politics and education

Before this week I had never purchased and read a book written by a politician. Without turning the front cover one can intuit that the politician, through this book, is trying to sell her/himself. I ignored this reasonable “intuition” and went ahead and started reading Barack Obama’s, The Audacity of Hope. Senator Obama is trying to sell himself with this book and trying to make the reader comfortable with his way of thinking about politics. Not that this is a bad thing but might as well call a duck a duck. Obama’s book is a duck… uuh, I mean – he wrote about himself so that you will like him and that is what politicians do. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in reading Senator Obama’s view of politics in the US but be prepared to not be shocked, offended or enlightened. That being said, I’m not writing a book review but am responding to his section on education in the chapter titled, “Opportunity.”

Senator Obama has a very sympathetic view towards education. He wants to lower tuition costs, to increase grants to students and research programs, and to increase teacher’s salaries (based on performance). I agree that these things should be done and that education should be more of a priority in our government’s spending. What struck me was why he thought spending should be increased and what he expected from this increase in spending. It boils down to a direct relationship between education and the economy. Increased government spending in learning is not so much an investment in the people as it is an investment in our economy. Nicely funded research programs stocked with well educated students will help keep the US competitive in the global economy. The more people we have entering engineering/physics/computer science programs the better chance innovative companies will be created – companies that will keep our economy afloat. Tax payers and politicians are meant to be soothed by the idea that money spent on education will have a high return.

Education = money. More education = more money. While reading this I was having flashbacks of reading Marx’s Communist Manifesto. I had a bearded man in the back of my head telling me that in a capitalistic society every institution finds its value in its monetary productiveness, that every relation is a monetary relation and that education is valuable if and only if it has a high return. Areas of study that don’t have a direct translation to the marketplace are devalued. Obama isn’t concerned if we stay competitive in literature, philosophy or the study of history (etc.) because these areas of study have no monetary worth. He even suggests that high school teachers of math and science should be paid more because what they teach has (yet again, monetary) worth.

Not that this is particularly anything new. Anyone studying in the Humanities at a University in the US knows the feeling of having to pay an ever increasing tuition, seeing their department experience cuts and walking past brand new buildings dedicated to the sciences. It is also happening in Germany.

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To give Senator Obama some slack I highly doubt that any of the other candidates view education as something that deserves government spending because it is in itself valuable. I voted for the guy in my state’s primary and, if given the chance, will vote for him again. I am just incredibly turned off by this view of education and despair the future of our humanities.

happy super Tuesday

Happy super Tuesday. I hope you are all doing the voting thing. Being the only American around, I don’t really get to bug people to go vote. That is until I realized that I have a blog and that Americans read this blog – so you Americans, consider yourself reminded of your voting responsibility :)

Super Tuesday is just starting in America while my normal Tuesday is coming to a close. Sometimes, living on this side of the world, I feel like I’m living in the future.

Fellow Americans – I can tell you who won the most votes on Super Tuesday because I’m living 9 hours in the future!

Unfortunately time doesn’t work like that – I will just have to wait for you slow-pokes to catch up. I can tell you, however, that Tuesday night will be a mellow night. Trust me, it got here first.

absentee

I received my absentee ballot in the mail yesterday! I’m surprised at how fast and efficiently they were able to process my information and mail something back to me (they even mailed it UPS Express). I’m incredibly excited about the elections this year. It isn’t always easy being the representative of the US in a foreign country, especially since the President is an incredibly unpopular man. There are bars in town with pictures of G. Bush photoshopped to look like a terrorist, pictures of the statue of liberty looking evil, etc – needless to say, being anti-America is popular, is cool, feeds the rebellious attitudes of young minds. For a lot of Europeans I’ve met the US represents war mongering and capitalism and I’m eyed suspiciously until I denounce Bush as the child of Satan who is bent on world destruction (then I too become cool!). I’ve been introduced to people with small warnings, “this is Mr. X, he doesn’t like capitalism” to which I have responded, “good thing you told me, now I know not to mention my home country.”

obama.jpgI hope this election shows non-Americans that we are capable of electing a competent President, that we too are fed up with our administration. I’m not as worried about satisfying European sentimentalities as I am waiting for a government I can be proud of.

I’ll put this baby in the mail on Monday.