Saturday, April 16, 2011


I was watching the network news last night and came upon this "Making a Difference" report, one of a series of "good news" segments on NBC Nightly News. It's about a wonderful volunteer effort to promote literacy amongst the poor and the underprivileged, and I thought, yes, these are truly generous and compassionate people who devote their time, energy, and financial resources to improving the lot of other less fortunate.

And at the same time I thought, this is disgraceful. Disgraceful that in this wealthiest of wealthy countries, a job of this importance should be left to a handful of good-hearted volunteers. The education of our young is a responsibility that should not be handed off to the charitable efforts of a dedicated few, it should be the obligation of every one one of us--an obligation of such vast and critical importance that only government is able to handle it with equity and fairness. And yet, in this country, successive governments have been systematically degrading our education system for decades. And now our Republicans are intent on making still further cuts in funding for basic education progams like Head Start.

"Making a Difference" notwithstanding, education is not, and should not be a do-good enterprise. As one who was born and raised in ("socialist"!) Europe, I still feel appalled when I find myself listening to appeals for money from what is billed as "public" radio or television. Public is public, I always thought. Of course there's a place for private enterprise, but private enterprise brings with it the private slant, the usually profit-driven motive. Between Fox News and corporate network broadcasting, we need a source of information that is put out in the public interest. I'm aware that the BBC has had its problems and controversies over the years, but if you take a few minutes to compare the quality of news presented on BBC World News and American commercial networks, the difference is clear. Even Al Jazeera English, these days (have you watched it?) offers a fairer and more complete picture of what's going on in the world than, say, CBS or NBC.

I think it's wonderful that private donors are generous with their support for all kinds of organizations that provide help for those who need it. But these "thousand points of light," as the first Bush famously called them, cannot conceivably replace the responsibilities of government in today's complex world, with its rapidly growing populations and decreasing resources. There are many functions that must be addressed as a collective responsibility: education is but one of them.

The fundamental belief in ever smaller government, as embraced by Republicans, is a pipe dream in a world of such complexity. Our children have a right to receive the education they need as a first step toward a successful and happy future. It should not be left to the whims of a charitable few, no matter how valiantly they may be "making a difference." The only real difference that can be made through a common effort to make education a national priority, and a determination to devoting the resources needed to make it happen.


mandt said...

Peter, how about a link to Vote Obama 2012 on site, For some reason I can't find in on Goggle among the others.

PeterAtLarge said...

Yes, thanks. I'm working on this--and on the design of the VO site. It's still a work in progress. Best to you...