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But I Digress: At Least We're Better Than Bhutan

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By John Pawlak

Back in 2003 and 2004, the United States shipped a little spending cash over to the Iraqi government to help “stimulate the economy.” Our C-130 transport planes carried over 360 tons of $100 bills.

Yeah, you read that correctly ... hundreds of pallets containing over $10 billion thrown at a problem simply because the military said it was necessary to fight their war on terror. Billions of dollars with absolutely no accountability, no insight, no foresight, and no oversight.

The War on Terror has been a wonderful economics lesson for aspiring capitalists. If you want to justify endless spending and have no one to answer to, just declare war. It's that simple.

Convince the public that we need to play Superman, that we need to fight a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American spend-and-kill way, so that we can protect our shores from enemies who would otherwise assault our grandparents, burn down our homes, steal our women, kick our dogs and stampede our cattle. Declare war on a faceless (but oh so scary) assailant and get all the funding you want.

As an educator, it is extremely frustrating to watch the military buy $300 ashtrays while teachers are faced with salary cuts and over-crowded classrooms. The killbots can justify a $1,000 hammer, but a teacher has to work with chipped whiteboards, wobbly student desks, and continually shriveling budgets.

All things considered, Los Alamos is actually doing far better than many schools across the nation, but even here we have to deal with program cuts, increasing student-to-teacher ratios, and depleted field trip allowances.

The military, however, gets all the money it wants for depleted uranium. The money spent on a single nuclear warhead (which our government insists that it really doesn't even want to use) could heat a thousand schools for a decade.

(Granted, setting one off could probably heat even more schools for even a longer duration.)

The mere use of the word “war” prompts politicians to shovel money into the military furnaces to keep heating up the rhetoric. And so I've decided to declare war!

All I need to do is to find a nice easy roll-off-the-tongue buzz-phrase and yell it out with gusto, prefixed by the words “war on” or “war against.” It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even have to have a stated goal or a way to define success.

It just needs to sound important enough or scary enough to justify funding. OK, so how about the War on Education? No, that sounds too pedantic.

Hmmm ... how about the War on Intelligence? No, our last president waged that one and won. He was, after all, the intelligent decidererer.

The War on Eroding Edification? The War on Acumen Attrition? The War on Scholastic Challenged Endeavors?

Darn it, I just don’t have that nifty combat mentality that oozes out from the No-Thinking Tanks at the Pentagon.

I know in my heart that if I could rally public sentiment for better education (as opposed to the sediment that schools normally receive) by highlighting an undereducated public as a real threat to our national security, I could then weasel out a few hundred billion from Washington, D.C.  Rather than spending all that money on 5,000-pound bombs, we could do something really explosive ... like building more schools, hiring more teachers, or buying more computers for the students.

But this won’t work. Our government doesn’t “throw money” at anything without first having an enemy that they want to bury with it. If only smoking were allowed in schools, we could tell them that we needed money for a few hundred million expensive ashtrays.

So what are our options? Turn over all our schools to the military and fund them to the tune of “Praise the theorem and pass the ammunition?”

What do we have to do to get this country to invest more in education? I know, I know, I can hear the whining already. “More money? You bleeding hearts always think that spending more money solves every problem!”

Of course, those same people don’t complain when spending more money on battleships, submarines, armored helicopters and bombs. Our government doesn’t seem the least bit embarrassed that the United States is only 37th in its spending (as a percentage of GDP) on education.

When nations like Latvia, Estonia, Mongolia and Cuba are willing to invest more of its GDP in education, it should make one think. More accurately, it should make an educated person think! At least we can brag that we spend more than Fiji and Bhutan.

Until I can come up with a really slick war chant, I’ll settle for declaring War on Degrading Discernment.

Now, can someone tell me to whom I should talk about getting the money we need for those ashtrays?