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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Educational Obsolescence

The state of Florida, via your governor, has substantially cut back funding to colleges and universities. These drastic cuts have forced all Florida institutions of higher learning to curtail many programs and reduce staff. In fact, the largest and best university in Florida, Florida International University (no, not FSU and UF for you football fans) had to eliminate 23 degree programs, six research centers, and 38 faculty members. The largest public school system in Florida, Miami-Dade Public Schools, is debating proposals to dismiss more than 2,100 employees and close many schools. The Collier country school district is in a similar financial boat.

One could effectively argue that reducing funds for schools in Florida is a good thing. Florida public schools (K-12) consistently rank 48 out of the 57 states (in deference to our next president). Florida universities, aside from FIU, are great party schools, produce good football teams and a plethora of viruses (lawyers). Considering these facts in conjunction with the avalanche of tax payer dollars that has gone to public schools, seemingly for naught, cutting back funding seems like a good thing. But is it?

Reducing funds to educational institutions and forcing them to “tighten their belts” is an utterly irresponsible, incredibly naïve and capriciously politically motivated shenanigans. For the most part, Florida educational institutions are clueless on how to be frugal, on how to optimize services and on how to eliminate bureaucracy. Hence, eliminating funds cold turkey is like denying a life-long smoker of cigarettes and saying, “hey, just stop smoking.”

But here is another angle worth considering. Who cares and who needs education anyway? Seriously, when it comes to public policy, does being educated – meaning, the ability to learn – really matter? It doesn’t seem like it.

Take the national “debate” du jour. The energy (lack of) policy in this country is atrocious. The talking heads on all sides of the debate (why it’s a debate at all is a mystery) spew out “facts” and spins that nearly in totality are devoid of a scientific base but are replete with sound-bite “facts.” For proof, look at (post taking Dramamine) the ethanol-based “flex-fuel” whale-sized SUVs migrating on the highways. But yet, a decision by osmosis will be made, and off we go into the realm of $6 per gallon of gas, $3 per tomato (from Mexico of course), and a carbon footprint tax by the end of next year.

And yet another example, consider the noise on the island. The syndicate effectively convinced the majority that sewers were needed based on a mix of lies, pseudo-facts (“there be fecal in the canals”), taken out of context politically motivated studies, non-existent governor proclamations and of course threats. By the time a very few of us did the research and proved that no such fecal contamination – or trace thereof – existed or could ever exist, and the Florida Keys study proved the pollution was from the shallow injection wells and the cesspools, and we received confirmation from the governor’s office that he never proclaimed anything about the sewer project, the fix was in.

Today, the same idiocy prevails – the new bridge, the bridge toll, owning our own power grid or power plant (hope it’s a nuclear one …), and invariably our own international airport – are issues being “debated.” All courtesy of junk “science” suffused with spin and packaged with threats and slurs. The pols in elected and non-elected office are for the most part clueless when dealing with the complexities of power grids and engineering, so they rely on “staff” and those who benefit from perpetuating the iron triangle. Relying on citizens with expertise, especially those that they disagree with – a true sign of objectivity and interest – is not in their mindset or allowed by their handlers.

This author recalls with humorous indifference to the days when being denigrated for raising the indisputable facts of the toxicity related to the dewatering, and the asbestos dumping. The error, in retrospect, was introducing the facts as supported by references, when nothing would have stemmed the tide of the syndicate’s bent on implementing their plan for the island. Ergo, education matters not.

As with the nascent global warming religion, the “debate” – why there is also a debate on this issue is more of a mystery – centers not around science, but on money and spin (sound familiar Marco Island?). Anyone who dares to even pose a benign question as to the veracity of the “facts” supporting the man-made global climate catastrophe to come, is ridiculed, besmirched, attacked personally (sound familiar Marco Island?). Go against the mantra of the syndicate, albeit local or national, and your education is purely inconsequential, obsolete.

Educational obsolescence is part and parcel of the zeitgeist. Keep denying money to scholarly institutions in the hope that they somehow auto-morph into efficient business-like entities. Keep denying money to schools without mandating through executive decree the elimination of social engineering programs (e.g., teaching condom use to 7th graders). Forgo the much needed decimation of the plutocracies replete with “educator administrators.” And keep complaining when you go to a fast food joint, give the thing behind the counter $10.01 for a $5.01 charge and expect something other than a deer-stuck-in-the-headlights response.

You got your reduction in property taxes. The state had to cut that shortfall from somewhere – instilling efficiency and eliminate waste is not an option for the kakistocracy at the state or local levels. Then, acknowledging that education does not seem to matter much when it comes to public policy, and since Florida education is consistently at the bottom of the barrel, perhaps your legislators came up with the brilliant conclusion that being educated matters not in effecting the best solutions for a community, state or country. The irony is that education has been rendered obsolete where it matters most.

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