Tag Archives: Education

Shaping a Living World: Part 4

“Democracy…is not a static inheritance that we can simply live off of, but an ideal that every generation must re-achieve through active effort. Schools are our chief cultural means for educating free citizens who can intelligently and creatively participate in this effort. Education is how we invest in the future of our democracy.” – The Conversation

I am of the generation that heard constantly that the route to a “better” life was through education, and the pursuit of a university degree. I am also of the generation that has seen the housing market collapse, continuous cutting of public funding, and the exorbitant growth of student loan debt.

Compared to many of my peers, I came out “lucky” with only about 30k in student loan debt for only two years of university study. The numbers on this are staggering, per at least one article on CNBC the US student loan debt is over 1.4 trillion and the US is the most expensive tuition rates in the world.

Now, it has to be admitted that the funding sources for the educational system (from Pre-K through university) are really complicated, and it would take a much longer piece to tease out all the nuance. All that aside, I think it is fair to say that education is both a public good, and a valuable method for skills training. A highly educated population is beneficial for the individual, for society, for the economy, as well as for democracy as a whole. I do not think this point can be overstated.

That being said, there is plenty of room for improvement our current education system. Once again, those problems are well outside the scope of this project. But there is certainly a lot of areas where we can do better, not only as a country but as a human civilization as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the UN Sustainable Development Goals have outlined.

Sustainable Development Goals

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.”

This first one is a no-brainer in my opinion. It it is pertinate that we as a global community make sure that every one of our citizens gets a reliable, consistent and affordable education. Most public school systems in the US provide K thru 12 primary school education that succeeds this goal. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But that is really complex, and it the kind of thing that must be examined locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. I doubt there is any single “silver bullet” that will fix the plethora of educational problems, but it is a goal worth striving for.

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

The next goals expands upon the earlier one, by going beyond both the primary school and secondary school system. This goal includes early child care, as well as Pre-K education in the United States. Making this kind of care open to all children is important preparation, and is also vital for child care.

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.”

This is a very important issue, as the cost for higher education has been all over the board for the last decadeIn addition, the funding for public universities has generally gone down in the last decade, while the cost for higher education has gone up. This has been supplemented with a huge amount of student loans, which overall has shifted a huge amount of the cost, and the debt, onto students. As the CBPP points out;

These reductions in support have hurt states’ higher education systems. Public colleges have both steeply increased tuition and pared back academic opportunities, often in ways that may compromise the quality of education and jeopardize student success. Students are paying more through increased tuition and are taking on more debt. “

In order to make our education system more sustainable in the long run, we will likely have to increase funding significantly, and ease the burden on individual students and their families. I will talk more on this in a moment.

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.”

Everyone should know how to read and be able to do math, period. This is a pretty self explanatory goal, so I will just move on at this point.

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

Education is the means by which we perpetuate many of our skills and knowledge, and getting future generations involved shaping our sustainable future is of vital importance. Many of the values promoted here are important, including but not limited to; sustainability, gender equality, human rights, and peace. Our educational systems are one of many ways to promote these ideals, and the are certainly ideas we should be promoting.

Social Democracy

The Nordic countries and many countries in Europe approach education very differently than the US, especially higher education. In social democracies, education is often universal and paid for via higher tax rates. Each country does thing in a different way, and obviously there is a lot of nuance and detail that goes into each system.

But as a very brief preview, here are a few examples;

Germany: Regional governments across Germany have all abolished tuition over the past few years.

International students are also able to enroll without paying tuition.” (CNN Money)

More here from Wikipedia;

Public universities in Germany are funded by the federal states and do not charge tuition fees. However, all enrolled students do have to pay a semester fee… Summed up, the semester fee usually ranges between €150 and €350.” (Education in Germany)

Sweden

Sweden, along with most of the other Nordic countries also carries tuition free higher education, though admittedly with more restrictions. Oftentimes, such perks are extended to citizens of the country, or the EU.

The Nordic country offers tuition-free public education to citizens pursuing higher education, and the offer is also extended to students from the European Union. Other international students aren’t eligible.” (CNN Money)

Norway and Denmark are in similar circumstances.

Norway

There are no tuition fees for attending public higher education in Norway, as all the costs are covered by the Ministry of Education and Research.

Students are also given the opportunity to apply for financial support (a part loan/part grant) from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund. The main requirement for support from Fund is that you are a Norwegian citizen. However, foreign citizens may also be entitled to financial support.”

(Higher Education in Norway

Finland

This article would not be complete with an honorable mention to Finland, which is regarded as one of the highest performing educational systems in the world. So what makes the Finnish system so unique?

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.” (The Atlantic)

But surely it is worth exploring even deeper than that. According to the Nordic Business Insider , Finland has a better system that the US on several key points. First, it gets rid of the pressue to “teach to the test”

Finnish students only take one standardized test during their entire primary and secondary schooling…

By contrast, the US, driven by No Child Left Behind and Common Core mandates, requires students in third through eighth grade to take annual standardized tests to track their performance. Critics claim constant testing doesn’t make students any smarter but instead creates a “teaching to the test” environment in schools.”

The pressure of the US system creates an environment that reinforces the idea of doing well on standardized testing. There are plenty of arguments to be made that this creates a poor learning environment. More than this though, Finland also on the whole leaves it students with a lot more free time, and a lot less stress.

Students in Finland spend relatively little time on homework… Finnish students spend 2.8 hours a week on homework. This contrasts noticeably from the 6.1 hours American students spend per week. “

And of course, just like the other Nordic countries, Finland’s higher education system is pretty much tuition-free.

In Finland, not only are bachelor degree programs completely free of tuition fees, so are master and doctoral programs. Students pursue higher education goals without the mountains of student loan debt that many American students face. And the same goes for foreign students. Tuition is free for any student accepted into a college or graduate program in Finland.

This contrasts greatly with the US, where the average student loan debt now approaches $30,000…”

Yes, it even applies to international students provided they can get accepted into a Finnish university. Now, please don’t take my word as rote, and with the caveat if you want to attend university in any of these countries you should look into that for yourself. I am working with generalities here, so please don’t make important life decisions without doing your homework.

The last part struck me as ironic. Remember where I said I came out of university with about 30k in debt. I guess that makes me an average American.

Now, let’s look at Drawdown for just a second.

Drawdown

This is another one of the SDG’s where Drawdown doesn’t have a lot of input. As educational systems are really complex, there is a lot of policy and deliberation that goes into shaping them. As such, most of the reforms and change will probably happen at the policy level.

That being said, I think there is one important solution from Drawdown that must be mentioned here. As education is a universal process, it affects the whole of the population. It just so happens that half of that population is women and girls, and so their education is of vital importance. It is also a hugely impact way to combat climate change.

Educating Women & Girls

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. “

The impact of removing systemic barriers to half the human population cannot be underestimated. This solution is ranked as #6 out of 100 solutions proposed by Drawdown. This solution alone would help to reduce C02 emissions by nearly 60 gigatons by 2050.

That brings this piece to an end. Our next goal is 05 – Gender Equality. I will be spending a lot more time talking about women’s rights and gender equality issues.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/

http://theconversation.com/education-isnt-a-commodity-for-labor-79606

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/women-and-girls/educating-girls

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

http://nordic.businessinsider.com/finland-has-one-of-the-best-education-systems-in-the-world–here-are-4-things-it-does-better-than-the-us-2016-11/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/20/grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/13/heres-how-much-it-costs-to-go-to-college-in-the-us-compared-to-other-countries.html

https://mic.com/articles/106866/the-average-cost-of-u-s-tuition-is-33-788-per-year-in-these-7-countries-it-s-free#.Ueo7ysZEo

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/09/12/the-u-s-leads-the-world-in-tuition-fees-infographic/#3d9aef7f231e

http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/10/pf/college/free-college-tuition-new-york-europe/index.html

https://www.cbpp.org/research/a-lost-decade-in-higher-education-funding

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Germany

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_in_Norway


Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 2

 

2016 sure has been a crazy year, on more than just a spiritual level. There have been a couple of events that I have been tracking through various sources. The first was the protest at Standing Rock, and at other locations as well.

It has been really inspiring to me that the Native Peoples are fighting for their rights for clean water and against big oil. I gave everything I could, and I will be watching and hoping that this creates enough ripples to move the world in a new direction. I think we need to move pass the days when we build our civilization on the backs of the dead, in both a literal (the oppression of others) and metaphoric (oil being made from long decayed matter). I also think that our First Nations (this is Canadian term, but I like it) might be on the front lines of that change.

They have certainly put their bodies on the line in more ways than I could. They have endured dog attacks, very serious injuries from “non-lethal” weapons, and even getting sprayed with water in below freezing temperatures. That is oppression at it’s worst.

Because more than anything, I think that Standing Rock really is a lot bigger than just a single pipeline. This is an issue for all people; human or not. It is about a clean environment, clean water, clean air, and clean land. It is about challenging capitalism, and about resisting the status quo which reduces our environment to resources to be exploited for profit. It also challenges the narrative that we ourselves are simply resources to be exploited in the same way. It challenges the “oil narrative”, and shows us there is an alternative to our way of living.

In short, we need to leave the fossil fuels in the ground, and keep building a new energy future.

I think we already have a decent start, but there is so much more to be done. Which brings me to the most recent election. It has left me with a great deal of anxiety and trepidation. The president-elect a “majority” of American’s picked for this country is not a good choice. He is in no way qualified nor has the capacity to lead this country. All throughout the campaign I have listened to hateful, racist, xenophobic, and just straight up bigoted rhetoric come out of his mouth. What is worse, is that it empowered people with those beliefs to act on them. The incidents of hate-motivated crime are up, especially in my home state. Many of my friends and loved ones have expressed their terror, that the rights that have gained recently might be stripped away again. Women, LGBT+ folks, people of color, Muslims, minorities of all stripes.

I have been watching his picks for his cabinet, and there is nothing there to redeem the next administration in my eyes. The former executive of an Alt-Right publication, and anti-EPA guy to lead the EPA, a CEO of Exxon-Mobile to be the secretary of State. Far from “draining the swamp”, instead he has openly embraced a team of people that represent everything I stand against. Big Money, Big Oil; overall a bunch of rich, elite oligarchs.

We have moved passed the democracy, and into the oligarchy. We probably passed that mile-marker some time ago at break-neck speed.

None of this gives me a lot of optimism for the next four years. I think we are going to see a lot of hard won battles eroded. The rights of minorities to be sure. I also suspect a new and stronger push for “domestic energy” which is going to be Big Oil bulldozing over every kind of environmental regulation. It is horrifying to watch any gains we have made at risk. I have made pretty clear that I think social democracy is a great goal to shoot towards. With the incoming gaggle of oligarchs, we have missed that mark by a great deal, and probably set those goals back many years.

I am still processing all of that. Each day seems to get a little worse. I honestly wonder how dark the days ahead are going to be. But I want to leave this topic for the time being.

Still, I tend to take the long view of things. I think this is a side effect of being a student or archaeology.

I have heard several people say this is how the American Empire dies. Some part of me is inclined to agree with them. Do I think our civilization is doomed? No, I’m not ready to accept that line of thought just yet. Nor am I the kind of person that thinks we need to tear down everything we have built to begin again. To employ a cliché, I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Honestly, I don’t know what the future looks like. We can speculate, we can model, we can guess; but that is all it is at the end of the day. Still, I can say with some certainty what I would like the future to look like. It gives me hope, and it gives me goals to work for. This year has been very enlightening for me in terms of my political views. I have seen a clear distinction between the things I can’t stand for (Trump), and the things I do support (Sanders).

So what does that world look like? I’ll tell you a few bits for sure, as I have been working my way through Bernie Sander’s book Our Revolution. I will use that here as a talking point.

“Over a hundred years ago, workers in this country took to the streets to fight for a forty hour work week. Marching under huge banners, they told the world they were human beings, not beasts of burden. They wanted time with their families, time for education, time for culture…

Today work is all we are supposed to do. If you get sick, you go to work it you may lose your job. If your kid is in the hospital, you go to work. If your father is dying, you go to work. If you have a baby, you are back on the job in two to three weeks because you don’t have paid leave…” pg 211.

We need to seriously rethink how we do work in this country, that is one of my big thoughts for this election cycle. Allowing for are variability and nuance, I think we as a country work way too much. In addition, as the quote above points out, we really don’t have any real choice in the manner. “Full time” is defined at 40+ a week. I have worked a lot of jobs, and each job has it’s different demands to be sure. As does each persons personal life. I am talking about a work-life balance here, and this country has swung far into the realm of “all work, no life” on that scale.

What makes it worse is that our minimum wage is hardly a living wage, and benefits are really a patchwork. Generally speaking, we are not guaranteed any paid time off whatsoever. Not vacation time, not sick time, not parental time, none of it. We are probably the only industrial western nation that does not allow for these things. Certainly when compared with the Nordic social democracies, we are well behind the curve in this regard. Just a few things I would like to see;

  • A living wage
  • Guaranteed paid vacation, sick, and paternal time off
  • Having “full time” be less than 40 hours per week (variable based on the job) for a better work/life balance
  • A general improvement of worker’s rights, including but not limited to: increase in union membership, more profit sharing and worker owned businesses.
  • Also, a general redistribution of wealth. On the whole, we worker’s see an ever smaller share of the wealth we help produce. I would like to see this change, not only at the business level, but at the greater social level as well. I will come back to this later.
  • I am also watching Universal Basic Income with a great deal of interest

But as college because less affordable, and as working families take on increasing amounts of debt, higher education may actually be increasing social and economic inequality, rather than alleviating it. Making higher education universally will not only create a better-educated society, it will allow us to be a more just society…

Not everyone wants to go to college, and not everyone needs to go to college. This country needs a large supply of carpenters, plumbers, welders, bricklayers, iron workers, mechanics, and many other professions that pay workers, especially those with unions, good wages for doing very important, skilled work. As part of a new approach to higher education and vocational training, we must provide those students with the education and training they need, regardless of the incomes of their families.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 343, 354

This is a large problem in our society, the lack of access to college and vocational training. Many of my generation are strapped with enormous student debt, which will limit our financial outlook for a good part of our lives. It may delay us in making larger purchases such as homes and automobiles.

But that isn’t the half of it. In our capitalist society, too often we focus on the economic benefits of higher education instead of the social ones. I do think a better educated public will help solve a lot of the issues we are facing. But it is not a silver bullet, and the work goes well beyond that.

In addition, not everyone needs or wants to go to college. The other part of this is better access to skilled trades and vocational training. Overall, between the two of them; we would have a more skilled, better educated, and I think more just society. Education in all its forms is a public good, and we all benefit from it.

That is why think;

-We need universal access to higher education, as well as skilled trades training. We are one of the few nations that does not provide these services to our citizens.

“I have, for as far back as I can remember, always believed that health care is a right of all people, not a privilege. Health care is a basic human need. We all get born, we all get sick or have accidents, we all need care and die at the end of our lives. Everyone needs health care. Every should have health care.

It has never made sense to me that the quality of care a person receives – indeed, whether that person receives any care – should be dependent upon the job they have or the wealth of their family. It has never made sense to me that Americans should be forced into bankruptcy because of a serious illness. It never made sense to me that some people will live and some people will die because of their health insurance status.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 318

Universal healthcare is also high on my list. This is the thing that everyone needs, and everyone will use. It is once again a public good that we as a society should provide for everyone. Really, there is not much I can add to this quote, except some personal anecdotes. For several years my wife and I were without health insurance, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t anxious about one of us getting hurt or sick. It would have been the end of us financially.

I have pretty good insurance from my employer now, but in my opinion that doesn’t go far enough. Health care should not be a privilege people get from having a decent job. It disproportionately hurts people that are underemployed, or in poverty. Why should we live in a society where only those who are decently employed enjoy healthcare? No, it should be the right of all people, not a privilege that favors the wealthy.

“…there is no issue more important, in my mind, than combating climate change and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy…

… affordable electric vehicles and recharging stations, more efficient solar panels, advanced battery systems to store wind and solar energy, and innovative controls to seamlessly integrate renewables into our power grid will require cutting edge research… The US can and must dedicate our engineering know-how to a clean energy revolution, in our universities, in our national energy labs, and in the businesses and communities all across the country.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pgs 251 – 253

This is a huge set of issues for me. The environment is something very near and dear to me, and we need to be doing a better job in conservation, preservation, and sustainability. I have said this in many other cases, so I don’t want to go into too deep here.

But the long and short of it is, we need to get away from fossil fuels as quickly and possible and rebuild our energy infrastructure to be as sustainable and clean as possible. Once our energy infrastructure is done, we need to continue to work to transition our transportation sector to electric as well. These things are vital to combating climate change, as well as vital to our future as a whole.

 

But that is enough of the politics for now.

As always, thanks for reading!