Preparing for the Future?

Sequestration had now gone into effect. It was something originally proposed as being so horrible in its consequences that it would force the opposing sides in Congress to reach an acceptable compromise to avoid it.  But they did not. And so now America is stuck with $85 billion in indiscriminate cuts in almost every federally funded area.

The sequestration cuts have begun, but it is still too soon for their impact to be fully felt. Notices of employment “furloughs” have gone out to public sector workers that will begin taking effect this month. An estimated 750,000 jobs are expected to be lost overall.

It is not just that the White House tours are being cancelled (although the media seems to have become obsessed with that). Cut will be felt everywhere.

Over 170 air control towers will be shut down, affecting air safety. Customs and immigration inspectors will be laid off, increasing lineups at border crossings. Passengers undergoing airport screenings will face much longer lineups. Many federal courts are planning to shut down on Fridays, compounding the backlog in court cases to be heard. Care for veterans will be reduced. There will be less money for primary, secondary and post-secondary education. Even the Head Start program for young children is being cut back.

This last area of cuts has received some notice. Yesterday Steve Benen of The Maddow Blog and Jared Bernstein both picked up on a story recently carried in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reporting that

medium_newheadAt least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families, a move officials said was necessary to limit the impact of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts.

Benen draws an ironic contrast between this lack of support for the education of young children in America and educational policies in other countries. He recounts a story shared by Barack Obama in November 2009 following his recent travels to East Asia. There Obama stated,

I was having lunch with the President of South Korea, President Lee.  And I was interested in education policy – they’ve grown enormously over the last 40 years.  And I asked him, what are the biggest challenges in your education policy?  He said, the biggest challenge that I have is that [the] parents are too demanding. He said, even if somebody is dirt poor, they are insisting that their kids are getting the best education.  He said, I’ve had to import thousands of foreign teachers because they’re all insisting that Korean children have to learn English in elementary school.  That was the biggest education challenge that he had – an insistence, a demand from parents for excellence in the schools.

And the same thing was true when I went to China.  I was talking to the mayor of Shanghai, and I asked him about how he was doing recruiting teachers, given that they’ve got 25 million people in this one city.  He said, we don’t have problems recruiting teachers because teaching is so revered and the pay scales for teachers are actually comparable to doctors and other professions.

That gives you a sense of what’s happening around the world.  There is a hunger for knowledge, an insistence on excellence, a reverence for science and math and technology and learning.  That used to be what we were about.

But apparently that is no longer what America is about. Benen concludes his report on this note: “Some countries are insisting on excellence in education, our country shrugs its shoulders while kids get thrown out of pre-schools because of budget cuts. Which side of the ocean is preparing for the future?”

That’s something for us all to ponder.