Saturday, May 3, 2008

Education or Indoctrination in Oakland?

Oakland's government-run schools don't exactly have a stellar academic reputation. Consider these dreadful statistics:

  • Only 45% of the students graduate from high school.
  • Only 45% of Oakland's 10th graders were able to pass the California High School Exit Exam in math (which tests only up through 8th grade math) and only 48% were able to pass the CAHSEE in English on the first try, more than 15 percentage points below the statewide averages.
  • A mere 3% of Oakland's 11th graders were deemed academically ready for college-level English and only 6% were ready for college-level math on the Cal State "Early Assessment Program" tests.
Sounds to me like the kids in Oakland's government-run schools really need their teachers to focus on academic basics- wouldn't you agree?

So why, then, did more than two dozen of them Thursday shelve their regular curriculum in favor of teaching about:

"topics like the war in Iraq, racial inequality and a recent 10 percent cut in the state schools budget...Teachers from elementary school to adult education classes allowed students to discuss everything from whether the United States was committing acts of violence against innocent people to whether American businesses were getting rich on the backs of the poor"?

I could see touching upon these topics in an Advanced Placement U.S. History, World History, Government, or Economics course, since those students presumably have a solid grounding in the basics and therefore should be able to hold a reasonably intelligent policy discussion.

But it is clear to me that the Oakland students lack the background knowledge to make any sort of reasonable argument and therefore the exercise is nothing but propaganda. Just listen to this quote from a 12th grader attempting to discuss California's proposed budget cuts:

"We don’t have any money because it’s all going to the war. And now they’re shutting all this stuff down."

It does not appear that Ashley Lawless has much understanding of the workings of the Federal and state governments and their budgets, nor even which part is responsible for paying for what. The Iraq war may indirectly be worsening California's current budget crunch, in that geopolitical instability in the Gulf is driving up energy costs, contributing to the downturn in the economy and resulting in lower tax revenues. But Ms. Lawless seems to believe that the Federal money spent on the Iraq war is directly causing a reduction in state funding available for education. And worse, Oakland's teachers appear to be encouraging this fundamental misunderstanding!

"One worksheet handed out to students was blunt in its assessment of the current events: 'About 1,000,000 Iraqis are dead and 4,000 American soldiers. The war will cost the U.S. about $2.8 trillion. Our schools don’t have money. Many people don’t have health care.'"

Wow, where to start in discussing this little gem of ultraliberal propaganda? How about with the allegation of one million Iraqis killed? The number of Iraqi civilian casualties is hotly debated, with wide variations in the estimates ranging from roughly 100,000 to the one million claimed in the worksheet. No one knows what the true number is, but it's reasonable to assume that it's somewhere in the middle. Still a tragedy and I'm certainly no fan of President Bush or his administration's handling of the Iraq war. The whole situation is a huge mess :-( But the Oakland teachers have no business presenting only one viewpoint as "the truth" about the war.

Also, I find it very interesting what was *NOT* discussed as contributing to California's budget woes: the enormous (and quickly growing) number of illegal aliens in the state. There are an estimated 3.5 million illegal aliens in the state, a number that has grown by an estimated *1.5 MILLION* since the year 2000. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the estimated cost of providing K-12 education to children of illegal aliens in California is *$7.7 BILLION* per year as of 2004. Another *$1.4 BILLION* goes toward health care for illegal aliens and their families and *$1.4 BILLION* is spent on incarceration of foreign nationals. California is facing an estimated $16 billion budget shortfall this year. The $10.5 billion spent annually on government services for illegal aliens and their children would go a long way in solving this fiscal crisis without raising taxes or fees on California's legal residents!

My point is not to bash immigrants, but to point out the hypocrisy shown by Oakland teachers. They were clearly not interested in an intelligent policy discussion of the multidimensional causes of California's budget woes but rather in using class time to further their own political agenda :-(


plumrose said...

The Oakland teachers' action probably doesn't make a lot of sense, since the kids clearly need to be working on their basic skills. However, the fact that the federal government has spent a huge amount of money in Iraq is not totally irrelevant to the money shortage in the schools. I am old enough to remember the days of federal revenue sharing, when federal money actually flowed down to local schools. Even wealthier schools like those in Harvard MA, got direct subsidies from the feds. Federal revenue sharing however went out during the Reagan years, I believe.
Also, the question of illegal immigrants and their costs is also complicated, because one needs to know their net cost, or how much services for them cost, minus the higher taxes paid in sales, property and other taxes paid directly by them. They also have an indirect effect on the state economy.

Crimson Wife said...

Except that Federal spending on K-12 education has grown by over $6B/year since 2003, when the Iraq war began. Yes, there are somewhat more students enrolled but it's still a significant increase when looked at on a per-student basis.

I still question the exclusive focus on the Federal spending on the Iraq war as opposed to other programs. For example, the costly Medicare drug benefit that was enacted in 2003. The estimated price tag for that program over its first decade is $1.2 *TRILLION . Why didn't the Oakland teachers question the wisdom of subsidizing the prescription drugs of wealthy seniors? It would've been much cheaper had the Medicare drug benefit been means-tested so that it helps only those who really need the assistance.