Mayor campaign and spent the next three months tirelessly campaigning for a man that I thought would become the next leader of San Diego. Somewhere amid the 12-hour days, the countless phone calls, the negative hit pieces and agitated voters that slammed doors in my face; the electoral process seemed to become remarkably clear. Then I met Sophie Desvignes.

Sophie is a French international student at UCSD and fellow staff-writer here at Prospect Journal. Since joining the team, she and I have continuously discussed the wild and wacky nature of the American political system through the lens of San Diego’s special mayoral election. While these conversations often end in some combination of bewilderment and shame, they have also revealed much about the American voter and how political campaigns function. This joint article will replicate these conversations by highlighting the differences between the French and American political systems.

Joe: I heard that politicians in France don’t talk about their personal life. Is that true?

Sophie: I would not say their private life is completely concealed, but their campaign does not rest on it. When politicians do talk about their personal life, they tend to be immediately reproached with demagoguery. This was the case for Nicolas Sarkozy when he became president in 2008. He lost credibility when pictures and video of him running with Ray Ban sunglasses surrounded by his bodyguards emerged. The press immediately found him a nickname: the “bling-bling” president. Aware of the controversies it raised, Nicolas Sarkozy quickly changed his communication strategy to fit the expectations of French people when it comes to a politician’s private life by keeping his personal affairs out of the public spotlight. For most French politicians, the absence of communication about their private life is part of an accepted political norm.

Joe: That’s strange. In American politics, one of the first thing that a candidate does is to create a narrative about how he got to where he is by talking about his personal upbringing. One of the first things that we campaigned on was the fact that Nathan Fletcher was a Marine Corps veteran, father of two boys and a local businessman. Our literature that we handed out included pictures of him surrounded by his family at a park, and he would regularly post pictures of his kids on his Facebook page. We did this because Americans like to relate to the candidate on a personal level. Voters want to feel as if the personal they’re electing is similar to them. They are turned off by candidates that they feel are too bureaucratic or are deemed to be ‘career politicians.’

Sophie: It tends to be the same in France. People need to identify with the candidate that they are going to elect. However, the type of personal information you describe are rarely provided by the candidate themselves but by the media. The current municipal campaign illustrates that. For example, Nathalie Kosciusco Morizet, the right wing candidate running for mayor in Paris, tries to get closer to people by using public transportation and by addressing all events which affect the city. One of the things all candidates do is to go to farmers’ market to shake peoples’ hands and reach out to potential voters. The other main difference is that French do not directly vote for the mayor. They vote for a group of city councilors who are then going to elect one of themseleves as mayor. Therefore, municipal elections are not so much personalized. Affiliation to a political party is the most important criteria that help people to make a choice.

Joe: American politicians partake in similar tactics for a much different reason. We tend to call this shaking hands and kissing babies. The idea is to make an appearance at public gatherings and community service projects in hopes of gathering media attention. A photo of a candidate serving food to a group of senior citizens reinforces the image that the campaign has already established. But with that being said, a campaign would not waste a politician’s time unless they are certain that potential voters will be present at events. Campaigns in America run on statistics and data mining in order to identify potential supporters and turn them out to vote. This means that the candidate has a bigger incentive to knock on specific doors to talk with high propensity voters rather than appearing at public gatherings where it is uncertain how many supporters he can gather.

Sophie: All this requires a big staff and lot off money; how much is a municipal election campaign?

Joe: It varies depending on the scope of election, what powers are at play and how contentious the candidates are. In the recent special election for Mayor of San Diego, nearly $5 million was raised and spent in less than 90 days to support the top three candidates. Most of the money usually originates from powerful interest groups such as business associations and labor organizations; however, individuals can contribute up to $1,000 to a candidate of their choosing. One of the candidate’s main jobs during the campaign cycle is to attract these donors in hopes of funding such things as advertisements, staff and equipment for the campaign. It should be noted, though, that contrary to common belief, money itself does not decide elections. During the 2010 gubernatorial race in California, Republican candidate Meg Whitman raised $160 million and outspent her Democratic challenger, Jerry Brown, by $6 to $1. She lost by more than 1 million votes.

Sophie: How does all this actually play out in the real world?

Joe: American elections are a lot like wars–while there are several strategies that vary depending on a candidate’s strengths, there are some basic components that are commonplace across all campaigns. On one end, there is the wave of advertisements that air on television or signs that appear on derelict buildings. This is comparable to an aerial bombardment in that it indiscriminately spreads destruction throughout a specific area. In addition to this, there is often a field team that act as ground troops. This team finds and targets specific voters and ensures that they turn out to vote by visiting their homes or calling them throughout the days leading up to the election. Finally, there is a slew of negative campaigning that aim to weaken a candidate’s support. Negative campaigning can be indiscriminate (via T.V. ads) or extremely specific. Mail pieces are designed to target specific households that are deemed to be receptive to a particular message. All of these tactics are nasty and require lots of money to work correctly; and in the middle of all these tactics lay the average American voter trying to go about her life.

Photo by Dom Dada