Lloyd Omdahl: It’s time for education to sober up
Our education system is out of step with society.
After the Revolution, the 13 independent colonies realized that nationalization was the only solution to their problems and wrote a Constitution within which important powers were delegated to a central government. We have been going through more nationalization of American life through the last 250 years.
Interstate railroads and canals were built; the telegraph and telephone became a necessity; interstate retail developed along with manufacturing; the labor market became national; movies and television gave citizens a common entertainment; public education was launched; and a common civil religion subdued the diversity in our population.
National society, unequal education
We have become a national community in which nationalism has prospered, except for education. Our education system is out of step with society. While we have become a national community, education has continued to be parochial, under the foot of local and state governments.
Education is not equally distributed with some children in some school districts getting excellent education, while children in other districts and states get inferior education, depending on the district and the state.
In a national society with a national job market, we need to re-evaluate the inequity that exists in education. We don’t have to go far because right here in North Dakota we have maldistribution of resources and benefits. And children are paying the price through a lifetime of never catching up.
We have thousands of people functioning below their IQ levels, becoming ditch diggers rather than doctors, lawyers and other professionals. They have the basic intelligence, but the lack of an equal education gives them a life of boredom.
While North Dakota is still struggling with equality, we find the same problem when we look at states. Why should the kids in New Hampshire benefit from a per capita of $28,000 while kids in Missouri have a per capita of $16,000? So we find inequality at both the local and the interstate levels, this in a national community.
And what are the kids on the short end of the stick getting? While college degrees are the goals for many, every year a child spends in school increases his/her personal benefits and the benefits they add to society whether they are Ph.Ds or not.
40% out of the loop
For every year of education, children improve their health, meet new people, have new experiences, get a new sense of accomplishment and self-confidence, greater productivity, better communication skills, more incisive thinking, more job opportunities, more potential for promotion, more involvement in community and better civic involvement.
If we use voter turnout as a measuring stick, 40% of Americans are outside of the loop and in that 40% are those who shirk civic involvement and are less prepared to share the personal responsibilities of a democracy. Democracies are always challenged, and the United States has its share. In fact, we will never tame earth warming without the support of more than 80% of the citizenry.
Education is more than just a “win” – it is a win, win, win, win. And all children in this nation are entitled to win.
Time to sober up
The solution is not simple. To make equality possible, we need the deference of state and school district officials – and the people. The futures of children are more important than the traditional parochial system.
However, those who benefit and those who have a stake in this parochial system will find irrational arguments to stay the same. After all, we justified slavery.
I don’t have any magic words for the situation. All I know is that millions of kids in our nationalized society are paying for inequality. We will never get sober unless we realize that we are drunk. It is time to sober up.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former state lieutenant governor and professor at UND.