I ponder the sequester, the looming disaster that it represents for California schools (a subject near and dear), and a conversation I had on social media with a perfect stranger about responsibility in our communities.
It seems that everyone wants our society to function, but very few are willing to take responsibility for its proper functioning. Author Tim Wise spoke this week at our school, and he mentioned the same phenomenon. His bête noire is racial injustice, especially with regards to white privilege and the inability of many people to see their own privilege and how it affects those who have been historically and institutionally oppressed in our culture. It makes sense: people of privilege don’t need to see their own advantages, because they are not suffering because of them.
A person with whom I had a respectful dialogue about junk food in schools doesn’t think that the companies making the junk should take any social responsibility for poisoning our children by selling it in vending machines in campuses all over the country. They are just trying to market their product, which I admit is in perfect step with our diabolically rampant free market system. His logic is that parents should take responsibility, and no one else. If the parents don’t like the distribution of sugary, bubbling cans of diabetes/obesity juice and salty, crispy packages of heart-attack snacks, they should complain to the school board. Unfortunately, the school boards who have chosen to collude with the soft-drink and chip manufacturers did so because they needed the money that the big corporations’ marketing departments could give them. So schools were ostensibly bought because of their desperate circumstances, because of reduced funds from prior sources, such as property and state taxes, while the richest Americans continue to pocket money that could be used by schools. It is a big, grainy picture that cannot be reduced to a simple expression of civic discontent.
I’m willing to bet that those who choose to disregard the fiscal doom that the March 1 sequester means for public education — to name just one potential sufferer — likely send their children to private schools. The $87.5 million that California educators will lose in their efforts to teach our children doesn’t matter to their kids. Let someone else deal with it. Pass it on.
The worst part of the big picture is that the sequester is completely unnecessary. See Bob Cesca’s frustrated explanation of the idiocy of the current “deficit crisis.” The deficit has been on the decline since 2009, and on its current trajectory, by 2016, the deficit is projected to have been reduced by nearly $1 trillion, without the Draconian policies of the sequester, designed by cynical Republicans hell-bent on seeing this president fail in the public eye.
I care about the details of this abhorrent political snapshot not because it necessarily affects me in my daily life — as many others will remain blissfully unaware of its effects — but because this is the world I share with others, because not everyone has the advantages I have, because our future depends on well-educated people who will think beyond their own self-protective world to be an active part of the larger community. I care because if we don’t enact change now, as Tim Wise points out, our children will have to suffer the consequences of our failure, just as we are suffering the consequences of a slave tradition that ended over a century ago.
Is that the legacy we want to leave behind us?
I think not, therefore I am (in a twisted wink to Descartes). I speak, discuss, and urge those in power to speak, to discuss, to urge those who disagree to see a different perspective, to compromise, to envision a world in which individual choices affect more than just individuals — they affect us all, directly or indirectly.