Young: Putting a squeeze on nation’s I.Q. | SummitDaily.com

Young: Putting a squeeze on nation’s I.Q.

John Young
Special to the Daily

Football being the fixation of the nation right now, let’s employ a gridiron analogy to understand what’s become of society’s most important pursuit.

The issue: helmets and brain injury. Ostensibly built to protect the brain, impervious to destruction, helmets allow players to use their heads as weapons.

Elsewhere, what are we doing with our heads? Political forces don ideological helmets, collide at ramming speed, and cause national brain damage.

This is true in just about every endeavor that involves the mind. It is true in elementary schools, in high schools, in colleges, in laboratories, in libraries, in textbooks.

What do I mean?

Consider:

• The recent budget agreement in Congress will kill scores of proposed research projects under the National Institute of Health. The principal culprit: last year’s sequestration, which cut NIH by 5 percent, cuts which the budget deal will not restore.

• In state after state, college costs are soaring because, in state after state, even before the economy took a swan dive, states figured out that they could start sticking collegians with more of the costs of what they had subsidized generously for generations.

The place where I got my diploma, Colorado State University, saw undergraduate resident tuition increase by 55 percent from 2008 to 2013.

It’s true that colleges’ own unconscionable bracket creep shares the blame for this. But the way state policymakers have hung college students out to dry is shameful.

It is sickening to hear the exceedingly well-fed complain about tax burdens (state and federal tax rates that have barely been nudged for decades), when college students buckle under jaw-dropping debt — this as they enter anemic job markets.

• Meanwhile, in the public schools where supposedly we are doing everything we can to get children ready for college (wink, wink), state budget writers have stuck it to them to pay for blue-sky fiscal policies and tax cuts that benefited, naturally, those who least need help.

In states like Texas, Arizona and Florida, it was as if lawmakers, instead of hoping for rain, were counting on drought — drought like the economic free fall of 2009-2012 — to really stick it to public schools and, of course, those dastardly teachers unions.

• At the same time, while conspiring at every turn to divert tax dollars to for-profit charter schools or church schools through vouchers, people who don’t really buy into the function of public schools have ceremonially dropped educators into the scalding crucible of school “accountability.”

A short history reveals that these spurious initiatives sprang from the minds of fiscal conservatives who recoiled at increased school funding and federal programs like Title 1. They decided that if schools were going to get more dollars, educators were going to take new policy instructions from above and afar. Hence, corporate-style reforms that equated standardization with education and competence with excellence.

• How else are helmeted ideological warriors waging war on the nation’s mind? Look at textbooks, where for a generation the religious right in Texas has treated the State Board of Education as its most strategic beachhead. That’s smart. Texas is the nation’s second largest purchaser of textbooks behind California. What Texas says, most book publishers adopt.

Brain damage. In 2012 the Texas Republican Party approved a platform plank opposing the teaching of “critical thinking skills,” which platform writers equated with “behavior modification” and interfering with “parental authority.”

Not widely known was that this was in the same platform: “Since data is clear that additional money does not translate into increased achievement and higher education costs are out of control, we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions.”

Never mind that “data” is plural. Never mind data, period. Never mind the damage. What matters is ideology, that helmet.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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